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in the footsteps of paul
 The Word
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 Home | History | Series
 Introduction
 Tarsus (Birth - 30CE)
 Jerusalem (30-34)
 Antioch (34-43)
 Spreading the Word (43-48)
 The Wider World (49-50)
 Corinth (50-52)
 Ephesus (52-56)
 Into the Fire (56-70)
Internal Discord
4
 Pages
1234

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Circumcision debate

Some people who had come down to Antioch from Judea were teaching the brothers that those who were not circumcised in the custom of Moses could not be saved. This led to no small confrontation and debate with Paul and Barnabas, and it was decided that Paul and Barnabas and some others would go to Jerusalem and take the question to the apostles and elders there.
–Acts 15.1-2


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Table fellowship debate

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he was self-condemned; for before certain people came from James, he had eaten with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he withdrew, fearing those in the circumcision faction. The remaining Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray.
–Galatians 2.11-16

James and Paul shake hands in agreement
James and Paul shake hands in agreement
(historical re-creation)

Table fellowship
Table fellowship
(historical recreation)

I am free but have made myself a slave to all, in order to win the greatest number of believers. To the Jews I was a Jew, so that I might win Jews. To those under the law, I was also one under the law-though in fact I am not subject to the law-in order to win those under the law. To the lawless I was lawless-though in fact I am not free of God's law but subject to the law of Christ-in order to win the lawless. I was weak to the weak, in order to win the weak-I was all things to all people so that I might save some.
–1 Cor.9.19-22


i
n the year following Paul's first missionary journey, the early Jesus movement was forced to face some difficult choices. Non-Jewish believers were now sharing in worship in larger numbers, many without first converting to Judaism. Conflicts over Mosaic law -- especially over circumcision and dietary restrictions -- grew more urgent, and more heated. Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem, where the matter of circumcision was resolved by compromise. Circumcision would not be required of Gentile converts, but certain dietary restrictions were to be maintained. Acts mentions the concession of circumcision, and reproduces a letter that is said to have listed the terms of compromise. Paul's account of the meeting in his Letter to the Galatians agrees that the requirement of circumcision was removed. It seems that in addition to concern over the proper observance of Mosaic law, debates over circumcision addressed questions of persecution. With the mark of circumcision, converts would fall under the protections Roman law granted Jews, and therefore be free from the persecution to which Gentiles were subject for practices such as observing the Sabbath, or refusing to participate in Roman religious rituals.

Paul's letter also addresses the conflict over dietary restrictions. Much of the meat at Gentile markets would have come from sacrifices to Gentile gods. As a result, some Jews stopped eating at Gentile tables. A rift had been exposed: Paul was on one side; on the other were Barnabas and the Jerusalem leaders. Paul maintained that fellowship between Jews and Gentiles over meals was desirable, and that this mandate could override the ancient laws. Paul's letter refuses any compromise on this issue, and dietary restrictions were probably negotiated on individual bases, in individual communities, for years to come. But for Paul, it marked the end of his partnership with Barnabas, and he would set off on his next round of travels on his own.

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