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Bible Commentaries

Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NT

Acts 15

Verse 1

1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, " Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. "

1. Jewish converts came from the area around Jerusalem to Antioch. They were converted to Christianity - but still held many of the laws, traditions and customs of their former religion.

2. NOTE: All converted from one religious belief to another will carry some "baggage" with us. Some customs and traditions and teachings that we liked and are deeply ingrained are difficult to just dismiss and ignore.

3. Their teaching was clear - "All Gentile converts MUST be circumcised as Moses commanded or you cannot be saved."

1. Circumcision was a sign of being in a covenant relationship with God.

2. It preceded the Law of Moses. Circumcision began with Abraham.

4. TODAY - Like these Jewish converts, some today are trying to bind where God has not bound. They seek to impose their rules on others. They seek to obligate others to some regulations that are not bound by God. Examples in our time would include:

1. Changing God's law on divorce and remarriage

2. Rules about eating (not eating) in the church building

3. Cooperation and fund exchange among congregations

4. "Unless you do (or don't do) ___________ (fill in the blank) you can't be saved."

Verse 2

2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

1. Paul and Barnabas had many discussions, debates, disputes with these Jewish brethren.

2. It was time to seek the council of the apostles in Jerusalem.

3. There was agreement that all would go to Jerusalem and seek the inspired direction from the apostles (who were also the elders) of the Jerusalem church.

Verse 3

3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.

1. As the traveled from Antioch, they passed through cities that now had established churches. So, they stopped at each city to encourage them.

2. Paul shared the good news of his first missionary trip.

3. There was joy that the church was spreading among Gentiles and Jews.

Verse 4

4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.

1. They arrived in Jerusalem and were accepted and received by the church.

2. The apostles accepted and received them and were glad to hear the report on their work among the Gentiles.

Verse 5

5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, " It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. "

1. Some Christians were converted from the Jewish sect of the Pharisees. Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion, so there was some connection and understanding with the traditions, beliefs and customs of this sect.

2. It was their view that ALL who want to be in covenant with God MUST be circumcised AND they must keep the Law of Moses.

3. This is clearly a matter that must be resolved.

1. Many of my brethren have some strange notion or idea. Just their view or opinion.

2. But when they begin insisting that all others must follow obey their view - and those who do not follow them are headed for hell - something must be done.

Verse 6

6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.

1. The apostles, elders, many brethren assembled to have an orderly discussion of the issues, doctrines and opinions.

2. They were seeking to find common ground, a solution on which all could agree.

3. They were also seeking the will of God on this matter. This was not an opinion poll to see who had the most votes. The only vote that counted was God.

Verse 7

7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: " Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.

1. It would appear that many, from both sides of the issue, were allowed to express their views, make their arguments, present their case, and try to explain their position.

2. The Peter rises to speak. He reminds them of his trip to the house of Cornelius.

3. There is no question that God has accepted Gentiles in the church. God has opened the door for all men to be saved.

Verse 8

8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us,

1. God knows their heart (like He knows the heart of the Jewish brethren). Unspoken, but implied - God knows their heart, loves them, and is willing to accept them into His family, the church, BEFORE they are circumcised.

2. He bestowed on Cornelius the gift of tongues, just as He did on Pentecost. God has placed His approval on Gentile converts.

Verse 9

9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

1. Under the Law of Moses there were many distinctions between Jews and Gentiles.

2. Now, there are NO DISTINCTIONS.

1. They were blessed just as the Jews were blessed.

2. They heard the same gospel message as the Jews.

3. They obeyed the same commands as the Jews.

4. There are NOT two separate laws (one for Jews, another for Gentiles). The rules, commands, ordinances are the same for all. The wall of separation is gone. It was taken down with the death of Jesus. ( Eph_2:14 )

Verse 10

10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

1. Peter concludes that any imposition is "putting a yoke" on the neck of these Gentile converts.

2. Why are you imposing on them a burden that you were under and could not bear? When you under the Law, you sought to be be relieved of the burden and restrictions that it placed on you. The Law was seen as restrictive and cumbersome. So, why are you seeking to force others to live by what you despised and sought relief from?

Verse 11

11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they. "

1. There is one set of rules for ALL men. They will be saved by the save process (faith, repentance, and baptism) that saved Jewish converts.

2. There is one body (church). See Eph_1:22-23 ; Eph_4:4 . There is not a Jewish church and a separate Gentile church.

3. There are not different rules for some to be saved than for others. Race, ethnic background, former religion make no difference in the process of being saved.

4. There will remain cultural differences because of upbringing, traditions, and customs. But these do not alter the commands of God for our salvation.

Verse 12

12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.

1. Now everyone is focused on the issue. A new perspective has been given by Peter.

2. Now attention is given to Paul and Barnabas as they tell about the expansion of the church among the Gentiles. They tell about the conversions, the miracles, the many open doors, the reception of the gospel in other lands.

3. The church is growing. You have brothers and sisters in Christ in many nations. They are different from you in race, ethnicity, customs and culture. But they have heard the same gospel message (death, burial, and resurrection of Christ) and have obeyed the same commands (faith, repentance, and baptism) and are accepted by God.

Verse 13

13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, " Men and brethren, listen to me:

1. The background was laid by Peter at Cornelius' house.

2. The Gentile conversions were multiplied by Paul and Barnabas.

3. Now James speaks.

1. This is not James, the brother of John, because he was killed in Act_12:2 .

2. There are two possible James' mentioned here

1. James the Less, also called James the son of Alphaeus

2. James, the brother of Jesus

3. Most commentaries believe this is James the Less, one of the 12 Apostles.

4. I disagree. I believe this James is the Lord's brother. Reasons for this:

1. He is not called an apostle.

2. He was called a "pillar" in the church. ( Gal_2:9 )

3. He was, it appears, one of the elders, but not an apostle.

Verses 14-17

14 Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.

15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:

16 ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up;

17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord , Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things. '

1. James begins by showing from the Old Testament prophets that Gentiles were to be accepted in the church.

2. He quotes from Amo_9:11-12 .

Verse 18

18 " Known to God from eternity are all His works.

1. James now comments. All the works (Peter at Cornelius and Paul in other cities) are known by God. They were known from eternity. This is not a surprise to God.

2. God knows what we are doing - before we do it.

3. Having Gentiles as part of the church was in the plan and mind of God from the beginning.

Verse 19

19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God,

1. James says that we should not impose burdens on them. God accepts them - AS IS. The Jewish converts should accept them also.

2. They are turning from idols. They are leaving pagan worship to serve the living God. That is good enough for God - it ought to be good enough for us.

Verse 20

20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.

1. There are some things that pre-date the Law of Moses. Murder is not wrong because of the commandment not to kill. Murder was wrong in Gen_4:1-26 when Cain killed his brother.

2. There are some principle rules, cardinal teachings that do not belong to any one dispensation. Murder, Idolatry, fornication, and many other things are not just part of the Law of Moses. They are part of the Law of God. They were in force during the time of Noah and Abraham (before the Law of Moses) and they are still in force in the Christian age (after the Law of Moses was taken away and nailed to the cross).

3. James lists four things that must be mentioned.

1. The pollution of idols

2. Sexual Immorality

3. Things strangled (meat with the blood not drained)

4. Drinking blood

Verse 21

21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath. "

1. These are things that were "common knowledge" everywhere that Jews were scattered among the nations of the world.

2. These are not just ceremonies of the law. They are principles from God.

Verse 22

22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.

1. The apostles, elders, and the whole church were in agreement.

2. It was decided to send men with Paul to spread this decision to Gentile churches.

3. Among the men chosen were:

1. Judas , also called Barsabas - He was named as a possible successor to be appointed in Judas' place in Act_1:1-26 . Mathias was chosen instead.

2. Silas - became the travel partner with Paul on his second and third mission trips. ( Act_15:40 )

Verses 23-24

23 They wrote this, letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.

24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, " You must be circumcised and keep the law " -to whom we gave no such commandment-

1. Some have come and caused a problem. The letter assures them that it was not by the authority of the apostles.

2. We gave no such commandment - we did not send them, ask them, authorize them to go to you with these demands.

Verse 25

25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

1. The meeting ended with harmony and unity. All who assembled for this meeting left in one accord.

2. They decided to send men to go with Paul and deliver the letter and answer any questions about the contents.

Verses 26-27

26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.

1. The letter will give you the basic information. Judas and Silas will also expand on it by giving you a detailed report in person.

2. Letters sometimes can be impersonal. Written messages do not show emphasis, tone, volume, intensity, facial expression and body language. All of these things communicate as much, perhaps more, than the words written on a paper.

3. Personal note: For the last 30 years or so I have preached out from behind the pulpit. The reason is that communication takes place in body language, movement and expressions that are hidden when one is behind a lectern.

Verse 28

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

1. This letter is not the result of a vote. It is not the opinion of men. This letter has the stamp of approval by the Holy Spirit.

2. We have no right to impose any burden more than God commands. We have no right to remove the burdens that God does command. Today many religious groups are designated with "liberal" or "conservative" labels.

1. Liberal - applies to those who would remove the burdens that God has commanded. Liberals seek to reduce commands to options.

2. Conservative - applies to those who would impose burdens that God has not commanded.

3. Conservatives impose rules that God did not make, while liberals ignore the rules which God did impose.

Verse 29

29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

1. Four things are imposed here:

1. Things offered to idols - Those with pagan backgrounds will understand that they must not honor, treat as sacred, things that are offered to idols.

2. Blood - God gave this command to Noah in Gen_9:4 . The Law of Moses repeated this command in Lev_17:12 .

3. Strangled - Meat not properly treated, drained of blood, should not be eaten. God has always held that life is in the blood.

4. Sexual Immorality - Fornication (Greek word - pornea) is a general term that applies to ALL sexual activity that outside of a permitted marriage. Fornication includes - homosexuality, rape, incest, adultery, pre-marital, pedophilia, and all other sexual deviations.

2. Notice - all of these pre-date the Law of Moses. All of these things were wrong before the Law was given at Mt. Sinai.

FOUR RESTRICTIONS

The reasons for these restrictions are because:

1. They all precede the Law of Moses

2. They are part of God's ETERNAL Decree

3. They do not expire or change from one law to another (Patriarchal, Law of Moses, Christian)

4. NOTE : There are others (murder, stealing, lying) but the issue in Act_15:1-41 is pagan customs carried over and Jewish customs carried over.

Circumcision is NOT included:

1. While it was in place BEFORE the Law of Moses - it was a covenant sign

2. The sign of the New Covenant is different - not circumcision, but baptism

1. Pollutions of idols

1. There was much discussion about meat, once sacrificed to some pagan god, then sold in the market place. Was this meat tainted, polluted?

2. Am I honoring the idol to buy and eat this meat?

3. Later, this was reduced to a matter of conscience

1. I know that the idol is nothing and I can eat

2. What about the brother just converted?

3. Do not offend the weak brother.

2. Fornication

1. Pornea - all kinds of sexual wrongs; any sexual activity outside of marriage

2. Fornication is ALWAYS wrong

3. Strangled

1. Animal dies from natural causes - don't eat - Deu_14:21

2. Give it away (to gentiles) or sell it

4. Drinking (eating) blood

1. Gen_9:4 - life is in the blood

2. Deu_12:23

3. Lev_3:17

4. Lev_19:26

Verse 30

30 So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter.

1. The first place they stopped was at Antioch.

2. The church was gathered together. And the letter was read

Verse 31

31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement.

1. The church heard the decision - the agreed. They rejoiced.

2. The problem was resolved. The issue was over.

3. Well, not quite. For the rest of Paul's work, this issue would keep rearing its head. Paul had to deal with this in several of his letters (Galatians, Ephesians, Col_1:1-29 and 2 Corinthians, Romans) and briefly mentioned in several more.

Verse 32

32 Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words.

1. Judas and Silas reaffirmed what the letter said.

2. They were prophets (inspired teachers).

3. They exhorted the church. This word includes - teach, encourage, support, entreat, beg, comfort, and instruction.

4. They strengthened the brethren. The taught one on one and before the entire congregation.

Verse 33

33 And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles.

1. Judas went back to Jerusalem with greetings. This was a message of thanksgiving and appreciation.

2. The church at Antioch was glad to have the matter settled so they could send Paul out to continue his mission work.

Verse 34

34 However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there.

1. Silas remained at Antioch. Why?

2. We are told here - It seemed a good thing to do.

3. Providence - Paul would need him to be his companion on his next mission trip.

Verse 35

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

1. Paul was not the located preacher, neither was Barnabas. They were preaching. They were doing evangelistic work. But they were not alone.

2. There were many others teaching, preaching, sharing the message with the lost in Antioch.

Verse 36

36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, " Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing. "

1. The crisis has ended. The issue of circumcision is settled. Now it is time to get back to work.

2. First they want to visit the cities where churches were established and learn of their progress.

3. From there they would travel to new territory and continue their mission effort.

Verse 37

37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark.

1. PROBLEM - Barnabas wants to take John Mark, his nephew, with them.

2. Remember - John Mark left them part way through the first trip.

Verse 38

38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work.

1. Paul was of a strong conviction that he had left them once. He could not be depended on to stay with the work.

2. He left them at Pamphylia - before they even got to the heart of the work on the first trip. What has changed? What makes you think he will not leave us again?

Verse 39

39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus;

1. Sharp Contention - The dispute was strong. Both sides of the argument were not willing to move, budge or compromise.

2. Barnabas took Mark - and they headed to Cyprus. This is where the first mission trip began. It is also the home territory of Barnabas and Mark. So they are more familiar with the island nation.

Verse 40

40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.

1. Paul chose Silas.

2. There was disagreement - in a matter of opinion. While the views were strong - there was no violence, animosity or break in fellowship.

3. We must learn - We can disagree without being disagreeable!

4. The church in Antioch still supported Paul and sent them on their way.

Verse 41

41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

1. Paul and Silas are not travel companions.

2. They travel to the churches that were started on the first journey.

3. Their goal - encourage, support, correct, admonish, and strengthen these young chuches.

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Bibliographical Information
Luscombe, Manly. "Commentary on Acts 15". Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NT. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mlc/acts-15.html. 2021.