About Jesus Steve Sweetman
This Section - Chapters 15
you remember back in Acts 11 Peter was called to explain the incident of
the Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit in chapter 10.
Although the other leaders in
chapter has often been called "the
whole chapter comes down to what constitutes salvation.
Is salvation by faith or is it by works.
This issue was settled here in this chapter, but now, two thousand
years later, the same question arises both in Catholicism and also in the
new movement towards what is called "the return to our Jewish
verse 1 Luke records that "certain men came down from
the word "down" in verse 1.
verse 2 we see that Paul and Barnabas "were brought into sharp
dispute" with these men from
should realize that the words "sharp dispute" are strong words.
This was a very highly explosive and emotional event in the early
days of the church. Even in
these early days, there were problems that had to be worked out, which is
what this chapter is all about. Unlike
today when we simply split from each other, these men tried to solve this
verse 2 Luke says that they went to see the "apostles and
elders" in Jerusalem. This is the first mention of
both apostles and elders in
both the apostles and elders leading the
the fact that the
verse 3 we see that the Antioch
church sent Paul and Barnabas and the men with them on their way.
Note that the whole church sent Paul and Barnabas on their way.
This was a congregational event.
The elders alone did not send these men to
3 also states that in every place these men went through they spread the
word that the Gentiles had received the good news of Jesus.
I am sure that those of the circumcised group from
verse 4 we see that when the
that we have three aspects of church mentioned here.
We have the church as a whole.
I see this as those who are being cared for by the next group
mentioned who are elders. Beyond
the elders, we have the apostles. This
is how I view this. The
spoke to the church about how the Gentiles had received the good news in
every city that they had visited. Then,
as verse 5 says, "some of the believers who belonged to the party of
the Pharisees stood up and said, 'the Gentiles must be circumcised and
required to obey the Law of Moses'".
note that some of the party, or sect, of the Pharisees spoke out in
opposition. These were
Pharisees who had become Christians. Maybe
Nicodemus was one of these men. They
felt that both Jews and Gentiles had to obey the Law of Moses even though
they were Christians.
should note that the matter of Gentiles being circumcised in order to be
saved has now been greatly expanded by these Christian Pharisees.
It wasn't just circumcision any more.
It was obedience to all of the Law of Moses that was the issue.
This is one huge issue.
issue is vitally important today in our 21st century church
because there is a movement towards what is called "the return to our
Jewish roots". This
movement promotes obedience to the Law of Moses just as these Christian
Pharisees were promoting here.
that it appears these Christian Pharisees did not leave their Pharisaical
order once becoming Christians. That
might not sit well with some Evangelicals today.
verse 6 Luke notes that the apostles and elders met to consider this
question. This suggests that
once the Pharisee Christian spoke up to refute what Paul had said, the
gathering was disbanded. The
apostles and elders met together alone to discuss this issue further.
We don't know if any of these Christian Pharisees were part of the
body of elders or not.
verse 7, in this second meeting there was much discussion, after which
Peter got up to speak. I
believe the words "much discussion" means "a really long
and emotionally charged discussion".
verse 7 and following Peter reminded the group that not long ago God chose
him to speak to the Gentiles, resulting in them receiving the Holy Spirit.
Peter stressed the point that this was Godís doing, not his. It
might be possible for some Gentiles to claim faith in Jesus by Peter
persuading them, but they could not fake receiving the Holy Spirit.
says that these Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just as they did in Acts
2. This is proof that in fact
the people of Acts 2 did receive the Spirit at that time and not in John
20 as some suggest. To me this
has always been clear. Though
Jesus breathed on the disciples in John 20 and said, "Received the
Spirit", this was only symbolic of what was to come, and that
happened in Acts 2. There was
no doubt in Peterís mind that they received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2,
and not at any other time.
in verse 8 that God knew the hearts of these Gentiles.
He knew they wanted all that God had for them and this is why God
gave them the Holy Spirit. Receiving
the Holy Spirit into one's life is a matter of the heart.
If you do not have the Holy Spirit, it is clear that there is a
matter of your heart that needs correction.
goes on to say in verse 9 that God "made no distinction between us
and them but purified their hearts by faith".
Faith, or trusting Jesus, was the way to be purified according to
Peter. This purification
resulted in receiving the Holy Spirit of God into the lives of the
Gentiles. It's clear to me
that what Peter is saying here is that salvation is all about faith,
getting one's heart purified, and receiving the Holy Spirit.
Receiving the Holy Spirit is simply a part of getting saved.
Note the word "purified" in verse 9. This is an Old Testament type of word. It speaks to the Law of Moses rules concerning clean and unclean animals and people. You might remember Peter's vision of the clean and unclean animals. God told Peter to not call Gentiles unclean any longer. The word "purified" here is in reference to God making Gentiles clean through faith in Jesus. It doesn't mean that these Gentiles are perfectly righteous. It means that in a legal sense of the word, the designation of "unclean" has been r
is Peterís conclusion to his argument as found in verse 10 and 11.
"Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks
of the disciples a yoke that we nor our forefathers have been able to
bear? No, we believe that it
is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they
yoke that Peter is speaking of here is the strict adherence to the Law of
Moses for the purpose of salvation, and circumcision being the issue at
hand. I believe the
church over the years has put a similar yoke concerning the Law of Moses
on Christians. This can be
seen concerning the issue of tithing, the Sabbath, and other Law issues
that church leaders say applies to New Testament Christians.
Of course, it is my opinion that the Law of Moses does not apply to
Christians for a number of reasons. If
Peter is right, which I'm sure he is, then the Law of Moses no longer
applies to the Jews or Gentiles in a way it once did.
Matthew 11:30 Jesus asked those who are heavily weighted down with their
yoke to come to Him because His yoke is light, I believe the yoke He is
talking about is the yoke of the Law of Moses.
is interesting that Peter says that the Jews are saved in the same way
that Gentiles are saved, and that's through faith in Jesus alone. Peter
hasn't yet convinced everyone that Gentiles could even be saved, and now
he is saying that Jews are saved in the same way Gentiles are saved.
From a Jewish perspective, you'd think that Peter would say that
the Gentiles are saved in the same way Jews are, but the problem with that
is that some in the room were struggling that Jews were saved by faith
alone, without the works of the Law of Moses.
This statement would disturb some.
How could Jewish believers be saved in the same way that Gentile
believers are saved?
Peter was doing here was speaking directly to the group of the Pharisees
who believed that Gentiles must observe the Law of Moses in order to be
was reminding the Pharisee group that the apostles had already concluded
that Jews are saved by faith alone, not by observing the Law of Moses.
The Pharisee group had seemed to forgotten this.
This was even a more fundamental question than Gentiles being saved
believes that by making the disciples bare the yoke of the Law is in fact
testing God. These are strong
words. How is this so?
Peter says that salvation is now clearly by Godís grace alone,
and if you say that you need to obey the Law, then you are making Godís
grace of no effect, thus you test God, and perhaps bring His wrath upon
yourself. Peter has just said
that it was God Himself that first brought salvation to the Gentiles
without any mentioning of the Law. If
God did not consider the Law important for salvation in Acts 10, why
should anyone else consider it important for the purpose of salvation?
that Peter does not say, "Why do you want to bring the yoke of the
law on the Gentiles"? He
does not specify the Gentiles. He
uses the word disciples, as in all disciples, both Jews and Gentiles.
What Peter is saying here is very dramatic and important.
He is saying that obedience to the Law is not necessary for both
Jews and Gentiles. He is
saying that both Jews and Gentiles alike are saved by grace, and nothing
else. Peter says "we
believe"; that is to say, all Christians, Jew and Gentile alike, all
get saved the same way.
point to make about what Peter says. He
says, "Why do you want to test GodÖ"
Who is the word "you" referring to?
Remember in this meeting it appears that only the apostles and
elders are present. If this is
the case, then the "you" refers to some of these very apostles
and elders. This tells me that
not all of these men were as convinced as Peter concerning the Gentiles
becoming Christians. Some of
these elders might well have been those from the Christian Pharisees, and
that would not surprise me in the least.
They were very educated men.
the words "test God" in verse 10.
What Peter is saying here with the use of these two words is that
the Jewish Christians were actually testing God by making the Gentile
believers obey the Law of Moses. Testing
God is a very serious thing, so these words need to be thought of
seriously, especially by those today who claim that the church and
Christians should revert to a more Jewish tradition.
Some of these people think we should actually revert to the Law of
Moses, celebrate Jewish feasts and Sabbaths, and call God by His Hebrew
name. I suggest that this
thinking might well be testing God as Peter stated here.
Peter speaks, the church became silent.
This suggests that there might well have been some interaction
between Peter and those in the room. There
might have been some interruptions of Peter's speech, but not so with
Barnabas and Paul. Note that
it is back to being Barnabas and Paul; not Paul and Barnabas.
Even though Barnabas originated from
spoke "of the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the
Gentiles through them". This brought a silence to those listening.
Everyone wanted to hear from Barnabas and Paul because they were
the ones in the midst of this controversy.
It's because of their preaching this gathering was now taking
Luke does not record just what Paul and Barnabas said, but when they were finished talking, in verse 13 James got up to speak. This James is the half brother of Jesus. Josephus says that he was executed fro his faith in 62 A D.
What James attempts to do in the following words is to reconcile the two factions in this gathering. So far, what has been said by various people has been in support of their position. Now, James is attempting to bring this meeting to and end with some kind of compromise that will be agreeable to both sides.
points out what Peter had just said concerning God taking from the
Gentiles a people for Himself. Jin
verse 15 James agrees with Peter and quotes from Amos 9:11 and 12 to back
17 quotes Amos 9:11 and 12. This
is important to understand because this shows us that James seems to be
coming around to Barnabas and Paul's thinking.
We don't know if this has suddenly dawned on him or he has thought
this for a while.
should note that this quote is taken from the Septuagint, which the Old
Testament Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.
I mention this because the Hebrew text states that "they (
interpretation of this quote is somewhat controversial.
God says that "after this I will return and rebuild Davidís
fallen tent. Its ruins I will
rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bare my name".
take this Scripture to mean that at some point in the future God will
rebuild the nation of
The question should
be asked, "in what sense is James using Amos 9:11and 12"?
This is how I understand what James is getting at.
The words "after this" is important in figuring out what
he is saying. The words
"after this" is not found in the Hebrew version of Amos 9:11.
Instead, the words "in that day" are written.
Whatever way you want to say it, these words
in the context of Amos' message to the northern kingdom of
I believe what James
says here should put to rest the doctrine of Replacement Theology that
states God is through with Israel and that all the Old Testament promises
directed towards Israel now apply to the church.
I believe James is saying just the opposite here.
James uses Amos to tell his Jewish brothers that God is not
finished with the Jews just because He is allowing Gentiles to find
one point that is often overlooked when thinking of the Jew and Gentile
relationship. God's plan for salvation, and including people into His
family, has always included Gentiles.
19 gives Jamesí conclusion to the discussion. Some
suggest because James is the one that makes this conclusion that he is the
leader of those gathering here, and also the leader of the church in Jerusalem. They say that he is one of
the elders but he is the lead elder, or, an elder above other elders.
This may be the case, yet to prove this from this text is somewhat
speculative, or so I think. Did
James make this conclusion because he was the lead elder, or was he simply
the one who brought this conclusion to the forefront?
Both points need to be considered and have equal validity.
concludes that they "should not make it difficult for the Gentiles
who are turning to God". History shows us that James, unlike Paul kept much of
his Judaic traditions. Therefore, it is important to know that what
James says here is out of character for him. This took a lot of
grace on his part to actually say such a thing. By religious nature,
James would have preferred the Gentiles being more connected to the Law of
see in verse 20 that there are only four things that James wants the
Gentiles to follow, and they are; "to abstain from food polluted by
idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and
important for us to know that James was only applying these four rules to
Gentile believers. I don't
believe he conceded to the idea that Jews had to only follow four rules.
I don't believe that he was about to forsake all of the Law of
Moses and only follow these four rules.
Most scholars will say that James kept his Jewish heritage intact.
now need to ask another question. "Why
did James present these four points for the Gentiles to obey"?
A secondary question also might be; "was this some kind of
apostolic directive, that is, a New Testament Law of Moses type thing"?
answer to the second question is "no".
Apostolic authority did not replace the Law of Moses.
The grace of God seen in Jesus Himself replaced the Law.
Thus, these four directives were rules to follow, but not on the
same level as the Old Testament Law. I'll
speak to this a bit later.
why dictate these four particular points?
The four issues James mentions are key issues for the Gentile
world, and the pagan worship that they came out of.
First of all, meat offered to idols was part of the pagan worship.
In pagan meals the meat that was sacrificed to idols was often
eaten in a ceremonial meal. James
says; donít eat such meat because of its relation to the idol.
is interesting to note how Paul views this idea of not eating meat offered
to idols. You can read about
this in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14.
To sum up, Paul is not against eating meat offered to idols.
He is against sitting down and eating meat in a ceremonial meal,
because at that point you are involved in worship to a pagan god.
Paul sees no harm in eating meat offered to an idol in an ordinary
meal that would be eaten during the process of any given day.
The one qualification that Paul does give though is that if the
eating of this meat will cause a brother to loose his trust in Jesus, then
it is best not to eat the meat. In
one sense of the word then, Paul agreed to include this rule in a letter
to the Gentiles, but in his heart, I don't believe he totally agreed.
I think Paul conceded on this point, or at least, partially
can then see that even though James says not to eat meat offered to idols,
and this was a directive to the Gentile Christians, Paul himself did not
fully agree with this part of the directive, although we do not know that
from this chapter in Acts.
next point was sexual immorality. Such
immorality was also part of pagan worship.
Also sexual immorality was also an accepted practice in the Gentile
world. Men were expected to
have other women besides their wives in Greek and Roman society.
The wives knew this was the social norm and they just accepted it.
The reason why Romans did not see this as a sin was because it was
something of the flesh and not the soul.
It was merely a fleshly activity, like eating, and thus would not
pollute the soul. They made a
very clear, clean cut, distinction between body and soul.
Only things that polluted the soul would do them harm.
last two points are joined together because of the issue of blood.
The issue of the Jews eating blood was taken directly from the Law
of Moses. This was something
that the Jews deemed important, but why James centered this law out over
other laws, such as circumcision, I am not sure. At least out of respect
for their Jewish brothers, James may be suggesting that the Gentiles stay
away from meat with blood in it, or the digestion of blood.
verse 21 James gives a reason for only these four directives.
He says, "for Moses has been preached in every city Ö:
What I believe James is saying here is that Gentiles need to
respect their Jewish brothers. The
Law has been preached for centuries in every Jewish synagogue and you
simply canít expect them to all at once just drop what they have
sincerely believed for centuries. Also,
if the Gentiles were interested in observing the Law of Moses, they
wouldn't have to go far to learn how to observe it.
There were Jewish synagogues throughout the
third meeting is now called.
This meeting includes the whole
letter begins with, "the apostles and elders, your brothers".
The NIV doesnít show this clearly in my thinking, but there are
three groups mentioned in this greeting.
They are the apostles, the elders, and the brothers, or the rest of
The KJV puts a second "and" between the word elders and
brothers which suggests three groups of people.
You might take from the NIV that there are actually two groups, and
the "brothers" refer to the apostles and elders, yet this letter
was sent by the whole church.
letter was not just written to the church in
24 states the first point to the letter, and that is certain men went out
idea that certain men went out from
as people in the first generation church did not understand the relation
of grace to the law, or Old Testament, so it is true today.
One of the biggest misunderstandings in the church today is the
relationship between the New Testament to the Old Testament.
That is to say, many live their lives as Christians under an Old
Testament format, when in reality we should be living by the New Testament
is a big difference between the two formats.
This is what law and grace is all about as espoused by the
Reformers of the 1500's.
For those who understand Reformation Theology, that is the teaching
that came from Luther and other reformers, you will understand what the
term "law and grace" means.
Law is meant to bring us to grace.
Once at grace, we are no longer under law. I
know the very mention of this brings up many questions that I can't speak
I recommend you read my commentaries on Romans and Galatians that
will further discuss this matter.
should note that these men were not sent out by "our authority".
Who is the word "our" referring to?
Is it just the apostles and elders?
I donít think so. If this letter is written from these three
groups mentioned above, which includes the whole church, then the word
"our" refers to the whole church.
The significance of this is that the whole church is involved in
the process of sending this letter and also authorizing people who they
As in Acts 6 when the church members chose seven administrators,
the whole church was involved.
So it is the same in this instance.
letter acknowledges the fact that these men troubled the minds of the
So, because of the trouble these men caused "we all",
that is to day, the whole church, decided to send certain men with
Barnabas and Paul along with this letter.
Note that Barnabas is mentioned first here, most likely because
they were more familiar with Barnabas. Besides,
you may recall, the
letter also acknowledges the fact the both Paul and Barnabas "have
risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".
This is no understatement.
The point to be made here is that there must be something to Paul
and Barnabas' gospel if they were willing to die for it.
That being said, the men the text states that risked their
lives for the gospel's sake might not have been speaking of Paul and
The men who risked their lives might have been the men the church
chose to send with Paul and Barnabas.
If this is so, we clearly see that other believers than Paul and
Barnabas were risking their lives for the sake of the gospel.
27 says that Judas and Silas were coming with Paul and Barnabas to confirm
with their mouths what was in the letter.
Obviously this added more weight to the letter, and added a sense
This was not a letter written by Paul or Barnabas.
This is an official letter from the whole church at
might wonder if there was a matter of mistrust here and that's why other
men accompanied Paul and Barnabas.
Well, such mistrust is simply human nature.
The decision was made to send other men to cover all the bases.
Everyone needed to be clear that this was not a bias letter written
by Paul and Barnabas.
verse 28 comes the meat of the letter.
The letter states, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to
Who is the word "us" referring to? Once
again, you should conclude that the word "us" refers to the
whole church because, as we have already mentioned, the letter is from the
This therefore, tells us something.
It tells us that this letter was probably drafted in this third
meeting, when the apostles and elders met with the whole church.
So it appears that not only did the church choose Judas and Silas
to accompany Paul and Barnabas at that meeting, but they also helped in
drafting this letter.
conviction that the Holy Spirit helped them in this decision only adds
strength to the resolve of the letter. That
being said, the words "seemed good" suggests to me that although
the church believed the letter was Holy Spirit led, the rules in the
letter were more of recommendations
This letter was not meant to be taken as a New Testament Law of
verse 28 we mote that the good news for the Gentiles is that those in
are four recommendations this letter advises the Gentiles on.
I use the word "advise" because you cannot make these
four recommendations into a law as I've said above.
These recommendations are to abstain from meat offered to idols,
from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.
As I stated earlier, the significance of these four recommendations
has to do with pagan worship.
Christians should not involve themselves in any kind of pagan
As I also said earlier, 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, tells us
that Paul would eat meat offered to idols, but not in the context of a
pagan worship service.
Barnabas, Judas and Silas took the letter back to
32 tells us that both Judas and Silas were prophets.
This should tell us that the ministry of the prophet is not
restricted to the Old Testament.
These men stayed in
35 says that Paul and Barnabas remained in
going any farther, imagine yourself a new Christian man living in
also had no problem with eating certain foods and meat, whether with or
Now that you have become a Christian, mainly because of Jewish
friends, you are told that you have to obey a book full of rules and
regulations to maintain your salvation.
This is altogether foreign to you and you just donít understand
why you need to do all of these things. Sacrifices, circumcision, and all
the rest, did not look much different that what you were used to in your
pagan religion. Why did one have to become a Jew when he became a
These Gentile believers would have had many questions.
at some point someone like Paul comes along and says that you donĎt need
to have anything to do with the Law of Moses.
You were never a Jew, and it simply does not apply to you.
It is Godís grace that you have now come to trust in.
At this point you are totally confused, and almost ready to quit.
You have two conflicting viewpoints.
Who is right?
can imagine Paul being very upset about these things and he made sure that
the problem was going to be corrected and so he presented the facts to the
of us today in North American are Gentile Christians.
Acts 15 is very important to us.
The implications of this letter drafted almost two thousand years
ago are for us as well.
We are not under the Law of Moses, or any other man made law when
it comes to getting saved or maintaining our salvation.
When reading the Old Testament, we can learn about God, but we must
understand that anything remotely associated with the Law of Moses does
not apply to us in terms of obedience.
There are lots to be learned about the Law of Moses.
One thing to learn is its prophetic significance.
in the Evangelical world are confused about this issue.
They pick and choose certain laws from the Law of Moses to choose
and leave the rest.
The Law of Moses does not allow you to pick and choose like this.
If one is to obey the Law, they must obey all of the Law.
If one fails to obey one law, they fail to obey all the law.
If you feel compelled to obey the Law of Moses you canít pick and
must obey it all.
That being said, the gospel that Paul preached clearly stated that
Christians are no longer under the Law.
what significance does the Old Testament have for New Testament
Christians, if we donít need to follow all of the rules?
Paul says in his letter to the Romans hat it is an example for us.
By this he means that we can learn from how God dealt with
36 tells us that Paul asked Barnabas if he would like to go back on
another trip and visit all of the churches they visited on their first
thing to note here is that there is no mention of the Holy Spirit sending
Paul and Barnabas like He did the first time.
It appears to be Paul's idea.
This doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit wasn't involved.
It's just that the text doesn't specifically say so.
I'm sure the Holy Spirit would be involved in Paul's thinking here.
verses 37 and 38 Barnabas seemed to agree with Paul on the idea of another
trip, but he wanted to take John Mark with them, as they did on the first
was not in favour of this because Mark had "deserted" them in
the middle of their first trip, and did not continue in the work.
Barnabas wanted Mark to come with them, we donít know for sure.
One thing we do know, and that is Mark was Barnabasí cousin.
This could have been a real motivating factor in Barnabasís
He had family ties with Mark that Paul did not have.
Paul only knew that Mark had quit on them part way through their
work, and Paul was not very happy about that.
Paul was no quitter.
note in verse 39 and 40 that Paul and Barnabas could not come to any
agreement concerning Mark, and had a very sharp disagreement over the
decided to separate.
These men did not separate as brothers. They separated in the sense
that they divided their trip into two parts.
Barnabas would head out to
say that Paul and Barnabas were so mad at each other and separated in
great anger is reading too much into this passage, or so I think. Yes,
there was a sharp dispute, but the separation came in separating their
work into two parts, not their fellowship as brothers. To be even more
accurate the separation concerned what direction the two men should take
on their trip so that they would not duplicate each others mission.
40 tells us that the church sent these men on their way in the grace of
the dispute, the church in
is the last we hear of Barnabas.
It is not the last we hear of Mark. He ends up being one of
Paulís close friends later on and a real help to his ministry. See
Mark also got to know Peter. See
1 Peter 1:13.
Peter actually called Mark his son in the Lord.
Why Mark left Paul and Barnabas we donít know, but we do know
that he turned into a real man of God. He
is the Mark that wrote the gospel of Mark.
chose Silas to go with him.
Silas was a Roman which helped in the ministry.
He was also a prophet.
It appears that in many cases apostles and prophets worked together
in the ministry in the early church.
They each had their own sphere of responsibility in the work of the