This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.
The first churches served as local synagogues—each had their own elders and were founded by the apostles and missionaries; they read the Scriptures together and learned together. But the Twelve Apostles—the key figures who knew Jesus best—and the Elders of the Church of Jerusalem (which was the “parent” church of them all at this time) served a role similar to the Sanhedrin in Judaism. It served as a sort of religious Supreme Court, which heard testimony of doctrinal disputes and issued rulings.
So here, the church of Antioch was hearing two radically different Gospels, and being supporters of Jesus they wanted to be sure they were following the right path. They have two groups of missionaries, both of whom claim to be sent by James and the Twelve, but teaching contradictory things. So the church sends Paul and Barnabas back to speak to the Elders.
The importance of this event can be shown in the fact that Paul interrupted his missionary journey to attend to it. It was critical that he sort this out before moving forward; and indeed his letter to the Galatians from about this same time shows how passionately he felt about the issue.
The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. The news made all the believers very glad.
An interesting little side-note here: Samaritans and Jews typically did not extend hospitality to one another. But here we see that the Gospel had broken down that barrier: for Jesus-followers, the Samaritans willingly accepted and housed the messengers of the Gospel even though they be Jewish.
When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
Upon being received at the church, Paul and Barnabas give their testimony before the council, of what God had been doing among the Gentiles in the past several chapters along the missionary journey—a great awakening spiritually among the non-Jews.
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
It is this group from the churches who had apparently authorized the sending of the Judaizers.
Picture the situation: it is as though two of our missionaries—let’s say Bruce in Romania and Rolly in Spain were in a major dispute, because Bruce was saying that God was moving among the gypsies but Rolly was denying it, saying that they were still thieves and cheats and thus were not really believers. And they came back to us and shared their testimony, and asked for us to give a verdict.
And the first statement that is made is the conservative, traditional position: the Gentiles who join Christianity should do so in precisely the same way that they joined Judaism.