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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Acts 15

 

 

Verse 1

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

The brethren at Antioch being troubled about circumcision by Judaizing zealots from Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas, with certain others, are sent up to Jerusalem on the subject-The brethren of Phenice and Samaria rejoice to hear from them of the conversion of the Gentiles ()

And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised , [peritemneesthe of the Received Text, and-tmeetheete, of Lachmann and Tischendorf, have about equal support]

After the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. It may seem strange, after Peter had satisfied the brethren at Jerusalem, that the admission of Cornelius and his Gentile friends, as uncircumcised believers, to the fellowship of the Church, was according to the will of God (Acts 11:18), that the question should be raised afresh. But inveterate prejudices, especially in religion, die hard; and "that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel," without passing through the gateway of circumcision, was a truth so novel at that time, that nothing could reconcile even sincere believers to it but the divine seal set upon it in the case of Cornelius, while to the mere adherents of an ancestral creed, with its traditional usages, it would seem revolutionary and destructive. If such zealots for exclusive Judaism might be expected to have their stronghold anywhere, it would be at Jerusalem, the metropolitan seat of the ancient Religion. And since at Antioch the uncircumcised believers had not only been recognized as a true Church of Christ, but become the parent of a Gentile Christianity which threatened to eclipse that of the mother church of Jerusalem and its little daughters, we can hardly wonder at those Jewish zealots making a stand now as for life or death. The question, indeed, was much larger and more fundamental than might seem. For though the immediate point in dispute was only whether 'circumcision after the manner of Moses was necessary to salvation,' it was 'to the whole law' that they wished to bind the Gentiles (as is evident from Acts 15:5); and, says the apostle to the Galatians (Acts 15:3), "I testify to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law." On the same principle (as Humphry observes) 'the baptism of John stands for his whole ministry (Acts 1:22; Luke 20:4).


Verse 2

When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them , [ zeeteeseoos (Greek #2214), not suzeeteeseoos (Greek #4802) - of the Received Text, which has no Uncial support.] That Paul and Barnabas should take the lead in this debate was natural, not only as being themselves Jews, but as having taught at Antioch the opposite doctrine. But the zealots (whom the apostle afterward scrupled not to call "false brethren," Galatians 2:4) were not to be put down by argument; and as they appear to have succeeded so far as to create an uneasy feeling among the Gentile converts (Acts 15:24, and Galatians 2:11-13), alleging probably that the brethren at Jerusalem were on their side,

They (the brethren at Antioch) determined , [ etaxan (Greek #5021), or 'arranged,'] that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them.} We know the name of only one of these "other" deputies - "Titus;" but as the apostle says of him, that being "a Greek" he would not compel him to be circumcised-in order that the liberty of the Gentile converts might be vindicated in his person (Galatians 2:4-6) - we may conclude that the other deputies were of the uncircumcised as well as he, and were sent expressly to represent that interest at Jerusalem. (On the time of this visit, see Introduction.)

Should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostle and elders about this question. In Galatians 2:2, the apostle says he "went up by revelation;" but this is not inconsistent (as is by some alleged) with its being the present journey. As before he was sent forth both by the Holy Spirit and by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:3-4). so now, though going to Jerusalem with a commission from the church at Antioch, he might at the same time be divinely directed to comply with that call.


Verse 3

And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.

And being brought on their way (or 'escorted') by the church - in token of respect, and to mark the importance attached to this journey,

They passed through Phenice and Samaria - along the great Roman road which followed the coast line from north to south, a road even yet not quite obliterated;

Declaring (to the Christians of those parts) the conversion of the Gentiles. We have seen that some of the scattered disciples "traveled as far as Phenice and Cyprus, preaching to none but unto the Jews only" (see the note at Acts 11:19). Here we have the fruits of their labour in those parts. Those in Phenicia would seem to have belonged, chiefly at least, to Tyre (Acts 21:3-6) and Sidon (Acts 27:3). And they caused great joy unto all the brethren. If these converts were from among "the Jews only," they must have had more enlarged views of Christianity than the zealots of Judea; but perhaps a Gentile element may have helped to liberalize them.

On reaching Jerusalem, the Antiochene deputies are received by the whole church, and Paul and Barnabas relate their missionary proceedings-The zealots having insisted that the Gentile converts should be circumcised, the apostles and elders hold a Council to decide the question ()


Verse 4

And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.

And when they were come to Jerusalem. This was the apostle's third visit to Jerusalem after his conversion; and it was on this occasion that the circumstances related in Galatians 2:1-10 took place (see there).

They were received - `received cordially,' or 'welcomed' [ paredechtheesan (Greek #3858), as the rarer form, is perhaps preferable to apedechtheesan-of the Received Text.]

Of the church - here evidently meaning the members of the church at Jerusalem generally, as distinguished from its office-bearers, who are next mentioned.

And of the apostles and elders - at convention of all the Christians at Jerusalem, as a mark of respect to the deputies of so distinguished a body of Christians as that of Antioch; in the expectation, too, of hearing from them exciting tidings of the work among the Gentiles; and hoping that the ferment among themselves on the subject of circumcision might thus receive a check.

And they declared all things that God had done with them - (see the note at Acts 14:27.)


Verse 5

But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed - `of the believing Pharisees;' just the quarter from which such zealots might be expected to arise. Saying, That it was needful to circumcise them - that is, the whole Gentile converts of Antioch, whose accession to Christianity the deputies had just "declared."

And to command them to keep the law of Moses. They did not question the reality of their conversion, nor the propriety of recognizing them as believers, but contended that their right to the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant and their standing in the church was incomplete without circumcision.


Verse 6

And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.

And the apostles and elders came together - not, however, without "the church," as appears from Acts 15:12; Acts 15:22-23.

For to consider of this matter. It will be observed that when they had simply to hear from the deputies what God had done among the Gentiles through them, they were received not only by "the apostles and elders," but by "the church" (Acts 15:4); but when it became necessary to deliberate and decide on the vital question of circumcising those Gentile converts, it is said, "the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter." It will be seen, however, from the sequel of this narrative that the apostles and elders did not, like most hierarchical councils in later times, sit 'with closed doors.'

The debate-The address of Peter-The report of the Missionaries-The summing-up and proposal of James ()


Verse 7

And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

And when there had been much disputing - the apostles, meanwhile, sitting silent,

Peter rose up - the paramount position which he had all along occupied at Jerusalem, and the part assigned him in receiving Cornelius and his Gentile party into the Church, giving him a special claim to be heard on this question.

And said unto them. It has been remarked that this is the last mention of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles; and in this view it is delightful to find him here pronouncing in favour of those enlarged views of the Gospel, to the establishment of which the life-labours of Paul were devoted.

Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago - many years before this; as if to intimate that long before this they ought to have held the question to be settled by the facts which he was about to mention.

God made choice among us - or 'among you,' according to the preferable reading.

That the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe - (Acts 10:1-48.)


Verse 8

And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;

And God, which knoweth the hearts - implying that the state of the heart before God is the real test of one's rightful standing in the visible Church; and though this cannot be certainly known to men, no principle can be sound which goes in the face of it.

Bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us - (Acts 10:44.)


Verse 9

And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Whereas "the uncircumcision of the flesh" of those Gentile converts was regarded by the zealots as rendering them 'unclean,' Peter says, that God, in "purifying their hearts by faith," had abolished that outward distinction between Jew and Gentile, making both one in Christ.


Verse 10

Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

Now therefore why tempt (or 'try')yeGod - standing in the way of His demonstrated purpose Now therefore why tempt (or 'try') ye God - standing in the way of His demonstrated purpose,

To put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? This, as has been already remarked, was not the yoke of mere burdensome ceremonies, but of an obligation to fulfill "the whole law," to which everyone became "debtor" who was circumcised (Galatians 5:1-3); a yoke which just in proportion as one became more earnest and spiritual, he would feel himself the more unable to bear.


Verse 11

But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus [Christ] (this bracketed word is of very doubtful authority) we shall be saved, even as (that is, no otherwise than) they - circumcision being to the Jew no advantage, and the want of it to the Gentile no loss, in the matter of salvation; for the grace of the Lord Jesus must do all for both, and the same for each.


Verse 12

Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

Then all the multitude, [ pan (G3956) to (G3588) pleethos (G4128)] kept silence , [ esigeesen (Greek #4601)]. As the same word in the next verse is used to signify that Barnabas and Paul 'ceased speaking,' it is not improbable that Peter's address gave rise to fresh discussion-in which case, as it was "the multitude" that ceased, we must infer that others besides "the apostles and elders" had been allowed to take part in the discussion. Be this as it may, the rising of Paul and Barnabas put an end to it.

And gave audience to Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas is here once more named first, as being much longer and better known in Jerusalem than the young apostle of the Gentiles.

Declaring what miracles (or 'signs') and wonders God had performed among the Gentiles by them.

This narrative, coming in immediately after Peter's account of the introduction of Cornelius and his party into the Church without circumcision, was plainly designed to show that God had acted on the same principle with them, throughout all their missionary labours, as he had done with Peter; the signs and wonders performed among the Gentiles through them having set the same divine seal on their proceedings, as the descent of the Spirit upon Cornelius and his friends had done upon those of Peter.


Verse 13

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:

And after they had held their peace, James answered. Whether this was James the son of Alphaeus, or James "the Lord's brother," or whether these were one and the same person-see the note at Acts 21:18. At any rate, he occupied the leading position in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; Acts 21:18); and in that capacity presiding in this assembly, he here sums up and indicates the judgment which he deemed it fitting that the assembly should pronounce, and the course proper to be taken for carrying it out. His decision, though given as his own judgment only, could not but have great weight with the opposing party, from his known conservative reverence for all Jewish usages within the circle of Israelite Christianity.

Saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:


Verse 14

Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.

Simeon - a Hebrew variation of "Simon" (as in 2 Peter 1:1, Gr.), the Jewish and family name of Peter, here perhaps used at the outset of his address (as a Hebrew addressing Hebrews) to propitiate the Jewish zealots;

Hath declared how God at the first - answering to Peter's "good while ago" (Acts 15:7),

Did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them - in the exercise of His adorable sovereignty,

A people for (the honour of) his name - or to show forth His praise.


Verse 15

And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,

And to this agree the words of the prophets - the prophets generally; but particularly, as it is written} (in Amos 9:11-12 - here given nearly as in the Septuagint).


Verse 16

After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:

After this I will return - or revisit in mercy the covenant people,

And will build again the (fallen) tabernacle of David - that is, will restore its decayed splendour;

And I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up - not again in outward magnificence-for that had passed forever away-but in spiritual glory, under David's Son and Lord.


Verse 17

That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.

That the residue of men - those outside the pale of the Jewish economy,

Might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is (or 'has been') called [ epikekleetai (Greek #1941)] - all the Gentiles who, on their believing, should have His name called on them, or, as being now "fellow-citizens with the saints" should be called by his name,

Saith the Lord, who doeth [all] these things. The word "all" here seems clearly a late addition to the text.


Verse 18

Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. This is the reading of the majority of manuscripts; though a very ancient reading (adopted by Tischendorf and most critics after him, except Lachmann) closes (Acts 15:17) thus: 'saith the Lord, who doeth these things, known from the beginning of the world,' or, 'from, of old'-omitting the rest of Acts 15:18 [ gnoosta (Greek #1110) ap' (Greek #575) aioonos (Greek #165)]. The sense is the same; and the point of the statement is, that as it had been all along the purpose of God to reconstruct the decayed Jewish Church on a wider basis than before-embracing all believing Gentile-so He had given abundant notice of this in the writings of the prophets; and since Himself was to the sole Doer of these things, He was only now doing what it was from the first in His mind to do, and thus it was no novelty.


Verse 19

Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:

Wherefore my sentence - rather, 'judgment' [ egoo (Greek #1473) krinoo (Greek #2919)] - is, that we trouble not (with needless Jewish burdens)

Them which from among the Gentiles are turned , [ eperefousin (Greek #1994)] - rather, 'are turning,'

To God. This great work is regarded as in progress, and indeed was rapidly advancing; and since insisting on the circumcision of all Gentile converts would undoubtedly check that progress, his judgment was decidedly against this.


Verse 20

But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions - from all that was polluting either in itself or in the estimation of their Jewish brethren. Four such things are now specified: First,

Of idols - that is, things polluted as having been offered in sacrifice to idols. The pagan were accustomed to give away or sell portions of such animals. From such food James would enjoin the Gentile converts to abstain, lest it should seem to the Jews that they were not entirely weaned from idolatry. (See Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:10-11.) Next, "and from fornication."

And from fornication. It may seem strange that a thing in itself sinful should be here mixed up with things indifferent, and only to be avoided as offensive to the Jews. So strange has it appeared to some critics, that they have tried to give another sense to the word and another turn to the suggestion regarding it. But the only satisfactory sense of the word here is its natural and proper sense. Let it be remembered that this was the characteristic sin of pagandom, and unblushingly practiced by all ranks and classes. Were the Gentile converts, therefore, to give way to this sin-of which they might well be thought in danger-it would proclaim them to the Jews, whose Scriptures branded it as a pagan abomination, to be still joined to their old idols. Thirdly, "and from things strangled."

And from things strangled - that is, from all flesh having the blood still in it. Lastly, blood itself:

And from blood -- in whatever form, as having been peremptorily forbidden to the Jews, and the eating of which, therefore, by the Gentile converts, could not but shock their prejudices (see the notes at Acts 15:28-29).


Verse 21

For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day - thus keeping alive in every Jew those feelings which such practices would shock, and which, therefore, the Gentile converts must carefully respect, if the oneness of both classes in Christ was to be practically preserved. This seems to us the most natural sense of the allusion to Moses here, (that of Calvin, Olshausen, DeWette, Meyer, Humphry, Hackett, Alford, etc.) Another view of it (that of Erasmus, Grotius, Thiersch, and Lechler) - that the authority of Moses was in no danger of being lowered by the admission of uncircumcised, Gentiles into the Church, seeing that he was "read in the synagogues every sabbath day" - seems to us a much less probable one. Be this as it may, the course suggested by James seems to have immediately commended itself to all present; for it is added,


Verse 22

Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:

Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church. There is no reason for supposing that as "the apostle and elders" represented the church members as a body, their decision was simply regarded as that of the people. The natural sense of the words suggests some positive assent on the part of "the whole church," so far as they were present, to the decision of the apostle and elders; and all the more if they took part in the discussion (see the note at Acts 15:12). To us it would seem that the active and open procedure of the meeting, after James had ceased speaking, was conducted by "the apostles and elders," but that on their unanimous decision being announced, and the church members generally being appealed to for their consent, they signified it in such a way that in recording the final decision the historian might naturally say, "it pleased the whole church," as well as "the apostles and elders," to do what follows:

To send chosen men of their own company - or, 'having chosen men from among themselves, to send them,

To Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; [namely] Judas surnamed Barsabas - not to be confounded with the apostle "Judas the brother of James" (Acts 1:13), surnamed Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3); nor is there any evidence that he was a brother of "Joseph called Barsabas" (Acts 1:23). Nothing is known of him beyond what is here said.

And Silas - the same as 'Silvanus,' in the Epistles. He became Paul's companion on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40); and the affection which the apostle cherished toward him seems to have been as constant as it was warm.

Chief (or 'leading') men among the brethren - and as such purposely selected, in order to express the esteem in which they held the church at Antioch and their deputies now present; and-since the matter affected all Gentile converts-to give weight to the decision of this important assembly. We are told (in Acts 15:32) that they were "prophets;" and it was in this capacity probably that their eminence in the church at Jerusalem had been attained.


Verse 23

And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

And they wrote letters by them. This is the earliest mention of writing as an element in the development of Christianity; for though it occurs in John 20:30-31; John 21:24-25, that Gospel was not published until long after this book. And the combination here of written and oral transmission of an important decision reminds us of the first occasion of writing mentioned in the Old Testament, where a similar combination occurs (Exodus 17:14). Only whereas there it is the deep difference between Israel and the Gentiles which is proclaimed, here (as Baumgarten excellently remarks) it is the obliteration of that difference through faith in the Lord Jesus.

After this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren. The true reading of this clause is of some consequence, from its bearing on the question, whether "the brethren" - the Christian people at large-had any voice in this assembly along with "the apostles and elders." The one reading is, 'The apostles and the elders, brethren.' This is the reading of the five chief manuscripts of the New Testament 'Aleph (') A B C D), of the Vulgate, and of one or two other (though inferior) versions, and even of Irenoeus (in the Latin). Accordingly, it is adopted by Lachmann, and approved by Neander and Alford. But the received reading is supported by most of the other Uncial manuscripts, by both the Syriac and other ancient versions, and by Chrysostom, Theophylact and other fathers, who might be expected to prefer the other reading. There is therefore a fair case for calling in internal evidence; and believing (with Meyer, DeWette, and Lechler) that it is far more probable that the received reading should be rejected, as favouring the cooperation of "the brethren" with "the apostles and elders," and that that reading would be preferred which represented "the apostles and elders" as themselves "the brethren" who wrote the letter-we hesitate not (with Tischendorf) to prefer the received reading. Besides, it seems to us that the word "brethren" is not a very natural addition to "the apostles and elders," by way of describing them, and certainly is unusual. And if we are correct in supposing that "the whole church" (mentioned in the previous verse) were permitted to give a positive assent to the decision of "the apostles and elders," what more natural than that the Letter which all thus resolved to send should run in the name of all the parties?

[Send] greeting. As this word [ chairein (Greek #5463)] - so familiar in Greek letters-occurs only in one other place of the New Testament (if we except the letter of the Greek general, Claudius Lysias, Acts 23:26), namely, in the Epistle of this same James (James 1:1), it seems to show that both Letters were drawn up by one hand-that of James-and thus to authenticate the document here given (as Bengel acutely observes).

Unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia - showing that Christian communities existed not only in Syria but in Cilicia, which owed their existence in all likelihood to the labours of the great apostle, in the interval between his flight to Tarsus from Jerusalem (Acts 9:29-30) and his departure in company with Barnabas for Antioch (see the notes at Acts 11:25-26).


Verse 24

Forasmuch 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: to whom we gave no such commandment:

Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us - without the authority or even the knowledge of the church at Jerusalem, though they belonged to it, and probably pretended to represent its views,

Subverting (or 'unsettling') your souls , [ anaskeuazontes (Greek #384)]. Such strong language is evidently designed to express indignation at this attempt, by an unauthorized party, to bring the whole Christian Church under Judaical and legal bondage.

[Saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law]: to whom we gave no [such] commandment. The bracketed words are of very doubtful authority, and probably taken from Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5. Lachmann and Tischendorf exclude them. If we omit them, the genuine words, 'to whom we gave no charge,' will mean simply that they were wholly unauthorized by the church at Jerusalem.


Verse 25

It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

It seemed good unto us being assembled with one accord (see the note at Acts 2:1), to send chosen men - or 'to choose out men, and send them unto you,'

With our beloved Barnabas and Paul (named as before; see the note at Acts 15:12).


Verse 26

Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Men that have hazarded [ paradedookosin (Greek #3860)] - literally, 'rendered up,' as in will they did, Their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Noble testimony to those beloved men! It was doubtless prompted more immediately by the thrilling narrative to which they had just listened from their own lips (Acts 15:12); but such a reference to the sacrifices they had made for Christ was judiciously inserted in this Letter, in order to give them, along with their own deputies, the highest weight with those to whom they wrote.


Verse 27

We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.

We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth , [ dia (Greek #1223) logou (Greek #3056) - or 'by word' (word of mouth)]. They had thus a double expression of the mind of the council: As in writing it would be more explicit, less liable to be misunderstood or perverted, and more easy of transmission to different places; so when the contents of the Letter were communicated and enlarged on verbally by the deputies from Jerusalem, the impression would naturally be much deepened. Besides, it was considerate and tender to send men who would be able to say of Barnabas and Paul what could not be expected to come from themselves, but what, though the Christians of Antioch knew it long before, would come with double weight as a testimony borne to them front Jerusalem.


Verse 28

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us - the One inwardly guiding the other; as if it had been said (as Olshausen expresses it), 'It seemed good to the Holy Spirit in' or 'by us.' They acted throughout this whole business under the consciousness of divine guidance, the glorified Lord of the Church directing them by His Spirit, "to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;"


Verse 29

That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. The whole strain of these prohibitions, and of Acts 15:20-21, implies that they were designed as concessions to Jewish feelings on the part of the Gentile converts, and not as things which were all of unchanging obligation. The only cause for hesitation arises from "fornication "being mixed up with the other three things; which has led many to regard all of them as permanently prohibited. But the remarks on Acts 15:20 may clear this. The then state of pagan society in respect of all the four things seems the reason for so mixing them up.


Verse 30

So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:

So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter:


Verse 31

Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.

Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation , [ tee (Greek #3588) parakleesei (Greek #3874)]. As the same word is in the next verse properly rendered "exhorted," the meaning is thought by some (as Beza, Meyer, Humphry, Webster and Wilkinson) to be 'they rejoiced for the exhortation' or 'advice,' (as in margin.) But since the prevalent feeling which this Letter would produce at Antioch was that of relief at the liberty from Jewish bondage which the zealots would fain have imposed upon them, and since 'exhortation' or 'advice' is not the burden of the Letter-not least what they naturally would "rejoice for" - we are inclined to prefer the sense of "consolation," as in our version (in which Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Beza, DeWette, Alford, and Lechler concur).


Verse 32

And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.

And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves - as well as Paul and Barnabas-that is, inspired teachers (see the notes at Acts 11:27; Acts 13:1),

Exhorted the brethren with many words, [ dia (G1223) logou (G3056) pollou (G4183), rather, Exhorted the brethren with many words, [ dia (G1223) logou (G3056) pollou (G4183), rather, 'with much discourse,'] and confirmed them - opening up, no doubt, the great principle involved in the controversy now settled, namely, gratuitous salvation, or the purification of the heart by faith alone (as expressed by Peter, Acts 15:9; Acts 15:11), and dwelling on the necessity of harmony in principle and affection between the Gentile disciples and their Jewish brethren.


Verse 33

And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles.

And after they had tarried there a space , [ chronon (Greek #5550)], or 'some time;' but how long cannot with certainty be determined,

They were let go in peace , [ met' (Greek #3326) eireenees (Greek #1515)] - 'with peace,' the customary parting salutation, though in this case at least it would be no formality,

From the brethren unto the apostles - or (as appears to be the true reading), 'to those that had sent them' [ pros (Greek #4314) tous (Greek #3588) aposteilantes (Greek #649)].


Verse 34

Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.

[Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.] The evidence against the genuineness of this verse is decisive [it is wanting in 'Aleph (') A B E G H, and in about fifty cursives; in the Syriac, the Vulgate, and other versions, and in the two most critical of the later fathers-Chrysostom and Theophylact only C and D have it-the latter of scarce any authority in additions; and the printed Vulgate, on the authority of one inferior manuscript, inserts it]. No doubt this late addition to the text was suggested by the apparent inconsistency of Acts 15:33 with Acts 15:40; and in point of fact, it is by no means improbable that Silas had returned to Antioch before the second missionary journey was proposed.

Teaching and preaching the word of the Lord - the "teaching" being directed to the disciples, and the "preaching" to those who were without.

With many others (many other labourers) also. How rich must Antioch have been at this time in the ministrations of the Gospel! To this period we must refer the painful scene between Paul and Peter, described in Galatians 2:11-14. 'The inconsistency,' says Professor Lightfoot, 'which Peter thus appears to have shown so soon after his championship of Gentile liberty at the congress, is rather in favour of than against this view; for the point of Paul's rebuke is his inconsistency. But in fact there is no alternative. An earlier residence at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) is out of the question; for Paul is plainly narrating events in chronological order. Neither, again, can a later occasion (Acts 18:23) be meant, for it does not appear that Barnabas was with him then.' (See also Howson's full and able statement, as against Paley and Wieseler, vol. 2:, pp. 244-250.)

Remarks:

(1) When we find with what extreme difficulty Jewish Christians-to whom circumcision had been for ages the divine signature of the covenant-people-could bring themselves to shown to he the will of God, should not Christians strive to shake themselves free from the prejudices which traditional teaching and ancestral usage tend to beget, so as to be ready to enter cordially into the work of God, wherever it clearly discovers itself to be His, even though in forms and modes very different from those to which they have been accustomed? At the same time, remembering how the same apostle who so earnestly inculcated and so uniformly acted on this principle, enjoins upon the strong in such things that they should bear with the infirmities of the weak (Romans 14:1-23; Romans 15:1-33), it will be the wisdom of those who have surmounted prejudice themselves to treat with forbearance and love their weaker brethren, who, while equally conscientions with themselves, are not able to act with the same freedom as they are.

(2) This famous Council of Jerusalem-the first that was ever held in the Christian Church-unquestionably involves a principle of Church action for all time. But since the most unwarrantable assumptions have been built on this as a precedent, not only by the Church of Rome, but by other hierarchical Churches, care must be taken-before any precedent be drawn from this council in justification of the procedure of subsequent councils in the Christian Church-in the first place, to see that the composition of the two bodies be substantially the same-and particularly, that they be not composed exclusively of what are called the clergy; and next, since the supernatural illumination and the divine authority flowing from it, which resided in the apostles, have most certainly been withdrawn (for the signs of its presence, which the apostles exhibited, cannot be produced by any existing body of Christians), that no such illumination and authority be claimed by any modern council or synod of the Church; but that-trusting in the gracious guidance of Him who walketh in the midst of the golden candlesticks, and who hath said, "If ye abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" - the decisions of all modern councils, synods, or assemblies of the Church should be given forth to such as are in church-fellowship with them, to be by them observed simply as the condition of their continued unity.

(3) It has been observed by Lechler, that 'not the whole resolution of the assembly is referred to the Holy Spirit, but only the weighty decision'-not to impose on the Gentiles a eke which would have destroyed the freedom of the Gospel (Acts 15:28); whereas the resolution to send deputies to the Christians of Antioch is introduced merely with the words, "It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord" (Acts 15:25). We are not sure that any such distinction was intended by the different phraseology of the two verses. Nay, rather, when, in the latter of the two verses, it is said, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us," it would seem that the whole result of these solemn deliberations is referred at once to a divine and a human source; the Holy Spirit being regarded as the animating and grading Spirit of the assembly, and the members of it, who either gave utterance to their judgment or assented to that judgment as expressed by others, doing so in the full conviction of a Higher presence and direction throughout.

(4) In every age there have been purists in the Church, who insist on right principles being gone through with in all circumstances, without regard to the views and feelings of those who want light to approve of them. Let such study the beautiful action of this council. Beyond all reasonable doubt, abstinence from "things strangled, and from blood," was enjoined on the Gentile Christians merely out of tenderness to the views and feelings of their weaker brethren of the circumcision. And when the thing to be avoided is merely the denying of ourselves in what we can perfectly well do without, who that loves his brother in the Lord would not do so, when by an opposite course he has reason to believe that he will wound a brother's conscience and probably endanger a brother's soul? Such voluntary sacrifices, however, are not to be confounded with cowardly compromises-such as that of the great apostle of the circumcision on one occasion, for which he was rebuked by the greater apostle of the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-13). Nor is it necessary to give in to every weak prejudice, on the plea of not hurting the conscience of others. Such intolerable bondage is no real benefit to the weak, who should learn to grow into strength and liberty in Christ Jesus.

The Proposal ()


Verse 35

Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 36

And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.

And some days after - that is, after the return of Judas and Silas to Jerusalem. How long after, is left undetermined; but as Antioch seems now to have been rich in Christian agency (Acts 15:35), if this suggested to Paul the thought that he and his coadjutor could well be spared for a time, and kindled the desire to set out afresh on missionary work, perhaps the interval was not long.

Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. Not, then-in the first instance at least-to break new ground did he propose to go, but revisit the converts already made, to see whether they were holding fast, whether advancing or declining, etc.-a pattern this for successful missionaries in every age, whether in the home or in the foreign field. 'Reader (asks holy Bengel), how stands it with thee?' Yet we agree with Baumgarten, that a still further diffusion of the Gospel must have been contemplated by the apostle in this journey first, because the extension of the Gospel among the Gentiles had been so laid upon him, in his original call, as the great work of his apostolic life, that he could scarcely have planned such a journey without having that in view; next, because the proceedings of the council at Jerusalem, which Paul and Silas carried with them to communicate to the Gentile churches already formed, were evidently designed to meet a much wider diffusion of the Gospel among the Gentiles than had then taken place; and lastly, because the very first step which the apostle took on his arrival at Lystra-namely, to add Timotheus to his party, but not until he had circumcised him-plainly shows that, instead of confining himself to the mere visitation of churches already founded, he was laying himself out on this journey for pushing the kingdom of Christ alike among Jews and Gentiles wherever he could find an open door. Still, his more immediate object must have been to "visit the brethren in every city where they had preached the word of the Lord, and see how they did." 'We notice here (as Howson remarks), for the first time, a trace of that tender solicitude for his converts, that earnest longing to see their faces, which appears in the letters which he wrote afterward, as one of the most remarkable and attractive features of his character. He thought, doubtless, of the Pisidians and Lycaonians, as he thought afterward at Athens and Corinth of the Thessalonians, from whom he had been lately "taken in presence, not in heart, night and day praying exceedingly that he might see their face, and perfect that which was lacking in their faith."'


Verse 37

And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.

And Barnabas determined - rather 'counseled,' or 'was minded.' [The received reading, ebouleusato (Greek #1014), is rightly preferred by Tischendorf, though on less manuscript authority than ebouleto (Greek #1011) - volebat-which Lachmann adopts, but which seems a correction, to suit the supposed sense].

To take with them John, whose surname was Mark. They were uncle and nephew, as we learn from Colossians 4:10.


Verse 38

But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.

But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them , [ ton (Greek #3588) apostanta (Greek #868) ap' (Greek #575) autoon (Greek #846)] - rather, 'who had fallen away from them.'

From Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. The painful circumstance here referred to is recorded in Acts 13:13 (on which see).


Verse 39

And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;

And the contention was so sharp between them. The single word here rendered 'sharp contention' [ paroxusmos (Greek #3948)] is a strong one, expressing 'irritation,' 'exacerbation.'

That they departed asunder one from the other. Said they not truly to the Lystrians (Acts 14:15) that they were men of like passions with themselves? But which of these two servants of Christ was to blame in this case? First, that John Mark had either tired of the work, or shrunk from the dangers and fatigues that yet lay before them, was undeniable; and Paul concluded that what he had done he might, and probably would, do again. Was he wrong in this? See Proverbs 25:19. But, secondly, to this Barnabas might reply that no rule was without exception; that one failure, in a young Christian, was not enough to condemn him for life; that if near relationship might be thought to warp his judgment, it also gave him opportunities of knowing the man better than others; and that as he was himself anxious to be allowed another trial-and the result makes this next to certain-in order that he might wipe out the effect of his former failure, and show what "hardness he could now endure as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," his petition ought not to be rejected.

Now, since John Mark did retrieve his character in these respects, and a reconciliation took place between Paul and him-a reconciliation so cordial that the apostle expresses more than once the confidence he had in him, and the value he set upon his services (Colossians 4:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:11) - it may seem that events showed Barnabas to be in the right, and Paul too harsh and hasty in his judgment. But, in behalf of Paul, it may well be answered, that, not being able to see into the future, he had only the unfavourable past to judge by; that the gentleness of Barnabas (Acts 4:36; Acts 11:24) had already laid him open to imposition (see the note at Galatians 2:13), to which near relationship would in this case make him more liable; and that, in refusing to take John Mark on this missionary journey, Paul was not judging his Christian character or pronouncing on his fitness for future service, but merely providing in tile meantime against being again put to serious inconvenience, and having their hands weakened by a possible second desertion.

On the whole, then, it seems clear that each of these great servants of Christ had something to say for himself in defense of the position which they respectively took up; that while Barnabas was quite able to appreciate the grounds on which Paul proceeded, Paul was not so competent to judge of the considerations which Barnabas probably urged; that while Paul had but one object in view-to see that the companion of their arduous work was one of thoroughly congenial spirit and sufficient nerve-Barnabas, over and above the same desire, might not unreasonably be afraid for the soul of his nephew, lest the refusal to allow him to accompany them on their journey might injure Iris Christian character, and deprive the Church of a true servant of Jesus Christ; and that while both sought only the glory of their common Master, each looked at the question at issue to some extent through the medium of his own temperament, which grace sanctifies and refines, but does not destroy-Paul, through the medium of absolute devotion to the Cause and Kingdom of Christ, which, warm and womanly as his affections were, gave a tinge of lofty sternness to his resolves where that seemed to be affected; Barnabas, through the medium of the same singleness of heart in Christ's service, though probably not in equal strength (Galatians 2:13), but also of a certain natural gentleness which, where a Christian relative was concerned, led him to attach mere weight to what seemed for his spiritual good than Paul could be supposed to do.

In these circumstances, it seems quite possible that they might have amicably 'agreed to differ,' each taking his own companion, as they actually did. But the 'paroxysm' (as the word is) - the 'exacerbation,' which is expressly given as the cause of their parting-shows but too plainly that human infirmity at length sundered those who had sweetly aria lovingly borne together the heat and burden of the day during a protracted tour in the service of Christ. "Therefore let no man glory in men" (1 Corinthians 3:21). As for John Mark, although, through his uncle's warm advocacy of his cause, he was put in a condition to dissipate the cloud that hung over him, how bitter to him must have ever afterward been the reflection that it was his culpable conduct which gave occasion to whatever was sinful in the strife between Paul and Barnabas, and to a separation in action, though no doubt with mutual Christian regard, between those who had until then worked nobly together! But this sore evil was overruled to the furtherance of the cause that was dear to both, in a way and to an extent which in all aftertime would fill themselves with wonder. Two missionary journeys come out of this dispute, instead of one; and whatever route Barnabas may have taken after going to Cyprus, and whatever the result of his tour, Paul-instead of his course being limited, as at first intended, to the places where he had before preached the word of the Lord-was divinely led into Europe, to break new and far more important ground than before.

And so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;


Verse 40

And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.

And Paul chose Silas (Silvanus) - going two and two, just as the Twelve and the Seventy were sent forth (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1). Whether Silas had returned to Antioch, or had to be sent for to Jerusalem, we cannot tell. But doubtless they had discovered themselves, while labouring together at Antioch, to be of kindred spirit; and when Barnabas failed him, the apostle would at once turn to Silas, who, from what the apostle says of him elsewhere, would rejoice to be associated with him in such work, and proved himself worthy of the apostle's choice.

Being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God - or 'the grace of the Lord' (according to a slightly preferable reading), that is, of the Lord Jesus, the glorified Head of the Church, and Director of all its movements. This 'recommendation of the missionaries to 'the grace of the Lord by the brethren' of Antioch, was no doubt by some solemn service (see Acts 13:3; Acts 14:26), and, as would appear, by "the brethren" in the most general sense of the term-probably by a prayer-meeting of the whole body of believers. It does not follow from the historian's silence that Barnabas was not so recommended too; for this is the last mention of Barnabas in the History, whose whole object now is to relate the proceedings of Paul. Nor does it seem quite fair (with DeWette, Meyer, Howson, Alford, Hackett, Webster and Wilkinson) to infer from this that the church at Antioch took that marked way of showing their sympathy with Paul in opposition to Barnabas.

Remarks:

(1) How careful should Christians, and especially Christian ministers and missionaries, be to guard against rash judgment and hot temper toward each other, especially where on both sides the glory of Christ is the ground of difference! How possible is it that in such cases both parties may, on the question at issue, be more or less in the right! How difficult is it for the most faithful and devoted servants of Christ, even under the commanding influence of grace-differing as they do in their natural temperament-to see even important questions precisely in the same light! And if, with every disposition to yield what is unimportant, they still feel it a duty each to stand to his own point, how careful should they be to do it lovingly, each pursuing his own course without disparagement of his Christian brother!

(2) How affecting does the Lord overrule such difference of judgment, and such manifestations of human infirmity, by making them "turn out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel!" In this case it was eminently seen, not only in setting free from each other minds which-though capable of harmonious action-seem to have been fully better fitted, both by nature and by grace, for serving the common cause as directors of others than by labouring permanently together; but also in providing two missionary parties in place of one, who, instead of traveling over the same ground, and carrying their dispute over all the regions where before they had laboured so lovingly together, took quite different routes, and thus at once consolidates and extended the kingdom of Christ!

Progress through Syria and Cilicia ()


Verse 41

And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.

And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches (see the note at Acts 15:23) - taking probably the same route as when he was despatched in haste from Jerusalem to Tarsus, when we have reason to think that he went by land (see the note at Acts 9:30). It is very likely (says Howson) that Paul and Barnabas 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. If Barnabas visited Salamis and Paphos, and if Paul (traveling westward), after passing through Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, went as far as Antioch in Pisidia, the whole circuit of the proposed visitation was actually accomplished; for it does not appear that any converts had been made at Perga and Attaleia.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Acts 15:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/acts-15.html. 1871-8.

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Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
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