Acts 15 Commentary


Judaisers trouble the churches (15:1)

The writer of Acts has already shown that many of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were not happy that Gentiles should be received into the church as equal with Jews, but without having to follow the Jewish laws (see 11:1-3). Peter may have silenced them once (see 11:18), but many still retained their old Jewish attitudes and ideas.

A group of these Jews now came from Jerusalem to Antioch in Syria, teaching that Gentile converts had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses (15:1; see also v. 5). These men claimed they had authority from James, but James later denied this (Gal 2:12; cf. Acts 15:24). They argued so persuasively that even mature Christians such as Peter and Barnabas stopped eating with the Gentile Christians in case they broke Jewish food laws. Paul, who before his conversion was as zealous a Jew as any, saw that the teaching of the Judaisers was contrary to the Christian gospel. A forthright public rebuke from Paul resulted in Peter and Barnabas realizing their error and resuming fellowship with the Gentiles (Gal 2:11- 16; cf. Acts 15:6-12).


Paul writes to the Galatians

Soon after correcting the trouble in Antioch, Paul heard that the Judaisers had spread their teachings to the newly planted churches of Galatia (Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe) and some of the new Christians were being led astray. Angered at this, Paul immediately sent off a sharply worded letter, known to us as the Letter to the Galatians (Gal 1:6; 3:1).

In this letter Paul pointed out that there was only one gospel, the one he preached, and that the law of Moses has no authority over Christians. They are justified by faith in Christ and live by the same faith.

Though free from the law of Moses, they are not lawless, but under the direction of the indwelling Spirit of Christ (Gal 3:3; 5:1,13,16,18).

To Jerusalem to discuss the problem (15:2-21)

The trouble created by the Judaisers had now spread to the farthermost parts of the church, so the matter needed to be settled quickly and decisively. Because the teaching came from Jerusalem, that was the place to discuss the matter. The church at Antioch therefore appointed Paul, Barnabas and other leaders to go to Jerusalem as its representatives. Along the way and after their arrival in Jerusalem, they reported on the widespread turning to God among the Gentiles, but as soon as the meeting began the Judaisers spoke against them (2-5). (This Jerusalem meeting is sometimes referred to as the Council of Jerusalem.)

After lengthy debate, Peter vigorously opposed the Judaisers and defended the Gentiles, asserting that Gentiles should not have to keep the Jewish law. The way of salvation and entrance into the full Christian fellowship was by faith alone, and was the same for Jews and Gentiles. This principle was basic to the gospel and could not be changed (6-11). The recent experiences of Paul and Barnabas reinforced this principle (12).

James agreed with Peter, Paul and Barnabas, adding that the events they were witnessing – the coming of the Messiah, the establishment of his kingdom and the expansion of that kingdom among the Gentiles – had been foretold by the prophets of Old Testament times (13-18).

In summing up the discussion, James repeated that no attempt should be made to put the Gentiles under the Jewish law (19). However, one problem remained. Jewish attitudes to social issues had been moulded by centuries of submission to the law of Moses, whereas Gentiles had no such law and as a result their moral standards were lower. The Jews considered many Gentile practices improper, such as the eating of any sort of food at all, regardless of how it had been killed or whether it had been offered to idols. James therefore suggested that the Gentile Christians would help improve relations between the two groups if they were careful not to engage in practices that the Jews considered offensive (20-21).

Letter from Jerusalem (15:22-35)

Acknowledging the wisdom of James’ suggestion, the Antioch representatives were pleased to take back with them two leading men from the Jerusalem church, Judas and Silas, to help create a better understanding between the Jewish and Gentile groups (22).

The party also carried a letter from the Jerusalem meeting that expressed regret concerning the Judaisers’ trouble-making and encouraged the Gentiles to be considerate of their Jewish brothers. The letter was not one of command, because all churches were independent of each other and none had the right to dictate to another. Yet there was a unity between them because of the common life they shared in Christ. If Christians were to enjoy that unity, they had to exercise love towards those who held different opinions on matters of lesser importance (23-29).

When the group arrived in Antioch, the local Christians were greatly encouraged to hear the outcome of the Jerusalem meeting, and gladly accepted the letter that the leaders passed on to them (30-31). They also profited from the preaching of Judas and Silas. But because they had been unsettled by the recent difficulties, Paul and Barnabas stayed on for a while to strengthen and reassure them (32-35).


Choosing a partner (15:36-41)

Paul and Barnabas thought that, in view of the recent troubles with the Judaisers, they should revisit the newly established churches in Galatia (36). Unfortunately, they could not agree on whether to take


Mark with them. Barnabas wanted to but Paul refused, as he considered Mark to be unreliable. In the end they separated, Barnabas going to his native Cyprus with Mark, and Paul going to his native Cilicia with Silas (37-41).

Silas had, by his actions at the Jerusalem meeting and by his Christian service at Antioch, shown himself to be a person of ability and wisdom. Also, as Paul was to visit the churches where the Judaisers had just been, he no doubt saw some value in having with him a member of the Jerusalem church. Added to this, Silas was, like Paul, a Roman citizen (see 16:37), which would be an advantage in the Gentile areas.

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