Friday, May 6, 2011

The Significance of the Jerusalem Council and Paul’s Approach with the Athenians

The decision that was made in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem council was a powerful one. It would change the way believers were supposed to interact with one another. While some Jews wanted to keep Gentiles fully excluded from the faith others wanted to put a yoke upon them that even the Jews themselves could not keep. But, there were those men who had seen what God was doing first hand who felt that Gentiles should be fully included in the blessing God was handing out. Fernando states it like this,

“In arguing for the full inclusion of Gentiles into the church Peter appealed to direct guidance and intervention from God, and Barnabas and Paul appealed to God’s confirmation of their work through signs and wonders. James appeals to Scripture, showing that “the words of the prophets are in agreement with [symphonousin] what has happened (v. 15).”[1]

While we may not fully understand the way the prophets spoke of Gentile inclusion, because so often we better understand the Messianic prophecies. Bock points out,

“This fulfills not only the promise to David about his line but also a commitment to Abraham that through his seed the world would experience blessing (Gen. 12.3; Acts 3:25-26; Gal. 3). Thus James argues that this Gentile inclusion is part of the plan of Davidic restoration that God through the prophets said he would do.”[2]

So by having the leaders of the early church validate the Gentiles inclusion showed a shift in those who were to be called God’s people. The council did not just allow the Gentile to walk in and take over; however, they did put a few stipulations on them for the sake of the Jews. Fernando notes, “If there was going to be openhearted fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians, there would have to be some sensitivity to Jewish scruples by the Gentiles.”[3]

Paul shared his faith with the Athenians like he would with everyone else with a fervorance and passion to help them understand their need for Jesus’ redemptive power. Fernando sums it up like this, “Paul’s speech before the Areopagus remains a model of sensitive but forthright confrontation of an intellectual audience with claims of the gospel.”[4] Paul spoke to them in a way they could relate, much like the USA, Athens was tolerant of many “gods”. Paul would go on to use their idols to give them the gospel. According to Bock,

“Their idol to the “unknown god” allows Paul to open the door for discussing the one true God of creation. Paul is not equating the god worshipped here by the Greeks and the God he will preach, but the altar is a segue into discussing the one true God.”[5]

So much like Paul told us in 1 Cor. 9:22 we should “become all things to all people”, so we can meet them where they are. We should not expect the same gospel presentation with an eight your old as we would a Wall St. business man. But, the core issue should always be the same and that is what Paul demonstrated with the Athenians.


Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2007.

Fernando, Ajith. NIV Application Commentary: Acts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.

[1] Ajith Fernando, NIV Application Commentary: Acts. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) 418.

[2] Darrell L Bock, Acts. (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2007)504 .

[3] Fernando, Acts, 419.

[4] Ibid, 475.

[5] Bock, Acts, 564.