| Back to Home Page | Back to Book Index |


Acts Chapter Fifteen


Acts 15

Chapter 15 contains the account of this. Certain persons come from Jerusalem where all was still going on in connection with the requirements of the law; and they seek to impose these requirements on the Gentiles in this new centre and starting-point of the work which was formed at Antioch. It was the will of God that this matter should be settled not by the apostolic authority of Paul or by the action of His Spirit at Antioch only which might have divided the church but by means of conference at Jerusalem so as to maintain union whatever might be the prejudices of the Jews. The ways of Godin this respect are remarkable shewing the way in which He has maintained sovereign care in grace over the church. In reading the Epistle to the Galatians we see that in reality things were in question that touched Christianity to the quick that affected its very foundations the deep principles of grace of the rights of God of the sinful condition of man-principles on which the whole edifice of man's eternal relations with God is founded. If any one was circumcised he was under the law; he had given up grace he had fallen away from Christ. Nevertheless Paul the apostle Paul full of faith of energy of burning zeal is obliged to go up to Jerusalem whither he had not desired to go in order to arrange this matter. Paul had laboured at Antioch; but the work in that city was not his work. He was not the apostle at Antioch as he was that of Iconium of Lystra and afterwards of Macedonia and of Greece. He went out from Antioch from the bosom of the church already formed there. The question was to be settled for the church apart from the apostolic authority of Paul. The apostle must yield before God and His ways.

Paul disputes with the men from Judea but the end is not gained. It is determined to send some members of the church to Jerusalem but with them Paul and Barnabas so deeply interested in this question. Moreover Paul had a revelation that he should go up. God directed his steps. It is good however to be obliged to submit sometimes although ever so right or so full of spiritual energy.

The question then is entered upon at Jerusalem. It was already a great thing that the subjecting of the Gentiles to the law should be resisted at Jerusalem and still more that they should there decide not to do it. We see the wisdom of God in so ordering it that such a resolution should have its origin at Jerusalem. Had there been no bigotry there the question would not have been necessary; but alas! good has to be done in despite of all the weakness and all the traditions of men. A resolution made at Antioch would have been a very different thing from a resolution made at Jerusalem. The Jewish church would not have acknowledged the truth the apostolic authority of the twelve would not have given its sanction to it. The course at Antioch and of the Gentiles would have been a course apart; and a continual struggle would have commenced having (at least in appearance) the authority of the primitive and apostolic church on the one side and the energy and liberty of the Spirit with Paul for its representative on the other. The Judaizing tendency of human nature is ever ready to abandon the high energy of the Spirit and return into the ways and thoughts of the flesh. This tendency nourished by the traditions of an ancient faith had already given sorrow and difficulty enough to him who was specially labouring among the Gentiles according to the liberty of the Spirit without the additional strength of having the course of the apostles and of the church at Jerusalem to countenance it.

After much discussion at Jerusalem full liberty for which was given Peter taking the lead relates the case of Cornelius. Afterwards Paul and Barnabas declare the wonderful manifestation of God through the power of the Holy Ghost which had taken place among the Gentiles. James then sums up the judgment of the assembly which is assented to by all that the Gentiles shall not be obliged to be circumcised or to obey the law; but only to abstain from blood from things strangled from fornication and from meat offered to idols. We shall do well to consider the nature and stipulations of this decree.

It is a direction which teaches not that which is abstractedly good or evil but that which was suitable to the case presented. It was "necessary " not "righteous before God " to avoid certain things. The things might be really evil but they are not here looked at in that way. There were certain things to which the Gentiles were accustomed which it was proper they should renounce in order that the assembly might walk as it ought before God in peace. To the other ordinances of the law they were not to be subjected. Moses had those who preached him. That sufficed without compelling the Gentiles to submit to his laws when they joined themselves not to the Jews but to the Lord.

This decree therefore does not pronounce upon the nature of the things forbidden but upon the opportuneness-the Gentiles having in fact been in the habit of doing all these things. We must observe that they were not things forbidden by the law only. It was that which was contrary to the order established by God as Creator or to a prohibition given to Noah when he was told to eat flesh. Woman was only to be connected with man in the sanctity of marriage and this is a very great blessing. Life belonged to God. All fellowship with idols was an outrage against the authority of the true God. Let Moses teach his own laws; these things were contrary to the intelligent knowledge of the true God. It is not therefore a new law imposed by Christianity nor an accommodation to the prejudices of the Jews. It has not the same kind of validity as a moral ordinance that is obligatory in itself. It is the expression to christian intelligence of the terms of man's true relations with God in the things of nature given by the goodness of God through the leaders at Jerusalem to ignorant Christians setting them free from the law and enlightening them with regard to the relations between God and man and to that which was proper to man-things of which as idolatrous Gentiles they had been ignorant. I have said addressed to christian intelligence: accordingly there is nothing inconsistent in eating anything that is sold at the shambles; for I acknowledge God who gave it and not an idol. But if the act implies communion with the idol even to the conscience of another it would be provoking God to jealousy; I sin against Him or against my neighbour. I do not know whether an animal is strangled or not but if people act so as to imply that it is indifferent whether life belongs to God or not I sin again; I am not defiled by the thing but I fail in christian intelligence with regard to the rights of God as Creator. With regard to fornication this enters into the category of christian purity besides being contrary to the order of the Creator; so that it is a direct question of good and evil and not only of the rights of God revealed to our intelligence. This was important as a general principle more than in the detail of the things themselves.

In sum the principles established are these: purity by marriage according to God's original institution; that life belongs to God; and the unity of God as one only true God-Godhead life and God's original ordinance for man. The same thing is true of the foundations laid by the assembly at the basis of their decree "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us."

The Holy Ghost had manifested Himself in the case of Cornelius and of the conversion of the Gentiles of which Peter and Paul and Barnabas had given the account. On the other hand the apostles were the depositaries of the authority of Christ those to whom the government of the assembly as founded in connection with the true Jewish faith had been committed. They represented the authority of Christ ascended on high even as the power and will of the Holy Ghost had been shewn in the cases I have just mentioned. The authority was exercised in connection with that which in a certain sense was the continuation of a Judaism enlarged by fresh revelations and which had its centre at Jerusalem acknowledging as Messiah the ascended Jesus rejected by the people. Christ had committed to them the authority necessary to govern the assembly. They had also been sealed on the day of Pentecost in order to perform it.

The spirit of grace and wisdom is truly seen in their way of acting. They give their full sanction to Paul and Barnabas and they send with them persons of note in the assembly at Jerusalem who could not be suspected of bringing an answer in support of their own pretensions as might have been supposed in the case of Paul and Barnabas.

The apostles and elders assemble for deliberation; but the whole flock acts in concert with them.

Thus Jerusalem has decided that the law was not binding on the Gentiles. These sincere in their desire of walking with Christ rejoice greatly at their freedom from this yoke. Judas and Silas being prophets exhort and confirm them and afterwards are dismissed in peace. But Silas thinks it good to remain on his own account influenced by the Spirit. He prefers the work among the Gentiles to Jerusalem. Judas returns from it to Jerusalem.

The work continues at Antioch by means of Paul and Barnabas and others. At Antioch we again see the full liberty of the Holy Ghost.

Paul proposes to Barnabas that they should go and visit the assemblies already formed by their means in Asia Minor. Barnabas consents but he determines to take John who had formerly forsaken them. Paul wishes for some one who had not drawn back from the work nor abandoned for his own home the place of a stranger for the work's sake. Barnabas insists; and these two precious servants of God separate. Barnabas takes Mark and goes to Cyprus. Now Mark was his kinsman and Cyprus his own country. Paul takes Silas who had preferred the work to Jerusalem instead of Jerusalem to the work and departs. From his name we may believe that Silas was a Hellenist.

It is happy to find that after this Paul speaks of Barnabas with entire affection and desires that Mark should come to him having found him profitable for the ministry.

Moreover Paul is commended by the brethren to the grace of God in his work. The title given to Paul and Barnabas by the apostles shews the difference between the apostolic authority established by Christ in person and that which was constituted such by the power of the Holy Ghost-sent by Christ Himself no doubt but in point of fact going forth by the direction of the Holy Ghost and their mission warranted by His power. With the apostles Paul and Barnabas have no title except their work-"men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." They are that which the Holy Ghost has made them. The apostles are the twelve.

The liberty and the power of the Spirit characterise Paul He is that which the Spirit makes him. If Jesus had appeared to him although Ananias can testify it he must in reality prove it by the power of his ministry. The effects of this ministry are related as well as its character in chapters 16-20. The action and the liberty of the Holy Ghost are there displayed in a remarkable manner.

── John DarbySynopsis of Acts


Acts 15

Chapter Contents

The dispute raised by Judaizing teachers. (1-6) The council at Jerusalem. (7-21) The letter from the council. (22-35) Paul and Barnabas separate. (36-41)

Commentary on Acts 15:1-6

(Read Acts 15:1-6)

Some from Judea taught the Gentile converts at Antioch that they could not be saved unless they observed the whole ceremonial law as given by Moses; and thus they sought to destroy Christian liberty. There is a strange proneness in us to think that all do wrong who do not just as we do. Their doctrine was very discouraging. Wise and good men desire to avoid contests and disputes as far as they can; yet when false teachers oppose the main truths of the gospel or bring in hurtful doctrines we must not decline to oppose them.

Commentary on Acts 15:7-21

(Read Acts 15:7-21)

We see from the words "purifying their hearts by faith " and the address of St. Peter that justification by faith and sanctification by the Holy Ghost cannot be separated; and that both are the gift of God. We have great cause to bless God that we have heard the gospel. May we have that faith which the great Searcher of hearts approves and attests by the seal of the Holy Spirit. Then our hearts and consciences will be purified from the guilt of sin and we shall be freed from the burdens some try to lay upon the disciples of Christ. Paul and Barnabas showed by plain matters of fact that God owned the preaching of the pure gospel to the Gentiles without the law of Moses; therefore to press that law upon them was to undo what God had done. The opinion of James was that the Gentile converts ought not to be troubled about Jewish rites but that they should abstain from meats offered to idols so that they might show their hatred of idolatry. Also that they should be cautioned against fornication which was not abhorred by the Gentiles as it should be and even formed a part of some of their rites. They were counselled to abstain from things strangled and from eating blood; this was forbidden by the law of Moses and also here from reverence to the blood of the sacrifices which being then still offered it would needlessly grieve the Jewish converts and further prejudice the unconverted Jews. But as the reason has long ceased we are left free in this as in the like matters. Let converts be warned to avoid all appearances of the evils which they formerly practised or are likely to be tempted to; and caution them to use Christian liberty with moderation and prudence.

Commentary on Acts 15:22-35

(Read Acts 15:22-35)

Being warranted to declare themselves directed by the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost the apostles and disciples were assured that it seemed good unto God the Holy Spirit as well as to them to lay upon the converts no other burden than the things before mentioned which were necessary either on their own account or from present circumstances. It was a comfort to hear that carnal ordinances were no longer imposed on them which perplexed the conscience but could not purify or pacify it; and that those who troubled their minds were silenced so that the peace of the church was restored and that which threatened division was removed. All this was consolation for which they blessed God. Many others were at Antioch. Where many labour in the word and doctrine yet there may be opportunity for us: the zeal and usefulness of others should stir us up not lay us asleep.

Commentary on Acts 15:36-41

(Read Acts 15:36-41)

Here we have a private quarrel between two ministers no less than Paul and Barnabas yet made to end well. Barnabas wished his nephew John Mark to go with them. We should suspect ourselves of being partial and guard against this in putting our relations forward. Paul did not think him worthy of the honour nor fit for the service who had departed from them without their knowledge or without their consent: see 13. Neither would yield therefore there was no remedy but they must part. We see that the best of men are but men subject to like passions as we are. Perhaps there were faults on both sides as usual in such contentions. Christ's example alone is a copy without a blot. Yet we are not to think it strange if there are differences among wise and good men. It will be so while we are in this imperfect state; we shall never be all of one mind till we come to heaven. But what mischief the remainders of pride and passion which are found even in good men do in the world and do in the church! Many who dwelt at Antioch who had heard but little of the devotedness and piety of Paul and Barnabas heard of their dispute and separation; and thus it will be with ourselves if we give way to contention. Believers must be constant in prayer that they may never be led by the allowance of unholy tempers to hurt the cause they really desire to serve. Paul speaks with esteem and affection both of Barnabas and Mark in his epistles written after this event. May all who profess thy name O loving Saviour be thoroughly reconciled by that love derived from thee which is not easily provoked and which soon forgets and buries injuries.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Acts


Acts 15

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.

They (the brethren) determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others should go up to Jerusalem about this question - This is the journey to which St. Paul refers Galatians 2:1 2 when he says he went up by revelation: which is very consistent with this; for the Church in sending them might be directed by a revelation made either immediately to St. Paul or to some other person relating to so important an affair. Important indeed it was that these Jewish impositions should be solemnly opposed in time; because multitudes of converts were still zealous for the law and ready to contend for the observance of it. Indeed many of the Christians of Antioch would have acquiesced in the determination of Paul alone. But as many others might have prejudices against him for his having been so much concerned for the Gentiles it was highly expedient to take the concurrent judgment of all the apostles on this occasion.

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.

They were received — That is solemnly welcomed.

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.

But certain Pharisees — For even believers are apt to retain their former turn of mind and prejudices derived therefrom.

The law of Moses — The whole law both moral and ritual.

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.

After much debate — It does not appear that this was among the apostles themselves. But if it had if they themselves had debated at first yet might their final decision be from an unerring direction. For how really soever they were inspired we need not suppose their inspiration was always so instantaneous and express as to supersede any deliberation in their own minds or any consultation with each other.

Peter rose up — This is the last time he is mentioned in the Acts.

Verse 8

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

God bare them witness — That he had accepted them by giving them the Holy Ghost.

Verse 9

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

Purifying — This word is repeated from Acts 10:15; their hearts - The heart is the proper seat of purity; by faith - Without concerning themselves with the Mosaic law.

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?

Now therefore — Seeing these things are so: why tempt ye God? - Why do ye provoke him to anger by putting so heavy a yoke on their neck?

Verse 11

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

The Lord Jesus — He does not here say our Lord; because in this solemn place he means the Lord of all we - Jews shall be saved even as they - Gentiles namely through the grace of the Lord Jesus not by our observance of the ceremonial law.

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.

Miracles and wonders — By which also what St. Peter had said was confirmed.

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.

Simon hath declared — James the apostle of the Hebrews calls Peter by his Hebrew name.

To take out of them a people for his name — That is to believe in him to be called by his name.

Verse 15

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

To this agree — St. Peter had urged the plain fact which St. James confirms by Scripture prophecy.

The words of the prophets — One of whom is immediately cited.

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:

After this — After the Jewish dispensation expires.

I will build again the fallen tabernacle of David — By raising from his seed the Christ who shall build on the ruins of his fallen tabernacle a spiritual and eternal kingdom. Amos 9:11.

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.

The Gentiles on whom my name is called — That is who are called by my name; who are my people.

Verse 18

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

Known unto God are all his works from eternity — Which the apostle infers from the prophecy itself and the accomplishment of it. And this conversion of the Gentiles being known to him from eternity we ought not to think a new or strange thing. It is observable he does not speak of God's works in the natural world (which had been nothing to his present purpose ) but of his dealing with the children of men. Now he could not know these without knowing the characters and actions of particular persons on a correspondence with which the wisdom and goodness of his providential dispensations is founded. For instance he could not know how he would deal with heathen idolaters (whom he was now calling into his Church) without knowing there would be heathen idolaters: and yet this was a thing purely contingent a thing as dependent on the freedom of the human mind as any we can imagine. This text therefore among a thousand more is an unanswerable proof that God foreknows future contingencies though there are difficulties relating hereto which men cannot solve.

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.

To abstain from fornication — Which even the philosophers among the heathens did not account any fault. It was particularly frequent in the worship of their idols on which account they are here named together.

And from things strangled — That is from whatever had been killed without pouring out the blood. When God first permitted man to eat flesh he commanded Noah and in him all his posterity whenever they killed any creature for food to abstain from the blood thereof. It was to be poured upon the ground as water: doubtless in honour of that blood which was in due time poured out for the sin of the world.

Verse 21

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

Perhaps the connection is To the Jews we need write nothing on these heads; for they hear the law continually.

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:

With the whole Church — Which therefore had a part therein; to send chosen men - Who might put it beyond all dispute that this was the judgment of the apostles and all the brethren.

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:

Writing thus and sending it by their hand — The whole conduct of this affair plainly shows that the Church in those days had no conception of St. Peter's primacy or of his being the chief judge in controversies. For the decree is drawn up not according to his but the Apostle James's proposal and direction: and that in the name not of St. Peter but of all the apostles and elders and of the whole Church. Nay St. Peter's name is not mentioned at all either in the order for sending to Jerusalem on the question Acts 15:2 or in the address of the messengers concerning it Acts 15:4 or in the letter which was written in answer.

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:

Forasmuch as … — The simplicity weightiness and conciseness of this letter are highly observable.

Verse 26

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

Men that have hazarded their lives — This is spoken of Paul and Barnabas.

Verse 27

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

Who will tell you the same things — Which we have written.

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;

These necessary things — All of these were necessary for that time. But the first of them was not necessary long; and the direction concerning it was therefore repealed by the same Spirit as we read in the former Epistle to the Corinthians.

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.

Blood — The eating which was never permitted the children of God from the beginning of the world. Nothing can be clearer than this. For 1. From Adam to Noah no man ate flesh at all; consequently no man then ate blood. 2. When God allowed Noah and his posterity to eat flesh he absolutely forbade them to eat blood; and accordingly this with the other six precepts of Noah was delivered down from Noah to Moses. 3. God renewed this prohibition by Moses which was not repealed from the time of Moses till Christ came. 4. Neither after his coming did any presume to repeal this decree of the Holy Ghost till it seemed good to the bishop of Rome so to do about the middle of the eighth century. 5. From that time those Churches which acknowledged his authority held the eating of blood to be an indifferent thing. But 6. In all those Churches which never did acknowledge the bishop of Rome's authority it never was allowed to eat blood; nor is it allowed at this day. This is the plain fact; let men reason as plausibly as they please on one side or the other.

From which keeping yourselves ye will do well — That is ye will find a blessing. This gentle manner of concluding was worthy the apostolical wisdom and goodness. But how soon did succeeding councils of inferior authority change it into the style of anathemas! Forms which have proved an occasion of consecrating some of the most devilish passions under the most sacred names; and like some ill-adjusted weapons of war are most likely to hurt the hand from which they are thrown.

Verse 35

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

Paul and Barnabas abode in Antioch — And it was during this time that Peter came down from Jerusalem and that St. Paul withstood him to the face for separating himself from the Gentiles Galatians 2:11 etc.

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.

Let us go and visit the brethren in every city where we have preached — This was all that St. Paul designed at first; but it was not all that God designed by his journey whose providence carried him much farther than he intended.

And see how they do — How their souls prosper: how they grow in faith hope love: what else ought to be the grand and constant inquiry in every ecclesiastical visitation? Reader how dost thou do?

Verse 37

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

Barnabas counselled to take John — His kinsman.

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.

But Paul thought it not right — To trust him again who had deserted them before: who had shrunk from the labour and danger of converting those they were now going to confirm.

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;

And there was a sharp contention — Literally a paroxysm or fit of a fever. But nothing in the text implies that the sharpness was on both sides. It is far more probable that it was not; that St. Paul who had the right on his side as he undoubtedly had ) maintained it with love.

And Barnabas taking Mark with him sailed away to Cyprus — Forsaking the work in which he was engaged he went away to his own country.

Verse 40

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

But Paul departed — Held on his intended course: being recommended by the brethren to the grace of God - We do not find that Barnabas stayed for this. O how mighty is the grace of God! which in the midst of the world in the midst of sin among so many snares of Satan and in spite of the incredible weakness and depravity of nature yet overcomes all opposition sanctifies sustains and preserves us to the end! It appears not only that Paul and Barnabas were afterward thoroughly reconciled 1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:9; but also that John was again admitted by St. Paul as a companion in his labours Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24; 2 Timothy 4:11.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Acts


Chapter 15. The Jerusalem Council

Deliver the Council's Letter
The People Read It

I. Debate on Judaic Tradition

  1. Peter's Address
  2. Paul's Testimony
  3. Jame's Conclusion

II. Send the Letter to Explain

  1. Clarify Disturbance
  2. Exhort the Truth
  3. The People Were Glad

III. The Parting of the Two Apostles

  1. Whether to Take Mark Along
  2. A Sharp Disagreement
  3. Part Company
── Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament