Acts chapter 15

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6And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 7And 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. 8And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10Now 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? 11But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. 12Then 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. 13And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16After 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: 17That 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. 18Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 19Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 21For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
22Then 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: 23And 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: 24Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: 25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29That 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. 30So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. 32And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. 33And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. 34Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still. 35Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

What does Acts chapter 15 mean?

God had always planned to offer salvation to the whole world (Genesis 12:3). He had always planned to first set aside a particular line of Abraham's descendants to demonstrate to the world the importance of worshiping the holy God and to provide the Messiah—God the Son come to earth in humanity—as a sacrifice for the sins of the Jews and the Gentiles. When this expansion into the non-Jewish world begins, however, Jewish Christians who have lived a particularly devout life have a difficult time accepting that the purpose and necessity of their separation from other nations is over.

Paul and Barnabas are settling back in Syrian Antioch after their journey spreading the news about salvation through Jesus in Cyprus and up into modern-day Asia Minor (Acts 13—14). Jewish Jesus-followers have come to visit, demanding the Gentiles be circumcised. They are essentially saying the Gentiles must convert to Judaism in order to obtain salvation, not just put their faith in Jesus. Paul and Barnabas, having seen many Gentiles come to faith in their travels, vehemently disagree. The church in Antioch sends Paul and Barnabas, as well as a few others, to the church in Jerusalem for a final ruling. While traveling, the envoys encourage the churches along the Phoenician coast and in Samaria with stories of the churches they have planted. In Jerusalem, however, the Antiochene representatives meet Jewish Jesus-followers who still identify as Pharisees and who insist the Gentiles be circumcised and keep the Mosaic law. The debate may not have been as much a genuine question of salvation as it was that the Pharisaical Christians didn't want to associate with Gentiles who are not submitting to Mosaic law because they'll lose their standing in the Jewish community (Galatians 6:12; Matthew 23:1–12) (Acts 15:1–5).

It was Peter who had watched the Holy Spirit fall on the centurion Cornelius and a houseful of Gentiles without benefit of circumcision or even baptism (Acts 10:44). He and the other apostles had heard Jesus' promise that He would not put a heavy burden on His followers (Matthew 11:28–30). More, Peter reminds the council that even the Jewish Jesus-followers are not saved from their sins and reconciled to God because of their circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law. Salvation is only by grace, through faith, and not of works, as Paul (Ephesians 2:8–9) will attest later (Acts 15:6–11).

Peter's testimony quiets the crowd enough for Paul and Barnabas to give an account of how God validated their message. As they ministered to the Jews and Gentiles, God empowered them to perform miracles. Then James, the half-brother of Jesus and pastor of the church in Jerusalem, speaks. James reminds the council that God had always planned to bring the Gentiles to Himself—as Gentiles, not as converted Jews. He rejects the belief that Gentiles need to be circumcised or follow the Mosaic law. He does, however, suggest they tell the new believers to refrain from sexual sin and from food that Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ would find abhorrent—not because doing so would ensure the Gentiles' salvation, but because to do otherwise would cause a break in fellowship as wide as forcing the Gentiles to be circumcised would (Acts 15:12–21).

Church leaders and members agree with James' suggestions. They write a letter laying out specifically that the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem place no expectation of circumcision on Gentile Jesus-followers. They do require Gentiles to accommodate the sensitivities of the Jews to maintain harmony. The council also chooses Judas Barsabbas and Silas to take the letter as representatives of the church (Acts 15:22–29).

Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas reach Syrian Antioch with the letter from the church in Jerusalem. The Gentile Jesus-followers are understandably pleased; not only do they not have to be circumcised, Jesus' apostles validated their faith and the unity of their churches. Judas returns to Jerusalem; it's unclear if Silas stays or if he goes back to Jerusalem and then returns to Antioch (Acts 15:30–35).

This brings the book of Acts to the dissolution of Paul and Barnabas' ministry partnership. They both feel led to take James' letter to the churches they planted (Acts 16:4), but they are divided as to whether they should take John Mark, Barnabas' cousin. Mark had started with them on their first missionary voyage, accompanying them to the island of Cyprus and on up to Perga. But then he left them, apparently in such a way that disrupted their efforts. Mark then returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Paul did not want Mark to come; Barnabas, the "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36), did. So, Barnabas and Mark sailed to Cyprus and Paul took Silas overland into Asia Minor. While the disagreement seems to have been sharp, the end result is each man choosing to serve God separately, without condemning or harming the ministry of the other. Over time, both men likely realize this was the best possible outcome (Acts 15:36–41).

This is the last we will hear of Peter or any of the other apostles in Luke's writing. The rest of the book of Acts covers Paul's second (Acts 16:1—18:23) and third (Acts 19—20) missionary trips, his arrest in Jerusalem and imprisonment in Caesarea Maritima (Acts 21—26), and his sea voyage to prison in Rome (Acts 27—28).
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