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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 15

 

 

Verse 1

1. Came down—As from a high metropolis. (See note on Acts 11:2.) So go up in Acts 15:2.

Judea—Probably, though not necessarily, from Jerusalem.

Taught—According to the Greek imperfect, were continuously teaching.


Verse 2

2. No small dissension—Paul and Barnabas seem to have been avoided at first by these men.

They determined—This they refers to the brethren in Acts 15:1.


Verse 3

3. Brought on their way—Honourably escorted and authenticated, so as to be hospitably and deferentially received and forwarded by the Churches on their way.

Through Phenice and Samaria—Not through Galilee, but along the Phenician coast probably as far as Ptolemais; then turned eastward through the plain of Esdraelon; thence by Samaria to Jerusalem.

Declaring—We see by tracing this journey how Christianity had overspread these regions, and their joy indicates that the Judaizers had sought to oppose them, and shows how largely this Christianity was Gentile and Pauline.


Verse 4

4. Come to Jerusalem—Paul tells us in Galatians 2:2, that he went up not solely by the prudential conclusion of the Church, but by or rather according to revelation. This may have been a revelation to the Church, or to Paul directing him now to go to the metropolis and obtain from the apostles the full acknowledgment of Gentile rights and his own Gentile apostleship.

They declared—That is, in general conversations before the meeting in Acts 15:6. And during this interval before the general meeting Paul held his private interviews with James, Peter, and John, (Galatians 2:2-9,) which, together with the public discussions, resulted in settling Paul’s equal apostleship.


Verse 5

5. There arosestarted up; not in the public council, but in the preparatory discussions. These certain were the counterpart and copartisians of the certain men in Acts 15:1.

Pharisees—Paul describes these very zealots in Galatians 2:4-6.


Verse 6

2. Session of the Council, Acts 15:6.

6. Came together—We have not here an example of what has in Church history been called “a General Council,” that is, an assemblage of delegates and representatives from the various parts of Christendom to consult and decide the affairs of the universal Church. We have simply a respectful delegation from one Church to another Church possessed of superior special advantages for agreeing upon a great question.

The so-called General Councils receive from the Romish and Greek Churches profound deference, as of binding authority over their faith. The Seven General Councils are a final appeal for all members of the Greek communion. But none of them could show the inspired authority of this apostolic assembly, who could truly say, It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.

On the question discussed at this council there still remained a variety of shades and opinions. 1. The views of Paul, which were at first unknown to the Church, became the true central doctrine of the Apostolic Church. He consented to the indulgence of all who insisted upon it, in the performance of all those rites of Judaism which were in themselves solemn and devout, though not obligatory performances; PROVIDED, it was not claimed or granted that they were a necessary part of Christianity, or necessary to salvation, and provided they became not a real impediment to the salvation of souls by Christ. 2. But there afterward came the celebrated Marcion, of Pontus, who was an ultra Paulist, discarding not only circumcision and the ritual, but discarding the Old Testament and the very Jehovah of the Old Testament. 3. On the other hand, James, the Bishop (presiding Presbyter) of Jerusalem, rigidly persisted probably in keeping the whole law so far as himself was concerned, and perhaps counselled the same of all Jewish Christians. He with his section of thinkers probably attended through life the prayers, sacrifices, and solemn services of the temple. 4. The Judaists who figured at Antioch went much further than James, and held forth to Gentiles as well as Jews, Ye cannot be saved without the deeds of the Mosaic ritual law. (See notes on Acts 10:1; Acts 11:19; Acts 21:40.)

A significant fruit of the triumph of Paul and Gentilism was (as adduced by Paul, Galatians 2:3) that Titus, though a Gentile, was not required by the Council to be circumcised. He was doubtless brought there by Paul as a test case. On the one hand, even if Paul were willing himself to circumcise him in Asia Minor to secure him access to Jews, he would refuse all consent to his circumcision when the requirement of circumcision was the point of controversy at Jerusalem. On the other hand, for the Council to yield the point that this young Gentile could be an uncircumcised Christian, was to surrender the whole matter to Paul. Titus was a living monument of pure Gentile Christianity.


Verse 7

7. Disputing—A free discussion, the main object of which was to bring the facts and principles before the apostles and the Church. It is not perfectly clear that the certain of the sect of the Pharisees of Acts 15:5 formed part of the assembly, since by Acts 15:22; Acts 15:25, the final action was unanimous.


Verse 7-8

3. Speech of Peter, Acts 15:7-11.

A good while ago—The Greek has a very peculiar wording, signifying from ancient days. The apostle speaks as if the days so near to Christ seemed to him already a dim antiquity. He refers to the conversion of Cornelius about ten years agone. We see not the slightest reason for referring his language, as some do, to Christ’s counferring the keys, (Matthew 16:19,) for, 1. The keys were conferred on all the apostles alike, and not upon Peter alone; and, 2. There is no reason to suppose that the keys referred with any specialty to the admission of the Gentiles.


Verse 9

9. Purifying—Peter here touches the vital matter. What is any religion good for but to purify the heart and make it just before God? If Christ can now do it without circumcision, what need of circumcision?


Verse 10

10. Tempt ye God—Putting his forbearance to the test by requiring what he does not require, namely, circumcision as a condition to the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Able to bear—The Jews could not so sustain the burdens of the law as to attain salvation by the perfection of their obedience. Ever was there that shortcoming that required the ritual atonement, and that failure even in attaining the efficacy of the ritual atonement which left the Jew in sorrowful condemnation, savable by grace alone. Herein, however, the ritual law was but a type and illustration of the absolute moral law, which humanity cannot keep, and, therefore, must be saved by grace. Peter would, therefore, now leave man, without the ritual, to the moral law and Christ’s grace.


Verse 11

11. Grace… saved—Peter here goes the full length of the Pauline doctrine—salvation by grace of Christ to Jew and Gentile alike. If the twelve apostles were formally apostles of but the twelve tribes, why should there not be at least one thirteenth apostle for all the outside Gentile world? And since that Gentile world was far larger than the twelve tribes, why not its thirteenth apostle be mightier than all the twelve?


Verse 12

12. Kept silenceHushed, not from the tumult of debate, as some commentators think; nor by the power of Peter’s speech, as others; but hushed from eager expectation of what the Antiochian ambassadors will say, and held silent by the thrilling interest of their narrative. Barnabas here, by local propriety, takes precedence, as also in the letter of the Council, (Acts 15:25,) just as James takes precedence of Peter in Galatians 2:9. Yet it no doubt is true that Jerusalem never so expanded her soul as to take in the greatness of Paul’s apostolate.

Miracles and wonders—The tale of these two hardy itinerants could not but possess all the novelty and power of romance to their listening ears. For a brief hour, at least, they stood upon the high platform of Jesus Himself, and their horizon extended into the breadth of his commission, “Go into all the world.” For a moment they realized that Christianity was to become a universal religion by shedding Judaism from its back.


Verse 14

4. Speech of James of Jerusalem, Acts 15:13-21.

14. Simeon—Old fashioned Judean James (see note on Matthew 10:3) must not say Peter; and he must pronounce Simon after its ancient form, Simeon. The characteristic fact is a unique proof of the accuracy of Luke’s report.

A people for his name—Who shall bear his name, or give honour to his name. James in this verse repeats the point of Peter’s speech; in 15-18 he shows that it is in accordance with God’s predictions and plan according to old Jewish Scriptures.


Verse 16

16. The tabernacle of David—The two verses are quoted nearly accurately from the Septuagint of Amos 9:11-12. The Jews applied it to the times of the Messiah. By David’s booth or tabernacle is meant the royal dominion of David; to which, as James, the brother of Jesus, well knew, Jesus was the lineal heir by human birth. And, as Jesus was dead, James himself was lineally king of Jerusalem!

It is a remarkable proof of the popular use of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, that Judaic James should thus quote it even where it seems to vary from the ordinary Hebrew text. Yet the substance of the Hebrew prediction is conveyed in the words quoted.

The residue— Other than Jews; a depreciatory term for Gentiles.


Verse 18

18. Known… from the beginning—God is not taken by surprise; nor has he changed the eternal plans of his own conduct. What seems a great change to us is, in fact, fully accordant with Jehovah’s most comprehensive plan, which takes all the wise changes into its own scope.


Verse 19

19. My sentence is—Literally, I judge, or vote. It was the ordinary phrase, agreeing with the Latin Ego censeo, which a Roman senator used in giving his vote. It will not bear the meaning, by some forced upon it, that James, as bishop, finally decides the whole question by authority. What he actually does is to propose the compromise upon which they all harmonize.


Verse 20

20. Write—Four things are to be prohibited on the grounds of being specially offensive to Jews, namely: 1, idolatrous meats; 2, fornication; 3, flesh of strangled animals; and, 4, eating of blood. These grounds, of course, permit both cautions against committing acts offensive to the ceremonial feelings of the Jews, as the first, third, and fourth, or offences against true morality specially offensive from ritual reasons, as the second.

1. As to idolatrous meats: after parts of the animal idolatrously offered were given to the priests, others were eaten in a banquet, or salted for use, or even sold in the market. From idolatrous feast and market meat the Jew abstained with abhorrence. For he held the meat to be offered to devils, and that the eater ceremonially consecrated himself to the devil so honoured. 2. Fornication was held by the heathen in many cases to be not a sin, but a religious rite performed to some voluptuous deity. Antioch was celebrated for its temple and groves of Daphne, in which licentiousness was a consecrated religious rite. There was no one thing in which Christianity produced a greater revolution than in re-creating the virtue of chastity. But it is against unchastity as connected with idolatry, and avowed to be sacred, that the caution is here directed, and the present grounds are its special offensiveness to the Old Testament conscience. 3 and 4. The shedding of blood was, in the Mosaic ritual, the sacred sacrificial mode of death. Without the shedding of blood there was no remission. Hence, the blood was the symbolical, if not the physical, seat of life. Christians can see that thus the type and the antitype were to harmonize. And as the seat of life, the Jew was taught to hold it sacred from his eating. And as the strangled animal retained his blood, so he was not to be eaten. All these views of reverence for blood were cherished to educate the Jewish mind to the great thought that death is the wages of sin; and that by a death realized by the shed blood is to be the remission, both typical and real. So far as the special reasons for giving these cautions in the document to be issued are concerned, they soon ceased, and the prohibitions ceased with them. But reasons immutable render the second prohibition immutable.


Verse 21

21. For Moses—As the synagogues, with their sabbath services, spread the Mosaic doctrines, and the appended Jewish prejudices, far and wide, so far and wide should these cautions be diffused.


Verse 22

5. Results of the Council, Acts 15:22-36.

22. Pleased it—It was the pleasure or decree. This was one of the forms of passing a law. Apostles and elders seem to decree, the whole Church concurring.

Chosen men—Who might testify for Jerusalem that she had received the delegates from Antioch with becoming honour, that the epistle from the Church was genuine, that its true meaning thus, and so that Antioch might be assured that Jerusalem reciprocates her sending of delegates.

Judas… Barsabas—Mentioned here only.

Silas—From Jerusalem now comes one destined to acquire the free progressive spirit of Gentile Antioch, and to be associated with Paul in his labour’s and trials, and to be recorded honourably in his epistles. In Paul’s epistles he uniformly receives his fuller Roman name, Sylvanus.


Verse 23

23. Apostles… elders… brethren—Clerical and lay are here associated.

Syria—Including here all between the Mediterranean and the Lebanon range, but excluding Judea and Samaria.

Greeting—It is a curious “undesigned coincidence” that the word greeting is used but once more in the New Testament, and that in the Epistle of James. We may safely from this infer that this letter is also an epistle written by James, and that both are by this same hand.


Verse 24

24. No such commandmentThey went out from us carrying the weight of their Jerusalemite origin, but with no authority from Jerusalem. So, subsequently, Judaists pretended to be followers of Peter, but with no authority from Peter, (1 Corinthians 1:12.)


Verse 26

26. Hazarded their lives—A courteous reference to the narratives given by the two apostles of their missionary journeys.


Verse 28

28. Holy Ghost, and to us—See note on Luke 1:3. Two concurrent minds in the same matter, the divine and the human. Man as free in the choice as if God did not will; God’s will as perfectly accomplished as if man’s will were overruled.


Verse 29

29. Fare ye well—The ordinary close of a letter anciently, χαιρειν. Be ye in health and vigour.


Verse 30

30. Multitude—The body of the Church, so that this was an interchange from Church to Church. It was from the mother Church to the daughter Church; a parent response to a filial address.


Verse 33

33. In peace—For a brief period the two blessed messengers from Jerusalem are lovingly detained as by the bonds of Christian affection. Then they are dismissed with the word of peace from the Church to the apostles especially, under whose inspired guidance the happy result was obtained.

It is sad to think that one of these apostles, Peter, in a subsequent visit to Antioch, after for awhile indulging in the freest social life with the Gentile brethren, did, upon the coming of the persistent Jewish zealots from Jerusalem, change his course and withdraw from Gentile communion, and with “even Barnabas” following his example! It called for all the energy of Paul to rebuke in firm language his venerable senior. But in his last epistle the aged Peter still affectionately remembered “our beloved brother, Paul.”


Verse 34

34. Silas to abide—This verse is probably not genuine; being added, as Alford suggests, to account for the fact of Silas’ being still present at Antioch, Acts 15:40.


Verse 35

35. Teaching—Unfolding the system of Christian truths.

Preaching— Awakening the Christian emotions by impressive appeals.

Many others— Successful preaching and revivals generally make new preachers.

PAUL’S SECOND MISSION from Antioch, through Syria and Asia Minor, into Europe; namely, in Northern Greece, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea; in Southern Greece, Athens, and Corinth; thence back by sea, touching Ephesus, Cesarea, and Jerusalem, to Antioch, Acts 15:36 to Acts 18:23.


Verse 36

1. Disagreement and Separation of Paul and Barnabas, Acts 15:36-41.

36. Paul said—The invitation is given by Paul, and he clearly in Luke’s view is the principal in the expedition. Just as in Acts 14:21-25, he turned back to review their former ground, so now his energetic spirit would revisit the scenes of their former labour, and, city by city, ascertain their state, and more fully confirm their faith.

How they do—How they hold or prosper.


Verse 37

37. Determined—He presumes not to decide the amount or share of blame. He might have so selected, grouped, and coloured his facts as to have shown to which party he belonged. Yet the sum total of the facts, as he states them, combined with facts elsewhere learned, produce the impression that Barnabas acted from personal affection to a relative, Paul from a regard to the apparent right and the good of the enterprise. He takes his nephew and flies off the track, leaving Paul to select a new colleague instead of Barnabas in Silas, a new minister instead of Mark in Timothy. He goes unblest of the Church, even his own Antioch, leaving Paul and his chosen to receive its commendation to the grace of God.


Verse 38

38. Thought not good—Barnabas previously determined, Paul thought not good; these phrases, both in the Greek and the English, imply personal will on the one side, and moral decision on the other.

Departed… went not—Mark’s fault is unreliability, desertion from the post where he was invited and needed. He had probably gone home to his mother’s (Barnabas’ sister’s) house at Jerusalem, and staid until Barnabas took him thence to Antioch, and had given to Paul no proof of any new firmness of character.


Verse 39

39. The contention was so sharpThere was a sharpness, παροξυσμος, or excitement. The principal word may signify an excitement, whether good, bad, or indifferent. It has been adopted as a medical term, paroxysm, which, however, would not rightly express the mental term. The excitement of a purely ethical emotion, in opposition to a wrong collision from another, may be in a high degree right. Such was very probably the case here with Paul, but certainly not with Barnabas. There was equally a παροξυσμος in Paul’s rebuke of Peter at Antioch; but the Church has ever pronounced Paul wholly right and Peter wholly wrong. The same sharpening pervades Paul’s utterance to Elymas, the sorcerer, and indeed the whole epistle to the Galatians. But it is a sharpening against error and wrong.

Took Mark—An abruptness of leaving, indicating passion. He loses the honour of bearing the banner of the cross with Paul into Europe. Barnabas henceforth disappears from all authentic history, being mentioned by Paul alone, 1 Corinthians 9:6. As it was to his native Cyprus he went with his young relative, in Cyprus he seems to have remained. Very possibly the quietude of approaching age had some influence in separating him from the young and too active Paul. Legends alone pretend to relate his subsequent life and his martyrdom in Cyprus. An epistle, early as the second century, bears his name, but is neither worthy of his fame, nor accepted as indisputably genuine by the early Church.


Verse 40

40. Chose Silas—Deliberately remained; made a most wise choice; received the benediction of the illustrious Church of Antioch, and started forth on his second and greater mission, the most important Christian missionary enterprise ever undertaken and accomplished.


Verse 41

41. Through Syria—The eastern coastland of the Mediterranean, of which Tyre and Sidon were the chief cities.

Cilicia—(See note on Acts 6:9.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 15:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-15.html. 1874-1909.

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Monday, November 11th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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