The Biblical Model for Handing On Truth and Refuting Error: Acts 15, The Council of Jerusalem

Error in teaching:

Acts 15:1
Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved."

Dissension and controversy:

Acts 15:2
Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, ...

Appeal to the apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem:

Acts 15:2
... it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question.

Apostles and presbyters convened:

Acts 15:6
The apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter.


Acts 15:7-11 - Peter
Acts 15:12 - Barnabas and Paul
Acts 15:13-21 - James

Problem is resolved:

Acts 15:22
Then the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided ...

Decree is promulgated:

Acts 15:22-23
The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers. This is the letter delivered by them: "The apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings."

The authority of the Holy Spirit is appealed:

Acts 15:28
It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us ...

Paradosis or tradition falls into two categories. The difference can be seen in Acts 15. Besides the issue of following the Mosaic Law for gentile converts, which meant primarily circumcision, the Council of Jerusalem also decreed that converts had "to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood" (Acts 15:20).

There are clearly distinguished paradosis or traditions which are considered irrevocable, unchangeable, even to our day, e.g. circumcision is not a requirement for new Christians. On the other hand, today we would not be concerned with "pollution from idols," how an animal is killed for meat, or whether blood is in our food. These appear to be different traditions from the former--changeable and not binding in the same way as non-circumcision.

The Roman Catholic Church also follows this biblical model in her approach to paradosis/traditions.

Hence, there are paradosis/traditions which are unchangeable, capital letter "T", "Traditions." These are the defined faith or moral teachings based on the Bible but revealed by the Holy Spirit as an authority in the Church (Acts 15:28). An example from the history of the Roman Catholic Church of Tradition (with a capital letter "T") is the teaching on purgatory. This teaching of the Church can never change.

There appear to be paradosis/traditions which are changeable, small letter "t", "traditions." These are the "rules of the organization, rules of the club." These change as people, culture, faith and understanding develop. An example from the history of the Roman Catholic Church of tradition (with a lower case letter "t") is the teaching on the prohibition of eating meat on Fridays. This practice of mandatory abstinence as penance in the Church has changed.

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By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-2004, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Last Updated: July 22, 2004