Council of Jerusalem. 1* Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,a “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,b you cannot be saved.”* 2Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question. 3They were sent on their journey by the church, and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria telling of the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, as well as by the apostles and the presbyters, and they reported what God had done with them. 5But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.”
6* The apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter. 7* After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.c 8And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us.d 9He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.e 10Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?f 11On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,g in the same way as they.”* 12The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.
James on Dietary Law. 13* After they had fallen silent, James responded, “My brothers, listen to me. 14Symeon* has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name. 15The words of the prophets agree with this, as is written:
16‘After this I shall returnh
and rebuild the fallen hut of David;
from its ruins I shall rebuild it
and raise it up again,
17so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord,
even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked.
Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things,
18known from of old.’
19i It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, 20but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood.j 21For Moses, for generations now, has had those who proclaim him in every town, as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath.”
Letter of the Apostles. 22Then the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers. 23This is the letter delivered by them: “The apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings. 24Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, 25we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: 28k ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, 29namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’”l
Delegates at Antioch. 30And so they were sent on their journey. Upon their arrival in Antioch they called the assembly together and delivered the letter. 31When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation. 32Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, exhorted and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33After they had spent some time there, they were sent off with greetings of peace from the brothers to those who had commissioned them. 34* 35But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming with many others the word of the Lord.
V. The Mission of Paul to the Ends of the Earth
Paul and Barnabas Separate. 36* After some time, Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us make a return visit to see how the brothers are getting on in all the cities where we proclaimed the word of the Lord.” 37Barnabas wanted to take with them also John, who was called Mark, 38but Paul insisted that they should not take with them someone who had deserted them at Pamphylia and who had not continued with them in their work.m 39So sharp was their disagreement that they separated. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. 40But Paul chose Silas and departed after being commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41He traveled through Syria and Cilicia bringing strength to the churches.
* [15:1–35] The Jerusalem “Council” marks the official rejection of the rigid view that Gentile converts were obliged to observe the Mosaic law completely. From here to the end of Acts, Paul and the Gentile mission become the focus of Luke’s writing.
* [15:1–5] When some of the converted Pharisees of Jerusalem discover the results of the first missionary journey of Paul, they urge that the Gentiles be taught to follow the Mosaic law. Recognizing the authority of the Jerusalem church, Paul and Barnabas go there to settle the question of whether Gentiles can embrace a form of Christianity that does not include this obligation.
* [15:6–12] The gathering is possibly the same as that recalled by Paul in Gal 2:1–10. Note that in Acts 15:2 it is only the apostles and presbyters, a small group, with whom Paul and Barnabas are to meet. Here Luke gives the meeting a public character because he wishes to emphasize its doctrinal significance (see Acts 15:22).
* [15:7–11] Paul’s refusal to impose the Mosaic law on the Gentile Christians is supported by Peter on the ground that within his own experience God bestowed the holy Spirit upon Cornelius and his household without preconditions concerning the adoption of the Mosaic law (see Acts 10:44–47).
* [15:11] In support of Paul, Peter formulates the fundamental meaning of the gospel: that all are invited to be saved through faith in the power of Christ.
* [15:13–35] Some scholars think that this apostolic decree suggested by James, the immediate leader of the Jerusalem community, derives from another historical occasion than the meeting in question. This seems to be the case if the meeting is the same as the one related in Gal 2:1–10. According to that account, nothing was imposed upon Gentile Christians in respect to Mosaic law; whereas the decree instructs Gentile Christians of mixed communities to abstain from meats sacrificed to idols and from blood-meats, and to avoid marriage within forbidden degrees of consanguinity and affinity (Lv 18), all of which practices were especially abhorrent to Jews. Luke seems to have telescoped two originally independent incidents here: the first a Jerusalem “Council” that dealt with the question of circumcision, and the second a Jerusalem decree dealing mainly with Gentile observance of dietary laws (see Acts 21:25 where Paul seems to be learning of the decree for the first time).
* [15:14] Symeon: elsewhere in Acts he is called either Peter or Simon. The presence of the name Symeon here suggests that, in the source Luke is using for this part of the Jerusalem “Council” incident, the name may have originally referred to someone other than Peter (see Acts 13:1 where the Antiochene Symeon Niger is mentioned). As the text now stands, however, it is undoubtedly a reference to Simon Peter (Acts 15:7).
* [15:34] Some manuscripts add, in various wordings, “But Silas decided to remain there.”
* [15:36–18:22] This continuous narrative recounts Paul’s second missionary journey. On the internal evidence of the Lucan account, it lasted about three years. Paul first visited the communities he had established on his first journey (Acts 16:1–5), then pushed on into Macedonia, where he established communities at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea (Acts 16:7–17:5). To escape the hostility of the Jews of Thessalonica, he left for Greece and while resident in Athens attempted, without success, to establish an effective Christian community there. From Athens he proceeded to Corinth and, after a stay of a year and a half, returned to Antioch by way of Ephesus and Jerusalem (Acts 17:16–18:22). Luke does not concern himself with the structure or statistics of the communities but aims to show the general progress of the gospel in the Gentile world as well as its continued failure to take root in the Jewish community.
g. [15:11] Gal 2:16; 3:11; Eph 2:5–8.
i. [15:19–20] 15:28–29; 21:25.
j. [15:20] Gn 9:4; Lv 3:17; 17:10–14.
l. [15:29] Gn 9:4; Lv 3:17; 17:10–14.