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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary
Acts 15

 

 

Verse 1

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.

Ver. 1. And certain men, &c.] Cerinthus, the heretic, with his complices, saith Epiphanius. These are said to "subvert the gospel," Galatians 1:7. A little thing untowardly mingled, mars all, saith Chrysostom.


Verse 2

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.

Ver. 2. No small dissension] We must earnestly contend for the faith of the gospel, accounting every parcel of truth precious, 1:3. How zealous was Paul in this cause, Galatians 2:5; Galatians 1:7; Galatians 5:12. He wisheth them not only circumcised, but served as the Turks do their eunuchs, whom they deprive of all their genitals, so that they are forced to supply the uses of nature with a silver quill. {a}

{a} Non circumcidantur mode, sed et abscindantur. Chrys.


Verse 3

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.

Ver. 3. By the Church] That is, by the community of God’s people, who therefore (as it may seem) sided with Paul and Barnabas, against those disturbers.

They passed through Phenice and Samaria] They took a long journey for a public good. Calvin was wont to say, that he would gladly sail over ten seas {a} to settle a general peace and good agreement in the reformed Churches. Terentius (that noble general under Valens the emperor), when he was bidden ask what he would, and it should be done, asked nothing but that the Church might be freed from Arians. And when the emperor tore his petition, he said that he would never ask anything for himself, if he might not prevail for the Church: this that he might, he would undertake any pains, undergo any peril by sea or land. (Theodoret, iv. 32.)

{a} Ne decem quidem maria, &c. Beza.


Verse 4

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.

Ver. 4. They were received of the Church] i.e. By the body of the people; for the apostles and elders have a peculiar place assigned them.


Verse 5

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.

Ver. 5. But there rose up] These are not Luke’s words, but the apostles continuing their speech: they declared all things that God had done with them, and how they had been opposed by certain of the Pharisees’ sect, &c.


Verse 6

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

Ver. 6. And the apostles and elders, &c.] This was the first Christian council. The four following general councils, {a} Gregory the Great held of equal authority almost with the four Gospels. In posterioribus conciliis (saith Luther) nunquam de fide, sed semper de opinionibus et quaestionibus fuit disputatum: ut mihi conciliorum nomen pene tam suspectum et invisum sit quam nomen liberi arbitrii. He fitly compareth the recent Popish councils to the meeting of foxes, which, going about to sweep a room with their tails, raise dust, but rid none.

{a} Nicen., Constantinopol., Ephesinum, et Chalcedonense.


Verse 7

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.

Ver. 7. And when there had been much disputing] Each part striving for victory, till the apostles stood up and determined. It was no matter between Austin and Jerome, in their disputations, who gained the day; they would both win, by understanding their errors. But Basil in his latter time grew to a great dislike of councils and conferences; because men usually met in their own strength there, and strove not so much for verity as victory, for truth as for triumph.


Verse 9

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

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

Ver. 9. Purifying their hearts by faith] Faith (as a neat housewife) sweeps clean, and suffers never a slut’s corner in the soul. It is ever purging upon corruption, and lets out the lifeblood of it; for it shows a man a better project than to lie sucking at the botches of carnal pleasures, or to be basely affixed to earthly profits. Every true believer beareth a brush at his back, as we say of a trim man. His faith consecrateth his heart, and maketh it, of the devil’s thoroughfare, God’s enclosure.


Verse 10

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?

Ver. 10. Now, therefore, why tempt ye God] Or (as Jerome in a certain epistle to Augustine reads this text, and so it runs more smoothly), "Why attempt ye to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples," &c. Ceremonies were abolished by Christ, and had no use after his death, but by accident; as he who buildeth a vault, letteth the centrals stand till he put in the keystone, and then pulleth them away: so here.


Verse 11

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

Ver. 11. That through the grace] We sail to heaven all upon one bottom; we climb up all by one ladder. If any conceit another way, he must erect a ladder and go up alone: he shall (as Aristotle somewhere saith) κακα εφ εαυτον ελκειν ως το κακιας νεφος, plunge himself into remediless misery.


Verse 12

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.

Ver. 12. Then all the multitude kept silence] See here the picture of a lawful council, guided by the word and Spirit of God. It was not a Cyclopical assembly, ubi ουδεις ουδεν ουδενος ακουει, nor as in Alcibiades’ army, where all would be leaders, no learners, &c. Or, as the Jews of this day in their Jeshiboth, or academies, meet to dispute, but talk all together confusedly: the rabbis with their scholars, &c.


Verse 13

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

Ver. 13. James answered] Who seemed to be a pillar, Galatians 2:9, and was so, both of the college of apostles and of the Church at Jerusalem.


Verse 14

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

Ver. 14. Simeon hath declared, &c.] q.d. He hath done it very well, only he hath not alleged any text of Scripture for confirmation; which therefore I will add. In Popish councils the Holy Scripture is in a manner set aside; and the decrees of fathers, schoolmen, and former councils brought in place thereof. At the Council of Basil, when the Hussites refused to admit of any doctrine that could not be proved by Scripture, Cardinal Cusan made answer, that the Scriptures pertained not to the being of the Church, but to the well-being only, and that they were to be expounded according to the current rite of the Church, qua mutante sententiam, mutetur et Dei iudicium. (Jac. Rev. de Vit. Pont.)


Verse 15

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

Ver. 15. And to this agree, &c.] The Scriptures must overrule; as Cyril saith in a synod at Ephesus, upon a high throne in the temple there lay sanctum Evangelium, the holy gospel.


Verse 16

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:

Ver. 16. Which is fallen down] Christ came when all seemed to be lost and laid on heaps. He still reserveth his holy hand for a dead lift, and delighteth to help those that are forsaken of their hopes. This Branch grew out of the roots of Jesse; when that goodly family was sunk so low, as from David the king to Joseph the carpenter, Isaiah 11:1.


Verse 17

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.

Ver. 17. May seek the Lord] All saints are seekers in this sense, Psalms 24:6. They seek not his omnipresence, but his gracious presence, Psalms 105:4.


Verse 18

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

Ver. 18. Known unto God, &c.] And consequently the calling of the Gentiles is foreknown and foreappointed by him, as a thing to be done in due time, though they be never circumcised.


Verse 19

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

Ver. 19. That we trouble not] Gr. παρενοχλειν. Trouble them more than needs; they will meet with trouble enough otherwise in the way to heaven. "I would they were even cut off" that thus trouble their consciences, Galatians 5:12.


Verse 20

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

Ver. 20. And from fornication] Which is here reckoned among things indifferent, κατα δοξαν, ου κατα θεσιν, because the Gentiles esteemed it (falsely) a thing indifferent. Non est flagitium (mihi credo) adolescentulum scortari, potare, fores effringere, said he in Terence. So in the Turk’s Koran, the angel being demanded concerning venery, {a} is brought in answering, that God did not give men such appetites to have them frustrate, but enjoyed, as made for the satisfying of man, not for his torment, wherein his Creator delights not. But what saith the Scripture? "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge."

{a} The practice or pursuit of sexual pleasure; indulgence of sexual desire. ŒD


Verse 21

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

Ver. 21. For Moses of old time, &c.] This is alleged as a reason why they should as yet abstain from those indifferents, because the Jews, having been accustomed to Moses’s writings, could not quickly be drawn to let go the legal ceremonies, which were now to have an honourable burial, by degrees to be abolished. The ceremonies before Christ’s passion were neither deadly nor dead; after his passion they were not deadly for a time (whiles the temple stood), though dead after a sort. But from that time forward they were both dead and deadly, saith Aquinas.


Verse 22

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:

Ver. 22. Chief men among the brethren] For authority’ sake; and that the false apostles might not say that those letters were counterfeit or surreptitiously gotten.


Verse 23

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:

Ver. 23. And wrote letters by them] For the better confirmation of the weak and confutation of the wilful, to be as a standing monument.


Verse 24

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:

Ver. 24. Subverting your souls] ανασκευαζοντες. Pulling down that which had been set up, unravelling that which had been well knit before. The word signifies unvesselling them, unpacking them (as wares packed up in a vat to be sent beyond sea), scattering them, and bringing all into a confusion.


Verse 25

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

Ver. 25. To send chosen men with our beloved] Delectos cum dilectis. See Acts 15:22; Acts 15:27.


Verse 26

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

Ver. 26. Men that hazarded their lives, &c.] One ancient copy adds εις παντα πειρασμον, to all sorts of trials and tribulations. Love, as it is a passion, so it is tried rather by passions than actions.


Verse 27

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

Ver. 27. We have sent Judas and Silas] Men skilful in comforting consciences and resolving cases, as Acts 15:32. Conscience is a diamond, and will be wrought on by nothing but dust of diamond, such as contrition hath ground it to. How like the motion of a puppet, the language of a parrot, is the best discourse, in this subject of conscience, of the not interested man! He is one of a thousand that can declare unto man his righteousness, Job 33:23. Those that would have oil for their lamps, comfort for their consciences, must repair to them that sell it, Matthew 25:9.


Verse 28

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

Ver. 28. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost] That is only a lawful synod wherein the Holy Ghost is present and president. Nothing was resolved by the Trent fathers, but all in Rome; so that a blasphemous proverb was generally used, which I forbear to relate; let him that list read it in the Hist. of Council of Trent, tel. 497. See also fol. 822.

Than these necessary things] Not always and every way necessary (except that of fornication to be avoided), but necessary for preserving the peace of the Church as then it was, by bearing with the weaker Christians. Things inconvenient, even in matters of religion, may be done in some cases to redeem a far worse inconvenience. These burdens are here called necessary things, and they are said to do well, if they observed them, Acts 15:29. {See Trapp on "Acts 16:3"}


Verse 29

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.

Ver. 29. And from fornication] Some Greek copies add, "and whatsoever ye would not should be done to you, that ye do not the same to others;" which is a general rule, and a foundation of the former. As for fornication, it is here reckoned among things indifferent, because the Gentiles held it so; as the Papists now account it a very small sin; but so did not the council. See 1 Corinthians 10:8; Hebrews 13:4. {See Trapp on "1 Corinthians 10:8"} {See Trapp on "Hebrews 13:4"} A learned man telleth us, that that impostor Mahomet hath (in an apish imitation of this decree of the holy synod) forbidden his followers the self-same things, saving that he nameth swine’s flesh in the place of fornication. {See Trapp on "Acts 15:20"}


Verse 30

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

Ver. 30. And when they had gathered the multitude] This was fair dealing indeed. Among Papists, the people are held in gross ignorance; and taught to believe as the Church believes; which what it is, they must neither understand nor inquire after. One of their bishops boasted that if Luther had not started up when he did, and stood in their way, they could have persuaded the common people to eat grass as horses, or do anything else they had enjoined them. (Scultet. Annal.)


Verse 31

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

Ver. 31. They rejoiced for the consolation] How should we rejoice in Christ our Saviour, who bare our sins, &c., and freed us from the burden and brunt of both crime and curse!


Verse 32

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

Ver. 32. {See Trapp on "Acts 15:27"}


Verse 33

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

Ver. 33. They were let go in peace] i.e. Judas was, but not Silas, upon second thoughts, Acts 15:34. After their office put upon them by the synod was faithfully discharged, they did not give over the Lord’s work and take their ease; but set themselves to do further service. The Roman generals, after they had once triumphed over their enemies, did no more service to the state. But Cato (of whom Lucan witnesseth that he did toti natum credere mundo) is worthily commended, for that after the honour of a triumph he was no less sedulous and solicitous of a public welfare than before: we must never think we have done enough for God.


Verse 34

34 Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.

Ver. 34. To abide there still] Upon second thoughts, after he had leave to depart, he stayed there a while longer. This Silas is thought to be the same with Sylvanus, as Joshua is the same with Jehoshua, Haggai 2:2; Zechariah 3:1.

Notwithstanding it pleased Silas] sc. Upon better deliberation and more probability of being there serviceable to God and useful to his Church. Martinus decumbens Domine, dixit, si adhuc populo tuo sum necessarius, non recuso laborem. (Sever. Epist. 3.) Choice spirits are all for God; they still study his ends more than their own.


Verse 35

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

Ver. 35. Teaching and preaching] i.e. Being instant and earnest, non frigidi docent, sed instant et urgent, saith Calvin here; they lay their bones to the Lord’s work, they set their sides and their shoulders to it, as those that would do the deed.

With many others also] In the primitive times, saith Mr Baxter (Pref. to Saint’s Everlasting Rest), every church had many ministers, wherefore the ablest speakers did preach most in public; and the rest did the more of the less public work. But now sacrilege and covetousness will scarcely leave maintenance for one in a church, &c.


Verse 36

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.

Ver. 36. And see how they do] Whether that wicked one (or troubler, ο πονηρος, Matthew 13:39) hath not cast his club among them, or corrupted their minds from the simplicity that is in Christ, 2 Corinthians 11:3. How soon were the Galatians unsettled by seducers and sect makers, Galatians 1:6. What ill work made those deceitful workers at Corinth, in St Paul’s absence; and the heretics in the primitive Church, and the Anabaptists in Germany, &c. While Moses was but a while in the mount, the people had gotten them a golden calf. When Calvin was cast out of Geneva but for a short time, Sadoletus wrote a very smooth and subtle epistle to the inhabitants, to persuade them to return back to Popery. We ministers seldom find our work as we left it, we had need therefore visit often, and handle our sheep, &c., to see how they do, and whether (as Gaiuses) their souls as well as bodies be in health and prosper, 3 John 1:2.


Verse 37

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

Ver. 37. To take with them John] Who was Barnabas’s sister’s son, Colossians 4:10. Hence Barnabas might be so desirous to promote him. Paul was also afterwards better conceited of him, as may be seen Colossians 4:10.


Verse 38

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.

Ver. 38. Who departed from them] Providing for his own ease; for they were then to take a tedious and dangerous journey over the high hill Taurus. This John liked not, but left them, and went his ways.


Verse 39

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;

Ver. 39. And the contention, &c.] The paroxysm ( παροξυσμος) or fit of a fever, so great was the commotion, the perturbation. St Luke being a physician, saith Brentius, useth here a physical expression. Heed must be taken that we overshoot not in the best causes, lest if we be overshot, God’s wrath be kindled against us. There is a most sad story of the dissension between Luther and Carolostadius, both good men. And another as sad of those who fled to Frankfort hence in Queen Mary’s days; yet among them there were such grievous breaches that they sought the lives one of another, picking out some words against the emperor, in a sermon that Master Knox had preached in England long before, and now accusing him for them to the magistrates of Frankfort, upon which divers of them were fain to flee.

That they departed asunder] And we read not that they joined any more together after this. Barnabas we find halting together with Peter, Galatians 2:13, rather than he would walk uprightly together with his old associate Paul, Acts 15:14, for the which Paul reproved Peter, who yet maketh honourable mention of Paul, 2 Peter 3:15, which was his holy ingenuity. But much to be commended were Basil and Eusebius, who perceiving the Arians to improve a difference between them to the prejudice of the orthodox, were soon reconciled, and united their forces against the common enemy.


Verse 40

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

Ver. 40. Being recommended by the brethren] Whereby it appeareth that the Church took Paul’s part, and God blessed his labours wherever he came; whereas Barnabas lies buried, as it were, and little more is henceforth recorded of him, unless it be that his temporizing with Peter, Galatians 2:9. So Lot is no more heard of after his incest, Genesis 19:36. If we commit such things we deserve but a short story. (Babington in locum.)


Verse 41

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

Ver. 41. And he went] Being incessant and unsatisfiable in his master Christ’s service.

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Acts 15:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/acts-15.html. 1865-1868.

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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