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The Acts of the Apostles: Chapter 15

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1Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. 3So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. a Gk brothers 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”

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

12The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, b Gk Men, brothers listen to me. 14Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,16

‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18known from long ago.’ c Other ancient authorities read things. 18 Known to God from of old are all his works.’

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

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

30So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31When its members g Gk When they read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. 32Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. c Gk brothers 33After they had been there for some time, they were sent off in peace by the believers c Gk brothers to those who had sent them. h Other ancient authorities add verse 34 , But it seemed good to Silas to remain there 35But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, and there, with many others, they taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord.

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

Notes:

a Gk brothers

b Gk Men, brothers

c Other ancient authorities read things. 18 Known to God from of old are all his works.’

a Other ancient authorities lack and from whatever has been strangled

b Gk fomram ngo them

c Gk brothers

d Other ancient authorities add saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law,’

e Gk men

f Other ancient authorities lack and from what is strangled

g Gk When they

h Other ancient authorities add verse 34 , But it seemed good to Silas to remain there

Text Commentary view alone

15.1–35 : Jerusalem affirms the admission of Gentiles.

1 :

Certain individuals, cf. v. 5 , Pharisees; Gal 2.4 , “false believers.” Unless you are circumcised and “keep the law” (v. 5 ), reopens issues seemingly settled with the approval of the “circumcised believers” ( 11.2n.,18 ) in 11.1–18 . If the right of Gentile admission to the church was confirmed in ch 11 , the present discussion may raise the issue of the conditions that might nevertheless apply.

2 :

Were appointed, in Gal 2.2 Paul says he went “by revelation” (Gal 2.2 ). Elders ( 11.30n.; 14.23n. ) now appear with the apostles (v v. 4,6,22,23; 16.4n. ) as leaders of the Jerusalem church under James (vv. 13,19 ). Peter is the only apostle named; the others function as a corporate symbol as they have throughout.

5 :

In Acts Pharisees are portrayed as believers ( 26.5 ) or tolerant of Christianity ( 5.34 ), often in sharp contrast to Sadducees ( 4.1–2; 5.17; 23.6–9 ).

7–9 :

Peter's second summary (see 11.1–18 ) of the events narrated in 10.1–48 . I should be the one, contrast Gal 2.7–8 .

10 :

The yoke is that of the law (Lk 11.46 ); Paul's view (Rom 7.12; Phil 3.6 ) is different.

11 :

Peter's words echo Paul's language (Rom 3.24 ).

12 :

14.27; 15.4 . The contentious debate reported in Gal 2 is passed over in silence in Acts.

13 :

James, see 12.17n.

14 :

Simeon, the Semitic form of Peter's given name, emphasizing connections with Judaism even as the church is becoming a mixed group (v. 19 ) of Jews and Gentiles (see 14.1; 17.4,11–12; 18.4,8; 19.10 ).

16–18 :

Am 9.11–12; Jer 12.15; Isa 45.21 .

20 :

Things polluted by idols, i.e., food sacrificed to them—prohibiting by extension idolatry itself (note Paul's more liberal stance in 1 Cor 10.27–29 ). Whatever has been strangled, i.e., meat not ritually butchered, which may mean the same thing as blood (omitted by some manuscripts), although the latter could mean murder. Suggested backgrounds for the items included in the “apostolic decree” include the so‐called Noachian precepts (regulations to be observed by all peoples; see Gen 9.4–6 ) and the regulations for Gentiles living among Jews in Lev 17–18 . The list may have a more practical function (avoid non‐kosher food and fornication) or stipulate matters beyond compromise (idolatry, murder, and incest).

21 :

In every city … Moses, seems to explain the necessity of the decree (v. 20 ) in terms of the pervasiveness of the Jewish lifestyle, which continues to be practiced by Jewish Christians (cf. 21.20–25 ).

22 :

Judas called Barsabbas, see 1.23 . Silas may be the Silvanus of 2 Cor 1.19; 1 Thess 1.1; 2 Thess 1.1 . He becomes a missionary companion of Paul at 15.40 .

28 :

To the Holy Spirit and to us, see 5.3n. No further burden than these essentials, cf. Gal 2.10 .

32 :

Prophets, 13.1n.

35 :

11.26; 14.28 .

15.36–16.5 : Paul revisits the churches of the previous mission.

37–38 :

John called Mark … had deserted, see 12.12n.; 13.13 .

39 :

Compare the disagreement here over John Mark with the report in Gal 2.11–13 that Barnabas disagreed with Paul over the legitimacy of Jews and Gentiles eating together. According to Acts, this problem had already been dealt with in 10.1–11.18 , although the apostolic decree ( 15.20,29 ) may have been intended to make association over meals acceptable for Jewish Christians. Barnabas and Mark revisit Cyprus ( 13.4–12 ), which had been omitted on the return journey to Antioch described in 14.24–26 .

40 :

Paul now sets out as an “independent” missionary, accompanied by Silas (v. 22 ). Paul's ties with Antioch may have been strained at this point (see Gal 2.11–14).

16.1 :

Derbe and … Lystra, 14.6n. Timothy ( 17.14–15; 18.5; 19.22; 20.4 ) was a more important companion of Paul than the picture in Acts suggests (see Rom 16.21; 1 Cor 16.10; 2 Cor 1.1,19; Phil 1.1; 1 Thess 1.1); he is referred to as Paul's “child in the Lord” at 1 Cor 4.17 . The pseudonymous letters 1 and 2 Timothy are ostensibly addressed to him. Timothy's mother (see 2 Tim 1.5 ) is said to be Jewish, while his father was a Greek.

3 :

That Paul … had him circumcised seems unimaginable in view of passages such as 1 Cor 7.18 and Gal 5.2 . Paul stresses in Gal 2.3 that Titus “was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” Timothy's case might be different because his mother was Jewish (v. 1 ), yet the principle of matrilineal descent (the ethnicity of the child is determined by the mother) does not appear to have been in effect at this time. Luke may have allowed his theme of Paul's faithfulness to the law in all respects ( 21.23–24; 22.3 ) to color the narrative here and refute the charge raised in 21.21 in advance.

4 :

The decisions, the apostolic decree of 15.20 . The apostles are mentioned here for the last time—their age is now over.

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