Lesson XXXVI


Acts 15:1-5

I.  In Antioch of Syria: vss. 1, 2

A.  Occasion. 1. Barnabas and Paul had reported to the brethren of their preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles.  This report must have been brought by someone to Jerusalem to the church there.  (A parallel case we have recorded in Acts 11:1-18).  2. Some from the church in Jerusalem come to Antioch in connection with this report.  They had not been commissioned by the church, but had come on their own authority and initiative. (vs. 24)

B.  These self-appointed emissaries take issue with Paul and Barnabas. 1. The issue?  The manner of the salvation of the Gentiles.  They allege: Circumcision is a necessary condition to Salvation.  Moses’ ordinances must be kept by the Gentiles.  2. Result?  No small dissention and questioning of Paul and Barnabas arises with them.  For notice: a. Paul had preached: “No flesh is justified by the works of the law” (Acts 13:38, 39).  b. Hence the alternatives are only two: Saved by works, or saved by grace.

C.  Measures taken?  1. A committee is appointed by the church in Antioch to go to Jerusalem and there confer with the Apostles, elders concerning this disputed question.  This committee consisted of: Paul, Barnabas and “certain others.”  2. The issue at stake was indeed great.  a. Many practical questions involved.  b. Yet, the principle question, of the offence of the Cross overshadows all.

II.  In Jerusalem: vss. 3-6

A.  The committee from Antioch receives a hearty welcome.  1. By the entire congregation.  The church here greets Paul and Barnabas as they had been greeted by the church in Antioch on their return from the first missionary journey.  2. Further, they are also welcomed by the Apostles (those who were still living) and elders.  This seems to have been a public meeting in distinction from the private meeting spoken of by Paul in Galatians 2:2.

B.  The subject of discussion is: What God has done through the apostles among the Gentiles.  Naturally this was apart from preaching the need to be circumcised or to keep the law of Moses.  It was therefore as touchy a subject as it was interesting, and the believers, who were still belonging to the sect of the Pharisees rise to the occasion.  They insist here in this gathering before Paul, Barnabas, the elders and apostles that: 1. Circumcision for the Gentiles is necessary to salvation.  2. That the Gentiles should be told that they should keep the law of Moses.  The issue is red-hot!  A crisis has been reached.

Questions: Is circumcision a Mosaic institution?  How about what Jesus says in John 7:22?   Were these “Judaizers” believing Christians?  In the sense of Galatians 2:20?  How must we explain, without condoning, their attitude toward Paul’s preaching?  Were these opposing brethren necessarily as evil as those spoken of in Gal. 2:4?  Was it merely a matter of a lack of consistency?  Was Paul personally in need of this meeting in Jerusalem?  Compare Gal. 1:10-12 with verses 3-5 and verse 12.  With whom was the sympathy of the Gentile churches?  Did the Judaizers who came down to Antioch and mentioned in verses 1, 24 also evidently return to Jerusalem to this meeting?

Suggestions:  1. An Essay: “Instances in the book of Acts of Jews Opposing the Preaching of the Cross—a Catalogue.”  2. An Essay: “The Churches’ love for Paul as reflected in the cordial send-off afforded him.”  Acts 15:3; 20:38; 21:5; Titus 3:13; I Cor. 16:6, 11; II Cor. 1:16; 3 John 6.




Acts 15:6-29

I.  The Debated Issue. Vss. 6, 7a

A.  Concisely Stated: 1. Resolved, that the Gentiles need not be circumcised after the custom of Moses to be saved. 2. Resolved consequently, that circumcision, made with hands, need not be preached as a necessity to be saved.

B.  A Hot Debate Ensues.  The text says: much disputing.  “Evidently, the Judaizers were given full opportunity to air their grievances and objections.  They were allowed plenty of time, and there was no effort to shut off debate or to rush anything through the meeting.”—(Robertson).

II.  The Following Speakers Marshall the Evidence that Settles the Matter.

A.  They are two “pillars of the church” (Gal. 2:9) and Barnabas and Paul. They have the “floor” in the following order: a. Peter.  His burden of proof is: God is not a respecter of persons, but has given His grace to all who fear Him.  Paul and Barnabas tell nothing new in their experiences; nothing new in the sense of: never heard of before by the Judaizers.  Compare Acts 11:1-18.  The following matters Peter calls attention to: 1. God had many years before already appeared to him in Joppa; had chosen him to speak the Word to the Gentiles.  Acts 10:1-11, 18.  2. God had at that time given to the Gentiles (it was at the home of Cornelius) the Holy Spirit even as he had to the Jewish believers at Pentecost.  Hence, God had clearly indicated what His will was in this matter.  3. Conclusion: To oppose the work of Paul and Barnabas was clearly opposing God.  It was tempting God by acting contrary to His revealed will.  It was just as the act of Israel at Massah and Meribah.  Ex. 17:7; Deut. 6:16; I Cor. 10:9.

B.  Paul and Barnabas, vs. 12. 1. They agree with Peter, of course.  See Gal. 2:7-10.  Paul and Barnabas must have met privately with Peter, John and James after the public welcome.  These “pillars in the church” had accorded them the right hand of fellowship.  2. They relate: What God by signs and wonders had wrought among the Gentiles through them.  This was not mere repetition of what had been stated by them in the public meeting.  It placed the emphasis on what God had wrought.  3. Conclusion: God had placed His sanction upon their preaching and labors.

C.  James (the brother of the Lord) vss. 13-21. 1. He corroborates Peter’s address.  Not those of Barnabas and Paul directly; only by inference.  2. He does so by employing: a. Not experiences of visions (thus Peter).  Neither because of what he had experienced in the wonder-working of God (thus Paul and Barnabas).  b. But: the Holy Scriptures.  This is the last court of appeal always.  And thus it is also here in this gathering.  James is of necessity the last speech.  3. James very skillfully employs the Scriptures and applies it to question before the gathering.  We notice the following: a. He quotes prophecy (Amos 9:11, 12; Jer. 12:15; Isa. 45:21 which see)—a prophecy showing the design of God, the broad outlines, the fundamental lines, the general plan of God—governing all the particular facts in the history of God’s covenant, and therefore a prophecy which also places the issue before the meeting in the proper perspective of all the work of God.  b. He further suggests the course of action that the meeting should take on the basis of these facts.  For indeed these O. T. prophecies teach what Peter and Paul had spoken of.  There is perfect agreement in the work of God, and the various experiences of Peter and Paul are so many pieces that fit into the whole of this work.  The course of action that James suggests is: (1) The following “burden” is placed on the Gentile churches: “that we write, that they abstain from the pollutions of idols and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood.”  (2) The motive: In part, the moral law, the seventh commandment, (abstaining from the pollutions of idols and from fornication) and in part, the law of love for the Jewish brother in the faith, (abstaining from that which is strangled and from blood).  This latter is not a remnant of ceremonial leaven.  Read: Gen. 9:4c.  This suggested course meets with unanimous approval.

Questions:  Was this gathering in Jerusalem a Synod in this sense that it was a representation of each local church?  If not, was there ever a gathering again of this nature?  Why can this James of Acts 15 not be James, the son of Zebedee?  What is the nature and purpose of “signs and wonders?”  Are they a clear-cut testimony of God’s work?  Are they added to the preaching of the Word, or is the Word added to the “signs and wonders?”  Compare: John 14:11-15 with Acts 15:12.

Suggestions:  1. Read this chapter in its entirety.  Read it!  Acts 15 is the best part of the lesson: it is much better than the “outline” can possibly be.  Only after you have really read the chapter can you usefully employ the “outline” and see the sense of the “questions.”  2. An Essay: “Fornication and Idol Worship—A Wedded Pair in Scripture.”




Acts 15:22-29

I.  The Content and Nature of this Letter.

A.  It speaks of: 1. The writers.  They are: Apostles, Elders.  2. The addressees: The brethren out of the Gentiles; the brethren living in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.  Hence: the churches visited and organized by Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, plus the church at Antioch.  3. Further it contained a statement: a. As to the occasion of this writing.  “Some out of our midst have troubled you with words subverting your soul.”  b. Of the names of the committee chosen to bear this letter to them.  They are: Paul and Barnabas, men of good repute; Judas and Silas.  The last two are the committee proper.  c. And last, but not least, this letter contained the decision of the gathering with respect to the conduct of the Gentile Churches. (see former outline).

B.  Authoritative Nature of this Letter: vs. 28.  1. Not because of the dignity of the persons present as such.  This could not lend authority to this missive.  2. But because of: a. The factual, revelational evidence brought forth by Peter and Paul.  b. The agreement of this revelational data with the Prophecies—as shown by James.  c. The testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all the brethren in connection with this evidence.  (It seemeth good to us and to the Holy Spirit).

II.  Its Reception by the Churches:

A.  Which churches receive it (as recorded in Acts).  1. The churches in Antioch.  This is recorded in Acts 15:30-33.  2. The churches at Derbe, Lystra, etc. chap. 16:4.

B.  Result: 1. In Antioch.  Great joy up the consolation and exhortation.  Did this not concern their very life?  Indeed they were concerned.  2. In Derbe, Lystra.  The churches were established and the number multiplied.  Surely the Holy Spirit was “backing up” His own work wrought in the counsel at Jerusalem.  This is of course most important.

Questions:  1. Did the churches view these letters as authoritative?  Can one opposing a well motivated decision of a church council be as sincere in opposing as the man who humbly submits?  What is the principle followed in Article 31 of our Church Order (Manual)?  2. Does opposition to the elders and apostles ever work toward spiritual health and vigor?  Heb. 13:17; I Peter 5:1-5.

Suggestions:  1. A Debate: “Resolved that according to the Teaching of Scripture the Holy Spirit only Speaks to Man through the Scriptures.”  2. An Essay: “Letters Recorded in the Book of Acts.”


Lesson XXXIX


Acts 15:36-41

I.  The General Picture in Antioch

A.  Judas and Silas had returned to Jerusalem to the brethren there. They had completed their task assigned to them, vs. 33.  However, Silas must have returned again to Antioch.  See vs. 40.

B.  Paul and Barnabas must have labored for some time again in Antioch.  It is quite likely that at this time Peter came down from Jerusalem to visit the churches; he also came to Antioch.  Of this visit at this time the book of Acts relates nothing, but Paul tells of this visit in Gal. 2:11-18.  It seems that, in spite of Peter’s speech in the meeting in Jerusalem, he had acted cowardly toward the Jews that came from Jerusalem while Peter was at Antioch.  At first Peter ate with the Gentiles, but when the Jews (those of James came) he separated himself and ate no longer in their fellowship.  This did not seem to be a matter of wrong doctrine, but it was conduct inconsistent with the stand taken at Jerusalem; inconsistent with the vision that appeared to Peter at Joppa at noon-day.  This must indeed have been a trying and sad experience for Paul.  For even Barnabas dissembled.  Did this experience at Antioch leave temporary wounds?

C.  Paul at this time was becoming restless and concerned about the welfare of the churches.  He says to Barnabas in rather urgent tone: Let us go to the churches and see how they fare.  For Paul’s true concern about the churches compare II Cor. 11:28.

II.  The Separation.

A.  Paul and Barnabas disagree over the person of John Mark.  1. John Mark.  He was the nephew (cousin, Col. 4:10) of Barnabas.  He had started with Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey.  Acts 12:25—13:14, but had deserted them at Perga and Pamphilia, and had returned to Jerusalem.  Evidently he had a change of heart and purpose.  He had quite likely indicated his willingness and desire to accompany Paul and Barnabas on their next tour.  2. Paul and Barnabas do not see eye to eye.  Barnabas wills to take John Mark along.  He believes the best.  Paul does not judge him worthy.  Ground: He had failed to go with them to the work.  He fears a recurrence.

B.  Both Barnabas and Paul steadfastly maintain their position. So hot was the contention that they separate.  1. Barnabas sails with John Mark and goes to Cyprus.  2. Paul takes Silas with him and goes to Syria and Cilicia.  The church at Antioch evidently stood with Paul.

Questions:  How must we judge of this separation?  Was it sinful?  Was there some good born from it?  According to what standard can anyone judge the trustworthiness of a man?  Did Paul never again trust John Mark?  Do we ever read again of Barnabas in the book of Acts?  Were Paul and Barnabas later reconciled?  I Cor. 9:6.

Suggestions:  An Essay: “John Mark, Making Good in the Ministry.”  2. An Essay: “Barnabas, Paul’s Benefactor, in the Book of Acts.”