Binding, Loosening and the Apostles of the Lamb
“(1) The same thing happened in Iconium when Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a large group of both Jews and Greeks believed. (2) But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.”
(3) So they stayed there for a considerable time, speaking out courageously for the Lord, who testified to the message of His grace, granting miraculous signs and wonders to be performed through their hands.
(4) But the population of the city was divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.
(5) When both the Gentiles and the Jews (together with their rulers) made an attempt to mistreat them and stone them, (6) Paul and Barnabas learned about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding region. (7) There they continued to proclaim the good news.
(8) In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. (9) This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed, (10) he said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man leaped up and began walking.
(11) So when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”
(12) They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.
(13) The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the city, brought bulls and garlands to the city gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. (14) But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting,
(15) “Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, Who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them.
(16) In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own ways, (17) yet He did not leave Himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with joy.”
(18) Even by saying these things, they scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them. (19) But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and after winning the crowds over, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead. (20) But after the disciples had surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city.
On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. (21) After they had proclaimed the good news in that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch.
(22) They strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.”
(23) When they had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in Whom they had believed.”
This is a difficult saying to understand. The word “appointed” generally holds the meaning of electing by a show of hands – to vote. Here, it should mean the same, except it says “when they had appointed elders for them”. This “could” mean that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them OR it could mean that the churches, appointed them for themselves. In other places of similar significance, these decisions were largely by the congregation and so it would be appropriate for us to assume the same happened here.
Why would sheep pick their own shepherd?
Well, the idea of sheep could be taken too far. While church congregants are not typically as mature as their elders, they are still human beings who can see the type and character of men they have among them and can also hear the Spirit of God. As such, it makes some sense for the sheep to choose from among them. For among the qualifications of an elder is that they need to be of good reputation, well known for good works. THis would require some natural knowledge of them which would probably go beyond even what the Apostle’s knew.
Notice that they did not appoint these elders their first time through, but on their track BACK through. This gave time for those who were good talkers, but shallow walkers to show their true colors. It also gave time for the elite among them to, “float to the top” as it were.
“(24) Then they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia, (25) and when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
(26) From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.
(27) When they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported all the things God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. (28) So they spent considerable time with the disciples.”
Paul and Barnabus began their journey around the spring of AD 45 and ended around the spring or summer of AD 47.
“(1) Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
So the focus here has to do with placing oneself back under the old covenant and under obligation to keep the law through works of the flesh by being circumcised into the old covenant.
That is KEY to understanding this passage and most of all, the advice these Apostles of the Lamb gave to the gentile converts.
“(2) When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this point of disagreement.
(3) So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they were relating at length the conversion of the Gentiles and bringing great joy to all the brothers.”
Notice that the authority to bind and loose doctrine did not lie with Paul and Barnabus, but with the Apostles of the lamb. Also the elders in Jerusalem who had been appointed leaders of the mother church also had spiritual authority coupled with years of experience and maturity. Sending Paul and Barnabus back to them was a VERY wise decision!
“(4) When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all the things God had done with them.”
This section of scripture is SO instructional. Not much was done behind closed doors in the early church. They were received by the church, apostles and elders – and before ALL OF THEM, Paul and Barnabus recounted all that they had accomplished by the Spirit.
Notice there were no other gifts mentioned, though without doubt they were there. Why do you suppose there was no mention of prophets, teachers, evangelists, workers of miracles which are all energies in the body where the gift is the person?
Because the only two positions in the body that carry ruling authority were the Apostles of the Lamb, and elders. These were also the only ones with eccessiastical authority regarding doctrine…though the elders had far less. As you will no doubt remember, only the 12 disciples who later became apostles (Matthias having replaced Judas who betrayed Jesus). They ALONE had authority to bind (make binding) doctrine or loose (make loose from) certain doctrines of the Old Testament on New Covenant believers.
We illustrated how we have been loosed from certain Old Testament doctrines and others we bound to using this prime example of binding and loosening here in Acts 15 as well as others to enhance the completeness of the study.
Note: Ecclesiastical authority (potestas sacra) is the authority which the Church has been given by Jesus Christ to be exercised in His name in carrying out the mission entrusted to it.
Notice the Pharisees were still present and carried a certain amount of honor among them – especially those who were in Christ, but they were not mentioned apart from the church…
“(5) But some from the religious party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said,
“It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe [keep] the law of Moses.”
So it is clear that those who had gone to Antioch from which Paul and Barnabus just left, had been of this group. Also, they were true believers. They were just under the mistaken belief that what qualified them to be partakers of salvation through Christ, was that they had first been circumcised into the Old Covenant. So naturally, they felt that any Gentile who was to follow them into Salvation through Christ Jesus the Messiah, must begin their journey where they themselves had – by being circumcised into the Old Covenant.
Now it was time for some private discussion between those with authority in the church – the Apostles and the elders…
“(6) Both the apostles and the elders met together to deliberate about this matter.”
Again we see no other gifts present for this matter of clarifying and establishing church doctrine.
“(7) After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe. (8) And God, Who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, (9) and He made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith.
(10) So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?
(11) On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.”
(12) The whole group kept quiet and listened to Barnabas and Paul while they explained all the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.
(13) After they stopped speaking, James replied,
“Brothers, listen to me. (14) Simeon has explained how God first concerned himself to select from among the Gentiles a people for His name.
(15) The words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written,
(16) ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David; I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, (17) so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, namely, all the Gentiles I have called to be My Own,’ says the Lord, Who makes these things (18) known from long ago.”
(19) “Therefore I conclude that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to God, (20) but that we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood. (21) For Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, because he is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Peter had said that the law was a yoke which NONE of them had been able to bear, and so it seems unreasonable to place that same yoke upon them! Instead, he said, “we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.”
So this was a question of what was necessary for salvation and that the yoke of or bondage to the law FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS was not consistent with the Message of salvation by grace through faith. Not for the Jew, not for the Gentile – for NO ONE!
So why add to the Gentiles these apparently superficial dietary laws and why a special mention regarding sexual sin?
Furthermore, why predicate these statements on the fact that “Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, because he is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.”?
Well we know that Paul in future writings makes it clear that we are no longer UNDER the Law – meaning that it is no longer our taskmaster – we are not it’s slave. The relationship we have to the law is not one of bondage under an oppressive thumb. It is also NOT a means of obtaining righteousness.
We do know however from the writings of ALL the New Testament authors that we DO in fact have a relationship with the law. Only it is one in which we learn what righteousness lived out looks like. Now that we have been made righteous by faith in Jesus, how do we live in a way which is pleasing to God? By keeping the law of Moses which has been read in every synagogue for centuries!
So these questions we will address next week.