The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Acts 15

Act 15:1

These Judaizers also tried to impose the keeping of the Law on Gentile converts: Acts 15:5.

Act 15:2

// Gal 2:1-5. Paul took along Titus, a Gentile convert who was uncircumcised.

Act 15:5

The Sabbath Law, part of Moses' law: Exo 31:12-18. Decision of the Jerusalem council: Acts 15:23-29.

Act 15:7

GOD MADE A CHOICE: This is GOD'S work (vv 8,12,18).

Act 15:8

WHO KNOWS THE HEART: "Cardio-gnostes" = "heart-knower" (only other use in Acts 1:24; cp Psa 139:1).

Act 15:10

Note links with Paul's arguments in Galatians: Gal 3:19,23,24.

Act 15:14

V 14: Visitation, invitation, separation, identification, dedication.

BY TAKING FROM THE GENTILES: The Jews were practically Gentiles in Egypt. This v is practically an epitome of Exodus: (1) "visit" (KJV) = "inspect, and deliver" (Exo 3:1; 1:1-11:10); (2) "taking from" = Passover (Exo 12:1--15:21); (3) a people: to be molded and educated (Exo 15:22--24:18); and (4) for himself = lit, for His Name! The Law given to develop His Name, or character, in this people.

Act 15:16

AFTER THIS I WILL RETURN: Actually, a brief allusion to Jer 12:15,16, where the Gentiles embrace the Hope of Israel.

Act 15:17

"Isaiah had expected Gentile converts to come to Jerusalem to learn God's ways so that they might walk in them. But Isaiah also spoke of the Gentiles' persistence as nations whose salvation did not destroy their national identities (cf Isa 2:4; 25:6,7). Likewise, Amos spoke of 'the remnant of men' (LXX, DSS) in the last days when 'David's fallen tent' would be rebuilt as being 'all the Gentiles who bear my name' and whose continuance as Gentiles was understood. In the end times, James is saying, God's people will consist of two concentric groups. At their core will be restored Israel (ie, David's rebuilt tent); gathered around them will be a group of Gentiles (ie, 'the remnant of men') who will share in the Messianic blessings but will persist as Gentiles without necessarily becoming Jewish proselytes. It is this understanding of Amos' message, James insisted, that Peter's testimony has affirmed, the result being that the conversion of Gentiles in the last days should be seen not as proselytizing but in an eschatological context. James' quotation of Amo 9:11,12 is both textually and exegetically difficult. As given in Acts, the text of v 12 deviates from the Masoretic Text and agrees with the LXX in reading 'they will seek' (Gr 'ekzetesosin') for 'they will inherit' (Heb 'yiresu'), in reading 'of men' (Gr 'ton anthropon') for 'of Edom' (edom), and in treating 'the remnant' (Gr 'hoi kataloipoi') as the subject of the sentence rather than its object. It would have been impossible, in fact, for James to have derived his point from the text had he worked from the Masoretic.

"On the other hand, the text of v 11 here differs from the LXX in reading 'after this' (Gr 'meta tauta') for 'in that day' (Gr 'en te hemera ekeine'), in reading 'I will return and rebuild' (Gr 'anastrepso kai anoikodomeso') for 'I will raise up' (Gr 'anasteso'), in reading 'I will restore' (Gr 'anorthoso') for 'I will raise up' (Gr 'anasteso'), and in omitting the clause 'and I will rebuild it as in the days of old' (Gr 'kai anoikodomeso auten kathos hai hemerai tou aionos').

"Focusing on the quotation's difference from the Masoretic and essential agreement with the LXX, many commentators have complained that 'the Jewish Christian James would not in Jerusalem have used a Septuagint text, differing from the Hebrew original, as scriptural proof,' and have therefore concluded, 'It is not James but Luke who is speaking here' (Haenchen, Acts of the Apostles 448). But while the text of Amo 9:11,12 differs from the Masoretic in meaning and the LXX in form, 'it is exactly identical with... [some attested readings of the DSS]' " (EBC).

"It should not be difficult to see the relation to circumcision [Act 15:1]. To the members of the council, the argument would have been immediately apparent. James said that Amos predicted that when the Lord would come back to re-establish the habitation of David, those to whom He would come, who would seek after Him, would include 'Gentiles upon whom my name is called.' This being the case, there was no reason to require the Gentiles who are joining the Christian church to be circumcised and thereby to become Jews. Many Gentiles had become Jewish proselytes during the two centuries preceding this council, and some of these Jewish proselytes had already become Christians. The point was not that Gentiles could become Christians, but that they could become Christians and yet continue to be Gentiles. The force of James' argument is this: 'If God, who knows all His works from the very beginning, has predicted through Amos that when Jesus comes back to this earth to set up His kingdom He will then find awaiting Him, not only believing Jews, but also 'Gentiles upon whom my name is called,' this fact of prophecy should enable His people to understand the fact of experience that Peter and Paul have described, that God has received Gentiles into the church, by giving them the Holy Spirit, without requiring that they first become Jews by being circumcised.' Thus the quotation from Amos, if taken as describing the situation which will exist when Christ returns to set up His kingdom, gives a clear and logical reason why the council should decide that it was not necessary for new Gentile converts to be circumcised, thereby becoming Jews. This fits exactly with the way in which James introduces the actual quotation from Amos: 'After this I will return and will build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen down.' Amo 9:11 begins: 'In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen.' The words 'After this I will return and' are not in the Heb of the book of Amos, nor in the LXX translation. There can be no doubt that James deliberately substituted them for the general expression of time with which the Amos passage begins, as a means of introducing the quotation. It was his way of pointing out the place of Amo 9:11–12 in its context, where it is preceded by a description of the woes that God will bring upon those who depart from Him, and followed in vv 13–15 (of Acts 15) by an account of the great prosperity and happiness which God's people are to enjoy when He again plants them upon their land. James begins the quotation by summarizing the context in such a way as to show to what point it refers in God's plan for the ages. It is as if he had said: 'Listen to what God has predicted about the events that will occur at the return of Christ, after the present age has run its course. When Christ returns and sets up his kingdom, he will come to an earth on which there will be Gentiles who are called by his Name. He is even now continuing the process which he began when he sent Peter to the house of Cornelius, namely, visiting the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his Name. It is thus seen to be God's revealed will that when Christ returns he should find awaiting him, and seeking him, Christians who have not ceased to be Gentiles. Since this is the case, it would be folly for us to resist the divine plan by requiring that the Gentiles who turn to the Lord should be circumcised and thereby become Jews" (BibSac 110:319).

Act 15:18

KNOWN FOR AGES: "Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD?... Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth" (Isa 45:21,22).

Act 15:20

FOOD POLLUTED BY IDOLS: The food restrictions: only for a temporary, transitional period: ct 1Co 8:8; Rom 14:3; 1Ti 4:4.

FROM SEXUAL IMMORALITY: The doctrine of Balaam (Rev 2:14), ie, that participation in idolatrous and lustful Temple rituals was not really sin.

Act 15:22

WITH THE WHOLE CHURCH: It was formally agreed to by the whole assembly: vv 25,28,34.

TWO MEN WHO WERE LEADERS AMONG THE BROTHERS: Two prominent LOCAL brothers, to endorse the decision of the elders.

Act 15:23

IN ANTIOCH, SYRIA AND CILICIA: It was never intended, therefore, to be of universal application.

Act 15:26

WHO RISKED THEIR LIVES: Was this also true of the Judaizers? Ct 2Co 10:12.

Act 15:28

THE FOLLOWING REQUIREMENTS: The "necessary things" (AV) were love, forbearance, concern for others -- not the Jewish scruples listed: cp 1Co 8:8; 10:25-28.

Act 15:29

No mention of Sabbath-keeping. Obviously not to be imposed. Warnings against imposing rituals of the law: Gal 5:1-4; Col 2:13-17.

Act 15:30

WENT DOWN: The classic language of theophany, or Yahweh-manifestation, occurs often in Acts in the context of gospel preaching, as if the witness to the gospel were another manifestation of the Yahweh-Name: Act 8:5; 10:21; 13:4; 14:25; 15:30; 16:8; 18:22.

Act 15:37

BARNABAS WANTED TO TAKE... MARK... WITH THEM: Mark had apparently accompanied Paul and Barnabas from Jerusalem to Antioch (v 30).

Act 15:38

HE HAD DESERTED THEM: The KJV has "departed", which is not strong enough. The Gr "aphistemi" sig "desert" or "apostasize" -- thus implying a doctrinal difference: prob Mark's Judaistic tendencies (ct 2Ti 4:11).

Act 15:39

"Perhaps it is something of a comfort in our own problems to know that for a time two great apostles were not in the same fellowship!... in God's providence such a disastrous division was not to be" (AE, Xd 108:60). Cp Gal 2:9,13; 1Co 9:6; 2Ti 4:11 esp: later, Paul speaks highly favorably of Mark; apparently, there was no continuing rift.

"Here it appears either Paul or Barnabas went too far. It must have been a violent disagreement to separate two associates who were so closely united. Indeed, the text indicates as much.

Such examples are written for our consolation: for it is a great comfort to us to hear that great saints, who have the Spirit of God, also struggle. Those who say that saints do not sin would deprive us of this comfort. Samson, David, and many other celebrated men full of the Holy Spirit fell into grievous sins. Job and Jeremiah cursed the day of their birth; Elijah and Jonah were weary of life and desired death. No one has ever fallen so grievously that he may not rise again. Conversely, no one stands so firmly that he may not fall. If Peter (and Paul and Barnabas) fell, I too may fall. If they rose again, I too may rise again" (ML).

"It's one of those things that seems to afflict just about every human being that has walked this earth. Sooner or later we will have a disagreement with someone else and the stronger minded we are (or they are), the harsher our disagreement will be. Disagreement is inevitable, but what we must do about it is to lessen the impact so that it will not be so severe.

"The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was so sharp that they parted company, and, if we read between the lines, they split up a great friendship. Paul and Barnabas had been best of friends. They had worked together as a fantastic team. Now, because of their disagreement, that had all been undone.

"Later on it appears that Paul had changed his mind about the issue, and had they still been together, there would have been agreement once again.

"When we think about our disagreements in the past, how many of them were worth the stress and worry that they gave us? Were they worth the broken relationships or the missed opportunities?

"Let's soften the blow by considering the long term repercussions of the sharpness of our disagreements. Let's put them into perspective and save what is really important -- relationships, love and opportunities" (RP).

BARNABAS TOOK MARK AND SAILED FOR CYPRUS: This would be a much easier campaign.

Act 15:40

SILAS: Silas first appears (Acts 15:22,27,32) in the NT narrative as one of the leading men sent to carry the decree of the Jerusalem council to the Gentile believers of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. He was probably a Hellenistic Jew since his name is the Gr form equivalent to Heb "Saul." He was a Christian prophet, able to exhort and strengthen by his preaching. Like Paul, he enjoyed Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37,38). Silas appears as Silvanus (the Latin form of his name) in 2Co 1:19 (cf Acts 18:5); 1Th 1:1; 2Th 1:1; 1Pe 5:12. Silas was to be Paul's companion in the dramatic events of the Philippian imprisonment (Acts 16:19,25,29).

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