December 29, 2014

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV. The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                    

Subtopic B: The Jerusalem Council (15:1-35)                                    

                          

                                                                            

         Lesson: IV.b.2: The Problem: Those from Syrian Antioch, Part 4 (15:30-35)

 

The Jerusalem Council (15:1-35)

Part 1 the Criticism from the circumcision Party (15:1-5)

Part 2 The Debate in Jerusalem (15:6-21)

Part 3 The Decision in Jerusalem (15:22-29)

Part 4 The Decision Reported to Antioch (15:30-35)

 

 

 

Scripture (Acts 15:30-35; KJV) Part 4

 

30 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.

 

 

Introduction

 

The letter brought from Jerusalem by the delegation caused quite a stir at Antioch.  When Barnabas and Silas read the letter and confirmed it personally a great cloud was lifted from the minds and hearts of the believers in Antioch, and this really opened the way for renewed labors in which many gifted brethren taught and preached the word (35).  The risen Lord was conferring abundant and varied gifts on His church (Ephesians 4:7-13).

 

 

Commentary

30 So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:

 

Paul and Barnabas and the other delegates (the delegation which in verse 2 had been appointed to go to Jerusalem.), strengthened by the addition to their number of Judas and Silas as delegates from Jerusalem sent expressly to confirm the report of Paul and Barnabas (v 32), returned to the church of Antioch.

 

 

31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.

 

Upon their arrival, the church was assembled and the letter read in the presence of all.  Every one found its message “encouraging[1],” undoubtedly because it confirmed their practice of accepting the Gentiles without demanding circumcision and the obligations of the Torah, which would have been burdensome for gentiles to carry.  Thus Barnabas lived up to his name (Son of Consolation, or Exhortation).  We can well imagine what an anxious time it was for the Gentiles in the Antioch church.  There is nothing harder than waiting, especially when a critical decision is expected.  The hours and days seem to drag, and always the nagging thought persists: “What if the news is bad?” Hope and despair battle for the victory.  The letter then was read amid great rejoicing, since it reassured them of their status.  Its demands were apparently accepted without any objections, (they may already have been doing these things under instruction from their own leaders).  We do not know what had happened to the Judaizers. Perhaps they had already left, knowing full well their phony credentials would soon be exposed.  Or maybe they were still there, hoping that Judaistic sentiment in the Jerusalem church, which they knew to be strong, would prevail.  In any case, the letter exposed and discredited them.  Not that they changed their minds or gave up their goals.  Such men rarely do.  But for the time being at least they were effectively suppressed.

 

On his second missionary journey, Paul shared the letter with the churches he had founded on his first missionary journey.  The result was a strengthening of the church’s faith and an increase of their number—“So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5).

 

Comfort and Consolation. There is “consolation” and comfort in the gospel; there is nothing but condemnation in the Law.  The Law condemns.  The Law is a mirror.  When I look into it, I say “O, Tom, you are ugly!  You have fallen short of the Glory of God.” But the gospel says, “Come on to God.  He wants to receive you.  He will save you by His grace.” It is a comfort, you see.

 

 

32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.

 

The Greek word which is rendered here as “exhorted” is contrary to the imposition the Judaizers attempted to practice on them. The expression “many words” means that Judas and Silas had a lot to say in support of the communication from the Jerusalem church. For one thing, they “confirmed them”—opening up, no doubt, the great principle involved in the controversy which has now been settled of gratuitous salvation, or the purification of the heart by faith alone (as expressed by Peter; verses 9, 11).

 

As prophets, Judas and Silas were able to go beyond their role of interpreters of the Jerusalem Conference and to further strengthen and encourage their brothers and sisters at Antioch.  In the New Testament prophesy is primarily the gift of inspiration whereby one delivers a word from God that addresses the present needs in the life of the church.

 

 

33 And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles.

 

Judas and Silas were well received in Antioch and remained there some time, ministering to the church through their gift of interpretation.  Judas and Silas did more than confirm the contents of the letter.  They remained on in that dynamic church to minister the Word to the Lord’s people, being gifted in the Word themselves.  They had a strengthening ministry, one much needed after the weakening and divisive false teaching of the Judaizers.  When they departed, they were sent off with the ancient blessing of shalom[2], asking that the peace of God would abide with them.  The word “peace” expressed a desire for well-being in all areas of their lives.

 

For Judas and Silas, their experiences in this new, largely Gentile, young, and growing church must have been somewhat different and exciting after the sedate and stuffy atmosphere in Jerusalem.  In Jerusalem, evangelistic fervor had given place to exclusivism and concern over non-essentials.  For these men to be around a large group of Christians still excited about their salvation, still enthusiastic about winning souls and world missions, and still woefully ignorant, comparatively, of all the majesty and meaning of the Scriptures must have been revolutionary.

 

 

34 Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.

 

It is evident that Paul and Silas got along well together.  Silas must have liked Paul and enjoyed working with him.  So he stayed there at the church in Antioch. He must have been excited about working with these gentile believers.  At any rate, he stayed.

 

Verse 34 is one of the Western readings that found its way into the Textus Receptus[3] and from there into many of the 16th and 17th century translations.  It is the consensus of textual criticism that it was not in the original text of Acts and is thus omitted in modern translations.  It reads: “But Silas decided to remain with them.  Only Judas departed.” Undoubtedly the scribe responsible for this addition wanted to solve the problem of Silas being present in Antioch again in verse 40.  When he did so a much more serious conflict was created with verse 33, which clearly states that they (plural) both returned to Jerusalem.  There really is no problem with verse 40 anyway, because it takes place sometime later (v. 36), allowing plenty of room for Silas to return to Antioch from Jerusalem.

 

Though some of the texts question the validity of verse 34, it would not be surprising if Silas decided to stay on at Antioch.

 

 

35 Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

 

Verse 35 concludes the narrative of the Jerusalem Conference in summary fashion.  Paul (again taking the lead now that he was away from the deadening influence of Jerusalem) and Barnabas again through themselves into the work of evangelism and Bible teaching.  “Many others” caught fire, too.  It seems as though, set free from the deadening doctrine of the legalists, the Antioch church had a new lease on life.  Now that the Gentile question had been settled, the church prospered under the teaching and preaching of Paul and Barnabas (They were actually the pastors of the church there.) and “many others.” The “many others” are significant.  The preaching of Paul, Barnabas, and “many others” was directed, perhaps, to winning outsiders, the teaching was focused on establishing them in the Lord.  This verse is the final glimpse into the life of the Antioch church.  Paul and Barnabas would soon be leaving for mission fields elsewhere.  The church was left in good hands; there were “many others” who were competent to carry on its witness.  The events described in Galatians 2: 11-14 probably occurred at this time.

 

By the way Luke presents the decision of the Jerusalem council, one may suppose that the whole matter of the division between Jewish and Gentile Christians was settled.  From Paul’s epistles we learn that the council did not effect a complete reconciliation because the apostle was constantly faced with a group of Judaizers after this important event.

 

 

  1.   We today can learn a great deal from this difficult experience of the early church.  To begin with, problems and differences are opportunities for growth just as much as temptations for dissension and division.  Churches need to work together and take time to listen, love, and learn.  There are several things we can do to avoid dissension and division within our churches:
  2. Most divisions are caused by “followers” and “leaders.” A powerful leader gets a following, refuses to give in on even the smallest matter, and before long there is a split.  Most church problems are not caused by doctrinal differences but by different viewpoints on practical matters.  What color shall we paint the kitchen?  Can we change the order of the service?  What color should the carpet be?
  3. Christians need to learn the art of loving compromise.  They need to have their priorities in order so they know when to fight for what is really important in the church.  It is sinful to follow some impressive member of the church who is fighting to get his or her way on some minor issue that is not worth fighting about.
  4. As we deal with our differences, we must ask, “How will our decisions affect the united witness of the church to the lost?” Jesus prayed that His people might be united so that the world might believe on Him (John 17:20–21).  Unity is not uniformity, for unity is based on love and not law.
  5. God has opened a wonderful door of opportunity for us to take the gospel of God’s grace to a condemned world.  But there are forces in the church even today that want to close that door.  There are people who are preaching “another gospel” that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Help keep that door open—reach as many as you can!  Be daring!

 

 

Summary.  The agreement reached at the Jerusalem Conference was a most remarkable result and established a major precedent for dealing with controversy within the Christian fellowship.  One should realize the sharp difference that existed between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians.  Jewish Christians were faithful to all the traditions of their heritage.  They observed the provisions of the Torah, circumcised their male children, and kept all the Jewish holy days.  They did not cease to be Jews when they became Christians.  James was himself a perfect example.  In their accounts of his later martyrdom, both Josephus and Eusebius noted the tremendous respect the nonbelieving Jews gave him because of his deep piety and scrupulous observance of the law.  Not requiring Gentiles to be circumcised upon entry into the covenant community was a radical departure from the Jewish tradition.  That James and his fellow Jewish Christians were willing to bend on such a basic principle is testimony to two things about them.  First, they were all open to the leading of God. Throughout the account God’s leading is stressed—in His sending the Spirit on Cornelius (v. 8), in the “signs and wonders” that God worked through Paul and Barnabas (v. 12).  It was this evidence of God’s acceptance of the Gentiles that determined the decision of the council to accept Gentiles with no further burden.  And the Spirit of God was present with them in the conference, leading them in their decision (v. 28). This is a consistent picture in Acts; wherever Christians are open to God’s Spirit, there is unity.

 

Second, the Jewish and Christian leadership showed a concern for the world mission of the church that overshadowed their own special interests.  They took a step that was absolutely essential if the Gentile mission was to be a success.  To have required circumcision and the Torah would have severely limited the appeal to Gentiles, perhaps even killed it.  Yet the Jewish Christians only stood to lose by not requiring Jewish proselyte procedure of the Gentile converts.  It was bound to create problems with nonbelieving Jews.  That it indeed did so is indicated in a later passage in Acts (21:20-22).  If the Jerusalem leadership had only been concerned about the effectiveness of their own witness among the Jews they would never have taken such a step.  That it did so is testimony of their concern for the total mission of the church.  Their vision stretched beyond their own bailiwick—indeed, to the ends of the earth.

 

 

 

 


[1] The Greek word which has been translated “encouraging” can mean either comfort or exhortation.  Either nuance fits this particular context.  The letter both comforted them and encouraged them by the conciliatory spirit of its exhortations.

[2] Shalom means “go in peace.” Paul’s customary greeting was “grace and peace” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3).

[3] Textus Receptus (Latin: "received text") is the name given to the succession of printed Greek texts of the New Testament which constituted the translation base for the original German Luther Bible, the translation of the New Testament into English by William Tyndale, the King James Version, and most other Reformation-era New Testament translations throughout Western and Central Europe. The series originated with the first printed Greek New Testament, published in 1516—a work undertaken in Basel by the Dutch Catholic scholar and humanist Desiderius Erasmus. Although based mainly on late manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type, Erasmus' edition differed markedly from the classic form of that text, and included some missing parts back translated from the Latin Vulgate.

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