Acts Chapter 15
An Understandable Version of ACTS
Translation by William E. Paul
Concise PRESENTATION NOTES
by Charles Dailey
Edited and enlarged by Fred P Miller

(Black underlined words match words in the Bible text.)
1) Certain men [i.e., believers, see verse 5] came down from Judea [to Antioch of Syria] and began teaching the brothers this: You cannot be saved unless you are circumcised according to the custom [required] by Moses. A new threat to the future of the church came from its place of birth. Men that came to be called Judaizers could not accept the core value of salvation by faith. They taught that faith + circumcision = salvation. This would have made the church a Jewish sect that believed in Jesus as the Christ.
- They claimed authority, but lacked it. 15:24.
2) After Paul and Barnabas had a heated debate and argued with these men [over this issue], the brothers [of the Antioch church] decided that Paul and Barnabas, along with certain others, should go up to Jerusalem and discuss the question with the apostles and elders there. � There is a time to debate. Many of the things that get the emotion today aren't worth the effort, but the very nature of Christianity was at stake in this case.

- The Antioch Church did not regard Paul's status as an inspired Apostle as highly as we do today.
- The two preachers, recently returned from a God-blest preaching tour, were sent to Jerusalem to confer with other inspired apostles and elders.
3) So, they were sent on their way with the backing of the [Antioch] church and traveled through both Phoenicia and Samaria, telling them about the conversion of the Gentiles. This brought great rejoicing to all the brothers [who heard about it]. � This was an expenses-paid trip for the delegation from Antioch. There must have been four or more.
- Paul and Barnabas told the stories of God working with them on their trip into Asia.
- These reports were made among Jewish and Samaritan brethren, but not Gentiles, because the report of conversions among the Gentiles brought rejoicing.
4) When they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church, together with the apostles and elders, and then reported everything that God had done through their ministry. � Paul had returned to Jerusalem, the location of his graduate schooling in the Jewish Law, but his message had become one of salvation by faith in Christ for men of every race.
- They made it clear that God had been working with them.
- This was a general church meeting.
5) But certain believers, [who had been] members of the sect called Pharisees [i.e., a strict sect of the Jewish religion], began saying, "It is necessary to circumcise people [see verse 1] and require them to keep [the ordinances of] the law of Moses." � The leaders gave the dissenters a chance to be heard. They were not ostracized or banned in some manner.
- It appears that some in the heart of Judaism said, "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em." So some had indeed confessed Jesus as the Christ, but Jesus was not Lord to them. The Law of Moses remained supreme. See note below.
- It is clear there were no Gentile Christians in the Jerusalem church or the question would have been settled before.
"One should understand that circumcision was viewed by these Jewish teachers as a pledge to keep the entirety of the Law of Moses. Thus did a group of pious, moral, and conscientious Jewish teachers � who had been taught all their lives that the Law of Moses embodies the requirements of holiness to Yahweh � take it upon themselves both to protect the integrity of biblical revelation and to make a sincere effort to elevate the spiritual lives of the new Gentile believers at Antioch. There is no indication that these men had a sinister motive of wanting to keep the Christians at Antioch from their Messiah. To the contrary, they wanted them to receive Jesus as the Messiah but assumed that could only be done via the same perspective that had allowed them to know him."
- Rubel Shelley in Falling in Love with Jesus' People, page 164. Published by College Press, 1998.
6) So, the apostles and elders [of the Jerusalem church] met together to discuss this problem. � Rather than have a great open meeting of the church, the leaders met in executive session to discuss the problem.
7) And after many questions were asked [about it] Peter stood up and addressed the assembly [including the former Pharisees who were now brothers]: "Brothers, you are aware that some time ago God decided that, from among your number, it would be through my ministry that the Gentiles would hear and believe the Gospel message. � There were questions. This was a potentially severe change from the customs they had known and practiced.
- The Christians in the Jerusalem congregation were still observing the Law. The vital question was "Is it required for salvation?"
- Luke records Peter's words in some detail. He was the man who had opened the door for the Gentiles through faith and without circumcision and Law-keeping. Peter was first among the Twelve.
- Accepting the doctrine of salvation by grace would only be consistent with decisions some of them had reached some years back and are recorded in Acts 11:18.
8) And God, who knows [all people's] hearts, gave His testimony [to their acceptance] by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us [See Acts 11:15-17]. � The evidence of God's view is that He gave the Gentile household of Cornelius the Holy Spirit.
- None of the speakers here relied on direct revelation for authority, but cited past events. This was also being led by the Holy Spirit.
9) And He did not discriminate between us [i.e., Jews] and them [i.e., Gentiles], cleansing their hearts [also] by faith [in Jesus]. Faith is the operative word.
- Peter remembered the sheet event on Simon's roof.
- God gave Gentiles cleansed hearts without obedience to the Law of Moses.
10) Why are you putting God on trial by trying to harness the disciples with a burden [i.e., compliance with the law of Moses], which neither our forefathers nor we could possibly bear? � The Judaizers wanted to burden the disciples with keeping the Law. One example is the extensive dietary rules of the Law.
11) For we believe that [both] we [Jews] and they [Gentiles] will be saved in the same way, through the unearned favor of the Lord Jesus." � Peter gives his conclusion: Salvation is not through the works of the Law, but through the grace of God and applies equally to Jews and Gentiles.
- On this note of grace, Peter drops from Luke's narration and we do not hear from him again in Acts.
12) The whole crowd remained quiet as they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting on the [miraculous] signs and wonders God had performed among the Gentiles through them. � The second speaker or speakers were Barnabas and Paul reporting what God had been doing with them. The miracles were God's certification of their teaching and work.
- Luke has already detailed these signs and wonders in chapters 13 and 14.
13) Then, after they finished speaking, James [the Lord's brother, See Acts 12:17] spoke up and said, "Brothers, listen to me. James, is called an apostle in Galatians 1:19,
- He was one of the chief leaders in the Jerusalem Church. Galatians 2:9 Acts 12:17.
- See also Acts 21:18ff where James leads Paul to acceptance with the Christians in the Jewish community in Jerusalem.
- Peter, Paul and Barnabas did not appeal to their own authority, but to how God worked through them.
- James was later put to death by action of the Sanhedrin and High priest Ananus after the rule of Festus about the year 62. Josephus Antiq 20.9.1
14) Symeon [i.e., Peter] reported how God first sent [someone to preach] to the Gentiles in order to reach a group of them [with the Gospel message] for His name. � James does not cite personal experience as the previous speakers had, but the authority of the Scripture Remember, if anyone represents the "old guard" of devout Israelites, it is James.
15) And this was predicted by the message of the prophets when they wrote [Amos 9:11ff], � Accepting Gentiles is not a repudiation of the Law of Moses, but a fulfillment of the prophet Amos. His words are also inspired and from the same Scripture that contains the Law.
16) 'After these things [have transpired], I will return [to my people] and will rebuild the Tabernacle [i.e., the Temple] of David, which has been destroyed. I will rebuild it from its ruins and reestablish it, � This quotation follows the LXX version, with variations.
- After these things: After Israel's return from Babylon.
- Probably the tabernacle refers to the reign of David. It was rebuilt when Jesus came to David's Throne. Luke 1:32. Christ now reigns on David's Throne over the church. Matthew 28:18-20.
17) so that the rest of mankind, including all the Gentiles [or nations], may seek after the Lord and be called by my name. � The Gentiles did not have to become Jews, be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. They would no longer be Gentiles.
- Name: The name Christian was first given at the multi-cultural church at Antioch. Acts 11:26.
18) This is what the Lord said when He predicted these things long ago.' "Known to God are all his works from the beginning of the world" KJV � Perhaps Genesis 12:3 is predicting the conversion of Gentiles as well as the children of Abraham.
19) So, my advice is not to make it difficult for those who turn to God from among the Gentiles, � James says to grant Gentiles liberty.
- James presided over the meeting and gave the conclusion that was followed..
20) but to write [urging] them to avoid [eating] what is contaminated by [its association with] idol worship, from sexual immorality, from [eating] strangled animals and from [drinking] blood. � However, there were three or four ancient issues of purity that demanded immediate conformity. There were no written Christian documents - epistles - as yet to clarify these:
- Avoid meats sacrificed to idols and so avoid idolatry. Since Genesis 1, God has not tolerated competition.
- Sex outside of marriage is a moral issue as established in Genesis 2:24. In the pagan world it was not a moral issue and sometimes even an act of worship.
- Drinking blood was forbidden to God's people long before the Law of Moses. Genesis 9:4.
21) [For] every city has had for many generations people who proclaim [the teaching of] Moses, reading [his writings] in the synagogues every Sabbath day." � "We will write to the Gentile brethren. Jewish brethren still learn these truths in the synagogues."
22) Then it seemed wise to the apostles and the elders, [along] with the entire church, to select men from their number and send them with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch. So, they chose Judas, who was [also] called Barsabbas, and Silas, [who were] principal men among the brothers. � There was a uniform agreement that salvation was by faith in Jesus and included the Gentiles.
- The Apostles had universal authority from Christ; the elders held authority at Jerusalem.
- This must be a second PUBLIC meeting.

- Sending Judas and Silas rules out the possibility of creating a forged or altered document.
23) This is what they wrote [in the letter]:
���� "
[This is] from your brothers, the apostles and elders [of the Jerusalem church]: Greetings to [our] Gentile brothers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.
� This is the first written, inspired document of the church.
- The answer is in the first sentence. They are brothers without circumcision and the Law.
- Greetings: Used only in James 1:1. This hints that the letter was penned by James.
- Again it is affirmed that Gentiles are brothers.
24) We have heard that certain [men] who left here have been upsetting you people and [even] undermining [some people's] spiritual lives by what they have been teaching. This was done without our authorization [or approval]. � They had heard from the delegation coming from Antioch.
- The letter opens with a disclaimer: "We did not send . . . . "
- This false teaching had raised the question with many: "Am I a Christian?" "Am I saved?"
- They were members of the Jerusalem Church, but spoke without authority.
25) So, after we came to full agreement, it seemed wise to us to choose [two] men [See verse 22] to accompany our dear Barnabas and Paul, � There was unanimity among the leaders. The Antioch Church needed to hear this.
- Barnabas was better known in Jerusalem than Paul and so his name appears first while the team is there.
26) who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. � Here is a strong commendation of Barnabas and Paul.
- risked as in Acts 13:50; Acts14:5; Acts 14:19.
27) Therefore, we are sending Judas and Silas [with them] to tell you [these same] things in person. � Not only will there be a written document, but two respected prophets (verse 32) to verify this verbally.
28) For it was the judgment of the Holy Spirit, and we agreed, that no greater burden be placed on you people than the following necessary things: � They could determine the Holy Spirit's view by the things that had been happening as well as by Scripture.
- The Law of Moses has many burdensome rules. See example in Exodus 34:20,25,26.
29) Avoid [eating] things sacrificed to idols; avoid [drinking] blood; avoid [eating] things [that were] strangled [to death] and avoid sexual immorality. If you avoid [all] these things, you will be doing well. Goodbye." � This probably implies staying out the idols' temples as well as not eating the meat sacrificed to them.

- These items are discussed in the notes of verse 20.
30) So, when Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas left [the meeting] they went down to Antioch and, after gathering a large group [of the church] together, they presented the letter to them. � Now Paul is again mentioned first. Away from Jerusalem, he is the acknowledged leader.

- This was not a standard Lord's Day meeting, but one that was specially called so the travelers could report.
31) And when they had read it, the people [of the Antioch church] rejoiced over the encouragement it gave them. � The church needs to be encouraged, especially following periods of uncertainty and controversy.
32) And Judas and Silas, who also were prophets, exhorted and strengthened the brothers with many [other] words. � Here are two things prophets do: exhort and strengthen the brothers. In this respect, they are like many preachers today. Their work was not limited to foretelling the future.
33) After they [Judas and Silas] had spent some time [there in Antioch], the brothers [in Antioch] sent them [back to Jerusalem]. A peaceful spirit prevailed [among all of them]. � There was clearly peace and harmony between the two influence centers. One theory has it that the Jerusalem leaders were continually critical of the Gentile brethren, but there is no hint of anything less than full acceptance in these words.
- Peace is appreciated against a background of troubling issues in the church. One value in having trouble is the heightened awareness of peace when it passes.
{{Some manuscripts add verse 34) But Silas decided to stay on [at Antioch]}}.
35) But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch and, along with a number of other [brothers], taught and proclaimed the message of the Lord [there]. Paul and Barnabas taught the church and proclaimed the message of the Lord - perhaps in the market places.
- Life was normal again in the Antioch church.
36) Then after some days Paul suggested to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we proclaimed the message of the Lord, to see how they are doing." � Taking the message of the Lord to non-Jews was Paul's special calling (Acts 9:15). He aggressively planned his next moves.

- visit in the sense of helping, looking after.
37) Barnabas [agreed, and] wanted to take John Mark [his cousin, See Col. 4:10] with them. Barnabas liked to help the underdog. He did it for Paul (Acts 9:27 and now he will do it for John Mark.
38) But Paul was not at all in favor of taking someone who had left them and refused to continue on in the work [of preaching the Gospel] when they were in Pamphylia. [See Acts 13:13]. Paul stoutly disagreed. The wording here sounds like there was something in the task ahead that had caused John Mark to retreat to Jerusalem.

- Paul later changed his mind about John Mark. 2 Timothy 4:11.
39) A heated discussion developed [over this matter] so that Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways [over it], with Barnabas sailing for Cyprus and taking [John] Mark with him. � Both of these men were leaders and insisted on their own views.

- Two teams were formed and God's work benefitted from the difference in viewpoint.
- Barnabas went back to his homeland.
40) But Paul chose Silas and, after being commended to the [care and] favor of the Lord by the brothers, he left, � The church sent Paul and Silas out with prayer. No such mention is made of sending Barnabas.
41) traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches [along the way]. � We have not heard of some of these churches before. This shows that more evangelism and church planting was going on than Luke records for posterity. This begins Paul's second evangelistic journey.


Compare James McGarvey's comments on Chapter 15.

Compare Albert Barnes's notes on Chapter 15.

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