Acts 15


1  “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.”

Came down... and taught for which came down... taught, Authorized Version;

saying for and said, Authorized Version; custom (ἔθοςethos) for manner,

Authorized Version.  Except ye be circumcised, etc. The question thus raised nearly

effected the disruption of the Church, and was the most serious controversy that had

yet arisen. If the views broached by these Judaean Christians had prevailed, the

whole character of Christianity would have been changed, and its existence probably

cut short. How great the danger was appears from even Peter and Barnabas having

wavered in their opinion. (For Paul's treatment of the subject, see Romans 2:25-29;

4:9-25; Galatians 5:2-6;  6:12-15)  The expression, Τινὲς κατέλθοντες ἀπὸ τῆς

ἸουδαίαςTines katelthontes apo taes IoudaiasSome men coming down from

Judea - is so like that in 2, Πρὸ τοῦ ἐλθεῖν τινὰς ἀπὸ ἸακώβουPro

tou elthein tinas a po Iakoboubefore that certain came from James -  as to suggest

very strongly the consideration whether Peter was not at Antioch at this time, and

whether the scene related in Galatians 2:11, etc., did not precede, and in fact cause,

the Council of Jerusalem. In this case the "dissension and disputation" spoken of

in v. 2 would include and directly point to the memorable rebuke given by Paul to

Peter; and we should understand that Peter, accepting Paul's rebuke, preceded him

and Barnabas, and prepared the way at Jerusalem for the solution arrived at. And,

indeed, Peter's words at Jerusalem are almost an echo of Paul's words addressed to

him at Antioch. If Barnabas had shown a leaning towards the Judaizing party, he

would the more readily have been accepted by them as one of the embassy. The

chief objection to this hypothesis is that in Galatians 2:11 Peter's visit to Antioch

seems to be spoken of as something subsequent to the journey of Paul and Barnabas

to Jerusalem. But it is not in the least necessary so to understand it. Paul's mention

of his visit to Jerusalem might naturally recall the incident which had led to it, and

which was another example of his own independence. Farrar places Peter's visit to

Antioch between the Council of Jerusalem and the quarrel with Barnabas, in the

time indicated in v. 35 of this chapter (vol. 1. Acts 23.), and so do Conybeare and

Howson (vol. 1. p. 238), Meyer, and Alford ('Proleg.,' p. 24; note on Acts 15:36,

and Galatians 2:11). Renan ('St. Paul,' p. 290, etc.) and Lewin (vol. 1. Acts 13.)

place it after Paul's return to Antioch, at the conclusion of his second missionary

journey (ch. 18:22-23). No absolute certainty can be arrived at, but see note to v. 35.

Custom (see ch. 16:21); τὰ ἔθη -  ta ethae - is the technical term for the Mosaic

institutions, used by Josephus and Philo (see too ch. 6:14; 21:21, note).



Circumcision and Salvation (v. 1)


Revised Version, “Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye

cannot be saved.” It was inevitable that the claims of Judaism and of

Christianity should presently come into conflict. The conflict, when it

came, would be sure to rage round some one particular point of difference;

not necessarily the most important point, but the one which would give

most prominence to the essential differences. Circumcision was only a

formal rite, and its importance might easily be exaggerated; but it sealed

the exclusiveness of the Jewish system, and it illustrated its ceremonial

character, so it formed a good ground on which to fight. The Jews had this

vantage-ground. Circumcision was unquestionably a Divine institution; and

the Christian could bring no proof whatever that it had been formally

removed. The Christian teachers could only urge that the “life in Christ” no

longer needed formal bonds, and that God’s grace in Christ Jesus was

given to those who were not of the circumcision. Paul took very firm

ground on the question. While prepared to go to the very limits of

charitable concession in dealing with those who felt the helpfulness of rites

and ceremonies, he was prepared to resist to the death any tampering with

the gospel condition of salvation, or any attempt to declare that saving

grace could be found in any formal ordinance or ceremony. “When the very

foundations of Christianity were in danger of being undermined, it was not

possible for Paul to “give place by subjection.”  (Galatians 2:5)



reformation; not religion; not material prosperities; not intellectual

attainments; not culture; but DISTINCTLY SALVATION! -  which is a

moral good, and bears direct relation to personal sins and to a sinful state,

and is conceivable only by some DIVINE INTERVENTION, and on

REVEALED DIVINE TERMS!  Man’s final cry is, "What must I do to be

saved?” “How can man be just with God?” Salvation, conceived as man’s

reconciliation with God, was the idea of Judaism, and it was represented by

man’s being brought into covenant relations, and kept in them by sacrifice and

ceremonial.  Judaism had a moral life within its ritual, and this finds expression

in the Psalms and in the prophets. Salvation, as apprehended by Christianity,

is man’s reconciliation to God, upon his penitence for sin, and faith in the

Lord Jesus Christ, as the all-sufficient Sacrifice for sin and Savior entrusted

with authority to forgive. The two systems are related, as a shadow is

related to the figure that throws it; but the two cannot be combined; the

shadow must pass altogether when the substance has come. The salvation man

wants is A  SOUL SALVATION and that no rite, no ceremonial, can touch.



was a Divine favor granted to one particular race. The Abrahamic

relations, standing, and rights were secured to all who adopted the

appointed sign and seal of circumcision. In later years outsiders were

admitted to share the “salvation,” or “standing with God,” of the

Abrahamic race, by submitting to the rite of circumcision. As spirituality

faded from the Jewish life, increasing importance became attached to the

mere rite, and zealots contended for it as if in it alone lay the hope of

salvation. There is an important place for ritual, but it is ever perilous to

spiritual truth if it is put out of its place. It is a useful handmaid; it is a

tyrannous mistress.



REVEALED TO THE APOSTLES. Not works of righteousness, but

“faith,” which presupposes penitence. How is a sinner saved? Apart from

all systems or ceremonies, he must accept the salvation freely offered to

him by God in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. The act of acceptance is

called “faith.” We cannot wonder that this new and most gracious

condition of salvation should have pushed the older idea altogether out of

the apostles’ minds. It seemed new; they would not even try to think how it

fitted the old. Conscious of the new life and joy it brought, they would find

themselves gradually being weaned from Jewish ceremonial, and the more

advanced thinkers, such as Paul, would be even in some danger of

exaggerating the contrasts between the old and the new.



and practices which have long absorbed the interest of men do not die

without a struggle. Some champions linger on, and show fight at every

opportunity. A wealth of interests gather round every religious system, and

generations must pass before these can be wholly changed. So we cannot

wonder that the sterner Judaism showed fight against the apostles, or that

paganism again and again made desperate efforts to resist advancing

Christianity. The Jewish tethers seem on this occasion to have acted in an

underhanded and unworthy way. “The course they adopted, in the first

instance, was not that of open antagonism to Paul, but rather of

clandestine intrigue. They came as ‘spies’ into an enemy’s camp, creeping

in unawares, and gradually insinuating or openly inculcating their opinion

that the observance of the Jewish Law was necessary to salvation.” Two

things need to be considered.


Ø      Why their teaching had to be so vigorously resisted.


o       Because it tended to confuse the minds of the disciples;

o       because it was fundamentally opposed to the Christian teaching.


Ø      On what grounds the resistance could be made. These were


o       the exclusiveness of the Christian condition of salvation —

by faith;

o       the supreme claims of the teaching of Christ, who laid no

such burden on His disciples;

o       the fact that the Holy Ghost sealed believers from among the

uncircumcised. This is enough, then and now. “Whosoever

believeth on the Son of God hath EVERLASTING LIFE!

(John 3:16)


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.”

And when for when therefore, Authorized Version; questioning for disputation,

Authorized Version; the brethren (in italics) appointed for they determined,

Authorized Version. Certain other of them. One of these would be Titus

(Galatians 2:1). The circumstance that, on this occasion, Paul did go up to those

who were apostles before him, to consult with them on a matter of doctrine,

shows at once why he refers so pointedly to this visit in Galatians 2:1, etc., and is

almost conclusive evidence that this visit is the one there referred to. The

companionship of Barnabas; the agreement of the expression, "I went up by

revelation," with the fact that he was sent by the Church, doubtless in obedience

to some voice of the Spirit, like that mentioned in ch. 13:2; the occasion, a dispute

about the circumcision of Gentile converts; the line taken by Paul and Barnabas in

declaring the conversion of the Gentiles (vs. 4, 12; ch. 14:27), and the result

(v. 19; Galatians 2:5, 7, 9), are all strong, not to say conclusive, marks of the

identity of the two visits. The apostles and elders. This phrase marks the constitution

of the governing part of the Church of Jerusalem. The addition in vs. 22-23 of

"the whole Church," and (according to the Textus Receptus) of "the brethren," shows

the part the body of the believers had in approving and sanctioning the decisions of

the elders. The transaction marks the position of the Church of Jerusalem as the

metropolitan Church of Christendom.


3“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.”  They therefore... passed for and... they passed,

Authorized Version; both Phoenicia for Phenice, Authorized Version. Being brought

on their way (προπεμφθέντεςpropemphthentesbeing sent forward). The word

προπέμπω propempo - has two distinct though allied meanings: one is "to conduct

a person on his way," as in ch. 20:38; 21:5; the other is "to help a person on his way,

by supplying him with all necessaries for his journey," as in Romans 15:24;

I Corinthians 16:6; II Corinthians 1:16; Titus 3:13; III John 1:6. This last is the

meaning here. Being the messengers of the Church, they traveled at the Church's

expense. Both Phoenicia and Samaria. Their course would be through Berytus,

Tyre, Sidon, and Samaria. Declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. There was an

especial reason for doing so, as it had a strong bearing upon the great controversy

about to be decided at Jerusalem.


4 “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.”  The apostles for of the apostles, Authorized Version; the elders for

elders, Authorized Version; rehearsed for declared, Authorized Version. They were

received of the Church, etc. Being themselves the formal envoys of the Church of

Antioch, they were formally received as such by the Church of Jerusalem, headed

by the apostles and elders.



The Jerusalem Church (vs. 2, 4)


Christianity started out from Jerusalem. The disciples fulfilled their Lord’s

command, and “began at Jerusalem.” The gospel was first preached at

Jerusalem. The Holy Ghost endowed the Christian teachers, and sealed the

Christian believers, first at Jerusalem. The Church first took form at

Jerusalem. Its officers were first appointed at Jerusalem. And the records

intimate that, when the other disciples were scattered abroad, the older and

prominent apostles remained behind in the holy city, and exercised a kind

of supervision over the work of the various Christian teachers. The

constitution of the Jerusalem Church cannot be certainly known; but it is

clear that Peter had no exclusive authority, and that if disputes and

controversies were submitted to an apostolic council, their decision took

the form of recommendation and not of command. As the subject will be

treated from several points of view, according to the bias of the preacher,

we give only the general outline of the topics that may be usefully




teachers were Jews; and Christianity is not only the proper outcome and

perfection of Judaism, but it bears the Jewish stamp. It links on to the

fundamental ideas of God, sin, redemption, which were revealed to the

Jews. If it were wholly new, it could not be true.



Church. Observe how its council of apostles and elders was sought when

difficulties of doctrine or practice arose; and how the Gentile Churches

sent their charitable gifts to the poor saints at the mother Church.


  • JERUSALEM, THE MODEL CHURCH. How far any Church could

present a model may be disputed. Any model would be efficient by reason

of its illustrating working principles, not by virtue of its mere form.



claimed authority on the ground of their knowledge of Christ, inspiration,

miraculous gifts, and power to give or bring the Holy Ghost, needs to be

carefully considered.


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.”  Who for which, Authorized Version; it is for that it was, Authorized

Version; charge for command, Authorized Version. There rose up, etc. As soon

as Paul and Barnabas had finished their recital of the conversion of the heathen to

whom they had preached the gospel, certain Christian Pharisees who were at the

meeting disturbed the joy of the brethren and the unanimity of the assembly by

getting up and saying that all the Gentile converts must be circumcised and keep

the Law. This, of course, would have included Titus, who was present with Paul

(Galatians 2:1, 3). The Epistle to the Galatians deals directly and forcibly with this




The Judaizers at Antioch (vs. 1-5)


There must needs be heresies, that is, divisions and separations of opinion,

in order that that which is approved may be made manifest. In conflicts of

this kind, the chaff of falsehood is sifted from the genuine wheat of truth.




Ø      It was a reactionary position. It aimed at the re-establishment of

circumcision as the condition of salvation. This was going back from the

“spirit” to the “flesh,” from the principle of an internal to that of an

external religion. It was substituting works for faith, doing for being,

as the condition of salvation.


Ø      It was a revolutionary position. Such a claim convulses the very heart of

the Christian Church. Wherever it has come up, a deep mark has been left

in history. This was essentially the conflict of Isaiah and other prophets

against the ceremonialists of the day. The question came up again at the

Reformation. Law or gospel — Moses or Christ? Behind this question lies

a world. Is religion stationary and stagnant or ideal, Divine, and possessed

of the power of an expansive and endless life?




Ø      Private dissension. Alas! often is it so. The loving missionary comrades,

Paul and Barnabas, are disunited. But we must remember, “Though Plato

is my friend, truth is my friend still more.” Paul felt that evangelical

freedom was threatened (Galatians 2:4). And the gospel was dearer to

him than life. Truth must not be compromised in the supposed interests of

friendship. Indeed, the supposition is illusory. For if it be “a strong and

habitual inclination in two persons to promote the good and happiness of

each other,” this cannot be at the expense of TRUTH!


Ø      Public discussion. The difference between Paul and Barnabas could not

be ignored. The topic must have been on the tongue of every one. See how

good comes out of controversy as well as evil. Private pain is often the

condition of public blessing. A cloud comes between two minds, but the

truth shines presently the more brightly forth.


  • THE ACTION OF THE CHURCH. They resolved to dispatch Paul

and Barnabas to consult the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Note the

appropriateness of this decision.


Ø      As to the men sent — Paul representing the Gentiles and the missionary

work, Barnabas the Church at Antioch. Besides, from Galatians 2:1,

we see that Paul had a special inward direction to proceed thither.


Ø      The destination. Jerusalem, the mother city and the mother Church, and

the seat of apostolic authority. Yet Antioch was probably not second to

Jerusalem in numbers and influence. Without debating questions of Church

government, the lesson may be drawn that no particular community should

act for itself in important questions without consulting the general sense of

the Christian Church.




Ø      They had a conduct from the Church of Antioch as they set forth — an

expression of confidence in the men, and of deep interest in the result.

Said the electoral Prince of Brandenburg to his envoy, proceeding to a

conference with the papists, “Bring me the little word sola, i.e.” alone,

faith only, back — or come not back at all.


Ø      They told good news on the way. They told of the conversion of the

heathen, and. the news was received with great joy. Here was a great

argument for Paul, gathered on the way. So does God solve our disputes

in words by the irresistible logic of his facts.


Ø      At Jerusalem they tell the great things God has done for them. The

facts of the past are prophetic of the future. Divine mercy as an

historical fact is the basis of sure hope and confidence. The temper

of devout recollection and thanksgiving fits the mind for the view of

present duties.


6 “And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.”

The elders for elders, Authorized Version; were gathered for came, Authorized

Version; to for for to, Authorized Version. The question was too important, and,

perhaps, the persons who advanced the objections too considerable, to allow of a

decision to be taken on the spot. A special meeting of the Church was called to

consider the matter.


7 “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.”

Questioning for disputing, Authorized Version, as in v. 2; brethren for men and

brethren, Authorized Version, as in ch.7:2, etc.; you for us, Authorized Version

and Textus Receptus; by my mouth the Gentiles for the Gentiles by my mouth,

Authorized Version.  Questioning. It was a repetition of the same scene that took

place at Antioch. Peter, etc. It seems to have been wise on Peter's part to allow the

meeting to exhaust itself by fruitless disputations before he rose to speak. His rising,

with all the authority of his person and position, commanded immediate attention.

A good while ago; literally, from ancient days, or still more exactly, from the days

of the beginning of the gospel (ἡμεραὶ ἀρχαίαι haemerai archaiai - days belonging

to the beginning (ἀρχή - archaea beginning) of the Church's existence, and dating

far back in Peter's own apostolic life. Nothing can be more natural than this allusion

to the conversion of Cornelius, and the gift of the Holy Ghost to the Gentile inmates

of his house, as related in ch. 10:44.


8 “And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the

Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us;”  Heart for hearts, Authorized Version

(καρδιογνώστης  - kardiognostaesheart knower). Bare them witness; i.e. set

the mark of His approval upon them, vouched for their sincerity (see the use of

the verb μαρτυρέω martureowitness; testify - in Luke 4:22; John 3:26; here

ch. 6:3; ch.10:22, etc.).


9 “And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”

He made no distinction for put no difference, Authorized Version (compare ch. note);

cleansing for purifying, Authorized Version. This is exactly the doctrine of

Galatians 2:16 and Romans 3:30, with which compare also v. 11.



The Spirituality of the Gospel (v. 9)


“Purifying [cleansing] their hearts by faith.” Purity comes from within. The

influence of pure thought and pure feeling on practice. The purification of

Judaism typical. The Holy Ghost did the work. When the temple was

closed, the kingdom of grace opened. The Spirit must operate upon the

spirit. All ritualism, as such, contradicts the essential principles of gospel





Ø      Of its falsehood. The heathen world a world of lies. The tendency of

fallen nature to believe strong delusions.


Ø      Of its corrupt desires. The Fall was a lowering of the spirit of humanity

to the level of the inferior races. Animalism is the characteristic of

heathenism and of an unregenerate state.


Ø      Of its self-justification and pride. The evil holds to it. A broken and

contrite heart is required.


  • THE HEART IS CLEANSED. Consider the nature of the purity



Ø      The conscience, by a sense of forgiveness; “perilous stuff” cleansed



Ø      An object of love revealed to whom the heart is surrendered. “Thou

knowest that I love thee.” The germ of the new life in the soil of the



Ø      Consecration. Circumcision was a covenant sign. “Out of the heart are

the issues of life.” A pure will is that which is pledged by a changed course

of action and a new position.


  • THE HEART IS CLEANSED BY FAITH. The contrast between the

old covenant and the new. The truth accepted becomes the power of God

unto salvation. Spiritual cleansing differs from:


Ø      Mere ritual purification.


Ø      Mere nominal separation from the world by an external life.


Ø      Mere slavish obedience to the letter of the Law. A purity which rests

upon faith is a purity embracing thoughts and desires, lifting the heart with

joy, securing it against the temptation to self-righteousness and superficial

morality. Believe; give your mind to the message; welcome the personal

Savior; follow the leading Spirit. Rejoice in the liberty of God’s children.

Christ’s yoke is easy, His burden light.  (Matthew 11:30)


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?”

That ye should put for to put, Authorized Version. The Greek words cannot be

construed as the Authorized Version takes them. It is not a Greek construction to

say πειράζειν τινα ποιεῖν κακόνpeirazein tina poiein kakon -  to tempt any one

to do evil. The infinitive ἐπιθεῖναι epitheinaito place on -  must be taken

gerundially, "by placing," or "putting," and the sense is - Why do you try God's

patience by your provocation in putting an unbearable yoke upon the necks of

those who believe? Or, "as if he had not power to save by faith" (Chrysostom).


11 “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall

be saved, even as they.”  We shall be saved through the grace, etc., for through

the grace... we shall be saved, Authorized Version; Jesus for Jesus Christ, Authorized

Version and Textus Receptus; in like manner for even, Authorized Version.

"How full of power are these words! The same that Paul says at large in the Epistle

to the Romans, the same says Peter here" (Chrysost., ' Hem.,' 32.).




Lessons from a Grave Crisis in the Kingdom of God (vs. 1-11)


The crisis of the kingdom will be found in the life of the Divine Leader of

the faith. In those hours when all that was human in Him shrank from the

sufferings and sorrows which were before Him, or from the agony which

was upon Him, or from the darkness which enshrouded Him, then was “the

crisis of the world” and of the kingdom of God on earth. But this also was

a crisis, grave and serious. If the Church at Antioch had yielded to these

“false brethren” (Galatians 2:4), when they came to invade its liberty;

or if — a much greater peril — the Church at Jerusalem had decided in

favor of the Judaizers, and had passed a sentence that circumcision was

necessary to salvation; and if Christian truth had thus been narrowed to the

small dimensions of a mere adjunct to Judaism, where would Christianity

have been today? From the incident here related we draw the lessons:



came down from Judaea(v. 1) were members of the Pharisaic party

“which believed (v. 5); they were formal adherents of the Christian

faith; they spake reverently of Christ, and believed themselves to be acting

in the interests of His kingdom. Yet we know that they were taking a

course which, if they had carried their point, would have simply

extinguished the faith in a few years. Often, since then, has blind zealotry

done its best to bring about a condition which would have proved fatal to

the cause of God and of redeemed humanity.



US. How different from evangelizing risks and toils, and from the fraternal

intercourse which followed these, how much beneath both the one and the

other, how much more uninviting this controversy with false brethren,

narrow-minded, mistaking a rite whose significance was exhausted for an

essential of salvation! How uncongenial, to the spirit of the apostle this

“dissension and disputation” (v. 2)! But it was necessary; it was as much

a part of their bounden duty and their loyal obedience to their Lord as the

preaching of the gospel or the indicting of an Epistle. The Christian

workman cannot always choose his work. He must sometimes give up the

congenial for the unpleasant, the inviting for the repellent.



OF THEIR ANXIETY. Those who constituted the deputation were

“brought on their way .by the Church” (v. 3). In the profound anxiety

which must have filled the sagacious and earnest mind of Paul at this

critical juncture, such gracious attention on the part of the Church must

have been exceedingly refreshing. No “moral support’ of tried and anxious

leaders, in times of supreme solicitude, is thrown away; it is well-spent time

and trouble.




Church at Antioch was not obliged to consult that at Jerusalem; the latter

had no jurisdiction entitling it to decide the disputes of the former. But it

was becoming and it was wise, and therefore it was right, to refer the

matter in dispute to “the Church [of Jerusalem] and the apostles and the

elders” (vs. 4, 6). Often when no written constitution obliges us to refer

to authorities, it is a matter of practical wisdom, and therefore of rectitude,

to go outside our own “body” and submit our case to those in high repute.

We may gain far more than we lose thereby.



would not have taken the side he took now had not his eyes been opened

by the event in which he had borne so large and so honorable a share

(ch. 10.). We should grow more charitable and more large-minded as

we grow in years.



IMPOSTS. (v. 10.) Why tempt God by putting on the neck of the

disciples an intolerable yoke? Why invite defeat? Why multiply difficulty

and ensure disappointment by requiring of the whole Gentile world a

conformity which they will not render and which God does not demand?

Why make burdensome the yoke which the Master Himself made easy

(Matthew 11:30)? The gospel of His grace was meant to be a source of

blessedness and deliverance; how insensate the folly of tying to it any

institutes which would make it become an insufferable vexation!


  • THE ESSENCE OF THE ORDINANCE. Circumcision was but the

outward sign of admission to the privilege and obligation of the Law. The

Law was but the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. Those, then, who

were saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 11) had the very

essence and substance of which the old Jewish rite was but the sign and

symbol (Philippians 3:3; Romans 2:28-29).



Salvation by Grace for All (vs. 9-11)


This passage is part of the speech delivered by Peter at the conference,

His words ought to be weighty words, seeing that God had been pleased to

reveal directly to him the relations in which the Gentiles should stand to his

gospel. Peter would have been an intensely Jewish man but for his

experiences at Joppa and Caesarea. He had evidently learned well the

lesson of the broadness of the Christian platform; and yet even he

subsequently faltered, and brought himself under the rebuke of Paul.

After reminding his hearers of the part which he himself had taken in

admitting the Gentiles into the Christian Church, Peter urges this point:

The communication of the Holy Ghost was the true test of God’s

acceptance; and God had shown that he was no respecter of persons by

shedding abroad the same miraculous gifts on Jew and Gentile, and

purifying by faith the hearts of both alike.” He further reminds them what a

heavy yoke the Jewish Law had proved for many generations; how

thankful they were to be relieved from the legal bondage by the salvation

offered through faith; and how unreasonable it would be to attempt to

impose on others a burden which neither they nor their fathers had ever

been able to bear. Dean Plumptre gives thus the conclusion of Peter’s

speech: “The Pharisee might regard the Law as binding; but even he, if he

believed in Christ, was compelled to confess that his hope of salvation was

found in the work of Christ as the Savior; and if so, then, as regards that

hope, Jew and Gentile were on the same level, and the judgment that men

could not be saved without the Law was but the inconsistency of an

intolerant dogmatism, insisting on imposing that which was acknowledged

to be profitless.” There is in Peter’s speech a firm declaration of the

great evangelical principles.



purchase or desert is wholly excluded from it. Salvation by perfect

obedience to formal rules, and faithful keeping of covenant terms, had been

thoroughly tried in Judaism, and it had certainly and hopelessly failed,

because sinning man lacked the power. Man could no more save himself by

the attempted obediences of Judaism than by the human schemes devised in

heathenism. It was evident that salvation for man must be an intervention

of Divine love, a manifestation of Divine grace. And this is the very

essence of the gospel message concerning God: “What the Law could not

do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the

likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”  (Romans

8:3-4)  Salvation is a Divine gift, offered freshly and freely, apart from all

previous revelations and conditions, on terms which God Himself is pleased

to arrange. And, without bringing forward any older ideas or customs, our

simple duty is to listen to God as He tells us the conditions upon which He is

pleased to offer forgiveness and life. We may be quite satisfied if we can

find the terms laid down in the new covenant of grace, and they are these:

“God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that

hath the Son hath life.”  (I John 5:11-12)



can be of value unless there is a proper preparedness to receive it. We do

not simply scatter our common earthly gifts, we choose to whom we shall

give them, and we expect them to be in such a state of mind and feeling

towards us as shall ensure that they will accept and make good use of our

gifts. Such conditions apply to the gift of salvation. Of free grace, though it

is, it requires something in man which can alone secure that the gift will be

valued. The spiritual preparedness of man for the spiritual gift is called

faith. It is illustrated in the disposition of mind which Christ required in

those whom he miraculously healed. And it includes:


Ø      surrender of self-trust;

Ø      confidence in God’s provision and promise; and

Ø      a full desire for and expectancy of Divine help.


Faith, as a disposition or mood of mind, is to be distinguished from faith as

an act. The state of faith sets us ready to receive the gift; the act of faith

appropriates the gift. So presenting man’s faith, it will be clearly seen that

no kind of “merit,” as a saving work, can attach to it.



EMBRACE ALL HUMANITY. Jew and Gentile too. This is Peter’s

point in vs. 9,11. The grace of the universal Father can, without doubt,

reach and bless and save all. And faith is so common, so universal a human

faculty that it can be made a condition for all. Every one can thankfully

open hand and heart to receive a gift. Everybody can trust.


12 “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.”   And for then, Authorized Version; they hearkened for gave

audience, Authorized Version; rehearsing what signs for declaring what miracles,

Authorized Version. Kept silence; marking the contrast between the noisy questionings

and disputings which had preceded Peter's speech, and the quiet orderly attention with

which they now listened to Paul and Barnabas, telling them of the conversion of the

Gentiles. It recalls Virgil's description of the effect of the presence of a man of grave

piety upon an excited crowd:

"Tum, pielate gravem ac meritis si forte virum quem
Aspexere, silent, arrectisque auribus adslant." 

(AEneid,’ 1:152)

13 “And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and

brethren, hearken unto me:”  Brethren for men and brethren, Authorized Version

as v. 7. James answered. James's place as presiding bishop is here distinctly marked

by his summing up the debate. "This (James)was bishop, as they say, and, therefore,

he speaks last" (Chrysost., ' Hem.,' 33.). And again, "No word speaks John here,

no word the other apostles, but held their peace, for James was invested with the

chief rule." "He says well with authority, 'My sentence is" (ibid.). A remarkable

testimony against papal supremacy.


14 “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take

out of them a people for His name.”  Symeon for Simeon, Authorized Version;

rehearsed for declared, Authorized Version; first God for God at the first,

Authorized Version. Symeon. This is the only place (unless Symeon is the right

reading in II Peter 1:1) in which Simon Peter's name is given in this Hebrew form,

which is most proper in the month of James speaking to Palestine Jews. Singularly

enough, Chrysostom was misled by it, and thought the prophecy of Simeon in

Luke 1:31 was meant, How first; corresponding to the “good while ago" of v. 7.

Did visit, etc. The construction ἐπεσκέψατο λαβεῖν epeskepsato labein -  visits

to be obtaining - is very unusual, and indeed stands alone. The verb always has

an accusative case after it (ch. 6:3; ch. 7:23; here v.36), unless Luke 1:68 is an

exception, which, however, it hardly is. There are two ways of construing the phrase.

One is to consider it as elliptical, and to supply, as the Authorized Version and

Revised Version do,  ἐξ ἐθνῶνex ethnonout Gentiles. So Alford, who compares

the construction in Luke 1:25, where ἐπ ἐμέ - ep eme -  must be supplied. But this is

a harsh construction. The other and better way is to take ἐπεσκεψατο, not in the sense

of" visiting," but of" looking out," or "endeavoring to find something." The sense of

the infinitive after the verb is nearly equivalent to" look out for and took," literally,

looked out how he might take. With a slight modification of meaning, Irenaeus

(in 'Speaker's Commentary') renders it" Excogitavit accipere," "planned" or

"contrived to take." A people for His Name;  i.e. to be called by His Name.

Λαός naos - was the peculiar designation of "the people" of God, answering

to the Hebrew עַם (compare I Peter 2:10, Οἱ ποτὲ οὐ λαὸς νῦν δὲ λαὸς Θεοῦ -

Hoi pote ou laos nun de laos Theou -  the once not a people, now yet the

people of God).


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:”

These things for this, Authorized Version; I will for will, Authorized Version;

fallen for fallen down, Authorized Version.


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.

May for might, Authorized Version.


18 “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.”

Who maketh these things known, etc., for who doeth all these things (in v. 17 of

the Authorized Version); known for known unto God are all His works, Authorized

Version and Textus Receptus. Known from the beginning of the world. The above

passage from Amos 9:11-12, is quoted, not very exactly, though with no change

of sense, from the Septuagint, where it ends with the words, "saith the Lord, who

doeth all these things," as in the Authorized Version. But the Septuagint v. 17

differs widely from the present Hebrew text. For whereas the Hebrew has, "That

they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen that are called by

my Name," the Septuagint (Codex Alexandrinus) have ὅπως ἂν ἐκζητήσωσιν οἱ

κατάλοιποι τῶν ἀνθρώπων τὸν κύριον , καὶ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη  κ.τ.λ., - hopos an

ekzaetaesosin hoi kataloipoi ton anthropon ton kurion, kai panta ta ethnae, k. t. l.

That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, etc,

where it is evident that they read יִדְרְשׁוּ, seek after, for יֵרְשׁוּ, possess, and אָדָם,

men, for אֶדום, Edom. There is every appearance of the Septuagint, followed here

by St. James, having preserved the true reading. As regards the reading of the Revised

Version in v. 18, it is a manifest corruption. It is not the reading of either the Hebrew

or the Greek version of Amos, or of any other version; and it makes no sense.

Whereas the Textus Receptus, which is the reading of Irenaeus (3:12.), as Meyer

truly says, "presents a thought completely clear, pious, noble, and inoffensive as

regards the connection," though he thinks that a reason for rejecting it. Nothing

could be more germane to St. James's argument than thus to show from the words

of Amos that God's present purpose of taking the Gentiles to be His people was,

like all His other works, formed from the beginning of the world (compare

Ephesians 1:9-10 (not only Jews and Gentiles but the angelic hosts of heaven –

CY – 2017); Ephesians 3:5-6; II Timothy 1:9, etc.). As regards the

interpretation of the prophecy of Amos intended, the idea seems to be that

that apparent ruin of the house and family of David which culminated in the

crucifixion of the Lord Jesus would be followed by those "sure mercies of David,"

which consisted in:


·         His resurrection from the dead,

·         His exaltation to the right hand of God, and

·         the gathering in of the Gentiles to His kingdom.


The phrase, "the tabernacle of David," is rather difficult, because the word in the

Hebrew is סֻכַּת דָזִיד, tabernacle or booth of David. It is the word used for the booths

at the Feast of Tabernacles, and denotes a temporary shed of branches or the like of

a very humble character. It is difficult to say why this word was used, unless it was

to show that the house of David had fallen to a low estate before it was pulled



19 “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the

Gentiles are turned to God:”  Judgment for sentence, Authorized Version (ἐγὼ κρίνω

- ego krinoI am deciding); turn for are turned, Authorized Version (ἐπιστρέφουσιν

epistrephousinones on-turning.   Judgment. Sentence is the best word, as expressing

the decisive judgment of James, which, being delivered with the authority of his office

at the close of the debate, carried with it the suffrages of the whole council. The things

decreed by them were called Τὰ δόγματα τὰ κεκρίμενα ὑπὸ σῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῶν

πρεσβυτέρωνTa dogmata ta kekrimena hupo son apostolon kai ton presbuteron

Turn. It applies to those that should hereafter turn as well as to those who were

already turned.


20 “But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols,

and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

The pollutions for pollutions, Authorized Version; what is strangled for things

strangled, Authorized Version. The pollutions. In the decree itself (v. 29) this is

explained by εἰδωλοθύτωνeidolothutonof idol sacrifices; things offered to idols,

though some apply the "pollutions" to all the things here mentioned, not the idols

only. Later Paul somewhat enlarged the liberty of Gentile converts in respect to meats

offered to idols (see I Corinthians 8:4-13; 10:25-28). What is strangled, etc. The

things forbidden are all practices not looked upon as sins by Gentiles, but now

enjoined upon them as portions of the Law of Moses which were to be binding

upon them, at least for a time, with a view to their living in communion and

fellowship with their Jewish brethren. The necessity for some of the prohibitions

would cease when the condition of the Church as regards Jews and Gentiles was

altered; others were of eternal obligation.


21 “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read

in the synagogues every sabbath day.”  From generations of old for of old time,

Authorized Version; sabbath for sabbath day, Authorized Version. The meaning

of this verse seems to be that, in requiring the above compliances, the council

was not enjoining anything new or strange, because the Gentiles who attended

the synagogues were familiar with these Mosaic doctrines. It has been often

stated that these four prohibitions were in substance the same as the so-called

seven precepts of Noah, which were binding upon proselytes of the gate. This is,

however, scarcely borne out by the facts. The four prohibitions seem to have

been a temporary arrangement adapted to the then condition of the Church, with

a view to enabling Christian Jews and Gentiles to live in brotherly fellowship.

The Jew was not to require more of his Gentile brother: the Gentile was not to

concede less to his Jewish brother.



The First Council: Spiritual Liberty Established (vs. 1-21)


The controversy between a corrupt Judaism and the gospel of Christ was certain

to be brought to a crisis. The conversion of Saul, taken in connection with his

special mission to the Gentiles, forced the matter on the attention of the Church.

The scene of the controversy was Antioch where Paul would have many supporters.

But Jerusalem was the proper place for a settlement — not because any authority

was assigned to the spot, but because there could be gathered a more really

representative assembly of the whole Church. Notice:


  • THE FACTS THEMSELVES are never questioned, but gladly

acknowledged. The acceptance of the Gentiles, the blessing on the ministry

of Paul and Barnabas, the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed on others than

the Jewish believers.


  • THE POINT OF CONTENTION is the claim asserted by a small

section of the Jewish Church, of Pharisaic spirit, to impose on the new

Gentile converts the obligations of the Mosaic Law, particularly

circumcision. This showed that they regarded Christ as only a Reformer of

the Law, not as substituting the gospel for the Law.


  • THE WHOLE CHURCH is the body of referees. The apostles and

ciders are the speakers and leaders, but the multitude is present, and to

them (v. 22) the decision is referred.


  • THE TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT in the facts rehearsed, the signs

and wonders wrought, is plainly the voice of God to the apostles. Both

Peter and James stand firmly on that foundation — God hath called them.

Therefore we must obey His voice. The witness of the facts agrees with the

witness of the word.


  • THE RESTRICTIONS which were deemed necessary were simply the

dictates of brotherly love. Stumbling-blocks should not be thrown in the

way of weak brethren. Let the Gentiles use their liberty, only let them

respect the feelings of Jews and the moral demands of the Law.


  • THE CONTENTIOUS PARTY must have been a mere handful of

men. They are condemned by the letter sent to Antioch. The effect of the

epistle was to silence them and produce a happy peace.


  • THE CAUSE OF STRIFE IS BURIED in the depth of zealous labor

for Christ and souls. Judas and Silas, the messengers from Jerusalem, soon

forgot the trouble in much higher topics and cooperation with the Church

at Antioch in their evangelistic efforts. Thus this first occasion of

ecclesiastical settlement shows the Church pervaded with the spirit of

brotherly love and faith. They had no conception of Church authority apart

from the voice of God’s Spirit. They came together in perfect equality.

They reverenced age and spiritual distinction, and the mind of the brethren

gathered together in conference, but their chief dependence was on the

promise of the Holy Ghost and His guidance, so that they could say,

“It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us.



The Council at Jerusalem (vs. 6-21)


The claim of the Judaizers is sharply and absolutely put. Circumcision is a

necessity; the Law of Moses must be observed. The whole question is

open, and the air is full of debate.




Ø      The question whether the Mosaic Law is binding upon the heathen or no

is referred by him to experience. This is the great guide of all. In no case

may it be neglected. In every case recurrence to it as a whole will be found

helpful. Now, at Caesarea (ch. 10) it was clear that the Gentiles, no less than

the Jewish Christians, had received the Holy Spirit. This fact the apostle

considers to be significant proof that God had already decided the question

in debate. God, he had before learned, was no “respecter of persons.” Here

he expresses the same truth by saying that God has made no difference

between them; has placed the two upon one footing. He has testified to the

Gentiles by imparting to them the Holy Spirit, His grace and good pleasure.


Ø      The reference to immediate experience leads to the larger reference to

history — the history of the sacred past. The entire revelation of God in

both testaments rests on history and consists in history. Christ “lived His

doctrine and preached His life.” And the living experience of prophets and

apostles offers a rich fund of instruction. Paul’s doctrine is his own life

translated into consciousness and knowledge. And the doctrine of Peter is

his own life wrought out in views of duty and principles of Christian

thought. Christian doctrine is the expression of the results of Christian

history. The discourse of Peter evidently produces a great impression.

Silence follows, broken only by the voices of Barnabas and Paul, who

relate the significant occurrences which have befallen among the heathen.




Ø      He, like a true Jew, trained in ear and memory by the prophetic oracles,

reverts to them, and finds confirmation there of the views wrought out in

the minds of the others by the certain discipline of experience. The writings

of the prophets were used by the apostles as a guide to the interpretation of

the signs of the present, and for directions as to present duty. Now, the

oracle from Amos adduced by James refers in the first instance to the

house of David. His royal house is fallen into ruins. But God would raise it

up out of the ruins, would restore and extend it among the Gentiles among

whom His Name shall be known — that is, among those who shall decide

to acknowledge and serve Him. All this God would bring about in

accordance with His eternal designs (v. 18).


Ø      Here, then, is light on the question of debate. Observe that the

theocracy, the kingdom of God, stands in the center of the promise, and

not the Law as such. Further, the “calling on the Name of God” is laid

down as the condition or incorporation with the kingdom of God. This

condition has been already, fulfilled by the converted heathen Lastly, it is

“the Lord who doeth these things.” It is not our short-sighted counsel and

prudence which have to make new history and new laws, but God has

promised that He will do it. Already has He adopted a people out of the

heathen (v. 14). If, then — this is the argument of James — we should

lay a burden on the Gentile Christians, this would be going against the

teaching of facts, striving against the current of history, thwarting the will

of God therein revealed.


Ø      The decision of James. He would not have the Gentile Christians

harassed, who are turning in repentance and good works to God. He

would recognize their evangelical freedom; would reject the demands of

the Pharisaic party; in fact he fully, though on different grounds, coincides

with Paul. At the same time, he insists on certain moral and ceremonial

abstinences. The whole illustrates the mild, gentle, and loving character of

this apostle. There was in him, with the greatest strictness towards himself,

the most compassionate love to others. Unceasingly in the temple, on his

knees, he prayed for forgiveness for his people (Eusebius, ‘Eccl. Hist.,’ 2.

25). He who loves his own household best will be the kindest to them

without. The true patriot is the true philanthropist; the loyal adherent of his

Church the best friend of universal Christianity and progress.


22 “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:”  It seemed good

to for pleased it, Authorized Version; the elders for elders, Authorized Version;

to choose men out of their company and send them, etc., for to send chosen men

of their own company, Authorized Version; Barsabbas for Barsabas, Authorized

Version and Textus Receptus, as ch. 1:23. (Barsabbas was the one not chosen

to take Judas’ place – here we find him in the work – CY – 2017)  To choose men, etc.

This is a necessary, change, because the middle aorist (ἐκκεξαμένους ekkexamenous

choosing) cannot have a passive meaning (chosen); see v. 40. Chief men (ἡγουμένους

hagoumenous one leading); literally, leaders. So in Luke 22:26 ἡγούμενος is

rendered, "He that is chief." In Hebrews 13:7, Οἱ ἡγούμενοι ὑμῶν – hoi hagoumenoi

humon is, "Them which have the rule over you;" your spiritual rulers. Silas seems to

be a contraction of Silvanus, like Lucas for Lucanus. In the Acts he is always called

Silas, in the Epistles of Paul and Peter, Silvanus. Going as direct emissaries from

James and the Church of Jerusalem, and Judas would have great weight with the

Jews in Syria and Cilicia.


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:”  Wrote thus by them for wrote letters by them

after this manner, Authorized Version; the elder brethren for elders and brethren,

Authorized Version; unto... greeting for send greeting unto, etc., Authorized Version,

as ch. 23:26. The elder brethren, etc. The grammar of the sentence is irregular, as

there is nothing for γράψαντες grapsanteswrote - to agree with. But "the elder

brethren" is a phrase unknown to the Scriptures, and it is much more in accordance

with the feeling of the times that "the brethren," i.e. the whole Church, should be

included in the salutation. Greeting. It is remarkable that the only other place in

the New Testament where this Greek salutation occurs is James 1:1.



24 “Forasmuch 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:”  The words in the

Authorized Version and the Textus Receptus, saying, Ye must be circumcised and

keep the Law, are omitted in the Received Text and the Revised Version;

commandment for such commandment, Authorized Version. The certain which

went out from us are the same as the "certain men" which "came down from Judaea,"

of v. 1. The word rendered subverting (ἀνασκευάζοντες anaskeuazontes

dismantling) occurs nowhere else in Scripture or in the Septuagint. It is spoken

properly of a person who moves and carries off all the goods and furniture from

the house which he is quitting. Hence to "disturb," "throw into confusion, turn

upside down," and the like. To whom we gave no commandment. Observe the

distinct disavowal by James of having authorized those who went forth from him

and the Jerusalem Church to require the circumcision of the Gentiles. The Authorized

Version expresses the meaning most clearly.


25 “It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen

men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,”  Having come to for being

assembled with, Authorized Version; to choose out men and send them for to send

chosen men, Authorized Version (see note on v. 22). Having come, etc. The Greek

is capable of either meaning. Alford prefers that of the Authorized Version. Others

think that stress is laid upon the decree being unanimous. Our beloved Barnabas

and Paul. James and the council thus gave their full and open support to Barnabas

and Paul. Observe that Barnabas is named first, as in v. 12.


26 “Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”



   Self-Sacrifice for Christ (v. 26)


There are two classes of men of whom we are reminded by these words of

the Jerusalem Church.




The soldier for victory; the sportsman for excitement; the explorer for the

gratification of curiosity; the Alpine climber for credit; the artist for fame;

the sailor for love of the sea, etc. There is no lack of men who risk life for

something. But we have to consider that while:


Ø      there is a touch of nobility in some of these cases which wins our

admiration; yet


Ø      often the end is not worth the sacrifice, — life and all that life means to

its holder and to those who are related to him and dependent on him are

too precious to be parted with for a slight object, too valuable to be

sacrificed for any but a serious and great end. And


Ø      when thus lost, it is often laid down from instinct or passion rather than

from principle. There is something essentially unsatisfactory in it; for it is a

material loss with no corresponding gain. It brings sadness to the heart,

loneliness and misery to the home, and does not bring adequate consolation

to the mind.



SACRIFICE LITTLE OR NOTHING TO IT. We should, perhaps, say to

him; for:


Ø      The highest and best meet in a living One, even Jesus Christ. It is,

indeed, to honor His Name (see text), but it is also and chiefly to exalt and

extol Him and make Him very high (Isaiah 52:13) in the estimation and

affection of the world, that His servants strive and suffer.


Ø      Ourselves and all that we have are his due; therefore our lives, when he

asks us to lay them down at his feet.


Ø      There are those who recognize His claim, but do not comply with His

desire. There are those who do; men that have hazarded their lives for

Jesus Christ, from Paul and Barnabas down to our own Christian martyrs;

men and women who, on various fields of holy, daring, and heroic

suffering, have cheerfully sacrificed all to honor Him and do His bidding; but

there are too many that acknowledge the validity of His claim but do not

respond to His call. There are in our congregations and even in our



o        men who withhold themselves from missionary or ministerial service,

because, though well fitted for it, they are not prepared to make the

necessary sacrifices;


o        men that will not step into the breach when some other kind of holy

activity is demanded, because they shrink from the burdens or the

annoyances it will entail;


o        men that will not encourage some good work of Christ, because, to do

so, they must part with that which the world counts precious. These

are far from being numbered with the “good and faithful servants.”




The Highest Christian Commendation (v. 26)`


Nothing could be said more fitted to ensure the confidence of the Churches

in the messengers sent from the conference than this description: “Men that

have hazarded their lives for the Name of our Lord Jesus.” It may be

observed that men have established this test of sincerity, nobility, or belief

in any truth: “Could the man stake his life on it?” “Was he willing to die for

it?” The heroic traveler is the man who stakes his life on his purpose, as did

Livingstone. The heroic soldiers are they who volunteer for the forlorn

hope, and die to serve their country. The heroic martyrs are the men who

can die for their faith and opinion. No man’s faith has come under the full

testing unless, in some form, it is proved whether he will die for it. The

sublimest of all illustrations is found in our Lord’s purpose of perfect

obedience to his Father’s will. That purpose came under many and various

testings, but we could not feel that it was perfect, and indeed the infinite

example, if He had not kept it through the trial of that agonizing death, He

not only “hazarded,” He actually yielded his life in maintaining that

obedience. By the same test Barnabas and Paul had been proved, and in

their first missionary journey their lives had again and again been in peril;

once indeed Paul had been left for dead after the riotous stoning of the

populace (ch. 13:50; 14:19). From the Christian standpoint the

noblest and best men are:


  • THOSE WHO CAN SACRIFICE SELF. Self-seeking is the marked

characteristic of the unrenewed man, toned, however, by amiability,

kindness of disposition, generosity, motherhood, etc., as elements of the

natural character. Self-denial is the highest conception of purely human

virtue, and is the noblest adornment of human character. In a thousand

forms “self-denial” is demanded in our common life and relations; and none

of the responsible positions in life can be occupied without this virtue being

demanded. Self-sacrifice is seldom required; but the man who can meet this

demand gains the first place in the world’s esteem. Illustrate by the doctor

who dies for his patient; the mother who dies for her child; the rescuer who

dies in rescuing; the missionary who yields his life in his mission, The

extreme demand may not always be made; it often has to be faced. And we

may test our own hold of truth, duty, or hope, by putting to ourselves this

question, “Could I die for it?” Show what kind of moral Power the heroic

leaders in self-sacrifice gain over their fellows.


Ø      They declare that duty is before pleasure.

Ø      They attest the grandeur of a cherished idea.

Ø      They glorify the conception of right.

Ø      They uphold faith in God.

Ø      They affirm the insignificance of this life in view of the life that is to


Ø      They keep up the standard of life for us all; and are, as angel-ministrants,

ever beckoning us on to higher and nobler things.



CHRIST’S NAME. Taken in two senses:


Ø      For the sake of upholding the honor of Christ’s Name, seeing that He is

ever honored in the conduct of His servants. Men praise Him through what

they see of Him in us. He “laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay

down our lives for the brethren.”  (I John 3:16)


Ø      For the sake of making witness for Christ. No witness can have the

power of a martyrdom. Illustrate Stephen’s witness in his death.


o        Self-sacrifice sets Christ up in the view of men, for all gather round

the martyr, and wonder over his calmness and victory.


o        Self-sacrifice proves the truth of doctrine.


o        Self-sacrifice for Christ impresses upon us the extraordinary fascination

which the Lord Jesus can exert on men’s souls. How we must love those

for whom we are willing to die! None can take our love so that for the

sake of it we will yield our life, as does the Lord Jesus Christ. Conclude

by showing that passing ages do not change the Divine demands, only

change the forms in which they find expression. The heroic life of

self-denial in many things, and even of self-sacrifice sometimes, as our

witness to Christ, is still demanded, in these indulgent times, of all who

name the Name of the Lord Jesus.


27 “We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same

things by mouth.”  Themselves also shall for shall also, Authorized Version;

by word of mouth for by mouth, Authorized Version.  Judas (Barsabas) and Silas.


28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater

burden than these necessary things;”  It seemed good, etc. The formula is

remarkable. It implies the consciousness on the part of the council that they had

"the mind of the Spirit" (Romans 8:27), but how this mind of the Spirit was

communicated we are not expressly told. There may have been some "revelation,"

similar to that recorded in ch.13:2; 10:19.  It is, however, generally understood as

resting upon Christ's promise to be with His Church always. (Matthew 28:20)

Hefele ('Hist. of Christian Councils,' pp. 1,2, English translation) quotes Cyprian

as writing to Pope Cornelius in the name of the Council of A.D. : "Placuit nobis,

Sancto Spiritu suggerente;" and the Synod of Aries as saying, "Placuit, praesenti

Spiritu Sancto." And this is the general language of the synods. Constantine claimed

for the decrees of the three hundred bishops at Nicaea the same authority as if they

had been "solius Filii Dei sententia." But, as Bishop Wordsworth on  here, v. 28

wisely says, "It cannot be held that councils of the Church now are entitled to

adopt the words of the text in the framing of canons."


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.”  Things sacrificed for meats offered, Authorized

Version; it shall be well with you for ye shall do well, Authorized Version. The

phrase εῦ πράσσειν eu prasseinye shall do well -  means to “prosper," to

"fare well" (compare Ephesians 6:21, "How I do").



The Decision of the Council at Jerusalem (vs. 22-29)


This, the first council of the Church, is generally considered an example for all times.




Ø      In the selection of emissaries. It had reference partly to the Churches,

partly to Paul and Barnabas. The Churches were assured that the

emissaries were not delivering their own private opinion, but the

deliberate judgment of the Church. And the apostles had the legitimacy

and purity of their office sealed by the highest Church authority.



the taking of some such step, the Judaizers in Antioch and elsewhere

would remain unchecked, and left to pursue their disturbing and factious

intrigues. And by this step a new bond of sympathy and affection was

established between Jew and Gentile, between Jerusalem and the world.


  • AN EXAMPLE OF INSPIRED ACTION. “It seemed good to the

Holy Ghost, and to us.” The words may be abused or used with genuine

devout feeling. The Holy Spirit is the Source of light and wisdom in the

mindthe Judge and Decider in spiritual things. The conclusion of a

matter, discussed by the faithful in the light of the Holy Spirit, may justly

be looked upon as the decision of the Holy Spirit. The whole stamp of the

message is spiritual, impressive, full of Christian piety and love. Its closing

word, promising blessing on the conditions laid down, is far better than a

threat of pains on disobedience would have been. The Christian

“Farewell!” contains not only the wish for a brother’s happiness, but that

he may abide in Christ, and walk as He walked in the world.




          Reasonable and Unreasonable Burdens (vs. 28-29)


“To lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.” The

precise nature of the things which the council thought essential to Christian

standing and life are discussed in the Expository Portion of this

Commentary, and materials for the introduction of our subject will be

found in it. “The letter does not say why these things were necessary, and

the term was probably chosen as covering alike the views of those who

held, like the Pharisee Christians, that they were binding on the Church for

ever, and those who, like Paul, held that they were necessary only for a

time, and as a measure of wise expediency.” The letter is a most wise and

careful one; it avoids the details of the dispute, or any report of the

discussion in the council. It accuses no one, but by implication supports the

position which Paul had taken. It effectually checked for a time the

agitation created by the Judaizing party. Two dangers attended the young

Christian Church.


1. A false conception of liberty in Christ, which really meant “license,” and

ruinous loosening of self-restraint and reasonable rule.


2. A mischievous bondage to mere forms, out of which the life and

meaning had long faded, and passed. The council wisely met the twofold

danger by declaring that the old forms were no longer binding, but that the

Christian liberty ought to be set under safe, prudent, and mutually accepted

rules and restraints. The laying on Gentile Christians of the old Judaic

burdens was unreasonable. But the laying on them of burdens coming from

the relations of Christian principles to the sins and evils of society, all must

recognize to be reasonable. They were free, but they must not use their

liberty unwisely, or so as to injure the conscience and sensitive feeling of

even the weakest brother among them. We may gather from this advice

given to the Antiochene Church some clear distinctions between the

reasonable and unreasonable in burdens laid on us as Christians.



“Everybody does it, therefore you must,” is one which the Christian is

quite justified in rejecting. Fashion in religious conduct, or in religious

worship, or in religious doctrine, if it is imposed as a burden, the Christian

may call unreasonable. He is in no sense obliged to follow such lead unless

he can clearly discern that the fashion or custom expresses the claim of the

right. Oftentimes customs grow up which become a terrible slavery, and it

becomes necessary for some Christians to break the bonds as resolutely as

Paul did the bonds of these Judaizing teachers. Illustrate from the three



Ø      religious doctrine;

Ø      religious worship;

Ø      religious society.



Recognizing the progression of Divine revelation, we see that a step

upwards involves freedom from the step below. Judaism was one step in

Divine revelation, and it prepared for the spiritual revelation in Christ,

which was a step higher. It was unreasonable to press the demands of

formal Judaism, and much more unreasonable to press the claims of

rabbinical Judaism, on those who had been lifted up to the spiritual and

Christian platform. This point is well argued by Phillips Brooks, in a most

suggestive sermon on the ‘Symbol and the Reality.’ He says, “There is no

better test of men’s progress than this advancing power to do without the

things which used to be essential to their lives. As we climb a high

mountain, we must keep our footing strong upon one ledge until we have

fastened ourselves strongly on the next; then we may let the lower foothold

go. The lives of men who have been always growing are strewed along

their whole course with the things which they have learned to do without.”

What an overburdened life ours would be if we were compelled to carry all

the old things we once valued and used with us in our advance to the new!

Yet there is a sense in which, even in our Christian times, men press on us

the burden of that which is past, abrogated, and done with. It may be

effectively illustrated in relation to Christian doctrine. It is said that Judaic

forms of sacrifice explain the Christian redemption; and we may urge that

this is an unreasonable burden, and all that we need to accept is, that Judaic

sacrifice was the figure and symbol, by the help of which men were

prepared to apprehend and receive the moral and spiritual redemption

wrought in and by the Lord Jesus. We, as well as the early disciples, may

properly refuse the burden of Mosaic symbols and forms, which have had

their day, done their work, and ceased to be.



associations of persons together involve mutual acceptance of conditions

of fellowship; and those conditions must put limitations on personal liberty.

Illustrate by the necessary rules of a nation, a club, a family, a

congregation. These are reasonable, and are no infringements of liberty,

but a proper expression of it. No one feels such to be a burden. Further

than this, society, as constituted in each country and age, has an unwritten

code of manners and morals, and this need not be unreasonable, nor is it

felt to be a burden so long as it manifestly concerns the preservation of

social virtue and goodness. As with the early Church, the conditions of

society may make specific demands on Christians, such as are indicated in

V. 29; but these may reasonably be accepted as the restraints of the few

for the good of the whole.



upon ground which Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians has made very

familiar. Christian love even rejoices to put itself into bonds if thus it can

gain influence on others. In conclusion, urge that life properly refuses

bonds, and demands free expression; but the life in Christ willingly puts

itself under rules for His sake and for others’ sake.


30 “So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had

gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:”  They, when they

were dismissed, came down for when they were dismissed, they came, Authorized

Version; having gathered for when they had gathered, Authorized Version. The

multitude does not exactly express the idea of τὸ πλῆθος to plaethosthe

multitude, which is the fullness or the whole of the body spoken.  Compare

Luke 1:10, Πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος τοῦ λαοῦ - Pan to plaethos tou laouentire

multitude  is "The whole congregation;" Luke 2:13, Πλῆθος στρατιᾶς οὐρανίου

Plaethos stratias ouranioumultitude of heavenly host is "The whole heavenly host;"

Luke 19:37, Ἄπαν τὸ πλῆθος τῶν μαθητῶν Hapan to plaethos ton mathaeton

the entire multitude of disciples, "The whole company of the disciples;" also

ch. 6:2 and ch. 4:32, Τὸ πλῆθος τῶν πιστευσάντωνTo plaethos ton pisteusanton

 is "The whole company of believers;" ch. 22:36, Τὸ πλῆθος τοῦ λαοῦ - To plaethos

tou laou - is "The whole body of the people;" in v. 12 of this chapter, Πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος

Pan to plaethos - is "The whole Church of Jerusalem." So here, Τὸ πλῆθος means

"The whole Church."


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

And when they had read it for which when they had read, Authorized Version.


32 “And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren

with many words, and confirmed them.”  Being themselves also prophets for being

prophets also themselves, Authorized Version. Being themselves also prophets,

exhorted, etc. Observe the connection of exhortation with prophecy, and compare

the explanation of the name of Barnabas in ch.4:36, note. Confirmed them;

ἐπεστήριξαν epestiaerixanestablish them, as v. 41 and ch.14:22; 18:23. Nothing

is so unsettling as controversy; but the preaching of these "chief men" brought back

men's minds to the solid faith and hope of the gospel. How rich the Church of

Antioch was at this time, with Paul and Barnabas, Judas and Silas, and probably

Titus, and some, if not all, of those mentioned in Acts 13:1, for their teachers.


33 “And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the

brethren unto the apostles.” Spent some time there for tarried there a space,

Authorized Version. (see ch.18:23; 20:3; James 4:13); dismissed for let go,

Authorized Version; those that had sent them forth for the apostles, Authorized

Version and Textus Receptus.


34  “Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.”  This verse is omitted

in the Received Text and by the best manuscripts and commentators. It seems to

have been put in to explain v. 40. But Silas may have returned to Jerusalem, as

stated in v. 33, and come back again to Antioch, from having formed a strong

attachment to Paul and his views.




Effects of the Mission from the Church (vs. 30-34)


The few words of the decision gave rise to a large joy and consolation at

Antioch. Let us generalize this.



from the yoke of the Law is only truly to be enjoyed by those who have

previously smarted and groaned beneath that yoke.



Silas, by the exercise of their prophetic gifts, exhorted and strengthened the

brethren. The faithful teacher’s heart is in his element in bringing souls to

the Savior.




with peace from the brethren to those who sent them forth. All interchange

of love on earth, all messages of reconciliation, are prophetic of and

prepare for the home of peace IN HEAVEN!


35 “Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the

word of the Lord, with many others also.”  But Paul for Paul also, Authorized

Version; tarried for continued, Authorized Version. It is at this time that Meyer

and other commentators (see v. 1, note) place Peter's visit to Antioch mentioned

in Galatians 2:11. But it is quite inconceivable that Peter, with all the influence of

the Jerusalem Council fresh upon him, and after the part he himself took in it, and

when his own emissaries, Silas and Judas, had just left Antioch, should act the part

there ascribed to him. Nor is it within the region of probability that, so soon after

the council, any should have come "from James" to unsay what James had said

and written at the council. We may with much confidence place Peter's visit to

Antioch before the council, as suggested in note to v. 1.



The Controversy (vs. 1-35)


The apprehension of truth, full, pure, and unmixed with error, should be

the desire of all good men. And it is a great help towards attaining truth

when we are able to love it and to seek it absolutely for its own sake,

without reference to its consequences, without regard to the wishes of

others or undue submission to their opinions. It is also necessary for a man

in pursuit of truth to divest himself of prejudices, and the influence of false

opinions which he has adopted from habit, and without due consideration.

The mind should approach the consideration of truth unwarped and

uncolored by any subjective influences except the love of God and

innocency of character. Divested of prejudices and of passions, and

possessed of adequate knowledge, the mind would receive moral and

religious truth with as much certainty as it does mathematical

problems. The object of controversy should be to clear away all prejudice,

all ignorance, all passion, every groundless opinion and prepossession,

which stand in the way of the acceptance of TRUTH!   And controversialists

should be ready to admit the probalility that those who differ most widely

from them may, for that very reason, see some side of truth which is hidden

from their own eyes, and therefore should be ready to give a candid

consideration to their arguments. The controversy which is described in its

origin, progress, and settlement, in the passage before us, is an instructive

one. We see on the side of the Judaizing party the types of the hindrances

constantly existing to the reception of new truths. There was at first a blind

and indiscriminate attachment to old opinions. They had been brought up in

the belief that the Mosaic institutions were unchangeable. The very

suggestion of a modification of them was treason against Moses and

against God. They had been brought up in the belief that they were

exclusively the people of God. All the pride and selfishness of their hearts

rebelled against the idea of others being admitted to an equality of

privileges with themselves. They had cherished a contempt and hatred for

all other nations of the earth: how could they believe that those nations

were as much objects of the love of God as they themselves were? Again,

they had fattened in the opinion of their own righteousness, of their own

moral superiority over other people: how could they be willing to accept a

gospel which taught them that they could only be justified by grace, and

that they must seek that grace on a level with all other sinners, through the

merits of Jesus Christ? Again, their reverence for their rabbis and great

men, and for their sayings and teaching, which they were accustomed to

lean upon with a certain superstitious awe, and to quote with a proud

fondness, was another hindrance to the reception of the gospel in its

integrity by them. And all these influences, good and bad, concurred to

close the eyes of their reason against all opposing evidence. They would,

indeed, admit a Christianity which left the Law of Moses intact, and

obliged all Christians to become Jews, so to speak. That exalted their

nation, flattered their pride, increased their self-importance, left the

prejudices of their childhood undisturbed. But the gospel as preached by

Paul they could not and would not accept. The controversy on the other

side was waged with fairness and firmness combined. Paul’s large

experience, both of the prejudices of his opponents, which he had once felt

himself in their full power, and of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, which

had been manifested to him in so remarkable a manner, gave him an

unrivalled command of the argument. He had as much reverence for

Moses, as full a conviction of the Divine origin of the Law, of the

inspiration of the prophets, and of the infallible authority of Holy Scripture,

as his opponents had. But he had a deep insight into the doctrines of grace,

borne witness to by the Law and the prophets, which they had not. He saw

the harmony between the Old and New Testaments; how the Law was a

schoolmaster to bring men to Christ; how Christ was the end of the Law

for righteousness to every one that believes; and how in the gospel of

God’s grace in Jesus Christ the Law was not destroyed, but fulfilled, he

had, therefore, a full certainty as to the main points of the controversy

which others had not. And yet he was tender and considerate toward his

opponents (Galatians 4:19), and brought, not abuse, but argument to

bear against their errors; as in the two wonderful Epistles, to the Galatians

and to the Romans. And in a similar spirit we find him here willing to refer

the matters in dispute to the Church at Jerusalem, presided over as it was

by James, who had the credit of leaning to the side of his antagonists. But

combined with this gentleness we have to mark his unflinching firmness

and boldness. It required no small courage and strength of conviction to

withstand a person of such weight and authority as Peter, and to reprove

him before the Church. It required no little heroism to go into the very

stronghold of Judaism, and there, before James, and Peter, and the

Pharisees, and the most Judaizing members of the Churches of Judaea, to

proclaim the gospel of the free grace of God (Galatians 2:2; here, v.12),

and the free admission of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ.

And let us mark the result. All the true-hearted men were won by Paul’s

way. Peter recovered from his weakness and openly sided with Paul; James

threw his great weight unequivocally into the same scale; Barnabas shook

off his momentary hesitation; the whole assembly gave a unanimous vote in

favor of Paul’s view; and the Church was saved from disruption. In an age

when the peace of the Church is so much disturbed by controversy, and

when such violence, both of language and of action, is indulged in by those

who wish to enforce their own views, it is important to study carefully the

history of this first great and trying controversy, which threatened at one

time to split the Church to its very foundations, but which was brought to

such a happy issue, under the blessing of God, by the wisdom, charity, and

firmness of the apostle to the Gentiles. God grant, of His tender mercy, a

like spirit to the leaders of party in our own days, and a no less happy

settlement of the questions which separate brother from brother, and

impede the progress of Christian truth.




More Lessons from a Grave Crisis in the Kingdom of God

             (vs. 12-35)


After Peter’s speech (vs. 7-10) came the narration of facts by Barnabas

and Paul, in which they laid stress on the Divine tokens of favor and

support which they had received in the execution of their work (v. 12);

and then James summed up the matter, evidently giving voice to the

decision of the Church. We learn:




Probably it would be hard to find two good men of any age or country who

have taken more divergent views of the gospel of Christ than did James

and Paul. Their Epistles show us how they viewed the one truth from

separate and even distant standpoints. Had they come to this Church

meeting intent on magnifying their own distinctive points, there would

have ensued bitter conflict and fatal rupture. But they strove to meet one

another, and the end was peace and the furtherance of redeeming truth.



HONORABLE SETTLEMENT. (vs. 19-21.) In concession to the

Gentile party, it was not required that they should submit to the distinctive

rite; in concession to the Jewish party, it was required that certain statutes

should be observed by them. Occasions will very frequently occur when

each side owes it to the other to make concession. The spirit that strives

only for victory IS NOT the spirit of Christ. We should, as His disciples,

count it an honor and a joy to concede, when we conscientiously can do

so, to Christian brethren who differ from us.



SETTLEMENT OF TIME. The particular precepts which James and those

who thought with him desired to have enforced have long since

disappeared. Their observance at the time was expedient, for Moses had in

every city them that preached him, etc. (v. 21). But when the special

reasons for conformity were removed, then they fell through. Where the

peace of a Church or a large Christian community is at stake, we do well

to accept small matters which are unessential; time is on our side.



PUBLIC MORALS. It surprises and shocks us to read of abstinence from

meat which had been offered to idols, and from things strangled, being

placed side by side with abstinence from the sin of fornication, as if, in

morals, these things stood on the same level. We feel that the latter is a

thing so utterly and inherently bad that the former is not at all comparable

with it in heinousness of offence. The fact is that we think thus because our

holy religion has purified our thoughts, and taught us to see ceremonial and

moral offences in true perspective. But wherever Christianity has been

corrupted, where the traditions of men have overlaid its simplicity with

their ceremonialism, we find this defective view prevailing. It was

necessary, at that time and in the then condition of the world, formally and

expressly to disallow a custom which we now shudder at and shrink from

as a shameful sin.




The Church at Jerusalem, though on the main point it had yielded to the

Church at Antioch, did not give way sulkily or grudgingly. It did not

dismiss the deputation with a cold and formal resolution. It sent able and

influential men, with letters, to accompany Paul and Barnabas, and these

greeted the Syrian Church and laid the matter fully before them. So that, in

the end, the two communities understood one another and rejoiced in one

another the more. What is done in Christ’s name and cause should be

done with utmost courtesy and with perfect thoroughness.




intimated that what was then happening was only the fulfillment of the

Divine intention. God knew from the beginning what He should accomplish,

and He purposed the recovery and redemption of THE WHOLE



Ø      When we are baffled by the perplexities of the way, let us remember

that all things are in the hands of the OMNISCIENT ONE!


Ø      When we are distressed by the disappointments and difficulties of our

work, let us be consoled by thinking that God means to restore mankind;

His wisdom and His love WILL PREVAIL, though we see not our way

and though our fears abound.




A Great Dissension or, the Threshold of the Gentile Church,


the Apostolic Management of It (vs. 1-35)


One subject knits together very firmly the contents of this paragraph. And

the subject is one of the greatest importance. Its interest is all of the

practical kind; and well had it been for the unconverted world had the

Church through all these centuries abided by the suggested lessons that we

have here. The one subject is the beginning of ecclesiastical dissension

within the Church catholic itself; not on matter purely doctrinal, not on

matter purely disciplinary, but on matter that may be for the time supposed

to lie on the border-land between these two. For some will insist on making

it mostly a question of veritable doctrine; others would stickle for it as a

question at least of “decency and order” in discipline. Let us notice:



great signs and wonders wrought amongst them, of which they are by no

means simple beholders. They themselves are “a great part of them.” They

are believed in multitudes of cases to have become true converts to the

new faith. The apostolic verdict and pronouncement have gone forth that

“God had opened the door of faith” to them. And facts seem to speak for

themselves, saying that they have received the gifts as well as the gift of the

Holy Ghost. Must these Gentiles submit to the Jewish initiatory rite of




UPON THIS SIMPLE QUESTION. Certain men, evidently of the Church

in Judaea, came down to Antioch, and with volunteered assiduity (v. 24)

took upon them to teach the brethren at Antioch that circumcision was a

rite necessary for them to submit to, if they would be saved. Of these men,

before they are condemned as mere officious idlers or “busybodies,” it shall

be granted that they had a right to their own religious views, their own

reading of the Law and prophets, and their own past history; that they also

had a right to travel and to go and see the new Gentile converts, whose

Church at Antioch must in itself have been such a sign; and that, arrived

there, they were not bound to keep a perpetual silence. But from the very

moment that these things are conceded to the members of any Christian

society dates the solemn responsibility which rests upon them. One of the

great facts of the “liberty” (v. 10; Galatians 5:1) of Christ’s Church is

that individual character shall be called out and strictly tried by the vast

increase of individual responsibility. But the liberty cannot be had and the

responsibility left. And up to this point these things may be noted:


Ø      that from the very first “offences would come,” even within the

Church; but:


Ø      that it was no less “woe” to them by whom the offence should come;

for that on them lay the responsibility (of which they should be aware

and be ware), and not upon any laches on the part of the Church as a

whole in not legislating, for instance, to suppress the freedom of

individual thought and word. For to do this under the rule of Jesus

would be to originate worse “offence.” The very worst affront to

Jesus is to substitute letter for spirit, law for love. The origin of a

dissension, then, that excited much disputation, consumed much

precious time, is certain to have awakened some bitterness of word

and of temper, as well as to have caused no slight anxiety and pain

to those concerned, was the gratuitous work of men who had not

correct knowledge, did not try to get it (v. 24), and who went

out of their way to “make a great stir.”



somewhat indefinite phraseology of the second verse, compared with the

words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:2, leaves us in very little

uncertainty that we are to understand that Paul and Barnabas received

special intimation from the Spirit that the question should be moved to

Jerusalem; that the Church at Antioch heartily fell in with the rightness of

this course, and rejoiced to attend the steps of the apostles and other

delegates to the last, as well as to commend them in prayer to God.


Ø      If, then, the intimation of the Spirit showed the way for the apostles, it

may be gathered:


o        what really important issues were at stake, not in the matter only, but

in the manner of treating this dissension; and


o        it may be assumed that many a time and anxiously and fervently did the

two implore Divine guidance. The Spirit is the Ruler in the Church.

How imperfectly is this vital fact remembered in modern days! And the

Spirit’s guidance is sought and obtained when clouds and stormy

weather were presaged. As to the practical uses to be gained by this

reference of the question to Jerusalem and to the body of the apostles

and elders, it goes by saying.


Ø      When Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of the Antioch Church with

them, reach Jerusalem, they are, in the first instance, courteously received

by the whole Church with “the apostles and elders.” The meeting was a

service, and a happy, holy service. All hear what God has done (v. 4), and the

joy is great. And, finally, the question is opened, apparently as temperately

as plainly (v. 5).


Ø      The proper council shortly come together. It consists of “the apostles

and elders.” But the matter appears to have been argued in the presence of

the whole assembly still (vs. 7, 12-13, 22). Four leading speeches and

arguments are recorded, and the order and the wisdom alike of the

selection of speakers must be apparent. Who better to begin than Peter?

His argument is plain, practical, and cannot be gainsaid. But the way in

which he turns the tables on his brethren of the Jewish sticklers for

circumcision (v. 11) is most significant. There follow Barnabas and Paul

with their missionary tidings. These carried volumes of conviction, and

were well fitted to do so. Men listen still wonderfully in preached sermons

to facts and reliable history. It is these which weigh, too, with the

unsophisticated and the mass. And with what keenness of attention and

almost sympathetic pride they listen to these recitals from the lips of men

who had “hazarded their lives for the Name” of the Lord Jesus Christ

(v. 26)! And after these thrilling speeches James (probably “the brother

of the Lord” and the writer of the Epistle general) renews argument,

corroborating it by Old Testament Scripture quotation. Nor does he sit

down without making definite proposals to meet the present case.


Ø      In harmony with those proposals, the apostles and elders and the whole

Church agree. And they agree to write and to send what they write by the

honored hands of Paul and Barnabas, and two others specially delegated

from their own home communion to Antioch. Vs. 23-29 contain the

words of a letter which, for kindly respect, for conciliatory tone toward all,

for fidelity of truth (v. 24), for “honor to whom honor” is due (v. 26),

for religious calling to witness of the one Ruler of the Church, “the Holy

Ghost” (v. 28), and for the word of exhortation (v. 29), could not be



Ø      The four peacemakers speed on their way to Antioch. They

call “the multitude” (ch. 4:32; 6:5) together, deliver their letter, and

congratulate the Gentiles liberated from many a fear in its “consolation.”

This gentle touch at the end speaks much of what had been transpiring in

the minds of those Gentile converts, and helps as practical comment upon

v. 10 of this chapter. The two visitors, Judas and Silas, also address the

Antioch Church, the latter of whom finds such interest in place and people

that he stays at Antioch, there a while assisting Paul and Barnabas in their

ministry and in their pastorate of the flock.



BY THIS HISTORY. We should observe:


Ø      The sanction here given to the patient and faithful use of strictly moral

forces in the government of the Church of Christ. The case had aspects that

might well, on the one hand, try the forbearance of the large-hearted, and,

on the other hand, tempt to high-handed dispatch. But a world of trouble is

not grudged to keep well within the spirit of the Master, and to have

compassion on the weak, and to consider others in their errors and their

small-mindedness, lest they also be tempted,” with whom confessedly may

lie now the strength and the right and the goodness.


Ø      The honor done to courtesy and respect and to the observance of “duty

towards equals,” or those who for the time must be called so. Christianity

often seems to offer us a very clear, very beautiful outline of the

perfections possible to human society merely as such.


Ø      The kindest attention here paid to human feelings. It seems to shine out

again and. again. Where a cold, despotic, hard-and-fast ecclesiasticism

would have found its occasion for triumphing, the true order of Christ’s

Church finds a chosen occasion for reverencing feeling. For upon and in

addition to all the honor shown in the transactions recorded in this chapter

to respect and courtesy, there is apparent the sympathy of true and

heartfelt love. Amid great dangers the least possible damage was done to

the reputation of young Christianity, and the comment might still be, “See

how these Christians love one another.”


36 “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.”  After some days for some days after, Authorized Version;

return now for go again, Authorized Version; the brethren for our brethren,

Authorized Version and Textus Receptus; wherein we proclaimed for where we

have preached, Authorized Version; fare for do, Authorized Version. After some

days is hardly equivalent to μετά τινας ἡμέρας – meta tinas haemerasafter yet

some days. The expression in Greek is quite indefinite as to time, and may cover

months as well as days. That it does cover a considerable length of time we gather

from the expression in v. 33, that Judas and Silas "tarried some time at Jerusalem,"

followed by that in v. 35, that after their departure "Paul and Barnabas tarried

(διέτριβον dietribon - tarried) in Antioch." We can hardly suppose the two

periods together to have included much less than a year. Let us return, etc.

The singular loving care of Paul for his young converts appears here

(compare I Thessalonians 2:7-8; 3:5-8; II Corinthians 1:14, etc.).


37 “And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was

Mark.”  Was minded for determined, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus;

John also for John, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus; who was called for

whose surname was, Authorized Version.  Was minded. It is doubtful which is

the true reading, ἐβουλεύσατο ebouleusato or ἐβούλετο ebouleto. The difference

of meaning is small. The first means "took council with himself," i.e. planned, thought,

to take Barnabas; the second, "wished," i.e. his deliberate will was to take Barnabas.

Singularly enough, Alford, who rejects ἐβούλετο, which is the reading of Received

Text, translates ἐβουλεύετο ebouleueto by "was minded," which is the translation

of ἐβούλετο in the Revised Version. We see in this choice of Mark by Barnabas the

natural partiality of a near relation. We may also see the same flexibility of disposition

which made him yield to the influence of the emissaries of James (Galatians 2:13).

Who was called. It might seem odd that this description of John should be repeated

here after having been given in ch.12:25. But perhaps it was usual so to designate

him (see Luke 8:2; 22:3; Matthew 10:3; here ch. 1:23; 10:6).


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.  Take with them him for

take him with them, Authorized Version; withdrew for departed, Authorized Version.

Withdrew. The Greek word ἀποστάνταapostantaone withdrawing (from which

comes the substantive apostasy) is a strong one, and denotes decided blame, as does

the indication of the opposite course, by way of contrast, which he did not take.

"He did not go with them to the work" to which God called them, as he ought to

have done. The whole phrase, too, which follows is strongly worded. "Paul thought

good," as regards one who had turned back from the work, "not to take that man."

The μὴ συμπαραλαβεῖν mae sumparalabeinnot to be taking along - of this verse

is sharply opposed to the συμπαραλαβεῖν (to be taking along) of v. 37. Luke evidently

sides strongly with Paul, and almost reproduces the ipsissima verba (the exact words)

of the "sharp contention." One would infer that this passage was penned by Luke

before the reconciliation which appears in II Timothy 4:11, and that we have here an

indication of the early date of the publication of "The Acts." Perhaps also there is an

indication in the narrative, coupled with Mark's subsequent attachment to Peter, that

Mark rather leaned at this time to Judaizing views, and that his previous departure

"from the work" was partly owing to a want of complete sympathy with Paul's

doctrine. Paul would have no half-hearted helper in his grand and arduous 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;”

There arose a sharp contention for the contention was so sharp between them,

Authorized Version and Textus Receptus; parted for departed, Authorized Version;

so that for so sharp... that, Authorized Version; and Barnabas for and so Barnabas,

Authorized Version; took Mark with him for took Mark, Authorized Version; sailed

away for sailed, Authorized Version. There arose a sharp contention, etc. The sense

"between them" must be supplied, if the English word "contention" is used. The word

παροξυσμός paroxusmosincensed - only occurs twice in the New Testament: once

in Hebrews 10:24, in a good sense, "To provoke" (for a provocation) - " stimulate or

excite" - "unto love and good works," which is its common classical sense; the other

time in this passage, where the sense is attributed to it in which it is used in the

Septuagint, as in Deuteronomy 29:28, Ἐν θυμῷ καὶ ὀργῇ καὶ παροξυσμῷ μεγάλῳ

σφόδρα -    En thumo kai orgae kai paroxusmo megalo sphodra - , "in great

indignation;" and in Jeremiah 32:37 (39:37, Septuagint,), coupled with the same

words, ἐν παροξυσμῷ μεγάλῳ, "in great wrath;" answering to קֶצפ in Hebrew.

But it is more probable that Luke uses the word here in its common medical sense.

In medical writers - Galen, Hippocrates, etc. - the παροξυσμός is equivalent to

what we call an access, from the Latin aecessio, used by Celsus, when a disease

of some standing takes a turn for the worse, comes to a height, and breaks out into

its severest form. This is the sense in which our English word "paroxysm" is used.

The meaning of the passage will then be that, after a good deal of uncomfortable

feeling and discussion, the difference between Paul and Barnabas, instead of cooling

down, broke out into such an acute form that Barnabas went off to Cyprus with Mark,

leaving Paul to do what he pleased by himself. And Barnabas, etc. The Revised

Version is much more accurate. The consequence of the quarrel is said by Luke to

have been that Barnabas took Mark off with him to Cyprus. The statement that Paul

chose Silas is a separate and independent statement, as appears by ΠαῦλοςPaulos

Paul (in the nominative) and ἐξῆλθεν exaelthen -  came away - in the indicative

mood. Luke's narrative quite sides with Paul, and throws the blame of the quarrel,

or at least of the separation, upon Barnabas. Renan ('St. Paul,' p. 119) thinks Paul

was too severe upon John Mark, and that it was ungrateful of him to break with

one to whom he owed so much as he did to Barnabas for any cause of secondary

importance. He also thinks that the real root of the quarrel lay in the constantly

changing relations between the two apostles, aggravated by a domineering spirit

in Paul. But the force of this censure turns upon the question whether it was a cause

of secondary importance. If Paul had a single eye to the success of his mission, and

judged that Mark would be a hindrance to it, it was a question of primary importance

to "the work," and Paul was right. Renan also remarks upon the extinction of the

fame of Barnabas consequent upon this separation from his more illustrious

companion. "While Paul kept advancing to the heights of his glory, Barnabas,

separated from the companion who had shed a portion of his own luster upon

him, pursued his solitary course in obscurity." Sailed away. Cyprus was Barnabas's

native country (ch. 4:36), and the scene of the earliest mission (ch.11:19), and of

Paul and Barnabas's first joint evangelistic labors (ch. 13:4). Barnabas would have

many friends there, and could form plans at his leisure for his future action. The

friendly mention of him in I Corinthians 9:6 shows both that he continued his

disinterested labors as an apostle and that the estrangement between him and

Paul had passed away. The paroxysm had yielded to the gentle treatment of charity.



Symptoms More Startling (vs. 37-39)


There is a sense in which human nature and Christian principle are opposed

to each other. When in conflict they are indeed two rare antagonists. It is

astonishing at how many angles the former can be touched by the latter,

and how deeply and incisively this cuts into that. The great dissension in

the matter of circumcision and the new Gentile converts filled larger space

under the eye; but how often has it faded away from the mental gaze of

even the most devout reader when the present dissension has come

immediately after upon his view, and with unwelcome semi-fascination

riveted attention! Faithful, we may well say, as the “Spirit of all truth” is His

Book. The sins and failings of apostles are not concealed. Nor are they

even glossed over, though it was the very moment when men of devout

sympathies would have given anything to veil them from view and

withdraw them from any permanent record. The record lies here, and it

must be FOR USE!  A certain indefiniteness characterizes it where it would

have particularly suited our curiosity to have exact detail and pronounced

verdict. That very incompleteness is sure to shelter valuable hints. We shall

do well, then, to notice as simply as possible the track of the narrative, and

keep near it. We are taught:



to compare Scripture with Scripture. The slight hint of ch. 13:13 lies

for a while like a chance seed dropped in chance soil. But now it has

appeared above ground, and it takes shape and color, and buds with

meaning. Ch. 20:35 furnishes us with another kind of instance of the

value of reading Scripture in this way, where we glean a beautiful saying

of “the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than receive."

 not recorded elsewhere, though the apostle calls on those to whom he

was speaking to rememberit as a thing they had heard or read.



Here was a quarrel undoubtedly. There was, without doubt, Divine reason

for writing certain facts of it on the page of inspiration. But how frugal the

language is! How utterly absent the least symptom of satisfaction in the

narrating of it! And there is not an attempt to dilate or expatiate upon it.



MEASURING OUT PRAISE AND BLAME. If Scripture is thus cautious,

with all the resources, amounting often as in this case to certainty of

knowledge, which it possesses, how much more careful should we be to

avoid a course for which our nature seems often to manifest a strong

predilection! It is our very disappointment here that blame is not

apportioned between Paul and Barnabas, nor any final verdict pronounced.

But, on second thoughts, is that disappointment of worthy sort?






Ø      It is even pleasant and suggestive to note that the difference was none of

doctrine. The “unity of the faith,” at all events, is not wounded in the house

of its friends.


Ø      It is even possible, though perhaps scarcely probable, that this difference

of opinion was abundantly legitimate, and that it proceeded from as much

excellence of one kind in Barnabas as of another in Paul. Barnabas may

have leaned to John in compassion and forgivingness and desire to give him

another trial, instead of shutting him out from it for one offence. And

strong, trenchant Paul may have been so stricken with the “memory” of the

words of “the Lord Jesus” about the man who “put his hand to the plough,

and looked back,” and like words, that he could not feel it was a case for

human kindness as against Divine fidelity, and could not entertain two

opinions upon it. Paul also may have rightly estimated the incalculable

disgrace and reproach it would bring upon the work of Christ if at some

more unfortunately critical point than before Mark should fail. It must be

admitted that both of these good men may have been justified in thinking

that the matter was not a little matter and not a matter for yielding, but for

allowing conscience “to have her perfect work.”  (James 1:4)




BITTERNESS. However possibly motives may have been unimpeachable

on this occasion, and justifiable room have existed for two opinions, yet it

is impossible to escape the conviction that difference degenerated into

dispute. The passage-at-arms was not altogether that of brethren, but it

was “so sharp” that the sacred phraseology uses an equivalent not less

forcible than the word “exasperation.”




this place may be regarded as the typical instance of the New Testament,

as the separation of Abram and Lot (Genesis 13:5-18) is that of the old,

with consequences not altogether dissimilar. For from this point the star of

Paul is more and yet more in the ascendant, as it was with Abram, but of

Barnabas henceforth the sacred record fails to tell.






SALVATION OF MEN. For when all else is said, and our whole brief

narrative in these few verses is surveyed, we most gratefully gather this

residuum of good and of comfort.


Ø      The purpose that visited Paul’s heart and his sharing of it with Barnabas

— a purpose that rose from a heart’s deep and high love, and that was

nothing daunted by the prospect of danger and suffering.


Ø      The outspoken and honest objection taken by Paul to the company of

Mark. That this objection, with its blunt honesty, finds room given to it on

the page may be taken as some indication that the right lay with Paul.

Nothing is breathed to detract from the propriety of his firm veto of Mark

as a companion.


Ø      The prayers of the brethren who send Paul forth, and their

“recommending him to the grace of God.” These three things are welcome

reliefs in the midst of a scene not attractive in its main aspects. Would that

as much redeeming impression could be found in other cases of “sharp

contention” among Christian brethren and fellow-laborers in the same





Contentions and Separations (vs. 37-39)


It is sometimes a weakness of dealing with Scripture characters that

“inspiration” is not distinguished from “perfection.” The place of human

infirmity in divinely endowed men is not sufficiently recognized. And yet,

for the correction of this very tendency, the frailty of good men is always

indicated in the Scripture histories. Of only one man — the Man Christ

Jesus — can it be said, “In Him was no sin.” So when it is manifest that

good men have fallen into error and sin, unnatural ways of explaining the

fact are often resorted to, and men are afraid to recognize that these great

men of Scripture were really “men of like passions with us” (James 5:17),

and so, from our own experiences, we can best apprehend their failings. A point

needing much careful thought is the relation of the Divine regeneration to the

natural disposition and character. It is a renewal of the man if it renews his

will; but it has to be followed up by a continuous Divine work which

renews the mind, character, temper, habits, and relations; and we must not

be surprised if, at any particular point of that work, there remain frailties

and infirmities. Evidently no idea of absolute perfection of character and

disposition can be entertained concerning either Barnabas — “a man full of

faith, and of the Holy Ghost” or of Paul, who had been called to the

apostleship. A close survey of the relations between these two missionaries

reveals a gradual drifting apart, a kind of widening distance between them,

which probably neither of them consciously recognized or in any way

encouraged. When they started out, Barnabas, as the elder man and the

elder Christian, took the leading place; but circumstances brought Paul to

the front. There was force of character, power on others, natural

leadership, which men soon recognized, in spite of his somewhat

insignificant appearance; and as he gradually subsided into the second

place, Barnabas could very naturally cherish the idea that Paul had better

go alone, or with companions of his own choosing. Actual grounds of

separation usually follow on a period of secretly divided feeling, and the

difficulty that arose over John Mark need not have been so serious if there

had been no previous unconscious drifting asunder. Difficulties and

dissensions occur only too often in family and Church life, but they seldom

are mere sudden storms which cannot be accounted for; they follow on a

condition of atmosphere which has necessitated them sooner or later.

Olshansen says, on this contention between Barnabas and Paul, “Paul

appears, although indeed this cannot be imagined, to have permanently

violated the principle of love, for on account of a single fault he entirely

threw off Mark; and of Barnabas it might be feared that love for his

relative, more than a conviction of his fitness, was the motive for taking

him as a companion on his missionary journey. But on closer consideration

these surmises are seen to be perfectly groundless.” These considerations

prepare the way for a closer examination of the “contention” and the

consequent separation of these two good friends and fellow-laborers.


  • THE SUBJECT OF THE CONTENTION. Give some account of Mark;

his probable youthfulness; his mother’s dependence on him; his particular

office as minister or attendant on the two missionaries. The difficulties and

dangers of traveling in those times required that several should go

together; and as men of good family and associations, both Barnabas and

Paul would be accustomed to, and dependent on, the daily offices of

servants or attendants. Ministry to such a person as Paul we would

count honorable indeed.


  • THE ARGUMENTS OF THE CONTENTION. These may easily be

imagined. Each man took his own point of view and pressed it too hard.

Each had good show of reason, but each manifested self-will in presenting

it. The arguments were of little avail towards producing satisfactory

results, because the divergence was rather one of sentiment and feeling

than of deliberate judgment. Arguments seldom help the settlement of

disputes that really arise from diversity of feeling. Christian principle and

Christian charity and brotherliness can do more in such cases than the most

convincing arguments.


  • THE RESULTS OF THE CONTENTION. These may be shown so

far as they affected:


Ø      Paul,

Ø      Barnabas,

Ø      Mark,

Ø      Silas.


It may be shown that Paul’s severity with Mark did not influence his

personal affection for him; and that if, as a matter of judgment, he declined

his service, he did not take up a permanent prejudice against him. In

conclusion, lessons may be learned from this incident concerning:


Ø      the insidious growth of feelings that tend to separate “very friends;”

Ø      the hopelessness of settling the disputes which arise between men by

mere argument;

Ø      the hope that lies in the exercise of mutual forbearance, kindly yielding

of our own, anxiety to find common ground, and the true Christian

brotherliness, to preserve us from separating contentions, and to heal

them when they arise.


40 “And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren

unto the grace of God.”  But for and, Authorized Version; went forth for departed,

Authorized Version; commended for recommended, Authorized Version; to for unto,

Authorized Version; the Lord for God, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus.

Chose Silas. If v. 34 of the Textus Receptus is a true reading, it accounts for the

presence of Silas at Antioch. Otherwise there is no difficulty in supposing that

Silas, attracted by the holy zeal of Paul and by desire to work among the Gentiles,

had come back to Antioch after giving account to the apostles at Jerusalem of the

success of his mission with Judas to the Churches at Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.


41 “And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.”

Syria and Cilicia (see v. 23). This rather looks as if the "some days after" of v. 36

did not cover a very long time, because the special mention of "the Churches of

Syria and Cilicia" indicates that Paul's visit had some connection with the epistle

addressed to them by the apostles and elders of the Church of Jerusalem (v. 23),

as we see from ch. 16:4 was the case. Confirming; as ch. 14:22; here v. 32; 18:22

(Textus Receptus). In the passive voice ἐπιστηρίζομαι epistaerizomai - means to

"lean upon," as in II Samuel 1:6, Septuagint, and in classical Greek. Renan thus

indicates their probable route: "They traveled by land northwards across the plain

of Antioch, went through the 'Syrian Gates,' coasted the gulf of the Issus, crossed

the northern branch of the Issus through the 'Amanean Gates,' then,, traversing

Cilicia, went perhaps through Tarsus, crossed Mount Taurus through the

'Cilician Gates,' one of the most terrible passes in the world, and thus reached                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Lycaonia, going as far as Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium" ('St. Paul,' p. 123).




The Paroxysm (vs. 36-41)


The proposal of two friends whose fast friendship was of many years’

standing; of two brethren loving and beloved; of two apostles of Jesus

Christ, who had long labored together to win souls to Christ and to

advance the kingdom of God, and who had achieved together the most

signal triumphs over the powers of darkness, who had suffered together,

who had undergone the most appalling dangers together, who had stuck by

one another under every circumstance of trial and difficulty; — the

proposal, I say, of two such men to start together on a new errand of love,

might have seemed to be the very last occasion likely to produce

contention and strife. Alas! for the infirmity of our poor fallen nature, that

any evil should arise from purposes so good and holy. The faithful, truthful

record of the sacred history in our text suggests much caution and many

useful lessons for Christian practice.


1. There was perfect agreement between the two apostles as to the end in

view — the revisiting the Churches they had planted for the purpose of

confirming them in the faith of Jesus Christ. As far as we know, they were

both of one mind, both equally desirous of advancing the kingdom of God,

both equally ready to spend and be spent for the Name of the Lord Jesus

and for the spread of His gospel in the world. Thus far we may well believe

that their communications on the subject of the new mission were carried

on in perfect harmony and love, because there was in each a single eye and

an unmixed motive, viz. the glory of Christ.


2. The difference arose when Barnabas proposed that they should take

John Mark as their companion. Here we seem to detect the entrance in of

human motives. His partiality for his cousin; possibly the feeling that his

own softer character needed the support of a steady ally to enable him to

hold his own against the strength of Paul’s will; possibly too some leaning

towards the Jewish party in the Church, or at least an unwillingness to

offend them, — made him blind to the inconvenience of taking a halfhearted

companion with them. He was consulting with flesh and blood, and

not with the Spirit of God, when he made the suggestion. We can imagine

that Paul objected at first with mildness, and pointed out the evils that

might arise. He would dwell upon the vital interests of the mission, the

dangers and difficulties of the work, the insufficient guarantee that John

Mark’s constancy would be equal to the task. It is, of course, possible,

though it does not appear, that Paul may have judged Mark somewhat

severely, or may have urged his objections without all the tenderness that

was due to the feelings of Barnabas. But there is not the slightest evidence

that this was so. Probably at first he hoped to persuade Barnabas to give up

his project. Probably Barnabas hoped so to state his wish to reinstate John

Mark that Paul might give way. But when these hopes broke down on

either side, then gradually, no doubt, the discussion assumed a growing

tone of asperity, till at length the paroxysm came on. Barnabas cut the

discussion short by turning upon his heel, and separating himself from his

old companion and friend, and going forth in self-will with his cousin to

Cyprus. The old partnership with Paul was dissolved, and nothing remained

for Paul to do but to choose another missionary companion, and pursue his

project in sadness. We cannot doubt that the peace and joy of both apostles

was clouded by this unfortunate episode. But Paul had probably the

testimony of his conscience that he had acted from the purest motives, and,

from the friendly mention of Barnabas alluded to in the note to v. 39, we

may hope that, when the paroxysm had subsided, the old relations between

the two brethren were restored to their former footing of cordiality and

love. But the great practical lesson we learn is the importance of keeping

our motives of action pure and simple. We must try and not allow our

judgment to be clouded by partialities and personal influences of any kind.

We must endeavor never to subordinate the great interests of the Church

and of the gospel to any private feelings or wishes, however innocent in

themselves. And even right feelings and reasonable wishes must be so kept

under control as never to overflow the banks of reason and of charity, and

never to injure the great cause of the gospel of Christ, to which they ought

always to be made subservient. Generally, the narrative of this paroxysm

enforces the wise words of James, “Let every man be swift to hear,

slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the

righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).



Apostles at Fault (vs. 36-41)


When a grave and critical juncture had been safely passed without damage

done to any, there arose a quarrel about an unimportant and insignificant

matter, which had regrettable, not to say deplorable, results. The heart of

the earnest and affectionate Paul yearned to know how their converts fared

in “every city where they had preached the Word of the Lord” (v. 36).

Barnabas immediately acquiesced in Paul’s proposal to visit them;

everything promised another useful mission journey, in which the calmer

and more genial qualities of the one man would supplement the intenser

and more vehement characteristics of the other. But there arose a question

as to companionship, which wrecked their agreement to work in one

another’s company, and which separated the two friends for life. Barnabas

wished to take Mark, and would not abandon his desire; Paul would not

consent to take him: “and the contention was so sharp... that they departed

asunder” (v. 39). We learn from this incident:




POSSIBLY FORESEE. Could Mark have foreseen that his desertion of

the cause in Pamphylia would have led to the lifelong separation of his

uncle from Paul, he would probably have remained with them, and

“fulfilled the work,” even as they did. But he did not reckon on after

consequences. It is well for us to consider that our acts of minor wrongdoing,

of moral weakness, of spiritual shortcoming, may do an amount of

mischief from the commission of which we should shrink with dismay if we

could only look it in the face.




together in the cause of Christ need not and should not have been broken

off by their disagreement. They ought either to have compromised the

matter by mutual concession, or one of the two should have yielded to the

other. Paul owed too much to Barnabas to be justified in pushing his own

will to the point of separation. Barnabas owed too much to Paul to make it

right for him to insist so pertinaciously on his particular desire. One should

have yielded if the other would not. It was an unedifying, unseemly,

unchristian thing for two apostles to throw up a plan on which they had

sought Divine direction, and which must have received the sanction of the

Church, because they could not agree on a matter of detail. They must both

have lived to regret it. Men in prominent positions, and those who are

engaged in great matters, are bound to be above such unseemliness of

behavior. Either:


Ø      the ingenuity of love should devise a middle way, or

Ø      the sacrificial spirit of love should yield the point altogether.




both of the apostles were blameworthy. But so far as Paul was to be

condemned, his failure was the shadow of his intensity. Such was the

entirety of his devotedness, such the intensity of his zeal, such the

strenuousness of his soul, that he could not brook anything which looked

like half-heartedness. And so far as Barnabas was to blame, his fault was

the shadow of his kind-heartedness, his willingness to give another chance

to a young man, his reluctance to exclude from noble service a man who

had made one mistake. Each was animated by a commendable spirit,

though each may have gone too far in his own course. Often when we

unsparingly condemn, it would be well to remind ourselves and others

that the faults of good men are usually but the shadow of their virtues.




we. These two men were not the less servants of God, ambassadors of

Jesus Christ, because they were betrayed into temporary ill humor. God

appraised them by their essential, abiding spirit of love and devotion; He

forgave their passing ebullition. In the same way we must take care to

estimate men, not by an occasional outburst which is not really

characteristic and is no true criterion, but by the “spirit of their mind “

that which really shapes and colors their life and character.



MEN, A CHRISTIAN ENDING. Paul afterwards wrote kindly of

Barnabas, and actually sent for Mark, declaring that he was “profitable for

[the] ministry” (II Timothy 4:11). The sun should not go down upon

our wrath. If any man has a quarrel against any, he is to “forbear and to

forgive” (Colossians 3:13).




The Beginning of the Second Missionary Journey (vs. 36-41)


The dissension of Paul and Barnabas, painful in itself, may yield useful matter of





Ø      The fact of it. Paul judged severely of Mark on moral grounds. His

desertion of him and Barnabas (ch. 13:13) on a former occasion was

to his mind a strong proof of inconstancy. But Mark had fallen away

from them, not from Christ. And Barnabas would lean to the side of

leniency and clemency towards the young disciple. The contention

became sharp. Both thought themselves to be contending for Christ;

both were unconsciously contending for self. Both were in the right,

each from his own point of view aiming at the good of the young man

and the furtherance of the kingdom.


Ø      The consolation of it.


o        With reference to the person concerned. Chrysostom says that the strife

was of great service to Mark; for the sternness of Paul brought a change

in his mind, while the kindness of Barnabas suffered him not to feel



o        With reference to us. We may be encouraged by the thought that these

holy men were of like passions with ourselves (James 5:17), bone of

our bone and flesh of our flesh. Divine love triumphs over and is

made perfect in human weakness. Apart from that, man’s very virtues

become faults; the mildness of Barnabas degenerates into softness,

the severity of Paul into harshness.  Divine love converts faults into

blessings. Mark is humiliated, and thereby raised in Christian manhood.

The separation of the apostles divides the stream of saving grace into

two streams, and so the more widely spreads it in the world.






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