Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Did the Acts 15 "Council" Rely on the Exegesis of Scripture?
02/18/2012 - Tur8infanJason Stewart (whose apostasy was recently discussed), has posted a fictitious (and apparently also intended as facetious) dialog under the title, "Taking a Stand on the Scriptures Against the Traditions of Men." The title is mocking, of course. Stewart posits a hypothetical dialog between two Judaizers in the mid-first century. Stewart's attempt flops for a number of significant reasons, which we will investigate under several questions (I briefly examined the general question before).
I. Did the assembly in Acts 15 act on the authority of Scripture?
Stewart's dialog is more telling than he might like to admit. He writes:
Phineas: “Well, tell me what Scripture texts they cited to prove their position.”
Malachi: “They didn’t. Not a single one. Well, not unless you count Bishop James quoting a couple of verses from Amos during his summary. But afterward I went back and looked, and that passage has nothing to do with circumcision. So I don’t know why he even referred to it.”
First, let's look at what the text of Scripture actually says:
And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, after this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
The italicized portion is a quotation from Amos 9:11-12:
In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.
First, it is telling that Stewart's characters (and presumably Stewart himself) do not know why the Scripture was quoted. Actually "Phineas"/Stewart says:
Phineas: “I never thought I’d say this but it sounds like there’s more of the Council’s will at work here than God’s. It has all the makings of a man-made tradition imposed as God’s will. They have absolutely no scriptural basis for what they’ve done. Tacking on a Scripture verse at the end doesn’t make it all okay. In truth, this doesn’t just lack a biblical basis, it flat out contradicts the Scriptures. I’m still reeling from this news. I never thought I’d see the day.”
But isn't it absurd to suppose that the verse was just "tacked on"? Is it just because it has a nice poetic sound to it? Or was there a reason? Of course, there was a reason.
James explains that Peter's testimony (and implicitly the testimony of Paul and Barnabas as well) regarding what the Holy Spirit did among the Gentiles is trustworthy, because of what the Scriptures say. Their alleged experience is being judged by what the Scriptures say.
Stewart's claim (in the mouth of "Malachi") is that these verses have "nothing to do with circumcision." That just seems to demonstrate Stewart's lack of exegetical fortitude. The verses do have to do with circumcision, although they don't use the word "circumcision." How so?
These verses refer to the "heathen which are called by my name." These are heathen people, not Jews, yet they are called by the name of the Lord. What distinguishes heathen from Jews? Chiefly, the visible (though obviously not prominent) mark is circumcision. That they are referred to as heathen even while being called by the name of the Lord, demonstrates that they do not require circumcision in order to be the followers of God.
Moreover, note that God is taking credit for "doing this." That's monergism at its finest. James' comment, "Known unto God are all his works ..." is his acknowledgment that the prophecy of Amos has been fulfilled. James' statement, however, is also gleaned from the prophets in that it is at least implied in the following passages:
Ecclesiastes 3:11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.
Isaiah 46:9-10 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
Isaiah 48:3 I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass.
James was citing Scripture as authority on this question of the circumcision. But Amos 9:11-12 is not the only passage dealing with the future in-gathering of the Gentiles:
Isaiah 60:3 And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
Isaiah 60:5 Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee.
Isaiah 60:9 Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the LORD thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee.
Jeremiah 16:19 O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.
Psalm 72:17 His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.
Isaiah 65:1 I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.
Jeremiah 3:17 At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart.
Romans 9:26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God. [Note: this one is included just to demonstrate that I'm not alone in thinking that the Old Testament said this.]
Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
Nevertheless, Amos is the most explicit in terms of describing the "heathen that are called by my name." In short, James and more generally the assembly at Jerusalem described in Acts 15 did act on the authority of Scripture, and the relevant Scripture did answer the question, without using the word "circumcision."
II. What was the Rationale of the Assembly?
Mr. Stewart included the following exchange in his dialog:
Phineas: “So on what basis did they make the decision?! They had to give some rationale!”
Malachi: “Peter related his experiences of Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit by faith, and then Paul and Barnabas told stories from the mission field. But at the end of the discussion it was Bishop James that said, and I’ll quote him best as I remember, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place this burden of circumcision on you Gentiles.”
It's remarkable how "Malachi"/Stewart skips merrily over the Scripture portion of the discussion. In contrast, as noted above, James actually skips over Paul and Barnabas' accounts. Moreover, "Malachi"/Stewart uses the word "circumcision" in his conclusion, but James does not and the whole church at Jerusalem does not. The only time it even appears in the official letter is in the description provided by the Judaizers:
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: and they wrote letters by them after this manner;
The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, "Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law:" to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
So, marvelously, this word that it was supposedly so important to find in Amos doesn't get mentioned in the James' conclusion or that of the official letter. The reason, of course, is that just as I noted above, the issue was really over whether the Gentiles had to become Jews.
Recall the way that Paul put the debate in Galatians:
Galatians 2:14 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?
Likewise, look at the summary in Acts 21:
And when they heard it, 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. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
Notice, again, the summary of what the official letter said does not even mention circumcision as such. The question is more broadly whether they need to follow the law, that is, be and live like Jews.
As for the specific line, "it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us," it seems Mr. Stewart supposes that this is a claim that the church at Jerusalem was inspired, but there are two more reasonable explanations. First, the Scripture itself is the product of the Holy Ghost. He inspired it, and he prophesied what would occur. Second, and perhaps more accurately, the Holy Ghost came upon the Gentiles and give them the miraculous and extraordinary sign gifts while they were still Gentiles. Moreover, the Holy Ghost came to Peter in a vision and informed that he was free to eat unclean meat, immediately before the group from the gentile, Cornelius, arrived.
III. What was the Tradition of Men here?
The unauthorized tradition, the tradition of men, was the tradition of the Judaizers. Remember what the official letter said: "Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, "Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law:" to whom we gave no such commandment." This error was then corrected with Scripture.
Thus, while Stewart's dialog was mockingly titled, ironically, it was an accurate description of the case.
IV. Is the Acts 15 Assembly Normative of Anything?
A. Who constituted the assembly?
The assembly in Acts 15 was not only the apostles, but also the local elders from the Jerusalem church and the brethren there as well. For note:
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:
B. What issued from the assembly and who was "bound" by it?
The assembly issued a letter that was not directed to "the whole church of Jesus Christ" but rather to a specific group of Christians in a specific geographic area, and only to the Gentile Christians of that group. Recall:
Acts 15:23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:
So, what came out was a letter that was written to a particular group of Gentiles living in particular geographic areas. If this were a papal decree, it wouldn't meet the criteria for being "ex cathedra" because it not intended to bind the whole church.
C. Any appeal to their own authority?
The gist of their letter was one of disavowing the claim that they had issued a command that the Gentiles must become Jews. "We never said that, and we're not going to" was the point of the letter. While there is no doubt that the apostles had a lot of authority in the church, there is no appeal to, "We the united apostles have agreed ..." but rather, as noted above, the point was to disclaim the notion that anyone in Jerusalem had any such tradition on divine authority. So, you might say that there was some appeal to authority, but there was no clear indication that the authority sprang from the fact that the meeting was an "ecumenical council" or anything of that sort.
Indeed, further to (A) above, the church of Antioch etc. did not participate in the council, which is why the church at Jerusalem sent back "chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." These were sent as witnesses, so that the people at Antioch could be sure that the apostles in Jerusalem really hadn't issued the command attributed to them by the Judaizers.
D. Who called the assembly?
No emperor or bishop of Rome called the assembly, of course. Instead, the folks at Antioch were so troubled by the dissension over the topic that they sent to Jerusalem, the place from which the Judaizers had come (as can be seen both in Galatians 2 and Acts 15).
V. Implications for Rome's Ecclesiology?
What (as my brother, James White, recently discussed) are the implications that Mr. Stewart wants us to take away regarding his own church? Does he want us to think that the bishops of his church are apostles and prophets with the extraordinary gifts like Peter, Paul, and others at that assembly were? Does he want us to think that the bishops of Rome get visions like Peter received? How is the assembly at Acts 15 supposed to "cash out" when you turn to Rome? These are questions that it seems Mr. Stewart has not thought carefully about. And the killer question is - why would we treat with equal or greater respect a council of men who don't have extraordinary experiences, the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and the in-person instruction of Jesus as compared to a council of men that all those things? There's no compelling answer that can be given. Peter and Paul had the Holy Spirit in a way that, quite obviously, no one has today. Their extraordinary gifts testified to their authority - but what testifies to the authority of the Roman bishop?
VI. What if the Point is Just that Private Judgment is Bunk?
An alternative reading of Stewart's dialog is just as a general mockery of private judgment. At the end of the dialog, Stewart has his Judaizers saying this:
Malachi: “I know. So, what are we going to do? My heart sank the moment I heard the ruling.”
Phineas: “We must do the only thing we can do. The thing God wants us to do. We must reason with them from the Scriptures and demonstrate what the divinely inspired writings clearly teach on this matter. We have to show them they’ve made a grave error. You well know you can’t be a follower of the Lord and remain uncircumcised. This is serious. An uncircumcised person is destined for destruction. The Lord’s wrath burned against Moses’ for neglecting the covenantal sign, as I’m sure you remember.”
Malachi: “I do. What if they don’t reverse their decision? I began thinking about that possibility.”
Phineas: “I’m hopeful they’ll come around. After all, they are Jesus’ apostles, which means they learned first hand that Jesus didn’t come to abrogate the law but to fulfill it, and that our Lord himself was circumcised. They themselves bear the mark of the covenant in their bodies, after all!”
Malachi: “But let’s say they don’t agree with us? What if they don’t agree with the Scriptures?”
Phineas: “Well, then, as much as I hate to say it, we’ll have to separate from them and organize churches that are faithful to the Scriptures and our most ancient faith as it was taught by Jesus. God has spoken in the Scriptures and so we will take our stand on the Scriptures. No man or group of men has the authority to set aside what God commands in his holy Word. We have to obey God rather than men. You never know, if we do have to separate, maybe our example of faithfulness to the Word of God will bring them back to the truth.”
The focus of this dialog seems to be on trying to illustrate what Stewart sees as a Sola Scriptura mindset. But the problem is not with the principle of Sola Scriptura, but rather with Stewart's understanding of Scripture. We have already provided some examples of Stewart's exegetical frailty above, but there is more in this section.
The idea that "an uncircumcised person is destined for destruction" does not reflect the text of Scripture. Recall that before Abraham's circumcision, it is written:
Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Moreover, consider all those who believed from Adam, Abel, and Enoch down to the family of Abraham and Melchizedek. They were uncircumcised, but they were not "destined for destruction." (Oh, and don't forget about - you know - I hate to have to even mention this - but every woman) Stewart seems to have imposed his misunderstanding of the nature of baptism back into the Old Testament. Circumcision, like Baptism, was not what saved anyone. People are saved by grace through faith. Adam and Abel were saved the same way Abraham was, and we are saved the same way as well - though with clearer vision than they had.
But let's set aside Stewart's exegetical failures. What if fundamentally people cannot understand what Scripture is saying? Then, of course, Stewart's whole case falls apart. After all, if people fundamentally can't understand what Scripture is saying, it is pure hubris to suppose that they understand what Stewart himself is saying. Moreover, of course, if they can't understand what Scripture is saying, then Stewart himself (as one of "people") also cannot understand. Moreover, to make matters worse - not only is Stewart acting as though he thinks he understands Acts 15, through his mocking dialog, he is suggesting that he thinks others may also be able to understand Acts 15. But if private judgment is bunk - this is all a tremendous waste of time.
VII. Was a Council needed to Settle a Disagreement Between Peter, Paul, and putatively James?
This is really related to the earlier question about the impact on Stewart's ecclesiology. Recall that, per Galatians, in this dispute at Antioch, Paul opposed Peter to his face. Recall:
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. 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?
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.
Clearly, Peter came around to Paul's way of thinking, but they didn't just settle the matter at Antioch. They went back to James. When they got there, they found a "sect of the Pharisees" that taught the circumcision was required (oh, how early heresies started to creep in!), but James denied having commanded that the Gentiles must be circumcised and obey the law of Moses.
Still, at the time in Antioch, Paul withstood Peter to Peter's face. Why couldn't Paul just obey what the "pope" said if that's what Peter was? Moreover, why were not the folks at Antioch satisfied by Paul's authority? The reason was James and his apparent authority, and the implicit suggestion that this was a teaching that had been handed down.
VIII. What might one to do avoid this problem?
Suppose that you were an apostle in charge of Christianity. Seeing the problems that can arise from fake oral tradition (the Judaizers really did have contact with the apostle James). What might you do, knowing that you and the other apostles were going to die, that persecution would prevent any effective central control for a century or more, and knowing that there would be false teachers and heretics who would arise? One approach you might take is to leave behind writings that capture the actual teachings of Jesus and the apostles, so that people could refer to them when questions arose. In fact, this is what God provided for us, notwithstanding the mockery of Stewart and others.
Having written the above (well, much of it - I went back and altered a few points later), I reviewed the comment box. There, I found Stewart commenting:
Whatever old covenant texts the Council may have considered, the final rationale for the Gentile exemption is given in the bare statement: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us…” Note well that St. James isn’t basing the Council’s decision on Amos 9:11, 12. Instead, and contrary to what one would expect if Scripture alone is the final authority, the prophet Amos is produced simply as a scriptural witness agreeing with the apostolic ruling. Mark carefully the order – the prophet agrees with the Council’s conclusion, not the other way around.
Stewart should read more carefully. James pronounces a sentence, and only after that does the assembly agree. His reference to Scripture is part of his rationale. What Scripture agrees with (and confirms) is the Apostles' experience, not the other way 'round. The comment continued:
In addition, the old covenant Scriptures never give the slightest inkling that God will one day sheath the knife of circumcision. A.D. 49 is the first time this teaching is promulgated to God’s people.
This is simply a sad reflection on Stewart's inability to understand Amos 9:11-12, and his apparent lack of awareness regarding the other Scriptures (see the examples provided above in section I).
Stewart additionally commented:
One more thing….
How loud must the Holy Spirit increase the volume of the text before readers hear the obvious importance of St. Peter’s presence in Acts 15? His statements and reasonings dominate the chapter. St. James makes his final appeal in reference to Simon’s (Peter’s) words before citing the witness of Amos, and concluding by crafting a conciliar statement that encapsulated the Council’s mind (motivated as it was by Peter) on the matter of Gentile circumcision. St. Peter is the man at the Jerusalem Council. The ecclesial spotlight is on him.
Peter's statements/reasonings occupy five verses. They are important, and James does mention them. But they hardly dominate the chapter.
What dominates the chapter is Paul. Paul is the champion of the faith in vs. 2. The church at Antioch (which included Peter, see Galatians 2) sends Paul and others to Jerusalem to hash it out with James (the people from whom the Judeans had come, see Galatians 2). In verse 3, on the way to Jerusalem, Paul declares the conversion of the Gentiles and gets a great reception. In verse 4, Paul and company (Peter or the fact that he was in Antioch and came along to Jerusalem isn't even mentioned) are received by the apostles. After Peter makes his five-verse speech, it's not over. Paul then gives an account of his experiences (vs. 12). Paul makes the list of people to go back to Antioch with the news (vs. 22) and because he was already known as the champion of this position, they send men with him. Paul gets called "beloved" in the letter (vs. 25) and Peter isn't even mentioned in the letter (except under the general grouping of "apostles"). And I could go on, but the rest of the chapter is also Paul, Paul, and more Paul. In fact, of course, the chapter divisions are not original, and Paul dominates this whole section of Acts.
Not to mention, of course, that when it comes time to actually make a decision, while Peter is first to say something memorable (isn't he always?), James is last. It is James whose final word becomes, in effect, the word of the whole group. In the assembly itself, even though Peter may talk more, the focus is on James and his decision.
So, Peter doesn't dominate either the chapter or the council. Peter is not unimportant (he's the third most important person - tied with Barnabas), but calling him "the man" just displays Stewart's prejudice to think too highly of him.
Here are Peter's statements and reasonings:
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Notice that Simon ("the man") Peter doesn't mention the word circumcision. The "yoke" he mentions is not circumcision (they and their fathers did bear that yoke) but the whole ceremonial law. If only Stewart would pay attention to "the man" he might figure out why Amos 9:11-12 are relevant. As Peter explains, the Gentiles were saved by faith without having been circumcised. The evidence is the "gift of the Holy Ghost" (namely the miraculous sign gifts). They received that, while still Gentiles.
Also, if Stewart were paying more attention to "the man" he would notice that it is "faith alone" that Peter is teaching as the instrumental means of salvation. It's not as well developed as Paul's discussion in the epistles, but it is there nonetheless.
Furthermore, as well, "the man" that Stewart lavishes with excessive praise is teaching another important doctrine: grace alone. Notice, indeed, that Peter recognizes that it is through and not through meritorious works that both the Jews and Gentiles are saved. The Jews could not merit salvation through works and the Gentiles cannot either. Again, see Paul's epistles for a more full discussion.
Considering that this part of the passage "dominates" (per Stewart) one might wish that the doctrines and faith of Peter would dominate Stewart's mind - instead of encouraging him to impose the papacy anachronistically onto the passage.
As to the notion that James and Jerusalem in Acts 15 contradict the claims of Roman primacy….
St. James’ conclusion to the deliberations harmonizes naturally with his pastoral role as Bishop of Jerusalem. He is simply acting as the resident Shepherd of the city and host of the Council. And, of course, Roman primacy was years away as Peter had not yet established his See in that city.
None of this, of course, has any legitimate basis in the text (we can talk about its very questionable basis in tradition another time). Moreover, why would the "resident Shepherd of the city" pronounce the judgment of the assembly? Why wouldn't that be the "pope"'s role? This isn't just an appeal to questionable traditions, it's a blindingly ad hoc appeal to them.
Later, we find another comment from Stewart:
Can you please locate one passage or verse in the OT that indicates circumcision (an Abrahamic institution, btw) will cease as a requirement for the Lord’s people? Given the Protestant belief in the perspicuity of Scripture, I would imagine finding something will be relatively easy.
Is Stewart really this unfamiliar with the doctrine of perspicuity? That doctrine does not say that every doctrine is plainly taught in Scripture, but only that the necessary doctrines are plainly taught. Moreover, it is self-evidently clear that circumcision cannot be required for salvation, at least from the fact that women cannot be circumcised. Moreover, as already abundantly explained above, Amos 9:11-12 is precisely that passage, and that's just the reason that James quoted it.