Acts 15

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Acts 15 Study


Table of contents


Pages 2-4                                 IVP Bible Background Commentary

Pages 5-6                                 D. A. Carson

Pages 7-10                               Walvoord, Zuck

Page   11                                  Wilmington, Outline Bible

Pages 12-15                             Matthew Henry           

Pages 16-27                             A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament


Pages 28-30                             Bible Dictonaries

Pages 31-43                             Schaff's History of the Christian Church

Pages 44-46                             Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible




















IVP Bible Background Commentary


The Controversy

15:1. Many Jewish people believed that Gentiles were saved simply by keeping the seven laws given to Noah (prohibiting idolatry, sexual immorality, etc.); others believed that Gentiles had to convert to Judaism by being circumcised (if male) and (according to most of this group) baptized (whether male or female). (Josephus reported that some of his colleagues demanded the circumcision of Gentiles who had come to them for refuge, but Josephus himself forbade this requirement; this report would commend Josephus to his Gentile readers.) Of course, even those Jewish people who believed that righteous Gentiles could be saved without converting to Judaism did not accept them as part of God’s people Israel unless they converted (cf. comment on Galatians, where inclusion in God’s people, rather than salvation, may be in view).

15:2. These believers would “go up” because Jerusalem is higher in elevation than Antioch (the image of “ascending” to Jerusalem recurs often in the Old Testament). The churches of the Diaspora, like the synagogues, were ruled by local elders, not by a hierarchy in Jerusalem; but just as synagogues respected messengers from the temple authorities in the homeland, the non-Palestinian churches need to resolve the issues raised by those purporting to speak for Judean Christians (15:1). (Josephus pointed out that Jerusalemites, priests and those who knew the law well were given great respect by others. He reported that some who were qualified in this way were sent to subvert his own similar qualifications as an officer in Galilee.)

15:3–4. Their testimonies, like Peter’s (11:12; 15:8), appeal to divine attestation, which was widely accepted in both Jewish and Gentile circles. But many strict Pharisees believed that signs were insufficient attestation if they contradicted traditional interpretations of the law (15:5).

15:5. Among the Pharisees, the stricter school of Shammai may have prevailed at this time; the school of Hillel, which predominated later, was much more generous toward Gentiles. Other Jews respected Pharisees for their piety, and the Jerusalem church no doubt accorded them high status for their knowledge of the law.


Peter’s Response

Having the backing of the leading minister to the traditional constituency (Gal 2:7) on one’s side (Acts 10–11) is certainly strategic in granting credibility to the very different ministry of the Antioch church.

15:6–7. The apostles do not rule without the elders, and both engage in vigorous debate, as Jewish teachers did in their schools. In later rabbinic schools, rabbis often had to agree to disagree; this assembly seeks to achieve consensus (v. 22).

15:8–9. Gentiles were continually impure by virtue of their state as Gentiles; for this reason, they were expected to undergo proselyte baptism when they converted to Judaism. Here, however, Peter says that God enacts that “cleansing” (NASB, NRSV) or “purifying” (NIV, KJV; cf. 10:15) simply through their faith.

15:10–11. Here Peter may refer to the common Jewish tradition of the “yoke” of God’s law or his kingdom as opposed to the yoke of worldly care. Most Jewish people saw the law not as a burden but as a gracious gift; they believed that its duties freed them from real burdens (cf. Mt 11:29–30). If he refers here to the law, Peter may think of its inadequacy only in the sense found in Jeremiah 31:32: the fathers broke it, but under the new covenant God would write the law in their hearts (Jer 31:33–34). Later rabbis sometimes offered more lenient rulings for the sake of the majority of their people, who could not live by the stricter ones.

James’s Response

15:12. See comment on 15:3–4. “The multitude” (KJV, NASB) means “the assembly” (NIV, NRSV), as in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

15:13–14. In the Old Testament “a people for his name” (KJV, NASB, NRSV, literally; or “a people for himself”—NIV) normally meant Israel; James derives this title for Gentile Christians from Amos, whom he cites in verse 17.

15:15–16. James refers to “the Prophets” (plural) in this case because he is speaking of the scroll containing the twelve smaller books of the prophets, including Amos.

“Tabernacle of David” (Amos 9:11) probably means the “house [line] of David,” fallen into such pitiable disrepair that it is called merely a tabernacle (KJV, NASB), or tent (NIV). Rebuilding David’s house would mean raising up a Messiah after the Davidic line’s rule had been cut off. The Dead Sea Scrolls also cited this text as messianic, along with 2 Samuel 7:10b–14. (Since the Old Testament rarely explicitly associates the tabernacle with the prophetic worship David instituted in 1 Chron 25, the interpretation that reads this passage as a restoration of Davidic worship is less likely. Amos and Acts refer to the restoration of the splendor of David’s kingdom, and the charismatic worship of 1 Chron 25 presumably was already occurring around the time of Acts 15; cf. 1 Cor 14.)

15:17–18. Amos 9:12 says “the remnant of Edom,” but by slightly changing the spelling (as Jewish interpreters often did to make points; James or Luke here follow the LXX) James can say “the remnant of Adam,” meaning “of humanity” (cf. “of men”—NIV). Amos 9:12 refers to “possessing” Edom, and nations being “called by my [God’s] name” (NASB) could refer to conquest rather than willing submission. But the point is that the nations will come under the rule of God, and the context (Amos 9:7) suggests that God is concerned for the nations themselves.

15:19–20. The few requirements James suggests they impose are representative of the handful of laws Jewish tradition declared that God gave Noah. According to the more lenient Jewish position, any righteous Gentiles who kept those basic laws would have a share in the world to come. Because even stricter Pharisees had to get along with the majority of more lenient people, these teachers did not try to invalidate other teachers’ rulings if they had majority consent.

15:21. James’s statement here could mean that Moses already has enough observers of his law; but more likely it means that believers are to abstain from the practices in verse 20 lest they offend the many people of verse 21.


The Church’s Decree

15:22. When views were disputed in the later rabbinic academies, the majority view always prevailed; here a partial compromise (in favor of the Antioch church) seems to command consensus. Other Jewish groups also had “general sessions,” such as at Qumran, where the priests, elders and people would gather. “Silas” is the Aramaic form of the Hebrew name “Saul”; its nearest Latin name is “Silvanus” (1 Thess 1:1).

15:23. That ethnic Gentiles should be called “brothers and sisters” is significant. The greetings are standard for Greco-Roman letters; the address shows that it is a circular letter, to be copied and circulated by its messengers to these different regions. Both novels and historical works sometimes cited the contents of letters.

15:24–27. The messengers they send to deliver the decree will be widely respected as trustworthy and representative of the council (analogies occur elsewhere, e.g., the Letter of Aristeas 40).

15:28. Because the Holy Spirit was usually associated with prophetic inspiration or special enlightenment, readers would understand that the apostles and elders are claiming that God directly led the decision of their community. “It seemed good” (also v. 22) occurs in Greek decrees in the sense, “Be it resolved,” often associated with votes in citizen assemblies.

15:29. See comment on verse 20. The Jewish high court was permitted to issue temporary decrees to alleviate specific problems not directly settled in Scripture, and the assembly in Jerusalem may act on analogy with this tradition. Greco-Roman letters normally ended with “Farewell,” as here.

15:30–35. The frequency with which prophets turn up in Acts would seem phenomenal to ancient readers. Although some people in ancient Judaism claimed to be prophets, this was a rare phenomenon and no group boasted prophetic activity to the extent that Christians did; most Jews felt that there were no genuine prophets in their own time.


D. A. Carson

15:1–16:5 Jerusalem Council and the Gentile question settled

This important episode once again shows Luke’s willingness to recount not only the church’s successes but also its struggles and conflicts. It was, in fact, the very success of the Gentile mission that led up to the crisis here discussed. 1 The people that came down from Judea to Antioch and the sharp dispute and debate may well have been the same as that mentioned in Gal. 2:12 (see the Note below).

2–6 The modern reader can only appreciate with difficulty how compelling the argument unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved would have been to the early Jewish Christians. Centuries of reading the NT writers’ solutions have blunted the sharpness of this question for us. These were people who believed that the God of the Scriptures (there was of course no ‘New Testament’ yet) was the same God who sent Jesus. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the answer to Jewish questions, the fulfilment of the Jewish law and prophets, sent by the same God who sent those laws and prophets. How could a person claim to accept Jesus and the Father who sent him, while refusing to listen to the other things that God had said and asked? It must have appeared, even to those Jewish Christians who were prepared to see ‘even the Gentiles’ (10:45; 11:18) become part of the chosen people, that they should do so completely and become Jews before thinking they could become fulfilled, believing Jews. Even Paul writing to the Romans some while after this controversy writes about the Gentiles as ‘honorary Jews’, grafted into Judaism (Rom. 11:17–21). Yet, the tide was clearly changing, for when Paul and Barnabas told people on their travels how the Gentiles had been converted, this news made all the brothers very glad, which seems a healthier attitude than Peter faced in 11:1–3.

7 There was much discussion over this issue and Peter addressed the apostles and elders, reminding them of his experiences with Cornelius. He may have been emphasizing that what Paul and Barnabas were doing was no real innovation compared with what God had done through Peter then: God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8–9 As in chs. 10 and 11, it is clear that at least part of the reason for the unusually dramatic giving of the Spirit to Cornelius and his people was so that the other believers might have been in no doubt that God regarded them as equals: he made no distinction between us and them and gave them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us. 10–11 Similarly, Peter says we are saved, just as they are by grace rather than by accepting the yoke of obedience to the law. This part of Peter’s argument sounds so similar to things that Paul wrote in his letters that we have grounds for wondering whether this was a reflection of a rebuke received and accepted (Gal. 2:11–21).

12 Only after Peter had spoken did the missionaries from Antioch themselves relate their experiences among the Gentiles. Once again Barnabas’ name is mentioned first. It was he who had first introduced Paul to the believers in Jerusalem (9:26–27).

13–21 James’s reply seems to suggest that he was in a position of authority, although Luke gives no details (see 12:17 and 21:18). It is interesting that on a matter of such importance the church proceeded by holding a meeting and making a decision rather than trying to discern God’s will be casting lots (as in ch. 1) or by making direct use of prophets who were presumably present and obviously respected (15:22, 32). The words of the prophets are phrases and ideas from Jer. 12:15, Am. 9:11–12 and Is. 45:21. James’s decision was that they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles. It is by grace that they are saved, and no further restrictions are imposed by God. Nonetheless, there were some practical steps that James did want the Gentiles to follow. The reason James gives for this advice is that the Jewish code of behaviour was so well known that Jewish (and perhaps even God fearing Gentile) believers would have expected some concessions to what they believed to be God’s preferences on these matters.

22–29 The letter was delivered to Antioch first, as the objections to Paul and Barnabas’s practices arose there. It was not delivered only by the missionaries concerned, but also by Judas and Silas, the latter of whom became a missionary companion of Paul (40; see also 1 Thes. 1:1; 2 Thes. 1:1). These were sent to confirm by word of mouth, since the written word, though more ‘permanent’, was still often regarded as inferior to a ‘living word of testimony’. These witnesses would have been especially useful in Antioch if the objectors of 15:1 were identical with those in Gal. 2 and claimed to have James’s authority (see the Note below on the relationship of this episode with Galatians). The letter makes clear that the original objectors had gone out without our authorisation.

We have seen from the early chapters of Acts that when Jews became Christians, they nonetheless remained Jews and were called Jewish believers. The question here had been whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised and thus also become ‘Jewish believers’ (15:1). The answer of the council is a clear no. Thus there is no mention in James’s speech, or in the letter, that circumcision was necessary. But that first question was easily tied in with another: if serving the true God had certain ethical implications (as everyone of the time would have known; 15:21) then could these safely be ignored by the new Gentile Christians? The answer given by the council is thus twofold: Gentile Christians need not become Jews, but neither may they continue to act like typical Gentiles.

For modern readers, the riddle of James’s list is not only why some things are included but also why other important ethical imperatives are omitted. For surely Gentile believers would have been expected not to steal, for example. It is the perceived ‘typical Gentile behaviour’ that explains the contents of the list—all believers should act more like servants of the true God than like ordinary Gentiles of the day.

Things which are cultural requirements for Jews were not necessary for the salvation of Gentiles, but their observance would have made it much easier for all types of believers to associate, worship and eat with each other. In addition, it would have also served as a witness to non-believers that this person had changed and was now following the living God. James and the council repeatedly spoke in terms of a burden placed upon the Gentile believers (15:19, 24, 28) but it is a light burden. The letter concludes, You will do well to avoid these things. Paul expands on this in 1 Corinthians, where his explanation is that while everything is ‘permissible’, not everything is ‘beneficial’ (1 Cor. 10:23).

31 The decision was well received in Antioch, as were Judas and Silas themselves. 35 After a time in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas decided to go back and visit the places they had been to originally to see how they were doing. 37–41 Unfortunately, this led to a disagreement between the old friends Barnabas and Paul, such a sharp disagreement that they split up over it. It concerned John, also called Mark, whom Paul regarded as a deserter (see 13:13 and above on 13:5). Luke did not shrink from recording this incident and said nothing about the reconciliation that we know from Paul’s letters took place later; Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11; Phm. 24; all three letters also mention Luke within a few verses! Silas (15:27; 1 Thes. 1:1; 2 Thes. 1:1), who was sometimes called Silvanus, set off with Paul.


John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985). 2:393.

3.     the conference at jerusalem (15:1-35).

a.     The dissension concerning circumcision (15:1-2).

15:1-2. The men who came down from Judea to Antioch may well be the same ones referred to in Galatians 2:12. They insisted circumcision was essential for justification. Perhaps they based their theology on such passages as Genesis 17:14 and Exodus 12:48-49.

At any rate, they were sure to cause a severe schism in the church, so their teaching brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.

The men from Judea were dogmatic in their doctrine in spite of the fact they had no authority from the church in Jerusalem. How they explained the case of Cornelius (Acts 10) or the work of Barnabas (11:22-24) is left unstated. Perhaps they felt Cornelius’ case was unique and the believers in Antioch in chapter 11 were too insignificant to use as examples. Now the movement was becoming overwhelming and this was their way of protesting.

The church at Antioch felt it was wise to discuss the matter with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So they commissioned Paul and Barnabas for the task and wisely sent some other believers along as witnesses. These witnesses would protect Paul and Barnabas against being accused of distorting the facts.

b.     The discussion concerning circumcision (15:3-12).

15:3-4. As the men in the delegation made their way to Jerusalem they reported the good news of Gentile conversions to the brethren in Phoenicia and Samaria. Once again the response of a believing church was joy! (cf. 2:46) Furthermore, the church in Jerusalem with its leaders welcomed Paul and Barnabas; this was scarcely the response of the antagonists.

15:5. The issue was stated forthrightly by the believing Pharisees. Significantly circumcision also involved keeping the whole Old Testament Law as Paul later wrote (Gal. 5:3). The method of justification ultimately determines the method of sanctification (cf. Col. 2:6).

15:6-9. The apostles and elders met to consider this question. In addition many other believers were present (cf. vv. 12, 22).

The problem was no small one; there was much discussion (zētēseōs, meaning “inquiry, debate, questioning”; trans. “debate” in v. 2; “controversies” in 1 Tim. 6:4; “arguments” in 2 Tim. 2:23 and Titus 3:9). Peter wisely permitted this to continue for a time lest the impression be given that the results were a foregone conclusion. The date of this council is generally taken to be a.d. 49. When Peter referred to God’s choice of Cornelius some time ago he was looking back about 10 years (Acts 10:1-11:18). The issue of whether to accept Gentiles was settled then and there. This was evidenced, Peter said, because God gave the Holy Spirit to them (10:44-46) just as He did to the Jews (2:4; 11:15). So God made no distinction between believing Jews and Gentiles. All are accepted by faith.

15:10. Requiring Gentiles to be circumcised to obey the Mosaic Law would have had two results: (a) the Jews would test (peirazete) God (cf. Deut. 6:16) and (b) they would put on the necks of the disciples an unbearable yoke (cf. Matt. 23:4). To “test” God is to see how far one can go with God (cf. Acts 5:9). Putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks was an appropriate way to state the second result, for “taking the yoke” was used to describe Gentile proselytes coming into Judaism. It spoke of an obligation.

In discussing the question Peter referred not only to Gentiles but also to all believers coming under the Law. The term “disciples” was used of both Jews and Gentiles.

15:11. The statement, We are saved, just as they are, is amazing. A Jew under the Law would say the opposite and in reverse order (“they are saved as we are”), but one who knew God’s grace, as Peter did, would not say that. Salvation for anyone—Jew or Gentile—is by God’s grace (v. 11) and is by faith (v. 9; cf. Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8).

15:12. Barnabas and Paul, who next addressed the assembly, described the miraculous signs and wonders (sēmeia and terata; cf. 2:43 [see comments there]; 5:12; 6:8; 8:6, 13; 14:3) that God had done among the Gentiles through them. These would especially convince the Jews (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22) so they listened in silence. This response implied they would not argue against the testimonies of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas.

c.     The decision concerning circumcision (15:13-29).

15:13-14. James, evidently the head of the church at Jerusalem, then took the floor and issued a summary statement. He was Jesus’ half brother and wrote the Epistle of James.

He began by discussing Peter’s experience (Acts 10). In referring to Peter as Simon, James used a name which would be logical in its setting in Jerusalem (actually the Gr. has Symeōn, an even more Jewish spelling, used only here and in 2 Peter 1:1 in the NT).

The phrase at first is crucial because it affirmed that Paul and Barnabas were not the first to go to the Gentiles. As Peter had already said (Acts 15:7-11) the question had actually been settled in principle (chaps. 10-11) before Paul and Barnabas went on their first journey.

15:15-18. Quite properly the council desired more than the testimony of experience. They wanted to know how it corresponded with the witness of the Scriptures. This was the ultimate test.

To prove that Gentile salvation apart from circumcision was an Old Testament doctrine, James quoted from Amos 9:11-12. Several problems are involved in this quotation.

One problem involves the text. James here quoted a text similar to the Septuagint (the Gr. OT) that differs from the Hebrew text. The Hebrew of Amos 9:12 may be translated, “That they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name.” But James used the noun of men (or “of mankind”), not “Edom,” and the verb seek, not “possess.”

The Hebrew consonants for “Edom” and for “Adam” are identical (’dm). The confusion in the vowels (added much later) is easy to understand. The only distinction in the Hebrew between “possess” (yāraš) and “seek” (dāraš) is in one consonant. The text James used may well represent the original.

Another problem, the major one, involves interpretation. What did Amos mean when he wrote these verses, and how did James use the passage? Several observations need to be noted before the passage is interpreted: (1) James did not say Amos 9:11-12 was fulfilled in the church; he simply asserted that what was happening in the church was in full agreement with the Old Testament prophets. (2) The word “prophets” is plural, implying that the quotation from Amos was representative of what the prophets in general affirmed. (3) James’ main point is clear: Gentile salvation apart from the Law does not contradict the Old Testament prophets. (4) The words After this are neither in the Masoretic text nor the Septuagint; both have “in that day.” Any interpretation of the passage must consider these factors.

Bible students interpret these verses in one of three ways. Those who hold to amillennial theology say the rebuilt house (skēnēn, “tent”) of David is the church which God is using to preach to the Gentiles. While this view at first appears plausible, several factors oppose it. (1) The verb return (anastrepsō) used in Acts 15:16 means an actual return. Luke used it only in 5:22 (“went back”) and here (he did not use it in his Gospel); in both occurrences it describes a literal, bodily return. Since God’s Son has not yet returned bodily, this rebuilding has not taken place. (2) Christ’s present ministry in heaven is not associated with the Davidic throne elsewhere in the New Testament. He is now seated at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). When He returns He will sit on David’s throne (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:4; Matt. 19:28; 25:31). (3) The church was a mystery, a truth not revealed to Old Testament saints (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:5-6; Col. 1:24-27); so the church would not be referred to in Amos.

A second view of the passage is commonly held by premillenarians. According to this view there are four chronological movements in this passage: the present Church Age (“taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself,” Acts 15:14), the return of Christ to Israel (v. 16a), the establishing of the Davidic kingdom (v. 16b), and the turning of Gentiles to God (v. 17). While this does interpret these verses in a logical fashion, this approach has some difficulties. (1) The quotation begins with the words “After this.” Premillenarians assert James used this phrase to suit his interpretation of the passage. But since the quotation begins with “after this” James must be quoting the sense of Amos 9:11. Therefore this phrase looks back, not to Acts 15:14, but to Amos 9:8-10, which describes the Tribulation (“a time of trouble for Jacob,” Jer. 30:7). (2) If the temporal phrase “after this” refers to the present Age in Amos 9:11, Amos would then have predicted the church in the Old Testament.

A third view, also premillennial, may be more plausible. James simply asserted that Gentiles will be saved in the Millennium when Christ will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent, that is, restore the nation Israel. Amos said nothing about Gentiles needing to be circumcised. Several factors support this interpretation: (1) This fits the purpose of the council. If Gentiles will be saved in the Kingdom Age (the Millennium), why should they become Jewish proselytes by circumcision in the Church Age? (2) This approach suits the meaning of “in that day” in Amos 9:11. After the Tribulation (Amos 9:8-10) God will establish the messianic kingdom (Amos 9:11-12). James (Acts 15:16) interpreted “in that day” to mean that “at the time when” God does one (the Tribulation) He will then do the other. In that sense James could say “After this.” (3) This interpretation gives significance to the word “first” in verse 14. Cornelius and his household were among the first Gentiles to become members of Christ’s body, the church. Gentile salvation will culminate in great blessing for them in the Millennium (cf. Rom. 11:12). (4) A number of prophets predicted Gentile salvation in the Millennium, as James stated in Acts 15:15 (e.g., Isa. 42:6; 60:3; Mal. 1:11).

15:19-21. As a result of this theological discussion James set forth a practical decision. It was his considered judgment (krinō, lit., “I judge”) that the church should not make it difficult (parenochlein, “to annoy”; used only here in the NT) for the Gentiles. This parallels in thought the sentiments of Peter expressed in verse 10. Instead (alla, “but,” a strong adversative conjunction) James suggested they draft a letter affirming an ethic which would not offend those steeped in the Old Testament.

The Gentiles were to abstain from three items: (a) food polluted by idols, (b) sexual immorality, and (c) the meat of strangled animals and . . . blood. Many Bible teachers say these are only ceremonial matters. The food polluted by idols is explained in verse 29 as “food sacrificed to idols” (cf. 22:15). This then, it is argued, looks at the same problem Paul discussed (1 Cor. 8-10). The abstinence from sexual immorality is explained as referring to the marriage laws of Leviticus 18:6-20. The prohibition against eating blood is taken to refer to Leviticus 17:10-14. All three prohibitions according to this interpretation look back to the Jewish ceremonial Law.

However, it seems better to take these as moral issues. The reference to food polluted by idols should be taken in the sense of Revelation 2:14, 20. It was a usual practice among Gentiles to use an idol’s temple for banquets and celebrations. Paul also condemned the practice of Christians participating in these (1 Cor. 10:14-22). Fornication was such a common sin among the Gentiles that it was an accepted practice. The problem of immorality even persisted among Christians all too often, as is witnessed by the New Testament injunctions against it (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12-18, where Paul was evidently answering arguments in favor of immorality). The third prohibition goes back further than Leviticus 17; it looks back to Genesis 9, where God established the Noahic Covenant, a “contract” still in effect today. There God gave people the privilege of eating flesh but the blood was to be drained from it.

All three prohibitions in Acts 15:20 are best taken in an ethical or moral sense. If this be so, they are still the responsibility of Christians today, even to the point of not eating blood sausage and raw meat. By not attending temple banquets, or being involved in fornication, or eating meat with blood in it, the Gentile Christians would be maintaining high moral standards and would keep from offending their Jewish brothers. There were Jews in every city who would be offended by Christians not following these strictures. These Israelites were well acquainted with these moral issues.

15:22. The whole church (cf. v. 12) was permitted to express itself on this issue. Interestingly two witnesses were delegated to attend Paul and Barnabas for the protection of both sides (v. 2). They would “confirm by word of mouth” what was written (v. 27). No one could claim there were poor communications about this delicate issue.

Silas was one of these two men. This is in keeping with Luke’s style of bringing someone on the scene unobtrusively who later becomes a main character (cf. v. 40). These two leaders, also “prophets” (v. 32), may have represented two groups in the Jerusalem church—Judas, probably a brother of Joseph (cf. 1:23), for the Hebrew section; and Silas, a Roman citizen (cf. 16:37), for the Hellenists.

15:23-29. The letter, sent by the apostles and elders, confirmed the findings of the council. The church’s admiration for Barnabas and Paul is evidenced by the words our dear friends and their acknowledging that Paul and Barnabas had risked their lives for the name (cf. comments on 3:16) of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 13:50; 14:5, 19). Significantly the letter referred to the Holy Spirit as the “Prime Mover” in this discernment of truth.

d.     The delegation among the Gentiles (15:30-35).

15:30-35. The contingent from Jerusalem together with Judas and Silas went down to Antioch (Antioch is on a lower elevation than Jerusalem) and delivered the letter. The brothers in Antioch were encouraged by the letter, and also by Judas and Silas, the prophets, who encouraged the church still further and strengthened them by a lengthy message.

The saints in Antioch appreciated the ministry of Judas and Silas and sent them off with blessings. The word peace expressed a desire for well-being in all areas of their lives.

Verse 34 is omitted by several important Greek manuscripts. Perhaps a scribe added it later to explain the choice of Silas (v. 40).

In the following months Paul and Barnabas continued to minister to the saints in Antioch.

4.     the confirmation of the churches in asia minor (15:36-16:5). [Second missionary journey, 15:36-18:22]


H. L. Willmington, The Outline Bible


A council is held in Jerusalem to determine whether Gentiles who become Christians must adhere to the old Jewish customs.

I.     The Debate in Jerusalem (15:1–34): A special council is called by the Jerusalem church.

      A.     The reason for this council meeting (15:1, 6): There is a disagreement concerning whether saved Gentile believers should be circumcised.

      B.     The reports during this council meeting (15:2–5, 7–18)

            1.     The pro-circumcision advocates (15:5) : These men were Pharisees before they became Christians.

            2.     The anti-circumcision advocates (15:2–4, 7–18)

                        a.     Paul and Barnabas’s defense (15:2–4, 12): They review how God saved                           many Gentiles apart from circumcision during their recent missionary journey.

                        b.     Peter’s defense (15:7–11): He speaks of Cornelius’s conversion and that of                                   his Gentile household.

                        c.     James’s defense (15:13–18): He reminds all present that the conversion of                               Gentiles was predicted by the Old Testament prophet Amos (Amos 9:11–12).


      C.     The resolution from this council (15:19–34)

            1.     The decision (15:19–21): James announces that saved Gentiles will not be forced into circumcision and will be encouraged to abstain only from a few activities.

                        a.     Eating meat sacrificed to idols (15:20a)

                        b.     Engaging in sexual immorality (15:20b)

                        c.     Consuming blood (15:20c)

                        d.     Eating the meat of strangled animals (15:20d)

            2.     The delegates (15:22–34): Godly representatives such as Silas and Barsabbas are            commissioned to carry letters announcing the council’s decision to the various churches.

II.     The Disagreement in Antioch (15:35–41): Paul and Barnabas have a sharp disagreement.

      A.     The reason for this disagreement (15:35–38): Should John Mark accompany the team      during the second missionary journey?

            1.     Barnabas says yes (15:35–37).

            2.     Paul says no (15:38) .

      B.     The results of this disagreement (15:39–41)

            1.     Barnabas and John Mark set sail for Cyprus (15:39) .

            2.     Paul and Silas leave for Asia Minor (15:40–41). [4]

Matthew Henry

Chapter 15

Hitherto we have, with a great deal of pleasure, attended the apostles in their glorious travels for the propagating of the gospel in foreign parts, have seen the bounds of the church enlarged by the accession both of Jews and Gentiles to it; and thanks be to that God who always caused them to triumph. We left them, in the close of the foregoing chapter, reposing themselves at Antioch, and edifying the church there with the rehearsal of their experiences, and it is a pity they should ever be otherwise employed; but in this chapter we find other work (not so pleasant) cut out for them. The Christians and ministers are engaged in controversy, and those that should have been now busied in enlarging the dominions of the church have as much as they can do to compose the divisions of it; when they should have been making war upon the devil’s kingdom they have much ado to keep the peace in Christ’s kingdom. Yet this occurrence and the record of it are of great use to the church, both for warning to us to expect such unhappy discords among Christians, and direction to us what method to take for accommodating them. Here is, I. A controversy raised at Antioch by the judaizing teachers, who would have the believing Gentiles brought under the yoke of circumcision and the ceremonial law (v. 1, 2). II. A consultation held with the church at Jerusalem about this matter, and the sending of delegates thither for that purpose, which occasioned the starting of the same question there (v. 3-5). III. An account of what passed in the synod that was convened upon this occasion (v. 6). What Peter said (v. 7–11). What Paul and Barnabas discoursed of (v. 12). And, lastly, what James proposed for the settling of this matter (v. 13–21). IV. The result of this debate, and the circular letter that was written to the Gentile converts, directing them how to govern themselves with respect to Jews (v. 22–29). V. The delivering of this determination to the church at Antioch, and the satisfaction it gave them (v. 30–35). VI. A second expedition designed by Paul and Barnabas to preach to the Gentiles, in which they quarrelled about their assistant, and separated upon it, one steering one course and the other another (v. 36–41).

Verses 1-5

Even when things go on very smoothly and pleasantly in a state or in a church, it is folly to be secure, and to think the mountain stands strong and cannot be moved; some uneasiness or other will arise, which is not foreseen, cannot be prevented, but must be prepared for. If ever there was a heaven upon earth, surely it was in the church at Antioch at this time, when there were so many excellent ministers there, and blessed Paul among them, building up that church in her most holy faith. But here we have their peace disturbed, and differences arising. Here is,

I. A new doctrine started among them, which occasioned this division, obliging the Gentile converts to submit to circumcision and the ceremonial law, v. 1. Many that had been proselytes to the Jewish religion became Christians; and they would have such as were proselyted to the Christian religion to become Jews.

1. The persons that urged this were certain men who came down from Judea; some think such as had been of the Pharisees (v. 5), or perhaps of those priests who were obedient to the faith, ch. 6:7. They came from Judea, pretending perhaps to be sent by the apostles at Jerusalem, at least to be countenanced by them. Having a design to spread their notions, they came to Antioch, because that was the head-quarters of those that preached to the Gentiles, and the rendezvous of the Gentile converts; and, if they could but make an interest there, this leaven would soon be diffused to all the churches of the Gentiles. They insinuated themselves into an acquaintance with the brethren, pretended to be very glad that they had embraced the Christian faith, and congratulated them on their conversion; but tell them that yet one thing they lack, they must be circumcised. Note, Those that are ever so well taught have need to stand upon their guard that they be not untaught again, or ill taught.

2. The position they laid down, the thesis they gave, was this, that except the Gentiles who turned Christians were circumcised after the manner of Moses, and thereby bound themselves to all the observances of the ceremonial law, they could not be saved. As to this, (1.) Many of the Jews who embraced the faith of Christ, yet continued very zealous for the law, ch. 21:20. They knew it was from God and its authority was sacred, valued it for its antiquity, had been bred up in the observance of it, and it is probable had been often devoutly affected in their attendance on these observances; they therefore kept them up after they were by baptism admitted into the Christian church, kept up the distinction of meats, and used the ceremonial purifyings from ceremonial pollutions, attend the temple service, and celebrated the feasts of the Jews. Herein they were connived at, because the prejudices of education are not to be overcome all at once, and in a few years the mistake would be effectually rectified by the destruction of the temple and the total dissolution of the Jewish church, by which the observance of the Mosaic ritual would become utterly impracticable. But it did not suffice them that they were herein indulged themselves, they must have the Gentile converts brought under the same obligations. Note, There is a strange proneness in us to make our opinion and practice a rule and a law to every body else, to judge of all about us by our standard, and to conclude that because we do well all do wrong that do not just as we do. (2.) Those Jews who believed that Christ was the Messiah, as they could not get clear of their affection to the law, so they could not get clear of the notions they had of the Messiah, that he should set up a temporal kingdom in favour of the Jewish nation, should make this illustrious and victorious; it was a disappointment to them that there was as yet nothing done towards this in the way they expected. But now that they hear the doctrine of Christ is received among the Gentiles, and his kingdom begins to be set up in the midst of them, if they can but persuade those that embrace Christ to embrace the law of Moses too they hope their point will be gained, the Jewish nation will be made as considerable as they can wish, though in another way; and "Therefore by all means let the brethren be pressed to be circumcised and keep the law, and then with our religion our dominion will be extended, and we shall in a little time be able to shake off the Roman yoke; and not only so, but to put it on the necks of our neighbours, and so shall have such a kingdom of the Messiah as we promised ourselves.’’ Note, It is no wonder if those who have wrong notions of the kingdom of Christ take wrong measures for the advancement of it, and such as really tend to the destruction of it, as these do. (3.) The controversy about the circumcising of the Gentile proselytes had been on foot among the Jews long before this. This is observed by Dr. Whitby out of Josephus—Antiq. 20.38-45: "That when Izates, the son of Helen queen of Adiabene, embraced the Jews’ religion, Ananias declared he might do it without circumcision; but Eleazar maintained that it was a great impiety to remain uncircumcised.’’ And when two eminent Gentiles fled to Josephus (as he relates in the history of his own life) "the zealots among the Jews were urgent for their circumcision; but Josephus dissuaded them from insisting upon it.’’ Such has been the difference in all ages between bigotry and moderation. (4.) It is observable what a mighty stress they laid upon it; they do not only say, "You ought to be circumcised after the manner of Moses, and it will be good service to the kingdom of the Messiah if you be; it will best accommodate matters between you and the Jewish converts, and we shall take it very kindly if you will, and shall converse the more familiarly with you;’’ but, "Except you be circumcised you cannot be saved. If you be not herein of our mind and way, you will never go to heaven, and therefore of course you must go to hell.’’ Note, it is common for proud impostors to enforce their own inventions under pain of damnation; and to tell people that unless they believe just as they would have them believe, and do just as they would have them do, they cannot be saved, it is impossible they should; not only their case is hazardous, but it is desperate. Thus the Jews tell their brethren that except they be of their church, and come into their communion, and conform to the ceremonies of their worship, though otherwise good men and believers in Christ, yet they cannot be saved; salvation itself cannot save them. None are in Christ but those that are within their pale. We ought to see ourselves well warranted by the word of God before we say, "Except you do so and so, you cannot be saved.’’

II. The opposition which Paul and Barnabas gave to this schismatical notion, which engrossed salvation to the Jews, now that Christ has opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles (v. 2): They had no small dissension and disputation with them. They would by no means yield to this doctrine, but appeared and argued publicly against it. 1. As faithful servants of Christ, they would not see his truths betrayed. They knew that Christ came to free us from the yoke of the ceremonial law, and to take down that wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles and unite them both in himself; and therefore could not bear to hear of circumcising the Gentile converts, when their instructions were only to baptize them. The Jews would unite with the Gentiles, that is, they would have them to conform in every thing to their rites, and then, and not till then they will look upon them as their brethren; and no thanks to them. But, this not being the way in which Christ designed to unite them, it is not to be admitted. 2. As spiritual fathers to the Gentile converts, they would not see their liberties encroached upon. They had told the Gentiles that if they believed in Jesus Christ they should be saved; and now to be told that this was not enough to save them, except they were circumcised and kept the law of Moses, this was such a discouragement to them at setting out, and would be such a stumbling-block in their way, as might almost tempt them to think of returning into Egypt again; and therefore the apostles set themselves against it.

III. The expedient pitched upon for preventing the mischief of this dangerous notion, and silencing those that vented it, as well as quieting the minds of the people with reference to it. They determined that Paul and Barnabas, and some others of their number, should go to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders, concerning this doubt. Not that the church at Antioch had any doubt concerning it: they knew the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free; but they sent the case to Jerusalem, 1. Because those who taught this doctrine came from Jerusalem, and pretended to have directions from the apostles there to urge circumcision upon the Gentile converts; it was therefore very proper to send to Jerusalem about it, to know if they had any such direction from the church there. And it was soon found to be all wrong, which yet pretended to be of apostolical right. It was true that these went out from them (v. 24), but they never had any such orders from them. 2. Because those who were taught this doctrine would be the better confirmed in their opposition to it, and in the less danger of being shocked and disturbed by it, if they were sure that the apostles and elders at Jerusalem (which was the Christian church that of all others retained the most affection to the law of Moses) were against it; and, if they could but have this under their hands, it would be the likeliest means to silence and shame these incendiaries, who had pretended to have it from them. 3. Because the apostles at Jerusalem were fittest to be consulted in a point not yet fully settled; and being most eminent for an infallible spirit, peculiar to them as apostles, their decision would be likely to end the controversy. It was owing to the subtlety and malice of the great enemy of the church’s peace (as it appears by Paul’s frequent complaints of these judaizing teachers, these false apostles, these deceitful workers, these enemies of the cross of Christ), that it had not this effect.

IV. Their journey to Jerusalem upon this errand, v. 3. Where we find, 1. That they were honoured at parting: They were brought on their way by the church, which was then much used as a token of respect to useful men, and is directed to be done after a godly sort, 3 Jn. 6. Thus the church showed their favour to those who witnessed against these encroachments on the liberties of the Gentile converts, and stood up for them. 2. That they did good as they went along. They were men that would not lose time, and therefore visited the churches by the way; they passed through Phenice and Samaria, and as they went declared the conversion of the Gentiles, and what wonderful success the gospel had had among them, which caused great joy to all the brethren. Note, The progress of the gospel is and ought to be a matter of great joy. All the brethren, the faithful brethren in Christ’s family, rejoice when more are born into the family; for the family will be never the poorer for the multitude of its children. In Christ and heaven there is portion enough, and inheritance enough for them all.

V. Their hearty welcome at Jerusalem, v. 4. 1. The good entertainment their friends gave them: They were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, were embraced as brethren, and had audience as messengers of the church at Antioch; they received them with all possible expressions of love and friendship. 2. The good entertainment they gave their friends: They declared all things that God had done with them, gave them an account of the success of their ministry among the Gentiles, not what they had done, but what God had done with them, what he had by his grace in them enabled them to do, and what he had by his grace in their hearers enabled them to receive. As they went they had planted, as they came back they had watered; but in both they were ready to own it was God that gave the increase. Note, It is a great honour to be employed for God, to be workers for him; for those that are so have him a worker with them, and he must have all the glory.

VI. The opposition they met with from the same party at Jerusalem, v. 5. When Barnabas and Paul gave an account of the multitude of the Gentiles, and of the great harvest of souls gathered in to Christ there, and all about them congratulated them upon it, there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees, who received the tidings very coldly, and, though they believed in Christ, yet were not satisfied in the admission of these converts, but thought it was needful to circumcise them. Observe here, 1. That those who have been most prejudiced against the gospel yet have been captivated by it; so mighty has it been through God to the pulling down of strong-holds. When Christ was here upon earth, few or none of the rulers and of the Pharisees believed on him; but now there are those of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, and many of them, we hope, in sincerity. 2. That it is very hard for men suddenly to get clear of their prejudices: those that had been Pharisees, even after they became Christians, retained some of the old leaven. All did not so, witness Paul, but some did; and they had such a jealousy for the ceremonial law, and such a dislike of the Gentiles, that they could not admit the Gentiles into communion with them, unless they would be circumcised, and thereby engage themselves to keep the law of Moses. This was, in their opinion, needful; and for their parts they would not converse with them unless they submitted to it.


A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament


Acts 15:1

And certain men came down from Judea (και τινες κατελθοντες ἀπο της Ἰουδαιας [kai tines katelthontes apo tēs Ioudaias]). Evidently the party of the circumcision in the church in Jerusalem (11:2) had heard of the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles in Cyprus, Pamphylia, and South Galatia (Phrygia, Pisidia, Lycaonia). Possibly John Mark after his desertion at Perga (13:13) told of this as one of his reasons for coming home. At any rate echoes of the jubilation in Antioch in Syria would be certain to reach Jerusalem. The Judaizers in Jerusalem, who insisted that all the Gentile Christians must become Jews also, had acquiesced in the case of Cornelius and his group (11:1–18) after plain proof by Peter that it was the Lord’s doing. But they had not agreed to a formal campaign to turn the exception into the rule and to make Christianity mainly Gentile with a few Jews instead of mainly Jewish with a few Gentiles. Since Paul and Barnabas did not come up to Jerusalem, the leaders among the Judaizers decided to go down to Antioch and attack Paul and Barnabas there. They had volunteered to go without church action in Jerusalem for their activity is disclaimed by the conference (Acts 15:24). In Gal. 2:4 Paul with some heat describes these Judaizers as “false brethren, secretly introduced who sneaked in to spy out our liberty.” It is reasonably certain that this visit to Jerusalem described in Gal. 2:1–10 is the same one as the Jerusalem Conference in Acts Acts 15:5–29 in spite of the effort of Ramsay to identify it with that in 11:29f. Paul in Galatians is not giving a list of his visits to Jerusalem. He is showing his independence of the twelve apostles and his equality with them. He did not see them in 11:29f., but only “the elders.” In Acts 15 Luke gives the outward narrative of events, in Gal. 2:1–10 Paul shows us the private interview with the apostles when they agreed on their line of conduct toward the Judaizers. In Gal. 2:2 by the use of “them” (αὐτοις [autois]) Paul seems to refer to the first public meeting in Acts before the private interview that came in between verses 5 to 6 of Acts 15. If we recall the difficulty that Peter had on the subject of preaching the gospel to the heathen (10:1–11:18), we can the better understand the attitude of the Judaizers. They were men of sincere convictions without a doubt, but they were obscurantists and unable and unwilling to receive new light from the Lord on a matter that involved their racial and social prejudices. They recalled that Jesus himself had been circumcised and that he had said to the Syro-Phoenician woman that he had come only save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 15:24ff.). They argued that Christ had not repealed circumcision. So one of the great religious controversies of all time was begun, that between spiritual religion and ritualistic or ceremonial religion. It is with us yet with baptism taking the place of circumcision. These self-appointed champions of circumcision for Gentile Christians were deeply in earnest. Taught the brethren (ἐδιδασκον τους ἀδελφους [edidaskon tous adelphous]). Inchoative imperfect active, began to teach and kept it up. Their attitude was one of supercilious superiority. They probably resented the conduct of Barnabas, who, when sent by the Church in Jerusalem to investigate the conversion of the Greeks in Antioch (11:20–26), did not return and report till a strong church had been established there with the help of Saul and only then with a big collection to confuse the issue. Paul and Barnabas were on hand, but the Judaizers persisted in their efforts to force their views on the church in Antioch. It was a crisis. Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved (ἐαν με περιτμηθητε τῳ ἐθει Μωυσεως, οὐ δυνασθε σωθηναι [ean me peritmēthēte tōi ethei Mōuseōs, ou dunasthe sōthēnai]). There was the dictum of the Judaizers to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas had been circumcised. This is probably the precise language employed, for they spoke in Greek to these Greeks. It is a condition of the third class (undetermined, but with prospect of being determined, ἐαν [ean] plus the first aorist passive subjunctive of περιτεμνω [peritemnō]). There was thus hope held out for them, but only on condition that they be circumcised. The issue was sharply drawn. The associative instrumental case (τῳ ἐθει [tōi ethei]) is customary. “Saved” (σωθηναι [sōthēnai]) here is the Messianic salvation. This doctrine denied the efficacy of the work of Christ.

Acts 15:2

When Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them (Γενομενης στασεως και ζητησεως οὐκ ὀλιγης τῳ Παυλῳ και Βαρναβᾳ προς αὐτους [Genomenēs staseōs kai zētēseōs ouk oligēs tōi Paulōi kai Barnabāi pros autous]). Genitive absolute of second aorist middle participle of γινομαι [ginomai], genitive singular agreeing with first substantive στασεως [staseōs]. Literally, “No little (litotes for much) strife and questioning coming to Paul and Barnabas (dative case) with them ” (προς αὐτους [pros autous], face to face with them). Paul and Barnabas were not willing to see this Gentile church brow-beaten and treated as heretics by these self-appointed regulators of Christian orthodoxy from Jerusalem. The work had developed under the leadership of Paul and Barnabas and they accepted full responsibility for it and stoutly resisted these Judaizers to the point of sedition (riot, outbreak in Luke 23:25; Acts 19:40) as in 23:7. There is no evidence that the Judaizers had any supporters in the Antioch church so that they failed utterly to make any impression. Probably these Judaizers compelled Paul to think through afresh his whole gospel of grace and so they did Paul and the world a real service. If the Jews like Paul had to believe, it was plain that there was no virtue in circumcision (Gal. 2:15–21). It is not true that the early Christians had no disagreements. They had selfish avarice with Ananias and Sapphira, murmuring over the gifts to the widows, simony in the case of Simon Magus, violent objection to work in Caesarea, and now open strife over a great doctrine (grace vs. legalism). The brethren appointed (ἐταξαν [etaxan]). “The brethren” can be supplied from verse 1 and means the church in Antioch. The church clearly saw that the way to remove this deadlock between the Judaizers and Paul and Barnabas was to consult the church in Jerusalem to which the Judaizers belonged. Paul and Barnabas had won in Antioch. If they can win in Jerusalem, that will settle the matter. The Judaizers will be answered in their own church for which they are presuming to speak. The verb ἐταξαν [etaxan] (τασσω [tassō], to arrange) suggests a formal appointment by the church in regular assembly. Paul (Gal. 2:2) says that he went up by revelation (κατ̓ ἀποκαλυψιν [kat‚ apokalupsin]), but surely that is not contradictory to the action of the church. Certain others of them (τινας ἀλλους [tinas allous]). Certainly Titus (Gal. 2:1, 3), a Greek and probably a brother of Luke who is not mentioned in Acts. Rackham thinks that Luke was in the number. The apostles and elders (τους ἀποστολους και πρεσβυτερους [tous apostolous kai presbuterous]). Note one article for both (cf. “the apostles and the brethren” in 11:1). “Elders” now (11:30) in full force. The apostles have evidently returned now to the city after the death of Herod Agrippa I stopped the persecution.

Acts 15:3

They therefore (οἱ μεν οὐν [hoi men oun]). Luke’s favourite method of resumptive narrative as we have seen (11:19, etc.), demonstrative οἱ [hoi] with μεν [men] (indeed) and οὐν [oun] (therefore). Being brought on their way by the church (προπεμφθεντες ὑπο της ἐκκλησιας [propemphthentes hupo tēs ekklēsias]). First aorist passive participle of προπεμπω [propempō], old verb, to send forward under escort as a mark of honour as in 20:38; 21:5; III John 6. They were given a grand send-off by the church in Antioch. Passed through (διηρχοντο [diērchonto]). Imperfect middle describing the triumphal procession through both (τε και [te kai]) Phoenicia and Samaria. The conversion (την ἐπιστροφην [tēn epistrophēn]). The turning. They caused great joy (ἐποιουν χαραν μεγαλην [epoioun charan megalēn]). Imperfect active. They were raising a constant paean of praise as they proceeded toward Jerusalem. Probably the Judaizers had gone on or kept still.

Acts 15:4

Were received (παρεδεχθησαν [paredechthēsan]). First aorist passive indicative of παραδεχομαι [paradechomai], old verb, to receive, to welcome. Here it was a public reception for Paul and Barnabas provided by the whole church including the apostles and elders, at which an opportunity was given to hear the story of Paul and Barnabas about God’s dealings with them among the Gentiles. This first public meeting is referred to by Paul in Gal. 2:2 “I set before them (αὐτοις [autois]) the gospel, etc.”

Acts 15:5

But there rose up (ἐξανεστησαν δε [exanestēsan de]). Second aorist active indicative (intransitive). Note both ἐξ [ex] and ἀν [an]. These men rose up out of the crowd at a critical moment. They were believers in Christ (πεπιστευκοτες [pepisteukotes], having believed), but were still members of “the sect of the Pharisees” (της αἱρεσεως των Φαρισαιων [tēs haireseōs tōn Pharisaiōn]). Evidently they still held to the Pharisaic narrowness shown in the attack on Peter (11:2f.). Note the dogmatism of their “must” (δει [dei]) after the opposition of Paul and Barnabas to their “except” (ἐαν με [ean me]) at Antioch (15:1). They are unconvinced and expected to carry the elders with them. Codex Bezae says that they had appealed to the elders (15:2, 5). At any rate they have made the issue in open meeting at the height of the jubilation. It is plain from verse 6 that this meeting was adjourned, for another gathering came together then. It is here that the private conference of which Paul speaks in Galatians 2:1–10 took place. It was Paul’s chance to see the leaders in Jerusalem (Peter, James, and John) and he won them over to his view of Gentile liberty from the Mosaic law so that the next public conference (Acts 15:6–29) ratified heartily the views of Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James, and John. It was a diplomatic triumph of the first order and saved Christianity from the bondage of Jewish ceremonial sacramentalism. So far as we know this is the only time that Paul and John met face to face, the great spirits in Christian history after Jesus our Lord. It is a bit curious to see men saying today that Paul surrendered about Titus and had him circumcised for the sake of peace, the very opposite of what he says in Galatians, “to whom I yielded, no not for an hour.” Titus as a Greek was a red flag to the Judaizers and to the compromisers, but Paul stood his ground.

Acts 15:6

Were gathered together (συνηχθησαν [sunēchthēsan]). First aorist (effective) passive indicative. The church is not named here as in verse 4, but we know from verses 12 and 22 that the whole church came together this time also along with the apostles and elders. Of this matter (περι του λογου τουτου [peri tou logou toutou]). Same idiom in 8:21; 19:38. They realized the importance of the issue.

Acts 15:7

When there had been much questioning (πολλης ζητησεως γενομενης [pollēs zētēseōs genomenēs]). Genitive absolute with second aorist middle participle of γινομαι [ginomai]. Evidently the Judaizers were given full opportunity to air all their grievances and objections. They were allowed plenty of time and there was no effort to shut off debate or to rush anything through the meeting. Peter rose up (ἀναστας Πετρος [anastas Petros]). The wonder was that he had waited so long. Probably Paul asked him to do so. He was the usual spokesman for the apostles and his activities in Jerusalem were well-known. In particular his experience at Caesarea (Acts 10) had caused trouble here in Jerusalem from this very same party of the circumcism (Acts 11:1–18). It was fitting that Peter should speak. This is the last time that Peter appears in the Acts. A good while ago (ἀφ̓ ἡμερων ἀρχαιων [aph‚ hēmerōn archaiōn]). From ancient days. The adjective ἀρχαιος [archaios] is from ἀρχη [archē], beginning, and its actual age is a matter of relativity. So Mnason (Acts 21:16) is termed “an ancient disciple.” It was probably a dozen years since God “made choice” (ἐξελεξατο [exelexato]) to speak by Peter’s mouth to Cornelius and the other Gentiles in Caesarea. His point is that what Paul and Barnabas have reported is nothing new. The Judaizers made objection then as they are doing now.

Acts 15:8

Which knoweth the heart (καρδιογνωστης [kardiognōstēs]). Late word from καρδια [kardia] (heart) and γνωστης [gnōstēs] (known, γινωσκω [ginōskō]). In the N.T. only here and 1:24 which see. Giving them the Holy Spirit (δους το πνευμα το ἁγιον [dous to pneuma to hagion]). And before their baptism. This was the Lord’s doing. They had accepted (11:18) this witness of God then and it was true now of these other Gentile converts.

Acts 15:9

He made no distinction between us and them (οὐθεν διεκρινεν μεταξυ ἡμων τε και αὐτων [outhen diekrinen metaxu hēmōn te kai autōn]). He distinguished nothing (first aorist active ind.) between (both δια [dia] and μεταξυ [metaxu]) both (τε και [te kai]) us and them. In the matter of faith and conversion God treated us Jews as heathen and the heathen as Jews. Cleansing their hearts by faith (τῃ πιστει καθαρισας τας καρδιας αὐτων [tēi pistei katharisas tas kardias autōn]). Not by works nor by ceremonies. Peter here has a thoroughly Pauline and Johannine idea of salvation for all both Jew and Greek. Cf. 10:15.

Acts 15:10

Why tempt ye God? (τι πειραζετε τον θεον; [ti peirazete ton theon?]). By implying that God had made a mistake this time, though right about Cornelius. It is a home-thrust. They were refusing to follow the guidance of God like the Israelites at Massah and Meribah (Ex. 17:7; Deut. 6:16; I Cor. 10:9). That ye should put (ἐπιθειναι [epitheinai]). Second aorist active infinitive of ἐπιτιθημι [epitithēmi], epexegetic, explaining the tempting. A yoke upon the neck (ζυγον ἐπι τον τραχηλον [zugon epi ton trachēlon]). Familiar image of oxen with yokes upon the necks. Paul’s very image for the yoke of bondage of the Mosaic law in Gal. 5:1. It had probably been used in the private interview. Cf. the words of Jesus about the Pharisees (Matt. 23:4) and how easy and light his own yoke is (Matt. 11:30). Were able to bear (ἰσχυσαμεν βαστασαι [ischusamen bastasai]). Neither our fathers nor we had strength (ἰσχυω [ischuō]) to carry this yoke which the Judaizers wish to put on the necks of the Gentiles. Peter speaks as the spiritual emancipator. He had been slow to see the meaning of God’s dealings with him at Joppa and Caesarea, but he has seen clearly by now. He takes his stand boldly with Paul and Barnabas for Gentile freedom.

Acts 15:11

That we shall be saved (σωθηναι [sōthēnai]). First aorist passive infinitive in indirect discourse after πιστευομεν [pisteuomen]. More exactly, “We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in like manner as they also.” This thoroughly Pauline note shows that whatever hopes the Judaizers had about Peter were false. His doctrine of grace is as clear as a bell. He has lifted his voice against salvation by ceremony and ritualism. It was a great deliverance.

Acts 15:12

Kept silence (ἐσιγησεν [esigēsen]). Ingressive first aorist active of σιγαω [sigaō], old verb, to hold one’s peace. All the multitude became silent after Peter’s speech and because of it. Hearkened (ἠκουον [ēkouon]). Imperfect active of ἀκουω [akouō], descriptive of the rapt attention, were listening. Unto Barnabas and Paul (Βαρναβα και Παυλου [Barnaba kai Paulou]). Note placing Barnabas before Paul as in verse 25, possibly because in Jerusalem Barnabas was still better known than Paul. Rehearsing (ἐξηγουμενων [exēgoumenōn]). Present middle participle of ἐξηγεομαι [exēgeomai], old verb, to go through or lead out a narrative of events as in Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8 which see. Three times (14:27; 15:4, 12) Paul is described as telling the facts about their mission work, facts more eloquent than argument (Page). One of the crying needs in the churches is fuller knowledge of the facts of mission work and progress with enough detail to give life and interest. The signs and wonders which God had wrought among the Gentiles set the seal of approval on the work done through (δια [dia]) Barnabas and Paul. This had been Peter’s argument about Cornelius (11:17). This same verb (ἐξηγησατο [exēgēsato]) is used by James in verse 14 referring to Peter’s speech.

Acts 15:13

After they had held their peace (μετα το σιγησαι αὐτους [meta to sigēsai autous]). Literally, “after the becoming silent (ingressive aorist active of the articular infinitive) as to them (Barnabas and Paul, accusative of general reference).” James answered (ἀπεκριθη Ἰακωβος [apekrithē Iakōbos]). First aorist passive (deponent) indicative. It was expected that James, as President of the Conference, would speak last. But he wisely waited to give every one an opportunity to speak. The challenge of the Judaizers called for an opinion from James. Furneaux thinks that he may have been elected one of the twelve to take the place of James the brother of John since Paul (Gal. 1:19) calls him apostle. More likely he was asked to preside because of his great gifts and character as chief of the elders.

Acts 15:14

Hearken unto me (ἀκουσατε μου [akousate mou]). Usual appeal for attention. James was termed James the Just and was considered a representative of the Hebraic as opposed to the Hellenistic wing of the Jewish Christians (Acts 6:1). The Judaizers had doubtless counted on him as a champion of their view and did later wrongfully make use of his name against Peter at Antioch (Gal. 2:12). There was instant attention when James began to speak. Symeon (Συμεων [Sumeōn]). The Aramaic form of Simon as in II Peter 2:1. This little touch would show his affinities with the Jewish Christians (not the Judaizers). This Aramaic form is used also in Luke 2:25, 34 of the old prophet in the temple. Possibly both forms (Symeon, Aramaic, and Simon, Greek) were current in Jerusalem. How (καθως [kathōs]). Strictly, “according as,” here like ὁς [hos] in indirect discourse somewhat like the epexegetic or explanatory use in III John 3. First (πρωτον [prōton]). Told by Peter in verse 7. James notes, as Peter did, that this experience of Barnabas and Paul is not the beginning of work among the Gentiles. Did visit (ἐπεσκεψατο [epeskepsato]). First aorist middle indicative of ἐπισκεπτομαι [episkeptomai], old verb to look upon, to look after, provide for. This same verb occurs in James 1:27 and is one of various points of similarity between this speech of James in Acts and the Epistle of James as shown by Mayor in his Commentary on James. Somehow Luke may have obtained notes of these various addresses. To take from the Gentiles a people for his name (λαβειν ἐξ ἐθνων λαον τῳ ὀνοματι αὐτου [labein ex ethnōn laon tōi onomati autou]). Bengel calls this egregium paradoxon, a chosen people (λαον [laon]) out of the Gentiles (ἐθνων [ethnōn]). This is what is really involved in what took place at Caesarea at the hands of Peter and the campaign of Barnabas and Paul from Antioch. But such a claim of God’s purpose called for proof from Scripture to convince Jews and this is precisely what James undertakes to give. This new Israel from among the Gentiles is one of Paul’s great doctrines as set forth in Gal. 3 and Rom. 9–11. Note the use of God’s “name” here for “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

Acts 15:15

To this agree (τουτῳ συμφωνουσιν [toutōi sumphōnousin]). Associative instrumental case (τουτῳ [toutōi]) after συμφωνουσιν [sumphōnousin] (voice together with, symphony with, harmonize with), from συμφωνεω [sumphōneō], old verb seen already in Matt. 18:19; Luke 5:36; Acts 5:9 which see. James cites only Amos 9:11 and 12 from the LXX as an example of “the words of the prophets” (οἱ λογοι των προφητων [hoi logoi tōn prophētōn]) to which he refers on this point. The somewhat free quotation runs here through verses 16 to 18 of Acts 15 and is exceedingly pertinent. The Jewish rabbis often failed to understand the prophets as Jesus showed. The passage in Amos refers primarily to the restoration of the Davidic empire, but also the Messiah’s Kingdom (“the throne of David his father,” Luke 1:32).

Acts 15:16

I will build again (ἀνοικοδομησω [anoikodomēsō]). Here LXX has ἀναστησω [anastēsō]. Compound (ἀνα [ana], up or again) of οἰκοδομεω [oikodomeō], the verb used by Jesus in Matt. 16:18 of the general church or kingdom as here which see. The tabernacle of David (την σκηνην Δαυειδ [tēn skēnēn Daueid]), a poetical figure of the throne of David (II Sam. 7:12) now “the fallen tent” (την πεπτωκυιαν [tēn peptōkuian]), perfect active participle of πιπτω [piptō], state of completion. The ruins thereof (τα κατεστραμμενα αὐτης [ta katestrammena autēs]). Literally, “the ruined portions of it.” Perfect passive participle of καταστρεφω [katastrephō], to turn down. It is a desolate picture of the fallen, torn down tent of David. I will let it up (ἀνορθωσω [anorthōsō]). Old verb from ἀνορθοω [anorthoō] (ἀνα, ὀρθος [ana, orthos]), to set upright. See on Luke 3:13 of the old woman whose crooked back was set straight.

Acts 15:17

That the residue of men may seek after the Lord (ὁπως ἀν ἐκζητησωσιν οἱ καταλοιποι των ἀνθρωπων τον κυριον [hopōs an ekzētēsōsin hoi kataloipoi tōn anthrōpōn ton kurion]). The use of ὁπως [hopōs] with the subjunctive (effective aorist active) to express purpose is common enough and note ἀν [an] for an additional tone of uncertainty. On the rarity of ἀν [an] with ὁπως [hopōs] in the Koiné see Robertson, Grammar, p. 986. Here the Gentiles are referred to. The Hebrew text is quite different, “that they may possess the remnant of Edom.” Certainly the LXX suits best the point that James is making. But the closing words of this verse point definitely to the Gentiles both in the Hebrew and the LXX, “all the Gentiles” (παντα τα ἐθνη [panta ta ethnē]). Another item of similarity between this speech and the Epistle of James is in the phrase “my name is called” (ἐπικεκληται το ὀνομα μου [epikeklētai to onoma mou]) and James 2:7. The purpose of God, though future, is expressed by this perfect passive indicative ἐπικεκληται [epikeklētai] from ἐπι-καλεω [epi-kaleō], to call on. It is a Jewish way of speaking of those who worship God.

Acts 15:18

From the beginning of the world (ἀπ̓ αἰωνος [ap‚ aiōnos]). Or, “from of old.” James adds these words, perhaps with a reminiscence of Isa. 45:21. His point is that this purpose of God, as set forth in Amos, is an old one. God has an Israel outside of and beyond the Jewish race, whom he will make his true “Israel” and so there is no occasion for surprise in the story of God’s dealings with the Gentiles as told by Barnabas and Paul. God’s eternal purpose of grace includes all who call upon his name in every land and people (Isa. 2:1; Mic. 4:1). This larger and richer purpose and plan of God was one of the mysteries which Paul will unfold in the future (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:9). James sees it clearly now. God is making it known (ποιων ταυτα γνωστα [poiōn tauta gnōsta]), if they will only be willing to see and understand. It was a great deliverance that James had made and it exerted a profound influence on the assembly.

Acts 15:19

Wherefore (διο [dio]). “Because of which,” this plain purpose of God as shown by Amos and Isaiah. My judgment is (ἐγω κρινω [egō krinō]). Note expression of ἐγω [egō]. I give my judgment. (Ἐγο κενσεο [Ego kenseo]). James sums up the case as President of the Conference in a masterly fashion and with that consummate wisdom for which he is noted. It amounts to a resolution for the adoption by the assembly as happened (verse 33). That we trouble not (μη παρενοχλειν [mē parenochlein]). Present active infinitive with μη [] in an indirect command (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1046) of παρενοχλεω [parenochleō], a common late verb, occurring here alone in the N.T. This double compound (παρα, ἐν [para, en]) is from the old compound ἐνοχλεω [enochleō] (ἐν [en] and ὀχλος [ochlos], crowd, annoyance) seen in Luke 6:18 and Heb. 12:15, and means to cause trouble beside (παρα [para]) one or in a matter. This is the general point of James which he explains further concerning “those who are turning from the Gentiles unto God,” the very kind of people referred to in Amos.

Acts 15:20

But that we write unto them (ἀλλα ἐπιστειλαι αὐτοις [alla episteilai autois]). By way of contrast (ἀλλα [alla]). First aorist active infinitive of ἐπιστελλω [epistellō], old verb to send to one (message, letter, etc.). Our word ἐπιστλε [epistle] (ἐπιστολη [epistolē] as in verse 30) comes from this verb. In the N.T. only here, Heb. 13:22, and possibly Acts 21:25. That they abstain from (του ἀπεχεσθαι [tou apechesthai]). The genitive of the articular infinitive of purpose, present middle (direct) of ἀπεχω [apechō], old verb, to hold oneself back from. The best old MSS. do not have ἀπο [apo], but the ablative is clear enough in what follows. James agrees with Peter in his support of Paul and Barnabas in their contention for Gentile freedom from the Mosaic ceremonial law. The restrictions named by James affect the moral code that applies to all (idolatry, fornication, murder). Idolatry, fornication and murder were the outstanding sins of paganism then and now (Rev. 22:15). Harnack argues ably against the genuineness of the word πνικτου [pniktou] (strangled) which is absent from D Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian. It is a nice point, though the best MSS. have it in accord with Lev. 17:10–16. The problem is whether the words were added because “blood” was understood as not “murder,” but a reference to the Mosaic regulation or whether it was omitted to remove the ceremonial aspect and make it all moral and ethical. The Western text omits the word also in verse 29. But with the word retained here and in verse 29 the solution of James is not a compromise, though there is a wise concession to Jewish feeling. Pollutions of idols (ἀλισγηματων [alisgēmatōn]). From ἀλισγεω [alisgeō] only in the LXX and this substantive nowhere else. The word refers to idolatrous practices (pollutions) and things sacrificed to idols (εἰδωλυθων [eidōluthōn]) in verse 29, not to sacrificial meat sold in the market (I Cor. 10:27), a matter not referred to here. Cf. Lev. 17:1–9. All the four items in the position of James (accepting πνικτου [pniktou]) are mentioned in Lev. 17 and 18.

Acts 15:21

For Moses (Μωυσης γαρ [Mōusēs gar]). A reason why these four necessary things (verse 28) are named. In every city are synagogues where rabbis proclaim (κηρυσσοντας [kērussontas]) these matters. Hence the Gentile Christians would be giving constant offence to neglect them. The only point where modern Christian sentiment would object would be about “things strangled” and “blood” in the sense of any blood left in the animals, though most Christians probably agree with the feeling of James in objecting to blood in the food. If “blood” is taken to be “murder,” that difficulty vanishes. Moses will suffer no loss for these Gentile Christians are not adherents of Judaism.

Acts 15:22

Then it seemed good (Τοτε ἐδοξεν [Tote edoxen]). First aorist active indicative of δοκεω [dokeō]. A regular idiom at the beginning of decrees. This Eirenicon of James commended itself to the whole assembly. Apparently a vote was taken which was unanimous, the Judaizers probably not voting. The apostles and the elders (τοις ἀποστολοις και τοις πρεσβυτεροις [tois apostolois kai tois presbuterois], article with each, dative case) probably all vocally expressed their position. With the whole church (συν ὁλει τῃ ἐκκλησιᾳ [sun holei tēi ekklēsiāi]). Probably by acclamation. It was a great victory. But James was a practical leader and he did not stop with speeches and a vote. To choose men out of their company (ἐκλεζαμενους ἀνδρας ἐξ αὐτων [eklezamenous andras ex autōn]). Accusative case, though dative just before (τοις ἀποστολοις [tois apostolois], etc.), of first aorist middle participle of ἐκλεγω [eklegō], to select. This loose case agreement appears also in γραψαντες [grapsantes] in verse 23 and in MSS. in verse 25. It is a common thing in all Greek writers (Paul, for instance), especially in the papyri and in the Apocalypse of John. Judas called Barsabbas (Ἰουδαν τον καλουμενον Βαρσαββαν [Ioudan ton kaloumenon Barsabban]). Not otherwise known unless he is a brother of Joseph Barsabbas of 1:23, an early follower of Jesus. The other, Silas, is probably a shortened form of Silvanus (Σιλουανος [Silouanos], I Peter 5:12), the companion of Paul in his second mission tour (Acts 15:32, 41; 16:25). Chief men (ἡγουμενους [hēgoumenous]). Leaders, leading men (participle from ἡγεομαι [hēgeomai], to lead).

Acts 15:23

And they wrote (γραψαντες [grapsantes]). First aorist active participle of γραφω [graphō] and the nominative as if a principal verb ἐπεμψαν [epempsan] had been used instead of πεμψαι [pempsai], the first aorist active infinitive (anacoluthon). This committee of four (Judas, Silas, Barnabas, Paul) carried the letter which embodied the decision of the Conference. This letter is the writing out of the judgment of James and apparently written by him as the President. The apostles and the elders, brethren (οἱ ἀποστολοι και οἱ πρεσβυτεροι, ἀδελφοι [hoi apostoloi kai hoi presbuteroi, adelphoi]). So the oldest and best MSS. without και [kai] (and) before “brethren.” This punctuation is probably correct and not “elder brethren.” The inquiry had been sent to the apostles and elders (verse 2) though the whole church joined in the welcome (verse 4) and in the decision (verse 22). The apostles and elders send the epistle, but call themselves “brothers to brothers,” Fratres Fratibus Salutem. “The brothers” (τοις ἀδελφοις [tois adelphois]) addressed (dative case) are of the Gentiles (ἐξ ἐθνων [ex ethnōn]) and those in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, because they were immediately involved. But the decision of this Conference was meant for Gentile Christians everywhere (16:4). Greeting (Χαιρειν [Chairein]). The customary formula in the beginning of letters, the absolute infinitive (usually χαιρειν [chairein]) with the nominative absolute also as in James 1:1; Acts 23:26 and innumerable papyri (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 1902f.).

Acts 15:24

Certain which went from us (τινες ἐξ ἡμων [tines ex hēmōn], Aleph B omit ἐξελθοντες [exelthontes]). A direct blow at the Judaizers, put in delicate language (we heard ἠκουσαμεν [ēkousamen]) as if only at Antioch (15:1), and not also in Jerusalem in open meeting (15:5). Have troubled you with words (ἐταραξαν ὑμας λογοις [etaraxan humas logois]). What a picture of turmoil in the church in Antioch, words, words, words. Aorist tense of the common verb ταρασσω [tarassō], to agitate, to make the heart palpitate (John 14:1, 27) and instrumental case of λογοις [logois]. Subverting your souls (ἀνασκευαζοντες τας ψυχας ὑμων [anaskeuazontes tas psuchas humōn]). Present active participle of ἀνασκευαζω [anaskeuazō], old verb (ἀνα [ana] and σκευος [skeuos], baggage) to pack up baggage, to plunder, to ravage. Powerful picture of the havoc wrought by the Judaizers among the simple-minded Greek Christians in Antioch. To whom we gave no commandment (οἱς οὐ διεστειλαμεθα [hois ou diesteilametha]). First aorist middle indicative of διαστελλω [diastellō], old verb to draw asunder, to distinguish, to set forth distinctly, to command. This is a flat disclaimer of the whole conduct of the Judaizers in Antioch and in Jerusalem, a complete repudiation of their effort to impose the Mosaic ceremonial law upon the Gentile Christians.

Acts 15:25

It seemed good unto us (ἐδοξεν ἡμιν [edoxen hēmin]). See statement by Luke in verse 22, and now this definite decision is in the epistle itself. It is repeated in verse 28. Having come to one accord (γενομενοις ὁμοθυμαδον [genomenois homothumadon]). On this adverb, common in Acts, see on 1:14. But γενομενοις [genomenois] clearly means that the final unity was the result of the Conference (private and public talks). The Judaizers are here brushed to one side as the defeated disturbers that they really were who had lacked the courage to vote against the majority. To choose out men and send them (ἐκλεξαμενοις ἀνδρας πεμψαι [eklexamenois andras pempsai] A B L, though Aleph C D read ἐκλεξαμενους [eklexamenous] as in verse 22). Precisely the same idiom as in verse 22, “having chosen out to send.” With our beloved Barnabas and Paul (συν τοις ἀγαπητοις ἡμων Βαρναβᾳ και Παυλῳ [sun tois agapētois hēmōn Barnabāi kai Paulōi]). The verbal adjective ἀγαπητοις [agapētois] (common in the N.T.) definitely sets the seal of warm approval on Barnabas and Paul. Paul (Gal. 2:9) confirms this by his statement concerning the right hand of fellowship given.

Acts 15:26

Have hazarded their lives (παραδεδωκοσι τας ψυχας αὐτων [paradedōkosi tas psuchas autōn]). Perfect active participle dative plural of παραδιδωμι [paradidōmi], old word, to hand over to another, and with ψυχας [psuchas], to hand over to another their lives. The sufferings of Paul and Barnabas in Pisidia and Lycaonia were plainly well-known just as the story of Judson in Burmah is today. On the use of “name” here see on 3:6.

Acts 15:27

Who themselves also shall tell you the same things by word of mouth (και αὐτους δια λογου ἀπαγγελλοντας τα αὐτα [kai autous dia logou apaggellontas ta auta]). Literally, “they themselves also by speech announcing the same things.” The present participle, as here, sometimes is used like the future to express purpose as in 3:26 εὐλογουντα [eulogounta] after ἀπεστειλεν [apesteilen] and so here ἀπαγγελλοντας [apaggellontas] after ἀπεσταλκαμεν [apestalkamen] (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1128). Judas and Silas are specifically endorsed (perfect active indicative of ἀποστελλω [apostellō]) as bearers of the epistle who will also verbally confirm the contents of the letter.

Acts 15:28

To the Holy Spirit and to us (τῳ πνευματι τῳ ἁγιῳ και ἡμιν [tōi pneumati tōi hagiōi kai hēmin]). Dative case after ἐδοξεν [edoxen] (third example, verses 22, 25, 28). Definite claim that the church in this action had the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That fact was plain to the church from what had taken place in Caesarea and in this campaign of Paul and Barnabas (verse 8). Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Even so the church deliberated carefully before deciding. What a blessing it would be if this were always true! But even so the Judaizers are only silenced for the present, not convinced and only waiting for a better day to start over again. No greater burden (μηδεν πλεον βαρος [mēden pleon baros]). The restrictions named did constitute some burden (cf. Matt. 20:12), for the old word βαρος [baros] means weight or heaviness. Morality itself is a restraint upon one’s impulses as is all law a prohibition against license.

Acts 15:29

Than these necessary things (πλην τουτων των ἐπαναγκες [plēn toutōn tōn epanagkes]). This old adverb (from ἐπι [epi] and ἀναγκη [anagkē]) means on compulsion, of necessity. Here only in the N.T. For discussion of these items see on verses 20 and 21. In comparison with the freedom won this “burden” is light and not to be regarded as a compromise in spite of the arguments of Lightfoot and Ramsay. It was such a concession as any converted Gentile would be glad to make even if “things strangled” be included. This “necessity” was not a matter of salvation but only for fellowship between Jews and Gentiles. The Judaizers made the law of Moses essential to salvation (15:16). It shall be well with you (εὐ πραξετε [eu praxete]). Ye shall fare well. A classical idiom used here effectively. The peace and concord in the fellowship of Jews and Gentiles will justify any slight concession on the part of the Gentiles. This letter is not laid down as a law, but it is the judgment of the Jerusalem Christians for the guidance of the Gentiles (16:4) and it had a fine effect at once (15:30–35). Trouble did come later from the Judaizers who were really hostile to the agreement in Jerusalem, but that opposition in no way discredits the worth of the work of this Conference. No sane agreement will silence perpetual and professional disturbers like these Judaizers who will seek to unsettle Paul’s work in Antioch, in Corinth, in Galatia, in Jerusalem, in Rome. Fare ye well (Ἐρρωσθε [Errōsthe]). Valete. Perfect passive imperative of ῥωννυμι [rhōnnumi], to make strong. Common at the close of letters. Be made strong, keep well, fare well. Here alone in the N.T. though some MSS. have it in 23:30.

Acts 15:30

So they (οἱ μεν οὐν [hoi men oun]). As in verse 3. When they were dismissed (ἀπολυθεντες [apoluthentes]). First aorist passive participle of ἀπολυω [apoluō], common verb to loosen, to dismiss. Possibly (Hackett) religious services were held as in verse 33 (cf. 13:3) and perhaps an escort for part of the way as in verse 3. The multitude (το πληθος [to plēthos]). Public meeting of the church as in verses 1 to 3. Deissmann (Bible Studies, p. 232) gives illustrations from the inscriptions of the use of πληθος [plēthos] for official, political, and religious gatherings. The committee formally “delivered” (ἐπεδωκαν [epedōkan]) the epistle to the church authorities.

Acts 15:31

When they had read it (ἀναγνοντες [anagnontes]). Second aorist active participle of ἀναγινωσκω [anaginōskō]. Public reading, of course, to the church. They rejoiced (ἐχαρησαν [echarēsan]). Second aorist (ingressive) passive indicative of χαιρω [chairō]. They burst into exultant joy showing clearly that they did not consider it a weak compromise, but a glorious victory of Gentile liberty. For the consolation (ἐπι τῃ παρακλησει [epi tēi paraklēsei]). The encouragement, the cheer in the letter. See παρεκαλεσαν [parekalesan] in verse 32. Consolation and exhortation run into one another in this word.

Acts 15:32

Being themselves also prophets (και αὐτοι προφηται ὀντες [kai autoi prophētai ontes]). As well as Paul and Barnabas and like Agabus (11:27–30), for-speakers for Christ who justify the commendation in the letter (verse 27) “with many words” (δια λογου πολλου [dia logou pollou]), “with much talk,” and no doubt with kindly words concerning the part played at the Conference by Paul and Barnabas. Confirmed (ἐπεστηριξαν [epestērixan]). See on 14:22. It was a glorious time with no Judaizers to disturb their fellowship as in 1–3.

Acts 15:33

Some time (χρονον [chronon]). Accusative after ποιησαντες [poiēsantes], “having done time.” How long we do not know.

Acts 15:34

But it seemed good unto Silas to abide there (ἐδοξε δε Σιλᾳ ἐπιμειναι αὐτου [edoxe de Silāi epimeinai autou]). This verse is not in the Revised Version or in the text of Westcott and Hort, being absent from Aleph A B Vulgate, etc. It is clearly an addition to help explain the fact that Silas is back in Antioch in verse 40. But the “some days” of verse 36 afforded abundant time for him to return from Jerusalem. He and Judas went first to Jerusalem to make a report of their mission.

Acts 15:35

Tarried (διετριβον [dietribon]). Imperfect active of διατριβω [diatribō], old verb to pass time, seen already in 12:19; 14:3, 28. With many others also (μετα και ἑτερων πολλων [meta kai heterōn pollōn]). A time of general revival and naturally so after the victory at Jerusalem. It is at this point that it is probable that the sad incident took place told by Paul in Gal. 2:11–21. Peter came up to see how things were going in Antioch after Paul’s victory in Jerusalem. At first Peter mingled freely with the Greek Christians without the compunctions shown at Caesarea and for which he had to answer in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1–18). Rumours of Peter’s conduct reached Jerusalem and the Judaizers saw a chance to reopen the controversy on the line of social customs, a matter not passed on at the Jerusalem Conference. These Judaizers threaten Peter with a new trial and he surrenders and is followed by Barnabas and all the Jewish brethren in Antioch to the dismay of Paul who boldly rebuked Peter and Barnabas and won them back to his view. It was a crisis. Some would even date the Epistle to the Galatians at this time also, an unlikely hypothesis.

Acts 15:36

Let us return now and visit the brethren (ἐπιστρεψαντες δε ἐπισκεψωμεθα τους ἀδελφους [epistrepsantes de episkepsōmetha tous adelphous]). Paul takes the initiative as the leader, all the more so if the rebuke to Peter and Barnabas in Gal. 2:11–21 had already taken place. Paul is anxious, like a true missionary, to go back to the fields where he has planted the gospel. He uses the hortatory subjunctive (ἐπισκεψωμεθα [episkepsōmetha]) for the proposal (see on 15:14 for this verb). Note the repeated ἐπι [epi] (ἐπι-στρεψαντες [epi-strepsantes] and ἐπισκεψωμεθα [episkepsōmetha]). There is special point in the use of δη [] (shortened form of ἠδη [ēdē]), now at this juncture of affairs (cf. 13:2). How they fare (πως ἐχουσιν [pōs echousin]). Indirect question, “how they have it.” The precariousness of the life of new converts in pagan lands is shown in all of Paul’s Epistles (Furneaux). So he wanted to go city by city (κατα πολιν πασαν [kata polin pāsan]).

Acts 15:37

Was minded to take with them (ἐβουλετο συνπαραλαβειν [ebouleto sunparalabein]). Imperfect middle (ἐβουλετο [ebouleto]), not aorist middle ἐβουλευσατο [ebouleusato] of the Textus Receptus. Barnabas willed, wished and stuck to it (imperfect tense). Συνπαραλαβειν [Sunparalabein] is second aorist active infinitive of the double compound συνπαραλαμβανω [sunparalambanō], old verb to take along together with, used already about John Mark in 12:25 and by Paul in Gal. 2:1 about Titus. Nowhere else in the N.T. Barnabas used the ingressive aorist in his suggestion.

Acts 15:38

But Paul thought not good to take with them (Παυλος δε ἠξιου - μη συνπαραλαμβανειν τουτον [Paulos de ēxiou - mē sunparalambanein touton]). The Greek is far more effective than this English rendering. It is the imperfect active of ἀξιοω [axioō], old verb to think meet or right and the present active infinitive of the same verb (συνπαραλαμβανω [sunparalambanō]) with negative used with this infinitive. Literally, “But Paul kept on deeming it wise not to be taking along with them this one.” Barnabas looked on it as a simple punctiliar proposal (aorist infinitive), but Paul felt a lively realization of the problem of having a quitter on his hands (present infinitive). Each was insistent in his position (two imperfects). Paul had a definite reason for his view describing John Mark as “him who withdrew from them from Pamphylia” (τον ἀποσταντα ἀπ̓ αὐτων ἀπο Παμφυλιας [ton apostanta ap‚ autōn apo Pamphulias]). Second aorist active articular participle of ἀφιστημι [aphistēmi], intransitive use, “the one who stood off from, apostatized from” (our very word “apostasy”). And also as the one who “went not with them to the work” (και μη συνελθοντα αὐτοις εἰς το ἐργον [kai mē sunelthonta autois eis to ergon]). At Perga Mark had faced the same task that Paul and Barnabas did, but he flinched and flickered and quit. Paul declined to repeat the experiment with Mark.






Harper's Bible Dictionary


strangled animals, animals that have not been slaughtered according to Jewish law, which calls for slitting the throat and draining the blood. This law also applied to Gentiles living among Jews (Lev. 17:10-14). In Acts 15:20, Gentile Christians were asked not to eat strangled meat, so that they could share table fellowship with Jewish Christians.  [7]


food offered to idols, the English translation of one Greek word that was used first by Greek-speaking Jews to refer to the sacrifices (often of animals, thus the reference to ‘meat’ in 1 Cor. 8:13) that were regularly a part of pagan cultic observances (see 4 Macc. 5:2). The classical Greek term for such sacrifices meant, literally, ‘(something) offered to a deity,’ and in later Greek a related term meant, simply, ‘(something) offered to a divinity.’ The latter occurs in 1 Cor. 10:28, where Paul quotes what someone might say to a Christian dinner guest about the food being served. Sacrificial offerings were customarily divided into three portions: part was burned on the altar, part was placed on a special table for the deity, and part was allotted to the worshipers for their consumption within the temple precincts. What was left was sold in the public market.

According to Acts, when a special Jerusalem meeting of apostles and elders agreed to endorse the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, several restrictive provisions were laid down. One was that Gentile converts to Christianity should abstain from eating anything that had been offered in sacrifice to idols (Acts 15:29; cf. 21:25). The Nicolaitans opposed in Rev. 2:14-15 (cf. Num. 25:1-2; 31:16) and the Christian prophetess (perhaps their leader) opposed in Rev. 2:20 are accused of laxity in exactly this regard.

Despite what Acts reports about Christian strictures on eating food that had been sacrificed in pagan rites (Paul never mentions the decree of the Jerusalem leaders in his letters), some members of Paul’s Corinthian congregation saw nothing wrong in doing so. They apparently reasoned that, because the only true God is the one known in Jesus Christ, other ‘so-called gods’ had no real existence and sacrifices made to them had no real significance (1 Cor. 8:4-6). Perhaps these folk occasionally ate in pagan temples (see 1 Cor. 8:10), or their eating of sacrificial food could have been done at the quasi-religious dinners of fraternal associations or at meals hosted by pagan friends or relatives who had offered some special sacrifice. Whatever the particular setting(s) may have been, they seem to have participated with a certain bravado, alleging their possession of a superior ‘knowledge’ (1 Cor. 8:1b) and criticizing those brothers and sisters as persons ‘weak’ in conscience (1 Cor. 8:7) who declined to eat what had been offered in sacrifice.

In 1 Cor. 8:1-11:1, Paul responds to this situation without either appealing or alluding to the prohibition reported in Acts 15:29. Instead, the apostle insists that neither eating nor abstaining from food offered to idols is in itself consequential (8:8). Thus, he thinks it unnecessary that Christians inquire about the origin of the meat they are considering purchasing in the market or that pagan friends serve at a private dinner (10:25-27). Paul also insists, however, that this Christian freedom must always be exercised in love (note 8:1c; 10:23-24) and without endangering one’s partnership in the body of Christ (note 10:18-22). He understands this to exclude a Christian’s participation in any pagan sacrificial meals (10:14-22) and to require abstention from what has been sacrificed previously whenever eating it might be injurious to other Christians or confusing to nonbelievers (8:7-13; 10:28-29a). It may be that Romans 14 refers to the same problem, although the reference to ‘meat’ is more general. See also Idol; Jezebel; Love; Worship.     V.P.F.



Easton's Bible Dictionary

Blood — (1.) As food, prohibited in Gen. 9:4, where the use of animal food is first allowed. Comp. Deut. 12:23; Lev. 3:17; 7:26; 17:10–14. The injunction to abstain from blood is renewed in the decree of the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:29). It has been held by some, and we think correctly, that this law of prohibition was only ceremonial and temporary; while others regard it as still binding on all. Blood was eaten by the Israelites after the battle of Gilboa (1 Sam. 14:32–34).

(2.) The blood of sacrifices was caught by the priest in a basin, and then sprinkled seven times on the altar; that of the passover on the doorposts and lintels of the houses (Ex. 12; Lev. 4:5–7; 16:14–19). At the giving of the law (Ex. 24:8) the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled on the people as well as on the altar, and thus the people were consecrated to God, or entered into covenant with him, hence the blood of the covenant (Matt. 26:28; Heb. 9:19, 20; 10:29; 13:20).

(3.) Human blood. The murderer was to be punished (Gen. 9:5). The blood of the murdered “crieth for vengeance” (Gen. 4:10). The “avenger of blood” was the nearest relative of the murdered, and he was required to avenge his death (Num. 35:24, 27). No satisfaction could be made for the guilt of murder (Num. 35:31).

(4.) Blood used metaphorically to denote race (Acts 17:26), and as a symbol of slaughter (Isa. 34:3). To “wash the feet in blood” means to gain a great victory (Ps. 58:10). Wine, from its red colour, is called “the blood of the grape” (Gen. 49:11). Blood and water issued from our Saviour’s side when it was pierced by the Roman soldier (John 19:34). This has led pathologists to the conclusion that the proper cause of Christ’s death was rupture of the heart. (Comp. Ps. 69:20.)


blood, a term understood in biblical writings not only as that which is essential to life but also as the seat of life’s power. Though sometimes used simply to designate mortal life (usually in conjunction with flesh), it was often connected with God, the life-giver. Injunctions existed against consuming blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10-16; Deut.12:15-18; 1 Sam. 14:32-35; Acts 15:23-29); spilling it was forbidden under penalty of death (Gen. 9:4-7; Exod. 20:13; 21:23-24; Lev. 24:20-21; Deut. 19:21; cf. Matt. 5:21-26, 38-42).

Blood plays an important role in the theology of the ot, the institution of sacrificial atonement, and the work of the priests. Applied to the altar, blood becomes a powerful expiatory agent as sin offering, especially on the annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). The priest, who is himself set apart by blood consecration (Exod. 29:19-21), alone is qualified to apply the blood (Lev. 1-7). The Passover celebration remembers the blood on the doorposts of Hebrew houses in Egypt (Exod. 12:7) and the deliverance accomplished by the God of the Covenant (see blood of the Covenant in Exod. 24:6-8; Ps. 50:5; Zech. 9:11). Blood can also symbolize woes and terrors (e.g., 1 Chron. 22:8; 28:3; Exod. 7:14-24; Joel 2:30-31).

The nt writings vary in the degree of development of the image of blood, but where the image appears it focuses on the shed blood of Jesus and its atoning character. Interpreted in terms of his obedient surrender of his life to God, it becomes the foundation for God’s new covenant of grace. The people of faith celebrate this grace at the Lord’s Supper; the cup of blessing is the new covenant in Christ’s blood (Mark 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:23-29). The most extensive development of the image is found in Hebrews 9-10 (see also John 6:53-56; 19:34-37; 1 John 5:6-8; Rom. 3:24-25; 1 Cor. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:6-14; 7:14). See also Atonement; Atonement, Day of; Expiation; Flesh; Life; Lord’s Supper, The; Passover, The; Worship.     J.E.A.






























Schaff's History of the Christian Church

§ 64. The Council at Jerusalem.

(Comp. § 34, pp. 835 sqq. and 346 sq.)

The most complete outward representation of the apostolic church as a teaching and legislative body was the council convened at Jerusalem in the year 50, to decide as to the authority of the law of Moses, and adjust the difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity.

We notice it here simply in its connection with the organization of the church.

It consisted not of the apostles alone, but of apostles, elders, and brethren. We know that Peter, Paul, John, Barnabas, and Titus were present, perhaps all the other apostles. James—not one of the Twelve—presided as the local bishop, and proposed the compromise which was adopted. The transactions were public, before the congregation; the brethren took part in the deliberations; there was a sharp discussion, but the spirit of love prevailed over the pride of opinion; the apostles passed and framed the decree not without, but with the elders and with the whole church and sent the circular letter not in their own name only, but also in the name of "the brother elders" or "elder brethren" to "the brethren" of the congregations disturbed by the question of circumcision.

All of which plainly proves the right of Christian people to take part in some way in the government of the church, as they do in the acts of worship. The spirit and practice of the apostles favored a certain kind of popular self-government, and the harmonious, fraternal co-operation of the different elements of the church. It countenanced no abstract distinction of clergy and laity. All believers are called to the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices in Christ. The bearers of authority and discipline should therefore never forget that their great work is to train the governed to freedom and independence, and by the various spiritual offices to build them up unto the unity of faith and knowledge, and to the perfect manhood of Christ.

The Greek and Roman churches gradually departed from the apostolic polity and excluded not only the laity, but also the lower clergy from all participation in the legislative councils.

The conference of Jerusalem, though not a binding precedent, is a significant example, giving the apostolic sanction to the synodical form of government, in which all classes of the Christian community are represented in the management of public affairs and in settling controversies respecting faith and discipline. The decree which it passed and the pastoral letter which it sent, are the first in the long line of decrees and canons and encyclicals which issued from ecclesiastical authorities. But it is significant that this first decree, though adopted undoubtedly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and wisely adapted to the times and circumstances of the mixed churches of Jewish and Gentile converts, was after all merely "a temporary expedient for a temporary emergency," and cannot be quoted as a precedent for infallible decrees of permanent force. The spirit of fraternal concession and harmony which dictated the Jerusalem compromise, is more important than the letter of the decree itself. The kingdom of Christ is not a dispensation of law, but of spirit and of life.


I. There is an interesting difference of reading in Acts 15:23 (see the critical editions), but it does not affect the composition of the conference, at least as far as the elders are concerned. The textus receptus reads: οἱ ἀπόστολοι, καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι, καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοί ( ִר2לרֹשׁרִאִפרֹפדכרִ’, H, L, P, Syr., etc.), "The apostles, and the elders, and the brethren send greeting unto the brethren," etc. So the E. V., except that it omits the article twice. The Revised V., following the better attested reading: οἱ ἀπόστολοι, καὶ οί πρεσβύτεροι ἀδελφοί, renders in the text: "The apostles, and the elders, brethren," and in the margin: "The apostles and the elder brethren" (omitting the comma). But it may also be translated: "The apostles, and brother-elders," considering that Peter addresses the elders as συμπρεσβύτερος, or "fellow-elder" (1 Pet. 5:1). The textus rec. agrees better with Acts 15:22, and the omission of καὶ οἱ may possibly have arisen from a desire to conform the text to the later practice which excluded the laity from synods, but it is strongly supported by ִר2לרֹשׁרִאִפרֹפדכרִ*, A, B, C, D, the Vulg. and Irenaeus, and adopted by Tischendorf (ed. VIII.) and Westcott and Hort.

Bellarmin and other Roman Catholic and certain Episcopal divines get over the fact of the participation of the elders and brethren in a legislative council by allowing the elders and brethren simply a silent consent. So Becker (as quoted by Bishop Jacobson, in Speaker’s Commentary on Acts 15:22):, "The apostles join the elders and brethren with themselves ... not to allow them equal authority, but merely to express their concurrence." Very different is the view of Dr. Plumptre on Acts 15:22: "The latter words [’with the whole church’] are important as showing the position occupied by the laity. If they concurred in the latter, it must have been submitted to their approval, and the right to approve involves the power to reject and probably to modify." Bishop Cotterill (Genesis of the Church, p. 379) expresses the same view. "It was manifestly," he says, "a free council, and not a mere private meeting of some office-bearers. It was in fact much what the Agora was in archaic times, as described in Homer: in which the council of the nobles governed the decisions, but the people were present and freely expressed their opinion. And it must be remembered that the power of free speech in the councils of the church is the true test of the character of these assemblies. Free discussion, and arbitrary government, either by one person or by a privileged class, have been found, in all ages and under all polities, to be incompatible with each other. Again, not only were the multitude present, but we are expressly told that the whole church concurred in the decision and in the action taken upon it."

II. The authority of the Jerusalem conference as a precedent for regular legislative councils and synods has been often overrated. On the other hand, Canon Farrar (Life and Work of St. Paul, I. 431) greatly underrates it when he says: "It is only by an unwarrantable extension of terms that the meeting of the church of Jerusalem can be called a ’council,’ and the word connotes a totally different order of conceptions to those that were prevalent at that early time. The so-called Council of Jerusalem in no way resembled the General Councils of the Church, either in its history, its constitution, or its object. It was not a convention of ordained delegates, but a meeting of the entire church of Jerusalem to receive a deputation from the church of Antioch. Even Paul and Barnabas seem to have had no vote in the decision, though the votes of a promiscuous body could certainly not be more enlightened than theirs, nor was their allegiance due in any way to James. The church of Jerusalem might out of respect be consulted, but it had no claim to superiority, no abstract prerogative to bind its decisions on the free church of God. The ’decree’ of the ’council’ was little more than the wise recommendation of a single synod, addressed to a particular district, and possessing only a temporary validity. It was, in fact, a local concordat. Little or no attention has been paid by the universal church to two of its restrictions; a third, not many years after, was twice discussed and settled by Paul, on the same general principles, but with a by no means identical conclusion. The concession which it made to the Gentiles, in not insisting on the necessity of circumcision, was equally treated as a dead letter by the Judaizing party, and cost Paul the severest battle of his lifetime to maintain. If this circular letter is to be regarded as a binding and final decree, and if the meeting of a single church, not by delegates, but in the person of all its members, is to be regarded as a council, never was the decision of a council less appealed to, and never was a decree regarded as so entire inoperative alike by those who repudiated the validity of its concessions, and by those who discussed, as though they were still an open question, no less than three of its four restrictions."[11]

§ 34. The Synod of Jerusalem, and the Compromise between Jewish and Gentile Christianity.


I. Acts 15, and Gal. 2, and the Commentaries thereon.

II. Besides the general literature already noticed (in §§ 20 and 29), compare the following special discussions on the Conference of the Apostles, which tend to rectify the extreme view of Baur (Paulus, ch. V.) and Overbeck (in the fourth edition of De Wette’s Com. on Acts) on the conflict between Acts 15 and Gal. 2, or between Petrinism and Paulinism, and to establish the true historic view of their essential unity in diversity.

Bishop Lightfoot: St. Paul and the Three, in Com. on Galat., London, 1866 (second ed.), pp. 283–355. The ablest critical discussion of the problem in the English language.

R. A. Lipsius: Apostelconvent, in Schenkel’s Bibel-Lexikon, I. (1869), pp. 194–207. A clear and sharp statement of eight apparent contradictions between Acts 15 and Gal. 2. He admits, however, some elements of truth in the account of Acts, which he uses to supplement the account of Paul. Schenkel, in his Christusbild der Apostel, 1879, p. 38, goes further, and says, in opposition to Overbeck, who regards the account of Acts as a Tendenz- Roman, or partisan fiction: "The narrative of Paul is certainly trustworthy, but one-sided, which was unavoidable, considering his personal apologetic aim, and passes by in silence what is foreign to that aim. The narrative of Acts follows oral and written traditions which were already influenced by later views and prejudices, and it is for this reason unreliable in part, yet by no means a conscious fiction."

Otto Pfleiderer: Der Paulinismus. Leipzig, 1873, pp. 278 sqq. and 500 sqq. He tones down the differences to innocent inaccuracies of the Acts, and rejects the idea of "intentional invention."

C. Weizsäcker (successor of Dr. Baur in Tübingen, but partly dissenting from him): Das Apostelconcil in the "Jahrbücher für deutsche Theologie" for 1873, pp. 191–246. And his essay on Paulus und die Gemeinde in Korinth, ibid., 1876, pp. 603–653. In the last article he concludes (p. 652) that the real opponents of Paul, in Corinth as well as in Galatia, were not the primitive apostles (as asserted by Baur, Schwegler, etc.), but a set of fanatics who abused the authority of Peter and the name of Christ, and imitated the agitation of Jewish proselytizers, as described by Roman writers.

K. Schmidt: Der Apostel-Konvent, in Herzog and Plitt, R. E. I. (1877), 575–584. Conservative.

Theod. Keim: Aus dem Urchristenthum. Zürich, 1879, Der Apostelkonvent, pp. 64–89. (Comp. Hilgenfeld’s review in the "Zeitschrift für wissenschaftl. Theologie," 1879, pp. 100f sqq.) One of the last efforts of the author of the Leben Jesu von Nazara. Keim goes a step further than Weizsäcker, strongly maintains the public as well as the private character of the apostolic agreement, and admits the circumcision of Timothy as a fact. He also entirely rejects the view of Baur, Weizsäcker, and Overbeck that the author of Acts derived his information from the Ep. to the Galatians, and perverted it for his irenic purpose.

F. W. Farrar: The Life and Work of Paul (Lond., 1879), chs. XXII.-XXIII. (I. 398–454).

Wilibald Grimm: Der Apostelconvent, in the "Theol. Studien und Kritiken" (Gotha), for 1880, pp. 405–432. A critical discussion in the right direction. The exegetical essay of Wetzel on Gal. 2:14, 21, in the same periodical, pp. 433 sqq., bears in part on the same subject.

F. Godet: Com. on the Ep. to the Romans, vol. I. (1879), pp. 3742, English translation. Able and sound.

Karl Wieseler: Zur Gesch. der N. T.lichen Schrift und des Urchristenthums. Leipzig, 1880, pp. 1–53, on the Corinthian parties and their relation to the errorists in the Galatians and the Nicolaitans in the Apocalypse. Learned, acute, and conservative.

Comp. above § 22, pp. 213 sqq.; my Hist. of the Apost. Church, §§ 67–70, pp. 245–260; and Excursus on the Controversy between Peter and Paul, in my Com. on the Galat. 2:11–14.

The question of circumcision, or of the terms of admission of the Gentiles to the Christian church, was a burning question of the apostolic age. It involved the wider question of the binding authority of the Mosaic law, yea, the whole relation of Christianity to Judaism. For circumcision was in the synagogue what baptism is in the church, a divinely appointed sign and seal of the covenant of man with God, with all its privileges and responsibilities, and bound the circumcised person to obey the whole law on pain of forfeiting the blessing promised. Upon the decision of this question depended the peace of the church within, and the success of the gospel without. With circumcision, as a necessary condition of church membership, Christianity would forever have been confined to the Jewish race with a small minority of proselytes of the gate, or half-Christians while the abrogation of circumcision and the declaration of the supremacy and sufficiency of faith in Christ ensured the conversion of the heathen and the catholicity of Christianity. The progress of Paul’s mission among the Gentiles forced the question to a solution and resulted in a grand act of emancipation, yet not without great struggle and temporary reactions.

All the Christians of the first generation were converts from Judaism or heathenism. It could not be expected that they should suddenly lose the influence of opposite kinds of religious training and blend at once in unity. Hence the difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity throughout the apostolic age, more or less visible in all departments of ecclesiastical life, in missions, doctrine, worship, and government. At the head of the one division stood Peter, the apostle of the circumcision; at the head of the other, Paul, to whom was intrusted the apostleship of the uncircumcision. In another form the same difference even yet appears between the different branches of Christendom. The Catholic church is Jewish-Christian or Petrine in its character; the Evangelical church is Gentile or Pauline. And the individual members of these bodies lean to one or the other of these leading types. Where-ever there is life and motion in a denomination or sect, there will be at least two tendencies of thought and action—whether they be called old and new school, or high church and low church, or by any other party name. In like manner there is no free government without parties. It is only stagnant waters that never run and overflow, and corpses that never move.

The relation between these two fundamental forms of apostolic Christianity is in general that of authority and freedom, law and gospel, the conservative and the progressive, the objective and the subjective. These antithetic elements are not of necessity mutually exclusive. They are mutually complemental, and for perfect life they must co-exist and co-operate. But in reality they often run to extremes, and then of course fall into irreconcilable contradiction. Exclusive Jewish Christianity sinks into Ebionism; exclusive Gentile Christianity into Gnosticism. And these heresies were by no means confined to the apostolic and post-apostolic ages; pseudo-Petrine and pseudo-Pauline errors, in ever-varying phases, run more or less throughout the whole history of the church.

The Jewish converts at first very naturally adhered as closely as possible to the sacred traditions of their fathers. They could not believe that the religion of the Old Testament, revealed by God himself, should pass away. They indeed regarded Jesus as the Saviour of Gentiles as well as Jews; but they thought Judaism the necessary introduction to Christianity, circumcision and the observance of the whole Mosaic law the sole condition of an interest in the Messianic salvation. And, offensive as Judaism was, rather than attractive, to the heathen, this principle would have utterly precluded the conversion of the mass of the Gentile world. The apostles themselves were at first trammelled by this Judaistic prejudice, till taught better by the special revelation to Peter before the conversion of Cornelius.

But even after the baptism of the uncircumcised centurion, and Peter’s defence of it before the church of Jerusalem, the old leaven still wrought in some Jewish Christians who had formerly belonged to the rigid and exclusive sect of the Pharisees. They came from Judaea to Antioch, and taught the converts of Paul and Barnabas: "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." They no doubt appealed to the Pentateuch, the universal Jewish tradition, the circumcision of Christ, and the practice of the Jewish apostles, and created a serious disturbance. These ex-Pharisees were the same whom Paul, in the heat of controversy, more severely calls "false brethren insidiously or stealthily foisted in," who intruded themselves into the Christian brotherhood as spies and enemies of Christian liberty. He clearly distinguishes them not only from the apostles, but also from the great majority of the brethren in Judaea who sincerely rejoiced in his conversion and glorified God for it. They were a small, but very active and zealous minority, and full of intrigue. They compassed sea and land to make one proselyte. They were baptized with water, but not with the Holy Spirit. They were Christians in name, but narrow-minded and narrow-hearted Jews in fact. They were scrupulous, pedantic, slavish formalists, ritualists, and traditionalists of the malignant type. Circumcision of the flesh was to them of more importance than circumcision of the heart, or at all events an indispensable condition of salvation. Such men could, of course, not understand and appreciate Paul, but hated and feared him as a dangerous radical and rebel. Envy and jealousy mixed with their religious prejudice. They got alarmed at the rapid progress of the gospel among the unclean Gentiles who threatened to soil the purity of the church. They could not close their eyes to the fact that the power was fast passing from Jerusalem to Antioch, and from the Jews to the Gentiles, but instead of yielding to the course of Providence, they determined to resist it in the name of order and orthodoxy, and to keep the regulation of missionary operations and the settlement of the terms of church membership in their own hands at Jerusalem, the holy centre of Christendom and the expected residence of the Messiah on his return.

Whoever has studied the twenty-third chapter of Matthew and the pages of church history, and knows human nature, will understand perfectly this class of extra-pious and extra-orthodox fanatics, whose race is not dead yet and not likely to die out. They serve, however, the good purpose of involuntarily promoting the cause of evangelical liberty.

The agitation of these Judaizing partisans and zealots brought the Christian church, twenty years after its founding, to the brink of a split which would have seriously impeded its progress and endangered its final success.

The Conferences in Jerusalem.

To avert this calamity and to settle this irrepressible conflict, the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch resolved to hold a private and a public conference at Jerusalem. Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas as commissioners to represent the Gentile converts. Paul, fully aware of the gravity of the crisis, obeyed at the same time an inner and higher impulse. He also took with him Titus, a native Greek, as a living specimen of what the Spirit of God could accomplish without circumcision. The conference was held a.d. 50 or 51 (fourteen years after Paul’s conversion). It was the first and in some respects the most important council or synod held in the history of Christendom, though differing widely from the councils of later times. It is placed in the middle of the book of Acts as the connecting link between the two sections of the apostolic church and the two epochs of its missionary history.

The object of the Jerusalem consultation was twofold: first, to settle the personal relation between the Jewish and Gentile apostles, and to divide their field of labor; secondly, to decide the question of circumcision, and to define the relation between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. On the first point (as we learn from Paul) it effected a complete and final, on the second point (as we learn from Luke) a partial and temporary settlement. In the nature of the case the public conference in which the whole church took part, was preceded and accompanied by private consultations of the apostles.

1. Apostolic Recognition. The pillars of the Jewish Church, James, Peter, and John—whatever their views may have been before—were fully convinced by the logic of events in which they recognized the hand of Providence that Paul as well as Barnabas by the extraordinary success of his labors had proven himself to be divinely called to the apostolate of the Gentiles. They took no exception and made no addition to his gospel. On the contrary, when they saw that God who gave grace and strength to Peter for the apostleship of the circumcision, gave grace and strength to Paul also for the conversion of the uncircumcision, they extended to him and to Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, with the understanding that they would divide as far as practicable the large field of labor, and that Paul should manifest his brotherly love and cement the union by aiding in the support of the poor, often persecuted and famine-stricken brethren of Judaea. This service of charity he had cheerfully done before, and as cheerfully and faithfully did afterward by raising collections among his Greek congregations and carrying the money in person to Jerusalem. Such is the unequivocal testimony of the fraternal understanding among the apostles from the mouth of Paul himself. And the letter of the council officially recognizes this by mentioning "beloved" Barnabas and Paul, as "men who have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." This double testimony of the unity of the apostolic church is quite conclusive against the modern invention of an irreconcilable antagonism between Paul and Peter.

2. As regards the question of circumcision and the status of the Gentile Christians, there was a sharp conflict of opinions in open debate, under the very shadow of the inspired apostles. There was strong conviction and feeling on both sides, plausible arguments were urged, charges and countercharges made, invidious inferences drawn, fatal consequences threatened. But the Holy Spirit was also present, as he is with every meeting of disciples who come together in the name of Christ, and overruled the infirmities of human nature which will crop out in every ecclesiastical assembly.

The circumcision of Titus, as a test case, was of course strongly demanded by the Pharisaical legalists, but as strongly resisted by Paul, and not enforced. To yield here even for a moment would have been fatal to the cause of Christian liberty, and would have implied a wholesale circumcision of the Gentile converts, which was impossible.

But how could Paul consistently afterwards circumcise Timothy? The answer is that he circumcised Timothy as a Jew, not as a Gentile, and that he did it as a voluntary act of expediency, for the purpose of making Timothy more useful among the Jews, who had a claim on him as the son of a Jewish mother, and would not have allowed him to teach in a synagogue without this token of membership; while in the case of Titus, a pure Greek, circumcision was demanded as a principle and as a condition of justification and salvation. Paul was inflexible in resisting the demands of false brethren, but always willing to accommodate himself to weak brethren, and to become as a Jew to the Jews and as a Gentile to the Gentiles in order to save them both. In genuine Christian freedom he cared nothing for circumcision or uncircumcision as a mere rite or external condition, and as compared with the keeping of the commandments of God and the new creature in Christ.

In the debate Peter, of course, as the oecumenical chief of the Jewish apostles, although at that time no more a resident of Jerusalem, took a leading part, and made a noble speech which accords entirely with his previous experience and practice in the house of Cornelius, and with his subsequent endorsement of Paul’s doctrine. He was no logician, no rabbinical scholar, but he had admirable good sense and practical tact, and quickly perceived the true line of progress and duty. He spoke in a tone of personal and moral authority, but not of official primacy. He protested against imposing upon the neck of the Gentile disciples the unbearable yoke of the ceremonial law, and laid down, as clearly as Paul, the fundamental principle that "Jews as well as Gentiles are saved only by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ."

After this bold speech, which created a profound silence in the assembly, Barnabas and Paul reported, as the best practical argument, the signal miracles which God had wrought among the Gentiles through their instrumentality.

The last and weightiest speaker was James, the brother of the Lord, the local head of the Jewish Christian church and bishop of Jerusalem, who as such seems to have presided over the council. He represented as it were the extreme right wing of the Jewish church bordering close on the Judaizing faction. It was through his influence chiefly no doubt that the Pharisees were converted who created this disturbance. In a very characteristic speech he endorsed the sentiments of Symeon—he preferred to call Peter by his Jewish name—concerning the conversion of the Gentiles as being in accordance with ancient prophecy and divine fore-ordination; but he proposed a compromise to the effect that while the Gentile disciples should not be troubled with circumcision, they should yet be exhorted to abstain from certain practices which were particularly offensive to pious Jews, namely, from eating meat offered to idols, from tasting blood, or food of strangled animals, and from every form of carnal uncleanness. As to the Jewish Christians, they knew their duty from the law, and would be expected to continue in their time-honored habits.

The address of James differs considerably from that of Peter, and meant restriction as well as freedom, but after all it conceded the main point at issue—salvation without circumcision. The address entirely accords in spirit and language with his own epistle, which represents the gospel as law, though "the perfect law of freedom," with his later conduct toward Paul in advising him to assume the vow of the Nazarites and thus to contradict the prejudices of the myriads of converted Jews, and with the Jewish Christian tradition which represents him as the model of an ascetic saint equally revered by devout Jews and Christians, as the "Rampart of the People" (Obliam), and the intercessor of Israel who prayed in the temple without ceasing for its conversion and for the aversion of the impending doom. He had more the spirit of an ancient prophet or of John the Baptist than the spirit of Jesus (in whom he did not believe till after the resurrection), but for this very reason he had most authority over the Jewish Christians, and could reconcile the majority of them to the progressive spirit of Paul.

The compromise of James was adopted and embodied in the following brief and fraternal pastoral letter to the Gentile churches. It is the oldest literary document of the apostolic age and bears the marks of the style of James:

"The apostles and the elder brethren unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greeting: Forasmuch as we have heard, that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, to whom we gave no commandment, it seemed good unto us, having come to be of one accord, to choose out men and send them 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 themselves also shall tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that ye abstain from meats sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Farewell."

The decree was delivered by four special messengers, two representing the church at Antioch, Barnabas and Paul, and two from Jerusalem, Judas Barsabbas and Silas (or Silvanus), and read to the Syrian and Cilician churches which were agitated by the controversy. The restrictions remained in full force at least eight years, since James reminded Paul of them on his last visit to Jerusalem in 58. The Jewish Christians observed them no doubt with few exceptions till the downfall of idolatry, and the Oriental church even to this day abstains from blood and things strangled; but the Western church never held itself bound to this part of the decree, or soon abandoned some of its restrictions.

Thus by moderation and mutual concession in the spirit of peace and brotherly love a burning controversy was settled, and a split happily avoided.

Analysis of the Decree.

The decree of the council was a compromise and had two aspects: it was emancipatory, and restrictive.

(1.) It was a decree of emancipation of the Gentile disciples from circumcision and the bondage of the ceremonial law. This was the chief point in dispute, and so far the decree was liberal and progressive. It settled the question of principle once and forever. Paul had triumphed. Hereafter the Judaizing doctrine of the necessity of circumcision for salvation was a heresy, a false gospel, or a perversion of the true gospel, and is denounced as such by Paul in the Galatians.

(2.) The decree was restrictive and conservative on questions of expediency and comparative indifference to the Gentile Christians. Under this aspect it was a wise and necessary measure for the apostolic age, especially in the East, where the Jewish element prevailed, but not intended for universal and permanent use. In Western churches, as already remarked, it was gradually abandoned, as we learn from Augustine. It imposed upon the Gentile Christians abstinence from meat offered to idols, from blood, and from things strangled (as fowls and other animals caught in snares). The last two points amounted to the same thing. These three restrictions had a good foundation in the Jewish abhorrence of idolatry, and every thing connected with it, and in the Levitical prohibition. Without them the churches in Judaea would not have agreed to the compact. But it was almost impossible to carry them out in mixed or in purely Gentile congregations; for it would have compelled the Gentile Christians to give up social intercourse with their unconverted kindred and friends, and to keep separate slaughter-houses, like the Jews, who from fear of contamination with idolatrous associations never bought meat at the public markets. Paul takes a more liberal view of this matter—herein no doubt dissenting somewhat from James—namely, that the eating of meat sacrificed to idols was in itself indifferent, in view of the vanity of idols; nevertheless he likewise commands the Corinthians to abstain from such meat out of regard for tender and weak consciences, and lays down the golden rule: "All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but his neighbor’s good."

It seems strange to a modern reader that with these ceremonial prohibitions should be connected the strictly moral prohibition of fornication. But it must be remembered that the heathen conscience as to sexual intercourse was exceedingly lax, and looked upon it as a matter of indifference, like eating and drinking, and as sinful only in case of adultery where the rights of a husband are invaded. No heathen moralist, not even Socrates, or Plato, or Cicero, condemned fornication absolutely. It was sanctioned by the worship of Aphrodite at Corinth and Paphos, and practised to her honor by a host of harlot-priestesses! Idolatry or spiritual whoredom is almost inseparable from bodily pollution. In the case of Solomon polytheism and polygamy went hand in hand. Hence the author of the Apocalypse also closely connects the eating of meat offered to idols with fornication, and denounces them together. Paul had to struggle against this laxity in the Corinthian congregation, and condemns all carnal uncleanness as a violation and profanation of the temple of God. In this absolute prohibition of sexual impurity we have a striking evidence of the regenerating and sanctifying influence of Christianity. Even the ascetic excesses of the post-apostolic writers who denounced the second marriage as "decent adultery" (εὐπρεπὴς μοιχεία), and glorified celibacy as a higher and better state than honorable wedlock, command our respect, as a wholesome and necessary reaction against the opposite excesses of heathen licentiousness.

So far then as the Gentile Christians were concerned the question was settled.

The status of the Jewish Christians was no subject of controversy, and hence the decree is silent about them. They were expected to continue in their ancestral traditions and customs as far as they were at all consistent with loyalty to Christ. They needed no instruction as to their duty, "for," said James, in his address to the Council, "Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath." And eight years afterwards he and his elders intimated to Paul that even he, as a Jew, was expected to observe the ceremonial law, and that the exemption was only meant for the Gentiles.

But just here was a point where the decree was deficient. It went far enough for the temporary emergency, and as far as the Jewish church was willing to go, but not far enough for the cause of Christian union and Christian liberty in its legitimate development.


1. The Apostolic Conference at Jerusalem.—This has been one of the chief battle-fields of modern historical criticism. The controversy of circumcision has been fought over again in German, French, Dutch, and English books and essays, and the result is a clearer insight both into the difference and into the harmony of the apostolic church.

We have two accounts of the Conference, one from Paul in the second chapter of the Galatians, and one from his faithful companion, Luke, in Acts 15. For it is now almost universally admitted that they refer to the same event. They must be combined to make up a full history. The Epistle to the Galatians is the true key to the position, the Archimedian που̂ στω̂.

The accounts agree as to the contending parties—Jerusalem and Antioch—the leaders on both sides, the topic of controversy, the sharp conflict, and the peaceful result.

But in other respects they differ considerably and supplement each other. Paul, in a polemic vindication of his independent apostolic authority against his Judaizing antagonists in Galatia, a few years after the Council (about 56), dwells chiefly on his personal understanding with the other apostles and their recognition of his authority, but he expressly hints also at public conferences, which could not be avoided; for it was a controversy between the churches, and an agreement concluded by the leading apostles on both sides was of general authority, even if it was disregarded by a heretical party. Luke, on the other hand, writing after the lapse of at least thirteen years (about 63) a calm and objective history of the primitive church, gives (probably from Jerusalem and Antioch documents, but certainly not from Paul’s Epistles) the official action of the public assembly, with an abridgment of the preceding debates, without excluding private conferences; on the contrary he rather includes them; for he reports in Acts 15:5, that Paul and Barnabas "were received by the church and the apostles and elders and declared all things that God had done with them," before he gives an account of the public consultation, ver. 6. In all assemblies, ecclesiastical and political, the more important business is prepared and matured by Committees in private conference for public discussion and action; and there is no reason why the council in Jerusalem should have made an exception. The difference of aim then explains, in part at least, the omissions and minor variations of the two accounts, which we have endeavored to adjust in this section.

The ultra- and pseudo-Pauline hypercriticism of the Tübingen school in several discussions (by Baur, Schwegler, Zeller, Hilgenfeld, Volkmar, Holsten, Overbeck, Lipsius, Hausrath, and Wittichen) has greatly exaggerated these differences, and used Paul’s terse polemic allusions as a lever for the overthrow of the credibility of the Acts. But a more conservative critical reaction has recently taken place, partly in the same school (as indicated in the literature above), which tends to harmonize the two accounts and to vindicate the essential consensus of Petrinism and Paulinism.

2. The Circumcision of Titus.—We hold with most commentators that Titus was not circumcised. This is the natural sense of the difficult and much disputed passage, Gal. 2:3–5, no matter whether we take δέ in 2:4 in the explanatory sense (nempe, and that), or in the usual adversative sense (autem, sed, but). In the former case the sentence is regular, in the latter it is broken, or designedly incomplete, and implies perhaps a slight censure of the other apostles, who may have first recommended the circumcision of Titus as a measure of prudence and conciliation out of regard to conservative scruples, but desisted from it on the strong remonstrance of Paul. If we press the ἠναγκάσθη compelled, in 2:3, such an inference might easily be drawn, but there was in Paul’s mind a conflict between the duty of frankness and the duty of courtesy to his older colleagues. So Dr. Lightfoot accounts for the broken grammar of the sentence, "which was wrecked on the hidden rock of the counsels of the apostles of the circumcision."

Quite another view was taken by Tertullian (Adv. Marc., V. 3), and recently by Renan (ch. III. p. 89) and Farrar (I. 415), namely, that Titus voluntarily submitted to circumcision for the sake of peace, either in spite of the remonstrance of Paul, or rather with his reluctant consent. Paul seems to say that Titus was not circumcised, but implies that he was. This view is based on the omission of οἰ̂ς οὐδέ in 2:5. The passage then would have to be supplemented in this way: "But not even Titus was compelled to be circumcised, but [he submitted to circumcision voluntarily] on account of the stealthily introduced false brethren, to whom we yielded by way of submission for an hour [i.e., temporarily]." Renan thus explains the meaning: "If Titus was circumcised, it is not because he was forced, but on account of the false brethren, to whom we might yield for a moment without submitting ourselves in principle." He thinks that προς ὥραν is opposed to the following διαμείνῃ. In other words, Paul stooped to conquer. He yielded for a moment by a stretch of charity or a stroke of policy, in order to save Titus from violence, or to bring his case properly before the Council and to achieve a permanent victory of principle. But this view is entirely inconsistent not only with the frankness and firmness of Paul on a question of principle, with the gravity of the crisis, with the uncompromising tone of the Epistle to the Galatians, but also with the addresses of Peter and James, and with the decree of the council. If Titus was really circumcised, Paul would have said so, and explained his relation to the fact. Moreover, the testimony of Irenaeus and Tertullian against οἱ̂ς οὐδέ must give way to the authority of the best uncials ( ִר2לרֹשׁרִאִפרֹפדכרִ B A C, etc.) and versions in favor of these words. The omission can be better explained from carelessness or dogmatic prejudice than the insertion.


§ 35. The Conservative Reaction, and the Liberal Victory—Peter and Paul at Antioch.

The Jerusalem compromise, like every other compromise, was liable to a double construction, and had in it the seed of future troubles. It was an armistice rather than a final settlement. Principles must and will work themselves out, and the one or the other must triumph.

A liberal construction of the spirit of the decree seemed to demand full communion of the Jewish Christians with their uncircumcised Gentile brethren, even at the Lord’s table, in the weekly or daily agapae, on the basis of the common saving faith in Christ, their common Lord and Saviour. But a strict construction of the letter stopped with the recognition of the general Christian character of the Gentile converts, and guarded against ecclesiastical amalgamation on the ground of the continued obligation of the Jewish converts to obey the ceremonial law, including the observance of circumcision, of the Sabbath and new moons, and the various regulations about clean and unclean meats, which virtually forbid social intercourse with unclean Gentiles.

The conservative view was orthodox, and must not be confounded with the Judaizing heresy which demanded circumcision from the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and made it a term of church membership and a condition of salvation. This doctrine had been condemned once for all by the Jerusalem agreement, and was held hereafter only by the malignant pharisaical faction of the Judaizers.

The church of Jerusalem, being composed entirely of Jewish converts, would naturally take the conservative view; while the church of Antioch, where the Gentile element prevailed, would as naturally prefer the liberal interpretation, which had the certain prospect of ultimate success. James, who perhaps never went outside of Palestine, far from denying the Christian character of the Gentile converts, would yet keep them at a respectful distance; while Peter, with his impulsive, generous nature, and in keeping with his more general vocation, carried out in practice the conviction he had so boldly professed in Jerusalem, and on a visit to Antioch, shortly after the Jerusalem Council (a.d. 51), openly and habitually communed at table with the Gentile brethren. He had already once before eaten in the house of the uncircumcised Cornelius at Caesarea, seeing that "God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to him."

But when some delegates of James arrived from Jerusalem and remonstrated with him for his conduct, he timidly withdrew from fellowship with the uncircumcised followers of Christ, and thus virtually disowned them. He unwittingly again denied his Lord from the fear of man, but this time in the persons of his Gentile disciples. The inconsistency is characteristic of his impulsive temper, which made him timid or bold according to the nature of the momentary impression. It is not stated whether these delegates simply carried out the instructions of James or went beyond them. The former is more probable from what we know of him, and explains more easily the conduct of Peter, who would scarcely have been influenced by casual and unofficial visitors. They were perhaps officers in the congregation of Jerusalem; at all events men of weight, not Pharisees exactly, yet extremely conservative and cautious, and afraid of miscellaneous company, which might endanger the purity and orthodoxy of the venerable mother church of Christendom. They did, of course, not demand the circumcision of the Gentile Christians, for this would have been in direct opposition to the synodical decree, but they no doubt reminded Peter of the understanding of the Jerusalem compact concerning the duty of Jewish Christians, which he above all others should scrupulously keep. They represented to him that his conduct was at least very hasty and premature, and calculated to hinder the conversion of the Jewish nation, which was still the object of their dearest hopes and most fervent prayers. The pressure must have been very strong, for even Barnabas, who had stood side by side with Paul at Jerusalem in the defence of the rights of the Gentile Christians, was intimidated and carried away by the example of the chief of the apostles.

The subsequent separation of Paul from Barnabas and Mark, which the author of Acts frankly relates, was no doubt partly connected with this manifestation of human weakness.

The sin of Peter roused the fiery temper of Paul, and called upon him a sharper rebuke than he had received from his Master. A mere look of pity from Jesus was enough to call forth bitter tears of repentance. Paul was not Jesus. He may have been too severe in the manner of his remonstrance, but he knew Peter better than we, and was right in the matter of dispute, and after all more moderate than some of the greatest and best men have been in personal controversy. Forsaken by the prince of the apostles and by his own faithful ally in the Gentile mission, he felt that nothing but unflinching courage could save the sinking ship of freedom. A vital principle was at stake, and the Christian standing of the Gentile converts must be maintained at all hazards, now or never, if the world was to be saved and Christianity was not to shrink into a narrow corner as a Jewish sect. Whatever might do in Jerusalem, where there was scarcely a heathen convert, this open affront to brethren in Christ could not be tolerated for a moment at Antioch in the church which was of his own planting and full of Hellenists and Gentiles. A public scandal must be publicly corrected. And so Paul confronted Peter and charged him with downright hypocrisy in the face of the whole congregation. He exposed his misconduct by his terse reasoning, to which Peter could make no reply. "If thou," he said to him in substance, "who art a Jew by nationality and training, art eating with the Gentiles in disregard of the ceremonial prohibition, why art thou now, by the moral force of thy example as the chief of the Twelve, constraining the Gentile converts to Judaize or to conform to the ceremonial restraints of the elementary religion? We who are Jews by birth and not gross sinners like the heathen, know that justification comes not from works of the law, but from faith in Christ. It may be objected that by seeking gratuitous justification instead of legal justification, we make Christ a promoter of sin. Away with this monstrous and blasphemous conclusion! On the contrary, there is sin in returning to the law for justification after we have abandoned it for faith in Christ. I myself stand convicted of transgression if I build up again (as thou doest now) the very law which I pulled down (as thou didst before), and thus condemn my former conduct. For the law itself taught me to exchange it for Christ, to whom it points as its end. Through the Mosaic law as a tutor leading me beyond itself to freedom in Christ, I died to the Mosaic law in order that I might live a new life of obedience and gratitude to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer my old self that lives, but it is Christ that lives in me; and the new life of Christ which I now live in this body after my conversion, I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if the observance of the law of Moses or any other human work could justify and save, there was no good cause of Christ’s death his atoning sacrifice on the cross was needless and fruitless."

From such a conclusion Peter’s soul shrank back in horror. He never dreamed of denying the necessity and efficacy of the death of Christ for the remission of sins. He and Barnabas stood between two fires on that trying occasion. As Jews they seemed to be bound by the restrictions of the Jerusalem compromise on which the messengers of James insisted; but by trying to please the Jews they offended the Gentiles, and by going back to Jewish exclusiveness they did violence to their better convictions, and felt condemned by their own conscience. They no doubt returned to their more liberal practice.

The alienation of the apostles was merely temporary. They were too noble and too holy to entertain resentment. Paul makes honorable mention afterwards of Peter and Barnabas, and also of Mark, who was a connecting link between the three. Peter in his Epistles endorses the teaching of the "beloved brother Paul," and commends the wisdom of his Epistles, in one of which his own conduct is so severely rebuked, but significantly adds that there are some "things in them hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unsteadfast wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."

The scene of Antioch belongs to these things which have been often misunderstood and perverted by prejudice and ignorance in the interest both of heresy and orthodoxy. The memory of it was perpetuated by the tradition which divided the church at Antioch into two parishes with two bishops, Evodius and Ignatius, the one instituted by Peter, the other by Paul. Celsus, Porphyry, and modern enemies of Christianity have used it as an argument against the moral character and inspiration of the apostles. The conduct of Paul left a feeling of intense bitterness and resentment in the Jewish party which manifested itself even a hundred years later in a violent attack of the pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions upon Paul, under the disguise of Simon Magus. The conduct of both apostles was so unaccountable to Catholic taste that some of the fathers substituted an unknown Cephas for Peter; while others resolved the scene into a hypocritical farce gotten up by the apostles themselves for dramatic effect upon the ignorant congregation.

The truth of history requires us to sacrifice the orthodox fiction of moral perfection in the apostolic church. But we gain more than we lose. The apostles themselves never claimed, but expressly disowned such perfection. They carried the heavenly treasure in earthen vessels, and thus brought it nearer to us. The infirmities of holy men are frankly revealed in the Bible for our encouragement as well as for our humiliation. The bold attack of Paul teaches the right and duty of protest even against the highest ecclesiastical authority, when Christian truth and principle are endangered; the quiet submission of Peter commends him to our esteem for his humility and meekness in proportion to his high standing as the chief among the pillar-apostles; the conduct of both explodes the Romish fiction of papal supremacy and infallibility; and the whole scene typically foreshadows the grand historical conflict between Petrine Catholicism and Pauline Protestantism, which, we trust, will end at last in a grand Johannean reconciliation.

Peter and Paul, as far as we know, never met afterwards till they both shed their blood for the testimony of Jesus in the capital of the world.

The fearless remonstrance of Paul had probably a moderating effect upon James and his elders, but did not alter their practice in Jerusalem. Still less did it silence the extreme Judaizing faction; on the contrary, it enraged them. They were defeated, but not convinced, and fought again with greater bitterness than ever. They organized a countermission, and followed Paul into almost every field of his labor, especially to Corinth and Galatia. They were a thorn, if not the thorn, in his flesh. He has them in view in all his Epistles except those to the Thessalonians and to Philemon. We cannot understand his Epistles in their proper historical sense without this fact. The false apostles were perhaps those very Pharisees who caused the original trouble, at all events men of like spirit. They boasted of their personal acquaintance with the Lord in the days of his flesh, and with the primitive apostles; hence Paul calls these "false apostles" sarcastically "super-eminent" or "over-extra-apostles." They attacked his apostolate as irregular and spurious, and his gospel as radical and revolutionary. They boldly told his Gentile converts that the, must submit to circumcision and keep the ceremonial law; in other words, that they must be Jews as well as Christians in order to insure salvation, or at all events to occupy a position of pre-eminence over and above mere proselytes of the gate in the outer court. They appealed, without foundation, to James and Peter and to Christ himself, and abused their name and authority for their narrow sectarian purposes, just as the Bible itself is made responsible for all sorts of heresies and vagaries. They seduced many of the impulsive and changeable Galatians, who had all the characteristics of the Keltic race. They split the congregation in Corinth into several parties and caused the apostle the deepest anxiety. In Colossae, and the churches of Phrygia and Asia, legalism assumed the milder form of Essenic mysticism and asceticism. In the Roman church the legalists were weak brethren rather than false brethren, and no personal enemies of Paul, who treats them much more mildly than the Galatian errorists.

This bigoted and most persistent Judaizing reaction was overruled for good. It drew out from the master mind of Paul the most complete and most profound vindication and exposition of the doctrines of sin and grace. Without the intrigues and machinations of these legalists and ritualists we should not have the invaluable Epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans. Where error abounded, truth has still more abounded.

At last the victory was won. The terrible persecution under Nero, and the still more terrible destruction of Jerusalem, buried the circumcision controversy in the Christian church. The ceremonial law, which before Christ was "alive but not life-giving," and which from Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem was "dying but not deadly," became after that destruction "dead and deadly." The Judaizing heresy was indeed continued outside of the Catholic church by the sect of the Ebionites during the second century; and in the church itself the spirit of formalism and bigotry assumed new shapes by substituting Christian rites and ceremonies for the typical shadows of the Mosaic dispensation. But whenever and wherever this tendency manifests itself we have the best antidote in the Epistles of Paul.





Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible

16:3 Why Did Paul Circumcise Timothy?

Inconsistency confuses us, and arguing for one point of view and then turning around and acting contrary to that point of view appears inconsistent. Of course, we sometimes misunderstand the actions of others, and an inner consistency can exist behind apparently contradictory deeds. Yet when we see truly inconsistent actions we at best call the doer fickle, at worst hypocritical, even deceiving. This is the issue that appears to face us in Acts 16:3. No sooner does Acts report the Jerusalem council’s decision that it is not necessary for one to be circumcised or keep the Mosaic law to be saved (Acts 15) than it mentions Paul’s circumcising Timothy in order to take him along as a coworker. Doesn’t this contradict Paul’s principles in Acts 15? And doesn’t Galatians 2:3 state, “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek”? How could the Paul who in Galatians 2:5 writes, “We did not give in to [those who wanted to circumcise Titus] for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you,” have Timothy circumcised? Was Paul himself two-faced, or is one of the accounts historically inaccurate?

The resolution of this issue turns on a very important point. In Jewish eyes Titus was clearly a Gentile, for his parentage was Gentile, but Timothy was considered a Jew, because his mother was a Jew. The Mishnah, the Jewish legal tradition, makes it clear that children of Jewish mothers are really Jews, regardless of the race of their fathers. Acts states that Timothy’s father was a Gentile. It is also clear from the verb tense used that his father was dead by the time Paul selected Timothy as a coworker. Timothy’s mother and grandmother (according to 2 Tim 1:5) were Jews, which fits with what we know about the laxity in the Jewish community in Asia Minor, for allowing a Jewish woman to marry a Gentile was not orthodox Jewish practice. Paul presumably converted the family during his first missionary journey, but even before that Timothy was probably steeped in Scripture and observed the religion of his mother, although she may have practiced it in secret. When his father died and what his father had felt about his religious practice is not known. He may have been a God-fearer, on the fringes of the synagogue. But neither the father himself nor his son had been circumcised. The father had not allowed his son to be fully Jewish (circumcision in the days of public baths was a public mark that would have identified Timothy as a member of a different race, the Jews).

Normally, Paul’s missionary practice was to go to the local synagogue first. How could he do so with Timothy, who would have been viewed as a type of renegade Jew? And how could Timothy participate fully in the mission while being only half-Jew? With Titus a principle was involved: Gentiles do not need to become Jews. But with Timothy the question was whether a half-Jew could or should fully actualize his Jewish heritage. Paul’s decision is to regularize Timothy’s status, perhaps to facilitate mission (“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews,” 1 Cor 9:20) or perhaps to allay suspicions (“They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs,” Acts 21:21). For Paul, Gentiles had no need to become Jews to improve their spiritual status, but it was not wrong for a Jew to live his Jewish culture to the fullest.

It might have appeared more consistent if Paul had not taken this step, especially in light of the issues discussed in Galatians and the fact that Timothy lived in the Galatian area. Some have suggested that troubles stemming from this action led to the writing of Galatians and the citing of the counterexample of Titus. However, it is more likely that Galatians was written before the second missionary journey and that this incident clarified Paul’s stance. When seen as a cultural rather than a religious issue, circumcision was an indifferent practice. Where it could be used for the advantage of the gospel, it was good. Where it hindered the gospel, it was to be avoided. In no case did it make the person more or less spiritual. Analogous cultural practices can be found today. Likewise today slavish consistency may hinder mission, while apparent inconsistency may point to a deeper underlying consistency and meet the requirements of a nuanced cultural situation. Until this is understood, it is unwise to criticize the apparent surface vacillation.

14:15 To Eat or Not to Eat?

Romans 14:15, together with the related texts in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, contains what has often been called the “stumbling block” principle. It is the principle of Christian life and conduct that whatever we do or say should not become a hindrance to the faith and life of a Christian brother or sister.

The difficulty this principle has created for many Christians is related to understanding not so much its import, but rather its implementation. What guidance does the apostle give in this regard? How can we know whether what we eat (or drink or wear or participate in) merely offends fellow Christians and is rejected as inappropriate by them, or causes fellow Christians to stumble and fall in their faith-pilgrimage and perhaps even reject the faith?

These are precisely the issues with which Paul deals in Romans 14. We shall carefully trace his argument, completing that investigation with insights from 1 Corinthians, where Paul struggles with similar concerns.

In the previous chapters of this epistle (Romans 12–13), Paul has laid down central principles for Christian conduct, both within the community of the church and in the larger world of human relationships. Within the fellowship, we are to be more concerned with others than with ourselves (Rom 12:3, 10). In the larger human society, we are to respond to evil with good (Rom 12:14) and thus overcome the evil (Rom 12:21). Both of these “principles” for Christian conduct are undergirded by the most central principle: “Love does no harm to the neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10).

It is this principle with which Paul now confronts a problem that was very acute in several of the young churches. For Gentile Christians, the issue was whether they could eat meat that was sold in the open marketplace but had come from animals sacrificed in heathen temples. It was a very concrete problem in the context of their continuing social relationships with heathen neighbors and friends. For Jewish Christians, in the context of fellowship with Gentile Christians, there was the tension between Jewish ceremonial laws regarding “clean” and “unclean” foods and the freedom of Gentile believers from those regulations. We see early Jewish Christians struggling with that issue in the Acts accounts of Peter’s vision (Acts 10) and of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).

Most likely Paul wrote Romans from Corinth. Thus his views about the issues facing believers in Rome would surely have been informed by the way he treated this matter in the church in Corinth. There (1 Cor 8, 10) he talks about the “weak,” those who are young in the faith, whose consciences are tender, who are still prone, due to their heathen background, to make the link between the idol and the meat sacrificed to the idol. The “strong” are those who know, who are clearly convinced that idols (and the gods they represent) have no real existence. For them, therefore, meat offered to these gods in sacrifice is neutral. One cannot be defiled by it. The “strong” are clearly “correct” in their theology; the “weak” are definitely “wrong.” And yet, Paul argues, those who have correct knowledge should take care that their knowledge does not lead to the ruin of a brother or sister (1 Cor 8:7–9). For the freedom of the “strong” with regard to this matter may lead the “weak” to return to the sphere of idolatry (1 Cor 8:10–13; 10:23–32).

We must recognize that Paul is not concerned here about simply offending others by doing something with which they disagree, or which they deem inappropriate or unacceptable for Christians. Rather, he is concerned about the eternal welfare of these “weak” Christians, about acts which cause them to fall in their spiritual journey, leading to the destruction of their young faith (1 Cor 8:9, 11–13; 10:32).

The principles which Paul lays down are identical to those given in Romans 12–13: Do nothing that causes fellow believers to come to ruin (1 Cor 8:13; 10:32); rather, build them up in love (1 Cor 8:1); seek the good of others (1 Cor 10:24, 33).

With this background from the Corinthian situation, we are now ready to follow Paul’s similar argument in Romans 14. There the “weak” seem to be Jewish Christians, who have not yet been able to become free from the ritual and ceremonial laws concerning clean or unclean foods (Rom 14:1–6) or the observance of special days (probably a reference to sabbath observance—Rom 14:5). The majority who stand in tension with the weak are most likely Gentile Christians, for whom there is no such thing as “unclean foods” or special days to be observed.

Their conflict with each other apparently manifested itself in an attitude of haughtiness or spiritual superiority by the Gentile believers and a condemning, judgmental spirit toward them by Jewish believers. Paul comes down hard on both for three reasons: (1) God has already accepted both (Rom 14:3); (2) we are ultimately accountable in these matters to God and not subject to each other’s limited perspectives (Rom 14:4, 10–12); and (3) since participation in the kingdom of God is not determined by what we eat or drink, neither abstaining nor partaking is a cause for judgmentalism (Rom 14:13, 17).

Having shown that both the strong and the weak are to be faulted for their attitude toward each other (Rom 14:10), Paul nonetheless surfaces a special concern for the weak ones (Rom 14:15–16). In this he is clearly in keeping with the special divine concern for “the weak ones” throughout the Old and New Testaments. A strong faith is less vulnerable than a weak faith. In the race of faith toward the finish line (see Phil 3:13–14), the strong are less likely to stumble over some obstacle than the weak. Therefore, the eating of foods which the weak believe to be unclean is an act that is potentially dangerous for those of young faith (Rom 14:13–14). It is an unloving act by the strong if a fellow Christian “is distressed because of what you eat” (Rom 14:15). In light of the rest of the verse (“Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died”) the NIV rendering “distressed” is probably too mild. The Greek word lypeō, in addition to “grieve,” “pain,” “distress,” can also mean “to injure,” “damage” (as in RSV). Injuring another’s faith may lead to its ultimate destruction.

As in 1 Corinthians, so here also Paul is deeply concerned about Christians’ growth toward mature faith and their eternal well-being. The imperative of love (Rom 14:15) means that Christians are to act in ways that build each other up rather than in ways that tear each other down (Rom 14:19–20), in ways that hold each other up and help each other along rather than in ways that cause others “to stumble” and “to fall” (Rom 14:20–21).

The basis for this kind of Christian conduct is the principle that “each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up,” which Paul articulates at the conclusion of the discussion (Rom 15:2) and grounds in the life of Jesus: “For even Christ did not please himself” (Rom 15:3). In the final analysis Christian conduct is grounded in Christ’s self-giving, sacrificial love (Rom 15:8).

Paul does not tell us how to discern, specifically, when our conduct will bring injury to a fellow believer’s spiritual life and possibly to a falling into sin’s sphere of domination. What he does seem to believe deeply is that when life is lived in fellowship with Christ, driven by his love, seeking to imitate his life, then we will have the kind of sensitivity to each other which will prevent us from harmful acts.[13]


[1]Craig S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993). Ac 14:26.

[2]D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994). Ac 15:1.

[3]John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985). 2:393.

[4]H. L. Willmington, The Outline Bible (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999). Ac 15:1.

[5]Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991). Ac 15:1.

[6]A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997). Ac 14:28.

[7]Paul J. Achtemeier, Publishers Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). 995.

[8]Paul J. Achtemeier, Publishers Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). 317.

[9]M.G. Easton, Easton's Bible Dictionary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897).

[10]Paul J. Achtemeier, Publishers Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). 136.

[11]Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[12]Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[13]Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity, 1997, c1996). 576.

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