Ac 15:1-35. Council at
Jerusalem to Decide on the Necessity of Circumcision for the Gentile
1, 2. certain men—See the description of
them in Ga
2. Paul and Barnabas—now the recognized
heads of the Church at Antioch.
had no small dissension and disputation with
them, they determined—that is, the church did.
that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of
them—Titus was one (Ga 2:1); probably as an uncircumcised Gentile
convert endowed with the gifts of the Spirit. He is not mentioned in
the Acts, but only in Second Corinthians, Galatians, Second Timothy,
and the Epistle addressed to him [Alford].
should go up to Jerusalem … about this
question—That such a deputation should be formally despatched
by the Church of Antioch was natural, as it might be called the mother
church of Gentile Christianity.
3-6. being brought on their way by the
church—a kind of official escort.
they passed through Phenice—(See on Ac 11:19).
and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the
Gentiles, and they caused great joy to the brethren—As the
converts in those parts were Jewish (Ac 11:19), their spirit contrasts favorably with
that of others of their nation.
4. And when they were come to
Jerusalem—This was Paul's Third Visit
to Jerusalem after his conversion, and on this occasion took
place what is related in Ga 2:1-10.
were received of the church, and the apostles
and elders—evidently at a meeting formally convened for this
purpose: the deputation being one so influential, and from a church of
they declared all things that God had done with
them—(See on Ac 14:14-27).
6. the apostles and elders came together to
consider of this—but in presence, as would seem, of the
people (Ac 15:12, 22, 23).
7. Peter, &c.—This is the last
mention of him in the Acts, and one worthy of his standing, as formally
pronouncing, from the divine decision of the matter already in his own
case, in favor of the views which all of Paul's labors were devoted to
a good while ago—probably about
fifteen years before this.
made choice … that the Gentiles by my
mouth—(See on Ac 11:21).
8. God, which knoweth the
hearts—implying that the real question for admission to full
standing in the visible Church is the state of the heart. Hence,
though that cannot be known by men, no principle of admission to church
privileges which reverses this can be sound.
9. put no difference between us and them:
purifying their hearts by faith—"Purification" here refers to
"sprinkling (of the conscience by the blood of Jesus) from dead works
to serve the living God." (See on 1Co 6:11). How
rich is this brief description of the inward revolution wrought upon
the genuine disciples of the Lord Jesus!
10. why tempt—"try," "provoke"
ye God—by standing in the way of His
to put a yoke upon the neck of the
disciples, &c.—He that was circumcised became thereby
bound to keep the whole law. (See Ga 5:1-6). It was not then the mere yoke of
burdensome ceremonies, but of an obligation which the more earnest and
spiritual men became, the more impossible they felt it to fulfil. (See
3:5; Ga 2:4, &c.).
11. through the grace of the Lord
Jesus—that is, by that only.
we shall be saved, even as
they—circumcision in our case being no advantage, and in
their case uncircumcision no loss; but grace doing all for both,
and the same for each.
12. Then all … gave audience to Barnabas and
Paul—On this order of the names here, see on Ac 15:25.
declaring what miracles and signs God wrought
among the Gentiles by them—This detail of facts, immediately
following up those which Peter had recalled to mind, would lead all who
waited only for divine teaching to see that God had Himself pronounced
the Gentile converts to be disciples in as full standing as the Jews,
without circumcision; and the attesting miracles to which Paul
here refers would tend, in such an assembly to silence opposition.
13. James answered, saying,
&c.—Whoever this James was (see on Ga
1:19), he was the acknowledged head of the church at Jerusalem, and
here, as president of the assembly, speaks last, winding up the debate.
His decision, though given as his own judgment only, could not be of
great weight with the opposing party, from his conservative reverence
for all Jewish usages within the circle of Israelitish
14-17. Simeon—a Hebrew variation
of Simon, as in 2Pe 1:1;
(Greek), the Jewish and family name of Peter.
hath declared how God at the
first—answering to Peter's own expression "a good while ago"
did visit the Gentiles to take out of
them—in the exercise of His adorable sovereignty.
a people for his name—the honor of his
name, or for His glory.
15. to this agree the words of the
prophets—generally; but those of Amos (Am 9:11) are specified (nearly as in the
Septuagint version). The point of the passage lies in the
predicted purpose of God, under the new economy, that "the heathen" or
"Gentiles" should be "called by His name," or have "His name called
upon them." By the "building again of the fallen tabernacle of David,"
or restoring its decayed splendor, is meant that only and glorious
recovery which it was to experience under David's "son and Lord."
18, 19. Known unto God are all his works from the
beginning—He who announced these things so long before, and
He who had now brought them to pass, were one and the same; so that
they were no novelty.
19. Wherefore, my sentence—or
is, that we trouble not—with Jewish
them which from among the Gentiles are turned to
God—rather, "are turning." The work is regarded as in
progress, and indeed was rapidly advancing.
20. But … that they abstain from pollutions
of idols—that is, things polluted by having been offered in
sacrifice to idols. The heathen 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.
and from fornication—The
characteristic sin of heathendom, unblushingly practiced by all ranks
and classes, and the indulgence of which on the part of the Gentile
converts would to Jews, whose Scriptures branded it as an abomination
of the heathen, proclaim them to be yet joined to their old idols.
and from things strangled—which had
the blood in them.
and from blood—in every form, as
peremptorily forbidden to the Jews, and the eating of which, therefore,
on the part of the Gentile converts, would shock their prejudices. See
on Ac 15:28.
21. For Moses of old time hath in every city them
that preach him … 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. The
wisdom of these suggestions commended itself to all present.
22, 23. Judas surnamed
Barsabas—therefore not the apostle "Judas the brother of
1:13), surnamed "Thaddeus"
10:3); nor can it be shown
that he was a brother of "Joseph called Barsabas" (Ac 1:23). But 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
chief men among the brethren—selected
purposely as such, to express the honor in which they held the church
at Antioch, and the deputies they had sent to the council, and, as the
matter affected all Gentile converts, to give weight to the written
decision of this important assembly. They were "prophets," Ac 15:32 (and see on Ac
11:27), and as such doubtless their eminence in the church at
Jerusalem had been obtained.
23. And they wrote … by them—This
is the first mention in the New Testament history of writing as
an element in its development. 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 (Ex 17:14).
But whereas there it is the deep difference between
Israel and the Gentiles which is proclaimed, here it is the
obliteration of that difference through faith in the Lord Jesus
greeting—The only other place in the
New Testament where this word occurs (except in the letter of Lysias,
23:26) is Jas 1:1, which seems to show that both letters
were drawn up by the same hand [Bengel].
the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and
Cilicia—showing that churches then existed in Cilicia as well
as Syria, which owed their existence, in all likelihood, to Paul's
labors during the interval between his return to Tarsus (Ac 9:30) and his departure in company with
Barnabas for Antioch (see on Ac 11:25).
24-27. Forasmuch as we have heard that certain
which went out from us have troubled you with words—without
authority or even knowledge of the church at Jerusalem, though they
belonged to it, and probably pretended to represent its views.
subverting your souls—Such strong
language is evidently designed to express indignation at this attempt,
by an unauthorized party, to bring the whole Christian Church under
judicial and legal bondage.
25. our beloved Barnabas and
Paul—Barnabas is put first here, and in Ac 15:12, on account of his former superior
position in the church at Jerusalem (see Ac 9:27; 11:22)—an evidence this that we have the
document precisely as written, as also of the credibility of this
26. Men that have hazarded—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 narrative they had just listened to
from their own lips (Ac 15:12),
and judiciously inserted in this letter, to give them the highest
weight as the bearers of it, along with their own deputies.
Judas and Silas … shall tell you the same
… by mouth—Mark here how considerate and tender it was
to send men who would be able to say of Barnabas and Paul what could
not be expected to come from themselves.
28, 29. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and
to us, &c.—The One, inwardly guiding to and setting His
seal on the decision come to: the other, the external ecclesiastical
authority devoutly embracing, expressing, and conveying to the churches
that decision:—a great principle this for the Church in all
to lay upon you no greater burden than these
necessary things … from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do
well—The whole language of these prohibitions, and of Ac 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 the whole as
permanently prohibited. But the remarks on Ac 15:20 may clear this (see on Ac 15:20). The then state of heathen society in respect
of all the four things seems the reason for so mixing them up.
31-33. they rejoiced for the
consolation—As the same word is in Ac 15:31 properly rendered "exhorted," the
meaning probably is "rejoiced for the exhortation" (Margin), or
advice; so wise in itself and so contrary to the imposition attempted
to be practiced upon them by the Judaizers.
32. Judas and Silas, being prophets
themselves—that is, inspired teachers.
exhorted the brethren with many
and confirmed them—opening up, no
doubt, the great principle involved in the controversy now settled, of
gratuitous salvation, or the purification of the heart by faith alone
(as expressed by Peter, Ac 15:9, 11), and dwelling on the necessity of
harmony in principle and affection between the Gentile disciples and
their Jewish brethren.
33. were let go in peace—with peace, as
the customary parting salutation.
34, 35. it pleased Silas—Silas
to abide there still—(The authorities
against the insertion of this verse are strong. It may have been
afterwards added to explain Ac 15:40).
Doubtless the attraction to Antioch for Silas was Paul's presence
there, to whom he seems to have now formed that permanent attachment
which the sequel of this book and Paul's Epistles show to have
35. Paul … and Barnabas continued in
Antioch, teaching—to the disciples.
and preaching—to those without.
the word of the Lord, with many
also—How rich must Antioch at this
time have been in the ministrations of the Gospel! (For a painful
scene on this occasion between Paul and Peter, see Ga 2:11-14).
Ac 15:36-46. Dissension
between Paul and Barnabas—They
Part Company to Prosecute Separate Missionary Tours.
36. And some days after—How long is a
matter of conjecture.
Paul said to Barnabas, Let us go again and visit
our brethren—the true reading is, "the brethren."
in every city where we have preached … and
see how they do—whether they were advancing or declining,
&c.: a pattern for churches and successful missionaries in every
age. ("Reader, how stands it with thee?") [Bengel]. "Paul felt that he was not called to spend
a peaceful, though laborious life at Antioch, but that his true work
was far off among the Gentiles." We notice here, 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
afterwards, as one of the most remarkable and attractive features of
his character. He thought, doubtless, of the Pisidians and Lycaonians,
as he thought afterwards 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" [Howson].
37. Barnabas determined to take with them John
… Mark—his nephew (Col 4:10).
38. But Paul thought not good to take him with
them who departed from them—that is, who had departed;
but the word is stronger than this—"who stood aloof" or "turned
away" from them.
from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the
work—the work yet before them. The allusion is to what is
recorded in Ac 13:13
(see on Ac 13:13).
39. And the contention was so sharp between
them—such was the "irritation," or "exacerbation."
that they departed asunder one from the
other—Said they not truly to the Lystrians that they were
"men of like passions with them"; (Ac 14:15). But who was to blame? (1) 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 Pr 25:19).
But (2) 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, so cordial that the apostle expresses more
than once the confidence he had in him and the value he set upon his
services (Col 4:10, 11; 2Ti 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 unfavorable past to
judge by; that the gentleness of Barnabas (Ac 4:36;
11:24) had already laid him
open to imposition (see on Ga 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 he was not
judging his Christian character nor pronouncing on his fitness for
future service, but merely providing in the 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 his 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 (Ga 2:13), but also of a certain natural
gentleness which, where a Christian relative was concerned, led him to
attach more 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 amidst the
great labors of the Church at Antioch at length sundered those who had
sweetly and 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" (1Co 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 afterwards 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 a mutual Christian regard, between those who had
till then wrought nobly together! How watchful does all this teach
Christians, and especially Christian ministers and missionaries, to be
against giving way to rash judgment and hot temper towards 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 even for the most faithful and devoted servants of Christ, differing
as they do in their natural temperament even under the commanding
influence of grace, 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! And how
affectingly 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"; as in this case is eminently seen in
the two missionary parties instead of one, not travelling over the same
ground and carrying their dispute over all the regions of their former
loving labors, but dividing the field between them!
and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto
Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas—(See on Ac
15:34)—going two and two, as the Twelve and the Seventy
6:7; Lu 10:1).
40. and departed, being recommended … to the
grace of God—(No doubt by some solemn service; see Ac 13:3), as in Ac 14:26. 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 sole object now is to relate
the proceedings of Paul. Nor does it seem quite fair (with De Wette, Meyer,
Howson, Alford, Hacket, Webster and Wilkinson, &c.) to conclude from this that the
Church at Antioch took that marked way of showing their sympathy with
Paul in opposition to Barnabas.
41. and he went through Syria and Cilicia,
confirming the churches—"It is very likely 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 (travelling 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 Attalia" [Howson]. "This second missionary tour appears to
have proceeded at first solely from the desire of visiting the churches
already planted. In the end, however, it took a much wider sweep, for
it brought the apostle to Europe" [Olshausen].