Acts 15

Acts 15:1-11

Note: The meeting in Jerusalem is often designated as the “Jerusalem Council” or the “Apostolic Council.” The chapter can be outlined as follows:
• Occasion 15:1-3
• Deliberations 15:4-21
• Decision 15:22-29
• Report to Antioch 15:30-35

15:1 Some men [who did not have the authorization of the Jerusalem church for their journey to Antioch as per 15:24; Judean Jews, probably former Pharisees; Judaizers] came down from Judea [probably from Jerusalem] to Antioch and were teaching [began to teach and kept it up] the brothers: [content of their message] “Unless you are [submit to] circumcised [distinctive mark of Judaism; Gen. 17], according to the custom taught by Moses [circumcision was part of the law], you cannot be saved [a denial of salvation solely by grace through faith].”

Trouble often comes when things seem to be going well. Some unnamed men traveled from Judea to the church at Antioch. These Judean Jews were Pharisees (see Acts 15:5) who belonged to a group called the Judaizers. They had traveled to Antioch without the authorization of the Jerusalem church (see Acts 15:24).

Although they did not dispute that Gentiles could be saved, they insisted that they must first be circumcised, as prescribed by the Mosaic law. Essentially, they taught that Gentiles must first become Jews before they could become Christians. By doing so, they denied that salvation was solely by grace through faith.

Even today, we must be wary of those who add to salvation, subtract from Christ’s work, and subsequently divide the church.

15:2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp [intense and prolonged] dispute [questioning, discussion] and debate with them [Judaizers]. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed [by the Antioch church; to serve as delegates], along with some other believers [Titus, a Gentile convert (Gal. 2:1)], to go up to Jerusalem [a journey in excess of 250 miles] to see the apostles [the men selected by Jesus] and elders [other church leaders] about this question [re: nature or basis of Gentile salvation].

Paul and Barnabas disagreed strongly with the Judaizers and engaged them in intense and prolonged debate. Unable to resolve the issue, the church at Antioch appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others to serve as delegates and arranged for them to present their case to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. The others included Titus (see Gal. 2:1), a Gentile believer who likely served as “Exhibit A” that the Jewish rite of circumcision was not necessary for salvation. At stake in Jerusalem was a decision that would affect both the history of Christianity and the way we view salvation today.

When we are in conflict with others, we need to work with them to understand the problem with all its implications and seek outside help, if necessary, to resolve it.

15:3 The church [at Antioch] sent them [Paul, Barnabas, other representatives] on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told [to narrate; tell in detail] how the Gentiles had been converted [without undergoing circumcision or submitting to the law of Moses]. This news [re: what God had done among the Gentiles] made all the brothers very glad.

Note: Trouble often comes when things seem to be going well (15:1). We should speak up for what we believe to be right (15:2). Seek outside help, if necessary, to solve problems (15:3).

15:4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them [Paul and Barnabas reported what God had done on their missionary journey].

15:5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”

Note: Tips for handling conflict.
C = Calm down. Keep a cool head.
O = Open your mind and try to understand the opposing viewpoint.
N = Never resort to name-calling or personal insults.
F = Fight fair.
L = Look to the Scriptures for guidance.
I = Invite others who can shed light on the discussion.
C = Consider solutions that all parties can accept.
T = Trust the Lord to help you implement solutions.

15:6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question [concerning the nature of salvation].

Paul and Barnabas visited several congregations while on their way to Jerusalem. These believers rejoiced at the news of Gentile salvation. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they reported to the church the things that God had been doing through their ministry—namely drawing the Gentiles to Himself. However, some of the Judaizers who were present protested that Gentile converts must first obey the law of Moses, especially regarding circumcision, in order to be saved. The apostles and the elders then deliberated this volatile issue.

15:7 After much discussion [both sides allowed to speak], Peter got up and addressed them [Peter spoke from personal experience; note four important points in Peter’s message]: [1] [God had chosen Peter to speak to the Gentiles] “Brothers, you know [to be acquainted with; Peter had given them a full report at the time as per Acts 11:1-18] that some time ago [as many as ten years earlier] God made a choice among you that the Gentiles [cf. Acts 10:24-48 re: Peter preaching to Cornelius’ household at Caesarea] might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.

After both sides had contended for their respective viewpoints, Peter stood up to address the group. Speaking from personal experience, he noted four important things.

First, Peter reminded those assembled that God had chosen him to take the gospel to the Gentiles—specifically to Cornelius’ household at Caesarea. Afterward, Peter had returned to Jerusalem where he gave an account of his experience to the Jerusalem Church. At that time, the church had praised God for granting salvation to Gentiles who believed in Jesus (see Acts 11:1-18).

15:8 [2] [God saves Gentiles and Jews by grace through faith alone] God, who knows the heart, showed [confirmation, approval] that he accepted them [Cornelius and other Gentiles who believed] by [expresses how the approval was expressed] giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us [on day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:38)].

Second, Peter reminded his listeners that God saves Gentiles and Jews in the same way—by grace through faith. God alone sees and knows all that takes place in the human heart (see 1 Sam. 16:7). He confirmed His approval of Cornelius and other Gentiles who believed by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to those who had believed on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). If these Gentiles had not been saved, then God would not have given them the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 1:13-14). God had accepted them on the basis of faith.

15:9 He made no distinction [difference; cf. Acts 10:34] between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles], for he purified [cleansed] their hearts by faith [and faith alone].

The Cornelius episode clearly indicated that God made no distinction between us and them—that is, between Jew and Gentile. God is concerned about the internal circumcision of the heart, not the external circumcision of the flesh. Jews and Gentiles alike must have their hearts cleansed by faith in Christ. God placed His wonderful gift of salvation on the lower shelf where it is within the reach of all kinds of people and accessible by grace through faith (see. Eph. 2:8-9).

15:10 [3] [why burden the Gentiles with a yoke even the Jews had not been able to bear] Now then, why do you try to test [challenge] God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke [often used in sense of obligation, however, here suggests a burden rather than a religious duty] that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear [keeping the law is humanly impossible]?

Third, Peter asked why they were putting on the disciples’ necks a yoke. The term yoke refers to a religious obligation. The law was a burdensome yoke that even the Jews had not been able to bear. If they could not keep the law, it made no sense to expect the Gentiles to earn salvation by trying to keep it. Besides, God had already shown His acceptance of Cornelius’ house without requiring circumcision and the yoke of the law. To demand more of the Gentiles would be tantamount to testing God or challenging His acceptance of the Gentiles apart from the law.

15:11 [4] [salvation is by grace] No! We believe it is through the grace [not circumcision and the law] of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Finally, Peter summed up his argument by declaring that there is only one way of salvation—through the grace of the Lord Jesus. And, he emphasized, Jews are saved in the same way as Gentiles—through the grace of the Lord Jesus. The need for grace puts all of us on equal footing. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn grace. God’s grace is, however, readily and abundantly available to all who humbly acknowledge that they cannot save themselves and who trust in Christ alone for salvation.

15:12 The whole assembly [the entire congregation] became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul [these men were highly respected by the church as per 15:25-26] telling about the miraculous signs [Gr. “semeia”] and wonders [Gr. “teras”] God [they gave God the credit] had done among the Gentiles through them.

Barnabas and Paul reported on what God had done through them during their missionary travels. While Peter had focused on what God had done in the past, Barnabas and Paul reported on God’s ministry among the Gentiles in the present day. As they related the accounts of the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles, the entire congregation fell silent. These signs and wonders not only affirmed that Barnabas and Paul were God’s chosen messengers, but proof that God was indeed at work among the Gentiles.

Many believers discussed both sides of the issue involving the salvation of Gentiles, including Jewish Christians, Peter, Paul, and Barnabas. To resolve conflict, all parties, including others who will be affected by the outcome, need to be involved in the discussion of the problem and its related issues.

15:13 [speech by James (defended Peter and offered a solution); 15:13-21] When they finished, James [the half-brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55; Gal. 1:19) who became a pillar of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:9) and writer of the Epistle of James] spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me.

When Barnabas and Paul finished their report, James spoke up. James was the half-brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55). While Jesus was still on earth, James and his siblings had been skeptical of Jesus’ claims. All of that changed for James on the day he saw the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 5:7). Within a short period of time he became a prominent leader in the Jerusalem church—a “pillar” (Gal. 2:9). Tradition records that James was called “Camel Knees” because of his earnest prayer life. He had earned the respect of the apostles and of believers in Jerusalem. When he spoke, people listened.

Note: Three men named James.
• James the son of Alphaeus (an apostle) is only mentioned in the lists of the apostles. Tradition says he was crucified in Persia.
• James the brother of John was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2).
• James the half-brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55; Gal. 1:19). He was skeptical of Jesus’ claims (Jn. 7:5). James saw Jesus after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7) and later became a prominent leader in the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:9). Tradition says he was called “Camel Knees” because of his earnest prayer life.

15:14 Simon [Peter’s Hebrew name] has described to us how God at first [God showed His concern for the Gentiles before Paul and Barnabas ever arrived on the scene] showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself [phrase previously used in reference to the Jews; here refers to the Gentiles].

James voiced his agreement with Simeon that Gentiles are indeed saved by grace. He called Peter by his Hebrew name, perhaps because he was addressing Jewish Christians. God, James emphasized, had already taken the initiative to show His concern for the Gentiles long before Paul and Barnabas ever arrived on the scene. Bringing the Gentiles into His family had been God’s plan all along. James then must have startled his listeners when he called these saved Gentiles a people for His name—a phrase previously used only of the Jews.

15:15 The words of the prophets [Isa. 11:10; 54:3; Jer. 16:19; Mal. 1:11] are in agreement with this [admission of Gentiles into the people of God was in agreement with words of OT prophets], as it is written [James quoted Amos 9:11-12]:

James declared the Scriptures supported the position Peter had taken in his testimony. He quoted the Old Testament prophet Amos to illustrate that what was happening with the Gentiles was the fulfillment of God’s plan and not some idea conceived by Peter, Barnabas, or Paul. The Old Testament prophets never said that Gentiles had to become Jews in order to know God’s blessing. To resolve conflict, we should always look to the wisdom of the Scriptures for guidance and never accept any resolution that violates God’s Word.

15:16 ” ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,

15:17 that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’

15:18 that have been known for ages.

15:19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

15:20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

15:21 For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

15:22 [the decision of the conference (conveyed in official letter); 15:22-29] Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) [also mentioned in 15:27; called a leader in this verse and a prophet in 15:32] and Silas [later selected by Paul to accompany him on second missionary journey; sometimes called “Silvanus” (2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1) which is the Roman equivalent of the Hebrew “Silas”], two men who were leaders [also called “prophets” in 15:32] among the brothers.

The decision of the conference was conveyed to the church in Antioch in an official letter. The leaders and members of the Jerusalem church selected two delegates to accompany Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas, called Barsabbas, and Silas. Both of these men were recognized leaders in the church and also exercised prophetic gifts (Acts 15:32). Little is known about Judas. Paul later chose Silas to accompany him on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:40).

15:23 With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders [the leaders of the Jerusalem church], your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch [the place where the debate had started (Acts 15:1)], Syria and Cilicia [Roman provinces]: Greetings.

The official letter was sent by the apostles and elders—leaders of the Jerusalem church. The letter was addressed to the Gentile believers in the church at Antioch, the place where the debate had started (Acts 15:1), as well as believers in the provinces of Syria and Cilicia.

This letter would serve to validate the verbal testimony of Paul and Barnabas. Written in a formal style, the letter affirmed that the Judaizers had acted without the authorization of the Jerusalem church.

The letter also affirmed the church’s love for Barnabas and Paul as well as their confidence in these men who had “risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26).

15:24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.

15:25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul—

15:26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15:27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing.

The Jerusalem church was wise to send Judas and Silas along with their letter. These men were authorized to speak on behalf of the elders and apostles. They could address any questions or concerns about the contents of the letter and silence any who might question its validity.

Letters, especially “official” letters, can sometimes sound rather cold, harsh, and impersonal. The leaders of the Jerusalem church safeguarded against this by sending Judas and Silas to personally report and speak to the spirit behind the contents of the letter.

15:28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit [played key role in inclusion of the Gentiles as per 15:8,12] and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements [two issues involved morality and two issues of food]:

The letter made it clear that the Holy Spirit had played an instrumental role in the decision reached by the Jerusalem leaders. The letter also emphasized practical things that were necessary for maintaining fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians. One of these necessary things involved issues of food. The other involved issues of morality. However, neither of these things was necessary for salvation. Wise, godly people can help those in conflict reach a consensus by offering proposals that are true to the Spirit and that all parties can accept.

15:29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

15:30 The men [Antioch delegation and representatives from Jerusalem] were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter.

15:31 The people read it and were glad [rejoice, burst into exultant joy] for its encouraging [exhortation concerning message of letter; comforting or consoling because it affirmed salvation by grace through faith alone] message.

15:32 [two official representatives from Jerusalem] Judas and Silas [became Paul’s missionary companion], who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage [comfort] and strengthen the brothers.

15:33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.

15:34 but Silas decided to remain there [this verse not included in the best Greek texts]

15:35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

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