The Apostles’ Doctrine IV – Theology Part Two
By Fred Pruitt
Once the way was opened (in their understanding) for Gentiles to be received into Christ, the Spirit already had already been preparing just the man through whom it would be done. He had known his commission from the Lord since the day Ananias laid hands on him in Damascus.
“But the Lord said unto him [Ananias], Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 9:15-17).
Paul then had some adventures getting out of Damascus and some dealings in Jerusalem with the original Apostles, but after that the Lord sent him away for a few years. Paul, unlike Peter and John et al, was being trained and taught exclusively by the Spirit, whereas Peter and John had Jesus in the flesh as their Rabbi. Paul would stand for those who would come to know the Lord, only by the Spirit and never by the flesh. He stood for all those who would believe, like us today, “through their word,” believing “as seeing Him who is invisible” (Heb 11:27), He Whom the original Apostles saw with their fleshly eyes. For the purpose for which God called Paul, he had to be separate from the others. So God tucked him away in obscurity for a few years, as He had done with Jacob, Moses, David, John the Baptist, and the Lord Jesus Himself.
Meanwhile, things had heated up in Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen. A great persecution began, causing multitudes of disciples to flee the city. The immediate result of the persecution was that they spread out and began to preach the Good News in other parts of Judea, Galilee and the whole region, finding people ripe for harvest everywhere they went.
But until the message spread to Antioch in Syria, the third largest city in the Roman Empire at the time, they had preached to Jews only! However, when they first reached Antioch, undoubtedly the most cosmopolitan city in the middle east, some of them preached the Lord Jesus to “the Grecians.” There was a tremendous response among them! There was a great move of the Spirit and many were converted. It was such a “success” that word carried back to Jerusalem about the Spirit’s work, and in response they sent Barnabas to encourage them.
While there Barnabas remembered Saul, who had gone back to his home town of Tarsus years before. Barnabas undertook the 200 mile journey to Tarsus, found Paul, and brought him back to Antioch, where, Luke says, “a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26b).
The real ministry to the Gentiles begins with Paul and Barnabas being consecrated for the work they were about to do. They had been among the church at Antioch about a year, giving and sharing the Good News as the Spirit was revealing. One day somebody said, or maybe it came from Paul or Barnabas, “Boys, it’s time you got out there and spread the Word.” So they had a prayer meeting where they came to a consensus among them that it was a Word of the Spirit, laid hands on them, prayed over them, and sent them out.
It was what we would call today an evangelistic undertaking. They were embarking in Father Abraham’s footsteps, and as Abraham was, so were they. “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” (Heb 11:8). They were going to take the Word of the Lord Jesus places where it had never been declared, having no idea what would come of it as they departed, nor even, I imagine, “how” they were going to do whatever it was they would do. “By faith, Abraham … went out, not knowing whither he went.”
I have some small sense of what they were facing. They were going out, on God alone, with no certain human support. Norman Grubb used to call it, “out where the cold human winds blow.” One really learns the Psalmist’s lesson: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God: Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth forever.” (Ps 146:3-6). That does not mean one does not trust other people, or experience the love and support of the brethren. It simply means that one does not look to “man” for provision or really anything else, but to God only.
This is true for all of us. Quite literally, there are no “riches” of this world that we need every day for living, i.e., shelter, food, transportation, etc., which do not come through the hand of man. Nevertheless, giving all human sources their proper due; we fully recognize that all things come of Him, by Him, through Him and out of Him. All things!
Knowing by Spirit-proven experience this one amazing fact, that the Spirit sustains us day by day by day, that He is the unfailing cruse of oil within us, insulates us from the fears that have the whole world in their grasp – that governments may fail, that stocks may crash, that economies will fall, that our money will not last, that others are wanting what we have and trying to take it away from us, that of not having what we want or need just to sustain daily life, “What shall we eat, what shall we wear, where shall we live?” When we know because the Spirit has taught us that He and He only is our daily sustenance, then we never need walk in fear over those things again. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt 6:33 – Sermon on the Mount).
“Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? (Ps 78:19), is a faithless almost sarcastic question recorded in Psalms as the murmurings of the children of Israel in the desert with Moses. And even as the Living God proved that He not only could, but also DID furnish a table in the wilderness to those wayward offspring of Jacob, in the same way He proves it to us as we walk through our various wilderness sojourns. To “furnish a table in the wilderness” is basically saying that God does the impossible. Not only do we believe He did this back then, and that He “can” do it now, but we believe that HE DOES do it now! It means that after every human avenue or self-rescue avenue is exhausted, and there is no possibility of it working out, that is when and where God sets His table for us. He, through us, calls things which be not, (according to human thinking and appearances), to BE!
There was no manual for what Paul and Barnabas were about to do. No one had ever done it before. So for them, though with the assurance inwardly of the Spirit, humanly it was like walking off into the complete unknown, having no connections with anyone on the road, not knowing how they would eat or where they would sleep.
However, the world they were headed for would not be that unfamiliar, especially to Paul. Their first journey would take them only into Asia Minor, now all mostly in Turkey. It was the eastern Mediterranean Hellenistic culture, under Roman rule, wherever they went. Antioch in Syria was the same. It was the leftovers of the Alexandrian Empire, divided up among his generals when Alexander died three hundred years before. He had made the whole eastern Mediterranean as far as Persia a Greek culture, where Greek was the commonly spoken language. It was the culture in which Saul had been reared as a Jew.
With the addition of the Romans, there were paved roads to most major cities and towns. So it wasn’t like they were venturing into the “bush,” as many modern missionaries have done. But it was no less daunting. How was one to introduce a Jewish Messiah, whom no one had ever heard of, to a pagan Greek culture that seemed content with its gods and lifestyles?
(This is eerily similar to much of our world culture today, especially “western” culture, coming from its “Judeo-Christian-Graeco-Roman” roots. Those roots lasted through about fifteen hundred years of religious façade to shore it up, for western society to finally “cast it out,” out of the mainstream, and in a sense to devolve back into the pagan society Barnabas and Paul faced at the outset. What a perfect God! And to those who lament, “I wish I had been born in Bible days,” look out the window – you’re there!)
What a momentous day! The day Barnabas and Paul took their first steps out of Antioch headed for a ship to Cyprus, changed the course of the history of the whole world, and the shaping of western culture especially for nearly two thousand years. Paul’s three missionary journeys, with their maps on nearly every Sunday School wall and in the backs of millions of Bibles, have forever been the ultimate role models for foreign missionaries, and exactly the way it still is done in places where Jesus is not known.
Their methodology at first was simple. They went first to the people of God, the Jews, who were scattered here and there among the Hellenists, whose ancestors had previously established synagogues in most of the places Barnabas and Paul traveled. Though there were exceptions, they preached in the synagogues first before they approached anyone else. However, from the very beginning, unbelievably Gentiles were attracted to what Paul was saying. And for the most part, the Jews were repulsed, and all the more as they saw large numbers of Greeks embracing what they considered an abomination to the covenant of Abraham and the Law of Moses.
Luke records one of Paul’s talks on the first journey in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, in Acts 13:14-42. It is pretty much the same message they had been preaching in Judea, the message that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, presenting proofs from the Torah, the Psalms and the Prophets, culminating with “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38,39).
Though it was virtually meaningless to the unschooled (in Judaism) Gentiles, to the Jews, to be “justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses,” was completely outside their frame of reference. The implication with the usage of the word, “justified,” was outside the parameters of the Law. The Law kept one a sinner, having to continually repent, though they could expect one day a year when they would be pronounced ritually clean, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, interceded for the people, and came back out pronouncing to all the people that they were clean of sins from the past year, only to be repeated every year, cleaning us up the same way. It was a perpetual sin consciousness.
This Christian “message,” however, offered a “justification” that actually destroyed “sin” in us, and made us “righteous,” in Him. (2 Cor 5:21). No more once a year visit to the Holy of Holies by the Aaronic High Priest. In Christ, they had been forever cleansed, forever justified, and had no need to perform sacrifices for something that no longer applied to them. They had gone from sinners to saints!
But that was completely outside the Jewish “box,” in the vernacular of today. The Law was the center reference for each Jew, especially those who lived outside Palestine, who could not get back to participate in the yearly Temple feasts and rites. The Law was what separated the Jews from absolutely everyone else; they could not fathom that something had come on the scene that claimed to fulfill AND to supersede the Law, to provide benefits the Law could not offer. The Law itself is antithetical to imputed righteousness. Because once one is “righteous,” there is no more need for the Law. It can be cast aside, because in Christ through the Spirit the Law is forever fulfilled in us because we walk in Christ’s holiness and righteousness, not of ourselves, but nevertheless ours in Spirit-possession. That in itself breaks down the whole structure of Judaism and the Temple and its sacrifices, except as they point to their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah.
Nor could they possibly conceive allowing Gentiles into the congregation, unless they also became zealous for the Law and were circumcised if they were male. As I said before, this was all new to the Gentiles and ALL good news to them, but for the Jew, it meant something entirely different, and for many, a threat to the very existence of their traditional faith handed down from the fathers, chiefly Moses.
It was that way for some of the Jews, but not all. MANY caught it! It was exactly what they were looking for – the fulfillment of the Messianic Promise, the coming of the heavenly kingdom, the outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh! Later Paul would write the Corinthians, “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life.” (2 Cor 1:15,16). Paul learned that in his first days. Some were glad to see him coming. Others were glad to see him going! Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
As had happened in most of the other towns they visited, after the service many of the Jews left, while some of the Jews and the Gentiles who were among them crowded around Paul and Barnabas wanting to hear more. They asked Paul if he would speak especially to them when they came together on the next Sabbath.
The next Sabbath, Luke writes that “almost the whole city [came] together to hear the word of God.” (Acts 13:44). When the unbelieving Jews spoke against Paul and Barnabas, and “blasphemed” as Luke described it, finally they had had enough and gave this final word of exhortation to them: “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:46,47).
That served only to incite the Jewish crowd to greater rage toward the Apostles, but at the same time delighted all the Gentile believers present: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (Acts 14:48).
That marked a turning point in Paul’s ministry. Though on later trips he still would visit synagogues first when he came to a new town, almost as a courtesy and because he did believe what he said above, that the word of God should first be spoken to them, from then on he began to harvest more among the Greek-speaking Gentiles, than among the physical offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
After they were expelled from Antioch by the authorities because the Jews had raised such a stink about them, Paul and Barnabas journeyed on to Iconium. They had a great response in Iconium and ended up staying quite a while despite much opposition. But they finally had to leave because of a plot to kill them, and from there they went on to Lystra in the region of Lycaonia.
They came upon a man crippled from birth who was “hearing” Paul speak. He attracted Paul’s attention, who, looking at him, “perceived that he had faith to be healed.” (Acts 14:9). Paul commanded the man to stand up, and, Luke writes, “he leaped and walked.” (14:10). The townspeople, seeing the miracle, all pagan Greeks apparently, thought that the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes had come down to them in the likeness of men! They were so impressed by the miracle, that the priests of Zeus brought oxen and garlands to the gate of the city, in order to perform sacrifices for Barnabas and Paul! Obviously, the “miracle” had attracted their attention! But Paul and Barnabas were horrified at being mistaken for gods! They tore their clothes, and then we have Paul’s first recorded preaching to a crowd of only Gentiles:
“Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. And with these sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.” (Acts 14:15-18).
Luke does not record anything else they said, but Paul’s approach to the religious Greeks was quite different from the presentation he had been making in every synagogue. As Paul later wrote, the “advantage” of being a Jew, was being privy to the acts and ways of God, “because unto them were committed the oracles of God.” (Rom 3:2). When speaking to the Jews in the synagogue, Paul spoke from the Scriptures, that they knew and respected, to “prove” that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. He took them through the whole journey from Abraham to Moses to Jesus, thoroughly explaining the fulfillment of the multitudes of Scriptures that pointed to the Lord Jesus.
However, with these Gentiles, Greek-speakers, he does not even mention Scripture or even Jesus at first. He first turns their attention to the One God of Israel, Maker of Heaven and Earth. He does exactly the same when he speaks to a similar crowd on Mars Hill in Athens on his second missionary journey. He skips all the background material that at that point only Jews would know, and goes straight to the heart of their need:
“That they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us: For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:27-31).
There were many other things that occurred on that trip, but we’ll sum it up by saying that after Lystra and Derbe nearby, Barnabas and Paul reversed course, revisiting most of the places where they had been before. Before they left them, in order to ensure their continued growth in the Lord, Paul and Barnabas confirmed “the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” (Acts 14:22,23). Eventually they took a ship back to Antioch where they had started, and told the brethren there of all the Lord’s works in the places they had been.
It was with that background, having founded and set up small communities of Christian Jews and Gentiles, that Paul and Barnabas faced down those who had come from Jerusalem, demanding that all Gentile new convert males be circumcised, something which Paul was not practicing and did not plan to institute. For those from Jerusalem, keeping the Law was at stake. For Paul and his Gentile believers, salvation by faith without the works of the law, was at stake. It was a very big issue. Up until that time the fledgling Christian movement was seen only as a sect of Judaism. Had circumcision been enforced on the Gentiles, it would have remained just that. They would have become the Jews who kept the Law who also believed Jesus was their Messiah. However, once the rite of circumcision was not required for entry into the faith, the Christian movement stopped being a dissenting sect of Judaism, and became a completely separate entity, being progressively more and more Gentile, while becoming less and less Jewish.
END PART TWO