The Apostles and Disciples Had Major Disagreements and Made Mistakes

Most people are familiar with Jesus rebuking the apostles for their unbelief and their mistakes in the Gospels.  But somehow some think that everything the Apostles said and did was perfect and according to the will of God after the day of Pentecost when the Apostles record many great manifestations of power and believing.  Look at these verses:

And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33)

And every day, in the temple and at home, they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:42)

And Simon also himself believed: and being baptized, he continued with Philip; and beholding signs and great miracles wrought, he was amazed. (Acts 8:13)

And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: (Acts 19:11)

The Apostles led a world changing movement of the word of God.  They preached, people believed and signs, miracles, and wonders happened

But that the Apostles and Disciples disagreed and made mistakes is easily proven with a look at some other accounts in the book of Acts.  First we have the record of a couple of the followers:

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? (Acts 5:1-3)

These guys were part of the church!  There are those that teach that once someone believes they are above being manipulated by the devil.  There are even those that say that believers no longer sin, but I beg to differ, and this section in Acts is proof.  What is terrifying is that in this case the followers in question were rebuked so much they died.  Maybe they had heart attacks, maybe it was shock, the verses don’t say.  But the verses are a clear warning not to try to lie to God.  What is amazing in this situation is that there was no requirement that these people give all the money to the Church, they chose to lie that they were giving all the money when in fact they were not.

But some may argue that Annanias and Sapphira were just small time believers, that the Apostles, Prophets, and other leaders were above these kinds of error.

Look at this record:

And Barnabas was minded to take with them John also, who was called Mark. But Paul thought not good to take with them him who withdrew from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And there arose a sharp contention, so that they parted asunder one from the other, and Barnabas took Mark with him, and sailed away unto Cyprus; but Paul choose Silas, and went forth, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches. (Acts 15:37-41)

Paul and Barnabas were major figures in Original Christianity.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted ways.

And of course there is the record of Peter ministering to Cornelius’ family in Acts 10.  Cornelius was a Gentile.  Peter was instructed in a vision that it was acceptable to include the Gentiles in the movement of the word of God.  Still, when the Apostles and brethren heard what Peter had done, some contended (opposed) him.

After Peter explained that the spirit had instructed him in a vision, the opposition ceased.  But it still shows that just because Peter was an Apostle everything he did was not automatically accepted.

The next example is in Acts 15:

And certain men came down from Judaea and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved. And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. They therefore, being brought on their way by the church, passed through both Phoenicia 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 the apostles and the elders, and they rehearsed all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter. (Acts 15:1-6)

“No small dissension” is how this disagreement is described.  In fact, there are a number of important points here.  First, the church was divided over the issue of circumcision.    To anyone that thinks that there were no division in the first century church this disproves that.   And this was not a disagreement where they had broken fellowship over the division; even though they disagreed over the circumcision they still fellowshipped together, as evidenced by the meeting above.  In this case the issue was pretty much resolved as later in chapter 15 they issued a proclamation on how to handle this situation.

However, according to Galatians chapter 2 we see that Peter did not get the truth of the situation all that easily:

When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong. He used to eat with Gentile followers of the Lord, until James sent some Jewish followers. Peter was afraid of the Jews and soon stopped eating with Gentiles. He and the other Jews hid their true feelings so well that even Barnabas was fooled. But when I saw that they were not really obeying the truth that is in the good news, I corrected Peter in front of everyone and said: Peter, you are a Jew, but you live like a Gentile. So how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews? (Galatians 2:11-14 CEV)

Anybody that thinks that Apostles had perfect understanding all the time needs to commit these verses to memory.  Peter was the one that had ministered to the first gentiles, Cornelius and his family.  Peter was the one that corrected the Apostles and brethren back in Jerusalem when they contended with him over the issue.  Still, Paul writes that Peter was afraid of those that promoted the circumcision,  stopped eating with the Gentiles and was hypocritical about the whole issue to the point that Barnabas was fooled.  In spite of the direction given that the Gentiles were to be fully accepted into the fellowship, Peter, of all people, did not!

Here again we have clear written proof that the disciples and even the Apostles made major mistakes both in practice and doctrine.

This next error by an apostle is one that most churches do not teach at all, and it goes to show you how the theology of the translators can affect biblical translation.

Was Paul supposed to go to Jerusalem?

We are going to look at the record of Paul making the decision to go to Jerusalem, prophecies being given advising him not to go and what will happen if he goes there, his ultimate decision, and how the translation of a single verse changes whether or not Paul was walking according to the word of God or not. We will start by looking at the account in Acts chapter 20:

For Paul had determined to sail past Ephesus, that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called to him the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, after what manner I was with you all the time, serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and with tears, and with trials which befell me by the plots of the Jews; how I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Spirit testifieth unto me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But I hold not my life of any account as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God. Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:16-28)

Paul says, “I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Spirit testifieth unto me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”

This verse says that Paul is aware, because of the prophecies given in every city, that there is a problem in going to Jerusalem.  Paul takes on the tough guy attitude here saying that he doesn’t count his life that precious, the most important thing is the work of the ministry.  But Paul still appears to think that it’s either okay if he goes to Jerusalem with God, or that God, in fact, still wants him to go. But that is not what it says in the next section we are going to read:

And when it came to pass that were parted from them and had set sail, we came with a straight course unto Cos, and the next day unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara: and having found a ship crossing over unto Phoenicia, we went aboard, and set sail. And when we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left hand, we sailed unto Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unlade her burden. And having found the disciples, we tarried there seven days: and these said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not set foot in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:1-4)

Verse four above says that the disciples said to Paul through the spirit that he should not set foot in Jerusalem.    That looks pretty simple, plain, and straightforward; the message is that the spirit is telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. That isn’t what Paul said above where he said he was going “bound in the spirit” to Jerusalem, and he didn’t care what awaited him there. Paul wasn’t getting the message!  Let’s look at the next record about this:

And when we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day. And on the morrow we departed, and came unto Caesarea: and entering into the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we abode with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters, who prophesied. And as we tarried there some days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And coming to us, and taking Paul’s girdle, he bound his own feet and hands, and said, Thus saith the Holy Spirit, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. And when we heard these things, both we and they of that place besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, What do ye, weeping and breaking my heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.  (Acts 21:7-14)

This section actually has multiple prophesies, because the four daughters of Philip the evangelist prophesied, and then after that Agabus prophesied.  It doesn’t say exactly what the prophecies of Philips daughters were, but the context here is that the spirit is prophesying the Paul not to go to Jerusalem because bonds and afflictions await him. I think you can include the daughters of Philip as members in a chain of people sent via the spirit to tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

Then Agabus gives a prophecy where he binds his own feet and hands with Paul’s girdle and says that that is what is going to happen to Paul.

Despite all of the prophecies warning Paul about the dangers and especially the word given in verse four that the prophecies were warning Paul NOT to go to Jerusalem, most people still believe that Paul was not disobeying the spirit, rather he was actually supposed this go to Jerusalem after all of that because of acts 21:14:

And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.

Anybody that reads this verse the way it is can only say, but that it is obvious that it was the will of God for Paul to go, that’s why they stopped trying to tell him not to go.

The problem is that acts 21:14 is completely changed by the addition of two commas, neither of which was in the original text as there is no punctuation in the Greek manuscripts.  Here is the same sentence without the commas:

And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased saying the will of the Lord be done.

Oh my gosh! When you remove the two commas the verse is completely different in meaning!  Without the commas the verse says that the believers stopped telling Paul to do the will of the Lord because he would not be persuaded!

Now one could argue that because of Paul’s own testimony that he was bound in the spirit to go, that adding the commas was the correct translation.  However, that doesn’t solve the problem of the contradiction that that translation creates with Acts 21:4. In Acts 21:4 it says that the disciples of the spirit were telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. What does it mean for disciples to tell somebody something “through the spirit”?  It means that the agent of the message is the spirit, not the person. And what is it when you have a person who gives a message from the spirit? That is prophecy. So here we have a clear statement that the prophecy was that Paul SHOULD NOT go to Jerusalem, and that makes the correct translation of Acts 21:14 that the believers stopped telling Paul to do the will of the Lord because it was obvious that he wasn’t getting the message, and he was being stubborn, and would not be persuaded.  Paul, at best, misunderstood the message while the spirit was sending prophet after prophet telling him not to go!

Another key to the correct translation is the phrase “and when he would not be persuaded”. Does the will of God depend on whether or not someone is persuaded or not? If it’s the will of God for you to start a church, does it stop being the will of God because you stubbornly refuse to believe that God wants you to do that? Of course not! And neither did Paul’s refusing to be persuaded change God’s will about going to Jerusalem. But there comes a point when it becomes obvious that just telling someone again isn’t going to work.  So you stop telling them, and that is what God did.

In the book of Acts we have both the good and the bad acts of the apostles. They preached mightily, they healed people, they performed miracles, they instructed many in the word of God, and did great things.  But they also made mistakes and those mistakes are also documented as we have seen above: Annanias and Sapphira lied to the spirit, Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles, some at Jerusalem promoted circumcision, Paul refused to believe that God didn’t want him to go to Jerusalem.  In some of these the record says that there was no small dissension, or disagreement. In Acts then we see mighty great works of the apostles, and mighty mistakes.

How did it come then that the apostles came to be viewed as such perfect creatures? We will see when we look at Irenaeus about 150 years after Paul that Irenaeus wrote the apostles were deemed to be recipients of perfect knowledge.  We see that as time went on the reputation of the apostles grew. This is a common phenomenon. Everybody is familiar with the story of the fisherman who caught a big fish, but the fish grew the more the story was told.  It appears that the more the believers talked about the original apostles and disciples the more perfect they became.

© copyright 2011-2023 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved. last revised 12/1/23

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