As the gospel began to spread from Jerusalem and was preached to Gentiles (Acts 10:24-48, 11:20) Judaizing Christians from Jerusalem, went about teaching that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (15:1, 5, 24). These false teachers were “troubling” the Gentiles (15:24) who had put their faith in Jesus Christ in order to be justified, not in the works of the law (Gal 2:16).
After Paul and Barnabas “had no small dissension and dispute” with these false teachers, the church at Antioch determined to send them, and certain others, to Jerusalem to resolve why these men were teaching the false doctrine that Gentiles had to keep the law of Moses in order to be saved (15:2).
In Jerusalem, the apostles, the elders came together to discuss whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. What is presented for us in Acts 15:6-21 is text book case on establishing Bible authority for how we are to make decisions regarding matters of the faith.
Inescapable Conclusions – First Peter used necessary conclusion to establish that Gentiles did have to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. He related how God had chosen that by his mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel and believe (15:7). In this passage Peter is lumping together a series of events that ultimately lead him to believe that “God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Act 10:34-35). These events were: his vision of the sheet with clean/unclean animals (10:9-16), the voice of the Spirit saying that He had sent men to take him to Cornelius (Act 10:19-23), and the fact that Cornelius had been visited by an angel (10:30-33). As further proof that God makes no distinction between circumcised Jew and uncircumcised Gentile, Peter tells reminds the group that God gave Cornelius and the other Gentiles the Holy Spirit just has he had done to the apostles on the Day of Pentecost (Act 15:8-9, 10:44-48, 2:1-4).
With this evidence, Peter concludes that since Gentiles can be saved apart from circumcision and the Law of Moses then the burden of keeping it should not be forced upon the Gentiles. This was the only conclusion that could be drawn from his experience. He then goes on to say that Jews who would be saved would be saved in the same manner as the Gentiles, “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Act 15:11).
Inescapable conclusion is one way to establish Bible authority for the things we do as churches and Christians. Take for example the Lord’s Supper, Jesus commanded that the His supper would be taken as a remembrance of Him (Mat 26:26-30). But when and with what? These are all good questions and can only be answered with inescapable conclusion. We take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday because that’s the inescapable conclusion from Acts 20:7. We use unleavened bread and “fruit of the vine” (grape juice) because that is what Jesus used when He instituted His supper (Luk 22:14-23).
Approved Example – As the discussion in Acts 15 continued, Barnabas and Paul used approved example to show that Gentiles did not have to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved (15:12). They related to the group how God worked many miracles and wonders through them while preaching among the Gentiles. These would have possible occurred at Antioch and on their first missionary journey. Barnabas and Paul were appealing to the example of God’s blessing among the Gentiles as approval that they were accepted by Him without keeping the Law of Moses.
Approved Example is another way to establish Bible authority for the things that we do as churches and as Christians. For example, churches are to have a plurality of elders, never a single elder (Tit 1:5 et. al). When referencing the elders of the local church it is always plural. The approved example for church leadership is to have a plurality of elders. As mentioned above the Lord’s Supper be taken only on Sunday would be an approved example of Acts 20:7.
Direct Command – Following Barnabas and Paul, James takes what he has heard from Peter and the rest and aligns in the direct command of scripture that “the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by [His] name” (Acts 15:17). James quotes portions of Amo 9:11-12 as scriptural commands that Gentiles were be included in the community of believers since they are called by God. James then concluded, based on this command, that the Gentiles should not be troubled by keeping the Law of Moses, and that a letter should be sent to the Gentiles explaining that the church in Jerusalem gave no command for these things to be taught.
Direct command is another way of establishing Bible authority. Direct commands are the simplest way to establish something as being authorized or not authorized. For example, “repent and be baptized” (Act 2:38) is a straightforward command that all believers are to repent and be baptized. “Abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Ths 4:3) is another direct command for the believer to abstain from illicit sexual conduct.
To recap, we must have Bible authority for all that we teach and practice as churches and Christians. We establish that authority the same way the authority to not subject the Gentiles to the Law of Moses was established in Acts 15 through: inescapable conclusions, approved conclusions, and direct commands.