Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?
Here Peter gets to the root of what they are trying to do—the real reason that the Judaizers are wanting to put the Law on them is as a test.
The Levitical law may have served the purpose of making one pure before a holy God, but from a practical purpose, it separated the Jews from the Gentiles. They couldn’t eat together, their work together was limited, and it was better to live in separate villages when possible.
As such, many Jews developed a prejudice against Gentiles (cf. verse 9). They felt that the Law itself was what gave them the special relationship to God, rather than His choice that gave them the relationship.
The Gospel, essentially, offends. The Gospel offended them when it began to result in non-Jews becoming believers. And so they could deal with it as long as the Gentiles “cleaned up their act” and started acting like good Jewish boys and girls. The problem being, of course, that Paul was teaching something radically different: that because they were Gentiles, (a) the Levitical code was never given to them anyway, since they didn’t descend from Israel, and (b) the Levitical code was fulfilled by Jesus regardless.
Peter here points out that they are only applying the Law to test whether God was really serious; they weren’t willing to accept the evidence of the Holy Spirit and testimony of the missionaries and new believers. Instead, they wanted to add a new set of burdens onto them, a new law and then if they passed the Mosaic Law, now we will accept them.
Peter also points out here the absurdity and hypocrisy of expecting these Gentiles to pass a test that the Jews have tried for centuries, and failed, to pass.
No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.
Peter is adamant that the Judaizers’ approach of adding the Law is not Gospel-centered. It is no sign of Gospel love to accept someone because they changed their entire culture and life to look and act like you! That’s not even tolerance, much less acceptance.
The sign of the Christian Gospel is that we are saved by Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law and sacrifice for our own sins, not because we somehow succeed at following it. As such, to add the Law would in fact do the opposite of what Jesus came to do!
The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.
Now the council reviews the testimony of Paul and Barnabas. They had already heard it before (just a few verses ago) but now they are listening anew—listening for evidence of God choosing the Gentiles as they are, apart from the Law.