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Bible Commentaries
Acts 15

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

And certain men - These were undoubtedly men who had been Jews, but who were now converted to Christianity. The fact that they were willing to refer the matter in dispute to the apostles and elders Acts 15:2 shows that they had professedly embraced the Christian religion. The account which follows is a record of the first internal dissension which occurred in the Christian church. Hitherto the church had been struggling against external foes. Violent persecutions had raged, and had fully occupied the attention of Christians. But now the churches were at peace. They enjoyed great external prosperity in Antioch, and the great enemy of souls took occasion then, as he has often done in similar circumstances since, to excite contentions in the church itself, so that when external violence could not destroy it, an effort was made to secure the same object by internal dissension and strife. This history, therefore, is particularly important, as it is the record of the first unhappy debate which arose in the bosom of the church. It is further important, as it shows the manner in which such controversies were settled in apostolic times, and as it established some very important principles respecting the perpetuity of the religious rites of the Jews.

Came down from Judea - To Antioch, and to the regions adjacent, which had been visited by the apostles, Acts 15:23. Judea was a high and hilly region, and going from that toward the level countries adjacent to the sea was represented to be descending, or going down.

Taught the brethren - That is, Christians. They endeavored to convince them of the necessity of keeping the laws of Moses.

Except ye be circumcised - This was the leading or principal rite of the Jewish religion. It was indispensable to the name and privileges of a Jew. Proselytes to their religion were circumcised as well as native-born Jews, and they held it to be indispensable to salvation. It is evident from this that Paul and Barnabas had dispensed with this rite in regard to the Gentile converts, and that they intended to found the Christian church on the principle that the Jewish ceremonies were to cease. When, however, it was necessary to conciliate the minds of the Jews and to prevent contention, Paul did not hesitate to practice circumcision, Acts 16:3.

After the manner of Moses - According to the custom which Moses commanded; according to the Mosaic ritual.

Ye cannot be saved - The Jews regarded this as indispensable to salvation. The grounds on which they would press it on the attention of Gentile converts would be very plausible, and such as would produce much embarrassment. For:

(1) It would be maintained that the laws of Moses were the laws of God, and were therefore unchangeable; and,

(2) It would doubtless be maintained that the religion of the Messiah was only a completing and perfecting of the Jewish religion that it was designed simply to carry out its principles according to the promises, and not to subvert and destroy anything that had been established by divine authority. It is usually not difficult to perplex and embarrass young converts with questions of modes, and rites, and forms of religion; and it is not uncommon that a revival is followed by some contention just like this. Opposing sects urge the claims of their special rites, and seek to make proselytes, and introduce contention and strife into an otherwise peaceful and happy Christian community.

Verse 2

Had no small dissension an disputation - The word rendered “dissension” στάσις stasis denotes sometimes “sedition” or “intestine war,” and sometimes “earnest and violent disputation or controversy,” Acts 23:7, Acts 23:10. In this place it clearly denotes that there was earnest and warm discussion; but it is not implied that there was any improper heat or temper on the part of Paul and Barnabas. Important principles were to be settled in regard to the organization of the church. Doctrines were advanced by the Judaizing teachers which were false, and which tended to produce great disorder in the church. Those doctrines were urged with zeal, were declared to be essential to salvation, and would therefore tend to distract the minds of Christians, and to produce great anxiety. It became, therefore, necessary to meet them with a determined purpose, and to establish the truth on an immovable basis. And the case shows that it is right to “contend earnestly for the faith” Jude 1:3; and, when similar cases occur, that it is proper to resist the approach of error with all the arguments which may be at our command, and with all the weapons which truth can furnish. It is further implied here that it is the duty of the ministers of the gospel to defend the truth and to oppose error. Paul and Barnabas regarded themselves as set for this purpose (compare Philippians 1:17, “Knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel”); and Christian ministers should be qualified to defend the truth, and should be willing with a proper spirit and with great earnestness to maintain the doctrines revealed.

They determined - There was no prospect that the controversy would be settled by contention and argument. It would seem, from this statement, that those who came down from Judea were also willing that the whole matter should be referred to the apostles at Jerusalem. The reason for this may have been:

(1) That Jerusalem would be regarded by them as the source of authority in the Christian church, as it had been among the Jews.

(2) Most of the apostles and the most experienced Christians were there. They had listened to the instructions of Christ himself; had been long in the church; and were supposed to be better acquainted with its design and its laws.

(3) Those who came from Judea would not be likely to acknowledge the authority of Paul as an apostle: the authority of those at Jerusalem they would recognize.

(4) They might have had a very confident expectation that the decision there would be in their favor. The question had not been agitated there. They had all been Jews, and it is certain that they continued as yet to attend in the temple service, and to conform to the Jewish customs. They might have expected, therefore, with great confidence, that the decision would be in their favor, and they were willing to refer it to those who resided at Jerusalem.

Certain other of them - Of the brethren; probably of each party. They did not go to debate, or to give their opinion, or to vote in the ease themselves, but to lay the question fairly before the apostles and elders.

Unto the apostles - The authority of the apostles in such a case would be acknowledged by all. They had been immediately instructed by the Saviour, and had the promise of infallible guidance in the organization of the church. See the notes on Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18.

And elders - See the note at Acts 11:30. Greek: presbyters. See the notes on Acts 14:23. Who these were, or what was their office and authority, is not easy now to determine. It may refer either to the aged men in the church at Jerusalem, or to those who were appointed to rule and to preach in connection with the apostles. As in the synagogue it was customary to determine questions by the advice of a bench of elders, there is no improbability in the supposition that the apostles would imitate that custom, and appoint a similar arrangement in the Christian church (Grotius). It is generally agreed that this is the journey to which Paul refers in Galatians 2:1-10. If so, it happened fourteen years after his conversion, Galatians 2:1. It was done in accordance with the divine command, “by revelation,” Galatians 2:2. Among those who went with him was Titus, who was afterward so much distinguished as his companion, Galatians 2:3.

About this question - The question whether the ceremonial laws of Moses were binding on Christian converts. In regard to the nature and design of this council at Jerusalem, see the notes on Acts 15:30-31.

Verse 3

And being brought on their way by the church - Being attended and conducted by the Christian brethren. See the notes on Romans 15:24. It was customary for the Christians to attend the apostles in their travels. Compare 1 Corinthians 16:6, 1 Corinthians 16:11; 3 John 1:6.

Through Phenice - See the note at Acts 11:19.

And Samaria - These places were directly on their route to Jerusalem.

Declaring the conversion ... - Of the Gentiles in Antioch, and in the regions in Asia Minor through which they had traveled. These remarkable events they would naturally communicate with joy to the Christians with whom they would have contact in their journey.

Caused great joy - At the news of the extensive spread of the gospel. It was an indication of their deep feeling in the interests of religion that they thus rejoiced. Where Christians are themselves awake, and engaged in the service of Christ, they rejoice at the news of the conversion of sinners. Where they are cold, they hear such news with indifference, or with the utmost unconcern. One way of testing our feelings on the subject of religion is by the emotions which we have when we hear of extensive and glorious revivals of religion. Compare the notes on Acts 8:8.

Verse 4

They were received of the church - By the church, in a hospitable and friendly manner. They were acknowledged as Christian brethren, and received with Christian kindness. See Galatians 2:9.

And they declared - Paul and Barnabas, and those with them. That is, they stated the case; the remarkable conversion of the Gentiles, the evidence of their piety, and the origin of the present dispute.

Verse 5

But there rose up ... - It has been doubted whether these are the words of Paul and Barnabas, relating what occurred at Antioch, or whether they are the words of Luke recording what took place at Jerusalem. The correct exposition is probably what refers it to the latter. For:

(1) This seems to be the most obvious interpretation.

(2) The use of the words “rose up” implies that. Those who disturbed the church at Antioch are said to have come down from Judea Acts 15:1, and if this place referred to that occurrence, the same words would have been retained.

(3) The particular specification here of “the sect of the Pharisees” looks as if this was an occurrence taking place at Jerusalem. No such specification exists respecting those who came down to Antioch; but it would seem here as if this party in Jerusalem resolved still to abide by the Law, and to impose those rites on the Christian converts. However, this interpretation is by no means certain.

Which believed - Who maintained or taught.

That it was needful ... - See the notes on Acts 15:1.

Verse 6

And the apostles and elders ... - They came together in accordance with the authority in Matthew 18:19-20. It would seem, also, that the whole church was convened on this occasion, and that the church concurred, at least, in the judgment expressed in this case. See Acts 15:12, Acts 15:22-23.

For to consider of this matter - Not to decide it arbitrarily, or even by authority, without deliberation; but to compare their views, and to express the result of the whole to the church at Antioch. It was a grave and difficult question, deeply affecting the entire constitution of the Christian church, and they therefore solemnly engaged in deliberation on the subject.

Verse 7

Much disputing - Or rather, much inquiry or deliberation. With our word disputing we commonly connect the idea of heat and anger. This is not necessarily implied in the word used here. It might have been calm, solemn, deliberate inquiry; and there is no evidence that it was conducted with undue warmth or anger.

Peter rose up and said - Peter was probably the most aged, and was most accustomed to speak, Acts 2:14, etc.; Acts 3:6, Acts 3:12. Besides, there was a particular reason for his speaking here, as he had been engaged in similar scenes, and understood the case, and had had evidence that God had converted sinners without the Mosaic rites, and knew that it would have been inexpedient to have imposed these rites on those who had thus been converted.

A good while ago - See Acts 10:0: Some time since. So long since that there had been opportunity to ascertain whether it was necessary to observe the laws of Moses in order to the edification of the church.

God made choice ... - That is, of all the apostles, he designated me to engage in this work. Compare the notes on Matthew 16:18, with Acts 10:0.

That the Gentiles - Cornelius, and those who were assembled with him at Caesarea. This was the first case that had occurred, and therefore it was important to appeal to it.

Verse 8

And God, which knoweth the hearts - Acts 1:24. God thus knew whether they were true converts or not, and gave a demonstration that he acknowledged them as his.

Giving them the Holy Ghost ... - Acts 10:45-46.

Verse 9

And put no difference ... - Though they had not been circumcised, and though they did not conform to the Law of Moses. Thus, God showed that the observance of these rites was not necessary in order to the true conversion of people, and to acceptance with him. He did not give us, who are Jews, any advantage over them, but justified and purified all in the same manner.

Purifying their hearts - Thus, giving the best evidence that he had renewed them, and admitted them to favor with him.

By faith - By believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. This demonstrated that the plan on which God was now about to show favor to people was not by external rites and ceremonies, but by a scheme which required faith as the only condition of acceptance. It is further implied here that there is no true faith which does not purify the heart.

Verse 10

Why tempt ye God? - Why provoke him to displeasure? Why, since he has shown his determination to accept them without such rites, do you provoke him by attempting to impose on his own people rites without his authority, and a against his manifest will? The argument is, that God had already accepted them. To attempt to impose these rites would be to provoke him to anger; to introduce observances which he had shown it was his purpose should now be abolished.

To put a yoke - That which would be burdensome and oppressive, or which would infringe on their just freedom as the children of God. It is called in Galatians 5:1, “a yoke of bondage.” Compare the notes on Matthew 23:4. A “yoke” is an emblem of slavery or bondage 1 Timothy 6:1; or of affliction Lamentations 3:27; or of punishment Lamentations 1:14; or of oppressive and burdensome ceremonies, as in this place, or of the restraints of Christianity, Matthew 11:29-30. In this place those rites are called a yoke, because:

(1) They were burdensome and oppressive; and,

(2) Because they would be an infringement of Christian freedom. One design of the gospel was to set people free from such rites and ceremonies.

Which neither our fathers ... - Which have been found burdensome at all times. They were expensive, and painful, and oppressive; and as they had been found to be so, it was not proper to impose them on the Gentile converts, but should rather rejoice at any evidence that the people of God might be delivered from them.

Were able to bear - Which are found to be oppressive and burdensome. They were attended with great inconvenience and many transgressions, as the consequence.

Verse 11

But we believe - We apostles, who have been with them, and have seen the evidences of their acceptance with God.

Through the grace ... - By the grace or mercy of Christ alone, without any of the rites and ceremonies of the Jews.

We shall be saved, even as they - In the same manner, by the mere grace of Christ. So far from being necessary to their salvation, they are really of no use in ours. We are to be saved, not by these ceremonies, but by the mere mercy of God in the Redeemer. They should not, therefore, be imposed on others.

Verse 12

Then all the multitude - Evidently the multitude of private Christians who were assembled on this occasion. That it does not refer to a synod of ministers and elders merely is apparent:

(1) Because the church, the brethren, are represented as having been present, and as concurring in the final opinion Acts 15:22-23; and,

(2) Because the word “multitude” τὸ πλῆθος to plēthos would not have been used in describing the collection of apostles and elders merely. Compare Luke 1:10-11, Luke 1:13; Luke 5:6; Luke 6:17; Luke 19:37; John 5:3; John 21:6; Acts 4:32; Acts 6:2; Matthew 3:7.

Gave audience - Heard, listened attentively to.

Barnabas and Paul - They were deeply interested in it, and they were qualified to give a fair statement of the facts as they had occurred.

Declaring what miracles and wonders ... - The argument here evidently is, that God had approved their work by miracles; that he gave evidence that what they did had his approbation; and that as all this was done without imposing on them the rites of the Jews, so it would follow that those were not now to be commanded.

Verse 13

James answered - James the Less, son of Alpheus. See the notes on Acts 12:1.

Hearken unto me - This whole transaction shows that Peter had no such authority in the church as the papists pretend, for otherwise his opinion would have been followed without debate. James had an authority not less than that of Peter. It is possible that he might have been next in age (compare 1 Corinthians 15:7); and it seems morally certain that he remained for a considerable part of his life in Jerusalem, Acts 12:17; Acts 21:18; Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:9, Galatians 2:12.

Verse 14

Simeon - This is a Hebrew name. The Greek mode of writing it commonly was Simon. It was one of the names of Peter, Matthew 4:18.

To take out of them a people - To choose from among the Gentries those who should be his friends.

Verse 15

The words of the prophets - Amos 9:11-12. It was a very material point with them, as Jews, to inquire whether this was in accordance with the predictions of the Scriptures. The most powerful revivals of religion, and the most striking demonstrations of the divine presence, will be in accordance with the Bible, and should be tested by them. This habit was always manifested by the apostles and early Christians, and should be followed by Christians at all times. Unless a supposed work of grace accords with the Bible, and can be defended by it, it must be false, and should be opposed. Compare Isaiah 8:20.

Verse 16

After this - This quotation is not made literally either from the Hebrew or the Septuagint, which differs also from the Hebrew. The 17th verse is quoted literally from the Septuagint, but in the 16th the general sense only of the passage is retained. The main point of the quotation, as made by James, was to show that, according to the prophets, it was contemplated that the Gentiles should be introduced to the privileges of the children of God; and on this point the passage has a direct bearing. The prophet Amos Amos 9:8-10 had described the calamities which would come upon the nation of the Jews by their being scattered and driven away. This implied that the city of Jerusalem, the temple, and the walls of the city would be destroyed. But after that (Heb: “on that day,” Amos 9:11, that is, the day when he should revisit them and recover them) he would restore them to their former privileges - would rebuild their temple, their city, and their walls, Amos 9:11. And not only so, not only would the blessing descend on the Jews, but it would also be extended to others. The “remnant of Edom,” “the pagan upon whom” his “name would be called” Amos 9:12, would also partake of the mercy of God, and be subject to the Jewish people, and a time of general prosperity and of permanent blessings would follow, Amos 9:13-15. James understands this as referring to the times of the Messiah, and to the introduction of the gospel to the Gentiles. And so the passage Amos 9:12 is rendered in the Septuagint. See ver. 17.

I will return - When the people of God are subjected to calamities and trials, it is often represented as if God had departed from them. His returning, therefore, is an image of their restoration to his favor and to prosperity. This is not, however, in the Hebrew, in Amos 9:11.

I will build again - In the calamities that would come upon the nation Amos 9:8, it is implied that the temple and the city would be destroyed. To build them again would be a proof of his returning favor.

The tabernacle of David - The tent of David. Here it means the house or royal residence of David and the kings of Israel. That is, he would restore them to their former glory and splendor as his people. The reference here is not to the temple, which was the work of Solomon, but to the magnificence and splendor of the dwelling-place of David; that is, to the full enjoyment of their former high privileges and blessings.

Which is fallen down - Which would be destroyed by the King of Babylon, and by the long neglect and decay resulting from their being carried to a distant land,

The ruins thereof - Heb. “close up the breaches thereof.” That is, it would be restored to its former prosperity and magnificence; an emblem of the favor of God, and of the spiritual blessings that would in future times descend on the Jewish people.

Verse 17

That the residue of men - This verse is quoted literally from the Septuagint, and differs in some respects from the Hebrew. The phrase, “the residue of men,” here is evidently understood, both by the Septuagint and by James, as referring to others than Jews, to the Gentiles the rest of the world - implying that many of them would be admitted to the friendship and favor of God. The Hebrew is, “that they may possess the remnant of Edom.” This change is made in the Septuagint by a slight difference in the reading of two Hebrew words. The Septuagint, instead of the Hebrew וירשׁו w-y-r-sh-w, shall inherit, read ודרשׁו w-d-r-sh-w, shall seek of thee; and instead of אדום 'd-w-m, Edom, they read אדם '̇̀̇d-m, man, or mankind; that is, people. Why this variation occurred cannot be explained; but the sense is not materially different. In the Hebrew the word “Edom” has undoubted reference to another nation than the Jewish nation; and the expression means that, in the great prosperity of the Jews after their return, they would extend the influence of their religion to other nations; that is, as James applies it, the Gentiles might be brought to the privileges of the children of God.

And all the Gentiles - Heb. all the pagan; that is, all who were not Jews. This was a clear prediction that other nations were to be favored with the true religion, and that without any mention of their conforming to the rites of the Jewish people.

Upon whom my name is called - Who are called by my name, or who are regarded as my people.

Who doeth all these things - That is, who will certainly accomplish this in its time.

Verse 18

Known unto God ... - See the notes on Acts 1:24. The meaning of this verse, in this connection, is this. God sees everything future; he knows what he will accomplish; he has a plan; all his works are so arranged in his mind that he sees everything distinctly and clearly. As he foretold these, it was a part of his plan; and as it was a part of his plan long since foretold, it should not be opposed and resisted by us.

Verse 19

My sentence - Greek: I judge κρίνω krinō that is, I give my opinion. It is the usual language in which a judge delivers his opinion; but it does not imply here that James assumed authority to settle the case, but merely that he gave his opinion, or counsel.

That we trouble not them - That we do not molest, disturb, or oppress them by imposing on them unnecessary fires and ceremonies.

Verse 20

That we write unto them - Expressing our judgment, or our views of the case.

That they abstain - That they refrain from these things, or wholly avoid them.

Pollutions of idols - The word rendered “pollutions” means any kind of “defilement.” But here it is evidently used to denote the flesh of those animals that were offered in sacrifice to idols. See Acts 15:29. That flesh, after being offered in sacrifice, was often exposed for sale in the markets, or was served up at feasts, 1 Corinthians 10:25-29. It became a very important question whether it was right for Christians to partake of it. The Jews would contend that it was, in fact, partaking of idolatry. The Gentile converts would allege that they did not eat it as a sacrifice to idols, or lend their countenance in any way to the idolatrous Worship where it had been offered. See this subject discussed at length in 1 Corinthians 8:4-13. As idolatry was forbidden to the Jews in every form, and as partaking even of the sacrifices of idols in their feasts might seem to countenance idolatry, the Jews would be utterly opposed to it; and for the sake of peace, James advised that the Christians at Antioch be recommended to abstain from this. To partake of that food might not be morally wrong 1 Corinthians 8:4, but it would give occasion for scandal and offence; and, therefore, as a matter of expediency, it was advised that they should abstain from it.

And from fornication - The word used here πορνεία porneia is applicable to “all illicit sexual intercourse,” and may refer to adultery, incest, or licentiousness in any form. There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to this expression. Interpreters have been greatly perplexed to understand why this violation of the moral law has been introduced amidst the violations of the ceremonial law, and the question is naturally asked whether this was a sin about which there could be any debate between the Jewish and Gentile converts? Were there any who would practice it, or plead that it was lawful? If not, why is it prohibited here? Various explanations of this have been proposed. Some have supposed that James refers here to the offerings which harlots would make of their gains to the service of religion, and that James would prohibit the reception of it. Beza, Selden, and Schleusner suppose the word is taken for idolatry, as it is often represented in the Scriptures as consisting in unfaithfulness to God, and as it is often called adultery. Heringius supposes that marriage between idolaters and Christians is here intended. But, after all, the usual interpretation of the word, as referring to illicit sexual intercourse of the sexes of any kind, is undoubtedly here to be retained. If it be asked, then, why this was particularly forbidden, and was introduced in this connection, we may reply:

(1) That this vice prevailed everywhere among the Gentiles, and was that to which all were particularly exposed.

(2) That it was not deemed by the Gentiles disgraceful. It was practiced without shame and without remorse. (Terence, Adelphi, 1, 2, 21. See Grotius.) It was important, therefore, that the pure laws of Christianity on this subject should be known, and that special pains should be taken to instruct the early converts from paganism in those laws. The same thing is necessary still in pagan lands.

(3) This crime was connected with religion. It was the practice not only to introduce indecent pictures and emblems into their worship, but also for females to devote themselves to the service of particular temples, and to devote the avails of indiscriminate prostitution to the service of the god, or the goddess. The vice was connected with no small part of the pagan worship; and the images, the emblems, and the customs of idolatry everywhere tended to sanction and promote it. A mass of evidence on this subject which sickens the heart, and which would be too long and too indelicate to introduce here, may be seen in Tholuck’s Nature and Moral Influence of Paganism, in the Biblical Repository for July, 1832, p. 441-464. As this vice was almost universal; as it was practiced without shame or disgrace; as there were no laws among the pagan to prevent it; as it was connected with all their views of idol worship and of religion, it was important for the early Christians to frown upon and to oppose it, and to set a special guard against it in all the churches. It was the sin to which, of all others, they were the most exposed, and which was most likely to bring scandal on the Christian religion. It is for this cause that it is so often and so pointedly forbidden in the New Testament Romans 1:29; 1 Corinthians 6:13, 1 Corinthians 6:18; Galatians 5:19; Eph 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

And from things strangled - That is, from animals or birds that were killed without shedding their blood. The reason why these were considered by the Jews unlawful to. be eaten was, that thus they would be under a necessity of eating blood, which was positively forbidden by the Law. Hence, it was commanded in the Law that when any beast or fowl was taken in a snare, the blood should be poured out before it was lawful to be eaten, Leviticus 17:13.

And from blood - The eating of blood was strictly forbidden to the Jews. The reason of this was that it contained the life, Leviticus 17:11, Leviticus 17:14. See notes on Romans 3:25. The use of blood was common among the Gentiles. They drank it often at their sacrifices, and in making covenants or compacts. To separate the Jews from them in this respect was one design of the prohibition. See Spencer, De Ley Hebrae., p. 144, 145, 169, 235, 377, 381, 594, edit. 1732. See also this whole passage examined at length in Spencer, p. 588-626. The primary reason of the prohibition was, that it was thus used in the feasts and compacts of idolaters. That blood was thus drank by the pagans, particularly by the Sabians, in their sacrifices, is fully proved by Spencer, De Leg., p. 377-380 But the prohibition specifies a higher reason, that the life is in the blood, and that therefore it should not be eaten. On this opinion see the notes on Romans 3:25. This reason existed before any ceremonial law; it is founded in the nature of things; it has no particular reference to any custom of the Jews; and it is as forcible in any other circumstances as in theirs. It was proper, therefore, to forbid it to the early Christian converts; and for the same reason, its use should be abstained from everywhere. It adds to the force of these remarks when we remember that the same principle was settled before the laws of Moses were given, and that God regarded the fact that the life was in the blood as of so much importance as to make the shedding of it worthy of death, Genesis 9:4-6. It is supposed, therefore, that this law is still obligatory. Perhaps, also, there is no food more unwholesome than blood; and it is a further circumstance of some moment that all people naturally revolt from it as an article of food.

Verse 21

For Moses - The meaning of this verse is, that the Law of Moses, prohibiting these things, was read in the synagogues constantly. As these commands wore constantly read, and as the Jewish converts would not soon learn that their ceremonial law had ceased to be binding, it was deemed to be a matter of expediency that no needless offence should be given to them. For the sake of peace, it was better that they should abstain from meat offered to idols than to give offence to the Jewish converts. Compare 1 Corinthians 8:10-13.Of old time - Greek: from ancient generations. It is an established custom, and therefore his laws are well known, and have, in their view, not only the authority of revelation, but the venerableness of antiquity.

In every city - Where there were Jews. This was the case in all the cities to which the discussion here had reference.

Them that preach him - That is, by reading the Law of Moses. But, in addition to reading the Law, it was customary also to offer an explanation of its meaning. See the notes on Luke 4:16-22.

Verse 22

Then pleased it - It seemed fit and proper to them.

The apostles and elders - To whom the business had been particularly referred, Acts 15:2. Compare Acts 16:4.

With the whole church - All the Christians who were there assembled together. They concurred in the sentiment, and expressed their approbation in the letter that was sent, Acts 15:23. Whether they were consulted does not particularly appear. But as it is not probable that they would volunteer an opinion unless they were consulted, it seems most reasonable to suppose that the apostles and elders submitted the case to them for their approbation. It would seem that the apostles and elders deliberated on it, and decided it; but still, for the sake of peace and unity, they also took measures to ascertain that their decision agreed with the sentiment of the church.

Chosen men - Men chosen for this purpose.

Of their own company - From among themselves. Greater weight and authority would thus be attached to their message.

Judas surnamed Barsabas - Possibly the same who was nominated to the vacant place in the apostleship, Acts 1:23. But Grotius supposes that it was his brother.

And Silas - He was afterward the traveling companion of Paul, Acts 15:40; Acts 16:25, Acts 16:29; Acts 17:4, Acts 17:10, Acts 17:15. He is also the same person, probably, who is mentioned by the name of Silvanus, 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1Th 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Peter 5:12.

Chief men among the brethren - Greek: leaders. Compare Luke 22:26. Men of influence, experience, and authority in the church. Judas and Silas are said to have been prophets, Acts 15:32. They had, therefore, been engaged as preachers and rulers in the church at Jerusalem.

Verse 23

And wrote letters - Greek: “Having written.” It does not mean that they wrote more than one epistle.

By them - Greek: by their hand.”

After this manner - Greek: these things.

Send greeting - A word of salutation, expressing their desire of the happiness (χαίρειν chairein) of the persons addressed. Compare Matthew 26:49; Matthew 27:29; Luke 1:28; John 19:3.

In Antioch - Where the difficulty first arose.

And Syria - Antioch was the capital of Syria, and it is probable that the dispute was not confined to the capital.

And Cilicia - See the notes on Acts 6:9. Cilicia was adjacent to Syria. Paul and Barnabas had traveled through it, and it is probable that the same difficulty would exist there which had disturbed the churches in Syria.

Verse 24

Forasmuch - Since we have heard.

That certain - That some, Acts 15:1.

Have troubled you with words - With doctrines. They have disturbed your minds, and produced contentions.

Subverting your souls - The word used here occurs nowhere else in the New Testament ἀνασκευάζοντες anaskeuazontes. It properly means “to collect together the vessels used in a house the household furniture - for the purpose of removing it.” It is applied to marauders, robbers, and enemies who remove and bear off property, thus producing distress, confusion, and disorder. It is thus used in the sense of disturbing or destroying, and here denotes that they “unsettled their minds” - that they produced anxiety, disturbance, and distress by these doctrines about Moses.

To whom we gave no such commandment - They went, therefore, without authority. Self-constituted and self-sent teachers not infrequently produce disturbance and distress. Had the apostles been consulted on this subject, the difficulty would have been avoided. By thus saying that they had not given them a command to teach these things, they practically assured the Gentile converts that they did not approve of the course which those who went from Judea had taken.

Verse 26

Men that have hazarded their lives ... - See Acts 14:0: This was a noble testimony to the character of Barnabas and Paul. It was a commendation of them to the confidence of the churches, and an implied expression that they wished their authority to be regarded in the establishment and organization of the church.

For the name - In the cause of the Lord Jesus.

Verse 27

The same things - The same things that we wrote to you They will confirm all by their own statements.

Verse 28

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost - This is a strong and undoubted claim to inspiration. It was with special reference to the organization of the church that the Holy Spirit had been promised to them by the Lord Jesus, Matthew 18:18-20; John 14:26.

No greater burden - To impose no greater restraints to enjoin no other observances. See the notes on Acts 15:10.

Than these necessary things - Necessary:

(1) In order to preserve the peace of the church.

(2) To conciliate the minds of the Jewish converts, Acts 15:21.

(3) In their circumstances particularly, because the crime which is specified - licentiousness was one to which all early converts were especially exposed. See the notes on Acts 15:20.

Verse 29

From meats offered to idols - This explains what is meant by “pollutions of idols,” Acts 15:20.

Ye shall do well - You will do what ought to be done in regard to the subjects of dispute.

Verse 31

They rejoiced for the consolation - They acquiesced in the decision of the apostles and elders, and rejoiced that they were not to be subjected to the burdensome rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion. This closes the account of the first Christian council. It was conducted throughout on Christian principles; in a mild, kind, conciliatory spirit, and is a model for all similar assemblages. It came together, not to promote, but to silence disputation; not to persecute the people of God, but to promote their peace; not to be a scene of harsh and angry recrimination, but to be an example of all that was mild, and tender, and kind. Those who composed it came together, not to carry a point, not to overreach their adversaries, not to be party people, but to mingle their sober counsels, to inquire what was right, and to express, in a Christian manner, what was proper to be done. Great and important principles were to be established in regard to the Christian church, and they engaged in their work evidently with a deep sense of their responsibility, and with a just view of their dependence on the aid of the Holy Spirit. How happy Would it have been if this spirit had been possessed by all professedly Christian councils; if all had really sought the peace and harmony of the churches; if none had ever been convened to kindle the fires of persecution, or to rend and destroy the church of God!

This council has been usually appealed to as the authority for councils in the church as a permanent arrangement, and especially as an authority for courts of appeal and control. But it establishes neither, and should be brought as authority for neither. For:

(1) It was not a court of appeal in any intelligible sense. It was an assembly convened for a special purpose; designed to settle an inquiry which arose in a particular part of the church, and which required the collected wisdom of the apostles and elders.

(2) It had none of the marks or appendages of a court. The term “court,” or judicature, is nowhere applied to it, nor to any assembly of Christian people in the New Testament. Nor should these terms be used now in the churches. courts of judicature imply a degree of authority which cannot be proved from the New Testament to have been conceded to any ecclesiastical body of people.

(3) There is not the slightest intimation that anything like permanency was to be attached to this council, or that it would be periodically or regularly repeated. It proves, indeed, that, when cases of difficulty occur - when Christians are perplexed and embarrassed, or when contentions arise - it is proper to refer to Christian people for advice and direction. Such was the case here, and such a course is obviously proper. If it should be maintained that it is well that Christian ministers and laymen should assemble periodically, at stated intervals, on the supposition that such cases may arise, this is conceded; but the example of the apostles and elders should not be pleaded as making such assemblies of divine right and authority, or as being essential to the existence of a church of God. Such an arrangement has been deemed to be so desirable by Christians, that it has been adopted by Episcopalians in their regular annual and triennial Conventions; by Methodists in their conferences; by Presbyterians in their General Assembly; by Friends in their Yearly Meetings; by Baptists and congregationalists in their Associations, etc.; but the example of the council summoned on a special emergency at Jerusalem should not be pleaded as giving divine authority to these periodical assemblages. They are wise and prudent arrangements, contributing to the peace of the church, and the example of the council at Jerusalem can be adduced as furnishing as reach divine authority for one as for another; that is, it does not make all or either of them of divine authority, or obligatory on the church of God.

(4) It should be added that a degree of authority (compare Acts 16:4) would, of course, be attached to the decision of the apostles and elders at that time which cannot be to any body of ministers and laymen now. Besides, it should never be forgotten - what, alas! it seems to have been the pleasure and the interest of ecclesiastics to forget that neither the apostles nor elders asserted any jurisdiction over the churches of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia; that they did not claim a right to have these cases referred to them; that they did not attempt to “lord it” over their faith or their consciences. The case was a single, specific, definite question referred to them, and they decided it as such. They asserted no abstract right of such jurisdiction; they sought not to intermeddle With the case; they enjoined no future reference of such cases to them, to their successors, or to any ecclesiastical tribunal. They evidently regarded the churches as blessed with the most ample freedom, and contemplated no arrangement of a permanent character asserting a right to legislate on articles of faith, or to make laws for the direction of the Lord’s freemen.

Verse 32

Being prophets - See the notes on Acts 11:27. This evidently implies that they had been preachers before they went to Antioch. What was the precise nature of the office of a prophet in the Christian church it is not easy to ascertain. Possibly it may imply that they were teachers of unusual or remark able ability. Compare the notes on Romans 12:6.

Confirmed them - Strengthened them; that is, by their instructions and exhortations. See the notes on Acts 14:22.

Verse 33

A space - For some time.

They were let go in peace - An expression implying that they departed with the affectionate regard of the Christians to whom they had ministered, and with their highest wishes for their prosperity, 1 Corinthians 16:11; 2 John 1:10.

Unto the apostles - At Jerusalem. Many mss., however, instead of “unto the apostles,” read “unto those who had sent them.” The sense is not materially different.

Verse 34

Notwithstanding ... - This whole verse is missing in many mss.; in the Syriac, Arabic, and Coptic versions; and is regarded as spurious by Mill, Griesbach, and by other critics. It was probably introduced by some early transcriber, who judged it necessary to complete the narrative. The Latin Vulgate reads, “It seemed good to Silas to remain, but Judas went alone to Jerusalem.”

Verse 35

Paul also, and Barnabas, continued in Antioch - How long a time is unknown. It is probable that at this time the unhappy incident occurred between Paul and Peter which is recorded in Galatians 2:11-14.

Verse 36

Let us go again and visit our brethren - That is, in the churches which they had established in Asia Minor, Acts 13:14. This was a natural wish, and was an enterprise that might be attended with important advantages to those feeble churches.

Verse 37

And Barnabas determined - Greek: willed, or was disposed to (ἐβουλεύσαντο ebouleusanto).

John ... - See the notes on Acts 12:12. He had been with them before as a traveling companion, Acts 12:25; Acts 13:5. He was the son of a sister of Barnabas Colossians 4:10, and it is probable that Barnabas’ affection for his nephew was the main reason for inducing him to wish to take him with him in the journey.

Verse 38

But Paul thought not good - Did not think it proper. Because he could not confide in his perseverance with them in the toils and perils of their journey.

Who departed from them ... - Acts 13:13. Why he did this is not known. It was evidently, however, for some cause which Paul did not consider satisfactory, and which, in his view, disqualified him from being their attendant again.

To the work - Of preaching the gospel.

Verse 39

And the contention was so sharp - The word used here παροξυσμός paroxusmos is that from which our word “paroxysm” is derived. It may denote “any excitement of mind,” and is used in a good sense in Hebrews 10:24. It here means, however, “a violent altercation” that resulted in their separation for a time, and in their engaging in different spheres of labor.

And sailed into Cyprus - This was the native place of Barnabas. See the notes on Acts 4:36.

Verse 40

Being recommended - Being commended by prayer to God. See notes on Acts 14:26.

Verse 41

Syria and Cilicia - These were countries lying near to each other, which Paul, in company with Barnabas, had before visited.

Confirming the churches - Strengthening them by instruction and exhortation. It has no reference to the rite of confirmation. See the notes on Acts 14:22.

In regard to this unhappy contention between Paul and Barnabas, and their separation from each other, we may make the following remarks:

(1) That no apology or vindication of it is offered by the sacred writer. It was undoubtedly improper and evil. It was a melancholy instance in which even apostles evinced an improper spirit, and engaged in improper strife.

(2) In this contention it is probable that Paul was, in the main, right. Barnabas seems to have been influenced by attachment to a relative; Paul sought a helper who would not shrink from duty and danger. It is clear that Paul had the sympathies and prayers of the church in his favor Acts 15:40, and it is more than probable that Barnabas departed without any such sympathy, Acts 15:39.

(3) There is reason to think that this contention was overruled for the furtherance of the gospel. They went to different places, and preached to different people. It often happens that the unhappy and wicked strifes of Christians are the means of exciting their mutual zeal, and of extending the gospel, and of establishing churches. But no thanks to their contention; nor is the guilt of their anger and strife mitigated by this.

(4) This difference was afterward reconciled, and Paul and Barnabas again became traveling companions, 1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:9.

(5) There is evidence that Paul also became reconciled to John Mark, Colossians 4:10; Phm 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11. How long this separation continued is not known; but perhaps in this journey with Barnabas John gave such evidence of his courage and zeal as induced Paul again to admit him to his confidence as a traveling companion, and as to become a profitable fellow-laborer. See 2 Timothy 4:11, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”

(6) This account proves that there was no collusion or agreement among the apostles to impose upon mankind. Had there been such an agreement, and had the books of the New Testament been an imposture, the apostles would have been represented as perfectly harmonious, and as united in all their views and efforts. What impostor would have thought of the device of representing the early friends of the Christian religion as divided, and contending, and separating from each other? Such a statement has an air of candor and honesty, and at the same time is apparently so much against the truth of the system, that no impostor would have thought of resorting to it.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 15". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/acts-15.html. 1870.
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