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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Acts 15



Verse 1

1. καί τινες κατελθόντες ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰουδαίας, and certain which came down from Judæa, i.e. to Antioch. The words of the new comers would derive authority from the place whence they had come, and would be received as the latest ordinance of the heads of the Church at Jerusalem. Thus the mission of inquiry to Jerusalem was rendered necessary.

ἐδίδασκον τοὺς ἀδελφούς, taught the brethren. These were a mixed body, composed of Jews, proselytes and Gentiles (see Acts 11:19-20, and the notes there). Thus it was precisely the place where such a question would arise. Gentile converts who had not passed into Christianity by the gate of Judaism would be sure to be regarded as wanting something by the people in whose mouths ‘uncircumcised’ had been from old times the bitterest term of reproach. (Cf. 1 Samuel 17:26 and Acts 11:3.) The tense of the verb used implies that these men were persistent in their teaching, they kept constantly to this theme.

τῷ ἔθει τῷ ΄ωϋσέως, after the custom of Moses. The word is found before (Acts 6:14) ‘the customs which Moses delivered’ and signifies those rites and usages which had their foundation in the Law (cf. Luke 1:9; Luke 2:42; Acts 21:21) and so were more than a ‘manner’ or ‘fashion.’ Cf. also John 7:22, for circumcision as the ordinance given to the people by Moses.

ἔθος is not common in the LXX. and appears to be only once used (2 Maccabees 11:25) for the observances of the Jewish religion.

The dative case is put here to express the rule or order by which a thing is done, but a much more frequent mode of expressing this is, as in Acts 17:2, by κατὰ with the accusative. But cf. 2 Maccabees 6:1 τοῖς τοῦ θεοῦ νόμοις πολιτεύεσθαι.

οὐ δύνασθε σωθῆναι, ye cannot be saved. Such a statement was likely to cause debate and questioning among those who had just learnt (Acts 14:27) that ‘God had opened the door of faith’ (independent of the observance of the ceremonial Law) ‘unto the Gentiles.’

Verses 1-5


The history now approaches that subject of controversy which was certain to arise as soon as Christianity spread beyond the limits of the people of Israel. The first converts to the new faith were made among the Jews, but few of them were likely to cast aside those prejudices of religion in which they had long been educated. As soon as Gentiles who had not first become proselytes to Judaism joined the Christian Church, Jewish exclusiveness received a violent shock, and there was no small danger lest the new community should be rent asunder almost at its beginning. ‘The covenant,’ by which expression the devout Jew specially meant ‘circumcision,’ was constituted a cry by Judaizing agitators, and the opposition, first brought into prominence at Antioch, proved a continuous source of trial through the whole ministry of St Paul, and has left its traces on most of the writings both of the N.T. and of early Christian literature.

Verse 2

2. γενομένης δὲ στάσεως καὶ ζητήσεως, and when there arose a debate and questioning. στάσις does not necessarily imply angry dissension, but only a division. The members of the Church took opposite sides in the matter. Of course Paul and Barnabas would be with those who maintained that circumcision was no longer necessary.

ἔταξαν, they appointed, i.e. the brethren of the Church at Antioch did so. The verb, as well as the whole context, shews that the mission was sent, in an orderly fashion, by the whole Christian community, to which the question was one of most vital importance, probably affecting a large part of their members.

καί τινας ἄλλους ἐξ εὐτῶν, and certain other of them, who would represent the position of the men who had come from Judæa.

πρὸς τοὺς ἀποστόλους καὶ πρεσβυτέρους, unto the Apostles and elders. Peter, John and James we find were now at Jerusalem, and they seem, from other notices in the N.T. (Galatians 1:18-19; Galatians 2:9), to have been the Apostles who continued to live in the holy city. These with the elders appear now as the governing body of the infant Church. And Jerusalem was for the Jew, until its destruction, the place of chief authority (cf. Isaiah 2:3). The overthrow of the holy city did as much as anything to help on the knowledge of the universality of the Christian religion. Those who had been bred in Judaism could not (as devout Jews to this day do not) cast away the thought that Jerusalem is ‘the place where men ought to worship.’

Verse 3

3. προπεμφθέντες, being brought on their way. It was not an uncommon mark of affection or respect that a part of the Church at any place should attend its chief teachers for a short way on their journeys. (Cf. infra Acts 20:38, Acts 21:16.) And for the antiquity of the custom among the Jews, see Genesis 18:16, where when the heavenly visitors were departing from Abraham it is said (LXX.), συνεπορεύετο μετ' αὐτῶν συμπροπέμπων αὐτούς.

Among the companions of Paul and Barnabas on this journey must have been Titus, for we read of him, and of the question raised about his circumcision, in St Paul’s own notice of this visit (Galatians 2:3).

διήρχοντο τήν τε Φοινίκην καὶ Σαμάρειαν, they passed through both Phænicia and Samaria. The road would take them along the coast through Berytus, Tyre and Sidon, which at this time were places of great importance, and most likely to have bodies of Christians among their inhabitants.

ἐκδιηγούμενοι τὴν ἐπιστροφὴν τῶν ἐθνῶν, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. This would naturally be St Paul’s great theme. Among those who were going up to Jerusalem with him would be members of the Judaizing party, but their presence was no check on the Apostle’s zeal that all men should hear of the bringing in of Gentiles to the faith of Christ. The verb ἐκδιηγεῖσθαι implies that he gave his story with all details, and we may be sure that he dwelt on the way in which the Spirit of God had set a seal upon the work, though the converts of whom he spake were all uncircumcised.

πᾶσιν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς, unto all the brethren, i.e. in the Churches through which they passed, in which places the brethren must have been in great part Jews, though there might be proselytes also among them. We see therefore that it was only some of the Jews who demanded from the Gentiles complete conformity to the Law. At Jerusalem (Acts 15:5) the Judaizing party is described as ‘certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed,’ and the Gospel history represents the Pharisees on all occasions as determined supporters of the ceremonial law. Probably their party was most numerous at Jerusalem, where all the ritual observances could be most completely carried out. In the more remote congregations the joy over the Gentile conversions would be more unalloyed.

Verse 4

4. παρεδέχθησαν ὑπὸ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, they were received by the Church. The ἐκκλησία is perhaps named first because there would on such a visit be an assembly of the whole Christian body to hear the story of the missionary labours of Paul and Barnabas before the question about which they had specially been sent from Antioch came to be discussed. The account of the spreading of the faith was for all, while the question of circumcision would be discussed only by the heads of the Church, and those who could speak with authority. This preliminary meeting must have lasted for a considerable time, even if only a mere abstract of the labours, sufferings and success of Paul and Barnabas were given to those who met them. Such a recital was the best introduction that could be conceived for the question which was afterwards to be discussed and legislated on.

μετ' αὐτῶν, with them. On this preposition cf. Acts 14:27. That the Apostles had a true notion of themselves as only instruments, though Christ deigned to be a fellow-worker (Mark 16:20) with them, is seen below in Acts 15:12 where the preposition used is διὰ (by).

Verse 5

5. ἐξανέστησαν δέ τινες τῶνΦαρισαίων, but there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees. The margin of the A.V. takes this sentence as part of the narration of Paul and Barnabas, ‘there rose up, said they, certain, &c.’ But it is much more natural to consider it to be St Luke’s account of what happened at Jerusalem. The teachers at Antioch had not been described as Pharisees, though they probably were so. Yet in no other passage of the N.T. are the Pharisees mentioned away from Jerusalem. As soon as the Apostolic narrative was heard by the Church, certain of that party stood forth from the Church body and lodged their protest against what had been done. The Pharisaic teaching concerning the necessity of circumcision was based on such passages as Isaiah 56:6, where the covenant mentioned was held to be that of circumcision. They also supported their position by such passages as Isaiah 52:1, where the uncircumcised are excluded from the Holy City.

πεπιστευκότες, which believed, i.e. had accepted Christ as the promised Messiah. But we can see from the position of these men that there was no thought at first by so doing of making a complete break with Judaism.

λέγοντες ὅτι Δεῖ, saying, It is needful, &c. The words are a direct utterance, and St Luke sets before us the very words spoken before the Church assembly.

The visit of St Paul to Jerusalem which St Luke here describes is now generally admitted to be the same of which St Paul speaks in Galatians 2:1-9. The chronology offers no obstacle to this conclusion, while the purpose of the visit and the companionship of Barnabas and the persons who were at the head of the Church in Jerusalem are all accordant in the two notices. In the Epistle St Paul tells us that he took Titus with him, and nothing is more likely than that while he had the company of some members of the Judaizing party, he would also take a companion with him from among those converts on whose behalf he was making the journey. He says too that it was ‘by revelation’ that he went up, while the narrative of the Acts represents him as sent by the Church of Antioch. But here need be no contradiction. An inward monition may have furnished the true reason why the Apostle consented to make an appeal to the central authorities in Jerusalem. St Luke would not necessarily be aware of this; it was important in St Paul’s argument to the Galatians that he should mention it. (For a fuller comparison of the two notices, see Bp Lightfoot’s Ep. to Galatians, note, pp. 122–127.)

Verse 6

6. συνήχθησαν δὲ οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι, and the Apostles and elders were gathered together. These words refer to a formal summoning to discuss the difficult question which had been brought forward. That there was a space between the first welcome of the Apostles by the Church and the assembly of the synod suits St Paul’s words (Galatians 2:2) that he explained his position ‘privately to them which were of reputation.’ This private conference was a necessary preparation for the more public discussion, which alone is noticed by the history.

ἰδεῖν περί, to consider about. The use of ἰδεῖν in this sense and construction is rare. But compare our own familiar idiom ‘to see about anything.’

Verses 6-12


Verse 7

7. πολλῆς δὲ ζητήσεως κ.τ.λ., and when there had been much questioning. For the Pharisaic element would find its warmest supporters at Jerusalem. And it is to that party that the disputing must be ascribed, for it is plain, from the summing-up of St James at the close of the discussion, that the other Apostles were of the same mind with Paul and Barnabas, and as is said in the Epistle to the Galatians (Acts 2:9), ‘they gave unto them the right hands of fellowship.’

ἀναστὰς Πέτρος εἶπεν, Peter rose up and said. It is to be noted that Paul and Barnabas leave arguments and reasons to be put forward by those who had laboured most among Jewish converts, and content themselves with a recital of what God had wrought through them in their journey among the Gentiles.

ἀφ' ἡμερῶν ἀρχαίων. Literally ‘from early days.’ The A.V. ‘a good while ago’ is very idiomatic, and sufficiently close in sense. St Peter is alluding to the conversion of Cornelius (chap. 10), which probably took place some ten years before the meeting of this synod. That was at an early period of the Apostolic ministry, and the great and numerous events which had intervened made the time seem long ago.

ἐν ὑμῖν ἐξελέξατο ὁ θεός, God made choice among you. This, the reading of the oldest authorities, shews Peter as putting himself and his fellow Apostles on the same level with the whole Christian body which he is addressing. God might have chosen whom He would to receive the instruction of the sheet let down from heaven.

διὰ τοῦ στόματός μου, by my mouth. That he may not seem to be claiming a distinction for himself as the one chosen of God for this work, St Peter is careful to call himself no more than the mouthpiece of God.

Verse 8

8. ὁ καρδιογνώστης, which knoweth the hearts. καρδιογνώστης is only here and in Acts 1:24, and on both occasions it is St Peter who uses it. Such a witness could admit of no appeal. God himself had put the uncircumcised on the same level with the circumcised by giving to them the same gifts of the Spirit.

Verse 9

9. καὶ οὐθὲν διέκρινεν, and put no difference, i.e. made no distinction. The Apostle looks on God’s testimony to the Gentiles in two lights. What was given to the new converts was the same which had been given at the first outpouring of the Spirit. And God made no mark of distinction to sever Jews from Gentiles. Faith had purified the hearts of Cornelius and his house, and the outward observances of the Law of Moses were of no account when the heart was clean before Him who alone could judge of the purity thereof. In these words of his St Peter clearly agrees to all that St Paul had taught about the admission of the Gentiles.

τῇ πίστει καθαρίσας τὰς καρδίας αὐτῶν, having purified their hearts by faith. When he uses καθαρίσας St Peter is clearly thinking of the vision and the voice ἂ ὁ θεὸς ἐκαθάρισεν σὺ μὴ κοίνου.

Verse 10

10. νῦν οὖν, now therefore, i.e. after you have had so much evidence of God’s acceptance of the Gentiles, both in the early days and in the journeys of St Paul and Barnabas.

τί πειράζετε τὸν θεόν; why tempt ye God? Men are said ‘to tempt God’ when they distrust His guidance, and in consequence disobey His revealed will (cf. Psalms 95:9). So the Jews tempted God in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:9) when they saw His mighty works and yet murmured at His leaders; so they are said to have tempted Christ (1 Corinthians 10:9) when they were punished by the fiery serpents; and Ananias and Sapphira are said to ‘have agreed to tempt the Spirit of the Lord,’ by acting as though they thought they could deceive God in their offering. From these instances the force of the question in the text will be seen. Those who should act as the Pharisaic party would recommend, would be distrusting God’s knowledge of the hearts of men, and refusing to be guided by what His Spirit had made known in the conversion of Cornelius.

ἐπιθεῖναι κ.τ.λ., to put a yoke. The infinitive is sometimes used as here to express the way or manner in which anything is done, and is in force something like a gerund, ‘by placing a yoke.’ Cf. 1 Peter 4:3, ‘The time past of our life sufficeth us (κατειργάσθαι) for having wrought the will of the heathen.’

ζυγόν, a yoke. So St Paul (Galatians 5:1) calls the ceremonial law ζυγὸν δουλείας. Christ uses the word ζυγός as a designation for His own precepts, knowing that a yoke was needed for the guidance of men, but He calls it ζυγὸς χρηστός, ‘an easy and profitable yoke,’ Matthew 11:30.

ἰσχύσαμεν βαστάσαι, are able to bear. How this was felt is shewn by the Rabbinic injunction to ‘make a hedge about the Law,’ i.e. so to fence in its precepts by additional regulations of their own, that there should be no chance of infringing the commandment. These additions, commandments of men, as our Lord styles them, had made the ceremonial observances into a killing load. ‘The yoke of the commandments’ was a Rabbinic expression (T. B. Berachoth II. 2) and referred to the penalties for disobedience, the duty of laying up the commands in the heart, of binding them upon the hands, and as frontlets between the eyes, of teaching them to children, and speaking of them at all times, and writing them upon the doorposts and the gates. So that ‘the yoke’ was a heavy one for the teacher as well as for the learner.

Verse 11

11. ἀλλά, but. There is much implied in this one word. The Apostle means ‘But all this has been changed by God’s new revelation of Himself, and we should cease this tempting of Him, for we believe (if we are truly in Christ) that salvation is for all men.’

διὰ τῆς χάριτος τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ, through the grace of the Lord Jesus. A new and living way has been opened, and it is not in any conformity to the Jewish Law that we now look for salvation.

καθ' ὃν τρόπον κἀκεῖνοι, even as they, i.e. even as they believe. Thus the argument is: If our belief and hope are the same, and no other, than theirs, why should these new converts be urged to adopt observances which form to us no ground for our hope of salvation?

After this point in the N.T. history St Peter’s name appears no more, and when we call to mind the opposition which, at the close of the first, and in the second, century was represented as existing between the teaching of Paul and Peter, we cannot think that it was without meaning that this last appearance of the Apostle of the circumcision in the Scripture story sets him before us in full accord with the Apostle of the Gentiles. The collision between Paul and Peter at a later period in Antioch (Galatians 2) came about because the latter had forgotten for a time his own statement that ‘God is no respecter of persons.’ But like the παροξυσμός between Paul and Barnabas there was no rupture in the Church in consequence of the rebuke which St Paul administered to his fellow-apostle.

Verse 12

12. ἐσίγησεν δὲ πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος, then all the multitude kept silence. We see here, though the Apostles and Elders are alone mentioned (Acts 15:6) as being gathered together, that the assembly was a very large one. The cause of their silence was the voice of authority with which he could speak through whom God had first opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. For while he told what God had done, he related how he, like themselves, had much prejudice to overcome before his mission to Cornelius.

καὶ ἤκουον, and gave audience. The verb is plural to correspond with the plural sense of πλῆθος, and the use of the imperfect tense is to indicate the continuous attention to the whole narrative of that, the first missionary journey for the spread of the faith.

ὅσασημεῖα καὶ τέρατα, what signs and wonders. The two nouns are the same which occur in the prayer of the disciples (Acts 4:30) ‘that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus.’ The prayer had been abundantly answered in the experience of Paul and Barnabas.

δι' αὐτῶν, by them, i.e. through them as instruments. See above on Acts 15:4.

Verse 13

13. αὐτούς, i.e. Paul and Barnabas.

Ἰάκωβος, James, i.e. the brother of our Lord who was so called, and who was at the head of the Church in Jerusalem. See above on Acts 12:17.

ἀκούσατέ μου, hearken unto me. The president’s summary takes no note of the ‘much questioning’ (Acts 15:7) but points out that a divine revelation had been made to Peter, and that it was accordant with the words of Old Testament prophecy. On these warrants he based his decision.

Verses 13-21


Verse 14

14. Συμεών, Symeon. This more Jewish form of the name of the Apostle Peter is found also at the commencement of St Peter’s second Epistle. The Jews after they came to have much intercourse with Gentiles had frequently two forms of name, one of which was employed on religious and solemn occasions, the other in intercourse with non-Jews and in the ordinary transactions of life. Thus in the Apocrypha (1 Maccabees 5:17, &c.) the name of the Maccabean prince is written Simon, though on his coins it stands Symeon (see Gesenius, s.v.).

καθὼς πρῶτον ὁ θεὸς ἐπεσκέψατο, how God did first visit, i.e. the way in which the first Gentile convert was made. It was some time after the mission of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles that Cornelius was converted. ‘At the first’ of the A.V. gives a wrong idea.

λαὸν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ, a people for His name. Thus the ‘chosen people’ were no longer to be Jews only, and so those ceremonial ordinances which had hitherto marked out Jews from Gentiles were seen to be no longer necessary.

The force of this dative is best perceived when we remember that God’s ‘name’ is often used for ‘Himself.’ There is no harshness in the case, when the expression is regarded as the equivalent ‘to take for Himself.’

Verse 15

15. καὶ τούτῳ συμφωνοῦσιν, and to this agree, i.e. with this action on God’s part the statements of His prophets are in harmony. They had foretold that it should be so. Only one prophet is here quoted, viz. Amos (Acts 9:11-12), but the audience would recall other like passages, as St Paul does Romans 15:9-12, quoting from the books of Moses, David and Isaiah.

Verse 16

16. μετὰ ταῦτα, after these things. It will be seen on reference to the words of Amos that the quotation here given is not made from the Hebrew, which is correctly represented by the A.V. in the book of Amos. Whether St James himself spoke at the synod in Greek, or St Luke has represented in Greek what the speaker himself uttered in Aramaic, we cannot know. But the words in the text correspond very nearly with the LXX. which here (either because they read the Hebrew consonants differently or because they merely gave the sense without attempting an exact rendering) varies from the Hebrew text. Yet St Luke does not give exactly the words of the LXX. He may have quoted from memory or have modified them somewhat to adapt them to the form of his sentence. The words of the LXX. run thus, ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ ἀναστήσω τὴν σκηνὴν Δαυὶδ τὴν πεπτωκυῖαν, καὶ ἀνοικοδομήσω τὰ πεπτωκότα αὐτῆς, καὶ τὰ κατεσκαμμένα αὐτῆς ἀναστήσω, καὶ ἀνοικοδομήσω αὐτὴν καθὼς αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ αἰῶνος, ὅπως ἐκζητήσωσιν οἱ κατάλοιποι τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη ἐφ' οὔς ἐπικέκληται τὸ ὄνομά μου ἐπ' αὐτούς, λέγει κύριος ὁ ποιῶν πάντα ταῦτα.

ἀναστρέψω καὶ ἀνοικοδομήσω, I will return and will build. This is not the form of the expression either in the Hebrew text or in the LXX., but it is a common Hebrew formula to signify ‘I will do a thing again.’ Cf. Ecclesiastes 4:1 καὶ ἐπέστρεψα ἐγὼ καὶ εἶδον, ‘I returned and considered’ = I considered once again. Similarly Ecclesiastes 4:7; Ecclesiastes 9:11. The occurrence of this formula favours the opinion that St James, in this specially Jewish synod, spoke in Aramaic of which St Luke has given us a literal translation.

τὴν σκηνὴν Δαυείδ, the tabernacle of David. The Hebrew word used in Amos signifies one of those booths used by the people at the Feast of Tabernacles, when they lived in frail dwellings in order to be reminded that God was their protector. This word may be applied to the estate of the Jews when the Deliverer should come, to indicate that they should be brought very low, but yet should find in Him a Saviour.

Verse 17

17. ὅπως ἂν ἐκζητήσωσιντὸν κύριον, they might seek after the Lord. The Hebrew of Amos (see A.V.) differs widely here; and in the LXX. τὸν κύριον is not expressed. But the Spirit enabled St James to give the full interpretation of the prophetic words. The original paints the restored tabernacle, and of course the people of David restored along with it, as possessors of the remnant of Edom and all the heathen. The nations shall be joined unto the Lord’s people. The LXX., as an exposition, speaks of ‘the residue of men seeking unto the restored tabernacle.’ St James makes both clear by shewing that ‘to seek after the Lord’ is to be the true up-building both of the house of David and of all mankind besides.

The Hebrew word for ‘man’ is Adam, which differs very slightly from the word Edom. So that the variation between ‘remnant of Edom’ in the Hebrew and ‘residue of men’ in the LXX. may be due only to the various reading of that noun.

ὅπως with ἄν implies an end aimed at, but the attainment of it is still dependent on circumstances. Cf. Winer-Moulton, p. 389.

ἐφ' οὓς ἐπικέκληται τὸ ὄνομά μου ἐπ' αὐτούς, upon whom My name is called. An Aramaic mode of saying ‘who are called by My name.’

The expression is so translated James 2:7 (A.V.). Cf. for the Greek Jeremiah 41:15 (LXX.) ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ ου ἐπεκλήθη τὸ ὄνομά μου ἐπ' αὐτῷ.

Verse 17-18

17, 18. κύριος ποιῶν ταῦτα γνωστὰ ἀπ' αἰῶνος. διὸ … with א BC. The Vulg. gives ‘Dominus faciens hæc. Notum a sæculo est Domino opus suum. Propter quod …’ But on the verses see notes.

Verse 18

18. ποιῶν ταῦτα γνωστὰ ἀπ' αἰῶνος. This is the reading supported by most authority, and the sense must be either [1] ‘the Lord who maketh these things known from the beginning of the world,’ or [2] ‘the Lord, who doeth these things that were known from the beginning of the world.’ The first of these renderings is the more difficult to understand, and it must be taken as somewhat hyperbolic. God made known by His prophets the calling of the Gentiles in very early days, and this early revelation may be all that is intended by the stronger phrase. But the second sense seems to suit better with the context. This reception of the Gentiles seems to the Jew a new and startling thing, but God has revealed it by His prophets, and He who is doing it is but carrying out what He had known and designed from the beginning of the world.

Verse 19

19. διὸ ἐγὼ κρίνω, wherefore I decide. The pronoun is emphatically expressed, and indicates that the speaker is one who may decide with authority.

μὴ παρενοχλεῖν κ.τ.λ., that we trouble not them, &c. The verb is only found here in N.T., but is somewhat frequent in the LXX. Thus of the fire around the Three Children (Song of Three Child. 26) it is said οὐκ ἐλύπησεν οὐδὲ παρηνώχλησεν αὐτούς. ‘It neither hurt nor troubled them.’ Cf. also 1 Maccabees 10:35; 1 Maccabees 10:63, where the word is used as here in a public proclamation. The notion is of putting an obstacle in any one’s way. St James’s idea is ‘We will not by needless impediments hinder the new converts from joining us.’

τοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ἐθνῶν ἐπιστρέφουσιν ἐπὶ τὸν θεόν, them which from the Gentiles are turning to God. The same phrase is used elsewhere in the Acts (cf. Acts 9:35, Acts 14:15, Acts 26:20) and its full significance is explained when in Acts 11:21 it is said of the converts at Antioch πολὺς ἀριθμὸς πιστεύσας ἐπέστρεψεν ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον. It was belief in Christ as the Son of God which constituted this true turning.

Verse 20

20. ἀλλὰ ἐπιστεῖλαι αὐτοῖς, but that we write unto them. ἐπιστέλλω is used primarily of a charge sent by a messenger, but also, as in Hebrews 13:22, is often used of what is sent by letter (and hence comes the English word epistle), and there can be little doubt that this is the sense in the present case, for though messengers were sent, they carried with them the decision of the synod of Jerusalem in a formal manner committed to writing (Acts 15:23).

τοῦ ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν ἀλισγημάτων τῶν εἰδώλων, that they abstain from pollutions of idols. This is explained in Acts 15:29 by ‘meats offered (i.e. sacrificed) to idols.’ Of the necessity for such an injunction in the early Church, where congregations were to be now composed of both Jews and Gentiles, we can judge from St Paul’s argument to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 8:1-10; 1 Corinthians 10:19), and we can also see how he would have the Gentile converts deal tenderly with the scruples of their Jewish fellow-worshippers, however needless they themselves might deem such scruples.

Here the genitival infinitive is used where in ordinary Greek a simple infinitive would have been written. Cf. above, Acts 7:19 note.

The noun ἀλίσγημα is only found in N.T. and the verb ἀλισγέω in LXX. Daniel 1:8; Malachi 1:7; Malachi 1:12, and in a passage somewhat illustrative of this verse, Sirach 40:29 ἀλισγήσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐδέσμασιν ἀλλοτρίοις, though the food there spoken of has not been offered to idols.

As the ordinance of the synod is for the settling of Jewish minds, we may understand the sort of offence which they were likely to feel. It was of the same nature as the feeling of Daniel when he refused to eat of the food supplied by King Nebuchadnezzar. Meat was often sold in the markets from beasts that had been offered in sacrifice to idols, and this food and those who ate it the Jew would abhor. The Gentile converts might not be careful, when they had once come to think of the idol as nothing, and might join still in banquets with their non-Christian friends, and St Paul (1 Corinthians 8:10) supposes an extreme case, that such men might even sit down to meat in an idol-temple. If Jew and Gentile were to become one in Christ, much respect must be paid to the feelings which had been sunk deep into the minds of Israel by long years of suffering for their own idolatry.

καὶ τῆς πορνείας, and from fornication. This injunction must not be understood as a simple repetition of a moral law binding upon all men at all times, but must be taken in connexion with the rest of the decree, and as forbidding a sin into which converts from heathenism were most prone to fall back, and which their previous lives had taught them to regard in a very different light from that in which a Jew would see it. The Levitical law against every form of unchastity was extremely strict (Leviticus 18, 20), and it is probably to the observance of these ordinances that we may ascribe the persistence of the Jewish type, and the purity of their race at this day. Whereas among the heathen unchastity was a portion of many of their temple rites, and persons who gave themselves up to such impurities were even called by the names of the heathen divinities. To men educated in the constant contemplation of such a system, sins of unchastity would have far less guilt than in the eyes of those to whom the Law of Moses was read every sabbath-day.

καὶ τοῦ πνικτοῦ κ.τ.λ., and from what is strangled and from blood. The prohibition of blood was made as soon as animal food was given to men (Genesis 9:4), and it was frequently enforced in the Mosaic law (Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26; Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 17:14; Leviticus 19:26). To eat blood was counted a sin against the Lord in the days of Saul (1 Samuel 14:33), and with strict Jews it is an abomination to this day. Things strangled are not specially mentioned in the law of Moses, but that they should not be eaten follows from the larger prohibition. Leviticus 7:26 does, however, make mention of the blood of fowls, and it would be in the use of them that the eating of blood began first to be practised. And in breaking the neck of an animal the Jew held that the blood was caused to flow into the limbs in such wise that it could not be brought out even by salt. See T. B. Chullin, 113 a.

Verse 21

21. ΄ωϋσῆς γὰρ ἐκ γενεῶν ἀρχαίων κ.τ.λ., for Moses of old time (lit. from generations of old) hath in every city, &c. Here we have the reason why these injunctions are to be laid upon the Gentile converts. It is necessary however to take the whole verse into consideration before we can decide on the force of the reason. Laying stress chiefly on the expression ‘from generations of old,’ some have thought that St James’s argument means that the Mosaic ritual having been preached for so long a time and found to be a load too heavy to bear, must now be given up, except in these specified points. Again, the verse has been taken to mean that there was no need for the Christian Church to legislate about the observance of the Mosaic Law other than in these few points, because there was public teaching on the subject everywhere in the Jewish synagogues. Jewish Christians were therefore supplied with guidance, and would be so supplied until by degrees Judaism had entirely given place to Christianity. No doubt the Apostle contemplates the retention by the Jewish Christians of much of their old ritual, and that they would make no breach with the services of the synagogue. But in these enactments, which were apparently only for a time (since St Paul nowhere alludes to them in his Epistles), and to promote peace between Gentiles and Jews, we must remember that the Jews are the persons who have felt offence, and for whose quieting the decree is put forth. The argument of the council seems to be this: We, Jews, may make this concession to the Gentiles without fear. It is not probable that our feelings and prejudices will be interfered with, or the Mosaic Law in its other portions set aside; ‘for Moses,’ &c.

ἀναγινωσκόμενος, being read. On the reading of the Jewish Scriptures in the synagogues, see the Excursus at the end of chap. 13.

Verse 22

22. τότε ἔδοξε, then it seemed good. The expression is one often used in the official announcements of public resolutions, or decrees made by authority. (Cf. Herod. I. 3; Thuc. IV. 118.)

σὺν ὅλῃ τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ, with the whole Church. The decree was the voice of the whole Church, and the deputies sent were chosen by the whole body. So it is in the name of ‘apostles, and elder brethren’ that the letter runs (Acts 15:23).

ἐκλεξαμένους ἄνδρας ἐξ αὐτῶν πέμψαι, to choose men out of their own company and send them. The A.V. takes ἐκλεξαμένους as if it were ἐκλεχθέντας, and renders ‘chosen men’; but the middle voice implies that the council and Church, ‘choosing for themselves’ men, sent them forth. For the accusative participle following the dative which is required by ἔδοξε we have a parallel in Soph. Electra, 480, ὕπεστί μοι θράσος ἀδυπνόων κλύουσαν ἀρτίως ὀνειράτων, and see on similar constructions Elmsley on Heracl. 693; Medea, 810; cf. also Thuc. IV. 118, referred to above.

σὺν τῷ Παύλῳ καὶ Βαρνάβᾳ, with Paul and Barnabas. That the Church of Antioch might have the confirmation of the decree from the lips of others besides these two, for they might be supposed to favour especially all that was considerate towards Gentile converts.

Ἰούδαν τὸν καλούμενον Βαρσαββᾶν, Judas called Barsabbas. Of this man nothing more is known than what we learn from this chapter. But as Barsabbas is clearly a patronymic, it has been conjectured that he was the brother of Joseph, also called Barsabbas, mentioned in Acts 1:23.

Σίλαν, Silas. This is probably the same person who in St Paul’s Epistles (2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1) and by St Peter (1 Peter 5:12) is called Silvanus. For an account of similar contracted names cf. Winer-Moulton, pp. 127, 128. The mention of Silas is frequent in the Acts in this and the next three chapters. He was one of St Paul’s companions in the first missionary journey into Europe.

Verses 22-29


Verse 23

23. γράψαντες, having written. From the form in which the document is here given, we should judge that the original was in Greek. A translation from a Hebrew original would hardly have begun with a greeting and ended with ἔρρωσθε. It seems likely that this was so too, because the population of Antioch, the chief town in Syria, would use Greek much more than Hebrew, at this date. The nominative case γράψαντες is a construction to accord with sense rather than strict grammar. It stands as if it had been preceded by some such words as καὶ τοῦτο ἐποίησαν.

διὰ χειρὸς αὐτῶν. Literally, ‘by their hand.’ This is a Hebrew form of saying, by them. Cf. Leviticus 10:11, ἅπαντα τὰ νόμιμα ἅ ἐλάλησε κύριος πρὸς αὐτοὺς διὰ χειρὸς ΄ωυσῆ. So Malachi 1:1, &c. The letter was not delivered to Paul and Barnabas, but to the two ambassadors from Jerusalem. It is the oldest synodical circular letter in existence, and the only one of Apostolic times which has come down to us. Bengel suggests that it was composed by James, in the name and at the request of the assembly.

οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι ἀδελφοί, the Apostles and elder brethren. This reading, supported by the oldest MSS., brings the text into more complete harmony with what has gone before. Hitherto, though the whole Church came together only two sets of persons have been spoken of as to be consulted or as having authority. These are οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι (Acts 15:2; Acts 15:6; Acts 15:22). It seems most natural therefore that the decree should run in the names of these two bodies.

κατὰ τὴν Ἀντιόχειαν καὶ Συρίαν καὶ Κιλικίαν, in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia. As we have no mention of this decree of the synod of Jerusalem in St Paul’s Epistles, we may suppose that the agitation on the subject, begun at Antioch, had spread only into Syria and Cilicia, and that the authoritative decision of the mother Church quieted the controversy there, while it did not arise in the same form in other places.

χαίρειν, greeting. The infinitive is dependent on λέγουσι understood, but in a formula of this kind the governing verb never appears.

Verse 24

24. ἐξελθόντες, which went out. Some ancient MSS. omit this word, but it seems to have a distinct and necessary force. The disturbing teachers had come from Jerusalem, but their want of any authority is contrasted strongly with the commission of Judas and Silas (Acts 15:27). The first men went of themselves, the new messengers were the choice of the Church.

ἀνασκευάζοντες τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν, subverting your souls. The verb ἀνασκευάζειν is found in N.T. only here, and not at all in the LXX. In classical Greek it is applied mostly to an entire removal of goods and chattels either by the owners or by a plundering enemy. The devastation wrought in the minds of the Gentile converts through the new teaching is compared to an utter overthrow.

οἶς οὐ διεστειλάμεθα, to whom we gave no commandment. The Church of Jerusalem disclaims any connexion of any kind with the disturbing teachers. The sentence becomes thus much more forcible than it is with the additions of the Text. recept.

Verse 25

25. γενομένοις ὁμοθυμαδόν, having become of one accord. This rendering makes some distinction between ὁμοθυμαδόν with εἰμί and with γίγνομαι. With the substantive verb this adverb stands in Acts 2:1; Acts 4:24; Acts 5:12, and may there be rendered ‘being with one accord.’

ἐκλεξαμένους ἄνδρας πέμψαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς, to choose out men and send them to you. On the language see above on Acts 15:22.

σὺν τοῖς ἀγαπητοῖς ἡμῶν, with our beloved. The intention of the whole letter is to shew the honour which the Church in Jerusalem felt was due to these missionary labourers. Hence the adjective ἀγαπητός, which in N.T. is specially applied to those who are closely united in faith and love. St Peter applies it to St Paul (2 Peter 3:15).

Βαρνάβᾳ καὶ Παύλῳ, Barnabas and Paul. The order in which the names here stand is perhaps due to the fact that Barnabas had formerly (Acts 11:22) been sent as the accredited messenger from Jerusalem to the Church in Antioch; while St Paul was not so well known in Jerusalem.

Verse 26

26. ἀνθρώποις παραδεδωκόσι τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν, men that have hazarded their lives. This Paul and Barnabas had done on several occasions. (See Acts 13:50, Acts 14:2; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19.)

ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος, for the name. Here, as often, name signifies the Messianic dignity and divine authority of Jesus. They have preached everywhere Jesus as the Christ.

Verse 27

27. διὰ λόγου, by word, i.e. by word of mouth.

ἀπαγγέλλοντας, announcing. The present tense is however equivalent to a future. ‘We have sent them announcing,’ i.e. as announcers, as persons to announce. So that the A.V. ‘who shall tell you’ is the precise sense and excellent English. The use of this tense comes from the feeling of the senders that those whom they are despatching are as good as present at their destination.

Verse 28

28. ἔδοξεν γὰρ τῷ πνεύματι τῷ ἁγίῳ καὶ ἡμῖν, for it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us. A third time in this clause of the narrative from 22–29 does this official word occur, from which is derived the noun dogma. It had been promised that to the Apostles there should be given the Spirit of truth, who should guide them into all truth (John 16:13), and the historian of the Acts often speaks of them as ‘filled with the Spirit.’ They put forward therefore this unerring guide as the warrant for their decree. And as they at the suggestion of the Spirit were laying aside their long-standing prejudices against intercourse with Gentiles, they claim that the Gentiles in their turn should deal tenderly with the scruples of Jews.

The co-ordination of the Divine Spirit and the human instruments in the preamble of the decree is not a little remarkable.

On tins verse Chrysostom says: καὶ τὶνος ἕνεκεν εἷπεν, ἔδοξε τῷ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι; ἵνα μὴ νομίσωσιν ἀνθρώπινον εἷναι· τὸ δὲ ἡμῖν ἵνα διδαχθῶσιν ὅτι καὶ αὐτοὶ ἀποδέχονται καὶ ἐν περιτομῇ ὄντες.

μηδὲν πλέον ἐπιτίθεσθαι ὑμῖν βάρος, to lay upon you no greater burden. The Christian-Jews could now speak thus of the load of legal observances (cf. above, Acts 15:10). Now they had selected but a small part thereof, which the circumstances of the time made necessary to be observed.

Verse 29

29. εὖ πράξετε, ye shall do well, i.e. it shall be well with you.

ἔρρωσθε, fare ye well. This conclusion and the greeting at the commencement of the letter are in the style of Western, rather than Oriental, epistolary language. See above on Acts 15:23.

Verse 30

30. κατῆλθον εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν, came down to Antioch. As in Acts 8:5, Jerusalem is regarded as the chief seat of Church-government, and the centre of authority. Throughout the Bible the chosen place is always spoken of as one to which men go up.

συναγαγόντες τὸ πλῆθος, having gathered the multitude. This expression shews of how great concern the question had become to the whole Christian body. πλῆθος is used above (Acts 15:12) of the assembly of Christians at Jerusalem.

Verses 30-35


Verse 31

31. ἐχάρησαν ἐπὶ τῇ παρακλήσει, rejoiced for the consolation. Barnabas (υἱὸς παρακλήσεως, Acts 4:36) was a fit member of such an embassy. The consolation would be felt both by Jews and Gentiles, by the former because they now knew how much was to be asked of their Gentile fellow-worshippers, by the latter because they were declared free from the yoke of Jewish observances. The noun very often signifies exhortation, but that sense is neither so apt here, nor is it borne out by the character of the letter, which sets forth a ground of peace and comfort, but is not hortatory.

Verse 32

32. καὶ αὐτοὶ προφῆται ὄντες, being prophets also themselves. προφήτης is here used in the earlier and less special sense; not as one who foretells the future, but who, being filled with the Spirit, speaks with His authority in explanation of the will of God. Judas and Silas being thus endowed were well fitted to exhort and confirm the disciples. The exhortations would be most necessary for the Gentiles who were to consent to more strict living than in times past, while the confirmation would uphold the Jews who otherwise might feel unwilling to allow the non-observance of a part of their Law. The prophetic character of the speakers would give to their words the force of revelation. Such confirmation or strengthening of the brethren is the special charge laid on St Peter (Luke 22:32), who was to be the first preacher of Christ to the Gentiles, and had first received the lesson that what God had cleansed was not to be called common.

Verse 33

33. μετ' εἰρήνης, in peace. This means with a parting prayer for their peace and welfare. The expression is a rendering of a common Hebrew phrase, and is found in the LXX. of Genesis 26:29; Judges 8:9; Judges 11:13; 1 Maccabees 7:28, &c.

πρὸς τοὺς ἀποστείλαντας αὐτούς, unto those that had sent them forth, who were not only ‘the Apostles’ (as A.V.) but the whole synod of Jerusalem.

The oldest MSS. omit Acts 15:34. It seems to be no more than a marginal note to explain Acts 15:40. There Paul, who did not leave Antioch, is said to have chosen Silas for his companion in his next journey. The latter must therefore have also remained in Antioch, and such an explanation, placed by some reader on the margin, came after a time to be incorporated with the text. But there are great differences in the MSS., and also in the versions.

Verse 34

34. ἔδοξεν δὲ τῷ Σίλᾳ ἐπιμεῖναι αὐτοῦ omitted with א ABEHLP. Vulg. has ‘Visum est autem Silæ ibi remanere,’ and continues with words not represented in Text. recept., and only partly in D, viz. ‘Judas autem solus abiit Jerusalem.’

Verse 35

35. διδάσκοντες καὶ εὐαγγελιζόμενοι, teaching and preaching. In such a community there was need not only of setting forth Jesus as the Saviour, but of much instruction concerning the ways in which God had shewn that the Gentiles were now to be made partakers of the new covenant. So that the two verbs should not be taken one as an explanation of the other. They represent different parts of the ministerial work.

Verse 36

36. τοὺς ἀδελφούς, the brethren. Implying both their own converts and those who should have been won to the Church since Paul and Barnabas came away.

κατὰ πόλιν πᾶσαν ἐν αἶς, in every city in which. The plural number of the pronoun αἶς is due to the plural idea involved in the πόλις πᾶσα: ‘every city’ means ‘all the cities.’

πῶς ἔχουσιν, how they do. The direct interrogative instead of the dependent. The common usage of N.T.

Verses 36-41


Verse 37

37. Βαρνάβας δὲ ἐβούλετο, but Barnabas wished. Rev. Ver. ‘was minded.’ The reason for Barnabas’ wish was probably because Mark was his nephew (Colossians 4:10).

Verse 38

38. τὸν ἀποστάντα ἀπ' αὐτῶν, him who departed from them. See above, Acts 13:13. He turned back to Jerusalem from Perga.

Verse 39

39. ἐγένετο δὲ παροξυσμὸς κ.τ.λ., and there arose a sharp contention, so that, &c. παροξυσμός (from which comes our English paroxysm) intimates a temporary rather than a prolonged dispute, although it may for the time be severe. The result to the Church was that two missionary journeys were undertaken instead of one. Though the Apostles might differ in their estimate of Mark, they were at one with reference to the work of the Gospel. Barnabas is mentioned no more in the Acts after this chapter. His name occurs in St Paul’s Epistles, 1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:13; and Colossians 4:10, in which last passage, written no doubt after the events here related, we can see that Mark had been again received as a fellow-worker by St Paul. We learn too from 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 1:24 that St Paul became warmly attached to him afterwards.

παροξυσμός is twice used in the LXX. (Deuteronomy 29:28; Jeremiah 32:37) of the righteous anger of God against His offending people.

Chrysostom remarks on this contention: τὸ ζητούμενον, οὐχ ὅτι διηνέχθησαν ἐν ταῖς γνώμαις, ἀλλ' ὅτι συγκατέβησαν ἀλλήλοις ἰδεῖν. οὕτω μεῖζον ἀγαθὸν γέγονε τὸ χωρισθῆναι, καὶ πρόφασιν ἐκ τούτου τὸ πρᾶγμα ἔλαβε. τί οὖν; ἐχθροὶ ἀνεχώρησαν; μὴ γένοιτο. ὁρᾷς γὰρ μετὰ τοῦτο Βαρνάβαν πολλῶν ἐγκωμίων ἀπολαύοντα παρὰ Παύλου ἐν ταῖς ἐπιστολαῖς. παροξυσμός, φησίν, ἐγένετο, οὐκ ἔχθρα οὐδὲ φιλονεκία.

ἐκπλεῦσαι εἰς Κύπρον, sailed unto Cyprus, in which island Barnabas, and it may be Mark also, was born (Acts 4:36). They chose therefore for their labours a district in which they were likely to have some influence.

Verse 40

40. παραδοθείς, being commended. See above on Acts 14:26.

Verse 41

41. τὴν Συρίαν καὶ Κιλικίαν, Syria and Cilicia. These were the districts in which the teaching of the Judaizers had been most active, and the presence of Paul, with Silas as a representative of the Church in Jerusalem, would allay all doubts and questionings, and lead to those results which are mentioned Acts 16:5, the establishing of the Churches, and their daily increase in numbers. This duty St Paul first discharged before he went on to visit any of the Churches which himself had founded.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Acts 15:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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