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Bible Commentaries
Acts 15

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy ScripturesEverett's Study Notes

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Verses 1-35

The Witness to the First Church at Jerusalem of Gospel to Gentiles (A.D. 50) In Acts 15:1-35 we have the account of the testimony of the Church at Jerusalem officially accepting the Gentiles to full membership. This passage is often called the First Council at Jerusalem, which met in Jerusalem around A.D. 50. The New Testament church, because of its Jewish heritage, immediately incorporated the Old Testament Scriptures into its daily worship. But these new believers quickly realized that some of the Old Testament teachings, such as the Law of Moses, must now be interpreted in light of the New Covenant. We see this struggle of interpreting the Old Testament taking place at this first council of Jerusalem.

Those like Paul and Barnabas, who had been in the field ministry winning souls to Christ, understood how simple the Gospel is for those who simply believe. However, those Jewish converts who had isolated themselves in Jerusalem wanted to be rigid regarding their Old Testament faith. We can compare this story to similar issues that the Vatican faces in modern times. Those priests who live and work with their parishioners tend to be more compromising on ethical issues, while the bishops at the Vatican tend to be uncompromising on issues and follow their traditions. This is the similar situation that the church at Jerusalem was having to deal with.

James the Pastor It is important to note that the twelve apostles of the Lamb were members of the church at Jerusalem in which tradition tells us that James the brother of the Lord was the pastor. As members of this church, these apostles of the Lamb were subject to their pastor. For in this chapter, it is James who decrees the final verdict of this council by which the apostles and prophets of this church willingly submitted.

First New Testament Epistle In this chapter of Acts, we find the first epistle that was written to the New Testament Church by the hands of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ at the first church council. What caused the need for this first epistle to be written? The occasion was the need to interpret the teachings of the Old Testament and of the Lord Jesus Christ in the light of the foreign cultures outside the nation of Israel.

For example, as an African missionary, I talk with American and Canadian pastors who are shepherding African congregations or Bible schools. In this “foreign” culture, so distant from Western civilization, these pastors have difficulty distinguishing between genuine marriages, common-law-marriages and those who are just living together in fornication. This is because the customs of marriage are so foreign.

When these African men are chosen to be church leaders and pastors, they have to meet the qualifications of being the husband of one wife. But if they had children from several relationships, how does one determine if these were marriages of acts of fornication. One pastor told me that he learned to use the custom of a bride price as evidence of a legal marriage. Otherwise, the need for a marriage ceremony was required for members of his church.

The early Church accepted only the epistles of the New Testament apostles as having the divine authority to establish these new guidelines of conduct for churches everywhere. Each New Testament epistle that was written to the Church by these apostles was occasioned by the need to interpret the teachings of the New Covenant into an unfamiliar culture of people who were being evangelized. Thus, each Pauline epistle, although it may be occasioned by a particular need and have a particular theme, is based upon the underlying theme of laying the foundation, or guidelines, of Christian conduct for the early Church.

Acts 15:15-18 Old Testament Quotes in the New Testament - Acts 15:15-18 is a quote from Amos 9:11-12 out of the LXX.

Amos 8:10-11 ”In that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and will rebuild the ruins of it, and will set up the parts thereof that have been broken down, and will build it up as in the ancient days: that the remnant of men, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, may earnestly seek [me], saith the Lord who does all these things.” LXX

However, it differs from the Masoretic text.

Amos 9:11-12, “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.”

F. F. Bruce tells us that the LXX substitutes the Masoretic “yireshu” (will possess) for “yidreshu” (will seek) and the Masoretic “adam” (man) for “Edom.” In addition, the LXX neglects the particle “‘eth,” which marks the accusative case preceding “she’erith” (remnant). [211]

[211] F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1963), 151.

Acts 15:16-18 Comments The Harvest - The passage in Amos 9:11-15 is about the great harvest of souls in the last days. The house of David is symbolic of prayer where churches intercede to God for the harvest of souls. The harvest of souls is directly linked to the prayer efforts of the Church. Todd Bentley speaks regarding this two-fold process in the context of the great harvest that will precede the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“While traveling to an evening crusade I was caught up in an interactive vision. I saw the great harvest field already white. The angels were working in this field. Then Jesus came to me. I knew in my spirit He was the Lord of the Harvest, but He came to me dressed as the Good Shepherd (John 10:0) and holding a staff. I wondered why the Lord of Psalms 23:0 was the Lord of the Harvest. Then I understood this is not just about winning souls, but also about discipling these same souls. Jesus doesn’t want to just be savior, but He also wants to be the great overseer of their souls and He wants to lead them into the depth of Psalms 23:0. He desires to restore their souls and to lead them beside the still waters. Immediately, these Scriptures came to my mind: Psalms 24:1, Revelation 11:15, Isaiah 40:15, Psalms 2:8.

“This was a faith level where whole cities and nations can be saved in a day. The Lord said to me, ‘Todd, enter into My harvest power! It’s the Harvest of Amos 9:13, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.”’

“There is coming an acceleration of the laws of sowing and reaping. The seed will be planted and as soon as the seed is sown, it will be reaped. There will be harvest until the days of sowing and sowing until the days of harvest a holy overlapping of continual sowing and reaping. When this acceleration happens, men and women will cry out, ‘What must I do to be saved?’

“As I continued to walk in the harvest I noticed a tent in the field and asked, ‘Lord, what is that tent doing in the harvest and why does it look so old and ragged? It’s not as glorious and golden as these fields.’ The Lord responded, ‘Todd, this is the tabernacle of David and it looks that way because, for many, prayer is so inviting. It is a matter of perspective and priority. To many, prayer is tedious work, but to others it is the glory. Most importantly, the tabernacle releases the Amos 9:13 harvest.’

“In the book of Acts, Paul, Barnabas, Peter and their ministry teams are seeing tremendous harvest in cities. Churches are being planted and the Holy Ghost is falling on the Gentile believers as well as the Jews. In Acts 15:0 they meet for the Jerusalem council and give reports of the harvest and discuss whether Gentile believers need to be circumcised. In the midst of this James quotes Amos 9:11-12, ‘In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.’

I said, ‘God there it is again the great harvest and the house of David.’ Night and day prayer, 24 hours a day, seven days a week is already taking place in the Church. These houses of prayer are essential to the releasing of an end-time signs and wonders movement, healing revival and the geographic healing centers.” [212]

[212] Todd Bentley, Journey Into the Miraculous (Victoria, BC, Canada: Hemlock Printers, Ltd., 2003), 327-9.

Acts 15:20 Comments - Note that in the book of 1 Corinthians, two of the major topics that Paul dealt with were idolatry and fornication. We learn from the ancient Greek pagan forms of temple worship that these temples kept slaves as temple prostitutes, thus mixing idolatry with fornication. Therefore, the practice of feasting as a part of idolatry and fornication appears to have been a common practice in Asia Minor among the temple worship of the Greeks. As a result of this pagan activity, James, the first bishop of the church in Jerusalem, focused the first written church decree upon the need to avoid pagan forms of worship for the Gentile converts by listing four things that were practiced during these pagan rituals. They were to avoid idolatry, fornication, and the meats associated with these pagan feasts. Paul the apostle will elaborate upon these topics in 1 Corinthians 5-10.

We also see in Romans 1:18-32 how idolatry was followed by fornication as God turned mankind over to a reprobate mind. Thus, these two sins are associated with one another throughout the Scriptures.

Acts 15:22 “and Silas” Comments - Silas ( Σι ́ λας ) (G469) was of one of Paul’s close traveling companions during his second missionary journey. Although Paul and Peter use his Roman name Silvanus when referring to him in their epistles, we know him in the book of Acts by his Jewish name Silas. His first appearance in Scriptures takes place in Acts 15:0 during the Jerusalem council where he is identified as a leader (Acts 15:22) in the Jerusalem church, and a prophet (Acts 15:32). He was chosen along with Judas Barsabas to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to the church in Antioch in order to place into effect some guidelines for Gentile Christians. He moved about with Paul during his second missionary journey and is last identified with Paul in Acts 18:5 where he and Timothy meet Paul in Corinth. Paul will refer to him in his two epistles to the church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1) and in his second epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:19). We also find his name mentioned as “faithful brother” and bearer of Peter’s first epistle (1 Peter 5:12).

Acts 15:25-28 Comments - “it seemed good…” The early Church leaders did not make a decision at the first council of Jerusalem by hearing a divine word from God, or by a gift of utterance, or a dream or a vision. They made their decision because they felt in their hearts that it was the right thing to do. They were being led by the Spirit at this time. Luke writes, “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us”. Luke makes a similar statement in the opening passage of His Gospel by saying, “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,” (Luke 1:3). Luke was simply saying that he felt led by the Holy Spirit to write his Gospel.

Acts 15:29 “That ye abstain from meats offered to idols” - Comments Abstinence from meats offered unto idols was important in that it helped a weaker brother not to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:1-13).

Acts 15:29 Comments - Apparently, the practice of feasting at idolatrous temples in those days involved rituals that used the blood of animals after strangling them, feasting on their meat, as well as men laying with temple prostitutes. Therefore, the prohibition against fornication is listed with these other practices that were common in idolatrous worship.

Verses 1-41

The Church’s Organization (Perseverance): The Witness of the Church Growth to the Ends of the Earth Acts 13:1 to Acts 28:29 begins another major division of the book of Acts in that it serves as the testimony of the expansion of the early Church to the ends of the earth through the ministry of Paul the apostle, which was in fulfillment of Jesus’ command to the apostles at His ascension, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) However, to reach this goal, it required a life of perseverance in the midst of persecutions and hardship, as well as the establishment of an organized church and its offices.

Outline - Here is a proposed outline:

1. Witness of Paul’s First Missionary Journey (A.D. 45-47) Acts 13:1 to Acts 14:28

2. Witness to Church at Jerusalem of Gospel to Gentiles (A.D. 50) Acts 15:1-35

3. Witness of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (A.D. 51-54) Acts 15:36 to Acts 18:22

4. Witness of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey (A.D. 54-58) Acts 18:23 to Acts 20:38

5. Witness of Paul’s Arrest and Trials (A.D. 58-60) Acts 21:1 to Acts 26:32

6. Witness of Paul’s Journey to Rome (A.D. 60) Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:29

A Description of Paul’s Ministry - Paul’s missionary journeys recorded Acts 13-28 can be chacterized in two verses from 2 Timothy 2:8-9, in which Paul describes his ministry to the Gentiles as having suffered as an evil doer, but glorying in the fact that the Word of God is not bound.

2 Timothy 2:8-9, “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.”

Paul followed the same principle of church growth mentioned in Acts 1:8, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” He first placed churches in key cities in Asia Minor. We later read in Acts 19:10 where he and his ministry team preaches “so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks”.

Acts 19:10, “And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”

In Romans 15:20-28 Paul said that he strived to preach where no other man had preached, and having no place left in Macedonia and Asia Minor, he looked towards Rome, and later towards Spain.

Romans 15:20, “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:”

Romans 15:23-24, “But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.”

Romans 15:28, “When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.”

Verses 36-41

The Witness of Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (A.D. 51-54) In Acts 15:36 to Acts 18:22 we have the testimony of Paul’s second missionary journey.

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. Paul and Barnabas Split Up Acts 15:36-41

2. Timothy Joins Paul and Silas Acts 16:1-5

3. Paul at Philippi Acts 16:6-40

4. Paul in Thessalonica Acts 17:1-9

5. Paul in Berea Acts 17:10-15

6. Paul in Athens Acts 17:16-34

7. Paul in Corinth Acts 18:1-17

Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Acts 15". Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghe/acts-15.html. 2013.
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