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22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. 23 They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment—25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

 

Verses 22-29 give us the Jerusalem’s Council decree. The upshot of the ruling was that Gentile believers were not required to be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas delivered the Council’s decision. The letter from the Council was read to the primary Gentile church in Antioch of Syria (Acts 15:30-35); it was an official recognition of the distinction between Israel and the church.

15:22

Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.

The entire Council agreed that Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be authentic believers. The opposing Jews lost the argument but accepted their defeat without recrimination. The Jerusalem church sent two people from their congregation to go with Paul and Barnabas to the church at Antioch Syria to convey the decision of the Council.

We know nothing more about Barsabas (Sabbath born) than this verse.

Silas, or Silvanus as he was called in the epistles, became a major player in early Christianity (2 Co 1:19; 1 Th 1:1; 2 Th 1:1; 1 Pe 5:12. After Paul’s conflict with Barnabas, he chose Silas to go with him on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40).

15:23

They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,

The senders of the letter were “the apostles, the elders, and the brethren” from the Council. The letter was a confirmation of the decision at the Council. The people who came from the Council gave word-of-mouth confirmation of the decision.

To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.

Verse 23 begins with the salutation or “greetings” of the letter from the Council. The addressees were Gentile believers in Antioch of Syria, plus in the provinces of Syria and Cilicia. Cilicia was Paul’s home territory, where he later established churches before his first missionary journey.

15:24

Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment—

Verse 24 identifies the issue at the Council: Did Gentiles need to be circumcised and keep the law to be saved?

“Unsettling” the souls of Gentiles was an attempt by Judaizers to undermine faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone for salvation. This word was a military term carrying the idea of plundering or tearing down. The legalists caused havoc among Gentile believers by indicating they needed to add something to their salvation other than the grace principle.

The Jews who unsettled the Antioch church did not speak on behalf of the official Christian church at that time.

15:25

it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

The Council came to a unanimous decision regarding the status of Gentile converts. They also specified that Barnabas and Paul deliver the good news to the church at Antioch of Syria and its region.

15:26

men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Barnabas and Paul risked their lives to deliver the gospel to Gentiles.

15:27

We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.

The Council sent Judas and Silas from Jerusalem to confirm verbally that the decision about Gentiles was accurate. The “report” was to ensure the conclusion of the Council “by word of mouth.” This report by Judas and Silas gave personal ratification of the Council’s decision.

15:28

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:

The letter in this verse from the Council gives the essence of the final decision in Jerusalem. The core issue of the requirement for circumcision for Gentiles was decided decisively—circumcision was not necessary for salvation. The Spirit confirmed to them what He showed to be already known to be true. Several speakers drew attention to the objective testimony of the Spirit at the Council.

The grammar here is that of concession. Paul made an argument by conceding to Jewish tradition; it was not an issue of doctrine.

15:29

that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

The only qualification was that Gentiles be sensitive to Jewish customs (not doctrine). Food offered to idols or pagan gods was nothing in itself. There was no inherent evil in eating food offered to idols, but it became a problem to people with overly scrupulous consciences (1 Co 8:1-13; 10:14-33).

“Sexual immorality” refers to orgies in pagan temple worship. Temple prostitutes, both female and male, were part of that worship.

That which is “strangled from blood” is related to dietary laws of the Old Testament. Eating meat with its blood still in it was prohibited by Jewish law.

PRINCIPLE:

 Communication is central to a healthy church.

APPLICATION:

Paul said in Galatians 2:6 that the Jerusalem Council added “nothing” to his message. This reference is about doctrine, not the sensitivities of dealing with particular groups, as in the qualifications of the letter to the church at Antioch.

In chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians, Paul addressed the issue of doubtful things, similar to the problems of the Acts context. The “strong” were not to eat meat offered to idols if it offended the weaker believer. The believer has liberty, but he needs to adjust his liberty to how he applies it to individuals.

The decision of the Jerusalem Council in A.D. 49 was one of the most courageous of any council in history. Their conclusion was epoch changing for both Jews and Gentiles.

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