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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Acts 15

Verse 1

And certain men came down from Judea (κα τινες κατελθοντες απο της Ιουδαιας). Evidently the party of the circumcision in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:2) had heard of the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles in Cyprus, Pamphylia, and South Galatia (Phrygia, Pisidia, Lycaonia). Possibly John Mark after his desertion at Perga (Acts 13:13) told of this as one of his reasons for coming home. At any rate echoes of the jubilation in Antioch in Syria would be certain to reach Jerusalem. The Judaizers in Jerusalem, who insisted that all the Gentile Christians must become Jews also, had acquiesced in the case of Cornelius and his group (Acts 11:1-18) after plain proof by Peter that it was the Lord's doing. But they had not agreed to a formal campaign to turn the exception into the rule and to make Christianity mainly Gentile with a few Jews instead of mainly Jewish with a few Gentiles. Since Paul and Barnabas did not come up to Jerusalem, the leaders among the Judaizers decided to go down to Antioch and attack Paul and Barnabas there. They had volunteered to go without church action in Jerusalem for their activity is disclaimed by the conference (Acts 15:24). In Galatians 2:4 Paul with some heat describes these Judaizers as "false brethren, secretly introduced who sneaked in to spy out our liberty." It is reasonably certain that this visit to Jerusalem described in Galatians 2:1-10 is the same one as the Jerusalem Conference in Acts Acts 15:5-29 in spite of the effort of Ramsay to identify it with that in Acts 11:29. Paul in Galatians is not giving a list of his visits to Jerusalem. He is showing his independence of the twelve apostles and his equality with them. He did not see them in Acts 11:29, but only "the elders." In Acts 15:15 Luke gives the outward narrative of events, in Galatians 2:1-10 Paul shows us the private interview with the apostles when they agreed on their line of conduct toward the Judaizers. In Galatians 2:2 by the use of "them" (αυτοις) Paul seems to refer to the first public meeting in Acts before the private interview that came in between verses Acts 15:5-6. If we recall the difficulty that Peter had on the subject of preaching the gospel to the heathen (Acts 10:1-11), we can the better understand the attitude of the Judaizers. They were men of sincere convictions without a doubt, but they were obscurantists and unable and unwilling to receive new light from the Lord on a matter that involved their racial and social prejudices. They recalled that Jesus himself had been circumcised and that he had said to the Syro-Phoenician woman that he had come only save to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24). They argued that Christ had not repealed circumcision. So one of the great religious controversies of all time was begun, that between spiritual religion and ritualistic or ceremonial religion. It is with us yet with baptism taking the place of circumcision. These self-appointed champions of circumcision for Gentile Christians were deeply in earnest.

Taught the brethren (εδιδασκον τους αδελφους). Inchoative imperfect active, began to teach and kept it up. Their attitude was one of supercilious superiority. They probably resented the conduct of Barnabas, who, when sent by the Church in Jerusalem to investigate the conversion of the Greeks in Antioch (Acts 11:20-26), did not return and report till a strong church had been established there with the help of Saul and only then with a big collection to confuse the issue. Paul and Barnabas were on hand, but the Judaizers persisted in their efforts to force their views on the church in Antioch. It was a crisis.

Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved (εαν με περιτμηθητε τω εθε Μωυσεωσ, ου δυνασθε σωθηνα). There was the dictum of the Judaizers to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas had been circumcised. This is probably the precise language employed, for they spoke in Greek to these Greeks. It is a condition of the third class (undetermined, but with prospect of being determined, εαν plus the first aorist passive subjunctive of περιτεμνω). There was thus hope held out for them, but only on condition that they be circumcised. The issue was sharply drawn. The associative instrumental case (τω εθε) is customary. "Saved" (σωθηνα) here is the Messianic salvation. This doctrine denied the efficacy of the work of Christ.

Verse 2

When Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them (Γενομενης στασεως κα ζητησεως ουκ ολιγης τω Παυλω κα Βαρναβα προς αυτους). Genitive absolute of second aorist middle participle of γινομα, genitive singular agreeing with first substantive στασεως. Literally, "No little (litotes for much) strife and questioning coming to Paul and Barnabas (dative case) with them " (προς αυτους, face to face with them). Paul and Barnabas were not willing to see this Gentile church brow-beaten and treated as heretics by these self-appointed regulators of Christian orthodoxy from Jerusalem. The work had developed under the leadership of Paul and Barnabas and they accepted full responsibility for it and stoutly resisted these Judaizers to the point of sedition (riot, outbreak in Luke 23:25; Acts 19:40) as in Acts 23:7. There is no evidence that the Judaizers had any supporters in the Antioch church so that they failed utterly to make any impression. Probably these Judaizers compelled Paul to think through afresh his whole gospel of grace and so they did Paul and the world a real service. If the Jews like Paul had to believe, it was plain that there was no virtue in circumcision (Galatians 2:15-21). It is not true that the early Christians had no disagreements. They had selfish avarice with Ananias and Sapphira, murmuring over the gifts to the widows, simony in the case of Simon Magus, violent objection to work in Caesarea, and now open strife over a great doctrine (grace vs. legalism).

The brethren appointed (εταξαν). "The brethren" can be supplied from verse Acts 15:1 and means the church in Antioch. The church clearly saw that the way to remove this deadlock between the Judaizers and Paul and Barnabas was to consult the church in Jerusalem to which the Judaizers belonged. Paul and Barnabas had won in Antioch. If they can win in Jerusalem, that will settle the matter. The Judaizers will be answered in their own church for which they are presuming to speak. The verb εταξαν (τασσω, to arrange) suggests a formal appointment by the church in regular assembly. Paul (Galatians 2:2) says that he went up by revelation (κατ' αποκαλυψιν), but surely that is not contradictory to the action of the church.

Certain others of them (τινας αλλους). Certainly Titus (Galatians 2:1; Galatians 2:3), a Greek and probably a brother of Luke who is not mentioned in Acts. Rackham thinks that Luke was in the number.

The apostles and elders (τους αποστολους κα πρεσβυτερους). Note one article for both (cf. "the apostles and the brethren" in Acts 11:1). "Elders" now (Acts 11:30) in full force. The apostles have evidently returned now to the city after the death of Herod Agrippa I stopped the persecution.

Verse 3

They therefore (ο μεν ουν). Luke's favourite method of resumptive narrative as we have seen (Acts 11:19, etc.), demonstrative ο with μεν (indeed) and ουν (therefore).

Being brought on their way by the church (προπεμφθεντες υπο της εκκλησιας). First aorist passive participle of προπεμπω, old verb, to send forward under escort as a mark of honour as in Acts 20:38; Acts 21:5; 3 John 1:6. They were given a grand send-off by the church in Antioch.

Passed through (διηρχοντο). Imperfect middle describing the triumphal procession through both (τε κα) Phoenicia and Samaria.

The conversion (την επιστροφην). The turning.

They caused great joy (εποιουν χαραν μεγαλην). Imperfect active. They were raising a constant paean of praise as they proceeded toward Jerusalem. Probably the Judaizers had gone on or kept still.

Verse 4

Were received (παρεδεχθησαν). First aorist passive indicative of παραδεχομα, old verb, to receive, to welcome. Here it was a public reception for Paul and Barnabas provided by the whole church including the apostles and elders, at which an opportunity was given to hear the story of Paul and Barnabas about God's dealings with them among the Gentiles. This first public meeting is referred to by Paul in Galatians 2:2 "I set before them (αυτοις) the gospel, etc."

Verse 5

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

Verse 6

Were gathered together (συνηχθησαν). First aorist (effective) passive indicative. The church is not named here as in verse Acts 15:4, but we know from verses Acts 15:12-22 that the whole church came together this time also along with the apostles and elders.

Of this matter (περ του λογου τουτου). Same idiom in Acts 8:21; Acts 19:38. They realized the importance of the issue.

Verse 7

When there had been much questioning (πολλης ζητησεως γενομενης). Genitive absolute with second aorist middle participle of γινομα. Evidently the Judaizers were given full opportunity to air all their grievances and objections. They were allowed plenty of time and there was no effort to shut off debate or to rush anything through the meeting.

Peter rose up (αναστας Πετρος). The wonder was that he had waited so long. Probably Paul asked him to do so. He was the usual spokesman for the apostles and his activities in Jerusalem were well-known. In particular his experience at Caesarea (Acts 15:10) had caused trouble here in Jerusalem from this very same party of the circumcism (Acts 11:1-18). It was fitting that Peter should speak. This is the last time that Peter appears in the Acts.

A good while ago (αφ' ημερων αρχαιων). From ancient days. The adjective αρχαιος is from αρχη, beginning, and its actual age is a matter of relativity. So Mnason (Acts 21:16) is termed "an ancient disciple." It was probably a dozen years since God "made choice" (εξελεξατο) to speak by Peter's mouth to Cornelius and the other Gentiles in Caesarea. His point is that what Paul and Barnabas have reported is nothing new. The Judaizers made objection then as they are doing now.

Verse 8

Which knoweth the heart (καρδιογνωστης). Late word from καρδια (heart) and γνωστης (known, γινωσκω). In the N.T. only here and Acts 1:24 which see.

Giving them the Holy Spirit (δους το πνευμα το αγιον). And before their baptism. This was the Lord's doing. They had accepted (Acts 11:18) this witness of God then and it was true now of these other Gentile converts.

Verse 9

He made no distinction between us and them (ουθεν διεκρινεν μεταξυ ημων τε κα αυτων). He distinguished nothing (first aorist active ind.) between (both δια and μεταξυ) both (τε κα) us and them. In the matter of faith and conversion God treated us Jews as heathen and the heathen as Jews.

Cleansing their hearts by faith (τη πιστε καθαρισας τας καρδιας αυτων). Not by works nor by ceremonies. Peter here has a thoroughly Pauline and Johannine idea of salvation for all both Jew and Greek. Cf. Acts 10:15.

Verse 10

Why tempt ye God? (τ πειραζετε τον θεον;). By implying that God had made a mistake this time, though right about Cornelius. It is a home-thrust. They were refusing to follow the guidance of God like the Israelites at Massah and Meribah (Exodus 17:7; Deuteronomy 6:16; 1 Corinthians 10:9).

That ye should put (επιθεινα). Second aorist active infinitive of επιτιθημ, epexegetic, explaining the tempting.

A yoke upon the neck (ζυγον επ τον τραχηλον). Familiar image of oxen with yokes upon the necks. Paul's very image for the yoke of bondage of the Mosaic law in Galatians 5:1. It had probably been used in the private interview. Cf. the words of Jesus about the Pharisees (Matthew 23:4) and how easy and light his own yoke is (Matthew 11:30).

Were able to bear (ισχυσαμεν βαστασα). Neither our fathers nor we had strength (ισχυω) to carry this yoke which the Judaizers wish to put on the necks of the Gentiles. Peter speaks as the spiritual emancipator. He had been slow to see the meaning of God's dealings with him at Joppa and Caesarea, but he has seen clearly by now. He takes his stand boldly with Paul and Barnabas for Gentile freedom.

Verse 11

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

Verse 12

Kept silence (εσιγησεν). Ingressive first aorist active of σιγαω, old verb, to hold one's peace. All the multitude became silent after Peter's speech and because of it.

Hearkened (ηκουον). Imperfect active of ακουω, descriptive of the rapt attention, were listening.

Unto Barnabas and Paul (Βαρναβα κα Παυλου). Note placing Barnabas before Paul as in verse Acts 15:25, possibly because in Jerusalem Barnabas was still better known than Paul.

Rehearsing (εξηγουμενων). Present middle participle of εξηγεομα, old verb, to go through or lead out a narrative of events as in Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8 which see. Three times (Acts 14:27; Acts 15:4; Acts 15:12) Paul is described as telling the facts about their mission work, facts more eloquent than argument (Page). One of the crying needs in the churches is fuller knowledge of the facts of mission work and progress with enough detail to give life and interest. The signs and wonders which God had wrought among the Gentiles set the seal of approval on the work done through (δια) Barnabas and Paul. This had been Peter's argument about Cornelius (Acts 11:17). This same verb (εξηγησατο) is used by James in verse Acts 15:14 referring to Peter's speech.

Verse 13

After they had held their peace (μετα το σιγησα αυτους). Literally, "after the becoming silent (ingressive aorist active of the articular infinitive) as to them (Barnabas and Paul, accusative of general reference)."

James answered (απεκριθη Ιακωβος). First aorist passive (deponent) indicative. It was expected that James, as President of the Conference, would speak last. But he wisely waited to give every one an opportunity to speak. The challenge of the Judaizers called for an opinion from James. Furneaux thinks that he may have been elected one of the twelve to take the place of James the brother of John since Paul (Galatians 1:19) calls him apostle. More likely he was asked to preside because of his great gifts and character as chief of the elders.

Verse 14

Hearken unto me (ακουσατε μου). Usual appeal for attention. James was termed James the Just and was considered a representative of the Hebraic as opposed to the Hellenistic wing of the Jewish Christians (Acts 6:1). The Judaizers had doubtless counted on him as a champion of their view and did later wrongfully make use of his name against Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2:12). There was instant attention when James began to speak.

Symeon (Συμεων). The Aramaic form of Simon as in 2 Peter 2:1. This little touch would show his affinities with the Jewish Christians (not the Judaizers). This Aramaic form is used also in Luke 2:25; Luke 2:34 of the old prophet in the temple. Possibly both forms (Symeon, Aramaic, and Simon, Greek) were current in Jerusalem.

How (καθως). Strictly, "according as," here like ος in indirect discourse somewhat like the epexegetic or explanatory use in 3 John 1:3.

First (πρωτον). Told by Peter in verse Acts 15:7. James notes, as Peter did, that this experience of Barnabas and Paul is not the beginning of work among the Gentiles.

Did visit (επεσκεψατο). First aorist middle indicative of επισκεπτομα, old verb to look upon, to look after, provide for. This same verb occurs in James 1:27 and is one of various points of similarity between this speech of James in Acts and the Epistle of James as shown by Mayor in his Commentary on James. Somehow Luke may have obtained notes of these various addresses.

To take from the Gentiles a people for his name (λαβειν εξ εθνων λαον τω ονοματ αυτου). Bengel calls this egregium paradoxon, a chosen people (λαον) out of the Gentiles (εθνων). This is what is really involved in what took place at Caesarea at the hands of Peter and the campaign of Barnabas and Paul from Antioch. But such a claim of God's purpose called for proof from Scripture to convince Jews and this is precisely what James undertakes to give. This new Israel from among the Gentiles is one of Paul's great doctrines as set forth in Acts 15:3; Acts 15:9-11. Note the use of God's "name" here for "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).

Verse 15

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

Verse 16

I will build again (ανοικοδομησω). Here LXX has αναστησω. Compound (ανα, up or again) of οικοδομεω, the verb used by Jesus in Matthew 16:18 of the general church or kingdom as here which see.

The tabernacle of David (την σκηνην Δαυειδ), a poetical figure of the throne of David (2 Samuel 7:12) now "the fallen tent" (την πεπτωκυιαν), perfect active participle of πιπτω, state of completion.

The ruins thereof (τα κατεστραμμενα αυτης). Literally, "the ruined portions of it." Perfect passive participle of καταστρεφω, to turn down. It is a desolate picture of the fallen, torn down tent of David.

I will let it up (ανορθωσω). Old verb from ανορθοω (ανα, ορθος), to set upright. See on Luke 13:13 of the old woman whose crooked back was set straight.

Verse 17

That the residue of men may seek after the Lord (οπως αν εκζητησωσιν ο καταλοιπο των ανθρωπων τον κυριον). The use of οπως with the subjunctive (effective aorist active) to express purpose is common enough and note αν for an additional tone of uncertainty. On the rarity of αν with οπως in the Koine see Robertson, Grammar, p. 986. Here the Gentiles are referred to. The Hebrew text is quite different, "that they may possess the remnant of Edom." Certainly the LXX suits best the point that James is making. But the closing words of this verse point definitely to the Gentiles both in the Hebrew and the LXX, "all the Gentiles" (παντα τα εθνη). Another item of similarity between this speech and the Epistle of James is in the phrase "my name is called" (επικεκλητα το ονομα μου) and James 2:7. The purpose of God, though future, is expressed by this perfect passive indicative επικεκλητα from επι καλεω, to call on. It is a Jewish way of speaking of those who worship God.

Verse 18

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

Verse 19

Wherefore (διο). "Because of which," this plain purpose of God as shown by Amos and Isaiah.

My judgment is (εγω κρινω). Note expression of εγω.

I give my judgment . (Εγο χενσεο). James sums up the case as President of the Conference in a masterly fashion and with that consummate wisdom for which he is noted. It amounts to a resolution for the adoption by the assembly as happened (verse Acts 15:33).

That we trouble not (μη παρενοχλειν). Present active infinitive with μη in an indirect command (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1046) of παρενοχλεω, a common late verb, occurring here alone in the N.T. This double compound (παρα, εν) is from the old compound ενοχλεω (εν and οχλος, crowd, annoyance) seen in Luke 6:18; Hebrews 12:15, and means to cause trouble beside (παρα) one or in a matter. This is the general point of James which he explains further concerning "those who are turning from the Gentiles unto God," the very kind of people referred to in Amos.

Verse 20

But that we write unto them (αλλα επιστειλα αυτοις). By way of contrast (αλλα). First aorist active infinitive of επιστελλω, old verb to send to one (message, letter, etc.). Our word επιστλε (επιστολη as in verse Acts 15:30) comes from this verb. In the N.T. only here, Hebrews 13:22, and possibly Acts 21:25.

That they abstain from (του απεχεσθα). The genitive of the articular infinitive of purpose, present middle (direct) of απεχω, old verb, to hold oneself back from. The best old MSS. do not have απο, but the ablative is clear enough in what follows. James agrees with Peter in his support of Paul and Barnabas in their contention for Gentile freedom from the Mosaic ceremonial law. The restrictions named by James affect the moral code that applies to all (idolatry, fornication, murder). Idolatry, fornication and murder were the outstanding sins of paganism then and now (Revelation 22:15). Harnack argues ably against the genuineness of the word πνικτου (strangled) which is absent from D Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian. It is a nice point, though the best MSS. have it in accord with Leviticus 17:10-16. The problem is whether the words were added because "blood" was understood as not "murder," but a reference to the Mosaic regulation or whether it was omitted to remove the ceremonial aspect and make it all moral and ethical. The Western text omits the word also in verse Acts 15:29. But with the word retained here and in verse Acts 15:29 the solution of James is not a compromise, though there is a wise concession to Jewish feeling.

Pollutions of idols (αλισγηματων). From αλισγεω only in the LXX and this substantive nowhere else. The word refers to idolatrous practices (pollutions) and things sacrificed to idols (ειδωλυθων) in verse Acts 15:29, not to sacrificial meat sold in the market (1 Corinthians 10:27), a matter not referred to here. Cf. Leviticus 17:1-9. All the four items in the position of James (accepting πνικτου) are mentioned in Acts 15:17; Acts 15:18.

Verse 21

For Moses (Μωυσης γαρ). A reason why these four necessary things (verse Acts 15:28) are named. In every city are synagogues where rabbis proclaim (κηρυσσοντας) these matters. Hence the Gentile Christians would be giving constant offence to neglect them. The only point where modern Christian sentiment would object would be about "things strangled" and "blood" in the sense of any blood left in the animals, though most Christians probably agree with the feeling of James in objecting to blood in the food. If "blood" is taken to be "murder," that difficulty vanishes. Moses will suffer no loss for these Gentile Christians are not adherents of Judaism.

Verse 22

Then it seemed good (Τοτε εδοξεν). First aorist active indicative of δοκεω. A regular idiom at the beginning of decrees. This Eirenicon of James commended itself to the whole assembly. Apparently a vote was taken which was unanimous, the Judaizers probably not voting. The apostles and the elders (τοις αποστολοις κα τοις πρεσβυτεροις, article with each, dative case) probably all vocally expressed their position.

With the whole church (συν ολε τη εκκλησια). Probably by acclamation. It was a great victory. But James was a practical leader and he did not stop with speeches and a vote.

To choose men out of their company (εκλεζαμενους ανδρας εξ αυτων). Accusative case, though dative just before (τοις αποστολοις, etc.), of first aorist middle participle of εκλεγω, to select. This loose case agreement appears also in γραψαντες in verse Acts 15:23 and in MSS. in verse Acts 15:25. It is a common thing in all Greek writers (Paul, for instance), especially in the papyri and in the Apocalypse of John.

Judas called Barsabbas (Ιουδαν τον καλουμενον Βαρσαββαν). Not otherwise known unless he is a brother of Joseph Barsabbas of Acts 1:23, an early follower of Jesus. The other, Silas, is probably a shortened form of Silvanus (Σιλουανος, 1 Peter 5:12), the companion of Paul in his second mission tour (Acts 15:32; Acts 15:41; Acts 16:25).

Chief men (ηγουμενους). Leaders, leading men (participle from ηγεομα, to lead).

Verse 23

And they wrote (γραψαντες). First aorist active participle of γραφω and the nominative as if a principal verb επεμψαν had been used instead of πεμψα, the first aorist active infinitive (anacoluthon). This committee of four (Judas, Silas, Barnabas, Paul) carried the letter which embodied the decision of the Conference. This letter is the writing out of the judgment of James and apparently written by him as the President.

The apostles and the elders, brethren (ο αποστολο κα ο πρεσβυτεροι, αδελφο). So the oldest and best MSS. without κα (and) before "brethren." This punctuation is probably correct and not "elder brethren." The inquiry had been sent to the apostles and elders (verse Acts 15:2) though the whole church joined in the welcome (verse Acts 15:4) and in the decision (verse Acts 15:22). The apostles and elders send the epistle, but call themselves "brothers to brothers," Fratres Fratibus Salutem. "The brothers" (τοις αδελφοις) addressed (dative case) are of the Gentiles (εξ εθνων) and those in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, because they were immediately involved. But the decision of this Conference was meant for Gentile Christians everywhere (Acts 16:4).

Greeting (Χαιρειν). The customary formula in the beginning of letters, the absolute infinitive (usually χαιρειν) with the nominative absolute also as in James 1:1; Acts 23:26 and innumerable papyri (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 1902f.).

Verse 24

Certain which went from us (τινες εξ ημων, Aleph B omit εξελθοντες). A direct blow at the Judaizers, put in delicate language (we heard ηκουσαμεν) as if only at Antioch (Acts 15:1), and not also in Jerusalem in open meeting (Acts 15:5).

Have troubled you with words (εταραξαν υμας λογοις). What a picture of turmoil in the church in Antioch, words, words, words. Aorist tense of the common verb ταρασσω, to agitate, to make the heart palpitate (John 14:1; John 14:27) and instrumental case of λογοις.

Subverting your souls (ανασκευαζοντες τας ψυχας υμων). Present active participle of ανασκευαζω, old verb (ανα and σκευος, baggage) to pack up baggage, to plunder, to ravage. Powerful picture of the havoc wrought by the Judaizers among the simple-minded Greek Christians in Antioch.

To whom we gave no commandment (οις ου διεστειλαμεθα). First aorist middle indicative of διαστελλω, old verb to draw asunder, to distinguish, to set forth distinctly, to command. This is a flat disclaimer of the whole conduct of the Judaizers in Antioch and in Jerusalem, a complete repudiation of their effort to impose the Mosaic ceremonial law upon the Gentile Christians.

Verse 25

It seemed good unto us (εδοξεν ημιν). See statement by Luke in verse Acts 15:22, and now this definite decision is in the epistle itself. It is repeated in verse Acts 15:28.

Having come to one accord (γενομενοις ομοθυμαδον). On this adverb, common in Acts, see on Acts 1:14. But γενομενοις clearly means that the final unity was the result of the Conference (private and public talks). The Judaizers are here brushed to one side as the defeated disturbers that they really were who had lacked the courage to vote against the majority.

To choose out men and send them (εκλεξαμενοις ανδρας πεμψα A B L, though Aleph C D read εκλεξαμενους as in verse Acts 15:22). Precisely the same idiom as in verse Acts 15:22, "having chosen out to send."

With our beloved Barnabas and Paul (συν τοις αγαπητοις ημων Βαρναβα κα Παυλω). The verbal adjective αγαπητοις (common in the N.T.) definitely sets the seal of warm approval on Barnabas and Paul. Paul (Galatians 2:9) confirms this by his statement concerning the right hand of fellowship given.

Verse 26

Have hazarded their lives (παραδεδωκοσ τας ψυχας αυτων). Perfect active participle dative plural of παραδιδωμ, old word, to hand over to another, and with ψυχας, to hand over to another their lives. The sufferings of Paul and Barnabas in Pisidia and Lycaonia were plainly well-known just as the story of Judson in Burmah is today. On the use of "name" here see on Acts 3:6.

Verse 27

Who themselves also shall tell you the same things by word of mouth (κα αυτους δια λογου απαγγελλοντας τα αυτα). Literally, "they themselves also by speech announcing the same things." The present participle, as here, sometimes is used like the future to express purpose as in Acts 3:26 ευλογουντα after απεστειλεν and so here απαγγελλοντας after απεσταλκαμεν (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1128). Judas and Silas are specifically endorsed (perfect active indicative of αποστελλω) as bearers of the epistle who will also verbally confirm the contents of the letter.

Verse 28

To the Holy Spirit and to us (τω πνευματ τω αγιω κα ημιν). Dative case after εδοξεν (third example, verses Acts 15:22; Acts 15:25; Acts 15:28). Definite claim that the church in this action had the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That fact was plain to the church from what had taken place in Caesarea and in this campaign of Paul and Barnabas (verse Acts 15:8). Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Even so the church deliberated carefully before deciding. What a blessing it would be if this were always true! But even so the Judaizers are only silenced for the present, not convinced and only waiting for a better day to start over again.

No greater burden (μηδεν πλεον βαρος). The restrictions named did constitute some burden (cf. Matthew 20:12), for the old word βαρος means weight or heaviness. Morality itself is a restraint upon one's impulses as is all law a prohibition against license.

Verse 29

Than these necessary things (πλην τουτων των επαναγκες). This old adverb (from επ and αναγκη) means on compulsion, of necessity. Here only in the N.T. For discussion of these items see on verses Acts 15:20; Acts 15:21. In comparison with the freedom won this "burden" is light and not to be regarded as a compromise in spite of the arguments of Lightfoot and Ramsay. It was such a concession as any converted Gentile would be glad to make even if "things strangled" be included. This "necessity" was not a matter of salvation but only for fellowship between Jews and Gentiles. The Judaizers made the law of Moses essential to salvation (Acts 15:16).

It shall be well with you (ευ πραξετε). Ye shall fare well. A classical idiom used here effectively. The peace and concord in the fellowship of Jews and Gentiles will justify any slight concession on the part of the Gentiles. This letter is not laid down as a law, but it is the judgment of the Jerusalem Christians for the guidance of the Gentiles (Acts 16:4) and it had a fine effect at once (Acts 15:30-35). Trouble did come later from the Judaizers who were really hostile to the agreement in Jerusalem, but that opposition in no way discredits the worth of the work of this Conference. No sane agreement will silence perpetual and professional disturbers like these Judaizers who will seek to unsettle Paul's work in Antioch, in Corinth, in Galatia, in Jerusalem, in Rome.

Fare ye well (Ερρωσθε). Valete. Perfect passive imperative of ρωννυμ, to make strong. Common at the close of letters. Be made strong, keep well, fare well. Here alone in the N.T. though some MSS. have it in Acts 23:30.

Verse 30

So they (ο μεν ουν). As in verse Acts 15:3.

When they were dismissed (απολυθεντες). First aorist passive participle of απολυω, common verb to loosen, to dismiss. Possibly (Hackett) religious services were held as in verse Acts 15:33 (cf. Acts 13:3) and perhaps an escort for part of the way as in verse Acts 15:3.

The multitude (το πληθος). Public meeting of the church as in verses Acts 15:1-3. Deissmann (Bible Studies, p. 232) gives illustrations from the inscriptions of the use of πληθος for official, political, and religious gatherings. The committee formally "delivered" (επεδωκαν) the epistle to the church authorities.

Verse 31

When they had read it (αναγνοντες). Second aorist active participle of αναγινωσκω. Public reading, of course, to the church.

They rejoiced (εχαρησαν). Second aorist (ingressive) passive indicative of χαιρω. They burst into exultant joy showing clearly that they did not consider it a weak compromise, but a glorious victory of Gentile liberty.

For the consolation (επ τη παρακλησε). The encouragement, the cheer in the letter. See παρεκαλεσαν in verse Acts 15:32. Consolation and exhortation run into one another in this word.

Verse 32

Being themselves also prophets (κα αυτο προφητα οντες). As well as Paul and Barnabas and like Agabus (Acts 11:27-30), for-speakers for Christ who justify the commendation in the letter (verse Acts 15:27) "with many words" (δια λογου πολλου), "with much talk," and no doubt with kindly words concerning the part played at the Conference by Paul and Barnabas.

Confirmed (επεστηριξαν). See on Acts 14:22. It was a glorious time with no Judaizers to disturb their fellowship as in Acts 15:1-3.

Verse 33

Some time (χρονον). Accusative after ποιησαντες, "having done time." How long we do not know.

Verse 34

But it seemed good unto Silas to abide there (εδοξε δε Σιλα επιμεινα αυτου). This verse is not in the Revised Version or in the text of Westcott and Hort, being absent from Aleph A B Vulgate, etc. It is clearly an addition to help explain the fact that Silas is back in Antioch in verse Acts 15:40. But the "some days" of verse Acts 15:36 afforded abundant time for him to return from Jerusalem. He and Judas went first to Jerusalem to make a report of their mission.

Verse 35

Tarried (διετριβον). Imperfect active of διατριβω, old verb to pass time, seen already in Acts 12:19; Acts 14:3; Acts 14:28.

With many others also (μετα κα ετερων πολλων). A time of general revival and naturally so after the victory at Jerusalem. It is at this point that it is probable that the sad incident took place told by Paul in Galatians 2:11-21. Peter came up to see how things were going in Antioch after Paul's victory in Jerusalem. At first Peter mingled freely with the Greek Christians without the compunctions shown at Caesarea and for which he had to answer in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18). Rumours of Peter's conduct reached Jerusalem and the Judaizers saw a chance to reopen the controversy on the line of social customs, a matter not passed on at the Jerusalem Conference. These Judaizers threaten Peter with a new trial and he surrenders and is followed by Barnabas and all the Jewish brethren in Antioch to the dismay of Paul who boldly rebuked Peter and Barnabas and won them back to his view. It was a crisis. Some would even date the Epistle to the Galatians at this time also, an unlikely hypothesis.

Verse 36

Let us return now and visit the brethren (επιστρεψαντες δε επισκεψωμεθα τους αδελφους). Paul takes the initiative as the leader, all the more so if the rebuke to Peter and Barnabas in Galatians 2:11-21 had already taken place. Paul is anxious, like a true missionary, to go back to the fields where he has planted the gospel. He uses the hortatory subjunctive (επισκεψωμεθα) for the proposal (see on Acts 15:14 for this verb). Note the repeated επ (επι στρεψαντες and επισκεψωμεθα). There is special point in the use of δη (shortened form of ηδη), now at this juncture of affairs (cf. Acts 13:2).

How they fare (πως εχουσιν). Indirect question, "how they have it." The precariousness of the life of new converts in pagan lands is shown in all of Paul's Epistles (Furneaux). So he wanted to go city by city (κατα πολιν πασαν).

Verse 37

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

Verse 38

But Paul thought not good to take with them (Παυλος δε ηξιου--μη συνπαραλαμβανειν τουτον). The Greek is far more effective than this English rendering. It is the imperfect active of αξιοω, old verb to think meet or right and the present active infinitive of the same verb (συνπαραλαμβανω) with negative used with this infinitive. Literally, "But Paul kept on deeming it wise not to be taking along with them this one." Barnabas looked on it as a simple punctiliar proposal (aorist infinitive), but Paul felt a lively realization of the problem of having a quitter on his hands (present infinitive). Each was insistent in his position (two imperfects). Paul had a definite reason for his view describing John Mark as "him who withdrew from them from Pamphylia" (τον αποσταντα απ' αυτων απο Παμφυλιας). Second aorist active articular participle of αφιστημ, intransitive use, "the one who stood off from, apostatized from" (our very word "apostasy"). And also as the one who "went not with them to the work" (κα μη συνελθοντα αυτοις εις το εργον). At Perga Mark had faced the same task that Paul and Barnabas did, but he flinched and flickered and quit. Paul declined to repeat the experiment with Mark.

Verse 39

A sharp contention (παροξυσμος). Our very word paroxysm in English. Old word though only twice in the N.T. (here and Hebrews 10:24), from παροξυνω, to sharpen (παρα, οξυς) as of a blade and of the spirit (Acts 17:16; 1 Corinthians 13:5). This "son of consolation" loses his temper in a dispute over his cousin and Paul uses sharp words towards his benefactor and friend. It is often so that the little irritations of life give occasion to violent explosions. If the incident in Galatians 2:11-21 had already taken place, there was a sore place already that could be easily rubbed. And if Mark also joined with Peter and Barnabas on that occasion, Paul had fresh ground for irritation about him. But there is no way to settle differences about men and we can only agree to disagree as Paul and Barnabas did.

So that they parted asunder from one another (ωστε αποχωρισθηνα αυτους απ' αλληλων). Actual result here stated by ωστε and the first aorist passive infinitive of αποχωριζω, old verb to sever, to separate, here only and Revelation 6:4 in the N.T. The accusative of general reference (αυτους) is normal. For construction with ωστε see Robertson, Grammar, pp. 999f.

And Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus (τον τε Βαρναβαν παραλαβοντα τον Μαρκον εκπλευσα εις Κυπρον). Second infinitival clause εκπλευσα after ωστε connected by τε. The same participle is used here minus συν, παραλαβοντα (second aorist active). Barnabas and Mark sailed out (εκπλευσα from εκπλεω) from the harbour of Antioch. This is the last glimpse that Luke gives us of Barnabas, one of the noblest figures in the New Testament. Paul has a kindly reference to him in 1 Corinthians 9:6. No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again. One's judgment may go with Paul, but one's heart goes with Barnabas. And Mark made good with Barnabas, with Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and finally with Paul (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11). See my little book on John Mark (Making Good in the Ministry). Paul and Barnabas parted in anger and both in sorrow. Paul owed more to Barnabas than to any other man. Barnabas was leaving the greatest spirit of the time and of all times.

Verse 40

Chose (επιλεξαμενος). First aorist middle (indirect) participle of επιλεγω, choosing for himself, as the successor of Barnabas, not of Mark who had no place in Paul's plans at this time.

Commended (παραδοθεις). First aorist passive of παραδιδωμ, the same verb employed about Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:26) on their return from the first tour. It is clear now that the sympathy of the church at Antioch is with Paul rather than with Barnabas in the cleavage that has come. The church probably recalled how in the pinch Barnabas flickered and went to the side of Peter and that it was Paul who for the moment stood Paulus contra mundum for Gentile liberty in Christ against the threat of the Judaizers from Jerusalem. Silas had influence in the church in Jerusalem (verse Acts 15:22) and was apparently a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37) also. He is the Silas or Silvanus of the epistles (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Peter 5:12). It is remarkable that Peter mentions both Mark and Silas as with him (1 Peter 5:12) at the same time.

Verse 41

Went through (διηρχετο). Imperfect middle. So Paul went forth on his second mission tour with heart-aches and high hopes mingled together.

Syria and Cilicia (την Συριαν κα την Κιλικιαν). He took the opposite course from the first tour, leaving Cyprus to Barnabas and Mark. Probably Paul had established these churches while in Tarsus after leaving Jerusalem (Acts 9:30; Galatians 1:21). Paul would go "by the Gulf of Issus through the Syrian Gates, a narrow road between steep rocks and the sea, and then inland, probably past Tarsus and over Mt. Taurus by the Cilician gates" (Page). This second tour will occupy Luke's story in Acts through Acts 18:22.

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Acts 15". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/acts-15.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.