Acts Fifteen

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

Acts 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

certain men. Possibly these men were some of the priests who had become obedient to the faith, or at least they were of the Pharisees' sect (Acts 15:5). At any rate, although these men believed in Jesus as the Messiah and in His substitutionary death and resurrection, they still felt that a convert must be either a Jew or Jewish proselyte to be eligible for salvation in Christ. They were called “Judaizers” and came to be a real problem in the early church. This particular form of legalism is not much of an issue today, but the problem of those who would add works to faith in Christ as a requirement for salvation is still very common. While genuine faith will surely produce obedience and good works (note Ephesians 2:8-10), they follow saving faith as a result, not as a condition.

Acts 15:2 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.

Acts 15:3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.

Acts 15:4 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.

Acts 15:5 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.

Acts 15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.

Acts 15:7 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.

Acts 15:8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;

Acts 15:9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

Acts 15:10 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?

Acts 15:11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

Acts 15:12 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.

Acts 15:13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:

James. James had, by this time, become a recognized leader (possibly a senior pastor) of the Jerusalem church, perhaps because the apostles themselves were often away preaching. He was the brother (or, better, half-brother) of Jesus, but had not been among the disciples until after Jesus' death and resurrection. He later wrote the epistle of James (James 1:1; 1 Corinthians 15:7). He was presiding at this significant “Jerusalem conference.”

Acts 15:14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.

at the first. “At the first” means “for the first time,” probably referring to Peter's (i.e., Simeon's) experience at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10).

a people for his name. Compare Romans 11:25; Luke 21:24.

Acts 15:15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,

words of the prophets. James specifically quotes Amos 9:11 here, but then paraphrases and extends Amos 9:12 beyond the original meaning of the prophet himself (although, James' use of it follows the Septuagint translation to some degree). In any case, no doubt by the guidance of the Holy Spirit (who inspired the prophecy of Amos in the first place, and who therefore can apply and extend it however He deems appropriate), James uses it to appropriate and summarize the words of other “prophets” (note the plural here in James' statement) to show that God had long ago planned that Gentiles as well as Jews should come under Messiah's reign (e.g., Psalm 2:8; Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:3; Daniel 7:14; Zechariah 14:9).

Acts 15:16 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:

tabernacle. The tabernacle of David—that is, the literal kingdom of Israel on earth—will indeed be restored under the Messiah when He comes again after the church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, has been completed.

Acts 15:17 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.

Acts 15:18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

Known unto God. No event on earth takes God by surprise! He is the God of all creation and, although He elected for a time to work through one chosen nation, His purpose had always been that of “reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Acts 15:19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:

Acts 15:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

abstain. It was not that these restrictions (any more than circumcision) were required for salvation, but rather for fellowship with the Jerusalem church and with Jewish Christians in general. These practices were all prevalent and characteristic in the pagan world and were particularly offensive to Jews, whether Christian or not, and therefore a real stumbling block. They would also be a real temptation through peer pressure to new Gentile believers and could easily lead them to backslide into paganism if not carefully avoided.

from blood. Refraining from eating “flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof” (Genesis 9:4; see also Leviticus 17:14) long antedated the laws of Moses. It was part of the ancient Noahic mandate; its restatement here indicates the latter is still in effect (note also Romans 13:1, 4). Furthermore, the primeval dominion mandate given to Adam, which the Noahic mandate merely reconfirmed and extended, is likewise still in effect. This means that Christians are responsible to obey Christ's primeval command to exercise stewardship over the earth (see notes on Genesis 1:26-28), as well as His great commission to preach the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Acts 15:21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

Acts 15:22 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:

Acts 15:23 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:

Acts 15:24 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:

Acts 15:25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

Acts 15:26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 15:27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.

Acts 15:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;

Acts 15:29 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.

Acts 15:30 So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:

Acts 15:31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.

Acts 15:32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.

Acts 15:33 And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles.

Acts 15:34 Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.

Silas. Silas is short for Silvanus (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:19); he was a God-called “prophet” (Acts 15:32), a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22), and would soon become Paul's missionary companion (Acts 15:40).

Acts 15:35 Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

Acts 15:36 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.

Acts 15:37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.

Acts 15:38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.

Acts 15:39 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;

the contention. Even though this contention seemed unfortunate, God used it for good. Now there were two missionary teams instead of one. Similar happenings still occur today. The ministry of Paul and Silas was extraordinarily fruitful, while also Mark was reclaimed spiritually (note 2 Timothy 4:11), and even was used to write one of the four gospels.

Acts 15:40 And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.

Acts 15:41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.