The council in Jerusalem decided on how Gentiles could be saved. They held to four requirements, which were designed for peaceful fellowship between Messianic Jews and converted Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas split up. After this, Paul and Silas begin Paul’s second missionary trip, all the way to Acts 18:22. And Barnabas and Mark make a second team. Included: Timeline table of Paul’s journey coordinated with his epistles.
As I write in every introduction:
The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.
At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?
Links are provided for further study.
Judaizers Stir Up Controversy in Antioch (Acts 15:1-3)
1 Certain men coming down from Judea arrived and began teaching the brothers that unless you get circumcised in accord with the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. 2 When Paul and Barnabas had no small dispute and debate with them, they appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this issue.
3 And so those who were sent out by the church went through Phoenicia and Samaria and recounted in detail the conversion of the Gentiles and caused great joy among all the brothers and sisters.
Can Acts 15 and Gal. 2 be harmonized? Keener says the majority of commentators say they can. He produces this timeline table which lays out the parallels:
|Commonalities||Acts 15:6-22||Gal. 2:1-10|
|Same Outcome||15:19-21, 28-29||2:5-6|
|Paul’s Mission Is Recognized||15:12||2:2|
|Leaders Agree Gentiles Are Not Required to Be Circumcised||15:19-20||2:7-9|
|Peter Was Involved||15:7-11||2:9|
|James Was Involved||15:13-21||2:9|
|Keener, p. 261, slightly edited|
Further, as to the differences, Keener goes on to say that the issues brought up in Gal. 2:1-10 were not resolved before Acts 15:1-2. Luke and Paul have different and independent perspectives, so of course differences would emerge. When Acts 15 took place, troubles had not reached Galatia (15:23) (p. 361). Why does Paul omit the decree in his letter to the Galatians? He appeals to first principles more influential for the Galatians who were far from Jerusalem. The decree was about table fellowship (15:20, 28-29), rather than Paul’s emphasis on Gentiles joining God’s people (Gal. 3:6-14) (p. 362).
However, Longenecker lays out the essence of the argument that Gal 2 and Acts 15 are not the same event.
Most commentators argue that Galatians 2:1-10 is the account of the Jerusalem Council from Paul’s perspective. But if this is true, it is exceedingly strange that the decision of the council is as muted in Paul’s account. One would have expected him to have driven the decision home more forcefully in his debate with the Judaizers had he known about the council’s decision when writing Galatians. He certainly pulled no punches when speaking elsewhere in that letter. (p. 940)
However, oddly, in Longenecker’s comments under vv. 30-32, he seems to say that for the Corinthian church, Paul could rearrange his message about practical things (what to eat and table fellowship) and not refer to the Jerusalem Council. But apparently there is no way Paul could omit the decision of the council for the Galatians, since circumcision was the issue. Thus, Longenecker places the Council in AD 49.
Schnabel states the issue without apparently taking sides and produces this timeline table for the minority view (Galatians was written before the Jerusalem Council):
|32-34||Arabia||Paul’s missionary work in Damascus and Arabia (Acts 9:20-24; Gal. 1:15-17)|
|34||Jerusalem||Paul visits Jerusalem for first time after his conversion, meeting Barnabas, Peter and James (Acts 9:26-28; Gal. 1:18-19|
|34-43||Cilicia / Syria||Paul’s missionary work in Cilicia and Syria (Acts 9-10; Gal. 1:21-24)|
|44||Jerusalem||Consultation; Paul visits Jerusalem for second time after his conversion, sent by church in Antioch on the occasion of fame relief for believers in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30), accompanied by Barnabas; they consult with Peter, James, and John concerning the gospel that he preaches among the Gentiles (Gal. 2:1-10)|
|45-47||Cyprus / Galatia||Paul’s missionary work in Cyprus, Galatia, and Pamphylia|
|48||Antioch||Antioch Incident: Paul clashes with Peter in Antioch over question of table fellowship between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians (Gal. 2:11-14); Antioch incident probably takes place in the summer of AD 48|
|48||Antioch||Paul writes his letter to the Galatians|
|48||Jerusalem||Apostles’ Council: Paul visits Jerusalem for third time after his conversion, accompanied by Barnabas, to discuss with apostles and elders of Jerusalem church the question of circumcision of Gentile believers and other matters related to Mosaic law (Acts 15:1-33); the Apostle’ Council probably takes place in fall of AD 48|
|Schnabel, p. 621, slightly modified|
So, the harmonization of Acts 15 and Gal. 2 is still under discussion. I suggest that all pastors and Bible study leaders and missionaries tell the people, only when asked, that the issue is still debated, but the majority favors what Keener’s table of parallels represents.
For my purpose here, however, we don’t need to settle the dispute. This is an online Study Bible, so to speak.
Now let’s return to the verse-by-verse commentary.
This controversy between extra-devout Jews who converted to Christ (called Messianic Jews) and who still loved the Torah (the first five book of the Bible) and newcomer Gentiles (non-Jews) was bound to happen. The burden of requiring circumcision and the old law and mixing salvation had to be dealt with. In Judaism, a proselyte converted so deeply to Judaism that he got circumcised. Should the same thing happen in the Way (Christianity)? “So must a Gentile become a Jew to be a genuine Christian?” (Bock, p. 495).
Those pushing for circumcision and other Jewish observances came to be known as Judaizers.
“saved”: it is the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times). Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō.
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG, which many consider to be the authoritative lexicon of the NT, defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in passive mood it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
Another rarer verb is diasōzō (pronounced dee-ah-soh-zoh and used 8 times), and the prefix means “through.” Here are the occurrences: Mark 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24; 27:43-44; 28:1, 4; 2; 1 Pet. 3:20. It means what the regular verb does, but often to be rescued through and up to the very end, like Paul’s ship landing on Malta after going through the storm.
As noted throughout this commentary on Luke-Acts, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.
Acts is about salvation of entire households and meeting in those saved households (2:2, 46; 5:42; 8:3, but be careful of persecution in 8:3! 10:2; 11:14; 16:15, 31, 34; 20:20; 21:8).
“no small”: This means a huge and heated debate. The phrasing is known as a litotes (pronounced lih-toh-tees), or an understatement that expresses the affirmative by a negative! Luke likes litotes: Acts 12:18; 14:17, 28; 15:2; 17:4, 12, 27; 19:11, 23; 20:12; 21:39; 26:19; 27:20; 28:2.
“dispute”: it comes from the noun stasis (pronounced stah-sees), and its basic meaning is “standing, existence, continuation or the posture of standing.” Hundreds of years before the NT was written, it evolved to mean in certain contexts “uprising, riot, revolt, or rebellion.” How it went from standing (etc.) to revolt (etc.) may be due to irony. But here it means “strife, discord, dissension, or dispute.” Verse 5 will show that in Jerusalem the Pharisees were sympathetic to these men from Jerusalem. It is easy to understand how Paul could have kept up with these legalizers in a debate. He was once a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5). Please, before you get into a debate, be sure you are qualified. I see too many defenders of the faith (apologists) getting into debates who are not qualified.
“debate”: it comes from the noun zētēsis (pronounced zah-tay-sees), and it is roughly a synonym for stasis. It can also be translated as “investigation, controversial question, controversy, discussion, or debate.”
“appointed”: it comes from the verb tassō (pronounced tah-soh) and means, depending on the context, “place or station; appoint or establish, order, fix, or determine.” Paul and Barnabas and others were commissioned by whom? The verb does not have a clear subject other than the vague “they.” But v. 3 says the church at Antioch took action.
I wonder how the trip southward “up” to Jerusalem went? Was it tense? Did they teachers and apostles dispute along the way? Or did Jesus speak to them to have peace? Or did they separate and went at their own pace? Paul and Barnabas went through Phoenicia, while the others may have traveled due south through Galilee. But we don’t know for sure about the others.
“issue”: it is the noun zētēma (pronounced zay-tay-mah), which is a rough synonym with zētēsis and means (controversial) question or issue. Both zētēma and zētēsis are related to the verb zēteō (see v. 6), which means “to seek, search, look for; and investigate, examine, consider, deliberate”; and in some contexts it can even mean “strive for, try to obtain, desire to possess”; and can even be a synonym for “prayer or asking for; requesting, and demanding.” In zētēma, the –ma suffix means “the result of.” So combined it means “the result of investigating and questioning” = issue or question.
“elders”: this group first makes its appearance in Acts 11:30. They probably functioned as a “Nazarene” Sanhedrin; that is, they formed a council to discuss matters of theology and practice and ethics. How should Messianic Jews live? They are about to take up the issue of Gentiles being saved, and which laws they should keep, if any. They also took care of the practical matter of receiving the offering for the predicted famine (Acts 11:30). The seven servant-deacons were assigned to do practical things (Acts 6), but Stephen was martyred (Acts 7), and Philip left to evangelize after the persecution erupted (Acts 8). Maybe the remaining deacons left or helped out.
Circumcision ≠ Moral law. Moral law is forever and always valid; circumcision is temporary and ethnocentric
They passed through the coastal region of Phoenicia, and then crossed eastward into Samaria. It looks like Jesus’s evangelistic campaign in Samaria (John 4) and then Philip’s evangelistic campaign there took root (Acts 6).
For some reason they avoided Galilee, but we don’t know why, unless the other disputants went that way.
“church”: see v. 4, below, for more comments.
“recounted in detail”: it comes from the verb ekdiēgeomai (pronounced ehk-dee-ay-geh-oh-my, and the “g”n is hard as in “get”); it is used only here in the NT, and the translation is what it means. In other words, they told “Holy Ghost” stories. Please feel free to tell the wonderful things God did in your life, as a testimony.
“conversion”: It is the noun epistrophē (pronounced eh-pee-stroh-fay), and it is used only here in the NT. It means “turning.” It is related to the Greek verb epistrephō, which also means “to turn,” and depending on the context, it can mean “turn around and turn back or return or be converted.” Here, however, the noun expresses the idea that a person is going one way, but he does a 180 degree turn to go in the opposite direction. It is a deep and dramatic turnaround, which changes his life.
“celebrated”: it comes from the noun chara (pronounced khah-rah), and it means “joy.” In Greek the clause is literally “doing joy,” which could be expanded to mean “causing joy. But it was not ordinary joy, for the Greek also says “great” joy. I translated the whole thing as “celebrated joyously.”
“brothers and sisters”: the noun is “brothers,” but in this context the church is general, so I include women in the noun, just as mankind in English includes women. It is impossible to imagine that women would not celebrate the conversion of Gentiles. They too must be included. After all, vv. 6 and 22 say the whole assembly.
GrowApp for Acts 15:1-3
A.. Rules-oriented Messianic Jews imposed circumcision on new converts from paganism. Has anyone imposed excessive rituals on you and your walk with God? How have you overcome their legalism?
B.. Circumcision was a ritual designed to prove they were the people of God. God does away with this sign of the covenant, but not moral law. How is circumcision different from moral law?
Arrival in Jerusalem (Acts 15:4-12)
4 Arriving in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders and reported all the things God did with them. 5 But certain men of the faction of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said, “They have to get circumcised and be instructed to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and elders gathered together to look into this matter.
7 After much discussion, Peter stood up and said to them, “Men, women and brothers, sisters! You understand that from the early days God selected among you that the Gentiles through my oral report should hear the message of the good news and believe. 8 And God the Heart-Knower backed them up, giving the Holy Spirit, just as to us, 9 and in no way distinguishing between us and them, by faith cleansing their hearts. 10 And so now why do you test God to impose a yoke on the necks of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been strong enough to bear? 11 On the contrary, through the grace of the Lord Jesus we believe to be saved, in the very same way as they are.”
12 The entire assembly got quiet and listened to Barnabas and Saul recounting the signs and wonders that God did through them among the Gentiles.
Here are Paul’s visits to Jerusalem. This visit is the third one.
|Year||Occasion for Visit to Jerusalem|
|31/32||Conversion of Saul|
|32-34||Missionary work in Arabia and in Damascus|
|33/34||First visit (Acts 9:26-20), three years after Paul’s conversion|
|34-44||Missionary work in Syria and Cilicia (eleven years)|
|44||Second visit (Acts 11:27-30): taking gifts to the poor, eleven years after the first visit|
|45-47||Missionary work on Cyprus and in Galatia|
|48||Third visit (Acts 15:1-29): Apostles’ Council, three years after the second visit|
|49-51||Missionary work in Macedonia and Achaia|
|51||Fourth visit (Acts 18:22): three years after the third visit|
|52-56||Missionary work in the Province of Asia and visit to Achaia|
|57||Fifth visit (Acts 21:15-17): collection visit, six years after the fourth visit|
|57-61||Arrest in Jerusalem and imprisonment in Caesarea and in Rome|
|Schnabel, p. 455|
I hope the above timeline table puts things in perspective for you.
“God did with them”: this speaks of their total surrender to God, and God working with them or through them. It makes me wonder whether I too can surrender totally to God and watch him work through me. (See Acts 14:27 for the same phrase.)
“church”: It is singular here, yet it refers to the various churches in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Jesus’s commission to go into Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth is gradually being fulfilled (1:8). It is stunning how rapidly the gospel was spreading in Israel—may it spread as quickly and widely even today in Israel. The church, wherever it is found, should be unified as one. In Greek it is ekklēsia (pronounced ek-klay-see-ah) and the meaning has roots in both Hebrew and Greek. It literally means “the ones called out” or “the called out” or “the summoned” who gather together. It describes an assembly or gathering.
Some extra-enthusiastic and super-confident Renewalists say that from this definition, they can “legislate” events to happen (or something). Of course, they overstate the basic meaning of the word outside of the church context. Just because an assembly can legislate in the pagan world does not mean Christians can now do this in the Spirit world. Further, another legislative body was the Council (boulē, pronounced boo-lay), the upper chamber of the rich landowners. They had to approve of the lower chamber’s legislation. If we take the historical context too far, then where is the Council? So, to judge from the historical context, the church as the ekklēsia cannot legislate. Instead, these extra-human-centered Christians should simplify things and ask God for his intervention. Prayer to our loving Father is sufficient, without complications or convoluted trends and ideas that promote human-centered power.
Let’s look more deeply at the rich term. BDAG has a long discussion, but let’s look at only one subpoint.
By far the most Scriptures where ekklēsia appears comes under this definition: “congregation or church as the totality of Christian living and meeting in a particular locality or large geographical area, but not necessarily limited to one meeting place” (Acts 5:11; 8:3; 9:31; 11:26; 12:5; 15:3; 18:22; 20:17; see also 12:1; 1 Cor. 4:7; Phil. 4:15; 1 Tim. 5:16; Jas. 5:14; 3 John 9). “More definitely of the Christians in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1; 11:22; 15:4, 22; see also 2:47) in Cenchreae (Rom. 16:1); in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1); Laodicea (Col. 4:16; Rev. 3:14); in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1); Colossae (Plm. 1, subscript). Plural churches (Acts 15:41; 16:5; Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 7:17; 2 Cor. 8:18, 23; 11:8, 28; 12:13; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 23, 29; 3:6, 13; 22; 22:16); the Christian community in Judea (Gal. 1:22; 1 Thess. 2:14); in Galatia (Gal. 1:2; 1 Cor. 16:1); in Asia (1 Cor. 16:19; Rev. 1:4, 11, 20); in Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1).
Please see this post for BDAG’s fuller definition.
Fellowship is so important for believers. Don’t believe the lie circulating in American society, particularly in social media, that not going to church is good enough. People who skip constant fellowship are prone to sin and self-deception and satanic attacks. We need each other.
This link has a list of the famous “one another” verses, like “love one another.”
Further, since American Christianity is undergoing discussion on the sizes of churches, let me add: the earliest Christian community met either in houses (Acts 2:46) or in Solomon’s Colonnade in Jerusalem (Acts 3:11; 5:12) or a large number in Antioch (11:26), which could hold a large gathering—call it a mega-church—and presumably in mid-sized gatherings. Size does not matter, since it varies so widely.
Moreover, one thing that impresses me about all those above references is that the apostles, as they planted churches, were guided by the Spirit—always—and they were also deliberate about setting them up and establishing them. Planning is Scriptural. So wisdom says: listen to the Spirit and plan. Listen as you plan and be ready to drop your plans at a moment notice, when the Spirit says so. God will grow the church as we proclaim the good news.
It could be that some of the Pharisees went to Antioch and stirred people up (Polhill, comment on v. 5).
It is a good thing that these Pharisees got saved. Imagine this, however. Jesus had to reply often to their challenges (he did not remain silent during his ministry). And now the exalted Lord sent his Spirit to draw them into his kingdom through salvation. But they did not yet have the inner strength to let go of the ritual aspects in law of Moses that separated them from the Gentiles. Using Bible-based logic and imagination, it is easy to see Peter, who heard what the Pharisees said, getting a churning in his stomach because he remembered some Pharisees walking into his hometown on the Lake of Galilee or living there, and making a fuss about some people not strictly observing all the rules. Oppressive. Now they told the newcomer Gentiles to become like Pharisees. This simply would not do, as Peter’s speech will make clear, next.
“believed”: The verb is pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh), and it is used 241 times. It means to “believe, be convinced of something.” In a more specific definition it goes in a direction: “to have faith in Christ or God” (Mounce p. 61). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
Here it is connected to “saved.”
Let’s discuss the verb believe and the noun faith more deeply. It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
“matter”: it is the very versatile noun logos (pronounced loh-gohss) which can mean “word, report, speech, issue, account, matter” and so on. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic. See v. 7 for more comments.
This speech by Peter is the perfect summation of the law v. the gospel. The law of Moses was too difficult, while the gospel enabled people to walk in righteousness because the Spirit lives in them now. The law of Moses does not have a strong pneumatology (doctrine of the Spirit), so Jews had (and have) to exert a lot of soul power and mental struggle to keep the 613 religious rules.
“Men, women, and brothers and sisters”: v. 6 and 22 say the whole group and whole assembly or church, so it is probable that women were there too.
“discussion”: it is the Greek noun zētēsis, and see v. 2 for a closer look.
“selected”: it comes from the Greek verb eklogomai (pronounced ehk-leh-goh-my), and it means “choose or select.” We will never be able to sort out completely and to everyone’s satisfaction how and why God chooses some people to lead the way, and others have to sit in the back seats, while the driver takes them on the bus. But just be glad you’re on the bus! But if you want a leadership role, take steps towards by serving and pray.
“oral report”: It is the Greek word “mouth.” It could be translated as “from my lips” (NIV) or “by my mouth” (NAS).
“message”: It is the versatile noun logos, and see v. 6 for how to pronounce it. Here it means the message, but in other places it can mean the “Word of God” or the summation of God’s communication to the world. Gradually it came to mean the Bible as a whole, and that is legitimate because the OT was the source for earliest theology and preaching. That’s why the earliest Messianic believers quoted from it in Acts, as James was about to do (vv. 16-17).
Let’s explore this versatile Greek noun more deeply.
I repeat the following comments throughout the entire commentary. Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level. Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to, also. Paul’s brief speech to the Gentiles, below, also has Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible. Yes, the book of Acts is very charismatic, but it is also very orderly and rational and logical.
On the other side of the word word, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true. Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
“good news”: it is the Greek noun euangelion (pronounced yew-ahn-geh-lee-on, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). Used 76 times in the NT, it combines eu– (good or positive) angel (message or announcement, and yes we get our word angel from Greek). The gospel announces salvation through Jesus Christ—a new “sheriff” is in town or on earth. Or if the sheriff imagery is displeasing to some, then the King of kings and Lord of lords has arrived, and he has a new revelation about God’s love for humanity and a new path right into his presence. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), so charismatic power is built into it. It announces the coming of the kingdom of God or a new way that God relates to the world, though it has roots in the OT (Mark 1:15). The gospel brings out a response in people, positively or negatively (Matt. 26:13; Mark 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:14a; 2 Cor. 2:12). (Personally, I believe that humans have enough free will to resist the gospel until the day they die, but they do not have enough free will to strut into salvation without the Word or the gospel communicated in some fashion, even in a dream about Jesus, which is happening in the Muslim world). The Greek word is described as the “gospel of grace” (Acts 20:24) (as distinct from the law of Moses), the “gospel of salvation” (Eph. 1:13), and the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:19).
It is the good news about Jesus, not the bad news about him.
“believe” see v. 5 for more comments.
“Heart-Knower”: it comes from the Greek compound noun Kardiognōsta (pronounced kar-dee-ah-g’noh-stah, and the g is pronounced). It appears only and in Acts 1:24 in the NT. It combines the Greek words kardia (heart) and gno– (know, and yes, we get our word know from this Greek word). In both verses Peter’s uses it, so this indicates the speeches reflect the individual speaker’s preferred word choices. It teaches omniscience or all-knowing.
“backed … up”: it comes from the verb martureō (pronounced mahr-too-reh-oh), and it can also mean “bear witness to” or “testify” “or give evidence.” Here it can be expansively translated as “backing up” his word. In these contexts, it always means witnessing or testifying through the power of the Spirit. I translated by the sense of the context here.
Schnabel is right:
Peter is referring to instantly recognizable manifestations of the Holy Spirit, who had “fallen” on Cornelius (cf. 10:44-47; 11:15-17). The conjunction (“just as”), which compares Cornelius’s experience and his relatives and friends, after hearing and believing the gospel, also spoke in unlearned languages. God had shown Peter in a revelation repeated three times that he no longer show partiality as regards Gentiles (10:34). He has now cleansed them (10:15; 15:9) as they have received the Holy Spirit in a manner that is indispensable (10:47). God’s giving the Holy Spirit to Cornelius and his relatives and friends is his testimony, which the Jewish believers need to accept, that he has accepted the Gentile believers. (comment on v. 8)
For systematic theology:
“in no way distinguishing”: “distinguishing” comes from the verb diakrinō (dee-ah-kree-noh), and it means to “judge through.”
God does not show distinctions and as proof or evidence he gave the Gentiles the Holy Spirit and cleansed their hearts by faith (in Jesus), not by law keeping. God gave Cornelius and his household the gift of the Spirit, so God accepted them as much as he accepted Peter, the lead apostle (Acts 10:44-48). God was working everything out behind the scenes in Peter’s life and in Paul’s and Barnabas’s ministry, to lead to this council and the positive results.
Let’s not forget that the Holy Spirit was imparted to Cornelius and his household in a visible way or with manifested gifts, because Luke narrative demand specificity (Acts 10:44-48). Here Luke omits this detail, perhaps because he expected his readers to remember it and fill in the gap. In v. 12, Luke will omit details in Paul’s and Barnabas’s recounting the signs and wonders God did through them. But we can be sure the infilling of the Spirit with manifested gifts like prayer languages were included in the signs and wonders.
So how does this relate to the overall very charismatic book of Acts? We should always read verses about the fullness and infilling and power of the Spirit in light of manifested gifts of God, like prayer languages, even when they are not openly stated. Luke omits some details, as he does between Acts 10:44-48 (fuller account) and 11:15 and 15:8 (sparser accounts).
“faith”: the noun is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or piss-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
See v. 5 for more comments on the verb believe and the noun faith.
Recall the words of Jesus: “He said, ‘Woe also to you legal experts because you load people with cargo that is too heavy, but you yourselves don’t budge one of your fingers to help them!’” (Luke 11:46).
“test God”: It is another way rhetorically to a declaration not to test God. But the sense is to arouse or provoke God to take action in a way that legalistic Messianic Jews may not like. In other words, don’t fight the new way of salvation by grace through faith, or you will fight God, and he always wins.
Neither their forefathers nor average Jews were able to keep the law to its fullest—certainly not the humble fisherman from Galilee (Peter). As noted in v. 5, Peter might have felt intimidated when the local Pharisee or Pharisees walked around his hometown inspecting people’s daily lives to ensure they were in compliance to the old law of Moses.
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
“believe to be saved”: perfect, Peter, perfect! He also said “through the grace of the Lord Jesus,” Jesus is the source of grace. This verse could be translated as “We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the very same manner as they are.” Or “We believe we have been saved.” Or more loosely as “We are saved by faith.” The translation, above in bold font, says that grace initiates our faith. All of the optional translations here under v. 11 clearly say that our faith saves us through grace that comes from the Lord Jesus.
Whichever translation you choose, grace initiates, and we exercise our faith for salvation. Grace through Jesus Christ is the source, and faith is the channel. He oversees and administers this grace. Salvation is the result. The main point is that faith and grace are distinct from law keeping and circumcision. We believe to be saved, not: we keep the law of Moses and are circumcised to be saved. The grace of Jesus and faith in him is the opposite of law keeping and circumcision.
Paul must have almost leaped out of his seat and hugged him! He had preached something similar to in Pisidian Antioch. “Let it therefore be known to you that through this one the forgiveness of sins is announced to you. 39 By this one everyone who believes is justified from all the things you were not able to be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).
Additional note: this clause says nothing about limited atonement or “the order of salvation” with carefully laid out steps.
See v. 5 for more comments on believe.
“saved”: it is the Greek verb sōzō. See v. 1 for a closer look.
“grace”: It comes from the Greek noun charis (pronounced khah-rees) and has these meanings, depending on the context: graciousness, attractiveness; favor, gracious care, help or goodwill, practical application of goodwill; a gracious deed or gift, benefaction. In some contexts, it means “exceptional effects produced by divine grace,” in other words, empowerment to accomplish a task. In this case it means his ability to do wonders and great signs. God gave him the grace and power to accomplish them.
Let’s go deeper, by repeating part of what I wrote in the post Do I Really Know God? He Is Gracious. Mounce in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words teaches us about the Hebrew and Greek words. The Hebrew noun ḥen (pronounced khen) “describes that which is favorable or gracious, especially the favorable disposition of one person to another” (p. 302). The Greek noun further means “the acceptance of and goodness toward those who cannot earn or do not deserve such gain” (p. 303). The verb in Hebrew is ḥanan (pronounced khah-nan) and means to be gracious, “to show mercy favor, be gracious” (ibid.).
Here is a quick definition. God’s grace means he gladly shows his unmerited goodness or love to those who have forfeited it and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation.
Good news! We do not have to suffer condemnation for our past sins because God hands us his grace.
Peter is distinguishing between the works of the law on the one side and grace and faith on the other, just as Paul taught. Did Peter influence Paul or reinforce Paul’s message which he had already got by revelation? If it’s the latter option, Paul’s presentation must have been superior. And Peter learned his lesson when he led Cornelius to the Lord.
“assembly”: It is the Greek noun plēthos (pronounced play-thoss) and in most cases it means of people: “crowd, throng, host” or “meeting, assembly” or “people, populace, population,” or “community, church, fellowship.” It means “meeting, assembly” or the latter three definitions. In any case, we have another “mega-church” meeting. There is nothing wrong per se with meeting in a large group or assembly.
“signs and wonders”: It was necessary for Paul and Barnabas to speak up because they were one of the plaintiffs or defendants in this case of how people get saved.
“signs”: sēmeion (pronounced say-may-on). In the singular it is mostly translated as “sign” or “miraculous sign.” A sign points towards the loving God who wants to heal and redeem broken humanity, both in soul and body. Signs are indicators of God breaking into his world, to help people and announce that he is here to save and rescue them and put things right.
“wonders”: teras (pronounced teh-ras). It is often translated as “wonders” and is always in the plural. Only once does it appear without “signs,” in Acts 2:19, where wonders will appear in the sky. Wonders inspire awe and worship of God through Christ who performs the wonders. The purpose is to patch up and restore broken humanity. They testify that God in his kingdom power is here to save and rescue people.
So it seems signs and wonders demonstrated that God backed Paul’s and Barnabas’s mission and gospel. However, signs and wonders were not sufficient in themselves. They still had to discuss the practical doctrine of circumcision.
For nearly all the references of those two words and a developed theology of them:
Luke omits the details about Paul and Barnabas praying for people to receive the fullness of the Spirit, with manifested gifts, like prayer languages or prophecies.
Recall that Saul / Paul was filled with the Spirit, but his receiving his Spirit-inspired language is not mentioned (Acts 9:17-18), yet he often prayed in the Spirit, that is, in his prayer language (1 Cor. 14:18). Further, the Corinthians believed and were baptized, but they were not recorded as receiving the Spirit and the gifts of speaking in their prayer language or prophesying (Acts 18:8). However, they exercised those gifts often (1 Cor. 12-14), no doubt because Paul taught them about those gifts and prayed for them to receive them, during his eighteen months that he ministered to them (Acts 18:11). Paul, after all, writing later, said he spoke in his Spirit-inspired languages more than the Corinthians did (1 Cor. 14:18). He said he wanted everyone to pray in their spiritual languages (1 Cor. 14:5) and not forbid this wonderful gift (1 Cor. 14:39).
Therefore, Luke does not need to link the fullness or baptism of the Spirit with prayer languages in every verse that talks about this fullness. It would be like Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, intervening to tell his readers on every other page, “Don’t forget! We’re on a whaling ship!” In Acts, Luke omits some of these details, but that is how all four Gospels and Acts are presented to us: elliptical. But the entire context of Acts is Spirit-empowered and Spirit-filled. The entire book is very charismatic. Luke expects us to fill in the ellipses with the power of the Spirit and manifested gifts, like prayer languages.
It is like the anointing of Jesus at his water baptism with the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove (Luke 3:31-22; 4:18-19). From then on, Jesus worked miracles of nature and healing and demonic expulsion in the third Gospel, and Luke does not have to announce every time Jesus did those things: “Remember when I wrote that Jesus was anointed with the Spirit? He worked that miracle based on those verses!” Rather, Luke expects us to fill in those omissions with the power of the Spirit. Likewise, in the many cases of Christian witness from town to town in Acts, Luke expects us to fill in the omissions with the same empowerment because of Acts 2:1-4. And so Luke-Acts is all very charismatic, which is normative for the church throughout its history. Spirit-filled empowerment and anointing continue.
It is similar to his omitting water baptism in key places. Often he does say that new converts got baptized: Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:5), Yet in other cases water baptism is not brought up for new converts: Acts 9:42; 11:21; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34). Luke expects us to fill in these omissions. All throughout the first missionary trip, water baptism is never recorded, though many conversions are recorded. This is why I have nicknamed him Luke “the Omitter” or “the Condenser.”
GrowApp for Acts 15:4-12
A.. God gave the Holy Spirit to Gentiles, without ethnic distinction, to cleanse their hearts by faith. How has the Spirit cleansed your heart?
B.. Peter proclaims that we are saved by grace through Jesus Christ. Study Eph. 2:8-9. How do Peter’s words and Paul’s words in Eph. 2:8-9 match up?
James’s Summing Up (Acts 15:13-21)
13 After they got quiet, James answered and said, “Men, women, brothers, sisters, hear me! 14 Simon recounted how God at first chose to take from the Gentiles a people for his name. 15 And the words of the prophets agree on this matter, as it has been written:
16 After these things I shall return,
And I shall rebuild David’s fallen tent,
And I shall rebuild its ruins,
And stand it back up,
17 so that the remnant of humans might search for the Lord,
Even all the nations who called upon my name,
Says the Lord, who does these things 18 known from ages past. [Amos 9:11-12]
19 Therefore it is my judgment not to trouble the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but instead to send them a letter to avoid the pollutions of idols, sexual immortality, undrained, strangled meat, and blood. 21 For the Law of Moses from earliest generations has those who preach it in every town and as it is read every Sabbath.”
This passage says the People of God has expended to include Gentiles. Jew and Gentile are the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). Paul says the olive tree is Israel, and some (not all) of the natural branches (Jews) got lopped off because of their unbelief. And now Gentiles have been grafted into the trunk of the tree. When Jews convert, God can miraculously graft them back in (Rom. 11:17-24). It makes me wonder whether James’ speech, which quotes Amos, who says the People of God has expanded to include Gentiles, inspired Paul in Romans 9-11. And maybe the meeting Paul had with James further influenced his thought (Gal. 2:9).
“they got quiet”: this refers to Paul and Barnabas, who gave the floor, so to speak, to James, who was the Lord’s (half-)brother. Remember, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, while James was not.
“Simeon”: it is a variation of Simon, and it refers to Peter, his nickname. Simeon just got finished speaking, before Paul and Barnabas stepped forward. Now it is James’s turn.
“Men, women, brothers, sisters”: these terms can be generic, like our mankind. And vv. 6 and 22 say that the entire group and entire assembly or church were there.
James refers to Simon Peter and not to Paul because it was Paul’s question that was in the docket or on trial. So, once again, argumentation—Peter’s words—carried more weight than Paul’s and Barnabas’s signs and wonders.
“name”: this noun stands in for the person—a living, real person. You carry your father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, under the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
James quotes from the Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent, is a third-to-second century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek), which shows sensitivity to the Gentiles (Bock, p. 504). These verses say that the “tent” or house or kingdom of David had fallen, and Gentiles need to enter in to complete God’s rebuilding project. It would seem empty without them—you and me.
“nations”: this refers to Gentiles (non-Jews). God mission to the Gentiles extends God’s covenant with David, now fulfilled in Christ, to the Gentiles, much farther than David could ever dream of. The point is that God has made it know in days of old. This was his plan all along. “The Gentile mission, then, is the work of God: he has made it know in advance ‘from of old’ and now he has brought it to pass” (Bruce, comment on vv. 15-18).
“name”: see v. 14 for a closer look at this noun.
“trouble”: it comes from the verb parenochleō (pronounced pah-reh-noh-khleh-oh), and it means to “cause difficulty for, trouble, annoy.” Don’t put legalistic burdens on the Gentiles who are converting to Christ. Trouble = circumcision. Don’t trouble Gentiles with circumcision. No circumcision for them!
“turning”: it comes from the Greek verb epistephō (pronounced eh-pee-streh-foh), and see v. 3 for a closer look.
But God’s plan for the Gentiles did not directly and clearly answer the question of circumcision being the sign of the covenant. It seems the Pharisees wanted add it to the New Covenant. Was this appropriate? It seems obvious to us today, but not back then. Come to think of it, American Gentiles today who have become enamored with Judaism, yet wish to remain Christians (the Hebrew Roots Movement), want to impose all sorts of rituals on everyone else. It is a sure thing that circumcision of eight-day old boys is discussed. Of course they are wrong.
Slow down, Hebrew Roots Movement!
These four demands were done in pagan temples, and it was best to avoid anything done there.
“pollutions of idols”: it comes from the Greek phrase alisgēma (pronounced ah-lees-gay-mah) tōn (pronounced tone), and it is the Greek plural genitive article; and idōlōn (pronounced ee-doh-lone), and it means “idols.” The Greek noun alisgēma, of unknown origins, is related to the verb alisgeō (to pollute), which appears in the Septuagint (3rd century translation of Hebrew Bible into Greek) in connection with food. The noun is used only here in the NT. It expresses a compromise between Jews and Gentile, so they could have close fellowship together at the table of the Lord or an agape feast (v. 29).
In 1 Cor. 8 (the whole chapter), Paul is concerned about not stumbling a weak brother in Christ, who does not have the liberty to eat food associated with idols. A brother with a strong conscience can do it, but he should avoid eating such food, if the weaker brother stumbles and loses confidence in his relationship with Christ. It is all about love, not our knowledge that food and idolatry is nonsense.
“sexual immorality”: it comes from the Greek noun porneia (pronounced pohr-nay-ah), and it is the general term for “sexual immorality.” We get our word porn from it. The ancient Greeks and Romans had very loose sexual practices, and temples to Aphrodite (the goddess of strong sexual desire), where sex was a religious ritual, dotted their world back then. God protects our bodies and our emotions with this prohibition. It is not meant to ruin your “fun,” but to provide guardrails so you don’t get hurt. Wait until marriage.
“undrained, strangled meat”: it comes from the one Greek noun pniktos (pronounced pn’neek-tohss), and it is a specialized term that comes from the butcher’s shop. Strangled meat inevitably has blood in it, until it is drained. This prohibition goes back to Gen. 9:4 and the decrees of Noah. Once again, this rule was a minor compromise for the sake of peace between Messianic Jews and Gentiles sharing a meal together. If you don’t care about eating blood sausages, for example, but you invite to your feast a Jew or Messianic Jew who does care about it, then avoid eating the blood sausages in his company, for the sake of love. Keep your liberty private—or at least away from him.
“blood”: the Greek literally says, “blood.” Lev. 17:10-14 says that life is in the blood, so the ancient Israelites must avoid eating blood. So the council told the gentiles to avoid eating blood, so they would not offend the new Jewish followers of Jesus.
If these demands won the day at the Council—and they did—then circumcision loses. It was such an intimidating practice, that these Messianic Jews concluded it should not be required for Gentiles.
In other words, Moses, who stands in for his law, does not need any back up. His law won’t disappear from the earth because synagogues are everywhere. This expresses the concerns of Messianic Jews, like James, that Moses must be maintained even in the new Jesus Movement. It was difficult for some of these earliest Messianic Jews to give it up. It is a good thing Peter stepped up and said salvation comes by faith in Christ.
Polhill teaches us that the prohibitions in the four decrees are found in Leviticus:
In fact, all four of the “apostolic decrees” are found in Lev 17 and 18 as requirements expected of resident aliens: abstinence from pagan sacrifices (17:8), blood (17:10–14), strangled meat (17:13), and illicit sexual relationships (18:6–23). Perhaps this is what James meant in his rather obscure concluding remark (v. 21): the law of Moses is read in every synagogue everywhere; so these requirements should come as no shock to the Gentiles. They are in the Old Testament and have been required of Gentiles associating with Jews from the earliest times. (comment on v. 21)
Longenecker remind us that the prohibitive decrees are about social harmony between Jewish and Gentile converts:
These prohibitions have often been viewed as a compromise between two warring parties that in effect nullified James’s earlier words and made the decision of the Jerusalem Council unacceptable to Paul. In reality, however, they are to be seen not as dealing with the central issue of the council but as meeting certain practical concerns—i.e. not as primarily theological in nature but more sociological. Seen in this light, they were meant not as divine ordinances for acceptance before God but as concessions to the scruples of others for the sake of harmony within the church and the continuance of the Jewish-Christian mission. So James adds the rational of v. 21 “For Moses has been preached in every city from earliest times and is read in the synagogue on every Sabbath”—that is to say, since Jewish communities are to be found in every city, their scruples are to be respected by Gentile believers. (comment on v. 21)
Paul covers these issues in Romans 14, where he says that food and drink are not important, but love is. And if Gentiles flout their liberty to eat certain foods and stumble their brothers and sisters, then Gentiles should hold back while in the company of the weaker brothers or sisters.
GrowApp for Acts 15:13-21
A.. This section is about God expanding his tent to accept previously unacceptable people. If you belong to the wrong side of the tracks, ethnically or in other ways, how has God broken down barriers and loved and saved you?
The Apostolic Letter to the Gentile Christians (Acts 15:22-29)
22 And then the apostles and elders with the whole church decided to send chosen men from themselves to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, leading men from among the brothers. 23 Through their hands, they wrote:
The apostles and elders and brothers to the Gentile brothers and sisters at Antioch and in Syria and Cilicia, greetings:
We have heard that some from us have troubled you and upset your minds with words which we did not authorize, 25 we unanimously decided to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have handed over their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We therefore commissioned Judas and Silas, who through their oral message announce the same things. 28 For it seemed to the Holy Spirit and us not to impose on you a weight heavier than these essentials: 29 To avoid things sacrificed to idols, blood, strangled and undrained animals, and sexual immorality. By keeping yourselves from these things, you will do well.
“decided”: it comes from the Greek verb dokeō (pronounced doh-keh-oh), which is a mental activity, as is “think” or “decide.” So it could be translated “then the apostles and elders thought (it best).” But sometimes translators go with “it seems (good) to the apostles and elders,” because seems is another meaning of the verb, and that’s how the syntax (sentence structure) reads.
The issue was so important that they had to send Messianic Jews who resided in Jerusalem and enjoyed close ties with the apostles and elders, back up to Antioch.
“Silas”: Here is a short study of his life:
He was delegated by the Jerusalem Council to deliver the letter regarding practical behavior to the church at Antioch (Acts 15:22).
He was a prophet (Acts 15:32), so no doubt he spoke prophetically to Paul when the Spirit told them not to go into Asia or Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7).
While he was in Antioch, he spoke prophetically to the church and strengthened and encouraged them (Acts 15:32). This means, yes, strong proclamation, but see v. 31 for more details about the ministry of the prophet.
He was with Paul in his second missionary journey (Acts 15:39-18:22).
Since he was connected to Paul, we can have no doubt that he received the fullness and power of the Spirit. Nowhere does a passage says he was “filled with the Spirit” (or similar wording) and associated prayer languages, but he was a prophet. And we can be sure that he had his prayer language, parallel to Paul having his. Acts say anything about this gift when Paul received the laying on of hands (Acts 9:17), but he proclaimed that he spoke in Spirit-inspired languages more than the Corinthians did (1 Cor. 14:18), and he wished everyone would speak in their prayer languages (1 Cor. 14:5). Prayer languages open one’s spirit to the Spirit and empower one for ministry. Surely Paul ensured that Silas had this gift.
He was beaten with rods by the authorities in Philippi and spent time with Paul in prison (Acts 16:19-36).
While in prison, he prayed and sang praise songs to God (Acts 16:25).
He was also with Paul in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9), where a riot and persecution broke out. He stood strong.
He was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-38)
He was with Paul in Berea, the church that studied Scripture to see whether the message of the gospel was Bible-based (Acts 17:11-15). Milder persecution broke out, but Paul left him there, where he built up the fledgling Christian community.
While Paul was in Corinth, he met him there (Acts 18:5), where Paul had entered the city with fear and trembling (1 Cor. 2:3).
Silas ministered with Paul in Corinth (2 Cor. 1:19).
He was a co-writer with Paul (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1).
He was a co-writer with Peter (1 Peter 5:12)
Source: NIV Study Bible
He was about to be a great asset to Paul’s ministry.
“through their hands they wrote”: that’s a literal translation, and I assume it means some scribe physically wrote it out, but most translators go with the sense that the letter will be carried by Judas’s and Silas’s hands back up to Antioch. Or less literally than “hands,” they will put the letter in a leather pouch and transport it.
“Gentile brothers and sisters”: it is the masculine noun “brothers,” but here it is inclusive of women because they too have to avoid those four things. “Brothers” can include women, just as our word mankind can.
“Whereas”: it comes from the Greek conjunctive adverb epeidē (pronounced eh-pay-day). In Greek inscriptions it appears at the front of a decision reached by a council, and it is best translated in that and in this context as “whereas,” and not the usual “since.”
“troubled”: it comes from the Greek verb tarassō (pronounced tah-rah-soh), and it means to “stir up,” and also “disturb, trouble, throw into confusion.”
“upset”: it comes from the Greek verb anaskeuazō (pronounced ah-nah-skew-ah-zoh), and it is used only here in the NT. It is a military term, and it can mean to plunder a town.
“minds”: it comes from the noun psuchē (pronounced psoo-khay, and the “p” in ps- is also pronounced). It can be translated as “soul.” As Renewalists generally believe, the soul is made up of the mind, will and emotions. It is entirely possible to have one’s mind or soul stirred up or plundered. The mind needs to be renewed. Please see Rom. 12:1-2 for how to do this. Also, think on these things listed in the epistle to the Philippians: “Things that true; things that are honorable; things that are righteous; things that are holy; things that are lovely; things that are praiseworthy; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise—think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
It is so important to think right because all battles start in the mind. Don’t let it turn bad. Keep it pure.
“authorize”: It could be translated as “words we did not direct.” The extra-legalistic Messianic Jews went up from Judea to Antioch without permission and disturbed Paul’s and Barnabas’s ministry of grace with circumcision and many other laws. Be careful of fly-by-night independent operators who wander around Renewal churches with the purpose of dominating it. I have heard too many stories about this. They don’t end well, unless the pastor has the good sense to stop it before they take over.
“unanimously”: it comes from a favorite word of Luke in Acts. The Greek adverb is a compound, homothumadon (pronounced ho-mo-thoo-mah-dohn). The first half is hom– and means “same,” and the second half is related to thumos, which means spirit and soul and heart, a lively spirit, much like a lion or hero in battle (in NT Greek it can even be translated as “wrath.”). It appears eleven times, and ten in Acts (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12; 7:57; 8:6; 12:20; 15:25; 18:12; 19:29), and once in Paul (Rom. 15:6).
“beloved”: it comes from the adverb agapētos, and it means “beloved, one who is loved, dear, friend.” In legal writings, later kings of Europe called their messengers or deputies “our trusty and well-beloved” so-and-so. It seems to have that sense here.
“handed over”: it comes from the Greek verb paradidōmi (pronounced pah-rah-dee-doh-mee), and it combines the prefix para– (alongside or near) and didōmi (standard verb for giving or to give). It can mean “handed over” or “given over” their lives. Some translations have “risked their lives.” It brings up the question: would I be willing to lay down or risk my life for the gospel? Would you? Only by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power.
“lives”: it comes from the noun psuchē, and see v. 24 for a closer look.
“name”: see v. 14 for a closer look at this noun.
“commissioned”: it comes from the verb apostellō (pronounced ah-poh-steh-loh), and the noun is where we get the word apostle. It means to “send away” or “send off.” Commissioning is also good. Once again, be wary of independent operators who wander around Renewal churches, when these men or women don’t have a home church or a commissioning from it, or when their home church is just a small “yes-church” that endorses everything the fly-by-nighters” do.
“oral message”: “oral” is implied, and “message” comes from the versatile noun logos. See vv. 6-7 for a closer look. In other words, Judas and Silas will confirm by their own testimony what is written in the letter, because they were at the council.
“It seems (beneficial)”: it comes from the Greek verb dokeō, and see v. 22 for a closer look. So it could be translated roughly as it was up in v. 22: “The Holy Spirit and we decided or thought.” It is wonderful to contemplate that the Spirit guided the minds of the apostles and elders.
“weight”: it could be translated as “burden.”
“essentials”: it could be translated as “necessary things.” They are boiled down to provide peace among Messianic Jews and Gentiles.
“things sacrificed to idols”: it is a different word from that in v. 20, but the essence is the same. For the sake of table fellowship between Messianic Jews and converted Gentiles, the latter group shouldn’t eat food connected to idolatry in some way. Love and peace are better between the two groups than Gentiles lording their freedom over restrictive Jews because Gentiles have a freer conscience about this issue.
It is interesting that the letter says nothing about circumcision, but only implies it by stating the four essentials. And circumcision is not one of the four, so it is eliminated. Logical, but not very satisfactory when Paul writes to the Galatians, if the letter was written after the Jerusalem Council.
“you will do well”: it comes from two Greek words eu (good and positive and pronounced yew) and prassō (pronounced prah-ssoh), and it means “practice, do, or accomplish” (in some forms of the word we get “practice” from it). If you want to do well in life, be sensitive to others and their needs.
“Farewell!” it comes from the Greek verb rhōnnumi (pronounced rhohn-noo-mee), and it literally means in the imperative (command): “be strong!”
Peterson quotes John Stott who says that in the Peter’s speech, there is a victory of grace over law, and in the requirements of cooperation between Jews and Gentiles, there is a victory of love over separation and barriers (p. 446).
GrowApp for Acts 15:22-29
A.. This section is about fellowship between peoples who used to avoid each other. Does your circle of friends include those who used to be unfriendly towards you? Would you eat a meal with them? How have those barriers been broken down?
The Church of Antioch Receives the Apostolic Letter (Acts 15:30-35)
30 And so those who were sent off went down to Antioch and gathered the people together and delivered the letter. 31 When they read it, they celebrated because of its encouragement. 32 Both Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, spoke for a long time and encouraged and strengthened the brothers and sisters. 33 After they passed some time there, they were sent off with peace from the brothers and sisters to the ones who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas spent some time in Antioch teaching and preaching with many others the word of the Lord.
“went down”: Even though they were going northward, they were leaving Jerusalem. One goes “up” to Jerusalem when one heads towards it, and one goes “down” in leaving it.
Let’s quote Paul in full from his first letter to the Corinthians:
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NIV)
Here Paul is saying that when he is with his co-Jews, he fits in. He will have Timothy circumcised, so his witness could reach the Jewish community (Acts 16:3) “that I might save some.” He fit into the customs of the law of Moses, though he himself was not under the law. Circumcision did not bind him. But to Gentiles—those not under the law of Moses—he became like them for the purpose of witness. But he is now under the law—the law of Christ. Those who see the need to keep the law are weak, and he could lower himself to their weakness, if necessary. Why be so malleable? That he might save some and “for the sake of the gospel.” It’s all about being so free in oneself that he can fit in, but only for the Great Commission.
“celebrated”: it comes from the Greek verb chairō (pronounced khy roh), and it means “rejoice, be glad”; and in some contexts it is a greeting: “welcome, hail, good day” and so on. So they rejoiced when they read the letter.
“encouragement”: (see v. 32 also). It is the Greek noun paraklēsis (pronounced pah-rah-klay-sees). It is related to the Greek verb parakaleō (pronounced pah-rah-kah-leh-oh). The Greek in the Gospel of John is paraklētos (pronounced pah-rah-klay-tohss) (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:6). The three words are related and can mean the following things, depending on the context—or they can mean all of them at the same time. What do you need from the Spirit? Here are some options: “counselor / counsel,” “advocate (defense attorney),” “helper / help,” “comforter / comfort,” “encourager / encouragement,” and “intercessor / intercession.”
“being prophets”: They spoke often. Note the word “encouraged.” It is the verb parakaleō (pronounced pah-rah-kah-leh-oh). See v. 31 for a closer look.
Here is the three-dimensional function of a prophet, according to 1 Cor 14:3:
Edify, exhort, and comfort (KJV)
Edification, exhortation, and comfort (NKJV)
Strengthen, encourage, and comfort (NIV)
Strengthening, encouragement, and consolation (NET)
Edification, exhortation, and consolation (NASB)
Grow in the Lord, encouraging, and comforting (NLT)
Strength, encouragement, and comfort (NCV)
Helped, encouraged, and made to feel better (CEV)
Upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation (ESV)
Grow, be strong, and experience his presence with you (MSG)
However, let no one shrink and restrict the prophets’ ministry to just preaching a sermon, however good that may be. 1 Cor. 14:24-25 says that prophecy lays bare the secrets of hearts, so that people fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is with you!” Ordinary preaching, however anointed, does not exactly produce that reaction, normally. However, once you see prophets in action, as they lay bare the secrets, it is stunning. They “read your mail,” even though they never met you. Imagine that your mother is in the hospital, and you need to gather the church to pray for her, but you have not yet asked for prayer. The prophet picks you out of a large audience and says, “I see … a woman … your mother … her name is Jane … she’s in the hospital… you must call the church to pray for her. Do it now!” He did not know by normal communication about your mother, for you told no one. That’s why he told you to gather the church to pray. That’s just one mild, typical example, which I have seen many times and have received from prophets occasionally.
“strengthened”: it comes from the Greek verb epistērizō (pronounced eh-pee-stay-ree-zoh), and the stem stēr– is where we get our word stereo. Here it means “stiffening, shoring up, steeling up” (not that steel existed back then!) or “reinforcing.”
“brothers and sisters”: see v. 3 for a closer look.
“peace”: this is the noun eirēnē (pronounced ay-ray-nay, and we get the name Irene from it) and in Hebrew it is shalom. In both languages, it means “peace, tranquility, harmony;” and also “welfare and health” in the Hebrew sense. In the Messianic sense it means reconciliation and peace with God. Normally, it used for greetings, but here they send them off with the peace of God.
Let’s explore more generally the peace that God brings.
It speaks of more than just the absence of war. It can mean prosperity and wellbeing. It can mean peace in your heart and peace with your neighbor. Best of all, it means peace with God, because he reconciled us to him.
This word in Hebrew is shalom and means wellbeing, both in the soul and in circumstances, and it means, yes, prosperity, because the farm in an agricultural society would experience wellbeing and harmony and growth. The crops would not fail and the livestock would reproduce. Society and the individual would live in peace and contentment and harmony. Deut. 28:1-14 describes the blessings for obedience, a man and his family and business enjoying divine goodness and benefits and material benefits. Peace is a major reality of the messianic kingdom anticipated in the OT (Num. 6:26; Ps. 29:11; Is. 9:6-7; 52:7; 54:13; 57:19; Ezek. 37:26; Hg. 2:9) and partly fulfilled or alluded to in the NT (Acts 10:36; Rom. 1:7; 5:1; 14:17).
With that background, let’s explore the Greek word, which overlaps with shalom. It is the noun eirēnē (pronounced ay-ray-nay, used 92 times, and we get the name Irene from it). One specialist defines it: “Peace is a state of being that lacks nothing and has no fear of being troubled in its tranquility; it is euphoria coupled with security. … This peace is God’s favor bestowed on his people.” (Mounce, p. 503).
BDAG has this definition for the noun: (2) It is “a state of well-being, peace.” Through salvation we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). We have peace that has been brought through Christ (Col. 3:15). We are to run towards the goal of peace (2 Pet. 3:14; Rom. 8:6). It is the essential characteristic of the Messianic Age (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:15). An angel greeted and promised the shepherds peace on earth for those in whom God is well pleased, at the birth of the Messiah (Luke 2:29).
It was an added gloss, which said: “But Silas decided to remain there.” A copyist added it to smooth the transition in v. 40. However, a certain period of time elapsed, and then Paul and Barnabas had their split, and Silas joined Paul. Silas could have come back up to Antioch later on. For all we know the Spirit spoke to him, a prophet, to go back and wait to see what ministry God held out for him. But let’s not speculate too far afield.
“teaching”: it is the verb didaskō (pronounced dee-dahs-koh, and our word didactic is related to it). The verb means to instruct or tell or teach (BDAG), sometimes in a formal setting like a classroom or another confined setting, other times in a casual setting. Ministry is not just always about proclaiming the simple gospel, but often in-depth teaching is needed, and sorely lacking in many Renewal churches.
“preaching”: as noted in previous verses in Luke-Acts, the phrase is one verb in Greek: euangelizō (pronounced eu-ahn-geh-lee-zoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). Eu– means “good,” and angel means “announcement” or “news”; and izō is the verb form. (Greek adds the suffix -iz- and changes the noun to the verb and we do too, as in “modern” to “modernize”). Awkwardly but literally it means “good-news-ize,” as in “Let’s ‘good-news-ize’ them!” “Preaching or spreading or proclaiming the good news” is traditional and better. The direct object of the verb is the word of the Lord, so “let’s good-news-ize” them with the word.
“word”: it comes from the noun logos (pronounced loh-gohss) and is rich and full of meaning. See vv. 6-7 for its basic meaning.
As usual, Polhill summarizes the passage really well:
The concord reached at the Jerusalem Conference was a most remarkable event and established a major precedent for dealing with controversy within the Christian fellowship. One should realize the sharp differences that existed between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Jewish Christians were faithful to all the traditions of their heritage. They observed the provisions of the Torah, circumcised their male children, and kept all the Jewish holy days. They did not cease to be Jews when they became Christians. James was himself a perfect example. In their accounts of his later martyrdom, both Josephus and Eusebius noted the tremendous respect the nonbelieving Jews gave him because of his deep piety and scrupulous observance of the law. (comment on v. 35)
GrowApp for Acts 15:30-35
A.. Have you ever received good news, which broke you free of legalism and made your heart glad? Tell your story.
Paul and Barnabas Split (15:36-41)
36 After some days, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s indeed return and visit the brothers and sisters in each and every town in which we announced the word of the Lord, to see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas intended to take John (called Mark). 38 Paul thought it fitting not to take along the one who deserted them in Pamphylia and did not go with them in the work. 39 A sharp disagreement took place, so that they split from one another. Barnabas took the one called Mark and set sail for Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and left, after being commended by the brothers and sisters to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
It was a good idea and a God idea. It is always good for church planters to inquire into their church plant, if they established leaders there.
“Word”: see v. 35 for a closer look.
Recall that John Mark abandoned or deserted Paul and Barnabas after they got off the island of Cyprus and landed on the southern Asia Minor mainland (Acts 13:13).
13 They put out to sea from Paphos, and Paul and his company went to Perga in Pamphylia. John departed from them and turned back to Jerusalem. (Acts 13:13)
Barnabas and Mark were cousins (Col. 4:10). This may explain why he chose Mark and went to his home island, Cyprus.
“return”: it is the Greek verb epistrephō, and see. v. 19 for a closer look.
“visit”: it is from the Greek verb episkeptomai, and see v. 14 for a closer look.
“thought it fitting”: it comes from one Greek verb axioō (pronounced ahx-ee-oh-oh), and here it means “judge or esteem or consider worthy or deserving; to deem fitting; to require” (it is also used in Acts 28:52). One gets the impression that Luke is trying to be discreet here by speaking in roundabout way. In other words, Paul is trying to reasonable in his refusal and saying something like, “I don’t deem it quite appropriate to take along John because of what he did—he left and didn’t stick with it to the very end of his commitment.” God is looking for disciples who will finish the race. The good news is that Mark and Paul eventually reconciled (Col. 4:10; Phm. 24 and 2 Tim. 4:11).
“the work”: Schnabel is insightful: “the term ‘the work’ … denotes missionary work, i.e. the proclamation of the good news of Jesus to Jews and Greek, and the teaching of new converts, and it includes the travels and the travails of missionaries” (comment on vv. 37-38).
“sharp disagreement”: it comes from the one Greek noun paroxusmos (pronounced pah-rohx-oo-mohss). The noun is used only here in the NT. It can also be translated “stirring up, irritation” (and even “encouragement”!).
“split”: it comes from the Greek verb apochōrizō (pronounced ah-poh-khoh-ree-zoh), and it can be translated as “separate” or be separated.” It looks like the verb used in Acts 13:13 for Mark’s desertion: apochōreō. Maybe a little irony in the works here. Paul and Barnabas should have prayed it through, or maybe they did, and Paul simply could not get over his concern that John Mark would desert them again.
The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas does not make pleasant reading, but Luke’s realism in recording it helps us to remember that the two men, as they themselves said to the people of Lystra, were ‘human beings with feelings like’ any other [14:15]. Luke does not relate the dispute in such a way to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong. In view of Luke’s restraint, it is idle for the reader to try to apportion the blame. (comment on vv. 36-39)
“Cyprus”: This was Barnabas’s home island, and since he and John Mark were cousins, they knew the same people. Paul and Barnabas and John Mark established churches there, so no doubt the newly formed missionary team visited them. Let’s not see it (entirely) as Barnabas and his cousin running home to a safe, and comfortable place (though it was that, in part).
“committed”: it comes from the Greek verb paradidōmi (pronounced pah-rah-dee-doh-mee), and it combines the prefix para– (alongside or near) and didōmi (standard verb for giving or to give). It can mean “handed over” or “given over” to the grace of God. It is interesting that the brothers and sisters comment Paul and Silas, but Luke is silent on their doing this for Barnabas and Mark. But let’s not draw too much controversy from the text’s silence.
“brothers and sisters”: see v. 3 for a closer look.
“grace”: see v. 11 for a closer look.
This time they went overland in the reverse direction, from east to west from Syrian Antioch, rather than west to east to Syrian Antioch.
“strengthening”: it comes from the Greek verb epistērizō, and see v. 32 for a closer look. Luke gives us no details about the success of this section of the missionary trip. (See Gal. 1:21.)
“churches”: see the comments at v. 4.
So begins Paul’s secondary missionary: Acts 15:39-18:22.
GrowApp for Acts 15:36-41
A.. Have you ever had a big blowout fight? Has God called you to reconcile? How did you handle it?
B.. After the split, God now has two missionary teams. How has God redeemed your life after a split of some kind?
Observations for Discipleship
Sometimes dispute arise. What do you do about them? Do what the earliest church did. First they discussed. If agreement happens, great. If not, second, get godly counsel. Often a compromise has to be reached. Then abide by the decision. The four prohibitions had nothing to do with receiving salvation, because apparently people believe to be saves, as Peter said in v. 11. Rather the four prohibitions were designed to offer peace in the two eating prohibitions (food connected to idols and strangled meat) and ethical behavior (bloodshed and sexual immorality). The food prohibitions can fall by the wayside, once people’s conscience is strong and don’t care about blood sausages or pagan religions. The other two last for as long as humans live.
Paul and Barnabas got in a heated discussion, and they did not reach a satisfactory conclusion. Did they seek counsel? Apparently not. In any case, Paul and Silas strengthened the churches on the mainland, and Barnabas and Mark strengthened the ones on the island of Cyprus. So the single double act (Paul and Barnabas) became a double quadruple act, Paul and Silas, and Barnabas and Mark.
Though Barnabas never reappears in the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas eventually reconciled, or at least Paul expressed admiration for him (1 Cor. 9:6 and Gal. 2:11-13).
In your relationships other than marriage, don’t be afraid to go your separate ways if things don’t work out. God may bring you back together, or he may move you on. Pray for inner strength. Those words are tough for some of you to read, I know, but sometimes this separation is necessary.
As for marriage, please see this post:
So begins Paul’s second missionary journey: Acts 15:39 to Acts 18:22. God works out his purposes.
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.