The Question of Circumcision.
SUMMARY.--The Judaizing Teachers at Antioch.
Opposed by Paul and Barnabas.
The Question Referred to Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas Report to the Apostles and Elders Their Work Among the Gentiles.
Pharisees Insist That These Gentiles Must Be Circumcised.
Paul and Barnabas Show How God Was with Them.
The Judgment of James the Lord's Brother.
His Views Accepted by All.
The Apostolic Letter to the Gentile Christians.
The Joy at Antioch When the Letter Is Read.
Judas and Silas.
1. Certain men which came from Judea. This chapter records the
first intimation of the great controversy that agitated the apostolic
church, and of which we find traces in many of Paul's letters, the
question whether Christianity was merely a development and a sort of
culmination of Judaism, or was a New Dispensation that had supplanted
the Old and taken its place. At first the Christians of Jerusalem and
Judea remained strict Jews, still keeping the ordinances of Moses. The
Samaritans converted by Philip were a circumcised people. The idea of
the apostles, at first, seems to have been that Gentiles might become
Christians, but must first be circumcised. It was a matter of
astonishment to Peter and the brethren that he was required to baptize
the Gentile Cornelius and his friends without circumcision. Then came
the formation of the Gentile church at Antioch and the successful
labors of Paul and Barnabas in western Asia. The influx of the Gentiles
to the church, and their acceptance on the same terms as the old
covenanted people of Jehovah, stirred those Jewish brethren of the more
bigoted type to bitter opposition, and they began to send their
teachers abroad with the declaration,
Except ye be circumcised. . . . ye cannot be saved. Thus they
came to Antioch; thus, at a later period, they disturbed the churches
of Galatia and called out the Galatian letter. In order to destroy
their influence, it was needful at once to settle whether they spoke
the sentiment of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, and hence Paul
and Barnabas were sent to lay this question before the great mother
church. This caused the conference
described in this chapter, spoken of in church history as
The reader should form some idea of the importance of this question. It
was none other than whether Christendom should be Jewish Christian, or
delivered from the bondage of the Jewish law into the liberty of the
children of God. Paul
calls these "certain men" "false brethren."
2. No small dissension. These men were opposed by Paul and
Barnabas, but the fact that they were from Jerusalem, and probably
contended that they had the authority of the apostles, gave them an
3, 4. Being brought on their way by the church. A special escort
of church members attended them on their journey. It was mark of honor.
20:38 and 21:5.
Passed through Phenice. Phoenicia. They went by the land route,
visiting the churches of Phoenicia and Samaria, causing great joy by
their account of so great success among the Gentiles.
Were received of the church. Had a cordial reception, a warm
5. There rose up certain of the Pharisees. Men of that sect who,
like Paul, had become Christians, but unlike him had retained their
Jewish bigotry. Perhaps some of them were Paul's old friends. They
seem to have sprung the controversy when the missionaries gave account
of their work
6. The apostles and elders came together. A meeting of the
apostles and the elders of Jerusalem was called. It was in the year
A. D. 51, about twenty years after the ascension of Christ. One
apostle had suffered martyrdom; eleven, including Matthias, remained,
though some might have been in distant parts. James, the "brother of
though not one of the Twelve, was a chief man now in the Jerusalem
church, and is often spoken of by historians as its pastor, or bishop.
Though his sentiment decided the question this day, he has been
regarded as a leader of the Judaizing Christians. See
7-11. When there had been much disputing. One side insisted that
the Gentiles must keep the law of Moses, the other that they were not
under the Mosaic covenant at all.
Peter rose up. Probably
silent until this time. He arose to rehearse his own experiences which
had given him new light.
A good while ago. Nine or ten years before. For the account of
Peter's conversion of the Gentiles, see
chapters 10 and 11.
Put no difference between us and them. Accepted them just as he
accepted us, and gave the Holy Spirit as a proof to us that he had
Purifying their hearts by faith. The Jews held that Gentiles
were unclean, but Peter declared that faith, the true circumcision,
that of the heart, not of the body, purified them into fitness for the
ordinances of Christ. Observe Peter's doctrine: not circumcision of the
flesh, but the faith that leads to obedience cleanses from
To put a yoke. To impose Jewish obligations on Gentile
Christians. The law of Moses was a yoke that
neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. So strict in its
requirements that none could keep it perfectly.
Through the grace of the Lord. This is the hope of both Jew
and Gentile, not obedience to the ceremonials of Moses.
12. All the multitude kept silence. After Peter's reminder of
his work among the Gentiles, Paul and Barnabas were probably called on
to show whether their work, like Peter's, showed that God was with
them. They therefore gave some account of the miracles that God had
wrought by their hands, thereby attesting the Divine favor.
13-21. James answered, saying. For other references to James see
1 Cor. 15:7;
Gal. 1:19 and 2:9,
and the Epistle of James. He is also mentioned several times in the
and seems, before the death of Jesus, to have been an unbeliever. It is
probable that the speech of Peter, followed by the account given by
Paul and Barnabas, convinced him, and led to the views he now
To this agree the . . . prophets. The quotation he
gives is from
Amos 9:11, 12.
Build again the tabernacle of David. Restore the splendors of
his family in the reign of the Messiah, "the Son of David."
That the residue of men. The Gentile world. This grand
prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles makes no mention of
Known unto God are all his works. The meaning is, that this
calling of the Gentiles is a part of the Divine plan known to God from
Wherefore. Since it is evidently God's will, "My sentence
is, that we do not trouble them."
That they abstain from the pollutions of idols. Four items are
mentioned, which are all embraced in the apostolic letter as things
forbidden. They were four common customs of the Gentile world, and
matters on which there should be a clear understanding. The first does
not mean only to refrain from worshiping idols, or eating meat offered
in idol sacrifice, but from all the pollutions of the system of
idolatry. Licentiousness and drunkenness received a sanction from
religion. See Lecky's European Morals, chap. V., and Conybeare
and Howson's Paul, chap. IV.
Fornication. Chastity was the exception instead of the rule
among Gentiles at this period.
From things strangled. Because in strangling the blood was
retained in the flesh. The use of blood was prohibited by the Mosaic law,
and for wise reasons this prohibition was extended to Gentiles. The
Roman epicures were wont to drown fowls in wine and then use the flesh.
It was a common thing to drink wine mingled with blood. The only way to
strike at these savage practices was to prohibit its use.
For Moses . . . hath. There are synagogues in every city.
The use of blood would shock the Jews who have membership in these.
22-29. Then pleased . . . with the whole church. All acquiesced
in the judgment of James. The church is not before mentioned as taking
part. The decisions seem to have been submitted
to its voice.
To send chosen men. As the messengers of the church at
Judas. Little is known of him to save that he was a prophet
Silas. Well known after this as the companion of Paul. See
1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:19.
They wrote letters. A letter. Luke gives it, I suppose,
Send greeting. Observe that the greeting is not only from the
apostles and elders, but from the church.
It seemed good unto us. It seemed good to them to send men,
but the decision made "seemed good to the Holy Spirit"
Men that have hazarded their lives. This high praise is given to
Paul and Barnabas. It is the tribute of the church at Jerusalem to the
two men sent from the church at Antioch.
Seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us. The decision was
That ye abstain from meats. See note on
30-35. They rejoiced for the consolation. When they returned and
the letter was read to the church at Antioch, it caused great joy.
Judas and Silas, being prophets. Inspired speakers. Such
speakers were necessary to the church until it had the New Testament
for a guide.
They were let go in peace. They were dismissed for Jerusalem
with benedictions of peace.
It pleased Silas to abide there still. This verse is not found
in the Revision, nor in the oldest MSS.
Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch. Probably for the
greater part of a year, preaching, and assisted by many other
36-41. Paul said unto Barnabas. This is a proposal to start on a
second missionary journey, in
order to visit and strengthen the churches already planted, as well as
to extend the work.
Barnabas determined to take with them John. He had abandoned
them on the first tour
and his reasons did not satisfy Paul; hence he declined to take
The contention was so sharp. Neither would yield, so they
determined to work separately. Barnabas, with Mark, went to visit the
churches of Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas as his fellow laborer. He
seems to have returned from Jerusalem.
Being recommended . . . to the grace of God. Evidently a
meeting of the church was held to commend them to God.
Went through Syria and Cilicia. We have no account of the
founding of these churches, but we know that Paul had before this
labored in these parts. See