ACTS 15 - THE JERUSALEM CONFERENCE
There arose within the NT church a body of men to taught
that physical circumcision was "a must" in order to be saved.
They also wanted all Gentiles to observe the law of Moses in its
details. It would seem that most of these teachers of such a
doctrine were from the sect of the Pharisees (verses 1,5).
Paul and Barnabas had many "a run in" with these fellows,
strongly disagreeing with them over their theology on this
matter. Finally it was thought appropriate by the church to send
Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and
elders there concerning this issue about physical
We have already seen in part one of this study that if Peter
was the head decision maker, the one with top authority, the one
who was to feed the others the truth of the keys of the kingdom,
then such a meeting need not have taken place. The church as a
whole could have just asked Peter to turn the key and open the
door to pass down his judgment verdict. Letters could have been
sent out to all churches giving forth Peter's authoritative "I
have spoken, and so it will be" answer to this troubling
But such never happened, because Peter simply did not have
primacy over the other apostles/elders and members of the church.
Luke(the author of Acts) mentions no word coming from Peter
voicing his primacy above all in the church, and so rendering
such a ministerial conference un-necessary.
But the argument goes that it was AT this conference that
Peter exercised his primacy. Really? Let's read carefully what
was done and said in this chapter, adding no more, but asking a
few questions as we go along.
The meeting began(verse 6). There was "MUCH DISPUTING...."
Obviously many had their say, much talk from all who wanted to
say something on the matter. Then Peter rose up and said: "Men
and brethren, you know how that a good while ago God made choice
among us, that I would be the head apostle, that I would be the
chief teacher and feeder of spiritual knowledge. You will
remember, and for those who do not because they may be relatively
new to the church, I restate it here again. You'll remember that
Jesus gave to me above anyone else in the church, a special gift
of having the keys to the Kingdom. Having the ability to discern
the truth of any matter, and especially the hard ones that the
church would have to face and find the answers on. I think all
would agree this subject that we are all gathered here to
discuss, is one for me as having primacy, to make judgment upon
and settle once and for all. This problem has been going on for
far too long. I have heard all the disputing by many here. Now
I will render the decision that God will bind, so all the church
can have unity and peace."
No! Peter DID NOT SAY ANYTHING CLOSE TO THOSE WORDS!
Peter re-iterated how God used him to preach the word to the
Gentiles, and to give them also the Holy Spirit just as the Jews
had received. He went on to say that by this God was showing
there was no difference between Jew and Gentile, that both
would be saved through the grace of Christ(verses 7-11).
After Peter spoke, was it yet over? Did anyone say: "Look,
the apostle with top authority, the head of the physical church
on earth, the one who is to feed us all at times has spoken. He
has the final authoritative word on the matter" ? NOT AT ALL!
Luke(the writer of Acts) goes on to tell us: "THEN ALL THE
MULTITUDE KEPT SILENCE, AND GAVE AUDIENCE TO BARNABAS AND
PAUL(verse 12). These two men presented their case with their
proof, over all the years they had been doing the work of God
among the Gentiles!
So it is quite evident to the honest reader that Peter DID
NOT HAVE THE LAST WORD, NOR DID HE WRAP IT ALL UP WITH ANY FINAL
DECISION, BECAUSE OTHERS CONTINUED TO SPEAK ABOUT THE ISSUE THAT
THEY HAD COME TO DISPUTE OVER AND REACH A VERDICT ON, AFTER PETER
What do we then find after Barnabas and Paul had given their
two cents worth? Do we find Peter coming back and saying; "Well
we have heard from everyone now. Give me ten minutes to talk to
God by myself in private. Give me this time to acquire the
answer from the Lord on this matter, and I as the one with
primacy will come back and render to you the answer, and what
must be taught as the truth to all the churches, concerning
Not at all! In fact there is no word recorded by Luke that
Peter SAID ANYTHING!
Look at the rest of THE CHAPTER, and see if you can find even the
name of Peter mentioned again. It, that is, even his name, is
NOT THERE AGAIN! NOTHING IS SAID ABOUT PETER WHATSOEVER IN THE
REMAINING VERSES OF THIS CHAPTER!
Something I suggest to you that would be very unlikely IF it was
Peter above all others who made the final decision as to what
would be the teaching of the NT church from that day forth, on
the issue of physical circumcision.
After Barnabas and Paul had spoken, WHO then spoke up?
It was James! Now some declare or assume that James was the
chief apostle at this meeting or that he was chairman, but
NOTHING in the word says he was either. Luke simply writes that
after Barnabas and Paul had spoken James answered. He had
listened(we are not told if he spoke earlier or not when there
was much disputing), and now after hearing many sides of the
issue he spoke. Luke says nothing about him having primacy over
all the others and so now rendering the authoritative decision as
to how the church will teach on the matter at hand. James could
clearly see what the scriptures taught on the subject, and quoted
Then in verse 19, he said: "Wherefore my sentence is......"
not "Wherefore as there is invested in me by Christ Jesus the
power to bind and loose, my final decree will be....." or "I have
consulted with Peter who has primacy over us and the judgment
No, James after listening to all speak, weighing the evidence,
seeing what the Holy Spirit had done, and looking into the
scriptures, he gave his judgment or sentence on the matter.
That's all, no more and no less. He said what he thought should
be done and what should be said to the Gentiles(verses 19-21).
Then notice what Luke writes beginning with verse 22.
"Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the WHOLE
church to send chosen men(names given)........chief men(some men
- plural - were thought of as "chief" men, but notice Peter's
name is not there. If he was thought of as one of the chief men,
he was not chosen for this specific undertaking) among the
Within any organization of some size there are going to be
men who with their natural abilities, learned skilled, and gifts
of the Spirit, are going to be considered as "leading" or "chief"
men among the total of men within that organization. This is the
natural state of life and naturally to be expected. It does not
mean that such men have dictatorial primacy authority over the
rest. The men chosen in Acts chapter six, to "serve tables" had
to meet certain qualification laid down by the apostles.
Obviously among thousands to pick from not all men would have met
those qualifications. That does not take away from those not
qualified, it just means that we are all at different stages of
spiritual growth and we all have natural abilities and gifts of
the Spirit as God distributes to each to profit all. We are all
called to function in different areas within the body of
Christ, and one does not have dictatorial primacy, as in the
military structure of a nation, over the other. But all respect
and serve each other for the function each performs.
I explain this very thoroughly in my book on Church
Government. Certainly the men chosen in Acts 6 would have been
considered as "chief men among the brethren." But remember the
NT does not use such a phrase as meaning some individuals in the
church can rule and order around others as a master would a
From the context it would seem correct to say that the two
men noted as "chief among the brethren" (Judas and Silas), were
called such not because of great talents and abilities, but
because they were men "that have hazarded their lives for the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ"(verse 26).
Look carefully at some of the words of the letter that these
men were to deliver to the churches. Here was a wonderful
opportunity not only for the church at Jerusalem but
for the Holy Spirit, to proclaim to the churches of God that the
body of Christ had a head apostle who had the final word, the
primacy of authority, the one with more knowledge and understand
of the keys of the Kingdom than anyone else. The one who could
answer all major theological questions that could arise within
Christianity. Here was the opportunity to tell the churches that
this man was Peter, or James, or John, or Paul or
whoever it was. But the letter is deafeningly silent about such
an important doctrine as a one man primacy in the church. The
whole NT is silent about it!!
The letter starts out: "The apostles and elders and
brethren"(verse 23). It then recounts the main doctrinal problem
that had circulated far and wide, which necessitated the
Jerusalem conference(verse 24). The letter proceeds to state
that the chosen men carrying the news of the decision from the
conference, was from not any one man but from "us being assembled
with one accord."
The most important point to our study is in verse 28. The
decision on the doctrinal truth spoken about in verse 24, was NOT
FROM PETER or JAMES or any one man, but "it seemed good to the
Holy Spirit, AND TO US......" THE "US" IS THE SAME "US"
IN VERSE 25, WHICH IS TIED TO THE "WE" OF VERSE 24, WHICH IN TURN
GOES BACK TO VERSE 23, "THE APOSTLES AND ELDERS AND BRETHREN."
There it is, really very plain to see, if you have no
preconceived doctrine of men to uphold. Acts 15 cannot be used to
prove, nor does it teach, that the NT church had some individual
apostle who was the head, who had the primacy, who was authorized
by Christ to exercise final dictatorial "binding and loosing"
doctrines on the church of God.
This is the well known section of the THREE "loves" asked of
Peter by Christ, and the answer each time of Jesus to "feed my
lambs" and "feed my sheep."
Some say this was a unique and special theological primacy
given to Peter. The primacy being that he above all other
apostles and elders in the church, was to have leading authority
in spiritual matters.
In reading this passage of scripture from my childhood,
together with the rest of the NT, I had NEVER understood it to
mean that Peter had theological primacy. There is just nothing
else, no other verse or passage of scripture in the NT to give
credence to such a view. In fact many NT passages would prove
just the opposite is true, including Acts 15. Peter himself
acknowledged that Paul wrote NT scriptures(2 Pet.3:16). Paul
certainly made it plain in some of his letters and epistles that
no man added anything to his theological understanding and
In John 21 Jesus was giving Peter a personal lesson on
loving Him, and if he really did love Him, it would go hand in
hand with fulfilling one of the main functions of being an Elder
and minister of Jesus Christ. And that important duty would be to
spiritually FEED the sheep of the Lord.
At this time did Jesus only have 12 sheep, and so Jesus was
telling and commissioning Peter to teach the other
apostles/elders? No, not at all! Jesus had many more than 12
apostles at this time. He had only 12 He called apostles yes, but
He also had MANY other disciples. The 12 were chosen FROM among
the disciples - see Luke 6:12-16; Mark 3:13,14.
Peter was to spiritually feed the sheep as the sheep would
come into the fold, as the sheep would grow in numbers, and as
Jesus would guide and direct him within the plan of God for each
individual apostle/elder, for the work they would be called to
do. In the process of time, God was to mainly use Peter in giving
forth the truth of the word to the Jews, while Paul was to mainly
go to the Gentiles(Gal.2:7,8). So "feed my sheep" is to betaken
as a general statement, because it is plain that God used Peter
and Paul eventually in a specific limited spiritual feeding of
certain sheep within the whole fold, during their physical lives.
Is there any word here where Jesus said to Peter: "I now
make you the leader with primacy over all others to feed the
elders and saints in the church with spiritual food." ?
No, Christ just gave Peter instruction to "feed my sheep" but
added nothing about him being the head and authority in the
theology department of the church.
So Peter was to feed the sheep of the Lord, as the Lord
directed and led. But did not Paul do likewise? Oh, you bet he
did! Are not all elders to "feed the sheep"? Why Peter himself
said they were indeed to do so - see 1 Peter 5:1-3.
In my book on Church Government there was given plenty of
proof from the Greek NT to prove that an elder is a bishop who is
an overseer who is a shepherd of the church of God. It is quite
easy to see in Acts 20 and verses 17, 28-30. The elders of
Miletus were overseers of the flock, and were to feed the church
ALL ELDERS are to feed the sheep, it is part of their
function as overseers in the church, as the Lord leads in
specific ways at different times.
In fact the teacher and him being taught are to teach each
other at times - see Gal.6:6.
Part of the very qualifications that must be met to be a
bishop or elder is to be skilful in teaching(as the Greek should
be understood), not a novice, and to take care of the church of
Now that as I see it means "feed my sheep" for EVERY Elder,
and as we are according to Peter ".....all be subject one to
another, and be clothed with humility....."(1 Peter 5:5), I see
where that means we are all to be willing to feed the sheep and
be fed by each other.
Nothing here in John 21 to establish any primacy for Peter
in any feeding of the sheep.
2 COR.11:5; 12:11
What about Paul talking as if there were "chiefest
apostles"? Some background information on Paul and the church
at Corinth will be helpful. Some of the "Study Bibles" will
contain the following notes.
Paul had established the word of God in Corinth during his
second missionary journey(Acts 18:1-17). Many were converted.
Paul stayed about 18 months, ministering zealously in site of
great opposition. Apollos continued the work after Paul had
left(Acts 18:24-19:1). One of the large problems that developed
after Paul had left was that the Christians there split into
different fractions over loyalties to various human teachers.
Paul spent a lot of time correcting this problem in his first
letter(the one we call the first), the beginning chapters.
Coming over into Paul's second letter to them, we find it
was written at the end of his two-to-three-year ministry in
Ephesus (see Acts 19:8-10; 20:31). The letter was written perhaps
six months to a year after he wrote 1 Corinthians (compare 8:10;
9:2 with 1 Cor.16:1).
Paul had originally sent a letter to the church at Corinth(1
Cor.5:9). Later some came to Paul at Ephesus asking for guidance;
they returned, possibly carrying 1 Corinthians with them (see 1
Cor.16:17-19). Timothy visited Corinth (1 Cor.4:17; 16:10,11)
and probably went back to Paul in Ephesus with news of opposition
to Paul and continued division in the church. Paul made a
"sorrowful" visit (2 Cor.1:23-2:1), which did little to solve the
problems. He sent a severe letter by Titus (2:3). While at
Macedonia he received better news from the Corinthians (2:12,13;
7:5-7,13-16). Immediately he sent this reconciling letter we know
as 2 Corinthians.
One main purpose of this letter was Paul's concern that
FALSE apostles were leading the Corinthians away from the pure
truth of the gospel they had been given by himself and Apollos.
These false apostles were taking advantage of the people by
claiming apostolic authority and boasting of human abilities and
achievements. Paul defends his own authority as one of God's
true apostles by referring to what God had done through him.
The letter contains three basic sections - chapters 1-7;
8-9; 10-13. For our present study we are concerned with chapters
11 and 12.
Chapters 10-13 deal with teachers at Corinth who challenged
Paul's apostolic authority and falsely claimed to be apostles.
Notice in the middle of chapter eleven, Paul in talking about
these apostles they were all "star eyed over" and "moon struck"
with, he pulls no punches but called them FALSE apostles(verses
13-15). He asks them to allow him to indulge in a little
"foolishness" - verses 16,17. He tells them they accept "fools"
readily(verse 19) seeing they are so wise(said with tongue in
cheek). They apparently were willing to take all kinds of abuse
from these fellows(verse 20). He says if they are Hebrews, so
what, he was also. If they were Israelite, no big deal, he was as
well. If they claimed descent from Abraham, he could claim that
Then NOTICE verse 23, "Are they ministers of Christ?" He
asks the question, and look how he answers himself, "I SPEAK AS A
Paul in no way was accepting these men as true
elders/ministers/apostles of the Lord!
Are you beginning to see the context of this chapter 11 and
the first half of chapter 12?
Go back to 11:1, see how Paul starts off this discourse:
"Would to God you could bear with me a little in my FOLLY....."
Paul was quite concerned that they were leaving the faith
once delivered to them. They were it would seem to him leaving
the simple plain truths of Christ and not only listening but
following "another gospel" and "another spirit." They were
lapping it all up and devouring what these teachers were dishing
out, like bees around a bee hive, thinking it was truth while in
fact it was "another gospel" that Paul and other true apostles
of Jesus had never preached.
All this context shows what Paul really meant when he used
the words "very chiefest apostles" in referring to these men. HE
WAS NOT ONE BIT BEING SERIOUS!
HE WAS REALLY SAYING THIS WITH TONGUE IN CHEEK, TWO TONGUES IN
TWO CHEEKS IF HE HAD TWO TONGUES! He was speaking "not after the
Lord, but as it were FOOLISHLY"(verse 17).
Paul knew that these men were as much true apostles of the
Lord as the man in the moon.
He is using sarcasm against them, as well as his own
personal abilities, gifts and deeds in a comparison(which he says
is somewhat foolish to do but the Corinthians left him with no
choice if he was going to prove his point to them, and free them
from the spell they seemed to be under from these false
The AMPLIFIED BIBLE is the one I recommend you read these
two chapters in. Here is a little from that amplified
"I wish you would bear with me while I indulge in a
little(so-called) foolishness. Do bear with me!........But (now)
I am fearful.......For(you seem readily to endure it) if a man
comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we
preached.......or a different gospel.......You tolerate(all that)
well enough! Yet I consider myself as in no way inferior to
these (precious) extra-super(false) apostles...........Now I have
been (speaking like) a fool! but you forced me to it, for I ought
to have been(saved the necessity and) commended by you. For I
have not fallen short one bit or proved myself at all inferior to
those superlative(false) apostles(of yours), even if I am nothing
- a nobody" (2 Cor.11:1,3- 5; and 12:11).
Paul in those two chapters of 2 Corinthians was not
seriously calling ANYONE the "very chiefest apostles."
The nearest that Paul ever came, to seriously calling and
giving some kind of title to any apostle, was in his letter to
the Galatians, chapter two, and verses 6 and 9. There
he used for some men in the Jerusalem church the phrases "seemed
to be something" and "seemed to be pillars." And we covered
that section of scripture in detail in the first or number one
part of this study.
When we honestly look at the whole New Testament, not adding
or reading meanings or interpretations into verses, there is
only ONE TRUTH that emerges. One man ONLY has primacy in the
church of God - the man CHRIST JESUS!
Keith Hunt(January 25 1997)
All quotations from the KJV unless otherwise stated