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The Council at Jerusalem


Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. 3So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. 7After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. 8And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; 9and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

12 The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. 14Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,


‘After this I will return,

and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;

from its ruins I will rebuild it,

and I will set it up,


so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—

even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.

Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18known from long ago.’

19 Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, 20but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. 21For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”

The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, 23with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, 25we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: 29that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

30 So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. 32Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33After they had been there for some time, they were sent off in peace by the believers to those who had sent them. 35But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, and there, with many others, they taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord.


Paul and Barnabas Separate

36 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

1. When Paul and Barnabas had endured many combats against the professed enemies of the gospel, Luke doth now begin to declare that they were tried by domestic war; so that it was meet that their doctrine and ministry should be proved by all means, to the end it might the better appear that they were furnished by God, and armed against all the assaults of the world and Satan. For that was no small confirmation for their doctrine, in that being shaken and battered with so many engines, it stood nevertheless, neither could the course thereof be broken off by so many hindrances. Therefore, to this end doth Paul boast that he suffered fights without and terrors within, (2 Corinthians 7:5.) This history is most worthy the noting; for though we do naturally abhor the cross and all manner [of] persecution, yet civil and domestic discord is more dangerous, lest haply they discourage us. 6868     “Plus tamen et intestinis dissidiis est periculi ne anlmos nostros frangant vel debilitent,” yet there is more danger in intestine dissensions, lest they weaken or dispirit us. When tyrants bend their force and run violently upon men, flesh indeed is afraid; and all those who are not endued with the spirit of fortitude do tremble with all their heart; but then their consciences are not properly touched with any temptation. For this is known to be as it were the fatal estate of the Church. But when it falleth out so that the brethren go together by the ears, and that the Church is on an uproar within itself, it cannot be but that weak minds shall be troubled and also faint; and especially when the controversy is about doctrine, which alone is the holy bond of brotherly unity. Finally, there is nothing which doth more indamage the gospel than civil discord, because it doth not only pierce and wound weak conscience, but also minister occasion to the wicked to backbite.

Wherefore, we must diligently note this history, that we may know that it is no new example, if among those who profess the same gospel there arise some wranglings and strife about doctrine, when proud men can get them a name, (whereof they are so furiously desirous,) by no other means but by bringing in their own inventions. It is certain, that as there is but one God, so there is but one truth of this God. 6969     “Certum quidem est, sicuti unus est Deus, ita unam esse ejus veritatem,” it is certain, indeed, that as God is one, so also his truth is one. Therefore, when Paul goeth about to exhort the faithful unto mutual consent, he useth this argument, “One God, one faith, one baptism,” etc., (Ephesians 4:6.) But when we see wicked men arise, who go about to divide [rend] the Church by their factions, and also either to corrupt the gospel with their false and filthy [spurious] inventions, or else to bring the same in suspicion, we ought to know the subtlety [artifice] of Satan. Therefore, Paul saith elsewhere that heresies come abroad, that those who are tried may be made manifest, (1 Corinthians 11:19.) And, assuredly, the Lord doth wonderfully make void the subtlety of Satan, in that he trieth the faith of his by such trials, and doth beautify his word with worthy and excellent victory; and causeth the truth to shine more clearly which the wicked went about to darken. But it is very convenient to weigh all the circumstances of the history which Luke noteth.

Which came down from Judea. This cloak and color was very forcible to deceive even good men then. Jerusalem was honored not without cause among all churches, because they reverenced it even as their mother. For the gospel was deducted, as it were, by pipes and conduits 7070     “Per rivos,” by streams. from that fountain. These seducers come thence; they pretend the apostles; they boast that they bring nothing but that which they learned of them. They blind and blear the eyes of the unskillful with this smoke; and those who are light and wicked do greedily snatch at the color which is offered them. The perturbation of the Church doth, like a tempest, shake those who were otherwise good and moderate, so that they are enforced to stumble. Therefore, we must note this subtlety of Satan, that he abuseth the names of holy men that he may deceive the simple, who, being won with the reverence of the men, dare not inquire after the thing itself. Luke doth not express, indeed, with what affection these knaves were moved; yet it is likely that perverse zeal was the cause which moved them to set themselves against Paul and Barnabas; for there be certain churlish natures which nothing can please but that which is their own. They had seen that circumcision and other rites of the law were observed at Jerusalem; wheresoever they become, they can abide nothing which is not agreeable thereto, as if the example of one church did bind all the rest of the churches with a certain law. And though such be carried with a preposterous zeal to procure tumults, yet are they pricked inwardly with their ambition, and with a certain kind of stubbornness. Nevertheless, Satan hath that he would; for the minds of the godly have such a mist cast before them that they can scarce know black from white.

Therefore, we must beware first of this plague, that some prescribe not a law to other some after their manner, that the example of one church be not a prejudice 7171     “Communis regulae praejudicium,” be not prejudged as a common rule. of a common rule. Also, we must use another caution, that the persons of men do not hinder or darken the examination of the matter or cause. For if Satan transfigure himself into an angel of light, (2 Corinthians 11:14,) and if, by sacrilegious boldness, he usurp the holy name of God, what marvel is it if he do like wickedly deceive men under the names of holy men? The end shall at length declare that the apostles meant nothing less than 7272     “Apostolis nihil minus esse in animo,” that the very last thing the apostles meant was. to lay the yoke of the law upon the neck of the Gentiles; and yet Satan meant under this shift to get in. So it falleth out oftentimes that those who contrary [oppose] the doctrine of Christ, creep in under the title of his servants. Therefore, there is one only remedy, to come to search out the matter 7373     “Ad rem ipsam quaerendam accedere,” to enter upon the investigation. with sound judgments; also it behoveth us to prevent an offense, lest we think that the faithful servants of God do therefore strive among themselves, because Satan doth falsely abuse their names, that he may set certain shadows by the ears together to terrify the simple.

2. When there was sedition arisen. This was no small trial, in that Paul and Barnabas are haled into a troublesome tumult. There was mischief enough already in the matter [dissension] itself; but it is a more cruel mischief when the contention waxeth so hot, that they are enforced to fight with their brethren as with enemies. Add, moreover, the infamy wherewith they saw themselves burdened among the simple and unskillful, as if they would trouble the peace of the Church with their stubbornness. For it falleth out oftentimes so, that the faithful servants of Christ are envied alone, and bear all the blame, after that they have been unjustly troubled, and have faithfully employed themselves in defense of a good cause. Therefore, they must be endued with invincible courage to despise all false reports which are carried about concerning them. Therefore, Paul boasteth in another place that he went through the midst of seditions, (2 Corinthians 6:5.) But the servants of God must observe such moderation, that they abhor so much as they can all discord; if at any time Satan raise tumults and contentions, let them endeavor to appease them, and, finally, let them do all that they can to foster and cherish unity. But again, on the other side, when the truth of God is assailed, let them refuse no combat for defense thereof; nor let them fear to oppose themselves valiantly, though heaven and earth go together.

And let us, being admonished by this example, learn, so often as there ariseth any tumult in the Church, wisely to weigh through whose fault it came, lest we rashly condemn the faithful ministers of Christ, whose gravity is rather to be praised, because they can abide so valiantly such violent assaults of Satan. Secondly, let us call to mind that Satan was bridled by the wonderful providence of God, that he might not put the doctrine of Paul to the foil. For if he had been suffered to do hurt at his pleasure, so soon as the faith of the Gentiles had been pulled down and overthrown, the gospel preached by Paul should have fallen to the ground, and the gate should have [been] shut against the calling of the Gentiles. Thirdly, let us learn that we must in time prevent dissension, of what sort soever it be, lest it break out into the flame of contention; because Satan seeketh nothing else by the fans of dissension but to kindle so many fires. But again, seeing we see the primitive Church on an uproar, and the best servants of Christ exercised with sedition, if the same thing befall us now, let us not fear as in some new and unwonted matter; but, craving at the Lord’s hands such an end as he now made, let us pass through tumults with the same tenor of faith.

Unless ye be circumcised. Luke setteth [defineth] down briefly in these words the state of the question, to wit, that these seducers went about to bind men’s consciences with necessity of keeping the law. Circumcision is indeed mentioned alone in this place; but it appeareth by the text that they moved the question about the keeping of the whole Law. And, because circumcision was, as it were, a solemn entrance and admission into other rites of the law, therefore, by synecdoche, the whole law is comprehended under one part. These enemies of Paul did not deny that Christ was the Messiah; but though they gave him their names, they retained therewithal the old ceremonies of the law.

The error might have seemed tolerable at the first glimpse. Why doth not Paul then dissemble, at least, for some short time, lest he shake the Church with conflict? for the disputation was concerning external matters, concerning which Paul himself forbiddeth elsewhere to stand and strive too much. But there were three weighty causes which enforced him to gainstand. For, if the keeping of the law be necessary, man’s salvation is tied to works, which must be grounded in the grace of Christ alone, that the faith may be settled and quiet. Therefore, when Paul saw the worship of the law set against the free righteousness of faith, it was unlawful for him to hold his peace, unless he would betray Christ. For, seeing the adversaries did deny that any should be saved, save he which did observe the law of Moses, by this means they did translate unto works the glory of salvation, which they took from Christ, and having shaken assurance, they did vex miserable souls with unquietness. Again, it was no small thing, neither of any small importance, to spoil and rob faithful souls of the liberty gotten by Christ’s blood. Though the inward liberty of the Spirit were common to the fathers as well as to us, yet we know what Paul saith, that they were shut up under the childish ward and custody of the law, so that they did not much differ from servants; but we are loose from the schoolmastership of the law after that Christ was revealed, (Galatians 3:24,) and we have more liberty, the time of our nonage being, as it were, ended. The third vice of this doctrine was, because it darkened the light of the Church, 7474     “Evangelli,” gospel. or at least did put in, as it were, certain clouds, that Christ the Sun of righteousness might not give perfect light. In sum, Christianity should shortly have come to nothing if Paul should have yielded to such beginnings. Therefore, he entereth the combat, not for the external uncircumcision of the flesh, but for the free salvation of men. Secondly, that he may acquit and set free godly consciences from the curse of the law, and the guilt of eternal death. Last of all, that after all hindrances are driven away, the brightness of the grace of Christ may shine as in a pleasant and clear heaven. Moreover, these knaves did great injury to the law when they did wickedly corrupt the right use thereof. This was the natural and right office of the law, to lead men by the hand, like a schoolmaster, unto Christ; therefore, it could not be worse corrupt than when, under color of it, the power and grace of Christ were diminished.

After this sort must we look into the fountains of all questions, lest by our silence we betray the truth of God, so often as we see Satan, by his subtlety, aim right at it; neither let our minds be changed and wax faint through any perils, or reproaches and slanders, because we must constantly defend pure religion, though heaven and earth must [should] go together. The servants of Christ must be no fighters, (2 Timothy 2:24;)therefore, if there be any contention risen, they must rather study to appease and pacify the same by their moderation, than by and by to blow to the assault. 7575     “Quam ut classicum protinus caniant,” than forthwith to blow the trumpet. Secondly, they must take good heed of superfluous and vain conflicts; neither shall they handle controversies of any small weight; but when they see Satan wax so proud, that religion cannot any longer continue safe and sound unless he be prevented, they must needs take a good heart to them, and rise to resist; neither let them fear to enter even most hateful combats. The name of peace is indeed plausible and sweet, but cursed is that peace which is purchased with so great loss, that we suffer the doctrine of Christ to perish, by which alone we grow together into godly and holy unity.

The Papists cause us at this day to be sore hated, as if we had been the causers of deadly tumults, wherewith the world is shaken; but we can well defend ourselves, because the blasphemies which we endeavored to reprove were more cruel 7676     “Atrociores,” more atrocious. than that it was lawful for us to hold our peace; there we are not to be blamed, because we have taken upon us to enter combats in defense of that cause, for which we were to fight even with the very angels. Let them cry till their throats be sore; Paul’s example is sufficient for us, that we must not be either cold or slack in defending the doctrine of godliness when the ministers of Satan seek to overthrow it with might and main; for their brainsick distemperature ought not to pass 7777     “Superare,” overcome. the constancy of the servants of God. When Paul did zealously set himself against the false apostles, sedition began at length 7878     “Exarsit,” blazed forth. by reason of the conflict; and yet the Spirit of God doth not therefore reprove him; but doth rather with due praises commend that fortitude which he had given that holy man.

They determined, etc. The Spirit of God put them in mind of this remedy to appease the tumult, which might otherwise have gone farther with doing much hurt, whereby we be also taught, that we must always seek such means as be fit 7979     “Aptas et commodas,” fit and convenient. for ending discord; because God doth so highly commend peace, let the faithful show 8080     “Re ipsa,” in reality. that they do what they can to nourish the peace of the Church. The truth must always be first in order with them, in defense whereof they must be afraid of no tumults; yet they must so temper their heat that they refuse no means of godly agreement; yea, let them of their own accord invent what ways soever they can, and let them be witty in seeking them out. Therefore, we must observe this mean, lest being carried away through immoderate vehemency of zeal we be carried beyond the just bounds; for we must be courageous in defense of true doctrine, not stubborn, nor rash; therefore, let us learn to join together these two virtues which the Spirit of God commandeth in Paul. When he is drawn into the field by the wicked, he is not afraid boldly to offer himself; but when he doth meekly admit the remedy which was offered, he declareth plainly what small desire he had to fight, for otherwise he might have boasted that he did not pass for the apostles, 8181     “Nihil se morari apostolos,” that he cared not for the apostles. and so have stood stoutly in that; but the desire of peace did not suffer him to refuse their judgment. Moreover, ignorant and weak men should have conceived a sinister opinion, if they should have seen two men only separated from all the servants of Christ; and godly teachers must in no case neglect this way to cherish faith, that they may show that they agree with the Church.

Paul, indeed, did not depend upon the beck of the apostles, that he would change his opinion if he should have found them contrary to him, who would not have given place even to the very angels, as he boasteth in first chapter to the Galatians, (Galatians 1:8;) but lest the wicked should slanderously report that he was a man that stood too much in his own conceit, and which was too proud, and which did please himself with an unseemly contempt of all men, he offered to give an account of his doctrine, as it became him, and as it was profitable for the Church; secondly, he presented himself before the apostles with sure hope of victory, because he knew full well what would be their judgment, seeing they were guided by the same Spirit wherewith he was governed. Notwithstanding, it may be demanded for what purpose the men of Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas unto the rest of the apostles; for if they did so greatly reverence them, that they stood in doubt until they had given judgment on this side or that, their faith was hitherto vain and altogether none? But the answer is easy, seeing they knew that all the apostles were sent 8282     “Pariter,” in like manner. by Christ alone with the same commandments, and that they had the same Spirit given them, they were fully persuaded of the end and success, and, undoubtedly, this counsel proceeded from honest and stout men, who were not ignorant that the knaves did falsely pretend the names of James and Peter. Wherefore, they sought nothing else but that the apostles might further a good matter with their consent. 8383     “Suffragio,” suffrage.

To the same end were all holy synods assembled since the beginning, that grave men, and such as were well exercised in the word of God, might decide controversies, not after their own pleasure, but according to the authority of God. This is worth the noting, lest the Papists pierce any man with their loud outcries, 8484     “Ventosis suis clamoribus,” with their vain clamor. who, to the end they may overthrow Christ and his gospel, and put out all the light of godliness, thrust upon us Councils, as if every definition and determination of men were to be counted an heavenly oracle; but if the holy Fathers had their sitting at this day, they would cry with one mouth, that there was nothing more unlawful for them, neither did they mean any thing less than to set down or deliver any thing without having the word of Christ for their guide, who was their only teacher, [master,] even as he is ours. I omit this, that the Papists lean only unto untimely 8585     “Abortivis,” abortive. Councils, which breathe out nothing but gross ignorance and barbarism; but even the best and most choice must be reckoned in that number, that they may be subject to the word of God. There is a grievous complaint of Gregory Nazianzene extant, that there was never any Council which had a good end. What excellency soever did flourish and was in force in the Church, it cannot be denied but that it began to decay an hundred years after; therefore, if that holy man were now living, how stoutly would he reject the toys of the Papists, who, without all shame, most impudently bring in the jugglings of visors instead of lawful Councils, and that to that end, that the Word of God may pack, 8686     “Facessat,” may be dismissed. so soon as a few bald and foolish men have set down whatsoever pleased them?

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