Bible Topics In The Christian Library

VERSES 1-3 "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2) When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 3And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren."


1. This was not a "Church Council" as some incorrectly believe. It did not take their meeting to determine truth. God had already made the truth known to Paul and Barnabas. The meeting was to make sure all recognized that truth. 

2. The Jerusalem church had no authority over the elders of the various Gentile churches. Letters were sent out due to the fact that the Jerusalem was a well respected church, being the the first congregation of the Lord's body. It was also that the troubling false teaching came forth from Jerusalem, hence it was necessary to correct the notion that the Judaizing teachers would continue to have their blessing. 

3. After this meeting the die seems to be cast between Paul and these zealous Jews. They would be his adversaries from now on. There was no middle ground between them. 

A. "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren..." 
1. Circumcision was the great burning issue of the first century. It cut to the heart of the Gentile's relationship to God and to Jewish brethren. It also was at the heart of what kind of relationship Jewish brethren should have with God. 

2. For circumcision to be bound on Gentiles would mean that they would be required to keep the requirements of the Law of Moses, which they were never required to do. See Galatians 5:3. 

a. This would mean that the Gentiles would be reduced to a salvation by works religion. The could cause them to "fall from grace." See Galatians 5:4.
3. This would actually bring the Jews under bondage as well. A case could be made for the continued circumcision of Jews on cultural ground. Paul did such for Timothy, who was half Jewish (See Acts 16:1-3). At the time of Paul's arrest in Jerusalem later there were large numbers of brethren who were faithful Christian and continued to keep much of the ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses. See Acts 21:20. 

4. There was a faction of the Jerusalem which believed that the Gentiles should submit to circumcision in order to live as faithful Christians. It seems that they were influential and well known. How much of support they had from the Elders of the Jerusalem church and the Apostles is unclear. It is possible that they had none. It is also possible that they had the approval of the brethren there. This could account for the great stir they mission caused. It is possible that the apostles in Jerusalem had been misled on this point, just as Peter was carried away later. 

5. It is clear that these Jewish teachers were teaching circumcision as more than just an option. There were teaching that it was essential for the salvation of Gentile brethren.

B. "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them..." 
1. Paul and Barnabas, fresh from their mission work with the Gentiles, was not about to give way on this grave point. 

2. Paul makes it clear that he would have never given way on this point. Why? He had received a direct revelation concerning it from the Lord Himself. See Galatians 2:1-10 for Paul's account of events leading up to the Jerusalem meeting.

3. Because the brethren in Antioch were so troubled over these matter, it was determined to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to determine if these men were actually sent forth by the church and the apostles. Paul further states that his mission was also by appointment of God. See Galatians 2:2. 

4. We are not told how many other brethren went with Paul and Barnabas. Paul tells us that Titus went with them (Galatians 2:1). Coffman refers to the belief that Peter was present in Antioch at the time and went as well. We don't know this with certainty. It is also possible that certain of the Jewish teachers from Jerusalem went as well.

C. "And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren." 
1. This doctrine had not infected the outlying congregations. All that Paul encountered was joy and happiness over the conversion of the Gentile brethren. 

2. It is likely that Paul and the other brethren stopped at each town on the way to strengthen the brethren and enjoy their fellowship. 

VERSES 4-6 "And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. 5) But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. 6) And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter."
A. "And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church..." 
1. It was natural for the church in Jerusalem to receive this group of well known Christian brethren from Antioch. Antioch was, second to Jerusalem, the most active and influential congregation of the Lord's church. 

2. Paul and Barnabas reported the progress of the cause of Christ to them. 

3. There were three meetings that took place. 

a. A first public meeting with the Peter, Barnabas, the Apostles, the elders of the Jerusalem church and the entire church. 

b. A private one between Paul and the Peter, James, and John (Galatians 2:1, 9). 

1. It was in this meeting that all finished in agreement.
c. A third one that took place after a dissension between Paul, Barnabas opposing the Judaizing teachers. This one included Paul, Barnabas, the Judaizing teachers, with the Apostles and elders of the Jerusalem church. 
1. This meeting was not to determine anything, but to explain what the truth was and seek to persuade those who thought otherwise.
B. "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed..." 
1. Here is the root of the problem. These Pharisees had carried over their love for ritual and minute law keeping to the church when the had obeyed the gospel. This is not unusual. Most people carried some preconceived notions with them when the become Christians. It usually takes further teaching to clear up certain misconceptions. 

2. They were claiming that the Gentile brethren would have to not only keep circumcision but also keep the law of Moses. 

3. There must has been such a dispute that it was deemed necessary for the elders and apostles to meet to discuss the matters with both parties. 

4. This doesn't mean that the truth was going to be decided. The truth was already decided. It was just required that men realized the truth as Paul and Barnabas already understood it. 

VERSES 7-11 "And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8) And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9) And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10) Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11) But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they."
A. "And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up..." 
1. Peter first states that his authority to speak on this matter was the fact (which all of them knew) that God had chosen him to preach to the first Gentile convert. 
a. Peter was an excellent choice to speak first. His credentials were beyond question. He was a leader among the apostles from the first. He took the lead in preaching the first gospel sermon. He also preached the gospel to the first Gentile convert, Cornelius. 

b. No one in the Jerusalem could doubt that what he had to say had merit on the discussion. 

c. Peter's words swayed many brethren. See how he swayed brethren the wrong way (Galatians 2:11-13).

2. He then declares that God put no special qualifications on the Gentiles. Thus, to claim such would be to tempt God (disbelieve Him). 

3. He says that neither they nor their ancestors could be justified by the Law. Why should the Gentiles be burdened by it. 

4. He concludes that we are saved by the grace of God, both Jew and Gentile. 

5. "Here, now is the point of Peter's speech he says in essence: 'If you now demand that the Gentiles be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, you are acknowledging that either you did not believe God the first time or that you are unwilling to accept His decision.'" (DeWelt)

B. Peter says that our hearts are purified by faith. 
1. The reading of the text gives two possible meaning to this. 

2. Can be referring to our faith, that which is essential for salvation (Mark 16:16). 

3. Can be referring to the system of faith, the gospel. (Jude 3). This is Coffman's view. 

a. The context doesn't point conclusively to either. 
VERSES 12-17 "Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. 13) And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14) Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15) And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16) After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17) That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world."
A. "Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul..." 
1. What Peter had said silence the brethren who favored circumcision, at least temporarily. Next up was Paul and Barnabas. 

2. They described the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit among the Gentile that was done during the recent missionary journey. This was to back up Peter's contention that God had put his blessing on the conversion of the Gentiles as Paul and Barnabas was preaching. 

3. This is demonstrating that what Paul and Barnabas was preaching about the Gentiles not have to be circumcised had God's approval. 

4. After these words no one dared to speak up. The combined words of Peter, Paul and Barnabas had its effect. Most of the brethren, even among those who believed in circumcision, were willing to accept the will of God. This is similar to what happened after the conversion of Cornelius. 

a. See Acts 11:18
B. "And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:.."
1. It now fell to James to conclude by summing up what was now clear to most brethren, that the Gentiles should not be required to keep the Law of Moses in any way. 
a. This was James, the brother of the Lord, who had a place of prominence among the brethren at Jerusalem. It is quite possible that he was one of the Elders of the church at Jerusalem.
2. He starts by again reiterating what Peter had said. This is an excellent way of convincing a person. He was reviewing what has been taught, keeping it fresh in their minds. 

3. The testimony of prophecy. 

a. James refers to Amos 9:11 and applies it to the conversion of the Gentiles. The "residue of men" must surely refer to the Gentile converts to God's family.
4. Thus, he appeals to the Scriptures as final authority in the matter. God intended the Gentiles as part of His family. The gospel preached to them did not include the Law of Moses. 

5. He finally says that this has been the will of God since eternity. 

VERSES 19-20 "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20) But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 21) For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day."
A. "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God" 
1. James says that his judgment is that they should not bind circumcision upon the Gentiles. That this was the will of the Holy Spirit is self-evident and also from verses 28.
B. "But that we write unto them..." 
1. Four prohibitions. 
a. Pollutions of Idols - Going to idol feast, participating in idol worship, etc. 

b. Fornication - Likely, but not limited to, ritual idol worship. 

c. Things strangled - This was done for idolatrous ceremonies. 

d. Blood - Taken from animals given in sacrifice to idols. 

i. This prohibition antedates the Old Law. See Genesis 9:4.
2. James goes on to say that the keeping of theses prohibitions would allow Jew and Gentile to be in fellowship together as brethren in the same city. 

3. It is quite possible that all four of the prohibitions have reference to idolatry. It is also possible that the addition of fornication demonstrates the fact that it was so common among the Gentiles as to be not considered wrong by them in general. This is the way our society largely looks upon it. 

4. It is also important to note that the prohibition against blood does not envision blood transfusions. It is not sinful to receive a blood transfusion for medical purposes. 

a. The prohibition was against drinking blood. 

b. It almost certainly had reference to acts associated with pagan practices. 

c. The taking of a transfusion is a medical procedure. 

d. It is not the "drinking of blood."

5. These prohibitions are coming more and more into play in our society with different cults springing up which are pagan in nature. 

6. Are the prohibitions in force today. 

a. It is interesting to note that these prohibitions were only laid on Gentiles, not Jews. Would it be permissible for Jewish Christians to eat blood, but not Gentile Christians? 

b. They seem to be temporary in nature, dealing with the fellowship question between Gentiles and Jews. 

c. Of course, fornication and idolatry are outlawed by other passages.

d. While it would seem that the blood provisions in this passage are temporary in nature it would be wise to keep them. 
VERSES 22-29 "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23) And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 25) It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26) Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27) We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28) For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29) That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well."
A. "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church..." 
1. Paul and Barnabas' view, which was the Scriptural one, had triumphed completely. We see that the "whole church" was in accord with the conclusions that were reached. 
a. This does not mean that all the "troublemakers" were convinced but that the brethren as a whole understood and supported the truth on the matters.
b. The Gentiles brethren were to be troubled by false teachers on the subject throughout the rest of the New Testament period.
2. The brethren chose two of their own to travel with Paul and Barnabas as witnesses to the proceedings. 
a. Silas would go with Paul on the Second Missionary Journey after Paul and Barnabas had their dispute over John Mark. 

b. Judas was possibly the brother of Justis, who was one of the two men nominated for the apostolic seat vacated by Judas Iscariot. 

c. These two were leaders in the Jerusalem church. Verse 32 says that they were prophets.

B. "And they wrote letters by them after this manner..." 
1. The letter has two parts. The first gives a rousing commendation of Paul and Barnabas. It also give the reasons for sending Judas and Silas. 

2. The second part of the letter states what we have already learned, i.e. the four restrictions given earlier. 

VERSES 30-35 "So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31) Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. 32) And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. 33) And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. 34) Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still. 35) Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
A. "So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch..." 
1. The delegation that the Apostles had chosen to take the message back to Antioch, the center for evangelism to the Gentiles and the church which had been troubled with the Judaizers, went back to the brethren and called the Antioch church together. 

2. The Gentile brethren rejoiced because they would not have to obey further commandments to be "In Christ." They must have understood that the keeping of the circumcision law would have been only the first step. It would have been the whole law. 

a. They did not consider the four prohibitions in the letter to be undue burdens on them. It was, from the conditions of the first century, logical. It represented a complete separation from idolatry.
B. "And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them." 
1. Judas and Silas were the brethren whom were appointed by the apostles and elders of the church of Jerusalem to confirm that the message presented by Paul and Barnabas was the valid message that the apostles had given. 
a. They also sought to encourage them to remain faithful to the Lord.
2. Judas and Silas were also prophets. 
a. The prophetic office was one of the offices of the church that are given in Ephesians 4:11-12. 

b. It was a temporary office, like the apostolic one, since their's was a miraculous work. Also there was no qualifications given for their office. 

c. What was their functions? 

1) To predict future events - Acts 11:27, 28 

2) To distinguish between the inspired Word of God and the uninspired teaching of men - 1 Corinthians 14:37 

3) To reveal the counsels and purposes of God - Ephesians 3:4,5 

4) To unfold the meaning of the Holy Scriptures, or the spoken oracles of God- 1 Corinthians 14:1-4 

5) All of these functions entailed the miraculous measures of the Spirit.

3. Judas and Silas continued for some time with the brethren at Antioch. After a time the Antioch church gave them permission to return to Jerusalem.
C. "Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also."
1. Paul and Barnabas continued their work that they had been interrupted doing by the circumcision controversy, that of working with the Antioch church. 

2. There were more workers active of Paul and Barnabas' stature. See Acts 13:1 

Acts 15:36-41 "And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. 37) And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. 38) But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 39) And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; 40) And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41) And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches."
A. "And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas..." 
1. Some time went by where Paul and Barnabas fruitfully labored at Antioch. 

2. It was natural that they were begin yearning for further contact with their brethren in Asia Minor to see if they were continuing in the faith and to strengthen them.

B. "And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark." 
1. It was Barnabas nature to be more understanding and willing to take a chance in accepting people. 

2. It was that very nature that caused him to urge Paul's acceptance by the brethren in Jerusalem earlier. See Acts 9:27-28. 

3. Add to this was the fact that John Mark was his cousin (Colossians 4:10 NKJV)

C. "But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work." 
1. Paul was equally determined that Mark not go with them. 

2. He probably thought that the young man who deserted them just as they were beginning their first journey had not sufficiently proved himself to earn the right to go with them. 

3. He likely feared that he would desert them again.

D. Comments by Barnes.
1. It is likely that Paul was right (Barnes says) It is true that Paul and Silas had the blessing of the church, while Barnabas seems to not. 

2. This contention, which was not good, turned to the glory of God. Now two teams of workers, instead of one, would go forward. 

3. This did not stop Paul from loving Barnabas and speaking fondly of him in later life (1 Corinthians 9:6). He also changed his mind about John Mark (2 Timothy 4:11). 

4. This shows the truthfulness of the Bible account. Anyone else would have glossed this over. Luke puts it out front for all to see.

E. "And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches." 
1. This area was directly north of Antioch in roughly the bend of present day Turkey. 

2. This was Paul's home territory (Tarsus) and quite likely a fertile area of evangelization during Paul "silent years." 

3. We know that there were already full functioning congregations there. These were not area of Paul and Barnabas= work during the first missionary journey. 

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