Acts 15:1-5

1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.

4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.

5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

This question was but the natural outcome of the situation in the beginning of this age. Wherever the Jews went in the Gentile world, their presence gave rise to two conflicting tendencies. On the one hand, the Jew possessed the knowledge of the one true God; and amidst the universal corruption, idolatry and superstition of the ancient world this saving knowledge exercised a powerful attraction. The synagogues of the Jews became the center of a large body of seekers after truth, whether actually circumcised proselytes or simply God-fearing Gentiles. On the other hand, this knowledge was enshrined in a law, which imposed upon the Jews a number of distinctive customs and observances and these separated them from the rest of mankind and made a real coalescence impossible. Four characteristics in particular struck the Gentiles, the absence of all images or emblems of the deity in Jewish worship, the observance of the Sabbath, abstinence from unclean meat and especially swine’s flesh, and circumcision. This last was sufficient in itself to prevent the world from adopting Judaism. But the law of uncleanness caused the Jew on his side to look upon the Gentiles with contempt, as unclean, and put an effectual bar on any real fellowship. The Gentiles in their turn readily paid back Jewish exclusiveness with an ample interest of ridicule and hatred. This double relation to the Gentiles divided the Jews themselves into two school. On the one side were those who with some consciousness of the brotherhood of common humanity were striving to remove barriers and to present the Jewish faith to the world in its most spiritual and philosophic aspect. Such were the Hellenists of Alexandria. On the other side, the salvation of the Gentiles was inconceivable to the genuine Hebrew, and this was the attitude of mind which prevailed in Judea. There the Hebrews were growing more and more rigid; instead of lowering, they were raising the fence around the law and trying to make the barrier between Jew and Gentile absolutely impassable. — Gaebelein, pages 257-258

taught (v.1) — imperfect tense — “taught persistently”

The gospel which the Judaizers had brought was another, yet in a sense not another [Galatians 1:6-7]. That is to say, the difference was one of development rather than of contradiction, just as elsewhere Paul makes it clear that grace was no contradiction of the law (Romans 3:31).

These Judaizers were not unscriptural; they were undispensational. What they taught was to be found in Scripture, but it did not recognize the further revelation given to and through the apostle Paul. They sought to bring Gentiles, saved by a message of pure grace, back under the program of the kingdom with its circumcision and law — and thus they perverted the gospel of Christ. — Stam, page 247.

dissension (v.2) = party faction

they (v.2) — most likely the members of the church at Antioch, although in Galatians 2:2, Paul reveals that he received directions from God too.

to Jerusalem (v.2) — See Galatians 2:1-2.

The main objection raised against this view [that Paul doesn’t figure his visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11:30] is that in Galatians 1:18-2:1 Paul himself solemnly declares that after his visit with Peter, three years after his conversion, he had not gone up to Jerusalem to see the apostles again until “fourteen years after.” But this difficulty is not insurmountable, for the apostle’s argument in Galatians is not that he had been to Jerusalem so seldom, but that he had been in contact with the apostles so seldom, and therefore could not have gotten his teaching from them. His omission of the visit of Acts 11:30 in the Galatians passage is evidently because he saw none of the apostles at that time, and does not indicate a want of candor. — Stam, page 250.

certain others (v.2) — including Titus, a Gentile — See Galatians 2:1.

caused great joy (v.3) — imperfect tense — “went on causing great joy”. The churches in Phoenicia and Samaria were not as conservative as that in Jerusalem and welcomed the news of Gentile salvation.

reported all things (v.4) — See Galatians 2:2.

Pharisees (v.5) — many of whom were Paul’s former associates. They were strictly trained in the law and resistant to change.

In the epistle to the Galatians Paul explains that a private preliminary conference was first held with “them which were or reputation” (Galatians 2:2). It is possible that Acts 15:4-5 does not refer to a meeting of the church, but the phraseology of the passage together with the fact that it would not have been much of a welcome by the church had it not been public, lead us to believe that it was a public meeting and that after this the Pharisees rose to object and “the apostles and elders” then met to consider the matter (Acts 15:6). The meeting of the apostles and elders would then be the third meeting, followed by a fourth, attended by “all the multitude … the apostles and elders with the whole church” (Acts 15:12, 22). — Stam, page 256.

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