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.
DIVISION OVER THE GENTILES
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”
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
“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?”
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
The indication is that Peter “tucks his tail” and heads back to
Jerusalem, not fully understanding the Gentile position in the Acts
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
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
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
Without mentioning them by name, Paul most certainly, and assuredly,
made reference to the Extremists and how they adversely affected the
“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
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.