Plainer Words On …


This series of studies includes the Introduction and Part I through Part VIII.
Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV - Part V - Part VI - Part VII - Part VIII


Part II


Many Jews of the dispersion who spoke Greek joined themselves to the assembly of believers in Jerusalem. They were referred to as Grecians. The Palestinian Jews did not readily accept them.

“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1).

Isn’t it strange how so many folks, who state that the present “church age” began in Acts 2, say that the book of Acts depicts the “model church?” Six chapters into the “model church” you find division within it. This division continued to Acts 10. As a result of the division between the two factions, the Apostles of the Circumcision decided that they were to devote themselves to the Word of God and prayer and “stop waiting on tables.” Seven men were selected in Acts 6 to “serve tables.” This was to pacify the Grecians.


Peter’s visit to Cornelius is recorded in Acts 10. Peter and those who went with him were astonished that God allowed the Word to be received by the Gentile household of Cornelius (Acts 10:45). When Peter returned to Jerusalem, we read:

“And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them” (Acts 11:1-3).

The Christians of the circumcision had no further objections after hearing Peter recount how the Lord directed him to speak the Word of God to Gentiles; “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). However, they still didn’t think it right for them to have intimate contact with the Gentile believers.

Acts 10 was the one and only time Peter proclaimed the Word to a Gentile. God would leave that task to another—the Apostle Paul.


As time went on, the Christian Jews in Jerusalem began to hear of the work of Saul, now called Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ. Word came from Antioch that Paul was doing extraordinary things among the Gentiles. It is evident that those apostles of the circumcision didn’t grasp what God’s program with the Gentiles was all about. They took what we’ll refer to as the Extremists’ position. They adhered to the principle that “men of other nations” should be subjected to the rites of proselytes: circumcision, baptisms, and offerings. The Extremists’ posture caused further division among believers. The Extremists were probably made up, mostly, of the Pharisees who had believed.

“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them [Gentiles], and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).

The Extremists sent emissaries to the area of Galatia insisting that the Gentile Christians should keep the Law of Moses which included being circumcised. In fact, they insisted that they couldn’t be saved without doing so.

“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.” (Acts 15:1-4)

Galatians Chapter Two informs us why Paul went to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus. It seems that Peter was part of those who were in Antioch, insisting that the Gentiles be circumcised and live after the manner of the Jews. This created an even wider breach between believers. As Peter made his way to Antioch, Paul was ready for him. It had been reported to Paul that Peter’s purpose for being in Galatia was to compel the Gentiles to live after the manner of the Jews.

“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation” (Galatians 2:11-13)

Paul rebuked Peter for being in Antioch and eating with the Gentiles, but insisting that they live like the Christian Jews in Jerusalem.

“But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
(Galatians 2:14).

It is also noted in Galatians that Peter did not understand “justification by faith” because Paul gives the mighty Peter a lesson on justification without the works of the Law.

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

The indication is that Peter “tucks his tail” and heads back to Jerusalem, not fully understanding the Gentile position in the Acts calling.

The Apostles of the circumcision moderated their views after the Acts 15 conference with Paul. The twelve agreed to limit their ministry to the circumcision, and Paul was to go to the “heathen.”

“And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision” (Galatians 2:9).

It seems that Peter finally “got it.” The last that is heard of Peter are his words in Acts 15:11; “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.”

Even though the Apostles to the Circumcision extended the right of fellowship to the Apostle to the Gentiles, this did not prevent other zealous Extremists from causing him more trouble. Throughout Paul’s Acts ministry, he had to continually contend with the efforts of the Extremists to undermine his doctrine and authority as an apostle. Abundant evidence of this is found in Galatians and the two Corinthian letters.

In Galatians, it is noted that Paul’s authority is challenged. His apostleship is questioned. The Extremists from Jerusalem showed no love for Paul and continued to insist that the saved Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. In fact, they preached “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6). It was not good news for the Galatians. Paul, as a matter of fact, referred to their gospel as “weak and beggarly elements” (Galatians 4:9).

Keep in mind, when reading and studying Galatians, it was written primarily to Christian Jews of the dispersion.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we find the Extremists had switched their tactics. In their effort to discredit Paul’s teachings, they did what all sects do when they cannot successfully refute another’s knowledge; they went after him with personal attacks. Not only that, but they perceived that Paul’s gospel was on a higher plane than theirs. This infuriated them. They were filled with envy, hatred, and strife. That’s always been the case, even among believers today.

The dark side of the two-natures of the child of God is stirred up when one group thinks another seems to have advanced farther in their understanding of scripture than they have. They threaten to excommunicate, ostracize, and ridicule the “wayward one.” Strife, among believers, is a dead-give-away of open carnality.

“For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3).

The Extremists questioned Paul’s apostleship. If an apostle, he was certainly a lesser one than the twelve. The twelve had even seen the risen Christ. He was not comparable to the “chief apostles.”

So, the Extremists’ attack switched from doctrine to that of questioning Paul’s credentials. This forced him to defend the authority bestowed upon him by the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:1-2).

Earlier in this epistle, he was forced to say:

“Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:13-16).

He said, in plainer words, “You may have ten-thousand instructors from Jerusalem, but you’ve got only one Daddy in the gospel, and that’s me.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:5, Paul said he “was not a whit behind the chiefest apostles.”

Without mentioning them by name, Paul most certainly, and assuredly, made reference to the Extremists and how they adversely affected the Corinthians:

“For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage [i.e. under the law], if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft” (2 Corinthians 11:20-23).

It’s amazing that those who were personally fathered by the Apostle Paul into the faith could be subverted by the Extremists.

The Extremists worked feverishly, as if driven, to overturn the faith of the “justified ones;” both Grecians and Gentiles. In Acts 21, we read what James told Paul after having heard of the things God had wrought among the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry:

“And when they heard it [the works of Paul], they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” (Acts 21:20-21).

Our take on the passage is rather cynical, perhaps, but it’s like telling what the Lord has revealed to you in the scripture only to hear it said; “Praise the Lord, but, here is what we believe and there are thousands who believe as we do.” That’s not a ringing endorsement.

So, here we note that there were thousands who were zealous of the Law and had believed the false reports about Paul—having no understanding of justification by faith without works.

Tom L. Ballinger


Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV - Part V - Part VI - Part VII - Part VIII