THE COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM
Around the year 48 an issue arose in Antioch concerning the circumcision of non-Jews, when some Christians coming from Judea claimed their freedom acquired in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 2:4), which even Paul and Barnabas invoked so as not to impose this rite of circumcision on pagan converts to Christianity. The community decided to consult the Apostles and Elders of Jerusalem. Thus, it sent Paul and Barnabas together with Titus, their Greek companion, as well as a delegation to accompany them to Jerusalem.
The Apostles and Elders of Jerusalem accepted Titus “uncircumcised”, thus recognizing the validity of Paul’s proclamation concerning the freedom of grace. The Assembly confirmed the main leaders of the Church and recognized the missionary vocation of Peter for the circumcised and that of Paul for the uncircumcised. As a matter of fact, a sort of partitioning of the missionary field occurred: James, Kephas and John were directed towards the Jews, while Paul and Barnabas were sent to preach to the pagans.
THE ANTIOCH INCIDENT
The incident occurred during Peter’s visit to Antioch and it bears witness to the integrity of Paul, who would not allow for any adaptations of the truth of the Gospel. What happened? At that time, a circumcised Jewish Christian could not sit at the same table with a Gentile Christian without falling into impurity. Peter, had always testified to the supreme power of faith in Christ which gathers together within itself all human beings. He continued to do so in Antioch until the arrival of other Christians sent by James, who presided over the community of Jerusalem. It was then that Peter, who had previously eaten with the Gentiles, withdrew and separated himself from them for fear of the circumcision party (thus concealing what he truly believed). Therefore Paul became angry: “I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong” (Gal. 2:11).
The compromise agreed upon in Jerusalem protected the existence of the mixed communities of the young Churches of Asia Minor, to whom Paul had preached. Nevertheless full communion between circumcised and uncircumcised was difficult. Therefore, was the salvation in Jesus Christ considered secondary? Paul claimed new life in the faith, the gift of the Spirit and the primacy of the divine promise over the law… The controversy had originally occurred between, on the one side, James and the Church of Jerusalem along with Peter and Barnabas who, although hesitant, allied themselves with James, and on the other side, the same Church of Antioch which in the end approved the compromise reached in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15:31). Eventually Paul left Antioch to visit the towns where he and Barnabas had previously taught, taking along with him Silas alone, who had been sent back to Antioch with Paul by the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem after the compromise had been reached. After this long novitiate, which endured 15 years, Paul entered into a new phase.