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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Acts 15

Verses 1-99

15:1 5 . At Antioch some maintain that Gentile converts must be circumcised. A Mission to Jerusalem about the question. Reception of those who were sent

The history now approaches that subject of controversy which was certain to arise as soon as Christianity spread beyond the limits of Palestine. The first converts to the new faith were made among the Jews, but few of them were likely to cast aside those prejudices of religion in which they had long been educated. As soon as Gentiles who had not first become proselytes to Judaism joined the Christian Church, Jewish exclusiveness received a violent shock, and there was no small danger lest the new community should be rent asunder almost at its beginning. “The covenant,” by which expression the devout Jew specially meant “circumcision,” was constituted a cry by Judaizing agitators, and the opposition, first brought into prominence at Antioch, proved a continuous source of trial through the whole ministry of St Paul, and has left its traces on most of the writings both of the N. T. and of early Christian literature.

1 . which came down from Judea ] The words of the new comers would derive authority from this. They would be received as the latest ordinance of the heads of the church at Jerusalem. Thus the mission of enquiry to Jerusalem was rendered necessary.

taught the brethren ] These were a mixed body, composed of Jews, proselytes and Gentiles (see 11:19, 20 and the notes there). Thus it was precisely the place where such a question would arise. Gentile converts who had not passed into Christianity by the gate of Judaism would be sure to be regarded as wanting something, by the people in whose mouths “uncircumcised” had been from old times the bitterest term of reproach. (Cp. 1 Samuel 17:26 and Acts 11:3 .) The tense of the verb used implies that these men were persistent in their teaching, they kept constantly to this theme.

after the manner ( custom ) of Moses ] The word is found before (Acts 6:14 ) “the customs which Moses delivered” and signifies those rites and usages which had their foundation in the law (cp. Luke 1:9 , Luke 1:2 :42; Acts 21:21 ) and so were more than a “manner” or “fashion.” Cp. also John 7:22 , for circumcision as the ordinance given to the people by Moses.

ye cannot be saved ] A statement likely to cause dissension and questioning among those who had just learnt (14:27) that “God had opened the door of faith” (independent of the observance of the ceremonial law) “unto the Gentiles.”

2 . When therefore Paul and Barnabas ] These Apostles would at once repeat their testimony of what “God had done with them” among the Gentiles, and thus become the opponents of the “men from Judæa.”

dissension and disputation ] The authorities of best account give a simple instead of compound noun for the last word, and it would be well rendered “ questioning ,” (so R. V. ) as the subject in dispute is called a “question” at the end of the verse. The first noun rendered “dissension” does not imply any angry disputation, but only a division. They took different sides in the debate.

they determined ( appointed )] i.e. the brethren of the church of Antioch. The verb, as well as the whole context, shews that the mission was sent by the whole Christian community, to which the question was one of most vital importance, probably affecting a large part of their members.

apostles and elders ] Peter, John, and James we find were now at Jerusalem, and these seem, from other notices in the N. T. (Galatians 1:18 , Galatians 1:19 , and 2:9), to have been the Apostles who continued to live in the holy city. These with the elders appear now as the governing body of the infant church. And Jerusalem was for the Jew, until its destruction, the place of chief authority (cp. Isaiah 2:3 ). The overthrow of the holy city did as much as anything to help on the knowledge of the universality of the Christian religion. Those who had been bred in Judaism, could not (as devout Jews to this day do not) cast away the thought that Jerusalem is “the place where men ought to worship.”

3 . brought on their way ] It was not an uncommon mark of affection or respect that a part of the church at any place should attend its chief teachers for a short way on their journeys. (Cp. infra 20:38, 21:16.) And for the antiquity of the custom among the Jews, see Genesis 18:16 , where Abraham brings his heavenly visitors on their way.

Among the companions of Paul and Barnabas on this journey must have been Titus, for we read of him, and the question raised about his circumcision, in St Paul’s own notice of this visit (Galatians 2:3 ).

through Phenice ( Phœnicia ) and Samaria ] The road would take them along the coast through Berytus, Tyre and Sidon, which at this time were places of great importance, and most likely to have bodies of Christians among their inhabitants.

declaring the conversion of the Gentiles ] This would naturally be St Paul’s great theme. Among those who were going up to Jerusalem with him would be members of the Judaizing party, but their presence was no check on the Apostle’s zeal that all men should hear of the bringing in of Gentiles to the faith of Christ. The verb used implies that he gave his story with all details, and we may be sure that he dwelt on the way in which the Spirit of God had set a seal upon the work, though the converts of whom he spake were all uncircumcised.

unto all the brethren ] We see therefore that it was only some of the Jews who demanded from the Gentiles complete conformity to the Law. At Jerusalem ( v. 5) the Judaizing party is described as ‘certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed,’ and the Gospel history represents the Pharisees on all occasions as determined supporters of the ceremonial law. Probably their party was most numerous at Jerusalem, where all the ritual observances could be most completely carried out. In the more remote congregations the joy over the Gentile conversions would be unalloyed.

4 . they were received of the church ] “The church” is perhaps named first because there would on such a visit be an assembly of the whole Christian body to hear the story of the missionary labours of Paul and Barnabas before the question about which they had specially been sent from Antioch came to be discussed. The account of the spreading of the faith was for all, while the question of circumcision would be discussed only by the heads of the church, and those who could speak with authority. This preliminary meeting must have lasted for a considerable time, even if only a mere abstract of the labours, sufferings and success of Paul and Barnabas were given to those who met them. Such a recital was the best introduction that could be conceived for the question which was afterwards to be discussed and legislated on.

God had done with them ] The preposition ( μετὰ ) implies that the Apostles deemed themselves fellow-workers with God (cp. Mark 16:20 ), but that they were only instruments whom God employed is also shewn below ( v. 12) where the same labours are spoken of as “what God had wrought among the Gentiles by ( διὰ ) them.”

5 . But there rose up , &c.] The margin of the A.V. takes this sentence as part of the narration of Paul and Barnabas, “there rose up, said they, certain, &c.” But it is much more natural to consider them to be St Luke’s account of what happened at Jerusalem. The teachers at Antioch had not been described as Pharisees though they probably were so. But in no other passage of the N. T. are the Pharisees mentioned away from Jerusalem. As soon as the Apostolic narrative was heard by the church certain of their party stood forth from the church body and lodged their protest against what had been done. The Pharisaic teaching concerning the necessity of circumcision was based on such passages as Isaiah 56:6 , where the covenant mentioned was held to be that of circumcision. And they supported their position by such passages as Isaiah 52:1 , where the uncircumcised are excluded from the holy city.

saying, That it was needful ] Better, “saying, It is needful, &c.” The words are a direct utterance, and suit better so rendered with St Luke’s narrative, in which he is describing what occurred before the church at Jerusalem.

The visit of St Paul to Jerusalem which St Luke here describes is now generally admitted to be the same of which St Paul speaks in Galatians 2:1-9 . The chronology offers no obstacle to this conclusion, while the purpose of the visit, and the companionship of Barnabas and the persons who were at the head of the church in Jerusalem are all accordant in the two notices. In the Epistle, St Paul tells us that he took Titus with him, and nothing is more likely than that while he had the company of some members of the Judaizing party, he would also take a companion with him from among those converts on whose behalf he was making the journey. He says too that it was ‘by revelation’ that he went up, while the narrative of the Acts represents him as sent by the church of Antioch. But here need be no contradiction. An inward monition may have furnished the true reason why the Apostle consented to make an appeal to the central authorities in Jerusalem. St Luke would not necessarily be aware of this; it was important in St Paul’s argument to the Galatians that he should mention it. (For a fuller comparison of the two notices, see Bp Lightfoot’s Ep. to Galatians , note, pp. 122 127.)

6 12 . The Council at Jerusalem; the debate and the speech of Peter. Narration of the work of Barnabas and Paul

6 . And the apostles and elders came ( were gathered ) together ] These words refer to a formal summoning to discuss the difficult question which had been brought forward. That there was a space between the first welcome of the Apostles by the church and the assembly of the synod suits St Paul’s words (Galatians 2:2 ) that he explained his position “privately to them which were of reputation.” This private conference was a necessary preparation for the more public discussion which alone is noticed by the history.

7 . much disputing ] [ R. V. questioning ] For the Pharisaic element would find its warmest supporters at Jerusalem. And it is to that party that the disputing must be ascribed, for it is plain, from the summing up of St James at the close of the discussion, that the other apostles were of the same mind with Paul and Barnabas, and as is said in the Epistle to the Galatians (2:9), “they gave unto them the right hands of fellowship.”

Peter rose up ] It is worth notice that Barnabas and Paul leave arguments and reasons to those who had laboured most among Jewish converts, and merely content themselves with telling their experience of what God had wrought through them.

Men and brethren ] See note on 1:16.

a good while ago ] Lit. “from early days.” Alluding to the conversion of Cornelius (chap. 10) which probably took place some ten years before the meeting of this synod. This was at an early period of the apostolic ministry, and the great and numerous events which had intervened made the time seem long ago.

by my mouth ] That he may not seem to be claiming a distinction for himself as the one chosen of God for this work, St Peter is careful to call himself no more than the mouthpiece of God.

8 . which knoweth the hearts ] The word is only here and in Acts 1:24 , and on both occasions it is St Peter who uses it. Such witness could admit of no appeal; and God had put the uncircumcised on the same level with the circumcised by giving to them the same gifts of the Spirit.

9 . And put no difference ] i.e. made no distinction. The Apostle looks on God’s testimony to the Gentiles in two lights. What was given to the new converts was the same which had been given at the first outpouring of the Spirit. And God made no mark of distinction to sever Jews from Gentiles. Faith had purified the hearts of Cornelius and his house, and the outward observances of the law of Moses were of no account when the heart was clean before Him who alone could judge of the purity thereof. In these words of his St Peter clearly agrees to all that St Paul had taught about the admission of the Gentiles.

purifying their hearts , &c.] The verb is the same which is used in the account of the vision (10:15) “what God hath cleansed , &c.,” and St Peter is clearly referring to that narrative.

10 . Now therefore ] When you have this evidence of how God has already accepted the Gentiles.

why tempt ye God ] Men are said “to tempt God” when they distrust his guidance, and in consequence disobey his revealed will (cp. Psalms 95:9 ). So the Jews tempted God in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:9 ) when they saw His mighty works and yet murmured at His leaders: so they are said to have tempted Christ (1 Corinthians 10:9 ) when they were punished by the fiery serpents; and Ananias and Sapphira are said to “have agreed to tempt the Spirit of the Lord,” by acting as though they thought they could deceive God in their offering. From these instances the force of the question in the text will be seen. Those who should act as the Pharisaic party would recommend, would be distrusting God’s knowledge of the hearts of men, and refusing to be guided by what His Spirit had made known in the conversion of Cornelius.

a yoke ] So St Paul (Galatians 5:1 ) calls the ceremonial law “a yoke of bondage.” Christ uses the word “yoke” for his own precepts, knowing that a yoke was needed for men’s guidance, but He calls it “easy” (Matthew 11:30 ).

able to bear ] How this was felt is shewn by the Rabbinic injunction to “make a hedge about the law,” i.e. so to fence in its precepts by additional regulations of their own, that there should be no chance of infringing the commandment. These additions, commandments of men, as our Lord styles them, had made the ceremonial observances into a killing load.

11 . But ] Translation fails to give the force of this conjunction. It implies an exhortation for which the remainder of the verse states the reason. But cease now from such a course , for we believe, &c.

through the grace of the Lord Jesus ] (The most ancient authorities omit Christ .) It is not to our having conformed to the Jewish law, St Peter urges, that we look for salvation, but to the grace of the Lord.

even as they ] i.e. in like manner as they believe. Thus the argument is: If our belief and hope are the same, and no other, than theirs, why should these new converts be urged to adopt observances which form to us no ground for our hope of salvation? In the N. T. history St Peter’s name appears no more, and when we call to mind the opposition which, at the close of the first, and in the second century, was represented as existing between the teaching of Paul and Peter, we cannot think that it was without meaning that this last appearance of the Apostle of the circumcision in the Scripture story sets him before us in full accord with the Apostle of the Gentiles.

12 . Then all the multitude ] Though the apostles and elders are alone mentioned ( v. 6) as coming together, it now appears that the assembly was a large one.

kept silence ] The authority with which he could speak through whom God had first opened the door of faith to the Gentiles must have silenced opposition. For he like themselves had had prejudices to overcome before his mission to Cornelius.

and gave audience ] Here the imperfect tense implies the steady continuous attention to the whole narrative of that first missionary journey of St Paul.

what miracles ] The word is that usually rendered signs ; and the two nouns are the same which occur in the prayer of the disciples (4:30) ‘that signs and wonders may be done through the name of thy holy servant Jesus.’ The prayer was now being answered abundantly. It is well that the English rendering should accord in these places.

by them ] See note on v. 4 above.

13 21 . James sums up the discussion, and pronounces the decision of the Church on this Controversy

13 . James ] i.e. the brother of the Lord, and bishop of Jerusalem, see above on 12:17.

Men and brethren ] See note on 1:16.

hearken unto me ] The president’s summary takes no note of the “much disputing” ( v. 7) but points out that a divine revelation had been made to Peter, and that it was accordant with the words of Old Testament prophecy. On these warrants he based his decision.

14 . Simeon ( Symeon )] This more Jewish form of the name of the Apostle Peter is found also at the commencement of St Peter’s second Epistle. The Jews after they came to have much intercourse with Gentiles had frequently two forms of name, one of which was employed on religious and solemn occasions, the other in intercourse with non-Jews and in the ordinary transactions of life. Thus in the Apocrypha (1 Macc. 5:17, &c.) the name of the Maccabean prince is written Simon , though on his coins it stands Symeon (see Gesenius, s.v. ).

how God at the first ] Better, how God did first visit , &c. It was not at the first , but some time after the mission of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles that Cornelius was converted. What St Peter had narrated was the first acceptance of a Gentile into the church.

visit the Gentiles ] In the old sense of “look upon,” and generally with the accompanying notion of kindness. (Cp. Luke 1:68 , Luke 1:78 , Luke 1:7 :16; Hebrews 2:6 .)

a people for his name ] Thus “the chosen people” were no longer to be Jews only, and so those ceremonial ordinances which had hitherto marked out Jews from Gentiles might be seen to be unnecessary.

15 . And to this agree ] i.e. with this action on God’s part the statements of His prophets are in harmony. They had foretold that it should be so. Only one prophet is here quoted, viz. Amos (9:11, 12), but the audience would recall other like passages, as St Paul does Romans 15:9-12 , quoting from the books of Moses, David and Isaiah.

16 . After this ] Lit. after these things , (so R. V. ) It will be seen on reference to the words of Amos that the quotation here given is not made from the Hebrew, which is correctly represented by the A.V. in the book of Amos. Whether St James himself spoke at the synod in Greek, or St Luke has represented in Greek what the speaker himself uttered in Aramaic we cannot know. But the words in the text correspond very nearly with the LXX. which here (either because they read the Hebrew consonants differently or because they merely gave the sense without attempting an exact rendering), varies from the Hebrew text. Yet St Luke does not give exactly the words of the LXX. He may have quoted from memory or have modified them somewhat to adapt them to the form of his sentence. The words of the LXX. run thus, “In that day I will set up the tabernacle of David which hath fallen down, and I will build up the fallen parts thereof, and the ruins thereof I will set up, and I will build it up as the days of eternity, that the residue of men may seek (unto it) and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called saith the Lord who doeth all these things.”

I will return, and will build ] This is not the form of either the Hebrew text or the LXX., but it is a favourite Hebrew mode of expression to signify “I will do a thing again.” Cp. Ecclesiastes 4:1 , “I returned and considered” = I considered once again. Also Ecclesiastes 4:7 , Ecclesiastes 9:11 . This favours the opinion that St James, in this specially Jewish synod, may have spoken in Aramaic.

the tabernacle of David ] The word used by Amos signifies one of those booths used by the people at the Feast of Tabernacles, when they lived in frail dwellings in order to be reminded that God was their protector. This word may be applied to the estate of the Jews when the Deliverer should come, to indicate that they should be brought very low, but yet should find in him a Saviour.

17 . might seek after the Lord ] The Hebrew of Amos differs widely here; and in the LXX. “the Lord” is not expressed. But the Spirit enabled St James to give the full interpretation of the prophetic words. The original paints the restored tabernacle, and of course the people of David restored along with it, as possessors of the remnant of Edom and all the heathen. The nations shall be joined unto the Lord’s people. The LXX., as an exposition, speaks of “the residue of men seeking unto the restored tabernacle.” St James makes both clear by shewing that “to seek after the Lord” is to be the true up-building both of the house of David and of all mankind besides.

The Hebrew word for “man” is Adam which differs very slightly from the word Edom . So that the variation between “remnant of Edom” and “residue of men” may be due only to the various reading of that noun.

upon whom my name is called ] An Aramaic mode of saying “who are called by my name.” The expression is so translated James 2:7 (cp. Deuteronomy 28:10 , &c.).

who doeth ] Here the most ancient texts connect the words of this verse with those of the following, and have nothing to represent the English “all” in v. 17, or “unto God are all his works” in v. 18, so that the sense becomes either (1) “the Lord, who maketh these things known from the beginning of the world,” or (2) “the Lord, who doeth these things that were known from the beginning of the world.” The first of these renderings is the more difficult to understand, and it must be taken as somewhat hyperbolic. God made known by His prophets the calling of the Gentiles in very early days, and this early revelation may be all that is intended by the stronger phrase. But the second sense seems to suit better with the context. This reception of the Gentiles seems to the Jew a new and startling thing, but God has revealed it by His prophets, and He who is doing it is but carrying out what He had known and designed from the beginning of the world.

19 . Wherefore my sentence is ] Lit. I decide . The pronoun is emphatically expressed, and indicates that the speaker is deciding with authority.

that we trouble not them ] The verb is only found here in N. T., and signifies to trouble by putting obstacles in the way of another. Thus the idea of the speaker is “We will not by needless impediments deter the new converts from joining us.”

which from among the Gentiles are turned to God ] The same phrase is used elsewhere in the Acts (cp. 9:35, 14:15, 26:20), but of the converts at Antioch (11:21) the whole expression is “a great number believed and turned unto the Lord ,” thus shewing what constituted the true turning unto God.

20 . But that we write unto them ] The word is used primarily of a charge sent by a messenger, but also, as in Hebrews 13:22 , is often used of what is sent by letter (and hence comes the English word epistle ), and there can be little doubt that this is the sense in the present case, for though messengers were sent, they carried with them the decision of the synod of Jerusalem in a formal manner committed to writing ( v. 23).

that they abstain from pollutions of idols ] This is explained in v. 29 by “meats offered (i.e. sacrificed) to idols.” Of the necessity for such an injunction in the early church, where congregations were to be now composed of both Jews and Gentiles, we can judge from St Paul’s argument to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 8:1-10 , 1 Corinthians 10:19 ), and we can also see how he would have the Gentile converts deal tenderly with the scruples of their Jewish fellow-worshippers, however needless they themselves might deem such scruples.

The word rendered pollutions is unknown to classical Greek and of very rare occurrence. So far as the construction of the original is concerned, it might refer to the other forbidden things that follow “pollutions of idols and of fornication, &c.” But as in the other places where the cognate is found (Daniel 1:8 ; Malachi 1:7 , Malachi 1:12 ; Ecclus. 40:29) it has always reference to defilement caused by food, it is better to confine the connexion in the same way here, and as in A. V. supply a preposition before the second noun, “and from fornication.”

As the ordinance of the synod is for the settling of Jewish minds, we may understand the sort of offence which they were likely to feel from Daniel’s refusal to eat of the food supplied by King Nebuchadnezzar. Meat was often sold in the markets from beasts that had been offered in sacrifice to idols, and this food and those who ate it the Jew would abhor. The Gentile converts might not be careful, when they had once come to think of the idol as nothing, and might join still in banquets with their non-Christian friends, and St Paul (1 Corinthians 8:9 ) supposes an extreme case, that such men might even sit down to meat in an idol-temple. If Jew and Gentile were to become one in Christ, much respect must be paid to the feelings which had been sunk deep into the minds of Israel by long years of suffering for their own idolatry.

and from fornication ] This injunction must not be understood as a simple repetition of a moral law binding upon all men at all times, but must be taken in connexion with the rest of the decree, and as forbidding a sin into which converts from heathenism were most prone to fall back, and which their previous lives had taught them to regard in a very different light from that in which a Jew would see it. The Levitical law against every form of unchastity was extremely strict (Leviticus 18:0 and 20), and it is probably to the observance of these ordinances that we may ascribe the persistence of the Jewish type, and the purity of their race at this day. Whereas among the heathen unchastity was a portion of many of their temple rites, and persons who gave themselves up to such impurities were even called by the names of the heathen divinities. To men educated in the constant contemplation of such a system, sins of unchastity would have far less guilt than in the eyes of those to whom the law of Moses was read every sabbath-day.

and from things strangled (lit. from what is strangled), and from blood ] The prohibition of blood was made as soon as animal food was given to men (Genesis 9:4 ), and it was frequently enforced in the Mosaic law (Leviticus 3:17 , Leviticus 3:7 :26, Leviticus 3:17 :10, Leviticus 3:14 , 19:26). To eat blood was counted a sin against the Lord in the days of Saul (1 Samuel 14:33 ), and with strict Jews it is an abomination to this day. Things strangled are not specially mentioned in the law of Moses, but that they should not be eaten follows from the larger prohibition. Leviticus 7:26 does, however, make mention of the blood of fowls, and it would be in the use of them that the eating of blood began first to be practised. And in breaking the neck of an animal the Jew held that the blood was caused to flow into the limbs in such wise that it could not be brought out even by salt. See T. B. Chullin , 113 a .

21 . For Moses of old time (lit. from generations of old ) hath in every city , &c.] Here we have the reason why these injunctions are to be laid upon the Gentile converts. It is necessary however to take the whole verse into consideration before we can decide on the force of the reason. Laying stress chiefly on the expression “from generations of old,” some have thought that St James’ argument meant that the Mosaic ritual having been preached for so long a time and found to be a load too heavy to bear, must now be given up, except in these specified points. Again the verse has been taken to mean that there was no need for the Christian church to legislate about the observance of the Mosaic law other than in these few points, because there was public teaching on the subject everywhere in the Jewish synagogues. Jewish Christians were therefore supplied with guidance, and would be so supplied until by degrees Judaism had entirely given place to Christianity. No doubt the Apostle contemplates the retention by the Jewish Christians of much of their old ritual, and that they would make no breach with the services of the synagogue. But in these enactments, which were apparently only for a time (since St Paul nowhere alludes to them in his Epistles), and to promote peace between Gentiles and Jews, we must remember that the Jews were regarded as the weaker brethren. And the argument of the council may be supposed to run thus: We may make this concession to the Gentiles without fear of doing any injury to the Jew. It is not probable that his feelings and prejudices will be interfered with, or the Mosaic law in its other portions set aside; ‘For Moses, &c.’

being read in the synagogues ] On the Jewish manner of reading the law, see additional note at the end of chap. 13.

22 29 . Answer and deputation sent from Jerusalem. The letter of the Synod to the Christians of Antioch

22 . Then pleased it ] The word is one often used in the official announcements of what has been decreed by authority, or of public resolutions (cp. Herod. i. 3; Thuc. iv. 118, &c.). So the more formal rendering, “ It seemed good to ,” would come nearer to the force of the word.

the apostles and elders, with the whole church ] So the decree was the voice of the whole church, and the deputies sent were chosen by the whole body, and it is in the name of ‘apostles, elders and brethren’ that the letter runs ( v. 23).

to send chosen men of their own company ] More literally (with R. V. ), to choose men out of their company and send them , which rendering makes it clear that the election of those sent was the work of the whole assembly.

with Paul and Barnabas ] That the church of Antioch might have the confirmation of the decree from the lips of others beside these two, for they might be supposed to favour especially all that was considerate towards Gentile converts.

Judas surnamed Barsabas ] The oldest texts give ‘Judas called Barsabbas .’ Of this man nothing more is known than what we learn from this chapter. But as Barsabbas is clearly a patronymic, it has been conjectured that he was the brother of Joseph called Barsabbas, mentioned in Acts 1:23 , where the MSS. and editions have the same variation of spelling.

Silas ] This is probably the same person who in St Paul’s Epistles (2 Corinthians 1:19 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:1 ) and by St Peter (1 Peter 5:12 ) is called Silvanus. For an account of similar contracted names cp. Winer’s Gram . (ed. Moulton), pp. 127, 128. The mention of Silas is frequent in the Acts in this and the next three chapters. He was one of St Paul’s companions in the first missionary journey into Europe.

23 . And they wrote letters by them after this manner ] From the form in which the document is here given, we should judge that the original was in Greek. A translation from a Hebrew original would hardly have begun with a greeting and ended with “Fare ye well.” It seems likely that this was so too, because the population of Antioch, the chief town in Syria, would use Greek much more than Hebrew, at this date. The construction of the Greek in the beginning of this verse is not strictly grammatical, but such irregularities are not unusual in a passage which begins impersonally, as does v. 22.

by them (lit. by their hand )] This is a Hebraism. The letter was not delivered to Paul and Barnabas, but to the two ambassadors from Jerusalem. It is the oldest synodical circular letter in existence, and the only one of Apostolic times which has come down to us. Bengel suggests that it was composed by James, in the name and at the request of the assembly.

The apostles and elders and brethren ] The oldest MSS. omit the second and , thus making the Epistle run in the name of the apostles and elder brethren , and this rendering is adopted in R. V. The conjunction of the two last words to signify ‘the elders’ is very unusual, and after what has been said in the previous verse about the decree expressing the voice of the whole church as well as of the apostles and elders, it seems much more in accord with the rest of the narrative to adhere to the Text. Rec . which has a large amount of good MS. support.

in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia ] As we have no mention of this decree of the synod of Jerusalem in St Paul’s Epistles, we may suppose that the agitation on the subject, begun at Antioch, had spread only into Syria and Cilicia, and that the authoritative decision of the mother church quieted the controversy there, while it did not arise in the same form in other places.

24 . which went out ] These words are not represented in the Greek of some MSS., but they seem to give force to the history. The disturbing teachers had come from Jerusalem, but their want of any authority is contrasted strongly with the commission of Judas and Silas ( v. 27). The first men went of themselves, the new messengers were the choice of the church.

subverting your souls ] In N. T. the verb occurs only here and is not found in the LXX. In classical Greek, it is applied mostly to an entire removal of goods and chattels either by the owners or by a plundering enemy. The devastation wrought in the minds of the Gentile converts through the new teaching is compared to an utter overthrow.

saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law ] The oldest authorities omit the Greek of these words, which look somewhat like a marginal explanation that has crept into the text, especially as “to keep the law” is an expansion, though of course a correct one, of the statement made in v. 1, about the teaching that was given. There circumcision alone is mentioned as the point on which disturbance was created.

to whom we gave no such commandment ] The insertion of the italic such was made necessary by the presence of the clause “saying, &c.” but if that be omitted, the sentence becomes a more complete disavowal of any connexion with the Judaizing disturbers. ‘To whom we gave no commandment at all.’ So the R. V.

25 . being assembled with one accord ] The words may be so rendered and passage be compared with Acts 2:1 , Acts 4:24 , Acts 5:12 . But in those passages there is only the substantive verb εἰμὶ , while here γίγνεσθαι has its proper sense of “becoming.” It seems therefore better and more accordant with the sense of the passage to translate ‘having become of one accord’ or ‘having come to one accord.’

to send chosen men unto you ] The participle here is not passive and so should not be referred to Judas and Silas, but to those who sent them. Render literally “that having chosen out men we should send them, &c.” i.e. “to choose out men and send them.” So R. V.

with our beloved ] The intention of the whole letter is to shew the honour which the church in Jerusalem felt was due to these missionary labourers. Hence the adjective “beloved” which in N. T. is specially applied to those who are closely united in faith and love. St Peter applies it to St Paul (2 Peter 3:15 ).

Barnabas and Paul ] The name of Barnabas is put first here perhaps because he had been formerly (11:22) sent as a special messenger from the church in Jerusalem to Antioch.

26 . Men that have hazarded their lives ] What the English sentence leaves uncertain the Greek makes quite plain, viz. that these words refer to Barnabas and Paul and to the many dangers into which their first missionary journey had brought them (cp. 13:50, 14:2, 5, 19).

for the name ] Here, as often, name signifies the Messianic dignity and divine authority of Jesus. They have preached everywhere Jesus as the Christ.

27 . by mouth ] The Greek has by word . Our modern phrase com bines the two, by word of mouth , and is given in R. V.

28 . For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us ] A third time in this clause of the narrative from 22 29 does this official word occur, from which is derived the noun dogma . It had been promised that to the Apostles there should be given the Spirit of truth, who should guide them into all truth (John 16:13 ) and the historian of the Acts often speaks of them as “filled with the Spirit.” They put forward therefore this unerring guide as the warrant for their decree. And as they at the suggestion of the Spirit were laying aside their longstanding prejudices against intercourse with Gentiles, they claim that the Gentiles in their turn should deal tenderly with the scruples of Jews.

no greater burden ] The Jews themselves could speak thus of the load of legal observances (cp. supra v . 11). They had chosen out but a small part thereof, which the circumstances of the time made necessary to be observed.

29 . ye shall do well ] Not “ye shall be doing what is right,” but “it shall be well with you” ( R.V. ), “you shall be in a good state.”

Fare ye well ] This termination and the greeting at the commencement of the letter are in the style of Western epistolary language. See above on verse 23.

30 35 . Reception of the letter and messengers at Antioch. Departure of Judas. Silas continues in Antioch

30 . came to Antioch ] An early reading preferred by recent editors is came down , as in Acts 8:5 , Jerusalem being regarded as the chief seat of church-government, and the centre of authority. Throughout the Bible the chosen place is always spoken of as one to which men go up .

gathered the multitude ] An expression which shews of how great concern the question had become to the whole Christian body. The same word is used above ( v. 12) of the assembly of Christians at Jerusalem.

31 . rejoiced for the consolation ] Barnabas “the son of consolation” (4:36) was a fit member of such an embassy. The consolation would be felt both by Jews and Gentiles, by the former because they knew how much was to be asked of their Gentile fellow-worshippers, by the latter because they were declared free from the yoke of Jewish observances. The noun very often signifies exhortation , but that sense is neither so apt here, nor is it borne out by the character of the letter, which sets forth a ground of peace and comfort, but is not hortatory.

32 . being prophets also themselves ] “Prophet” is here used in the earlier and less special sense; not as one who foretells the future, but who, being filled with the Spirit, speaks with His authority in explanation of the will of God. Judas and Silas being thus endowed were well fitted to exhort and confirm the disciples. The exhortations would be most necessary for the Gentiles who were to consent to more strict living than in times past, while the confirmation would uphold the Jews who otherwise might feel unwilling to allow the non-observance of a part of their law. The prophetic character of the speakers would give to their words the force of revelation. Such confirmation or strengthening of the brethren is the special charge laid on St Peter (Luke 22:32 ) who was to be the first preacher of Christ to the Gentiles, and had first received the lesson that what God had cleansed was not to be called common.

33 . they were let go in peace ] This is the translation of a Hebrew expression, and does not signify ‘they were allowed to go quietly away,’ but “in peace” means “with a blessing or prayer for peace, as a parting word.”

unto the apostles ] The oldest MSS. read “ unto those that had sent them forth .” So R. V.

34 . This verse is omitted in many ancient MSS., and in others the Greek words vary. It may very well be a marginal note placed to explain v. 40, where Paul, who did not leave Antioch, is said to have chosen Silas for his companion in his next journey. Silas therefore must have remained in Antioch after Judas was gone, and such an explanation some reader put on the margin of his copy.

35 . teaching and preaching the word of the Lord ] In such a community there was need not only of setting forth Jesus as the Saviour, but of much instruction concerning the ways in which God had shewn that the Gentiles were now to be made partakers of the new covenant. So that the two verbs should not be taken one as an explanation of the other.

36 41 . A new Mission-journey proposed. Contention between Paul and Barnabas. They separate, and Paul with Silas goes through Syria and Cilicia

36 . visit our brethren ] The oldest MSS. omit the pronoun, and read the brethren only. So R. V.

37 . And Barnabas determined ] The Greek of the best MSS. gives a weaker verb “wished.” The reason of Barnabas’ choice was probably because Mark was his nephew (Colossians 4:10 ). R. V. renders “was minded.”

whose surname was ] The Greek is merely “who was called.”

38 . who departed from them ] See above 13:14. He turned back to Jerusalem from Perga.

39 . And the contention was so sharp, … that , &c.] More literally (with R. V. ), And there arose a sharp contention so that , &c. The Greek word (from which our English paroxysm comes) intimates a temporary rather than a prolonged dispute, although it may for the time be severe. The result to the church was that two missionary journeys were undertaken instead of one. Though the Apostles might differ in their estimate of Mark, they were at one with reference to the work of the Gospel. Barnabas is mentioned no more in the Acts after this chapter. His name occurs in St Paul’s Epistles, 1 Corinthians 9:6 ; Galatians 2:1 , Galatians 2:9 , Galatians 2:13 ; and Colossians 4:10 , in which last passage, written no doubt after the events here related, we can see that Mark had been again received as a fellow-worker by St Paul. We learn too from 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 1:24 that St Paul became warmly attached to him afterwards.

sailed unto Cyprus ] In which island Barnabas, and it may be Mark also, was born (4:37). They chose therefore for their labours a district in which they were likely to have some influence.

40 . being recommended ] The more usual word in this sense in modern English is commended . ( R. V. )

unto the grace of God ] The best MSS. have “grace of the Lord.”

41 . Syria and Cilicia ] These were the districts in which the teaching of the Judaizers had been most active, and the presence of Paul, with Silas as a representative of the church in Jerusalem, would allay all doubts and questionings, and lead to those results which are mentioned 16:5, the establishing of the churches, and their daily increase. in numbers. This duty St Paul first discharged before he went on to visit any of the churches which himself had founded.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 15". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/acts-15.html. 1896.