Paul – Saul from Tarsus


The realistic prospect of a gentile-majority in the young church didn’t sit well with most of the leadership in Jerusalem and so a delegation arrived in Antioch intent on making the point that gentiles could become part of the church only if, as Jewish proselytes, they were first circumcised (Acts 15:1; Gal 2:11–21).

The Mysian port of Troas; the site today is called Eskistanbul (Old Stambul), a small town and pier nestled in expansive though largely overgrown ruins of the ancient site. (Paul H. Wright)
Image source: © Carta, Jerusalem

Clearly the Jerusalem church was thinking in terms of belief in Jesus as a movement within Judaism rather than something that could—or should—exist on the outside. The term “Christian” had originated in a gentile context and it was time the folks up there acknowledged their connection to Jerusalem.

It is likely that these “Judaizers” (as they are often called in the secondary literature) made follow-up visits to the churches that Paul and Barnabas had planted in Galatia, anxious to correct any misinformation that might have been spread in the Apostle’s zeal to bring the message of Jesus to both Jew and Greek (cf. Gal 1:6–9; 3:1; 4:12–5:15; 6:12–13).

A credible case can be made that Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians—his first epistle, a primer on justification by faith— quickly, from Antioch, in response to these in-house challenges to his work. Paul even went toe-to-toe with Peter on the issue (Gal 2:11–14). The matter was serious enough to prompt a formal discussion in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas attended the Jerusalem Council, in AD 49 or 50, and argued convincingly for full gentile inclusion, without circumcision, into the otherwise predominantly Jewish church (Acts 15:2–21).

The Jerusalem church acquiesced, though not without serious debate, and while the decision paved the way for an inclusive church it also cast the die for an eventual split between church and synagogue.