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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 15

 

 


Verses 1-5

Acts 15:1-5. The Question of Circumcision at Antioch and at Jerusalem.—If. The custom of Moses (cf. Acts 6:14) is the law of Moses as practised. Circumcision was no doubt the most important question to be settled; to exact it would have prevented the spread of the Church among the Gentiles; but there were other points.

Acts 15:2. After with them Codex D reads: "for Paul said that they should remain as they were when they believed, and was vehement to this effect, but those who had come from Jerusalem enjoined them, Paul and Barnabas and some others, to go up." The church at any rate resolved that this should be done.

Acts 15:3 speaks of a leisurely and indirect journey, as if the envoys had no urgent commission to discharge at the capital, and the reception on the way of their tidings of the conversion of the Gentiles does not point to any urgency. The same is the case at Jerusalem, where their report of their successes is in the same words as are used in Acts 14:27. But this peaceful state of matters is interrupted by certain Pharisees, who raise the question of circumcision and adherence to the Law, as if it had not been raised before. In Galatians 2 Paul says he and Barnabas went to Jerusalem by revelation, taking Titus with them, who is not mentioned here, and the "false brethren" (Galatians 2:4*) may well be the Pharisees of our passage.


Verses 6-12

Acts 15:6-12. The Deliberation.—The meeting is a public one (see Acts 15:12 and Acts 15:22). In Galatians 2 Paul says he laid his manner of preaching before those of reputation, in private. Peter comes forward (D says, "in the Spirit") in the character of apostle of the Uncircumcision, rehearsing the facts given in chs. 10f. But in Galatians 2, Peter accepts the character of apostle of the Circumcision, leaving the Gentiles to Paul's province. God's giving them the Spirit is narrated in Acts 11:15.

Acts 15:10. Why tempt ye God? i.e. ask for a further miracle? Peter speaks of the Law, as if he had studied under Paul (cf. Galatians 3:23-25; Galatians 5:2-6); see Acts 15:11, and cf. especially Galatians 2:16. The report of Barnabas and Paul in Acts 15:12 had been made already in Acts 15:4, and is given here in terms which it is difficult to realise. Nothing is said of the commission laid on them by the church of Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). [Observe that Paul and Barnabas do not discuss the principle at stake. To have done so would not have been tactful, when the Jerusalem leaders were prepared to undertake this delicate task. They recount the facts, feeling that their mission is its own best apologetic.—A. S. P.]


Verses 13-21

Acts 15:13-21. Speech of James.—Who is this James? In Galatians 2:9 Paul tells us of the agreement he made with James and Cephas and John. James and John in this account are prima facie to be taken as the two sons of Zebedee; when Paul refers to the other James he calls him the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:19). In Acts 1:22 we were told of the murder of James, the brother of John. But the James here will be the same person, if Acts 15 is in the wrong place, and ought to stand before Acts 15:12. His being the first martyr of the apostles proves his importance. [On the other hand see Acts 12:1*. The importance of James the son of Zebedee is also rendered probable by the fact that he was one of the three disciples specially chosen by Jesus to be with Him on momentous occasions. Nevertheless in Ac. he has no prominence at all; we hear nothing of him but that he was martyred, and the fact is stated in the curtest way (how different from Stephen's martyrdom!). Moreover, he is simply James the brother of John (Acts 12:2).—A. S. P.] In his speech here he says nothing about Paul and Barnabas nor about the church at Antioch; he goes back to the statement of Peter, here called by his Aramaic name of Simeon (in chs. 10f. we have several times "Simon who is surnamed Peter," here only the Aramaic name), and accepts his story of how first the conversion of the Gentiles began, and finds in Amos 9:11 f. an explicit prediction that the dispersed of Israel should be gathered again, and not only they but the Gentiles also on whom His name is called. In Galatians 2:9-12 James also is and remains an apostle of the Circumcision. His sentence is that no unnecessary trouble is to be put in the way of the Gentiles who enter the Church, but that a letter should be written setting forth the conditions on which they are received. There are some things they must give up: (a) Pollution of idols, i.e. participation in the sacrificial meals of the heathen; (b) Fornication; i.e. perhaps the impure acts done in the name of religion in idolatrous temples; but the word may cover impurity generally, which to the Gentile was no serious sin, but in the Church was entirely forbidden; (c) "What is strangled," and "blood," mean the same thing. The Jew might cat no meat from which the blood had not been drained away (Genesis 9:4*). The synagogue still has its own butcher. Many witnesses (including D), omit "things strangled"; an omission which might point to a moral rather than a ritual interpretation of the decree. These prohibitions are to be a wall separating the life of the Church from Gentile life.

Acts 15:21 probably means that it is unnecessary to say anything to the Jewish Christians about these points, which are familiar to them from their early life. D, with Latin copies, and some versions, give an addition to the decree, which is found also in Irenus; "and what they would not have done to themselves, not to do to others," which is not a ritual but a moral injunction and suggests the moralising of the others also (p. 651). But the three members of the decree are more likely ritual; "pollution of idols" is a technical term (Malachi 1:7-12).


Verses 22-29

Acts 15:22-29. The Letter is Sent.—The apostles and elders have never in this chapter acted alone (see Acts 15:6); the action is that of the whole Church. Silas does not stand for Silvanus, but is a Semitic name, the Aramaic form of Saul (Schmiedel in EBi. 4519); in Ac. he is the companion of Paul. Judas and Silas are leading men in the Jerusalem church; in Acts 15:32 they are prophets, men holding official position. The letter they carry is addressed to Gentile believers in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia. Why not also in Pisidia and Lycaonia, the regions visited by Paul and Barnabas in chs. 13f.? This verse is the strongest, though as we have seen not the only, evidence, that the Jerusalem meeting is in Acts misplaced. Its historical position is before Acts 13 f., when, as Paul tells us (Galatians 1:21), he had carried on his mission in Syria and Cilicia only.—greeting: the ordinary salutation at the beginning of a Greek letter. In Paul's epistles it is always expanded.

Acts 15:24-26 may be compared with Luke 1:1-4; this reveals the editor, as does the repetition of the doubtful story in Acts 15:1 f., that the discussion began not in Jerusalem but in the northern churches.

Acts 15:27. Judas and Silas are to confirm by their voice the contents of the letter. There follows what was proposed by James, D again adding the Golden Rule in its negative form, and, after the words "Ye shall do well," "being borne along in the Holy Spirit," words known to Irenus and Tertullian, and favouring a spiritual interpretation of the rescript. The word translated "Fare ye well" is the ordinary conclusion of a Greek letter.


Verses 30-35

Acts 15:30-35. Events at Antioch.—At Antioch on the arrival of the party, everything is quiet and decorous: there is no mention of the disturbers of Acts 15:1; the impression is given that the authority of the Mother Church was decisive to all. They rejoiced apparently on account of the freedom given from unnecessary restrictions to the Gentile members. The prophets held long discourses, as prophets were expected to do (Didaché, 10:7, 11, 1 Thessalonians 5:19 f.). The prophets are sent back to Jerusalem; D and other authorities in Acts 15:34 (omitted in RV) account for the inconsistency with Acts 15:40 by saying that Silas chose to stay there and that only Judas made the journey. That the peace which prevailed at Antioch was soon broken by Peter and James (Galatians 2:11 ff.) is not mentioned. The church pursues its course (cf. Acts 11:19 f.). The journey of Paul and Barnabas detailed in chs. 13f. must have taken place at this point, and a journey is given. But the author has little left to say on it, as he has narrated it already.


Verses 36-41

Acts 15:36 to Acts 16:5. Shorter Account of Paul's Journey In Asia Minor.—The editor's hand is apparent throughout this section. We know from Galatians 2:13 the real reason of Paul's difference with Barnabas, which was one of principle; here it is reduced to a personal matter. Instead of Titus, who (Galatians 2:3) was not compelled to be circumcised, we have Timothy, who was circumcised by Paul (Acts 16:1-3). In Acts 16:4 Paul acts as a delegate of the Jerusalem church, handing to the faithful, city by city, the judgments of that church, to which in his epistles he pays no regard. In Acts 16:5 the result of the journey is summed up in a general statement such as that at Acts 12:24; cf. Acts 9:31, Acts 11:21; and at Acts 16:6 we find we are in the substantial and authentic narrative of the "Travel-document," which thenceforward supplies the thread of the story.

Acts 15:36. The statement of time is vague; the object stated for the new journey keeps up the continuity of the narrative; Paul may be supposed to have had larger ideas. The difference with Barnabas and that with Mark were afterwards forgotten (Acts 13:13*); here the Gr. states, with an emphasis lost in RV, that Paul had a very strong objection to Mark as a companion; he would take anyone but him. He chose Silas, the Jerusalem prophet and leading man, who was his close companion up to Corinth, took part in founding the church there (2 Corinthians 1:19), and is associated with Paul as fellow-writer of 1 and 2 Th., after which he appears no more with Paul, but with Peter (1 Peter 5:12). Of the journey the account is meagre; it has been told already. The land route is chosen this time, Barnabas taking Mark by the former sea route. Cilicia is traversed, but there is no mention of Tarsus. Derbe, the last stage of the former journey, is now the first, Lycaonia being entered from the south. Companions of travel are enlisted on the way, in particular Timothy (see Moffatt, EBi. 5074). He is a native of Lystra (but see Acts 20:4*), and is favourably known among believers there and at Iconium. Paul's circumcising him is contrary to the principle stated in Galatians 5:2, and is thought by many eminent scholars to be an invention of the editor to counteract what is said about Titus in Galatians 2:3. It is more credible, however, that the circumcision did take place, Timothy being half a Jew by birth, as Titus was not, and Paul seeking to avoid offence to the Jews among whom he was to travel. Acts 16:4 belongs to the editor's scheme and is scarcely historical. The phrases are those used to describe imperial rescripts (cf. Luke 2:1); the apostles and elders as a supreme authority have ordained them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Acts 15:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/acts-15.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 27th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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