It seems apparent to me that the Jerusalem church authorities understood that Paul received a commission from the Lord, but they didn’t understand it. They couldn’t fully embrace it at the time of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem following his conversion. How do we know that they didn’t fully embrace Paul’s Gospel? It is because Peter needed a special revelation in order to treat gentiles just as he treated Jews (see Acts 10 and 11).
Why? What kept Peter and the other Apostles from fully believing that Paul knew what he was doing? To know that the Lord’s hand was upon someone was one thing, but to believe that this same person fully understood what the Lord wished to do in his life is quite another. Let’s face it. Peter’s understanding and reluctance in Acts 10 contradicts his acceptance of Paul in Acts 9:27-28 as compared with Galatians 1:18. Someone, either Peter or Paul, understood Paul was called of God but didn’t quite get what the Lord intended to do with his call. The vision of Acts 10 shows that it was Peter who didn’t quite get what the Lord was doing. But, why? Why didn’t Peter get it?
I believe the problem extends back to the Gospel narratives. First of all, the Lord himself, at least in the beginning, practiced all the Jewish traditions whether it was the Mosaic Law or the additional washings and cleansings of the body before eating etc. The implication of Matthew 15:1-2 is that Jesus and at least some of his disciples followed the traditions of the elders; whether strictly or in order not to offend those who did, the text doesn’t say. So, Peter and the Apostles knew the Lord lived as a good Jew in the eyes of all who knew him, even the Pharisees. If the Lord lived this way, how could Peter be wrong in choosing to do as the Lord did (see extended application of John 13:15). Moreover, the Scriptures show the Lord wanted his disciples to submit to the Jewish leader’s interpretation of the Law, which included the additional Oral Law (Matthew 23:1-3). In other words they were to live as good Jews before their countrymen. The only stipulation the Lord placed upon this was that his disciples were not to behave as the typical Jewish leader behaved, because they taught that one should be devoted to God, but they didn’t live that way. In other words, they pointed to God, but expected men to follow them. If men were not just as the leaders were, they would be excluded (cp. Matthew 23:13 and verse-15).
Paul’s Gospel included gentiles in the fellowship of God’s people without their having to become Jews. If all one was interested in doing was to point people to the true God, saying men should be devoted to their Creator, then telling them they must behave as Jews would be a contradiction—not that Jews were not devoted to God, but gentiles could become devoted to God without embracing the Jewish faith.
Peter and company were faced with a very new perspective and needed time to think things through. Indeed, handshake agreements were made during Paul’s 15 day stay with him, but just as Paul needed 3 years to come to terms with his conversion and receive the necessary revelation from the Lord to reach out to the gentiles (cp. Galatians 1:18), so, too, the Apostles and other church leaders at Jerusalem needed time to think all these things through before they could fully embrace what Paul was saying. We know they eventually got it, because the next persecution was directed at the Apostles (Acts 12:1-3), and after Peter fled to the predominantly gentile church of Antioch, he lived as a gentile (Galatians 1:11, 14), but this is the subject of a future blog, which I’ll get to in its own time.