Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
DECIDE ON THE
CIRCUMCISION FOR THE
1, 2. certain men--See the description of them in
2. Paul and Barnabas--now the recognized heads of the Church at
had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined--that is, the church did.
that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of them--Titus was one
probably as an uncircumcised Gentile convert endowed with the gifts of
the Spirit. He is not mentioned in the Acts, but only in Second
Corinthians, Galatians, Second Timothy, and the Epistle addressed to
should go up to Jerusalem . . . about this question--That such a
deputation should be formally despatched by the Church of Antioch was
natural, as it might be called the mother church of Gentile
3-6. being brought on their way by the church--a kind of official
they passed through Phenice--(See on
and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles, and they caused
great joy to the brethren--As the converts in those parts were Jewish
their spirit contrasts favorably with that of others of their
4. And when they were come to Jerusalem--This was Paul's
JERUSALEM after his conversion, and
on this occasion took place what is related in
were received of the church, and the apostles and elders--evidently
at a meeting formally convened for this purpose: the deputation being
one so influential, and from a church of such note.
they declared all things that God had done with them--(See on
6. the apostles and elders came together to consider of this--but in
presence, as would seem, of the people
(Ac 15:12, 22, 23).
7. Peter, &c.--This is the last mention of him in the Acts, and one
worthy of his standing, as formally pronouncing, from the divine
decision of the matter already in his own case, in favor of the views
which all of Paul's labors were devoted to establishing.
a good while ago--probably about fifteen years before this.
made choice . . . that the Gentiles by my
8. God, which knoweth the hearts--implying that the real question for
admission to full standing in the visible Church is
the state of the heart. Hence, though that cannot be known by men,
no principle of admission to church privileges which reverses this
can be sound.
9. put no difference between us and them: purifying their hearts by
faith--"Purification" here refers to "sprinkling (of the conscience
by the blood of Jesus) from dead works to serve the living God."
How rich is this brief description of the inward revolution wrought
upon the genuine disciples of the Lord Jesus!
10. why tempt--"try," "provoke"
ye God--by standing in the way of His declared purpose.
to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, &c.--He that was
circumcised became thereby bound to keep the whole law. (See
It was not then the mere yoke of burdensome ceremonies, but of an
obligation which the more earnest and spiritual men became, the more
impossible they felt it to fulfil. (See
11. through the grace of the Lord Jesus--that is, by that only.
we shall be saved, even as they--circumcision in our case being no
advantage, and in their case uncircumcision no loss; but grace doing
all for both, and the same for each.
12. Then all . . . gave audience to Barnabas and
Paul--On this order of the names here, see on
declaring what miracles and signs God wrought among the Gentiles by
them--This detail of facts, immediately following up those which Peter
had recalled to mind, would lead all who waited only for divine teaching
to see that God had Himself pronounced the Gentile converts to be
disciples in as full standing as the Jews, without circumcision; and the
attesting miracles to which Paul here refers would tend, in such an
assembly to silence opposition.
13. James answered, saying, &c.--Whoever this James was
he was the acknowledged head of the church at Jerusalem, and here, as
president of the assembly, speaks last, winding up the debate. His
decision, though given as his own judgment only, could not be of great
weight with the opposing party, from his conservative reverence for all
Jewish usages within the circle of Israelitish Christianity.
14-17. Simeon--a Hebrew variation of Simon, as in
(Greek), the Jewish and family name of Peter.
hath declared how God at the first--answering to Peter's own
expression "a good while ago"
did visit the Gentiles to take out of them--in the exercise of His
a people for his name--the honor of his name, or for His glory.
15. to this agree the words of the prophets--generally; but
those of Amos
are specified (nearly as in the Septuagint version). The point
of the passage lies in the predicted purpose of God, under the new
economy, that "the heathen" or "Gentiles" should be "called by His
name," or have "His name called upon them." By the "building again of
the fallen tabernacle of David," or restoring its decayed splendor, is
meant that only and glorious recovery which it was to experience under
David's "son and Lord."
18, 19. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning--He who
announced these things so long before, and He who had now brought them
to pass, were one and the same; so that they were no novelty.
19. Wherefore, my sentence--or "judgment."
is, that we trouble not--with Jewish obligations.
them which from among the Gentiles are turned to God--rather, "are
turning." The work is regarded as in progress, and indeed was rapidly
20. But . . . that they abstain from pollutions of idols--that is,
things polluted by having been offered in sacrifice to idols. The
heathen were accustomed to give away or sell portions of such animals.
From such food James would enjoin the Gentile converts to abstain, lest
it should seem to the Jews that they were not entirely weaned from
and from fornication--The characteristic sin of heathendom,
unblushingly practiced by all ranks and classes, and the indulgence of
which on the part of the Gentile converts would to Jews, whose
Scriptures branded it as an abomination of the heathen, proclaim them to
be yet joined to their old idols.
and from things strangled--which had the blood in them.
and from blood--in every form, as peremptorily forbidden to the
Jews, and the eating of which, therefore, on the part of the Gentile
converts, would shock their prejudices. See on
21. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him . . .
every sabbath day--thus keeping alive in every Jew those feelings which
such practices would shock, and which, therefore, the Gentile converts
must carefully respect if the oneness of both classes in Christ was to
be practically preserved. The wisdom of these suggestions commended
itself to all present.
22, 23. Judas surnamed Barsabas--therefore not the apostle "Judas the
brother of James"
nor can it be shown that he was a brother of "Joseph called
But nothing is known of him beyond what is here said.
and Silas--the same as "Silvanus" in the Epistles. He became Paul's
companion on his second missionary journey
chief men among the brethren--selected purposely as such, to express
the honor in which they held the church at Antioch, and the deputies
they had sent to the council, and, as the matter affected all Gentile
converts, to give weight to the written decision of this important
assembly. They were "prophets,"
(and see on
and as such doubtless their eminence in the church at Jerusalem had
23. And they wrote . . . by them--This is the first mention in the
New Testament history of writing as an element in its development.
And the combination here of written and oral transmission of an
important decision reminds us of the first occasion of writing mentioned
in the Old Testament, where a similar combination occurs
But whereas there it is the deep difference between
Israel and the Gentiles which is proclaimed, here it is the
obliteration of that difference through faith in the Lord Jesus
greeting--The only other place in the New Testament where this word
occurs (except in the letter of Lysias,
which seems to show that both letters were drawn up by the same hand
the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia--showing that churches
then existed in Cilicia as well as Syria, which owed their existence, in
all likelihood, to Paul's labors during the interval between his return
and his departure in company with Barnabas for Antioch (see on
24-27. Forasmuch as we have heard that certain which went out from us
have troubled you with words--without authority or even knowledge of
the church at Jerusalem, though they belonged to it, and probably
pretended to represent its views.
subverting your souls--Such strong language is evidently designed to
express indignation at this attempt, by an unauthorized party, to bring
the whole Christian Church under judicial and legal bondage.
25. our beloved Barnabas and Paul--Barnabas is put first here, and in
on account of his former superior position in the church at Jerusalem
Ac 9:27; 11:22)
--an evidence this that we have the document precisely as written, as
also of the credibility of this precious history.
26. Men that have hazarded--literally, "rendered up," as in will they did.
their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--Noble testimony
to those beloved men! It was doubtless prompted more immediately by the
narrative they had just listened to from their own lips
and judiciously inserted in this letter, to give them the highest
weight as the bearers of it, along with their own deputies.
Judas and Silas . . . shall tell you the same . . . by mouth--Mark
here how considerate and tender it was to send men who would be able to
say of Barnabas and Paul what could not be expected to come from
28, 29. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, &c.--The One,
inwardly guiding to and setting His seal on the decision come to: the
other, the external ecclesiastical authority devoutly embracing,
expressing, and conveying to the churches that decision:--a great
principle this for the Church in all time.
to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things . . .
from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well--The whole language
of these prohibitions, and of
Ac 15:20, 21,
implies that they were designed as concessions to Jewish feelings on
the part of the Gentile converts, and not as things which were all of
unchanging obligation. The only cause for hesitation arises from
"fornication" being mixed up with the other three things; which has led
many to regard the whole as permanently prohibited. But the remarks on
may clear this (see on
The then state of heathen society in respect of all the four things
seems the reason for so mixing them up.
31-33. they rejoiced for the consolation--As the same word is in
properly rendered "exhorted," the meaning probably is "rejoiced for the
exhortation" (Margin), or advice; so wise in itself and so
contrary to the imposition attempted to be practiced upon them by the
32. Judas and Silas, being prophets themselves--that is, inspired
exhorted the brethren with many words--"much discourse."
and confirmed them--opening up, no doubt, the great principle involved
in the controversy now settled, of gratuitous salvation, or the
purification of the heart by faith alone (as expressed by Peter,
Ac 15:9, 11),
and dwelling on the necessity of harmony in principle and affection
between the Gentile disciples and their Jewish brethren.
33. were let go in peace--with peace, as the customary parting
34, 35. it pleased Silas--Silas determined.
to abide there still--(The authorities against the insertion of this
verse are strong. It may have been afterwards added to explain
Doubtless the attraction to Antioch for Silas was Paul's presence
there, to whom he seems to have now formed that permanent attachment
which the sequel of this book and Paul's Epistles show to have
35. Paul . . . and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching--to the
and preaching--to those without.
the word of the Lord, with many others--other laborers.
also--How rich must Antioch at this time have been in the ministrations
of the Gospel!
(For a painful scene on this occasion between Paul and Peter, see
36. And some days after--How long is a matter of conjecture.
Paul said to Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren--the true
reading is, "the brethren."
in every city where we have preached . . . and see how they do--whether
they were advancing or declining, &c.: a pattern for churches and
successful missionaries in every age. ("Reader, how stands it with
thee?") [BENGEL]. "Paul felt that he was not called to spend a
peaceful, though laborious life at Antioch, but that his true work was
far off among the Gentiles." We notice here, for the first time, a trace
of that tender solicitude for his converts, that earnest longing to see
their faces, which appears in the letters which he wrote afterwards, as
one of the most remarkable and attractive features of his character. He
thought, doubtless, of the Pisidians and Lycaonians, as he thought
afterwards at Athens and Corinth of the Thessalonians, from whom he had
been lately "taken in presence, not in heart, night and day praying
exceedingly that he might see their face and perfect that which was
lacking in their faith" [HOWSON].
37. Barnabas determined to take with them John . . .
38. But Paul thought not good to take him with them who departed from
them--that is, who had departed; but the word is stronger than
this--"who stood aloof" or "turned away" from them.
from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work--the work yet before
them. The allusion is to what is recorded in
39. And the contention was so sharp between them--such was the
"irritation," or "exacerbation."
that they departed asunder one from the other--Said they not truly
to the Lystrians that they were "men of like passions with them";
But who was to blame? (1) That John Mark had either tired of the
work or shrunk from the dangers and fatigues that yet lay before them,
was undeniable; and Paul concluded that what he had done he might, and
probably would, do again. Was he wrong in this? (See
But (2) To this Barnabas might reply that no rule was without
exception; that one failure, in a young Christian, was not enough to
condemn him for life; that if near relationship might be thought to
warp his judgment, it also gave him opportunities of knowing the man
better than others; and that as he was himself anxious to be allowed
another trial (and the result makes this next to certain), in order
that he might wipe out the effect of his former failure and show what
"hardness he could now endure as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," his
petition ought not to be rejected. Now, since John Mark did
retrieve his character in these respects, and a reconciliation took
place between Paul and him, so cordial that the apostle expresses more
than once the confidence he had in him and the value he set upon his
(Col 4:10, 11;
it may seem that events showed Barnabas to be in the right, and Paul
too harsh and hasty in his judgment. But, in behalf of Paul, it may
well be answered, that not being able to see into the future he had
only the unfavorable past to judge by; that the gentleness of Barnabas
(Ac 4:36; 11:24)
had already laid him open to imposition (see on
to which near relationship would in this case make him more liable; and
that in refusing to take John Mark on this missionary journey he was
not judging his Christian character nor pronouncing on his fitness for
future service, but merely providing in the meantime against being
again put to serious inconvenience and having their hands weakened by a
possible second desertion. On the whole, then, it seems clear that each
of these great servants of--Christ had something to say for himself, in
defense of the position which they respectively took up; that while
Barnabas was quite able to appreciate the grounds on which Paul
proceeded, Paul was not so competent to judge of the considerations
which Barnabas probably urged; that while Paul had but one object in
view, to see that the companion of their arduous work was one of
thoroughly congenial spirit and sufficient nerve, Barnabas, over and
above the same desire, might not unreasonably be afraid for the soul of
his nephew, lest the refusal to allow him to accompany them on their
journey might injure his Christian character and deprive the Church of
a true servant of Jesus Christ; and that while both sought only the
glory of their common Master, each looked at the question at issue, to
some extent, through the medium of his own temperament, which grace
sanctifies and refines, but does not destroy--Paul, through the
medium of absolute devotion to the cause and kingdom of Christ, which,
warm and womanly as his affections were, gave a tinge of lofty
sternness to his resolves where that seemed to be affected;
Barnabas, through the medium of the same singleness of heart in
Christ's service, though probably not in equal strength
but also of a certain natural gentleness which, where a Christian
relative was concerned, led him to attach more weight to what seemed
for his spiritual good than Paul could be supposed to do. In these
circumstances, it seems quite possible that they might have amicably
"agreed to differ," each taking his own companion, as they actually
did. But the "paroxysm" (as the word is), the "exacerbation" which is
expressly given as the cause of their parting, shows but too plainly,
that human infirmity amidst the great labors of the Church at Antioch
at length sundered those who had sweetly and lovingly borne together
the heat and burden of the day during a protracted tour in the service
of Christ. "Therefore let no man glory in men"
As for John Mark, although through his uncle's warm advocacy of his
cause he was put in a condition to dissipate the cloud that hung over
him, how bitter to him must have ever afterwards been the reflection
that it was his culpable conduct which gave occasion to whatever was
sinful in the strife between Paul and Barnabas, and to a separation in
action, though no doubt with a mutual Christian regard, between those
who had till then wrought nobly together! How watchful does all this
teach Christians, and especially Christian ministers and missionaries,
to be against giving way to rash judgment and hot temper towards each
other, especially where on both sides the glory of Christ is the ground
of difference! How possible is it that in such cases both parties may,
on the question at issue, be more or less in the right! How difficult
is it even for the most faithful and devoted servants of Christ,
differing as they do in their natural temperament even under the
commanding influence of grace, to see even important questions
precisely in the same light! And if, with every disposition to yield
what is unimportant, they still feel it a duty each to stand to his own
point, how careful should they be to do it lovingly, each pursuing his
own course without disparagement of his Christian brother! And how
affectingly does the Lord overrule such difference of judgment and such
manifestations of human infirmity, by making them "turn out rather unto
the furtherance of the Gospel"; as in this case is eminently seen in
the two missionary parties instead of one, not travelling over the same
ground and carrying their dispute over all the regions of their former
loving labors, but dividing the field between them!
and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose
--going two and two, as the Twelve and the Seventy
40. and departed, being recommended . . . to the grace of
God--(No doubt by some solemn service; see
It does not follow from the historian's silence that Barnabas was not
so recommended, too; for this is the last mention of Barnabas in the
history, whose sole object now is to relate the proceedings of Paul.
Nor does it seem quite fair (with DE WETTE, MEYER, HOWSON, ALFORD, HACKET, WEBSTER and WILKINSON, &c.) to conclude from this that the Church at
Antioch took that marked way of showing their sympathy with Paul in
opposition to Barnabas.
41. and he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the
churches--"It is very likely that Paul and Barnabas made a
deliberate and amicable arrangement to divide the region of their first
mission between them; Paul taking the continental, and Barnabas
the insular, part of the proposed visitation. If Barnabas
visited Salamis and Paphos, and if Paul (travelling westward), after
passing through Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, went as far as Antioch in
Pisidia, the whole circuit of the proposed visitation was actually
accomplished, for it does not appear that any converts had been made at
Perga and Attalia" [HOWSON]. "This second
missionary tour appears to have proceeded at first solely from the
desire of visiting the churches already planted. In the end, however,
it took a much wider sweep, for it brought the apostle to Europe"