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Bible Commentaries
Acts 15

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The Discussion About Law Keeping Acts Fifteen

Jews from Jerusalem were still trying to bind the requirements of the Law upon the Gentiles. They traveled to cities where Gentiles had been converted to preach their "Law Keeping" message. They even came to Antioch to spread their teaching. Paul was an apostle, with all authority of any apostles, yet he saw the need for unity. So, the conference at Jerusalem was arranged. This allowed God to be heard and to maintain His sovereign control over the church.

The question of "circumcision" or "Law Keeping" touched the very heart of Christianity. Determining the foundation upon which our relationship with God stands is at the heart of the discussion. Paul knew that if one was circumcised as a matter of Law that this bound him to the entire Law. Being bound to the Law would mean that he had given up the system of grace and had fallen from Christ.

Paul, Barnabas, and certain others from Antioch went to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. The question of "Law Keeping" was to be settled by God and not by the brethren. Peter took the lead in the discussion and related the case of the conversion of Cornelius and his household. He said that God made no difference between Jew and Gentile.

Afterwards Paul and Barnabas declared that the power of God had worked through them among the Gentiles. James then summed up the judgment of the assembly. He said the Gentiles are not obligated to be circumcised, or to obey the Law of Moses. However, they must abstain from blood, from things strangled, from fornication, and from meat offered to idols. These are not new laws that are a part of Christianity only. These have always been requirements of the Creator. The spirit of grace and wisdom is truly seen in the way this matter was handled.

After returning to Antioch for a while Paul proposed to Barnabas that they should revisit the churches they had established. Barnabas was determined to take Mark with them. He had earlier turned back from the work. Under no circumstances would Paul agree to take Mark. These two great servants of God separated over this issue. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus. Paul took Silas with him on his journeys. It is great that later Paul spoke of Barnabas with love and he also said that Mark was profitable for the ministry.

Verses 1-5

A controversy over "Law Keeping” Act_15:1-5 : Some people came from Judea to Antioch and started teaching the Gentile Christians that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised as Moses had taught. They were not sent by God, or by the apostles. They came down of "themselves" or on their own. These brethren caused trouble, and the disturbance and uneasiness continued for some time. Paul and Barnabas argued with them about this teaching. It was agreed upon that Paul and Barnabas and a few others would go to Jerusalem and discuss this problem with the apostles and the elders.

As Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem they went through Phoenicia and Samaria. There they told of how the Gentiles had turned to God. This news brought joy to the followers of Christ. When these brethren reached Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church. They told them what God had done through them and how that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Some Pharisees that had become Christians said, "Gentile Christians must be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses." This is what the Jerusalem conference was all about.

Verses 6-21

An account of the discussion Act_15:6-21 : The church, with the apostles and elders, came together to discuss this problem concerning the Gentiles and the Law. Peter said that "God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe." He was referring to the case of Cornelius. God gave the Gentiles the Holy Ghost just as he did to the Jews. God did not in any way treat the Gentiles different from the Jews. The hearts of men are filthy, and need purifying. They are polluted by sin. God made the Gentiles pure through obedient faith just as he did the Jews.

Peter said these Jewish brethren were making God angry by placing a heavy burden on the Gentile Christians. The multitude kept silent as Paul and Barnabas spoke of the miracles and wonders that God had worked among the Gentiles. James summarized what had happened as what God had promised a long time ago. ( Amo_9:11-12 ) He suggested that a letter should be written containing four prohibitions. All Christians must avoid (1) pollutions of idols, (2) fornication, (3) things strangled, and (4) blood. These are things that pollute both the soul and the body. James concluded by saying, "For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day." ( Act_15:21 )

Verses 22-35

A letter to the Gentiles Act_15:22-35 : The brethren were in agreement concerning the letter. The letter was written and sent to Antioch by the hands of Paul and Barnabas along with Silas and Judas. "The four men left Jerusalem and went to Antioch. Then they called the church members together and gave them the letter. When the letter was read, everyone was pleased and greatly encouraged."

We have already learned that Paul and Barnabas were prophets. Now we find that Silas and Judas were also prophets. Prophets sometimes foretold things to come. Prophets also had the ability to explain the prophecies of the Old Testament, and to give the true meaning of the Scriptures. After staying in Antioch for a while, Judas and the other brethren returned to Jerusalem. Silas remained in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The text says, "Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also." ( Act_15:35 )

Verses 36-41

A second journey brings division Act_15:36-41 : After some time had passed Paul suggested to Barnabas that they revisit the churches that they had established on the first journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark and Paul was very much opposed to it. Mark was the young man who had defected from the first journey at Perga. This led to a very serious contention between these two good brethren.

The one redeeming point in this otherwise sad and regrettable episode is that neither Barnabas nor Paul allowed it to hinder the work of God. It actually became beneficial to the work because then there were two teams of missionaries. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. Paul took Silas and they traveled through Syria and Cilicia, encouraging the churches.

Bibliographical Information
Box, Charles. "Commentary on Acts 15". "Box's Commentaries on Selected books of the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/box/acts-15.html. 2014.
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