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PAUL AND BARNABAS, THE APOSTLES OF THE GENTILES, ABE SENT FROM ANTIOCH TO JERUSALEM, FOR THE PURPOSE OF ARRANGING MATTERS THAT CONCERNED GENTILE-CHRISTIANS; THE PROCEEDINGS IN JERUSALEM, AND THEIR RESULTS
A.—THE JUDAIZING DEMAND RESPECTING CIRCUMCISION PRODUCES AN EXCITEMENT IN ANTIOCH; PAUL AND BARNABAS ARE COMMISSIONED TO PROCEED TO JERUSALEM IN REFERENCE TO THIS SUBJECT; THEIR JOURNEY, AND THE OCCURRENCES WHICH FIRST TOOK PLACE ON THEIR ARRIVAL
1And certain men which [who] came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said [om. and said,], Except ye [If ye do not suffer yourselves to] be circumcised1 after the manner [usage] of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation [contention]2 with them, they determined [arranged] that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other [some others] of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question [controversy]. 3And [So then] being brought [conducted] on their way by the church, they passed [journeyed] through Phenice and Samaria, declaring [relating] the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 4And [But] when they were come to [arrived at] Jerusalem, they were received3 of [by] the church, and of [by] the apostles and elders, and they declared [announced to them] all things that [how much] God had done with them. 5But [Then, δέ] there rose up4 certain [some] of the sect of the Pharisees which believed [who had become believers], saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and [saying, It is necessary to circumcise them, and] to command them to keep the law of Moses.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Acts 15:1. a. And certain men which came down.—The arrival of these men from Judea, and the declarations which they made in Antioch, plainly show that very serious difficulties had arisen, involving a principle of vast importance, which not only needed elucidation, but which it was indispensable that all should distinctly recognize and adopt. The men who created the confusion, which was now continually increasing, are described by Luke as τινές , that is, they belonged to Judea, or, they came from it. The words do not simply contain a geographical notice, but also allude to sentiments and modes of thought which were preëminently Jewish. The [later] Syriac version [in the margin], and Cod. 8 [named Stephani ιά, a cursive or minuscule ms. of an uncertain date, and also Cod. 137, named Ambrosianus 97, of the eleventh century, in the text (Alf.)—Tr.] insert after Ἰουδαίας the words: τῶν πεπιστευκότων ; they are, it is true, interpolated from Acts 15:5, as an explanation, but no doubt correctly describe the facts. Several Christians of this class came to Antioch from Judea, and probably from the city of Jerusalem. The circumstances authorize us to assume that their arrival was not accidental, but in accordance with a settled plan, and possibly, too, after they had previously had an understanding with persons who entertained the same sentiments. And the fact that the apostles and elders directed their official letter not only to Gentile-Christians in Antioch, but also to the converted pagans in Syria and Cilicia, Acts 15:23, allows us to infer, with some appearance of truth, that these Judaizing men did not restrict themselves in their operations to Antioch, but also attempted to influence the Gentile-Christians in Syria and Cilicia.
b. Except ye be circumcised.—When these intruders appeared, they proclaimed a certain doctrine in a distinct and formal manner; ἐδίδασκον, data opera, (Bengel); they set forth a certain proposition in a categorical form, expressed in very comprehensive terms, and with great confidence demanded a recognition and an adoption of it on the part of all. It is obvious that they did not merely express certain scruples, doubts, or apprehensions, although their first efforts may have assumed such a form. The principle which they avowed, was virtually the following: The Gentile-Christians cannot possibly be saved from destruction, and obtain salvation in Christ, unless they submit to circumcision according to the custom and usage of Moses, that is, according to the custom that was legally sanctioned by Moses. [“The doctrine in this form was nothing less than an utter subversion of the scheme of Christianity. It denied the sufficiency of faith in Christ as the only condition of pardon and reconciliation.” (Hackett).—Tr.]
Acts 15:2. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension, etc.—As a consequence of the proceedings of these men, a σ͂άσις or schism, as it may be easily imagined, occurred in the congregation in Antioch, which consisted principally of Gentile-Christians, and had hitherto been free from the Mosaic law. It may hence be inferred that the whole congregation did not unanimously oppose the innovators, but that their representations had produced an impression on the minds of certain individuals, and that certain members had, accordingly, united with them. At the same time, an animated ζήτησις, a debate, arose, during which Paul and Barnabas sustained the cause of Christian liberty, in opposition to the legalists. It may, however, be readily perceived, that a positive and absolute decision of the point in dispute, could not be effected in Antioch; the Judeans would not yield, by permitting themselves to be convinced that the Gentile-Christians were exempted, by a divine right, from the duty of observing the law, and Paul and Barnabas, on the other hand, could not abandon the cause of the evangelical Christians, and yield to the Judaists; the congregation in Antioch, besides, had a direct interest in the case, and could not act as judge in its own cause. It was therefore judiciously determined to transfer the decision to Jerusalem. The innovators who introduced such disturbing elements, had come from Judea, and, as we may easily conjecture, spoke in the name of many others, possibly, too, alleged that they represented the primitive congregation and the apostles themselves. It thus became necessary to submit the whole case to Jerusalem. The congregation (ἕταξαν, scil. οἱ , Acts 15:1, the Antiochian Christians) accordingly resolved that Paul and Barnabas, together with some others of their own number (the former, as missionaries to the Gentiles, in an independent capacity, the latter, as representatives of the congregation) should proceed to Jerusalem, and there submit the point in dispute to the apostles and elders, in order to obtain, if possible, a definite decision. It is true that Antioch had already become the mother church of several newly formed Christian congregations; still, Jerusalem continued to be, at that period, the metropolis of all Christendom, principally because some of the apostles were yet established in that city, and the Christians knew of no higher authority in the visible world.—When the language in Acts 15:1-2, is compared with that in Galatians 2:1 ff., it will be perceived that the ἀποκάλυψις, in consequence of which Paul travelled to Jerusalem, is not inconsistent with the τάσσειν on the part of the Antiochian congregation, nor does the latter contradict the former. [“It maybe that Paul was instructed to propose the mission to Jerusalem; or, if the measure originated with the church, that he was instructed to approve of it, and to go as one of the delegates.” (Hackett).—Tr.]. It is certain that in both passages the difficulties are alike described as having originally proceeded from Judæo-Christians who were legalists in sentiment. And when Paul relates that he and Barnabas had taken Titus with them, his statement fully agrees with the remark in the present passage that καί τινες ἄλλοι ἐξ αὺτῶν went up with Paul and Barnabas.
Acts 15:3. And being brought [conducted] on their way by the church.—IIροπέμπω may signify either to send on before; or, to accompany; the latter alone can be the meaning here: the Antiochian congregation attended them for some distance with great solemnity, thus demonstrating alike the affectionate interest with which the messengers were regarded, and also the great importance which was attached to their mission. During the journey, which conducted them through Phenice [Phenicia, see Exeg. note on Acts 11:19. c.—Tr.] and Samaria, they visited the Christians, and created great joy among them all, partly by the visit itself, and partly by the communications which they made respecting the ἐπιστροφή τῶν ἐθνῶν, i.e., not the walk of the Gentiles (Luther), which the word never means, but their conversion; comp. Acts 14:15; Acts 15:19, ἐπιστρέφειν. The missionary journey in Asia Minor, (Acts 13:0 and Acts 14:0.) with its results, was evidently the chief subject of their ἐκδιηγήσεις comp. διήγησις, Luke 1:1.
Acts 15:4-5. And when they were come to Jerusalem.—Their reception in this city like their departure from Antioch, was of a solemn and official character; ἀπεδέχθησαν, i.e., they were publicly and honorably received, as ambassadors of the congregation in Antioch, by the congregation in Jerusalem, as well as by the apostles and elders, in a solemn assembly, after having, as it is obvious, previously informed some individuals of the object of their mission. It was at this congregational meeting that Paul and Barnabas made a full report of the deeds which God had performed among the Gentiles through them, and with them (μετ̓ αὐτῶν, as in Acts 14:27). In connection with these statements, but, at the same time, in a direct manner, they introduced the subject of the difference of opinions that had appeared at Antioch; and, at first, they avoided argument and discussion. But certain Judæo-Christians, who had, previously to their conversion, been Pharisees, instantly made objections to the reception of so many pagans into the Church of Christ without any reference to the Mosaic law. Ἐξανέστησαν, i.e., at this meeting; the narrative of Luke is here regularly continued, and the words ἐξανέστησαν δέ τινες, etc. are not pronounced by the messengers who came from Antioch (Beza; Heinrichs). [See above, note 4, appended to the text.—Tr.].—The assertions of the Christians who entertained Pharisaic views, although essentially the same as those made by the Judaizers in Antioch, nevertheless differ in the following particulars:—1. Those in Jerusalem demand the circumcision of the Gentiles as a duty which must be authoritatively prescribed to them, (δεῖ περιτ. αὐτούς—a duty which they must be compelled to perform. Those in Antioch, had simply taught that the Gentile-Christians ought to submit voluntarily to circumcision.—2. In Antioch the claims of the Mosaic law were advocated only in so far as it sanctioned their demand respecting circumcision, and required the observance of that rite as a custom and usage (τῷ ἔθει Μωϋσέως, Acts 15:1); but here in Jerusalem, far more was expected; the demand was distinctly made, that the observance of the Mosaic law in general should be imposed on Gentile-Christians as a duty (παραγ λεγ. τε τηρεῖν τ. νόμον M.). It is plain that the party in Jerusalem felt that it there appeared on its own ground, and was conscious that it possessed more power there than elsewhere; hence, those who belonged to it, openly recognized even the extreme inferences to which their doctrine conducted, whereas the speakers in Antioch encountered different influences in that city, and deemed it necessary to express themselves with great caution and reserve.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The difference of opinion which here assumes prominence, involves fundamental principles, and is radical in its nature. The point in dispute was this: Law, or Gospel? Evangelical liberty, or legal bondage? Moses, or Christ? The opponents undoubtedly had no intention to reject Jesus, for they would not, in that case, have been Christians in any sense of the word, whereas they were πεπιστευκότες, Acts 15:5; we have, indeed, no reason to assume that they did not sincerely believe in Jesus as the Saviour, or that their Christianity was a mere pretence. But all their tendencies induced them to demand an unconditional observance of circumcision, the covenantal sign of the old covenant, and, consequently, to demand the observance of the old covenant itself, and of the law of Moses, as indispensably necessary to salvation. Now, whenever aught else, except Jesus Christ Himself, and a living communion with him, is assumed to be a ground of salvation, the Redeemer and his work suffer a loss of honor and dignity. The two are at first, united, and the same rank is assigned to each, that is,—the redemption of Christ, and the law of Moses; the grace of Christ, and our own works; (or else—Christ, and the saints; perhaps, too—Christ personally, and the true doctrine). And now, another step is unconsciously taken, and that which was, in the main, only coördinate, is advanced to the highest rank, and the truth is positively displaced. The point, therefore, which was really in dispute, although not expressly stated at this early period, was, the perfection or all-sufficiency of Christ—the principle that his divine-human Person had no equal.
2. The foregoing remarks present the case in one aspect: another point of view exhibits evangelical liberty as endangered. Paul himself distinctly refers to this circumstance in Galatians 2:4. The evangelical liberty of the redeemed depends on the grace of God in Christ. When limits are assigned to grace, which is all-sufficient in itself, the liberty of the conscience will be circumscribed in the same degree by the yoke of the law. The points in dispute were, accordingly, these—the exclusive dignity, and the all-sufficient merit, of Christ, as well as the dignity and inward liberty of redeemed souls—the servile, or the childlike and happy, state of the conscience with respect to God.
3. Moreover, the universality of Christianity (—its design to become the sole religion of the world—) was involved in the dispute. The Judæo-Christians who entertained Pharisaic sentiments, would, no doubt, have consented that pagans should be received into the church of Jesus Christ; they could, certainly, have offered no objections, even if all the pagans had been converted, provided that the latter would submit to circumcision, and adopt the entire Mosaic law. They might regard such views as sufficiently liberal, and believe that they by no means restricted the influence of the Gospel, which was designed for the whole world. Nevertheless, they would have virtually erected a barrier that would, necessarily and essentially, have interfered with the vast and comprehensive design of salvation in Christ—a design which embraced the entire human race. The attempt to maintain the unconditional validity of the Mosaic law, and to establish the observance of it as necessary to salvation, was, in truth, an attempt to secure an absolute perpetuity for the old covenant, and to prevent the establishment of the new covenant—it was an attempt to maintain the distinction which had existed between Israel and the nations of the world, and to perpetuate a system of exclusiveness for the benefit of a single class of men.
4. It was for such reasons that Paul did not feel at liberty to connive at error by silence, or to yield. Peace is a blessing of very great value, and unity in the church is an important end. Yet it would be unwise to seek, or to maintain, peace at any price, and to regard unity as absolutely and unconditionally the sovereign good. Truth is higher than all things else. The pure word of the grace of God in Christ alone, must be maintained, or recovered, even with the loss of concord. This is the course which the apostles, and the Reformers of the church in their day, invariably pursued. But let us honestly endeavor to secure the kernel, not, merely the shell—to defend the true faith itself, not merely scientific and learned statements of it—to promote the glory of God and Christ, not merely human and party interests.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
See below, Acts 15:6-21.
Acts 15:1; Acts 15:1. περιτμηθῆτε, instead of περιτέμνησθε [of text. rec., from E. G. H.], is sufficiently sustained [by A. B. C. D. Cod. Sin.], and has therefore been preferred by all the recent critics; the present tense, on the other hand, appears to be less exact, [τῶ not only, as in text. rec., precedes ἔθει , but is also inserted after it by Lach. and Tisch. from A. B. C. and also Cod. Sin.; it is omitted after ἔθει by D. E. G. H. and by Alf.—Tr.]
Acts 15:2; Acts 15:2. ζητήσεως, which with καὶ [before it], is entirely wanting in one MS. (E) [as well as in the Vulg.], is far better sustained [by A. B. C. D. G. H. Cod. Sin.] than σνζητήσεως [of text. rec.], which is not found in a single uncial MS. [The latter is a correction from Acts 15:7. (Meyer).—Tr.]
Acts 15:4; Acts 15:4. παρεδέχθησαν is supported only by a minority of the MSS., it is true [A. B. D (corrected)., Cod. Sin., and adopted by Lach., Tisch., Born., and Alf.], but it is, nevertheless, the original reading; ἀπεδεχθ. [of text. rec.] was substituted only because the former word is unusual. [The latter is found in C. E. G. H., nearly all the minuscules, some fathers, etc., and is regarded by Meyer as the genuine reading.—Tr.]
Acts 15:5; Acts 15:5. [In the margin of the English Bible, the translators offer another interpretation, according to which Acts 15:5 is not a part of Luke’s narrative, but a quotation which he gives from the report of Paul and Barnabas; hence, they insert in the margin in Italics the words “said they” between “rose up”. See the Exeg. Note on the passage, below.—Tr.]
B.—COURSE OF THE PROCEEDINGS AT THE ASSEMBLY IN JERUSALEM WHICH DECIDED THE QUESTION
6And [But] the apostles and elders came together for [in order] to consider of [om. of] this matter. 7And when there had been much disputing [But after a long debate had taken place], Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us [you]5, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8And God, which [who] knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving [in that he gave] them the Holy Ghost, even as he did [even as] unto us; 9And put no difference [made no distinction] between us and them, purifying [in that he purified] their hearts by faith. 10Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put [by putting] a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [om. Christ]6 we shall be saved, even [in the same manner, καθʼ δν τρόπον] as they. 12Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience [listened] to Barnabas and Paul, declaring [while they related] what miracles [what great signs, ὅσα—σημεῖα] and wonders God had wrought [done] among the Gentiles by [through] them. 13And after they had held their peace [were silent], James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14Simeon [Simon] hath declared [related] how God at the first [at first] did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name7. 15And to [with] this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16After this [Afterwards] I will return, and will build again [build up] the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17That the residue of men might [the men who are left over may] seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles [nations], upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all [om. all]8 these things. 18Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. [(Acts 15:17)—these things (Acts 15:18), which were always known].9 19Wherefore my sentence is, [Therefore I judge], that we trouble not [should not trouble] them, which [those who] from among the Gentiles are turned [converted] to God: 20But that we [should] write unto [charge] them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from [from the abominations of idolatry and] fornication, and from things [that which is] strangled, and from blood. 21For Moses of old time hath in every city [in cities here and there, κατά πόλιν] them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day [sabbath].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Acts 15:6. And the apostles and elders came together.—Συνήχθησαν; this assembly was called together expressly and solely for the purpose of considering the present matter (ὁ λόγος ον̇̄τος), i.e., the point which was in dispute. Luke speaks only of the apostles and elders; but it distinctly appears from Acts 15:12; Acts 15:22 ff. (πᾶν τὸ πλήθος, ὅλη ἡ ἐκκλησία, οἱ ), that the congregation was also present, not merely for the purpose of listening, but also of coöperating in deciding the question.
Acts 15:7-9. a. And when there had been much disputing.—An animated debate at first occurred, and the disputants came in direct collision with each other (πολλὴ σνζήτησις): opinions which were diametrically opposed to one another were expressed in the most explicit and emphatic manner. We may thence infer that the speakers represented respectively the two opposite parties, the Judaists, on the one hand, and the Antiochian Gentile-Christians, on the other. But Peter now arises, amid the confusion produced by such conflicting views and feelings, and states a leading principle, the application of which promotes a peaceful solution of the difficulty. He addresses himself directly to those who entertain Pharisaic and legal views, as the reproach which occurs in Acts 15:10, and which assumes an interrogative form, plainly shows; he designs, not merely to calm their excited minds, but also to convince them that they erred, that they were doing a wrong, that they committed a sin. With this view, he reminds them of a fact with which they were well acquainted (ὑμεῖς ἐπίστασθε), namely, the conversion of Cornelius and the Gentiles who were associated with him (Acts 10:27; Acts 10:44 ff.). He describes the occurrence as one that had taken place a long time ago (ἀφʼ ἡμερῶν ), that is, at least ten years previously, if not at an earlier date.
b. Peter rose up, and said, etc.—He first exhibits the deep significance of that occurrence (Acts 15:7-9), and then applies it to the question which was under discussion. Four of its characteristic features were adduced, as evidences of its great importance. (a) God was, on that occasion, the direct author of the whole (θεὸς ἐξελέξατο etc.; ὁ καρδιογν. θεὸς ἐμαρτηρησεν αν̓τοῖς, δον̀ς, etc.; καὶ ον̓δὲν διέκρινε, etc.). (b) The preaching of the Gospel, in consequence of which those pagans had become believers, was not exclusively his own (Peter’s) work, but had at that time been assigned to the whole church; God had chosen him merely on this special occasion (ἐνὑμῖν ἐξελέξ. etc.). (c) The omniscient God bore witness to those pagans of his good pleasure, by giving the Holy Ghost (αν̓τοἶς, dat. comm.). Peter here assumes that God gives the Holy Ghost to those alone who are acceptable in his sight; and, that He could not be deceived in those persons, is implied by the epithet καρδιογνώστης. (d) After God had purified the hearts of the pagans by faith, He no longer made any distinction whatever between them and the believing Israelites.—The words ον̓δὲν διέκρινε—καθαρίσας, allude very distinctly to those which were spoken to Peter in the vision, Acts 10:15. God had cleansed the hearts of the pagans; their uncleanness was not, as those who entertained Pharisaical views vainly supposed, that of the body; it was, hence, not circumcision, but faith, which constituted the means of purification.
Acts 15:10. Why tempt ye God?—In this verse Peter makes the application to the present controversy, by proposing a question which conveys a reproach: ‘Under these circumstances(οὐ̄ν), [a divine decision having already been made in the former case (Alex.).—Tr.], why do ye tempt God, by seeking to put a yoke upon them?’ (ἐπιθεῖναι, Inf. epexeg. in a loose connection. [The infinitive here describes the manner in which a certain purpose that is stated, is to be accomplished. (Winer: Gr. N. T. § 44. 1).—Tr.]). Such conduct was a tempting of God, that is, a course of action, when man undertakes, or is at least willing, to ascertain whether God will make known and execute his will by punishments, to the inquirer’s own harm and ruin. The yoke which they wished to put on the neck of the disciples, is not exclusively the rite of circumcision, but, in connection with it, the entire Mosaic law [Galatians 5:1; Galatians 5:3]. But when Peter maintains that neither the fathers, nor he himself, with all the converted Israelites (including those who entertained Pharisaic sentiments, ἡμεῖς), were able to bear the yoke of the law, he undoubtedly, at the same moment, renounces the Mosaic law, viewed as an obligatory system; he declares (1) that no one had been able perfectly to fulfil it, and (2) that, precisely for this reason, it could not be the means of salvation.
Acts 15:11. But we believe that through the grace, etc.—After having denied that the way of salvation led men through the law, he now declares that, on the other hand (ἀλλά), the grace of Jesus Christ conducted to salvation. ‘Even as they (ἐκεῖνοι, the Gentile-Christians), we too are assured of salvation solely through the grace of Christ.’ [’Εκεῖνοι cannot refer to πατέρες ἡμῶν, as Calvin, Calovius, and many of the older commentators suppose, since the salvation of the Jewish fathers (servati fuerunt being supplied) had here no connection with the question respecting the σωτηρία of the Gentile-Christians. (Meyer).—Tr.]. In both propositions, in the negative, ver 10, and in the positive, Acts 15:11, the Gentile-Christians are placed in the same class with those who had been Israelites. The thought which Acts 15:10 expresses, is the following: ‘They can as little bear the law as we can’; the sense of Acts 15:11 is: ‘We too, like them, can be saved only through the grace of Christ.’
Acts 15:12-15. a. Then all the multitude kept silence.—This σιγᾷν on the part of the whole multitude shows that the πολλὴ συζήτησις mentioned in Acts 15:7, had been arrested by the words of Peter, and that the truth which they unfolded, had tranquillized the minds of all. At this point Barnabas and Paul began to speak, and here again, as in earlier instances [see Exeg. note on Acts 13:9-12.—Tr.], the name of Barnabas is placed before that of Paul. The former doubtless spoke first, as he was longer and better known than Paul to those who who were present. The remarks of both referred to their own experience during their missionary journey to the Gentiles. They related the wonderful works of God among the latter, which he had wrought through them as His servants, that is, the remarkable cases of conversion which had occurred, and the operations of the new divine life which had manifested itself in so many pagans. These reports not only confirmed, but also more fully developed all that Peter had communicated as the result of his own experience. Thus the impression of the hearers was deepened, that the conversion of the Gentiles was a work of God, and that their Christianity, even without the observance of the law, must necessarily be acceptable to Him.
b. James answered, saying; he spoke after Barnabas and Paul had concluded their remarks; (σιγᾷν does not here occur in the same sense as in Acts 15:12). There can be no doubt that this is “the brother of the Lord,” (see Acts 12:17), who stood at the head of the church in Jerusalem, and, as a strict observer of the law, had received the honorable title of “the Just.” [The question respecting the identity of this James—says Neander, Pfl. u. Leit. d. chr. K. II. 436, note,—is one of the most difficult in the apostolic history.—Tr.]. He commenced by recapitulating the remarks of Peter, and confirmed the leading thought expressed by the latter, by referring to the prophecies of the Old Testament. As a Hebrew, who is addressing the Hebrews, he gives to the apostle Peter his Hebrew name Συμεών; (the more usual Σίμων is merely a different manner of representing in Greek the original name שִׁמְעוֹר [see the two Hebrew forms, both of which occur in the Talmud, in Genesis 29:33 and 1 Chronicles 4:20; the less usual Greek form Συμεὼν occurs in 2 Peter 1:1.—Tr.].—’Επεσκέψατο λαβεῖν, that is, God looked around, in order to accept a people, or, God resolved (for the middle voice occasionally signifies considerare in the classic writers). The antithesis in the phrase: ἐξ ἐθνῶν λαόν, is very expressive, as in all other cases ἔθνη and λαός (Israel) are contrasted with each other, while here the sense is: God hath taken a people for himself out of the Gentiles, τῷ ὀνόματι αν̓τον͂, that they might know and revere, or, that they might confess, his name. All that Peter had related and represented as facts, James now explains by means of the prophetic word, and exhibits as the fulfilment of the promises of God. He says: οἱ λόγοι, many prophecies; he adduces, however, only one of these in express terms. [“Τον́τῳ, neuter: with this (Acts 15:15), viz. with the fact stated in the words λαβεῖν ἐξ ἐθνῶν, etc. agree, etc.” (Meyer).—Tr.]
Acts 15:16-18. And will build again the tabernacle which is fallen down.—In the original Hebrew text, Amos 9:11-12, the promise is given that the house of David, that had fallen, should be raised up, or restored; (it is called אֹהֶל, σκηνή, because it was decayed). [Alias dicitur domus David, solium David: sed hîc, tugurium David, quia ad magnam tenuitatem resejus redactæ erant. (Bengel). The original word is here םֻכָּה (abs.), booth, hut.—Tr.]. The additional promise is given that the Israelites shall inherit Edom and all the nations upon whom Jehovah’s name is called [margin of Engl. Bible], or who are devoted to him, יִירְשׁוּ, i.e. they shall subject these to their authority. The Messianic restoration is, therefore, here described in terms which imply that the heathen nations which accept the worship of Jehovah, shall also share in the blessings of that restoration; and the conversion of Gentiles to Christ is, unquestionably, a fulfilment of this prediction. The version of the Seventy, which is adopted in Acts 15:17, deviates here somewhat from the present Masoretic text, indicating that they follow a different reading; e. g., instead of:־שְׁאֵרִית אֱדוֹמ יִירְשׁוּ אֶתִ, they must have read: יִדְרְשוּ שְׁאֵרִית אָדָם. [Pro יירשו Græcus interpres ידרשו, pro את, pro אוחי, pro ארום legit אדום (Rosenmülleri Scholia in Vet. Test. ad loc.)—Tr.]. James himself makes some additions of his own, e. g., ἀναστρέψω, and, afterwards, the words: γνωστὰ ʼ ἀιῶνος, scil. αν̓τῷ, or τῷ θεῷ, which latter some manuscripts have, indeed, interpolated [see note 5, above, appended to the text.—Tr.], and which are in accordance with the sense; but they are a combination of the interpretation with the original words. The meaning of the words which James adds, is the following:—That which happens in our day, God knew from the beginning, and had resolved to perform; that which we live to see, is simply the execution of an eternal decree of God. [This is the opinion of most interpreters, but de Wette says:—The sense of γνωστὰ ʼ αἰ. is not: ipsi ab æternis inde cognita, nor: quae ipse ab æterno præscivit, etc., but: if has been known from ancient times (through the prophets,); comp. Acts 3:21.—Tr.]
Acts 15:19. My sentence is [I judge]. From the facts, of which Peter had reminded them, and from the promises of God, contained in His prophetic word, respecting the reception of the Gentiles into His kingdom, James now draws the practical inference (διὸ ἐγὼ κρίνω), that those pagans who were converted to God, ought not to be burdened in connection with their conversion (παρενοχλεῖν; the preposition implies: besides, in addition to, their turning to God.). This is a conclusion which recognizes the evangelical liberty of the Gentile-Christians, rejects the demands of those who entertained Pharisaic views, and fully agrees with the sentiments of Paul.
Acts 15:20. That they abstain.—But James proposes, at the same time, that they should require abstinence in certain forms, on the part of the Gentiles. (’Επιστε͂ιλαι, mandare; the word does not always mean: literas mittere; the former meaning is very frequent, and quite appropriate in this place.). James expresses the opinion that, something, at least, ought to be asked of the Gentiles. But the proposal which he made, shows that he differed widely in sentiment from the Judaists. They declared that actual submission to circumcision, together with the adoption of the entire Mosaic law, constituted the indispensable condition of salvation. But James demands nothing more than an ἀπεχεσθαι, an abstinence from ἀλισγήματα. ’Αλίσγημα, (a word entirely unknown to classic Greek) is derived from ἀλισγέω, which occurs in the Septuagint [Daniel 1:8; Malachi 1:7; Malachi 1:12], and in still later Hellenists, in the sense of: to pollute, to defile; the noun, accordingly, signifies pollution. The four genitives which follow, specify the objects which pollute men. The first are εἴδωλα, images of the gods, together with all that belongs to the worship of the latter; πορνεία, when the word occurs without any specification, can as little as εἴδωλα, be taken in any restricted or metaphorical sense (referring, for instance, to idolatry, incest, marriage within the forbidden degrees, etc.); it can here be understood only in its own proper sense, that is, lewdness, fornication. The other two points have reference to food. Abstinence is required from the eating of that which is strangled (τον͂ πνικτον͂), that is, of the flesh of animals killed by strangling [without shedding their blood]. Whenever “a man of the children of Israel, or of the strangers sojourning among them” (הַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם), hunted or caught any beast or fowl that might be eaten, the law (Leviticus 17:13) commanded him to pour out the blood thereof, before he used it as food. The Gentiles were, lastly, directed to abstain from blood (τον͂ αἵματος), that is, from eating it in any mode [Leviticus 7:2 b, Leviticus 7:21; Acts 17:10; Acts 17:14], because the soul [נֶכֶּשׁ, ψυχή] of every living creature is in the blood; comp. Leviticus 17:14; Genesis 9:4. These laws respecting food occupy, in the old covenant, even a higher position than the Levitical, since it was declared that he who transgressed them, should be cut off, Leviticus 17:14; and they are expressly extended to the גִֵּרים)[sojourners, strangers]. All that James, therefore, desires, is, that the Gentile-Christians should avoid those things which were, in their very nature, absolutely inconsistent with the true religion of the holy God, according to their ancient tradition, and which were in the utmost degree offensive to every Israelite, since he regarded them as vile and heathenish abominations.
Acts 15:21. For Moses of old time hath, etc.—Great difficulty attends the question respecting the logical connection of the contents of this verse with the foregoing. James here remarks that, from a very early period, Moses was proclaimed here and there in cities (κατὰ πόλιν), in so far as the Law was read in the synagogues on every sabbath. [“The word sabbath does not mean the Lord’s Day, or the first day of the week, which is not so called in the New Testament, nor by the oldest Christian writers, but the seventh day or Jewish sabbath, etc.” (Alexander, ad loc.)—Tr.]. James does not, however, mean to say that Moses was read in the Christian, as well as in the Jewish, assemblies (Grotius), but he does, undoubtedly, assume that the Christians still remain in connection with the synagogue. That this fact is adduced as an argument, is unequivocally indicated by the word γάρ. But the particular point which is to be established by it, is not immediately apparent. According to some interpreters, the fact is adduced by James as a reason for demanding abstinence in the forms mentioned in Acts 15:20; (it is indispensable—James is supposed to say—that we should demand this fourfold ἀπέχεσθαι, for, otherwise, the regularly recurring weekly reading of Moses will perpetuate the offence which the Judæo-Christians take, when they see the practices of the Gentile-Christians; Meyer). Others suppose that the fact is adduced as a reason for proposing to release the Gentile Christians from the law, Acts 15:19; (the sense would then be: Although the Mosaic law has already been so long proclaimed, there are, comparatively, few persons [pagans] who are willing to adopt it; as the ceremonial law is a hinderance to the universal spread of the true religion, it must be abandoned; Gieseler). Or, possibly, after James has stated his opinions, and, in particular, proposed to exempt the Gentile-Christians from the requisitions of the law, he designs to sustain his entire proposition by answering a certain objection that might be made to it; he accordingly says that all could unhesitatingly adopt his view of the case; for the apprehension that the Mosaic law would thus decline in influence and authority, was altogether unfounded, since this law continued to be read every week in every city. (This interpretation, in its general features, is adopted by Erasmus, Wetstein, Schneckenburger, Thiersch, Ewald: Gesch. Israels. VI. 437.). Of these several explanations, the last appears to correspond more fully than any other both to the actual state of affairs, and also to the peculiar Judæo-Christain sentiments and position of James.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. When the important question whether Gentile-Christians were also bound to observe the Mosaic law, was to be decided for all future times, Peter produces as an argument a certain fact furnished by his own experience, namely, the occurrence in Cesarea, Acts 10:0, when it was demonstrated that Gentiles as well as Judæo-Christians, received the Holy Ghost. He exhibits this fact as a significant and instructive decision on the part of God, who had thus placed the Israelites and the Gentiles in precisely the same class (ον̓δὲν διέκρινε), without granting any advantage or privilege to the former, which was denied to believing Gentiles. He distinctly testified (ἐμαρτν́ρησε) in favor of the latter when He gave the Holy Ghost, and by his acts, demonstrated that he took pleasure in them. Such an experience, accordingly, proves the perfect equality of Gentiles and Jews in the sight of God, provided that they believed in Jesus Christ. This reasoning is conclusive, and convinces the mind. It is also, in its general features, a model, exhibiting as it does so happily, the apostle’s method of treating the history of the Church as a source whence clear views of the truth may be derived. The whole revelation of God in both the Old and the New Testament, depends on history; it consists, indeed, essentially, of History. And as the life of Jesus Christ is rich in instructions which it gives, since ‘he not only lived his own doctrine, but also preached his own life,’ so the life and the experience of the apostles constitute a rich source of instruction. The doctrine of the apostle Paul is his own life, wrought out in consciousness and knowledge; the doctrine of the apostle Peter is, likewise, his own life, resulting in clear views and conceptions. The manner in which God governs his church in the present world, and during the lapse of centuries, or, in other words, the History of the Church, forms the doctrine, not only concerning the Church, but also concerning other points. Thus we are here furnished with a clear view of the Church, but we also receive instructions respecting the nature of grace, the usus legis, etc.
2. Our knowledge of the nature of faith has been greatly enlarged by the events described in the passage before us. How many truths are involved in that single proposition which Peter set forth, when he referred to the importance of that occurrence in Cesarea: ‘God purified their hearts by faith’! It teaches, first of all, that faith does not depend directly and exclusively on man; it depends on God; it is His work, His gift; it is wrought by His grace. The apostle testifies, in the second place, that faith possesses a purifying power. Faith is, therefore, something that is full of life and power; it is as Luther says, “a living, mighty, busy thing” it exercises a purifying influence, insomuch that the heart which had previously been ungodly and unclean, is now changed, consecrated to God, and morally cleansed. The proposition in Acts 15:9, comprehends, in the third place, the truth that the seat of faith is in the heart—not merely in the memory or in the thoughts—but in the very centre of the life of the soul, where all impulses and movements originate.
3. This was the first occasion on which the disciples clearly saw the essential distinction existing between Law and Grace. Paul himself, who had been personally conducted to the knowledge of the grace of God in Christ, by the manner of his conversion and by his peculiar religious experience, probably obtained his clearest views of evangelical, liberty in the state of grace, as contradistinguished from a servile legalism, only after he had encountered opposition in the Gentile-Christian congregations. The case of Peter was similar. He, too, had been taught by his experience of the grace of Christ, that the law is a yoke, very heavy, and, indeed, impossible to bear. All that the law makes difficult for man, is made easy by grace. For, in the case of those who are under the law, all depends on their own strength, their personal efforts, the perfect purity of the will; whereas, when man is in the state of grace, God purifies the heart, and inspires it with a love for all that is good.
4. After Peter, as well as Barnabas and Paul, had explained the question by appeals to their own experience in the service of the Gospel, James furnishes additional illustrations derived from the word of promise. The apostles referred, in general, to the prophecies of the Scriptures chiefly as guides in explaining the signs of the present times, and in seeking a knowledge of the divine will. They did not employ the prophetic word as the means for becoming acquainted with the future, and discovering times and seasons, circumstances and persons in it, as in a magic mirror. Our success in ascertaining the will of God, his counsel in reference to the progress of his kingdom, and the principles according to which it is governed, will always be proportioned to the degree of attention with which we study the unchangeable, eternal, and firmly established thoughts of God (γνωστὰ ʼ αἰῶνος).
5. The house of David is the principal subject of the prophecy of Amos, which James quotes. David’s royal house had decayed, had dwindled into a tabernacle, and had fallen into ruins; God purposes to raise up that which had fallen, to build it anew, and enlarge it, to extend the kingdom, which is, in truth, His own kingdom, even to Gentiles upon whom His name is called, that is, who are willing to acknowledge and serve Jehovah. God will Himself perform all these things, even as He had of old resolved to do.—This promise sheds light upon the present question. It is already a significant circumstance that the theocratic royalty, or the kingdom of God, and not the law as such, occupies a central position in the promise. It is, in the next place, important, that the only condition of incorporation into the kingdom of God consists in the invocation of His name, or the imposition of His name [“upon whom, etc,” Acts 15:17]. And this condition was already fulfilled in the case of the converted Gentiles (ἐπιστρέφουσιν ἐπὶ τὸν θεὸν, Acts 15:19). Lastly, the words κύριος ὁ ποιῶν ταν͂τα, are decisive, i.e., neither are we to perform the work, nor is our judgment to be consulted; it is God, the Lord; He has promised that He will do all these things, and, indeed, in its essential features, He has already done the work, for He has actually taken out of the Gentiles a people for Himself, Acts 15:14. And therefore, [says James], we are not at liberty, and should not attempt, to impose an additional burden on the Gentile-Christians, which would seem to imply that the work of God had not been completely performed.
6. According to ancient accounts, which have been preserved to our day, James was a man whose personal religion was of the strictest legal type; on this account he was called ὁ δίκαιος (see my [the author’s] Apost. u. nachap. Zeitalter, 2d ed. p. 236. ff.). [Lechler there quotes, in the course of his remarks, a passage in the writings of Hegesippus, which has been preserved by Eusebius, in Eccl. Hist. II. 23.—Tr.]. Now it is remarkable that it is precisely this man who advocates the principle of the exemption of the Gentile-Christians from the Mosaic law, and who expressly demands of them nothing more than abstinence from certain things which were offensive partly in a social, and partly in a moral and religious respect. The circumstance would be incomprehensible, and, indeed, incredible, only in case that it were impossible that the same man should be rigid with regard to himself, but indulgent toward others. We are, however, fully at liberty to consider James as possessing precisely such a character—a character which claims our highest esteem. That he did not regard Moses with indifference, may be gathered from a slight intimation in Acts 15:21, when the words are correctly understood. But it also appears from this verse that James hoped that the Mosaic religion would gain more respect by a wider extension and more general knowledge, as well as by a voluntary adoption of it, than by the imposition of any burden on the conscience, which could only tend to disquiet it (παρενοχλεῖν, Acts 15:19). That James combined with habitual and great rigor in his own case, a very sincere and tender love for others, is apparent from a fact related by Hegesippus (Euseb. Eccl. Hist. II. 23), viz.: he was continually in the temple, praying on bended knees for the forgiveness of his people. If he prayed with such compassionate love for his unbelieving kinsmen according to the flesh, he was surely capable of meeting the Gentiles who were converted to the Redeemer, with tender forbearance and gentleness. It is, indeed, this feature which reveals to us the image of Jesus himself, shining forth from the soul of his brother (after the flesh, and after the spirit.).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Acts 15:1. And certain men … taught.—Paul had come to Antioch in order to find repose after the trials which he had endured; but when he and the brethren began to build themselves up on their common faith [Jude, Acts 15:20], this new affliction unexpectedly came upon them. It was a happy circumstance that the gracious manifestations of God among the Gentiles had already occurred, as they supplied the means for deciding the question. The blessing precedes painful experiences. (Rieger).—The adversary again attempted to arrest the progress of the Gospel, and rob believers of the comfort and joy which the conversion of the Gentiles had afforded them. The church militant should always be prepared for such sudden assaults; it may otherwise lose its treasure. (Starke).
Acts 15:2. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension, etc.—It is better to choose strife and retain the truth, than to choose peace and sacrifice the truth. (Starke).—That Paul and Barnabas … should go up to Jerusalem.—They might have insisted on their own claims, and refused to seek a decision in Jerusalem, as they, too, had received the Holy Spirit. The others might have maintained that these two men were not suitable messengers, and that persons whose minds were less biassed, should be sent. But all things were done on both sides with moderation and candor.
Acts 15:3. And being brought on their way by the church.—This conduct, indicated the deep interest which all took in the object of the journey. When the ambassadors of the Elector of Brandenburg were departing, in order to attend a religious disputation with the Papists, he dismissed them with the words:—“Bring me back the word sola,” (that is, the concession that man is justified by faith alone), “or never return yourselves.” The messengers of the Antiochian congregation did not need such an admonition; still, the love and the interceding prayers of the people afforded comfort and joy to their pastors and teachers. (Besser).—Declaring the conversion, etc.—With all our zeal for the orthodox faith, we ought not to neglect the work of building up the kingdom of God. (Ap. Past.).
Acts 15:4. They declared all things that God had done.—Before they described the difficulties which had occurred, they related all that God had done with them, as an evidence that they neither discussed the point in dispute with undue heat, nor were led by it to forget other interests of the church of Jesus. They adopt the principle, on the contrary, of first exhibiting all the favorable aspects of the kingdom of God, and, then, of slating existing defects and faults, in order that appropriate remedies may be applied. Their conduct teaches us, that, although many evils still exist in the church of God, we should never banish from our thoughts the rich mercies which He is every where bestowing on men. (Ap. Past.).
Acts 15:5. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees.—How difficult it is to cast away the Pharisaical leaven, and to cling solely to the grace of God! But faith does not at once deliver us from errors and infirmities; long continued exercise, and many struggles, precede our deliverance. (Starke).—Pharisees, which believed.—Hence we learn that schisms are not always occasioned by unprincipled men, but that even upright persons are sometimes their authors, when they yield too far to their fancies and prejudices. (Ap. Past.).
Acts 15:6. And the apostles and elders came together, etc.—The divine inspiration by which the apostles were guided when they spoke and wrote, did not render their common consultations, and their meditations on the divine word, superfluous. (Starke).—How this apostolic simplicity puts to shame the pride of later times! (Ap. Past.).—This assembly exhibits the church in a light in which she is again seen only on a single occasion in the whole history of the pentecostal church. She appears in the presence of her holy Lord and Head; she views the task before her with great perplexity, and is conscious of her own ignorance; no previous experience, no recognized principle, no word of the Scriptures, can supply the present want. But she knows that her Lord had promished her, as a collective body, that strength and that aid which always suffice. Hence she seeks with sincere humility, but also confesses the truth with courage and joy. (Leon. and Sp.).
Acts 15:7. And when there had been much disputing, etc.—It was not an angry dispute, but a long discussion, during which the arguments on both sides were carefully weighed. This procedure was honorable to the apostles, and bears witness alike to their gentleness, since they listened to the opinions of inferior brethren, and also to their diligence and care, since they considered divine truths not superficially, but maturely. (Ap. Past.).—Peter rose up.—On this occasion we hear him speak for the last time in the Acts. We see him extend the hand of brotherly love to Paul, and we listen to their concurrent testimony respecting the mystery of grace, the actual revelation of which constitutes the theme of the Acts of the Apostles. (Besser).—That … God made choice, etc.—As neither the written word of the Old Testament, nor the personal knowledge and judgment of the brethren, could conduct to a satisfactory conclusion, Peter seeks and finds a decisive argument in experience—in all that God had done before their eyes.—Here we see how necessary it is to study God’s mode of administering the affairs of the church, and to improve our judgment by applying the lessons of experience, if we desire to distinguish successfully between error and truth. (Ap. Past.).—Men and brethren.—This appellation, was, at the same time, designed to give a certain character to the subsequent proceedings, indicating that they should be conducted in a fraternal spirit.—Ye know, says Peter, not: Know ye! He speaks, not as a dictator, but as a brother; he does not proclaim his will authoritatively, neither does he speak ex cathedra, but, with his brethren, presents himself before the throne of the sole Lord of the Church. (Besser).
Acts 15:8. Giving them the Holy Ghost.—The gracious counsel of the Lord respecting the Gentiles, was plainly and impressively revealed by acts of grace, in the case of Cornelius.
Acts 15:9. Purifying their hearts by faith.—Faith is the true circumcision of the new covenant, the only true evangelical means of purification, as it cleanses from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit [2 Corinthians 7:1], by being the medium through which the power of the blood of Jesus penetrates the soul. “Through faith, as Peter says, we obtain another, a new, and a clean heart, and God regards us, for the sake of Christ, our Mediator, as altogether righteous and holy.” (Smalcald Articles [by Luther], III. 13).
Acts 15:10. Why tempt ye God; etc?—With the changes of the times, the customs and ordinances of God in his church, are changed. The greater the measure of man’s knowledge and faith becomes, the less is he burdened with the servile yoke of the law. Mark this truth well, that those who impose the heaviest burdens, are not the best teachers. (Starke).—To tempt God, is, to depart from his word, and to subject the order which divine wisdom has sanctified, to the control of man’s impious self-will. (Gerhard).—“This grave and stern language of the apostles: ‘Why tempt ye God?’ which, like a clap of thunder, ought to alarm our adversaries, makes no impression whatever on their hearts; they still attempt to sustain their own inventions, which they represent as services acceptable to God, by resorting to tyrannical and violent measures.” (Apology [of the Augs. Conf.], Art. 28 (14).) [The “adversaries” of whom Melanchthon here speaks (ed. Rech. 294), are the Papists, who rejected the Protestant doctrine that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, and not by “good works” devised by men.—Tr.].—Which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.—“When oxen have long borne the yoke, and dragged heavy weights, all that they earn by their work, beyond their daily food, is, to be struck on the head and be butchered; such is the experience of those who hope to be justified by the law. They are taken captive, and burdened with a heavy yoke, and then, after they have long and painfully labored to do the works of the law, all that they finally earn is, to remain eternally poor and wretched servants.” (Luther).—Nor we were able to bear.—Peter intends to say: ‘Men and brethren, speak the truth, and candidly tell me: have ye kept the law?’ (Besser).
Acts 15:11. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.—This is a precious summary of the Gospel, which Peter proclaims at the first synod of the church, for the benefit of all succeeding ages. It already comprehends the confession of the Council of Nice—the confession that Christ is the true God; for Christ can confer saving grace only in case he is the Lord, to whom all power in heaven and in earth is given. The great truth: “we believe … saved,” is still, in our day, the holy symbol and the shibboleth of all true believers. “By grace alone”—this is the badge by which the children of the family recognize each other. Hence Melanchthon declares in the Apology [of the Augsb. Conf. Art. IV. (II) p. 60. ed. Rech.—Tr.] that the doctrine of justification by grace, is “the highest and most important article in the Christian creed, the only key to the whole Bible, without which the troubled conscience can find no true, lasting, and sure consolation;” and Luther says: “We cannot abandon this article, nor make any concession here, although heaven, earth, and all things else that cannot endure, should fall.” (Leonh. and Sp.).—What glory, what comfort, what joy, ye who are members of the Evangelical church, can find here! Ye are one, in your faith and confession, with the primitive, apostolical church. (Apelt).—Even as they.—The fathers and prophets precede the triumphal chariot of Christ—we follow it. Their faith and our own, is the same; the objects of their faith belonged to the future—the same objects of our faith belong to the past. (Lindhammer).
Acts 15:12. Then all the multitude kept silence.—This is, in truth, a Council of the Holy Ghost, at which men speak only as long as the Lord’s voice is not heard; but then all are silent, and bow in submission before the word of God! Wherever the Spirit of truth finds an entrance into the hearts of men, and a foolish pride and an egotistical love of controversy offer no resistance, the unity of the Spirit composes dissensions by the bond of peace; the truth is then readily found, and unanimously acknowledged; for the decision is made by the counsel and act of the Lord. (Leonh. and Sp.).—The two words: “yoke” and “grace,” burned as fire in their hearts, and they sat in silence in the presence of the Lord. (Besser).—Gave audience to Paul and Barnabas.—These men explained and confirmed all that Peter had stated respecting the salvation of God which had appeared to the Gentiles. This is, indeed, the right course, when one teacher resumes the subject where his predecessor had paused, and relates even greater wonders which God had wrought, and when all is set forth in such harmony, that it is obvious to every hearer that it is one God—one Spirit—who worketh in them all. In such cases, the apostolic blessing [2 Corinthians 13:14] is bestowed in all its fulness. (Ap. Past.).—“O Lord Jesus Christ! Do thou thyself convene the true Council, and there preside! Deliver thy people by thy glorious advent!” (Luther’s Smalcald Articles) [at the close of the Preface, ed. Rech. p. 303.—Tr.]
Acts 15:13-15. James answered, saying … and to this agree the words of the prophets.—Peter had referred in his address chiefly to the work of God; James now shows how fully the word of God in the writings of the prophets agreed with the former. (Rieger).—Even when signs and wonders occur, still the question ought to be considered, whether the Scriptures agree with them. (Ap. Past.).—The apostles spoke by the mouth of Peter; James, the brother of the Lord, speaks as an elder or bishop of the church. (Besser).
Acts 15:16. After this I will return, etc.—It was not without the guidance of the Holy Ghost, that James was conducted precisely to this passage. For it speaks, first, of the fall of the Jewish church and the abolition of its temple service; it, next, conveys the promise that God will build a new church on the ruins of the old, and gather together in it all the Gentiles; it, lastly, sets forth that this church shall receive salvation only through the name of the Lord which should be called upon it, i.e., on which it would believe. (Ap. Past.).—And will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down.—The kingdom of Christ is not of this world; hence it is here termed a tabernacle which seems, indeed, to have fallen down, but, nevertheless, the Gentiles shall, through grace, lodge in it. The times of the New Testament are, in general, times of re-arrangement and restoration, and, indeed, all theology refers to the restoration of that which is fallen; Acts 1:6; Revelation 21:3; Revelation 21:5; Hebrews 9:10. (Starke).—God will be the builder; He will even close up all the breaches [Amos 9:11], and raise up that which is fallen. God Himself will do all. What a rich source of comfort we find here! Let us then be faithful servants and workers together [2 Corinthians 6:1] with the grace of God! (Ap. Past.).
Acts 15:19. That we trouble not them which, etc.—None are so easily injured by the imposition of external religious exercises, as those converted persons who are exceedingly conscientious; they are thus either led to entertain a false confidence, or they are distressed by painful scruples of conscience. Those who are less in earnest, are also less easily affected by such things. (Rieger).—The most important resolution adopted by the apostolic Council, and the one which retains its validity at all times and in all places, refers to the release of believers who live under the new covenant, from the yoke of the ancient ceremonial law. It is an important resolution, which the church of Christ should very gratefully accept, and apply with great fidelity, as a very precious result of His meritorious work. For while the divine character, the purity, and the importance of this first Church Council were thus demonstrated, these features appeared less distinctly in succeeding times, when such Councils were held either to gratify carnal passions, or to determine trivial matters. (Ap. Past.).
Acts 15:20. That they abstain from pollutions of idols, etc.—To abstain from idolatry and fornication, was a duty which they owed to God; to abstain from things strangled, and from blood, was a duty prescribed by fraternal love.—“It is a mark of a purified Christian, that he avoids not only evil itself, but also the very appearance of evil. To the Christian nothing can be a matter of indifference; the actions which he performs, either honor or dishonor the name of the Lord. But at that time, when Jews and Gentiles dwelt together, His name was dishonored, when any one did those things which were regarded by the world as undeniable signs of heathenism.” (Williger).
ON THE WHOLE SECTION.
Acts 15:1-21. The importance of the first Church Council: I. The question which was discussed, Acts 15:6; (it referred to the conditions of salvation). II. The spirit in which it was discussed, Acts 15:7; (a spirit of love and truth). III. The principle in accordance with which the decision was made, Acts 15:8-9; Acts 15:12; (the testimony of God, borne in his word, and in his acts). IV. The confession which was made the basis of the resolution adopted by the Council, Acts 15:11; (‘We believe that through the grace,’ etc.). (Apelt).
How does the Christian conduct the wars of his Lord? I. With courage—in order that he may retain the crown; II. With fraternal love—that love may not grow cold; III. With humility—that the Scripture may preside as judge. (Ahlfeld).
We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved: this is a confession, I. Of penitence, which proceeds from a deep and clear consciousness of sin; II. Of humility, which testifies that no merit attaches to good works; III. Of faith, which recognizes the riches of the love of God in Christ; IV. Of joy, which is founded on the peace of the pardoned soul. (Leonh. and Sp.).
We are saved, not by the law, but by grace: (Lisco).
That God I purifies the heart by faith, Acts 15:6-12 : I. That the I heart of man needs purification; II. That this purification is effected by faith; III. That this purification of the heart by faith, is the work of Almighty God. (Langbein).
The Confession: ‘We believe that, etc.’, Acts 15:11; I. Its meaning; II. Its source; III. Its fruit, (id.).
The principles according to which that which is temporary in Christianity may be distinguished from that which is enduring. (Lisco).
The Christian mode of conducting religious controversies: I. Willingness to be guided by unmistakable manifestations of the power of God; II. A common desire to search the Scriptures, and make them the basis of union, (id.).
The Church Council at Jerusalem, a model for all succeeding ages: I. Its occasion was a vital question of the Church—a question relating (a) not to the faith (for on this subject, which was not at that time denied, no Council can make a decision from which there is no appeal), but (b) to the life and conduct (concerning the practical application of admitted doctrinal truth to ecclesiastical order and Christian practice). II. Its spirit was strictly evangelical; (a) a spirit of truth, sustained by the word of God and Christian experience; (b) a spirit of love, which sought not its own, but the welfare of all. III. Its result was a blessing for the church; (a) progress, by a positive and final release from antiquated external ordinances, but (b) a progress sanctioned by the unchanged fundamental principles of the Christian faith and practice, Acts 15:11.
The issue of the first Church Council, a triumph of the Holy Spirit: I. His triumph, as a Spirit of liberty, over the yoke of outward ordinances, Acts 15:10; Acts 15:19; II. His triumph, as a Spirit of faith, over the delusion respecting human wisdom and righteousness, Acts 15:9 ff. and Acts 15:15 ff.; III. His triumph, as a Spirit of love, over a haughty self-will, and a narrow-minded partisanship, Acts 15:1-2; Acts 15:7; Acts 15:12; Acts 15:19-21.
[A maxim respecting peace, or,] An irenic principle (formerly ascribed to Augustine; see Herzog’s Encyk. “Meldenius”), claiming the observance of all ages: I. In necessariis unitas, Acts 15:11; II. In dubiis libertas, Acts 15:19; III. In omnibus caritas, Acts 15:7; Acts 15:13; Acts 15:20. [Lücke published in 1850 an essay, which has been much admired, on the “age, author, original form, and true sense,” of this celebrated maxim. After rejecting the claims of others, he ascribes it to Rupertus Meldenius, a Lutheran theologian who lived during the earlier part of the seventeenth century. Klose, the writer of the article in Herzog’s Encyk. (IX. 305), recently found the original work of Meldenius in the city library of Hamburg. The author, as it now appears, expressed himself in the following terms, which may be regarded as the true reading: Si nos servaremus in necessariis Unitatem, in non necessariis Libertatem, in utrisque Charitatem, optimo certe loco essent res nostræ. —Tr.].
The Holy Ghost, the best President of ecclesiastical synods and pastoral conferences: I. He permits every one to speak, both men who are not distinguished in the assembly (Acts 15:5), and also eminent leaders (Acts 15:7; Acts 15:12) —the timid and the bold; II. He unites all on the common ground of the divine word and a living faith, (Acts 15:9; Acts 15:11; Acts 15:15); III. He conducts the proceedings to a happy issue—resolutions discussed with wisdom, and unanimously adopted, (Acts 15:19 ff.).
When brethren are engaged in deliberation, there is a time to speak, and a time to be silent: I. Boldness of speech, when (a) scruples of conscience (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5), and (b) clear convictions of the mind (Acts 15:7; Acts 15:12-13) are to be expressed; II. Meek silence (Acts 15:12), when (a) a childlike obedience to the will and word of God, and (b) indulgent and pacific sentiments respecting the brethren, are to be manifested.
‘Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage’ (Galatians 5:1) —a warning addressed by the apostles to modern Christianity: I. Paul pronounces it (Acts 15:2-4) —that great apostle of the Gentiles, who hazarded his life in the attempt to cast down the barrier of Jewish traditions by the power of evangelical liberty; II. Peter repeats it, (Acts 15:7-10)
that rock of the primitive church, whom God himself conducted to a knowledge of the truth [Matthew 16:17], and whom the church that demands an implicit faith, in vain invokes as its patron saint; III. James unites with them (Acts 15:13)
that preacher of the law; all testify alike, that the righteousness of faith [Romans 9:30] is the only way of salvation.
‘We believe that, etc.’ (Acts 15:11) —the common watchword of our evangelical, as well as of the primitive, apostolic church.
The confession of faith presented at Augsburg, no other than that of Jerusalem: I. The enemy with which it contends is the same—Pharisaism: (a) bondage, imposed by man; (b) the righteousness of works; II. Its foundation is the same: (a) the word of God; (b) Christian experience; III. The spirit which it breathes, is the same: (a) boldness in confessing the truth; (b) the meekness of love; IV. The way of salvation which it proclaims, is the same: (a) free grace, on the part of God; (b) a living faith, on the part of man.
[Acts 15:11. Peter’s confession of faith: I, (“We shall be saved”). The salvation, of which Peter speaks; (a) What is implied by “being saved”? (b) Who shall be saved? (“we”). II. (“The Lord Jesus Christ”). The author of our salvation, (a) Christ is the author; (b) the only author. III. (“Through the grace of, etc.”). The ground of our salvation, (a) Not our works or merit, but (b) grace. IV. (“We believe.”) The faith of Peter in this salvation, (a) A clear and distinct faith; (b) expressing itself in actions. —Tr.].
Acts 15:7; Acts 15:7. ἐν ὑμίυ, in Cod. A. B. C. [and Cod. Sin.], has justly been preferred by Lach. and Tisch. [and Alt.]; ἐν ἡμῖν [of text. rec. from E. G. H., Vulg., fathers], is, at all events, an easier reading. [Meyer regards the latter as the original reading, since the speaker must have necessarily included himself.—Tr.]
Acts 15:11; Acts 15:11. The reading τοῦ κυρίου ̓Iησοῦ is, decidedly, better attested [by A. B. E. G. II. Cod. Sin., and adopted by Lach., Tisch., and Alf.], than κυρίου ̓ Ιη. Xριστοῦ [of text. rec. from C. D. Vulg. and adopted by Born.—Tr.]
Acts 15:14; Acts 15:14. The dative τῷ ὀνόματι is undoubtedly correct, and ἐπὶ before it [in text. rec. from B (e sil.). G. H. and adopted by Scholz], is as undoubtedly a spurious addition. [The preposition is omitted in A. C. D. E. Cod. Sin., and is dropped by Lach., Tisch., Born., and Alf., with whom Meyer concurs.—Tr.]
Acts 15:17; Acts 15:17. πάντα after ταῦτα [of text. rec. from E. G. H.] is spurious, according to the best manuscripts [omitted in A. B. C. D. Cod. Sin. Vulg. and by recent editors.—Tr.]
Acts 15:18; Acts 15:18. γνωστὰ , ἀιῶνος; these three words [which are all that Scholz, Tisch., and Alf. insert in the text], are [also] all that this verse contains in the two manuscripts B. and C., in 13 minuscules, and some oriental versions. To this original text some manuscripts add αν̓τῷ, or, τῷ κυρίω, or τῷ θεῷ πάντα τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ, E. G. Η. In place of the plural, A. D. and some versions [Vulg. etc.] introduce the singular: γνωστὸν , αἰῶνος τῷ κυρ́ῷ τὸ ἕργον αὐτοῦ, and Lachmann has preferred this reading. [Meyer, who recognizes only the three words just mentioned, regards this reading of A. D., as a later emendation. Tisch. and Alf., both of whom insert only the three words in Acts 15:18, attach them to Acts 15:17 without any point between ταῦτα and γνωστὰ. Cod. Sin. exhibits after ταῦτα the following: γνωστὰ ʼ ἀιῶνος, and omits τῷ κυρ. τ. ε . ἀ—Tr.]
C.—THE DECISION, AND THE EPISTLE OF THE ASSEMBLY
22Then pleased it [resolved] the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen [to choose and send] men of their own company [from among themselves] to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed10 Barsabas, and Silas, chief [who were leading] men among the brethren: 23And they wrote letters by them after this manner [And they placed in their hands the following letter]; The apostles and elders and11 brethren send greeting unto [salute] the brethren which [who] are of the Gentiles in Antioch and [in] Syria and Cilicia: 24For as much as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law [have heard that some (persons) who went out from us, have troubled you with discourses, in that they unsettle your souls];12 to whom we gave no such [om. such] commandment: 25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen [Therefore we, being assembled with one accord, have resolved (ἔδοξεν) to choose and send] men unto you with our beloved [our dear friends] Barnabas and Paul, 26Men [Who (Barn, and P.) are men] that have hazarded their lives [their souls] for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall [will] also tell you the same things by mouth [things verbally]13. 28For it seemed good to [pleased] the Holy Ghost, and to [om. to] us, to lay upon you no greater [further, πλέον] burden than these14 necessary things: 29That ye abstain from meats offered to idols [from idol-sacrifices], and from blood, and from things [any thing]15 strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves [therefore, if ye keep this], ye shall do well [it will go well with you]. Fare ye well.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Acts 15:22. a. Then pleased it, etc.—The resolution adopted by the assembly as the result of the proceedings which are described above, is now given. The word ἔδοξε, Acts 15:22; Acts 15:25, frequently occurs, in classic Greek, in the formal resolutions of a senate, a popular assembly, or other body invested with authority, and hence the resolutions themselves are termed τὰ δεδογμένα or δόγματα; com. Acts 16:4. The assembly consisted, according to this account, of three classes: 1. apostles; 2. elders of the congregation at Jerusalem; 3. the members of the congregation itself; all the latter were present, that is, male members (οἱ , Acts 15:23), without doubt, however, those only who were of full age. But the terms: σὺν ὅλῃ τῇ ἐκκλησία, and οἱ , Acts 15:23, show quite plainly that the customary names of this assembly, viz., “Apostolic Council,” “Convention of the Apostles,” are not altogether appropriate. Independently of the fact that the elders of the congregation had already been addressed by the congregation at Antioch, Acts 15:2, as well as the apostles, and, according to Acts 15:6; Acts 15:22-23, participated in the proceedings, it is expressly stated that the congregation itself in Jerusalem, was present at the assembly, and that the members were not merely hearers, but also assisted in framing the resolution (σν̀ν ὅλῃ τ.ἐκκλ.).
b. To send chosen men [to choose and send men]. (’Εκλεξαμένονς—πέμψαι, is equivalent to: ἵνα ἐκλεξάμενοι—πέμψωσι. [Winer: Gr. N. T. § 38. 4.]). The resolution to choose messengers among the members of the congregation at Jerusalem, and send them to Antioch, had not been previously proposed. It was a happy thought, although the name of the person who first suggested it, is not given. The congregation of Antioch had sent a deputation, consisting of several of its members to the one in Jerusalem (καί τινας ἄλλονς ἐξ αν̓τῶν, Acts 15:2.). It was, accordingly, a just and reasonable recognition of this congregational embassy, when the Christians of Jerusalem likewise sent messengers of its own to Antioch, in order to express, in this manner, its fraternal sentiments, and contribute its share in strengthening the bond of union which already existed. It was, moreover, a judicious measure that messengers from Jerusalem accompanied Paul and Barnabas, inasmuch as the testimony of the former fully confirmed the report furnished by the Antiochians on their return; omnibus modis cavebatur, ne Paulus sententiam concilii videretur pro suo referre arbitrio. (Bengel). Comp. Acts 15:27 : καὶ αν̓τον́ς—ἀπαγγέλλοντας τὰ αν̓τά.
c. Two men were chosen for this purpose: the first was Judas, surnamed Barsabas, of whom we have otherwise no knowledge whatever; his surname has induced some learned men (Grotius, for instance) to believe that he was a brother of Joseph Barsabas, who had, with Matthias, been proposed as a candidate for the apostleship, Acts 1:23.—The other was Silas, well known as, subsequently, a fellow-laborer and companion of Paul in his missionary work among the Gentiles; Paul himself calls him Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:19). Both are here described by Luke as ἄνδρες ἡγούμενοι ἐν τοῖς ἁδελφοῖς, i.e., they not only exercised great influence, but were also office-bearers in the congregation, whose duty it was to guide others; compare Hebrews 13:7; Hebrews 13:17, where the officers and teachers of the church receive this title [ἡγον́μενοι]. They were, probably, elders of the congregation in Jerusalem; Luke calls them also prophets, Acts 15:32.
Acts 15:23. a. And they wrote letters by them [And they placed in their hands the following letter (τάδε); for the anacoluthonγράψαντες instead of γρ́ψαντας, see Winer: Gr. N. T. § 63. I. 1.—Tr.]. The adoption of a resolution that a general epistle should be addressed to the Gentile-Christians, is another circumstance which had not hitherto, been mentioned in the account of the proceedings, that is, if we assume that ἐπιστεῖλαι, [see Exeg. note on] Acts 15:20, signifies, not literis mandare, but, simply, mandare. An epistle was the most suitable means for conveying to the remote Gentile-Christians, whom the matter concerned, a knowledge of the decision and pleasure of the assembly, in the original form, and in an authentic statement. The document was placed in their hands (διὰ χειρὸς αν̓τῶν), i.e., of Judas and Silas, the two messengers sent from Jerusalem—not in those of Paul and Barnabas. It is the only congregational general letter of the apostolic age, which has descended to us, and the oldest synodical public letter (if we may use the expression), with, which we are acquainted. Luke does not mention the name of the person who composed it, or acted as scribe, neither does he state the language in which it was written. But its genuine Greek epistolary form, beginning with χαίρειν, and closing with ἔῤῥωσθε, and the phrase ευ̇̄ πράττειν (Acts 15:29), which so frequently occurred in letters, render it very probable that it was originally written in Greek, and that Luke has, consequently, given us an exact copy of the original itself. We may, besides, easily suppose, as Bengel has already done, (who is sustained by Bleek, in Stud. und Krit., 1836, 1837), that James, the brother of the Lord, composed the letter, in the name and by the authority of the assembly. For he exercised at that time already (comp. Acts 12:17), a commanding influence in the congregation, and he had himself, on the present occasion, materially assisted in conducting the assembly to a decision. And, lastly, an analogy, in more than one point, may be found between this letter and the Epistle of James, of which he is unquestionably the author.
b. The apostles, and elders, etc.—The letter is addressed to the Gentile-Christians as to brethren (τοίς—ἀδελφοῖς τοις ἐξ ἐθνῶν), and thus their equality with the Judæo-Christians in rank and privileges, is unequivocally acknowledged. They are, further, described as inhabitants of Antioch, of Syria, and of Cilicia. The capital city, the congregation of which had originally brought the matter forward, is appropriately mentioned in the first place; the name of the whole province (Syria) succeeds, and that of Cilicia is then added. It necessarily follows that Christian congregations must, already at that time, have existed in Cilicia, [comp. Acts 15:41], and that they, too, had been disturbed by the efforts of the Judaists. On the other hand, the congregations which had been recently formed in the two provinces of Asia Minor, viz., Pisidia and Pamphylia, are not mentioned, although the proceedings in Jerusalem referred also to them; comp. Acts 16:4. It is possible that they had not yet been disturbed by the visits of Judæo-Christians, who entertained Pharisaical sentiments.
Acts 15:24. As we have heard.—The occasion of the letter is stated in brief, but expressive, terms. The assembly declares that the procedure of those who had molested the Gentile congregations by their Judaizing demands, was unauthorized; οῖς ον̓ διεστειλάμεθα, i.e., ‘they received no commission, no authority, for such a course, from us.’ Their conduct is described as a ταράσσειν λόγοις—conduct which created disturbances, doubts and scruples; Paul uses the same expression in Galatians 5:10; ὁ ταράσσων ὑμᾶς. The result is, further, described as an ἀνασκευάζειν τὰς ψυχὰς ῦμῶν, evertere, destruere animas; this verb does not occur in the Septuagint, and is found in the New Testament only in this passage. It signifies: to break down, to destroy, a building, and is, hence, precisely the opposite of οἰκοδομεῖν; comp. Acts 9:31. The assembly, accordingly did not spare the authors of those troubles, but disapproved of their conduct and condemned it, as not only altogether unauthorized, but also as adapted solely to disturb the consciences of men.
Acts 15:25-26, a. To send chosen men [To choose and send men]. The assembly, on the other hand, unequivocally sanctions, in its general letter, the course pursued by Paul and Barnabas. They are significantly styled οἱ . While the Judaistic emissaries had assumed a hostile attitude towards the apostles of the Gentiles, the Judæo-apostles, the elders, and the whole congregation in Jerusalem, emphatically express the ardent love with which they regard Paul and Barnabas, and declare that they were intimately united with them in spirit. Moreover, they commended the unconditional self-devotion of these two men, who were willing to sacrifice even their lives for the Lord Jesus, for the confession of his name, and for His honor. [Men, Acts 15:26, (ἀνθρώποις) in apposition with Barnabas and Paul, not with men (ἄνδρας) in Acts 15:25.—Tr.]. (ΙΙαραδοῦναι τὴν ψυχήν means: to deliver up, to jeopard, the soul, the life.). These words were intended to be a recommendation and a justification of the two men, on whom personally their opponents had doubtless thrown suspicion, but for whose integrity the members of the assembly pledge themselves.—The name of Barnabas precedes that of Paul [see Exeg. note on Acts 15:12-15. a.—Tr.], as the former had been longer known to the apostles and the congregation, and this arrangement is a plain indication of the genuineness of the letter [of its “diplomatic” precision. (Bleek, Meyer, de Wette).—Tr.]
b. The resolution was adopted by them γενομένοις ὁμοθνμαδόν (an adverb, where an adjective would be expected [Winer: Gr. N. T. § 54. 2.—Tr.]), that is: “after we were of one mind”; the sense is that the resolution was not adopted by a majority, while a difference of opinion still remained, but by a unanimous vote. We must, accordingly, suppose that after those who entertained Pharisaic views, had expressed themselves in very emphatic terms, (see Acts 15:5; Acts 15:7), they were ultimately silenced by the decisive testimony of the apostles, and the cordial concurrence of the large congregation. Compare Baumgarten [Die Apostelgesch, etc.], II. 1, 159. It is not, indeed, implied that their Judaistic sentiments had been changed or extirpated, but simply, that, at the moment, they felt that they were defeated, and bowed before the power of the truth.
Acts 15:27. We have sent, therefore.—The two ambassadors, Judas and Silas, who had been chosen in order to proceed with Barnabas and Paul to the Gentile-Christians (Acts 15:25), are directed to announce διὰ λόυ, i.e., by word of mouth, the same things (τὰ αν̓τά) which the letter contained. The expressions τὰ αὐτά and διὰ λόγου, belong together, so that the sense cannot be, as Neander supposes: ‘Judas and Silas will tell you the same things that Paul and Barnabas announce.’ The following words, moreover, viz., ἔδοξε γὰρ, show that the subject to which ἀπαγγέλλειν refers, can be no other than the substance of the resolution concerning the Christianity of the Gentile-Christians.
Acts 15:28-29. a. It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.—With regard to the grammatical construction, it may be remarked that we should not depart from the most obvious and simple sense (according to which two subjects are placed in juxtaposition, to whom the decision and the resolution are ascribed), unless an unintelligible or inappropriate interpretation of the words would be the result. But the most obvious sense is, at the same time, here appropriate in every respect; see below, Doctrinal and Ethical, No. 4. It is, therefore, not necessary to resort to any far-fetched interpretation and assume that a hendiadys occurs here, i.e., either “to the Holy Ghost in us,” (Olshausen), or, “nobis per Spiritum Sanctum.” (Grotius). The explanation of Neander appears to be even more artificial; he assumes that the words τ. ἁγ. πνεύματι occur as an ablative, i.e., “through the Holy Ghost it pleased us also, (as well as Paul and Barnabas).” [Neander recalled or modified his original opinion in a later edition of Gesch. d. Pfl. (History of the Planting, etc. I. 166, text and note 1), and explains: “We have resolved” (not “through,” for then ἐν should precede, according to the N. T. usus loquendi) “under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, to lay, etc.”—Tr.]. The resolution means, in general, that the assembly did not wish to impose any further burden on the brethren among the Gentiles except “these necessary things.” (’Επιτίθεσθαι is not passive, imponi per quosvis doctores (Bengel), but occurs here in an active sense, as it does in by far the greatest number of cases in which it is employed.
b. To lay no greater burden.—The whole assembly, accordingly, declares that the Gentile-Christians shall be exempt from any further exactions, as far as a Mosaic legality is concerned, and be required to abstain only from the four things which James had already specified. The enumeration in Acts 15:29, differs from that in Acts 15:20, merely in substituting εἰδωλόθντα for εἴδωλα (the former: partaking of sacrifices which had been offered to gods), and in assigning the fourth instead of the second place to πορνειά. The words at the close: ἐξὦν—ευ̇̄ πράξετε, show conclusively that the term ἐπάναγκες does not refer to any unconditional and absolute necessity of a moral nature, for that language would be very inexpressive and feeble, and, indeed, altogether inappropriate, if the intention was to demand an abstinence which was absolutely and per se indispensable. The last sentence rather seems to give counsel, in a faithful and impressive manner. Ἐξ ὦς is not to be understood as in direct connection with διατηρεῖν, in the sense of: abstinere a re, for διατηρεῖν is always connected with an accusative, only seldom with μή, and never with ε̇κ; ἐξ ὦν is, therefore, equivalent to “in consequence of,” or, “accordingly.” Εν̓͂ πράττειν does not mean: to do morally right, but, to be in a good condition; it is against the usus loquendi of the New Testament, to regard it as identical with σωθῆναι (Kuinoel). [Ενὐ̄ πράξετε—says Meyer, who refers to various passages in Plato and Demosthenes,—means: “Ye shall be in a favorable condition,” namely in consequence of the peace and concord which will then prevail among Christians. Ἐῤῥωσθε is the epistolary Valete.—Tr.]
c. With respect to the question: How can the present report of the assembly and its proceedings, be reconciled with the statement of the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:1 ff., see my Apost. u. nachap. Zeitalt. 2d. ed. p. 393, [where Lechler devotes more than 40 pages to a successful examination of, and answer to, certain difficulties proposed by Baur, Schwegler, Zeller, etc.—Tr.]
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. This is the first ecclesiastical assembly or Synod that is mentioned in the history of the Church; it furnishes an apostolical model for all succeeding ages. It was held for the purpose of considering an important question, involving essential points connected with the Christian doctrine and life—a question, too, which it was imperatively necessary to answer. The subject concerned the entire church of Christ of that age—the Gentile-Christians in a direct, and the Judæo-Christians, in an indirect manner. The decision was voluntarily submitted by the congregation of Antioch, which was immediately interested, to Jerusalem, as the mother-church. But the apostles did not assume the office of deciding, still less did Peter act alone; they did not even proceed to action with the elders as their associates; on the contrary, the whole congregation at Jerusalem was present, and rendered essential aid in the solution of the question that had been proposed. The opposite opinions which were entertained, were expressed with the utmost freedom. But truth and evangelical liberty triumphed, and, indeed, solely by the power of the Spirit—of the word of God—of His wonderful works. The decision was made, not by a doubtful majority which tyrannized over the minority, but by the assembly, with entire unanimity of sentiment. This result, moreover, had not been previously known and arranged, so that the proceedings were instituted only for the sake of appearance, or afforded simply a delusive spectacle. The views which ultimately prevailed, and the practical resolution which was adopted, were, on the contrary, the development and natural result of the preceding discussion. The resolution was not skilfully constructed to suit any concessions which the several parties made with a calculating spirit; it was the fruit of an honest consideration of the whole matter, conducted in the fear of God and with a desire to maintain the truth, and it proceeded from men who were guided and illuminated by the Holy Spirit; see below, No. 4.
2. The assembly addressed an epistle to the brethren among the Gentiles; the genuineness and authenticity of the alleged decrees of the assembly were thus established by a written instrument. The wish that the report of the proceedings should not be simply verbal, was both wise and benevolent. Although Paul and Barnabas might enjoy the confidence and love of the apostles and the congregation in Jerusalem in the highest degree, and although Silas and Judas might possess very great influence, and really be ἡγούμενοι, they were, nevertheless, not infallible men, whose report was necessarily and absolutely trustworthy; the sense of the assembly could be conveyed with perfect accuracy and fidelity only by writing. Our evangelical motto is: Verbo solo. The word of the Scriptures, as inspired by the Spirit—the word in which the Spirit lives, and through which the Spirit can, with power, fulness, and directness, influence accessible souls—is our treasure, and firm ground of faith.
3. True Christian love is not effeminate and feeble in its character, or so spiritless that it does not venture at any time to refuse its concurrence. If the Redeemer could not have pronounced a “Woe!” in the case of perverse men, of Pharisees and Scribes, his “Blessed!” would not possess that heavenly power of love, which it now exercises. If the apostles and brethren had not spoken in opposition to the Pharisees in the assembly, disapproved of their course, and uttered words of stern rebuke (Acts 15:24), they would not have displayed sincere love to the Gentile-Christians, and to Paul and Barnabas themselves. But they repelled the former with the utmost decision, in order to add to the freedom and cordiality with which they embraced the latter. He alone who unhesitatingly and consistently honors the truth, is capable of entertaining a genuine, Christian love in his heart, and manifesting it in his life.
4. The declaration: It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, is of great importance. It has, on the one hand, been often interpreted as an expression of hierarchical arrogance, and has been exposed to censure; it has, on the other, been altered in sense and softened by interpreters, with good intentions, but without due consideration; see Exeg. etc. above, Acts 15:28-29. a. In order to ascertain the true meaning of the words, the circumstance should be carefully noted, that the letter speaks of two resolutions adopted by the assembly, only one of which is mentioned in this manner. The resolution to send messengers to the Gentile-Christians, Acts 15:25, is introduced only with the words: ἕδοξεν ἡμῖν γενομένοις ὁμοθυμαδόν; the other, on the contrary, according to which no further burdens should be imposed on the Gentile-Christians, and only abstinence in certain cases should be required, is thus introduced: ἔδοξε τῷ ἁγ. πν. καὶ ἡμῖν. It hence follows that the assembly does not ascribe all its resolutions ultimately to the Holy Ghost, but only that momentous decision which so deeply concerned the conscience alike of the brethren among the Gentiles, and of the Judæo-Christians themselves. It is solely this resolution which the assembly recognizes as one not only dictated by human wisdom, but also divinely inspired, or as one which proceeded from the guidance of the Holy Ghost himself. Can it be possible that this expression of the convictions of the assembly, contained an error or a wrong—that it originated in a fanatical self-delusion—or, that it was an attempt to deceive others, suggested by spiritual pride or hierarchical ambition? By no means! It conveys, on the contrary, a striking truth, conceived with entire sobriety of judgment, and announced in a devout spirit after calm deliberation. The assembly recognizes with humility and gratitude to God, and is not ashamed to make the confession before men, that, with regard to the best course, or the true bond of union, that is, such a solution as neither sacrifices truth to love, nor violates love for the sake of truth—a solution which both vindicates evangelical liberty, and secures the unity of the church of Christ—they are indebted, not to themselves, but to the Holy Ghost, who guides into all truth; and thus they give the glory to God. And yet they do not deny that they, too, had labored, had carefully deliberated in common, and honestly sought after the truth—and that the result had not been obtained from above while they slept, but followed after they had themselves (καὶ ἡμῖν) made diligent and earnest efforts. This peculiar language recognizes, accordingly, both the divine and gracious operations of the Holy Ghost, and also the independent action of man in searching and laboring; it furnishes, not a partial, but a complete view of their internal convictions, and combines humility with Christian dignity.—The remark may, finally, be made, that this passage furnishes an indirect proof of the personality of the Holy Ghost. For it is only when this doctrine is admitted, that a δοκεῖν, in the sense in which the word here occurs, can be ascribed to the Holy Ghost, i.e., an intention and determination of the will.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Acts 15:22. Then pleased it the apostles, etc.—We have here a model of Christian prudence, suited to all succeeding ages; it teaches that mode of regulating the affairs of a congregation, deciding questions, and directing any institution, by which the rights of conscience, the claims of love, and the existence of personal liberty, are respected, while, at the same time, the welfare of the great majority is thus promoted. (Rieger).—Men of their own company [from among themselves].—The act of selecting messengers from the congregation in Jerusalem, was of service both to the Christians of Antioch, and also to Paul and Barnabas. It convinced the former that their own messengers did not, as it frequently occurs, unconsciously report their own opinion as that of the assembly; to the latter, nothing could be more welcome than a course by which their integrity, and their rightful claim to the title of apostles, would be attested by Jerusalem.
Acts 15:23. And they wrote letters by them.—A mere verbal communication, even though upright brethren should be the agents, did not appear to the apostles to be an adequate and sufficiently sure method of conveying the knowledge of doctrinal truths and ecclesiastical ordinances. They deemed it necessary to express their sentiments in writing. The circumstance shows how far the apostles were from entertaining the opinion that any individual could be infallible, although he might even be the most prominent among their brethren. We gratefully acknowledge the wisdom of God, who did not give us merely oral testimony, but furnished us with a “sure word of prophecy” [2 Peter 1:19] in a written form. Our faith now rests on a firm foundation, since we can say: “It is written.” (Ap. Past.).
Acts 15:24. As we have heard … subverting [in that they unsettle] your souls.—Observe that the Holy Ghost does not send the men who teach works and the law, but says that they confuse and distress Christians. (Luther).—The Holy Ghost does not send false teachers; they come without authority; they do not edify, but only confuse and distress. Even as sound doctrine cheers the heart, and makes it strong in God, so false doctrine unsettles the soul, and does not allow it to find true peace. (Starke).
Acts 15:25-26. With our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have hazarded their lives, etc.—With the same firmness and decision with which they withdrew from the Christians of Jerusalem who entertained Pharisaic sentiments, they acknowledged Barnabas and Paul. They term them beloved friends; and, for what reason? They delivered up their lives for the name of Christ, not only by exposing themselves to bodily danger, but also by consecrating all the powers of their souls to the service of Jesus. Such a course still continues to constitute the duty and the glory of a servant of Christ. He issues the command: “Die at the post of duty, but gain souls for the Lamb.” (Williger).
Acts 15:27. Tell you the same things by mouth.—The oral and the written testimony were intended to sustain each other. It was necessary that the dead letter of the Scriptures should be made alive by the Holy Ghost who spoke through the men of God. And so, too, in our own day, it is not sufficient that the word of God should be read; it must also be heard, when it is spoken by divinely enlightened men. (Williger).
Acts 15:28. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us.—The Holy Ghost is the arbiter and judge in matters of religion.—The decision of a case which believers have considered in the light of the Holy Ghost, may very properly be regarded as a decision of the Holy Ghost.—Our decision should not anticipate, but conform to, that of the Holy Ghost.—Let no one attempt to obtrude his fancies on others, as if they constituted the will of the Holy Ghost. (Starke).
Acts 15:29. From which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.—Even when they mention those few points which they deem necessary, they employ very moderate terms (“Ye shall do well”), as compared with the violent threats of the others (“Ye cannot be saved”, Acts 15:1). How tenderly we should deal with the consciences of men! (Rieger).—As we learn from the introductory words of the Epistle, that the command was not intended for all the congregations, so, too, we learn from these concluding words, that it was not to be of perpetual validity, but to endure only until the attachment to the Mosaic ordinances had somewhat abated. (Ap. Past. and Bengel’s Gnomon).—Fare ye well. Through this concluding salutation, expressed in the manner of the Greeks, the Hebrews became Greeks to their Greek brethren. They could, with great propriety, say: “Fare ye well,” to brethren who had found eternal life by faith in the Lord Jesus, and whose fraternal love was the rule of their conduct in all the affairs of this life. “Fare ye well”, that is, Be faithful to Jesus ! (Besser).
The wisdom and the love with which we should deal with errors and the erring, in the Church.—The Church of the Lord possesses legislative powers: I. Because the Spirit of God operates in her, Acts 15:28; II. Because it is her duty to decide on the changing affairs of this life with a view to the salvation of mankind, Acts 15:24; Acts 15:29. (Lisco).—How is that which is temporary in Christianity to be set aside? I. When has the proper time arrived? II. By what considerations are we to be guided? (id.).—The Epistle of the church of Jerusalem to the brethren among the Gentiles, viewed as an adequate and valid charter for mankind, now released from the bondage of the law: adequate and valid, I. On account of the occasion which called it law, forth; (it concerned the question: Moses or Christ? Human traditions, or the work of God?) II. On account of its holy and inviolable source: (it was dictated by the Holy Ghost, Acts 15:28). III. On account of its venerable bearers; (they were heralds of evangelical grace and truth, whom God himself had accredited.) IV. On account of the incontestable truth of its contents; (exemption from the temporary ceremonial, but not from the eternal moral law, Acts 15:29; release from the yoke of servile obedience, but not from the service which self-denying love renders to the Lord, Acts 15:26).—True evangelical liberty: it is, indeed, I. Freedom from human ordinances and a ceremonial service, Acts 15:24; Acts 15:28, but at the same time, II. Subjection, in love, to the Lord (Acts 15:26), to the eternal moral Acts 15:29.—The written word of God, and its living bearers; each is attested by the other: I. The Scriptures, by the character of the bearers: II. The bearers, by the character of the Scriptures.
Acts 15:22; Acts 15:22. [In place of ἐπικαλοὐμενον before Bαρσ., of text. rec., from H., fathers, etc., recent editors agree in adopting the simple form with A. B. C. D. E. G., and Cod. Sin., and regard the former as an explanatory correction.—Tr.]
Acts 15:23; Acts 15:23. Five important MSS., A. B.C. D. and Cod. Sin., omit καὶ οἱ [of text. rec.] before ἀδελφαό, as well as several fathers and versions [Vulg., etc.]. Lachmann has therefore cancelled καὶ οἱ. But it may easily be conceived that the omission was occasioned by a scruple respecting the coöperation of the congregation with the apostles. [Meyer, whose opinion de Wette adopts, supposes that the omission was the result of a hierarchical feeling, and that the two words are genuine.—Tr.]. E. G. H., and most of the versions and fathers, insert καὶ οἱ, and this reading is, with Tischendorf, to be received as genuine. [It is dropped by Alf. as an interpolation. Cod. Sin. (original) omitted it, but it was inserted by a later hand, marked C by Tisch.—Tr.]
Acts 15:24; Acts 15:24. The words: λέγοντες περιτὲμνεσθαι καὶ τηρεῖν τὸν νόμον, [of text. rec., and found in C. E.] are wanting in A. B. D. [and Cod. Sin.], in several versions [Vulg. etc.], and fathers; they are a gloss from Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5, and have therefore been very properly cancelled by Lach. and Tisch. [But both Meyer and de Wette incline to the opinion that the words are genuine; E. even inserts δεῖ after περιτέμ.; the manuscripts vary considerably; Alf. says that the words are “manifestly an interpolation,” and, like Born., omits them.—Tr.]
Acts 15:27; Acts 15:27. [In place of “mouth,” (Tynd., Cranmer, Geneva), the margin of the Engl. Bible proposes “word.” (Wiclif.); διὰ λόγου is equivalent to “verbally” or “orally.”—Tr.]
Acts 15:28; Acts 15:28. Tischendorf has cancelled τούτων [of text. rec. from E.G.] after τῶν ἐπάναγκες, but on the authority of only one manuscript, viz. A. [The word is omitted by several minuscules and fathers.]. Lach., in accordance with B. C. D. [and H.], reads τούτων τῶν ἐπάναγκες [and is supported by Meyer.—D. omits τῶν. Alf. omits τούτων altogether, as a marginal gloss.—Cod. Sin. (original) reads: τουτων επαναγκαις; a later hand (C) here inserted των.—επαναγκαις is found also in A. C.—Tr.]
Acts 15:29; Acts 15:29. Tischendorf [with Lach.], in accordance with A (orig.). B. C [and Cod. Sin.].reads καὶ πνικτῶυ, whereas the singular,πνικτοῦ [of text. rec.] is found in A. (corrected), as well as in E. G. H. [Vulg.—D. omits καὶ πν. Alf. agrees with Tisch., and supposes that the singular is an “alteration for uniformity with Acts 15:20.”—Cod. Sin. (original) exhibits the plural, for which a later hand, C, inserted the singular.—Tr.]
D.—THE RETURN. THE EFFECT PRODUCED PARTLY BY THE EPISTLE, AND PARTLY BY THE REPORT OF THE MESSENGERS WHO CAME FROM JERUSALEM.
. Acts 15:30-35
30So when they were dismissed, they [These were now dismissed (μὲν ου̇̄ν), and] came to Antioch: and when they had [then they] gathered the multitude together, they [together, and] delivered the epistle: 31Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.16 32And [But] Judas and Silas, being [who were] prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words [discourses], and confirmed [strengthened] them. 33And [But], after they had tarried there a space [for a time], they were let go [dismissed] in [with] peace from [by] the brethren [in order to return, πρὸς] unto the apostles.17 34Notwithstanding [δὲ] it pleased Silas to abide there still [om. the whole verse]18. 35Paul also [But Paul, δὲ] and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, [in common,μετὰ] with many others also [om. also].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Acts 15:30-32. a. So when they were dismissed.—Certain religious services were probably held, when the men took leave, as in the case mentioned in Acts 13:3. Ἀπολνθέντες, no doubt, refers primarily to the two messengers sent from Jerusalem, as the epistle was placed in hands, according to Acts 15:23, compared with Acts 15:27, and they alone could deliver it, on their arrival at Antioch, to the congregation. Still, it may be easily conjectured that all the travellers, including Paul, Barnabas, and other Antiochians, were sent away by the congregation of Jerusalem, in a fraternal spirit, and with special religious services.
b. Gathered the multitude together.—As soon as the messengers reached Antioch, they discharged the duties assigned to them, at a meeting which the whole congregation attended; the epistle was delivered and read. The result their was, that the Christians were conscious of no other feelings than those of joy, on account of the παθάκλησις which it contained, that is, its fraternal and tranquillizing language, which completely silenced the Pharisaic demands by which they had been disturbed (Luther: “comfort,” and de Wette somewhat similarly: “tranquillizing assurance.”), [“Παρεκάλεσαν, exhorted (“comforted,” Bengel), which occurs in Acts 15:32, does not render it necessary to interpret the noun here: exhortation (Beza, Meyer), for the letter contains but little hortatory matter.” (de Wette).—Tr.].—After the letter had been read, the two messengers, Judas and Silas addressed the assembly, as they too, (καὶ αὐτοὶ), as well as Paul and Barnabas, were endowed with the gift of prophecy [see Acts 13:1. b., and the references there.—Tr.], and, as inspired men, could utter holy and inspiring words. They now exhorted the congregation, and strengthened the souls of the believers in their faith, by copiously speaking the living word.
Acts 15:33-35. And after they had tarried.—The two messengers of the congregation in Jerusalem, after having spent some time in Antioch, were dismissed by the Christians of the latter city, in order to return to the apostles. They were sent away with religious solemnities and with peace (μετʼ εἰρήνης, with sentiments of peace, and with good wishes, i.e., with blessings). [“The allusion is to the formula that was customary at parting: πορεύου, or, ὕπαγε εἰς εἰρήνην, or, ἐν εἰρήνῃ, Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50; Luke 8:48; Acts 16:36; James 2:16.” (Meyer).—Tr.]. It appears that both Judas and Silas now returned to Jerusalem; whereas, the conjecture that Silas remained behind in Antioch, was inserted in the text as early as the fifth and sixth centuries, to which Cod. Ephraemi (rescriptus), [C., see above, note 3, appended to the text.—Tr.] and Cod. Cantabrig. [or, Bezæ; D.] belong. [“There is no improbability in supposing, either that Paul sent for Silas before setting out upon his second mission, or that Silas had returned to Antioch in the mean time.” (Alexander).—Tr.]
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Many different modes of exhibiting Christian truth have already been mentioned in the present narrative: παρακαλεῖν and ἐπιστηρίζειν 32, and comp. Acts 15:41; Acts 14:22; again, διδάσκειν, ver 35, and εὐαγγελίζεσθαι τὸν λόγον τοῦ κυρίου, ibid. The latter phrase, as in Acts 14:7; Acts 14:21, means the preaching of the Gospel to those who are still unacquainted with its joyful tidings; it describes the work of missionaries. Hence the statement in Acts 15:35 refers to certain labors of Paul and Barnabas, partly, in the bosom of the congregation, and partly, beyond its confines, that is, in the vicinity of Antioch. Διδάσκειν describes, specially, the act of communicating doctrinal truth, which is designed to afford still clearer views, and to produce a still deeper conviction of the truth which had already been acknowledged. Παρακαλεῖν, on the other hand, designates the act of exhortation, and is applied to discourses which influence the will and the mind, and form the character of the hearer; its result is ἐπιστηρίζειν, that is, the actual strengthening of his soul.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Acts 15:31. Which when they had read, they rejoiced.—This short epistle created joy among them. But how much more should we rejoice that we are permitted to read so many epistles of the apostles! And what a source of joy the entire Bible should be to us, which is, in truth, an epistle of God, addressed to men! (Quesnel).—No one can so fully enjoy the comfort which exemption from the law affords, as those who had previously felt the pressure of this heavy yoke. (Ap. Past.).
Acts 15:32. And Judas and Silas … exhorted the brethren.—They have no wish to be idle in Antioch. How happy the faithful teacher’s heart is, when he can conduct souls to the Saviour! The slothful servant, on the other hand, imagines that he has accomplished a vast work, when he complies with his official obligations, and fulfils the public duties which are imperatively demanded. (Ap. Past.).—Even the apostolic age, although it enjoyed the ordinary means of edification furnished by the word of God, did not discard such extraordinary means of strengthening its faith. The glory of the Lord is reflected in each of his servants with a peculiar lustre; the old and well-known evangelical truth often makes a peculiar impression, when it is proclaimed in a manner to which we had not hitherto been accustomed (as at missionary festivals, ecclesiastical diets, etc.). (Williger).
Acts 15:33. They were let go in peace from the brethren.—When we have faithfully delivered the message intrusted to us, we can return in peace to him who sent us; John 16:5; John 16:28. (Starke).—We should not be discouraged, nor apprehend that a religious controversy cannot be decided satisfactorily, provided that the parties fear God, and are willing to receive instruction, (id.).
Acts 15:35. Paul also and Barnabas continued, etc.—Remember, O my soul, the weighty saying: “Go, when Jesus calls thee; hasten, when he draws thee; pause, when he restrains thee.”—When Jesus glorifies the day of his grace in any spot, then rejoice that mercy is granted to others.—But when he demands thy services, arise in strength; when his voice is silent in thy soul, make no attempts of thine own. (Zinzendorf).
The bond which unites the Christian congregations: we see it, I. In the teachers who went from one congregation to another with their message; II. In the truth, which, without change, was proclaimed to all alike. (Lisco).—The Gospel of the free grace of God in Christ Jesus, a consolatory epistle addressed to every conscience which is burdened by the law, Acts 15:31.—The blessed journey of the messengers of peace, who carry the Gospel with them: I. They convey peace to anxious hearts, Acts 15:31; II. They unite believing souls in peace, Acts 15:32, comp. with Acts 15:24; III. They depart in peace to the mother-church in the heavenly Jerusalem, Acts 15:33.—[The Epistle of the church of Jerusalem, Acts 15:23-29 : I. Occasion; II. Contents; III. Spirit in which it is written.—The effects produced by the Epistle of the church of Jerusalem, Acts 15:30-31 : I. Described: (a) it assigned a proper position to the apostle of the Gentiles (opened a wider door); (b corrected the extreme views of Judæo-Christians (expelled the error concerning righteousness by works); (c) established the Gentile-Christians in their holy faith (free salvation in Christ). II. The circumstances which enabled it to produce such effects: (a) the holy source from which it proceeded; (b) the wisdom which pervaded it; (c) the important principles which it established. III. Lessons taught by these effects: (a) the Christian mode of conducting religious discussions; (b) the benefits arising from a judicious system of church government and discipline; (c) the value of the word of God as the source of light and grace. Tr.]
Acts 15:31; Acts 15:31. [Instead of consolation (Tynd., Cranm., Geneva, Rheims) the margin of the Engl. Bible offers exhortation. IIαράκλησις, as well as Zuspruch (adopted by Lechler), admits of both versions, according to the context. Robinson (Lex. N. T.), regards the following as the sense: “instruction, teaching, i. e., hortatory.” See Exeg. note, below.—Tr.]
Acts 15:33; Acts 15:33. [Instead of ἀποστόλους, of text. rec. from E. G. H., recent editors read ἀποστείλαντας αὐτους, with A. B. C. D. Cod. Sin., Vulg. (ad eos qui miserant illos), many minuscules, etc.—Tr.]
Acts 15:34; Acts 15:34. The words: ἒδοξε δὲ τῷ Σίλα ἐπιμεῖναῖ αὐτοῦ, of text. rec. [constituting the whole of Acts 15:34], are unquestionably spurious, and have been rejected by Griesbach, Lachmann and Tischendorf; they are found only in two uncial MSS. [C.D. and some versions], whereas they are wanting in the other five uncial MSS. [A. B. E. G. H. and also Cod. Sin.], in 50 minuscule mss., several ancient versions, and Chrysostom and Theophylact. [The present text of the Vulg. exhibits the words with the following addition from D.: Judas autem solus abiit Jerusalem, but the latter is omitted in Cod. Amiatinus.] This addition to the text was doubtless made for the reason that, otherwise, Acts 15:40 would seem to be unintelligible. [The verse is omitted by Alford, who, with others, supposes that the interpolation is intended “to account for Silas being found again at Antioch, Acts 15:40.”—Tr.]
THE SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY OF PAUL, ACCOMPAINED BY SILAS AND TIMOTHEUS, TO ASIA MINOR, AND EUROPE.
Acts 15:36 to Acts 18:22
A.—COMMENCEMENT OF THE JOURNEY PAUL AND BARNABAS SEPARATE ON ACCOUNT OF JOHN MARK; BARNABAS PROCEEDS WITH MARK TO CYPRUS, AND PAUL WITH SILAS TO SYRIA AND CILICIA
36And [But] some days after, Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again [Up δὴ, let us turn back] and visit [look after] our19 brethren in every city where [in which] we have preached the word of the Lord, and see [om.] and see] how they do [bear them selves]. 37And Barnabas determined to [advised that they should]20 take with them John, whose surname was Mark 3:0; Mark 3:08But Paul thought not good to [deemed it just not to] take him [this one, τοῦτον] with them, who departed [had fallen away] from them from Pamphylia, and went not [had not gone] with them to the work. 39And the contention was so sharp between them, [Hence (οὖν)21 a sharp contention arose, so] that they departed asunder [separated] one from the other: and so [om. so] Barnabas took Mark [along], and sailed unto Cyprus; 40And [But] Paul chose Silas [as a companion], and departed [went forth], being [after having been] recommended [commended] by the brethren unto the grace of God [of the Lord]22. 41And he went [journeyed] through Syria and Cilicia, confirming [and strengthened] the churches [congregations].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Acts 15:36. The commencement of the second missionary journey of Paul is not stated with chronological precision; it took place some days after. Silas and Judas had, according to Acts 15:33, remained for some time at Antioch, and, after their departure, Paul and Barnabas continued in Antioch, Acts 15:35. (It is probable that Peter’s visit to Antioch occurred during this period, Galatians 2:11 ff.). Paul now proposed to set forth on another journey. He had undertaken the former by the direction of the Holy Ghost, who spoke by the mouth of certain prophets, Acts 13:2. On the present occasion, the suggestion proceeds from Paul, who exhorts Barnabas to unite in the work with him. He appears to have had originally no other purpose than that of visiting the congregations which had been founded during the former journey. This fact is implied by the word ἐπιστρέψαντες, [i.e., re-entering a road that had previously been travelled over), as well as by the language: ἐπισκεψώμεθα—πῶς ἔχουσι; that is, the primary purpose was to visit only those cities in which both had preached the Gospel. They wished to look after the brethren πῶς ἔχουσι, i.e., to ascertain their present moral and religious state, and their condition in general. [Ἐν αἶς, because πᾶσαν is used in a collective sense, Winer. Gr. N. T. § 21. 3. (Meyer).—Tr.]
Acts 15:37-38. Barnabas appears to have at once expressed a willingness to unite with Paul in visiting the congregations, but he advised (ἐβουλεύσατο, consulere) that they should take John Mark along, as their companion; Paul refused his consent; he could not approve of the proposition that Mark should accompany them, as the conduct of the latter on the former journey seemed to him to have been a falling off from them both (ἀποστάντα taken in a strict sense of the word). The term ἀξιοῦν designates a moral judgment: “he does not deserve that we should take him with us; he has made himself unworthy of it.” The peculiar mode of expression, moreover, very plainly shows that Paul’s indignation on account of that conduct, was avowed with warmth and energy; see Acts 13:13, Exeg. note; (τὸν —μὴ συμπ. τοῦτον). [Τοῦτον, at the close: “we may well believe that Paul’s own mouth gave originally the character to the sentence.” (Alf.)—Tr.]
Acts 15:39-41. Barnabas did not agree with Paul in judging the conduct of Mark with such severity; the latter was, besides, his nephew, Colossians 4:10. [Ἀνεψιός, consobrinus, Vulg.; relative, de Wette; cousin, Robinson: Meyer.—Tr.]. A discussion, conducted with great warmth,—a sharp contention (παροξυσμός)—ensued, and the result was that the two men parted, and took different roads. [“There is little doubt that severe words were spoken on the occasion. It is unwise to be over-anxious to dilute the words of Scripture, and to exempt even Apostles from blame.… We cannot, however, suppose that Paul and Barnabas parted, like enemies, in anger and hatred. It is very likely that they made a deliberate and amicable arrangement to divide the region of their first mission between them, Paul taking the continental, and Barnabas the insular, part of the proposed visitation. Of this at least we are certain, that the quarrel was overruled by Divine Providence to a good result. One stream of missionary labor had been divided, and the regions blessed by the waters of life were proportionally multiplied. St. Paul speaks of Barnabas afterwards (1 Corinthians 9:6,) as of an Apostle actively engaged in his Master’s service.” (Conyb. &H.; Life, etc. of St. Paul, I. 270–272).—“Luke does not mention the re-union which was subsequently effected (Colossians 4:10; Philem. Acts 15:24; 2 Timothy 4:11), which would be very surprising, (as Mark was a disciple of Peter), if the opinion of those were correct, who allege that the Book of the Acts was written in order to harmonize Paulinism with Petrinism.” (Meyer, ad loc. n.).—Tr.]. Barnabas adhered to his purpose, and, retaining Mark, proceeded with him to the island of Cyprus, his original home (Acts 4:36),while Paul chose Silas as his companion, who had, according to Acts 15:33, returned to Jerusalem [on the omission of Acts 15:34, see note 3, appended to Acts 15:30-35, and the Exeg. note.—Tr.], but, as it would appear, afterwards came back to Antioch. The statement, Acts 15:40, that Paul was dismissed in a solemn manner, and commended in the intercessory prayers of the congregation to the grace of the Lord, does not seem to include Barnabas. It is possible that he departed suddenly, or immediately after the dispute with Paul; at least his journey is more directly connected in Acts 15:39 with that scene, than that of Paul. It is certain, however, that Barnabas, after sailing to Cyprus, performed precisely the labors which Paul had proposed, Acts 15:36. Paul, on the other hand, in company with Silas, travelled by land, and, primarily, visited Syria and Cilicia, so that, like Barnabas, he sought his own early homeland, at first, confined his labors to the Christian congregations which had already been established, and which he strengthened in faith and in the Christian life. [“Here we finally lose sight of Barnabas in the sacred record.” (Alf).—Tr.]
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Paul seems, at the first view, to have merely followed an impulse of his own mind, in undertaking the second missionary journey, which was of far greater extent than the first, and conducted him even to Europe; whereas, on the former occasion, he was directed by the Holy Ghost to set forth, and was commissioned by the congregation at Antioch. Still, the second journey, which was so abundantly blessed, was not the result of human plans and individual choice. It was, without doubt, from a sense of duty with respect to the congregations in Asia Minor, which had been established during the first journey, or, in consequence of the suggestions of his conscience, which was enlightened and guided by the Spirit of God, that Paul resolved to undertake this journey, and summoned Barnabas to accompany him. He did not at that moment intend to preach the Gospel, primarily, to unconverted men—to engage in the work of foreign missions; he rather designed to inquire into the state of those who were already converted, and to encourage them—a work allied to domestic missions, or, as it were, the “inner mission”. It was only during the progress of the journey that he became conscious that more extensive labors were assigned to him. The journey was intended to bear the character of an apostolic visitation; its purpose was: ἐπισκέψασθαι τοὺς —πῶς ἔχουσι, quomodo, se habeant in fide, amore, spe; nervus visitationis ecclesiasticæ (Bengel)—an apostolic model of a church-visitation; comp. also Acts 8:14-15; Acts 9:32.
2. Paul practically demonstrated, in the case of Mark, all the keenness and severity of his moral judgment. He regarded the act of the latter in withdrawing from him and Barnabas, and from their common work at that time (Acts 13:13), not as a matter of indifference in a moral point of view, but as one which, in his judgment, betrayed an inexcusable want of fidelity and Christian steadfastness Mark did not apostatize from Christ Himself, but from them,—the two messengers of Christ (ἀπʼ αὐτῶν, Acts 15:38). Paul does not condemn him in exaggerated and passionate terms, as if he had become an infidel and an enemy of Christ. But he would not permit Mark to accompany them on the second journey, for he would otherwise have thus conferred on the latter a privilege, a dignity, a distinction (ἠξίου), of which he had rendered himself unworthy. Barnabas does not accord with Paul in pronouncing this stern sentence, but prefers to act in a mild, calm, and forgiving spirit. Each of the two men, doubtless, aided in conducting Mark to the salvation of his soul; the severity of Paul led him to repentance, humbled and warned him, while the gentleness of Barnabas preserved him from despondency. Paul did not, subsequently, remember the affair to his disadvantage, but must have forgiven him, for, otherwise, he would not have conveyed Mark’s friendly salutations to the Colossians, and recommended him to the congregation (Colossians 4:10). [See Exeg. note on Acts 13:13.—Tr.]
3. The scene which Barnabas and Paul exhibited, Acts 15:39, was marked by so much heat and passion, as far as we are enabled to judge, that it cannot have left either party, at the close, free from the stain of sin. [“Jerome says: “Paulus severior, Barnabas clementior; uterque in suo sensu abundat, et tamen dissensio habet aliquid humanæ fragilitatis.” Contra Pelag. II. 522. And Chrysostom says: “ὁ Παῦλος ἐζήτει το δίκαιον, ὁ Βαρνάβας τὸ φἱλάνθρωπον” (Conyb. and H. I. 271. n. 4.)—Tr.].—Here, again, the word of God, in place of covering the sins of the most worthy servants of God with the mantle of charity, testifies with the utmost sincerity respecting them, for the sake of the truth. The case affords another proof that where sin abounds, the grace of God in Christ does much more abound [Romans 5:20], so that, although so many temptations, and such great infirmity of the flesh may intervene, grace nevertheless preserves, sanctifies and sustains the children of God. Indeed, even this separation, which could not have occurred without sin, nevertheless produced good fruits, in the overruling providence of God, which does all things well, and conducts all to a glorious issue. Not only did Paul, no longer hindered by a companion of equal, or, originally, of superior rank, develop all his powers of action in an independent manner; but, further, the division of the work between himself and Barnabas, promoted the general interests of the cause. He had hitherto labored in common with Barnabas, in only one direction; but now, two missionary journeys were simultaneously undertaken, and, instead of a single pair of missionaries, two pairs now labor, at the same time, in different places.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Acts 15:36. Let us go again and visit our brethren, etc.—It is not enough to plant a congregation; it must also be watered and nourished; 1 Corinthians 3:6. (Starke).—A church-visitation that is judiciously conducted, is necessary, in reference to pastors, as well as to the hearers. (Quesnel).
Acts 15:39. And the contention was so sharp, etc.—Even the most eminent saints are not without their faults, which should, however, be carefully distinguished from dominant sins, (Starke).—But why did this dissension occur, and why is it even recorded here? Will it not, during all succeeding ages, give offence? No! It is precisely in this respect that the scriptural narrative differs from human biographies. The former exhibits a good man to our view, and then proceeds to state his faults, showing, at the same time, the manner in which the overruling grace of God, nevertheless, conducts all to a happy issue. The latter usually dwell on favorable circumstances, and, nevertheless, often leave the reader in doubt respecting the true character of the individual. Mark, who is afterwards found walking in the right way (Colossians 4:10), may have, on the one hand, been deeply humbled by the rigor of Paul, and, on the other, comforted and encouraged by the indulgent love of Barnabas. The one was as necessary to him as the other. (Rieger).—Barnabas occupied the position of a kind and gentle mother, who is very willing to excuse and overlook the faults of her children. Paul acts like a thoughtful father, who applies the rod, and says: ‘The spoiled child must be taught to feel.’ (Gossner).—Paul appears to have entertained a correct view of the case, rather than Barnabas, and Gideon furnished him with a model belonging to the Old Testament, Judges 7:3. Still, it was not necessary that he should contest the point with such warmth; he might have remembered the example which Abraham gave; Genesis 13:8-9. It was well, however, that the two men separated. Those whose characters are so essentially different, can seldom accommodate themselves readily to one another. Even while they remain brethren in Christ, it is better that each should stand alone. (Williger).—Let us look away from the errors and infirmities of the saints, which, however, the Scriptures never conceal, and let us rather contemplate the unerring hand of the Lord, which guides all things to a happy end. The severity of Paul did not injure Mark, but rather induced him to be more faithful; and, at a subsequent period, Paul speaks of Barnabas as his faithful associate in the work of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 9:6. (Besser).
Acts 15:40. And Paul chose Silas, etc.—Silas, a Judæo-Christian, educated in Jerusalem, the companion of the apostle of the Gentiles! What vast and happy results the occurrence mentioned in Acts 15:1, had accordingly produced! (Williger).—Recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.—This special attention which the congregation paid to Paul, indirectly shows that the brethren virtually approved of his course, rather than of that of the other. (Rieger).
Human weakness, even in the most experienced Christians: I. That it does exist; II. Consolatory truths of religion in reference to it. (Lisco).—The contention of the brethren: I. What was the subject? (a) Both supposed that they were contending for Christ; (b) each contended, unconsciously, for himself and his own will. II. Which one was in the right? (a) Both desired that which was right—the spiritual welfare of the erring man, and the promotion of the kingdom of God; (b) neither was in the right, as each adhered to his own opinion, without fully examining that of the other; (c) both did right when they voluntarily separated, in order that love might not be subjected to further interruptions, (id.).—Why do the Scriptures disclose the weaknesses of the servants of God? I. To mortify spiritual pride, so that none may boastingly say: ‘I shall never be overcome.’ II. To afford comfort in the midst of human infirmities, by suggesting the encouraging thought: ‘They, too, were flesh of our flesh.’ III. To render honor to the divine wisdom, which can educe a blessing even from the faults of men.—The Lord triumphs, even when his servants exhibit weaknesses: I. Without His grace, even their virtues become failings; the mildness of Barnabas would have otherwise been a weak indulgence; the rigor of Paul, inflexible harshness. II. By His grace, blessings flow even from their faults; the humiliation which Mark endured, aided in restoring his strength and firmness; the separation of the apostles divided the full stream of the Gospel message into two branches, and thus more widely diffused the latter.—The divisions of the children of God carry their own remedy with them: for, I. They stand on the same foundation of faith; II. They have the same exalted aim; III. They bow in submission to the same Lord and Master.
Acts 15:36; Acts 15:36. [̓Hμῶν after ἀδελφοὺς from G. H., is omitted in A. B. C. D. E. Cod. Sin., Vulg. etc., and is cancelled by recent editors generally.—Tr.]
Acts 15:37; Acts 15:37. ̓Eβουλεὐσατο [of text. rec. and retained by Alf] is supported, it is true, by only two uncial MSS. [G. H; D. has ἐβουλεύετο], while four of the latter [A. B. C. E., and also Cod. Sin.], and nearly all the versions [Vulg. volebat] exhibit ἐβούλετο [which Lach. and Tisch. adopt]. But ἐβούλετο could have far more readily been substituted, as an easier reading, than that it, if the original word, should have been converted by a later correction, into ἐβουλεύσατο. [The latter was usually interpreted in the sense of ἐβούλετο; comp. Acts 5:33. (Meyer).—Instead of τὸν Iωάν of text, rec., from G. H., recent editors read καὶ ̓Iω., with A. C. E. Vulg.—B. and Cod. Sin. have καὶ τὸν Iω.—Tr.]
Acts 15:39; Acts 15:39. [For οῦ́ν before παροξ, of text. rec. from C. E. G. H., Lach. Tisch. and Alf. substitute δὲ from A. B. D. and Cod. Sin.—Tr.]
Acts 15:40; Acts 15:40. Kυρίου [from A. B. D. and Cod. Sin., and adopted by recent editors] is preferable to θεοῦ [in C. E. G. H., Vulg.], which seems to be conformed to the parallel passage in Acts 14:26.
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Acts 15". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29