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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Inauguration of the Gentile Mission (10, 1–15, 35)

Conversion of Cornelius ( 10, 1–11, 26 )

Before Paul can fulfill his role as one who carries the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, the leaders of the church must formally accept Gentiles into the Christian fellowship. The common meal was the basic expression of Christian unity. Paul reports an episode in which Jewish Christians from Jerusalem were unwilling to eat with the Gentile members of the Antioch church, presumably because they felt that such behavior would have violated the food laws that set Jews apart from other peoples. Paul says that before these people came, Peter himself was willing to share the meal with Gentile Christians, but that when the stricter Jewish Christians arrived, Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish Christians began to celebrate a separate meal (see Gal 2, 11–14 ). Peter may have been attempting to preserve harmony in the church by not offending Jewish Christians who could not bring themselves to change a whole lifetime of kosher food laws. The story of how Peter came to accept Gentile converts, which Luke repeats here, bears traces of that old dispute. God must direct Peter, in a vision, to renounce his former understanding of what represented clean and unclean food.

Peter takes others with him to Cornelius's house so that he has witnesses to what has happened. His sermon acknowledges the fact that God is impartial. Anyone can receive salvation through Jesus if that person honors God and acts justly. The Spirit even demonstrates to Peter and the others that Gentiles are to be accepted into the church by granting Cornelius and his household a mini‐Pentecost before they are baptized ( 10, 44–48 ). Upon his return to Jerusalem, Peter gains official approval for his actions from the other leaders there. He reports everything that had happened in connection with the Cornelius episode so that those in Jerusalem agree that “God has then granted life‐giving repentance to the Gentiles too” ( 11, 18 ).

The first church to include Jews and Gentiles in a single fellowship is founded by anonymous Christians in Antioch. Quickly, however, they obtain the services of two famous apostles, Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas is sent by the authorities in Jerusalem. He provides the link between Antioch and the church in Jerusalem ( 11, 19–26 ). Acts 11, 26 notes that the name “Christians” originated in Antioch. It appears that this name was first given to followers of Jesus by outsiders. It may have implied some scorn for the leader whom Christians worshipped, as appears to be the case when Agrippa uses it in Acts 26, 28 .

Paul's First Missionary Journey ( 11, 27–14, 28 )

The missionary efforts of Barnabas and Paul illustrate one of the principles of Luke's account of salvation history. Jewish rejection of the gospel leads the apostles to turn to the Gentiles, who receive God's salvation with joy. Paul's letters contain a number of references to an offering from his Gentile churches, which he took to Christians in Jerusalem (see Gal 2, 10; 1 Cor 16, 1–4; @@@@@2 Cor 8f). He does not deliver that collection until the final visit to Jerusalem (Rom 15, 30–32 ). Many scholars think that Luke has confused that episode with another tradition about some form of famine relief that had been associated with the predictions of a Christian prophet (Acts 11, 27–30 ).

The Jerusalem church suffers yet another round of persecution. We are told that James, the son of Zebedee, was martyred by the Jewish king and that Peter was imprisoned. He would have been executed if God had not intervened to rescue him from jail (Acts 12, 1–19 ). Herod Agrippa suffers a tortured death as divine punishment for his impiety ( 12, 20–24 ). In ancient stories, being eaten by worms was a typical punishment for tyrants who scorned the gods. A Jewish account of Herod's death has been preserved by the historian Josephus. His version agrees with Luke that Herod had accepted divine honors from his subjects and so been struck down. Josephus says, however, that the occasion was the celebration of athletic games at Caesarea.

Paul's first missionary journey establishes the pattern of first preaching in Jewish synagogues and then turning to the Gentiles. Paul makes this principle explicit in his sermon at Pisidian Antioch ( 13, 44–47 ). We have already seen that Luke wishes to show that Christianity is superior to pagan superstition. Paul overcomes a Jewish magician who had had influence with the Roman proconsul on Cyprus ( 13, 4–12 ), and in keeping with Luke's interest in the conversion of prominent persons, the proconsul becomes a believer. At Lystra, Paul and Barnabas must actually prevent the people from offering sacrifices to them as if they were pagan gods in human form ( 14, 8–18 ). Throughout this journey the apostles are plagued by hostility from Jews at the same time that they receive warm receptions from the Gentiles.

Gentile Mission Confirmed in Jerusalem ( 15, 1–35 )

All of these events prove to the leaders of the church that God does want them to accept Gentiles into the church. They must face the objections of Jewish Christians, however, who feel that to admit Gentiles without requiring them to observe the Law contradicts the whole story of God's covenant with Israel. They insisted that Jesus was the Messiah for those who sought to be faithful children of Abraham and followers of Moses. In addition to Acts, we have Paul's report of the council in Jerusalem (Gal 2, 1–10 ). The two versions of the meeting in Jerusalem do not agree in many of their details. Some scholars think that Paul is referring to an earlier meeting. When the agreement to divide missionary efforts, with Peter going to Jews and Paul to Gentiles, failed to resolve the difficulties that arose in mixed churches like Antioch, another meeting was held. At that meeting some restrictions were laid on the Gentiles. They had to avoid idolatry, avoid meat that Jewish law would have considered impure, and not enter into marriages that Jewish law considered incestuous. The decree is mentioned again in Acts 21, 25 . The list of prohibitions is based on rules in Leviticus 17–18 that regulate the behavior of non‐Jews who live among Jews. Adopting these rules would make it possible for Jewish and Gentile Christians to enjoy table fellowship.

Luke knew of a letter sent by James to Antioch that stated these rules. He presumed that they came from the same meeting at which Paul and Barnabas received authorization for a mission to the Gentiles that would not require the Gentiles to observe Jewish practices. Paul insists that there were no rules imposed on the Gentiles (Gal 2, 6 ). By Luke's time, the problem of table fellowship had disappeared, as most churches were predominantly Gentile. The significance of the Jerusalem Council lies in the way in which church leaders were able to recognize and officially affirm the new direction in salvation history that would permit expansion of the gospel beyond the nation and culture in which it was born to all peoples of the earth.

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