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Wednesday, November 29th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Acts 15

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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To this point in the efforts of Paul to preach the gospel, his chief adversaries have been either pagans or Jews. Now the opposition comes from within the church. In the first thirty-five verses of this chapter, Paul must deal with the first real internal controversy affecting the church of Christ. Paul must answer for baptizing Gentiles and deal with the attempt to bind the erroneous doctrine of circumcision on the Christian community. In the remainder of the chapter, the dissension between Paul and John Mark comes to light.

Verse 1

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

And certain men: These "certain men" are Jews of the sect of the Pharisees (verse 5). These men have been previously referred to as "they of the circumcision" (see notes on 11:2).

which came down from Judaea: These "certain men" actually claim to have been sent by the apostles at Jerusalem (verse 24). It is generally understood that these men are the same ones spoken of in Galatians 2:12. The account of this same event that Paul gives in Galatians helps to fill in some of the details left out of Luke’s account in Acts. These Judaizing teachers claim they "came from James, " thus citing this influential elder in Jerusalem as giving them authority. James denies this in verse 24 saying, "we gave no such commandment."

In spite of the denial made by James, there is evidence that he contributed to this error about circumcision. In chapter twenty-one, it is evident that James is sympathetic with these Christians who are "zealous of the law." This writer believes that James is implicated in this error to some degree. Whether he gave these "certain men" orders to bind circumcision on Christians is a matter of his word against theirs (see notes on 21:18-24).

taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses: These false teachers are attempting to bind the Jewish rite of circumcision on the Gentile Christians as a requirement for salvation. Although these "certain men" have obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ and have become Christians, they are not yet ready to give up Old Testament requirements. McGarvey says:

They could not conceive, as yet, that this divinely given law, (the law of circumcision), which has been in existence so long, and for the preservation of which their fathers have suffered so much, could be disregarded by any who would be heirs of eternal life (McGarvey, Vol. II 54).

ye cannot be saved: This mistaken teaching on circumcision is a tremendous threat to the Lord’s church. The gravity of this diversion from the truth cannot be overstated, nor can the results that would have occurred be calculated if the error had not been exposed. The future of Christianity is quite literally at stake!

In any case, if God had not corrected the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem, the entire Christian religion would have been frustrated and perverted. At best, it could thenceforth have been nothing but a Jewish sect, preaching the resurrection of Christ, of course, but nevertheless relying on the law of Moses for salvation. A large company of Pharisees who had become Christians would soon have dominated and destroyed it (Coffman 292).

Verse 2

When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them: Luke here uses characteristic understatement for emphasis when he says "no small dissension and disputation." The indication is that Paul and Barnabas enter into a major discussion or debate in defense of the truth. One can only imagine the fervor shown by the fiery Apostle Paul as he defends the truth that he has received by direct revelation (Galatians 1:12).

they determined that Paul and Barnabas: It appears the brethren at Antioch "determined" to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem. There is actually more involved than Luke records. Paul says in Galatians 2:2, "I went up by revelation, " thus showing he goes on divine instructions from the Lord. Wild horses could not have kept Paul from going to Jerusalem! Paul intends to get to the heart of this challenge to the gospel of Christ.

and certain other of them: Exactly who "certain other of them" includes is not here indicated. Paul gives the only clue as to who else went to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1 when he says, "and took Titus with me also."

should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question: It should be clearly understood that Paul and Barnabas are not going up to the church at Jerusalem to receive a ruling on what they are supposed to believe on the circumcision question. Nor should one understand that the Jerusalem church is the headquarters or mother church over the remainder of Christianity. To do so is to miss the purpose of Paul’s trip and to compound the error of these false teachers with yet another error. Paul and Barnabas are going to Jerusalem because apparently that is where the problem over circumcision began (verse 24); and this is where James, whom these Judaizing teachers have claimed as giving them authority, lives (Galatians 2:12).

Verse 3

And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.

And being brought on their way by the church: One can appreciate the church at Antioch for its efforts to support preachers who are willing to stand up in defense of the truth. The brethren at Antioch not only are ready to support Paul and Barnabas with their prayers and encouragement, but they are also willing to pay expenses and furnish supplies for the trip.

they passed through Phenice and Samaria: Paul could have traveled to Joppa, thus avoiding the Canaanite cities and the region of the mongrel Samaritans. The route Paul takes to Jerusalem is in itself an affirmation of the principles for which he is contending (for additional notes, see 11:19 and 8:5).

declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren: It is quite evident the gospel has already made its mark on the hearts of many in these areas. It is generally assumed Philip is the first evangelist here (see notes on chapter eight). It is also evident that "those of the circumcision" have not influenced the brethren in Phenice and Samaria with their error.

The Christians in both of these areas are ready to rejoice at the success of the gospel among the Gentiles. There is great reason for rejoicing: salvation has come to the Gentiles! One can hope that the good Canaanite woman who would "eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table" could now sit at the "Master’s table" and eat of the "bread of life" (Matthew 15:22-28).

Verse 4

And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.

And when they were come to Jerusalem: The journey from Antioch to Jerusalem is about three hundred miles in length.

they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them: Paul and Barnabas are not strangers to the church at Jerusalem. One can only imagine the enthusiasm shown by these two returning missionaries for the thrilling work they have just completed among the Gentiles and for the joy it must have stirred in the hearts of their audience with a few exceptions, as will be noted.

Verse 5

But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed: This is the first specific mention of any who were members of this "straitest" of all the Jewish sects (26:5) being converted to Christianity with the exception of Paul. The Pharisees have dealt the Lord’s church misery from the beginning, but apparently some of even this most hostile group cannot resist the power of the gospel (for additional notes on Pharisees, see 5:34).

saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses: (See notes on verse 1 for comments on this contention.) The source of the problem has now been identified as these former Pharisees who have become Christians. These heretics have had some success with their false doctrine among the Jerusalem Christians; and sadly, it is highly likely they have received some sympathy from some of the apostles who ought to know better. One might suspect they hope to run their heresy roughshod over the Apostle Paul. If that is what they hope for, they have vastly underestimated their opponent. Coffman has this to say:

Their love of the forms and ceremonies of Judaism had been brought with them into the church; and it may be assumed that for some considerable time they had been working to graft their own system into Christianity. Not only had they corrupted practically the whole of the church in Judaea, but the recently established churches in Galatia had been visited and corrupted sufficiently to call forth Paul’s vehement letter to the Galatians. The representatives they sent down to Antioch probably expected a quick victory there also; but instead of a victory they suddenly confronted the dauntless Paul who challenged them, defeated them, and proceeded to Jerusalem where he reversed the victory they had already won there. Aside from Christ himself, Christianity owes more to Paul than to any other (294).

Verses 6-7

And the apostles and elders came together for to consider this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

And when there had been much disputing: Apparently, no stone is left unturned in this debate. Both sides present their case to the fullest.

Peter rose up, and said unto them: The Apostle Peter once again shows his leadership among the disciples by taking control of the situation.

Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe: Peter is not only the leader of the disciples but also he is the best choice to affirm the status of the Gentiles. After all, it is Peter who first uses the "keys" to open the kingdom of God to the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 11:14). It is Peter who baptizes the first Gentile into Christ (10:48). It is time for Peter to stand up. He very well knows salvation has nothing to do with circumcision! Although it has been about ten years since Peter baptized Cornelius, the divinely inspired declaration, "God is no respecter of persons, " is still the truth (10:34).

Verse 8

And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;

And God, which knoweth the hearts: This phrase is common to Peter: he has previously expressed the knowledge that God searches the hearts of men (1:24).

bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost: In the giving of the Holy Spirit to Cornelius, God "bears witness" that the Gentiles are now subject to receive the gospel. It may be safely concluded that if God had not given the Holy Spirit as witness for the Gentiles, Peter would never have preached to them (for more complete notes, see 10:44-48; 11:1-17).

even as he did unto us: This passage is a reference to the "baptism of the Holy Spirit, " which first comes to the apostles ("us") on the day of Pentecost; later the house of Cornelius receives the "like gift" as confirmation that the Gentiles are now acceptable to God (see notes on 1:1-4; 11:17).

Verse 9

And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

And put no difference between us and them: This is a very strong point made by Peter. He presses home the fact that God receives the Gentile converts when their faith in Jesus Christ motivates their obedience to the words of the gospel. There is no command for circumcision or law keeping. Coffman says, "Peter’s basic understanding of God’s will, fortified by his rugged character, enabled him to rise up, as he did here, and pull the rug out from under the whole Pharisaical conspiracy" (295).

purifying their hearts by faith: A basic premise of the Christian system is the fact that there is no difference in God’s plan of salvation for Jew or Gentile (10:34-35; Romans 3:22). Salvation is based upon the grace of God, which provides us with what we need not what we deserve. By God’s grace we have the "word of His grace" (20:32). When one has faith in this word, it will motivate him to repent and be baptized. (For details on salvation by faith, see notes 10:43.)

Verse 10

Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

Now therefore why tempt ye God: The pronoun "ye" refers to the "apostles and elders" of verse 6. Peter finally takes a stand and charges those who hold this false position as the ones who would put God on trial by questioning His word. It is not God who makes the mistake when He chooses to accept the Gentiles without circumcision. The mistake lies with those who would go beyond the word of God.

It seems obvious the one at fault is the one who has made an addition to the word of God. Circumcision is not a command of the New Testament. These men are at fault in trying to add it. The same is true today. Any time man makes additions to or subtractions from the word, whether it be circumcision, instrumental music, or individual communion cups, it is not God who has made the mistake; it is man.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9).

Peter has certainly changed his tune since Paul rebuked him in Antioch for his weakness and obvious hypocrisy in the face of "those of the circumcision." Peter should have opposed the error of this doctrine himself, but his human foibles show themselves. "Peter is to blame, "Paul says (Galatians 2:11). The fact that even the great Apostle Peter has his weaknesses should be an encouragement to everyone trying to live the Christian life. We are all weak in one way or another, and like Peter we sometimes need a wake-up call. A cock crowing brought Peter back to reality on the night Jesus is betrayed; now it takes the reproach of Paul.

to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples:"A yoke" is used here as a figurative expression to indicate something that is a burden, something that would infringe upon one’s freedom. The reasoning is "Why would one desire to go back under the bondage (Galatians 2:4) of the Old Law and give up his new found freedom that is in Christ?" Jesus says, "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30).

which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear: No Jew is able to keep the Law perfectly. Even if the Jews could have kept all of the Law without a single transgression, they would not have earned salvation! As will be noted in the next verse, salvation is the result of the grace of God.

Verse 11

But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

But we believe: Peter asserts he is speaking for the apostles in this conclusion of his arguments. Incidentally, this is the last record of any appearance of the Apostle Peter in the book of Acts.

that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved: This statement is meant to be the conclusion of the discussion. It is not through the keeping of the Law that one is saved, but rather salvation is through the "grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" (see notes on 15:9; 20:32).

even as they: Even those who die under the Law (our fathers) must depend upon the "grace of the Lord Jesus" for their salvation. The blood of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, works in a retroactive way to save those under the Law (Galatians 2:21; Hebrews 10:1-10).

Verse 12

Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

Then all the multitude kept silence: At least temporarily the opposition is silenced by the clear and forcible arguments of Peter.

and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them: Barnabas and Paul begin again the account of the wonderful works of God among the Gentiles that they had started in verse 4 before the interruption by those of the sect of the Pharisees. The thrust of this account of "miracles and wonders… among the Gentiles" is to demonstrate irrevocably that "the mind of God in this matter, already shown in the house of Cornelius, had been abundantly displayed in the blessing He had bestowed upon the Gentiles in Antioch and during the recent mission in Cyprus and Asia Minor" (Bruce 309).

Verse 13

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:

And after they had held their peace: Barnabas and Paul are allowed to finish their speeches without interruption.

James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: The audience has heard from Peter, Barnabas, and Paul; now James speaks. This James is the James distinguished as the Lord’s brother and referred to as an apostle by Paul (Galatians 1:19) (see notes on 14:4). James is perhaps the most influential of all the disciples in the Jerusalem church. It is left up to him to conclude the matter under discussion.

Verse 14

Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.

Simeon: James refers to Peter by his original name of Simeon. The reason for this reference is not known, but Coffman may have hit the nail on the head when he said, "It might have been a little embarrassing to the apostle, under the circumstances, to have called him The Rock (Peter)" (297)!

hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles: See notes on verses 7 through 11.

to take out of them a people for his name: The Jews have always considered themselves as the ONLY people of God, but now James makes it clear that God also has "a people" who are taken from among the Gentiles (Romans 9:24-26).

Verse 15

And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,

James here affirms the acceptance of the Gentiles as being predicted by the prophets. The scripture here referred to is a loose rendition of those spoken by Amos (Amos 9:11-12). James refers to the prophets in the plural as there were others who prophesied the acceptance of the Gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-4).

The Jewish Christians are amazed that God extends salvation to the Gentiles, but they should not be. The Old Testament scriptures are filled with predictions of the coming of Jesus, the establishment of the church, etc.; and yet, the majority of the Jews do not recognize Jesus as their Savior. One must conclude it is through ignorance of their own scriptures that the Jews miss Jesus. Sadly, the majority of the world’s population today is going to miss Jesus again for the same reason, in this case an ignorance of the New Testament scriptures.

Verse 16

After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:

James now states the prophecy of Amos has been fulfilled. To "build again the tabernacle of David" does not indicate the reestablishment of the literal throne of David but rather the establishment of a spiritual kingdom.

The prophet had in previous verses predicted the downfall of the Jewish kingdom, which would be the overthrow of the tabernacle or house of David, whose descendants were the reigning kings; and in the verses quoted he predicts the rebuilding of the same, no man of David’s race became a king until Jesus was enthroned in heaven. This then was the rebuilding of the ruins, ... (McGarvey, Vol. II 66).

Verse 17

That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.

That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles: James continues with the teaching of the prophet Amos. He now gets to the main thrust of his argument by pointing out this new spiritual kingdom contains not only Jews, but also Gentiles are included as the people of God.

The conjunction "and" before "all the Gentiles" (v. 17) is epexegetic; a better translation would be "even" or "that is to say". The "residue of men" who are to "seek after the Lord" are identical with "all Gentiles, upon whom my name is called" – i.e. the elect from every nation (Bruce 310).

upon whom my name is called: Salvation has come to this "residue of men, " who have been seeking after the Lord. Beginning with the conversion of the household of Cornelius, the kingdom of God is open to the Gentiles. These who have, for how many hundreds of years, begged for the crumbs that fell from the table are now able to sit at the Lord’s table as sons and daughters of God!

saith the Lord, who doeth all these things: This statement affirms this receiving of the Gentiles is the will of God as prophesied by the prophets and fulfilled beginning with Cornelius.

Verse 18

Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

James further concludes the discussion on circumcision by saying it was God’s plan from "the beginning" to save the Gentiles without circumcision. The means of salvation and the requirements of Christian fellowship are to be the same for both Jew and Gentile. Since this is the plan of God, it should not be resisted by men.

Verse 19

Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:

Wherefore my sentence is: James, being the last speaker, declares the "sentence" (judgment) of the matter under discussion. This is not a personal judgment; rather it is a decision based upon the evidence of the prophets and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (see verse 28). Some would construe that James is the chairman or president of this conference, but there is no indication the authority of James is of any greater degree than the authority of Peter or Paul.

that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: James concludes that the burdensome rules of the Law should not be bound upon the Gentile Christians.

Verse 20

But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

But that we write unto them, that they abstain from: It is decided that a letter be sent to the Christians in Antioch, containing the following four prohibitions:

pollutions of idols: This particular restriction is later defined in verse 29 as "meats offered to idols." When animals were sacrificed to an idol, only a small portion of the meat was used in the pagan ceremony. The remainder of the meat was eaten by the idolatrous priests or sold in the meat markets. Under the New Testament, this "eating of meats offered to idols" is a Christian liberty. Paul explains this liberty in 1 Corinthians 8:4 when he says: "an idol is nothing … " and there is "but one God."

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled." "Meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak (1 Corinthians 8:7-9).

Paul’s final conclusion is, "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, ..." The eating of such "dedicated meats" was strongly opposed by the Jewish Christians who would be classified as the "weaker brother" in this situation. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean (Romans 14:14.)

and from fornication: Ritual fornication is a fundamental feature of numerous pagan cults, a notable example being that of the Temple of Aphrodite at Corinth with its one thousand prostitutes. It is a curious thing among idolators; vice seems to be a virtue.

and from things strangled: As noted above, it seems in paganism the heathen practice that which is in direct opposition to the teachings of God. For an example taken to the ultimate degree, we have those today who worship Satan rather than God. Here is another example: Israel has been specifically forbidden to eat any animal that was strangled (the blood must be poured out) (Levitcus 17:13). The heathen often strangled sacrifices, and the meat from "things strangled was considered a delicacy" (Conybeare and Howson 193).

and from blood: The drinking of blood was prohibited even before the giving of the Law of Moses (Genesis 9:4). Later Israel received the same law in Levitcus 7:27. Here again, the pagans turned the prohibitions of God into a rite of their idolatry, often drinking the blood of their sacrifices. Even in modern times, one of the most repulsive and abominable practices of Satanic cults is the practice of drinking blood.

To explain the reason these four prohibitions are attached to the Gentile Christians certainly has its problems. There are those who think these requirements are of a temporary and perhaps local nature and will pass from existence when the relationships between Jews and Gentiles moderate in time. Others believe the ceremonial portions of the Law of Moses are bound upon all Christians for all ages. Sill others believe these restrictions predate the Law, having been given to the Patriarchs as an eternal law, and "will continue to be until the end of the world" (McGarvey, Vol. II 67).

It should forever be remembered there is no Jewish ceremony necessary for salvation! On the contrary, Jesus came "to redeem them that were under the Law" (Galatians 4:5) that they might be saved by faith in the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16). Therefore, it is the conclusion of this writer that all four of these prohibitions have to do with the practice of the worship of idols, a practice very common among the Gentiles and one abhorred by the Jews. The purpose of this letter to the Gentiles is to remind them of the "pollution of idols, " out of which they came when they became Christians. This teaching would also greatly improve the social relationship between the Gentile Christians and their Jewish brethren. It is a difficult thing for our generation to understand the extent of the cultural gap, both social and religious, between the Jews and the Gentiles of the first century. Jesus Christ is the only motivation that could have ever inspired the effort to reconcile both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Verse 21

For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

There is some discussion as to the meaning of this verse, but it seems James is saying the Jewish Christians have had ample opportunity to know of these four prohibitions as the Law has been taught from "old time" "every sabbath day." But it is necessary to write this letter to the Gentile converts that they might also understand these restrictions even as their Jewish brothers.

Verse 22

Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:

Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church: The decision is unanimous. The speeches of these four men have made clear the will of God. The false contentions for circumcision have been silenced, the error has been corrected, and all that is lacking is to inform the brethren at Antioch.

to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: The brethren decide to send "men of their own company" with Paul and Barnabas. This is a wise decision as these men can verify the conclusions reached by the disciples. The testimony of Paul and Barnabas alone might have been considered biased.

namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas: Very little is known of this particular character with the exception of what is revealed here. Reese speculates "that the ’Joseph called Barsabbas’ of Acts 1:23 and ’Judas called Barsabbas’ here mentioned are brothers, because they both are called ’sons of Sabbas’" (423).

and Silas: This may have been the first meeting of Paul and Silas, also known as Silvanus (2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). Silas is soon to become the faithful companion of Paul on his second and third missionary journeys.

chief men among the brethren: Judas and Silas are"chief men, "that is men of influence and leadership among the brethren of the Jerusalem church. They are the caliber of men whose testimonies would be unimpeachable. They are also"prophets, "according to verse 32.

Before leaving the subject of this gathering of the "apostles, elders, and the whole church," there is one last comment that needs to be made. Contrary to the contentions of the Catholic church, this meeting is not the "first general council" of the church.

Be it observed, too, that while this conference is constantly referred to by Romanists and other supporters of episcopacy, as the first general council, it was no general council at all. It was not composed of representatives from the congregations of a district, however small, but of the members of a single church. Furthermore, it decided, on the authority of the inspired men who directed its decisions, a question of doctrine affecting the salvation of souls; and this no set of men except the apostles have ever had the right to do. In no sense, then, can its action be pleaded as a precedent for the existence of any ecclesiastical court whatever outside of the individual congregations, or for the purpose of settling by authority any questions of doctrine (McGarvey, Vol. II 70).

There is absolutely no reason to believe this unique episode establishes the concept of a central headquarters for the Lord’s church from which rulings on the scriptures are handed down, nor does it give the authority for any ecumenical council (a.k.a. annual convention) to assemble to settle questions of doctrine by its authority or majority vote. Each congregation of the church is autonomous, governed by the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

Verse 23

And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

And they wrote letters: This is believed to be the first"epistle, "as it is referred to in verse 30, that is issued from the apostles. It is likely this letter circulated among the churches until it is incorporated into the book of Acts.

by them: According to Barnes, the literal wording in the Greek is"by their hand" (472).

after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles: Reese says, "The ancients were always accustomed to sign their letters first, give the address second, and the word of greeting third. This was the formal style of letter writing" (423).

in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Since the problem of circumcision begins in Antioch, the letter is directed there; but, as is the usual case with church problems, it is evident the contention has spread. The letter is also addressed to Syria, the country of which Antioch is the capital, and the adjoining country of Cilicia, a portion of southern Galatia.

Verse 24

Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:

Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words: The letter explains the brethren in Jerusalem "have heard" of the problems created by the false doctrines of "those of the circumcision." The tenor of this letter is very cordial and shows a genuine concern for the welfare of the Gentile Christians.

subverting your souls: The degree to which the Gentile Christians have been disturbed by this erroneous teaching needs to be appreciated. Vincent comments, "The idea here is that of turning the minds of the Gentile converts upside down; throwing them into confusion like a dismantled house" (526).

saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: The letter plainly asserts the need for circumcision and the keeping of the Law are commandments not given by the inspired apostles. These false teachers have brought innovations into the New Testament church for which there is no divine authority. Although the leaders at Jerusalem affirm, "…we gave no such commandment, " there is some question as to the implication of James (see notes on verse 1 above and 21:18-24).

Man has not changed his digressive ways. Although the innovation of circumcision is not an issue among modern Christians, the debate over innovations for which there is "no such commandment" still rages today. Such additions to the teachings of God’s word as instrumental music, individual communion cups, Bible classes, women teachers, etc., still must be opposed by those who demand a "thus saith the Lord."

Verses 25-27

It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.

The wording of this letter is most complimentary to Paul and Barnabas who certainly deserve some respect for their devotion to preaching the gospel to the heathen. Their efforts to evangelize are appreciated for the hazardous work that it truly is. The letter also explains the reason for sending Judas and Silas (see notes on verse 22).

Verse 28

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;

It is very important to establish that the events of the meeting, the conclusions reached, and the method of implementing the decisions are all under the direction of the Holy Spirit (see notes on verse 19.)

Verse 29

That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

This verse rehearses the decision made to bind only these four prohibitions upon the Gentile Christians (see notes on verse 20.) With the following statement from Coffman, the discussion on these issues will close:

The principal barrier to social and religious unity among the Jewish and Gentile Christians was the low standard of behavior so common among the latter. Idol feasts were shameful debaucheries, marked by the most vulgar and immoral behavior, the prohibitions against pollution of idols and fornication being almost, in fact, one prohibition. In fact, it is possible that all four of these restrictions relate to idol worship (299).

Verse 30

So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:

The disciples waste no time in getting the letter to the brethren in Antioch. The church is gathered and the letter read.

Verse 31

Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.

There is certainly a reason to rejoice. The liberty of the New Testament has been established, and the yoke of the Old Testament is loosed. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, one of the most divisive elements to confront the New Testament church has been met and defeated.

Verse 32

And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.

The purpose for Judas and Silas’ accompanying Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch now is seen. They stand as witnesses of the decisions delivered in the epistle.

This verse also states that these men are "prophets" (for additional notes on prophets, see 11:27).

Verses 33-34

And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.

After serving the purpose for which they have come, Silas and Judas are dismissed to return to Jerusalem. Silas chooses to remain in Antioch where he will soon embark upon another adventure as the new traveling companion of Paul.

Verse 35

Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

The field at Antioch is still "white unto harvest, " and Paul wastes no time. He is busy "teaching and preaching." If a distinction might be shown between "teaching" and "preaching, " it can be that "teaching" is a more informal instructing in the word of God, perhaps privately while "preaching" is a more formal proclaiming of the good news of Jesus Christ in a public setting.

Verse 36

And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.

After an indefinite time of preaching and building up the brethren in Antioch, the evangelistic fire is again kindled in Paul. He proposes to visit the congregations that were established on his first journey as recorded in chapters thirteen and fourteen. It is Paul’s intention to take Barnabas with him again until Barnabas insists on taking his nephew, John Mark.

Verse 37

And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.

Barnabas has "determined" to give his nephew a second chance. One will remember that John Mark abandoned the first missionary effort (see notes on 12:12; 13:13.)

Verse 38

But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.

It is likely Barnabas can see extenuating circumstances for the action of his nephew because of his kinship, but Paul sees only the desertion of John Mark from the Lord’s work, an action for which he has no sympathy.

Verse 39

And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;

And the contention was so sharp between them: Here is an example of two strong-willed Christian men who have what Vincent defines as an "angry dispute" (528). It is not to be understood that either of these divinely inspired men is led by the Holy Spirit in this contention. The best of friends may differ on decisions of personal preference or expediency.

that they departed asunder one from the other: This heated disagreement separates Paul from his longtime friend and companion, Barnabas. There are two things that should be noted in order to gather up all of the loose ends in this dissension between Paul and Barnabas.

This disagreement does not produce a permanent rift between Paul and Barnabas and John Mark. Mark is later restored to the confidence of Paul who refers to him as "profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11). Barnabas is later commended by Paul (1 Corinthians 9:6).

There is good that is realized from this sad and unfortunate situation. Those involved do not allow their differences to hinder the Lord’s work. Now there are two teams of missionaries in the field where there was just one.

and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus: This is the last time we hear of Barnabas or John Mark in the book of Acts. Luke does not follow the adventures of Barnabas as he returns to his native Cyprus; thus, our window closes here on a rather sad note. Our spirits are lifted by this happy note from McGarvey:

The separation of Barnabas from Paul is our separation from Barnabas; for his name is not again mentioned by Luke. But as we bid him a final farewell, the sails are spread which are to bear him over the sea, that he may make the islands glad with the knowledge of salvation; and the later incidents of his noble life will be made known to us when we sit down with him in the everlasting kingdom" (Vol. II 76).

Verse 40

And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.

And Paul chose Silas, and departed: Paul chooses Silas, the prophet from Jerusalem, as his new traveling companion (see notes on 15:22).

being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God: This recommendation most likely involves a gathering of the whole church for the special purpose of bidding the departing missionaries Godspeed. A similar event occurred at the beginning of the first missionary journey (13:3).

Verse 41

And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

Paul begins his efforts to visit the churches he has established, starting in the immediate country of Syria and proceeding on to Cilicia (see notes on 15:23)."Confirming" is used in the general sense of "strengthening."

What a dramatic chapter this one is! A major division over the attempt to bind circumcision upon the Gentile Christians is avoided primarily because of the strong leadership of the indomitable Apostle Paul. The disciples who have sympathized with "those of the circumcision" (including Peter) are now corrected and on the right track. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over the defector John Mark is decided, and Paul’s second missionary effort has begun with Silas as his new companion.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 15". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-15.html. 1993-2022.
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