Acts Lesson Thirty-two

Acts Lesson Thirty-two: Acts 15:36-16:5 – A Broken Partnership and a New Partnership

36 After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord and see how they’re doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. 39 There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. 40 Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers. 41 He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. 

16 Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him. Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily. (HCSB)

I’ll be dividing this lesson into two parts.

  • A broken partnership – verses 15:36-39.
  • A new partnership – verse 15:40-16:5.

A Broken Partnership

Once again, Luke uses a vague time reference to indicate a major division in the narrative. The phrase Luke uses, “after some time,” is generally thought to be about one year. This view supports the historical data that indicates about one year between the first and second of Paul’s missionary journeys. The second journey begins in verse 41. 

Paul’s vision was to revisit all the churches he established during the first missionary journey. Although Paul didn’t personally visit each church, all the churches were visited by either Paul or Barnabas. Barnabas traveled to Cyprus, and Paul visited all the other churches established on the first journey.

The main point in the first section is the split between Paul and Barnabas. It’s ironic that two dedicated men who had brought unity to the church couldn’t reach a compromise on their own disagreement. Over the years, there has been much scholarly debate about the reason behind the split. Although there has been much debate, there isn’t a definitive conclusion about the main reasons behind the split. Before we look at the possible reasons for the split, it is important to understand Luke’s reasoning for including the detail that a disagreement occurred. Disagreements that cause division are never a good thing in ministry. At the same time, we are all probably aware of splits that have occurred. Very likely, when both Paul and Barnabas looked back at this event later in their lives, they were embarrassed by what had transpired. However, God can turn that darkness into light even when believers act in the flesh. We’ll see why at the end of this section. Now, let’s look at possible reasons for the disagreement.

  • John Mark. 
    • Mark and Barnabas were cousins.
      • Family ties were strong in the cultural setting in which Acts occurred.
      • Barnabas was also known as the “son of encouragement” and was ready to give Mark another chance to serve with them even though he had left the previous missionary journey early.
      • Were the Judaizers in Jerusalem aroused to anger by Mark and his reports from Pamphylia?
      • It is also possible that Mark was a member, or at least agreed with, the Judaizers.
  • Paul was adamant that they not include Mark in the second journey.
    • Mark had abandoned the team on the first missionary journey.
    • In Paul’s mind, this was a sign of weakness. The ministry was too important and the work too demanding to include someone who had proven unreliable on the first journey.
    • Was Mark unrepentant regarding his decision to abandon the team on the first trip?
  • The Galatian’s incident – Galatians 2:11-13.
    • This event took place in Antioch after the Jerusalem Council.
    • Peter would eat with the Gentiles until Judaizers once again muddied the waters. 
      • They pressured Peter to stop eating with the Gentiles, and even though the Jerusalem council had made it clear that it was ok to eat together, Peter gave in to the pressure.
      • Paul was unhappy with Peter’s hypocrisy.
      • Even Barnabas followed Peter’s lead in the matter.
    • Although Paul had reconciled with Barnabas to the point that he wanted Barnabas to join him on the second journey, there may have been lingering wounds and possibly some differences with Paul’s Gentile outreach that precluded adherence to the Law.

Who was right?

When the facts are examined, it would seem that both Paul and Barnabas have grounds for their position.

  • Paul.
    • Paul remembered what happened on the first journey.
    • He knew the dangers that the team would face, and having team members who were unreliable was not a good thing.
    • As noted in Galatians, Barnabas had been swayed by the Judaizers who came from Jerusalem. Would this happen again?
  • Barnabas.
    • He was known as the “son of encouragement.”
    • Mark was only a young man on the first journey and had panicked when the situation got tough.
    • Mark may have settled and matured since that point and needed an opportunity to demonstrate that he would be a capable team member.
    • It is also possible that Barnabas felt some resentment since Paul had been Barnabas’ protege. 
      • Barnabas had introduced Paul to the apostles in Jerusalem after Paul’s conversion.
      • Barnabas went to Tarsus to bring Paul to Antioch and gave him a chance to be a teacher and preacher.
      • Barnabas had started as the lead during the first missionary journey, and at some point, Paul had taken over as the leader.
      • Maybe Paul owed Barnabas a concession on the issue of Mark.
  • This is an example of a classic confrontation.
    • Does one major mistake disqualify a person from a ministry role?
    • Should a person be restored to ministry work even if a major mistake was made?
    • Often it is the circumstances involving the mistake which determine the correct course of action. 

In the end, the two men went their separate ways. However, now we see how God can turn this “event of the flesh” into something good. Instead of one mission team heading out, there were now two teams that evangelized the lost. 

A New Partnership

With the partnership with Barnabas now broken, Paul needed a new partner to accompany him on the journey. The man Paul chose was Silas. Now, let’s take a closer look at Paul’s new partner, Silas.

  • As Paul, Silas was a Roman citizen – Acts 16:37.
  • Silas was a key member in the Jerusalem church – Acts 15:22.
  • Silas was chosen to represent the Jerusalem church as the decision of the council was taken to the Gentiles in Antioch – 15:27.
  • Silas was a prophet – Acts 15:32.
  • He was involved in the ministry with Paul in Antioch, allowing Paul to become familiar with him.
  • Silas was a co-author with Paul of the Thessalonian epistles.
  • Silas was the secretary for Peter’s first epistle – 1 Peter 5:12.
  • Since Silas was a leader from the Jerusalem church, this could prove advantageous on the upcoming journey.

Paul and Silas set out on their missionary journey, moving northward on foot through the Cilician gates to visit the locations where Paul and Barnabas traveled on the first missionary journey. On this journey, the party went from east to west, effectively traveling in reverse order from the first journey. Their first stop was at Derbe, and from there, they continued to Lystra, where another prominent New Testament individual is found, Timothy. Let’s take a closer look at Timothy.

  • Timothy was thought of highly by the believers at Lystra and Iconium.
  • It is quite likely that Timothy was a convert from Paul’s first missionary journey.
  • Timothy was from an ethnically mixed marriage.
    • His mother was Jewish.
    • His father was Greek.
    • According to rabbinic law, a child with a Jewish mother and a Greek father was considered to be Jewish. 
      • Therefore, Timothy would be viewed as a Jew.
      • Jews were required to be circumcised.
    • Paul used the local synagogue as a focal point for evangelism in his travels.
      • If Paul had a member of his party with a Jewish lineage who was uncircumcised, that would prove to be a stumbling block in their efforts.
      • Therefore, that is the reason Paul insisted that Timothy get circumcised. 
    • Timothy was a key companion involved in Paul’s missionary work.
      • Paul considered Timothy his “son.”
        • 1 Corinthians 4:17.
        • 1 Timothy 1:2.
      • Paul sent two letters to him.
      • Timothy was a co-sender in six letters.
        • 2 Corinthians 1:1.
        • Philippians 1:1.
        • Colossians 1:1.
        • 1 Thessalonians 1:1.
        • 2 Thessalonians 1:1.
        • Philemon 1.
      • Paul considered Timothy his “fellow worker.”
        • Romans 16:21.
        • 1 Corinthians 16:10.

The trio of Paul, Silas, and Timothy now continue on the journey. Luke doesn’t mention the towns visited, but it is safe to assume that Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, and any other village where a Christian community was planted on the first journey. The group shared the message from the Jerusalem Council as they traveled. All of the churches were in the southern part of the Roman province of Galatia and not part of Syro-Cilicia, to which the message was addressed. It is very likely that these churches were included as they were the result of Paul and Barnabas’ journey commissioned from Antioch.

The final verse in this section is a summary statement. The result of their journey was churches that experienced strengthened faith and growth. Paul wasn’t just concerned with establishing churches. He was concerned with seeing what he and Barnabas had started to experience growth and produce fruit.


  • There is a lesson to be learned from the dissolved partnership between Paul and Barnabas. Although both sides had justification for their position, neither side was willing to compromise. We’ll never know what could have occurred if Mark and Barnabas had traveled with Paul on the second journey. Would Paul’s partnership with Timothy still have occurred? Regardless of what may or may not have happened, unity in the body of Christ is extremely important. Both Paul and Barnabas gave into fleshly actions, yet God still used both teams to advance the Gospel. We should do all we can to avoid these types of broken working relationships but also realize that if they do happen, God is able to turn them into good.
  • Choose your ministry partners carefully. Both Silas and Timothy were exceptional partners for Paul. We won’t all be blessed to have partners of this caliber, but having the partner God desires for us will make our trials easier.
  • As we are involved in evangelism, we need to remember that not only is the conversion important, the follow-up call for discipleship is essential for spiritual growth and a believer who produces fruit.

Acts Lesson Thirty-one

Acts Lesson Thirty-one: Acts 15:22-35 – Instructions to the Gentiles

22 Then the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, decided to select men who were among them and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas, called Barsabbas, and Silas, both leading men among the brothers. 23 They wrote this letter to be delivered by them: 

From the apostles and the elders, your brothers, 

To the brothers among the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: 


24 Because we have heard that some without our authorization went out from us  and troubled you with their words and unsettled your hearts, 25 we have unanimously decided to select men and send them to you along with our dearly loved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who will personally report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. 


30 Then, being sent off, they went down to Antioch, and after gathering the assembly, they delivered the letter. 31 When they read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 Both Judas and Silas, who were also prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers and strengthened them with a long message. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent back in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas, along with many others, remained in Antioch teaching and proclaiming the message of the Lord. (HCSB)

I will split this lesson into three parts.

  • The delegation from Jerusalem – verse 22.
  • The contents of the letter – verses 23-29.
  • The reaction to the letter – verses 30-35.

The Delegation From Jerusalem

First, let’s look at the people mentioned in verse 22.

  • Paul and Barnabas.
    • We’ve already looked at their backgrounds extensively in previous lessons.
    • Since Antioch was their “home church,” it made perfect sense that they would be in the delegation.
    • They also represented the Gentile position that was under fire from the Judaizers.
  • Judas Barsabbas.
    • Although the passage doesn’t specify, it was likely that he was an elder in the Jerusalem church.
    • He may have been related to the Joseph Barsabbas in Acts 1:23, but that is uncertain.
  • Silas.
    • A significant character in the New Testament.
    • He accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey.
    • Silas is a shortened form of the Greek name Silvanus, leading some scholars to believe he was a Hellenist.
      • He could be the same Silvanus who served as Peter’s secretary – 1 Peter 5:12.
      • He definitely seems to the Silvanus whom Paul mentions as a co-worker in several epistles; 2 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.
    • He may have been a Roman citizen – Acts 16:37.
  • Apostles, elders, and the whole church.
    • The decision wasn’t made and endorsed by a few select people.
    • The entire church was unified and supported the decision.

Now, let’s look at the contents of the letter.

  • The general structure of the letter.
    • It was formal and written in the style of Greco-Roman letters.
      • It began with a salutation listing the senders and the recipients.
      • The customary greeting followed the salutation.
      • The formality is most pronounced in the long sentence that runs from verses 24-26.
      • It ends with an equally formal “farewell.”
    • Since the structure was Greco-Roman, we get the impression the Jewish congregation at Jerusalem was making a point to communicate clearly and in the style typical of their Greek-speaking brothers and sisters at Antioch.
  • The contents of the letter.
    • The letter was written in the name of the leaders of the Jerusalem church.
      • The apostles and elders.
      • It also indicates they consider the believers at Antioch their “brothers.”
    • It was written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.
      • Although three locations are mentioned, it is quite possible that it is only one location.
      • Syria-Cilicia was administratively a single Roman province.
      • Antioch was a city within the province.
      • The debate began at Antioch, so it would seem that the response should go to Antioch.
    • The letter acknowledges that the Judaizers came from the Jerusalem church.
      • The leaders of the Jerusalem church were not happy with the Judaizers who unsettled the believers at Antioch.
      • The wording “troubled you” is a Greek military metaphor that means to plunder or loot a town.
    • Verses 25-26 basically reiterates what is contained in verse 22.
      • There is an additional commendation of Paul and Barnabas.
        • They had risked their lives for the name of Jesus.
        • The Greek word used here, paradidomi, can mean either devote or risk and in the context of the passage, either is applicable.
          • Their devotion to Jesus led them into many dangers.
          • The leaders of the Jerusalem church referred to Paul and Barnabas as “dearly loved.”
    • Verse 27 states that the Jerusalem church has also sent Judas and Silas as part of the delegation.
      • The inclusion of these two men is an important of the resolution to the dispute brought by the Judaizers.
      • The main church in Jerusalem is saying that these two men are the official representatives and speak on behalf of the head church.
      • They would provide an eyewitness account and a Jerusalem interpretation of the letter.
      • They would answer any questions that may arise from the congregation at Antioch.
    • Verse 28 shows that the authority for their decision comes primarily from the Holy Spirit, with the obedience of relaying the message falling on the leadership of the Jerusalem church. 
      • The inclusion of the Holy Spirit is significant. The Spirit was instrumental in the inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts 15:8, 12.
      • In the conference, the Spirit led the Jerusalem church leaders in understanding and communicating the requirements for the Gentile believers.
    • Verse 29 lists the four requirements that James proposed in verse 20.
      • Abstain from eating food offered to idols.
      • Abstain from eating blood.
      • Abstain from eating anything that has been strangled due to residual blood in the meat.
      • Abstain from sexual immorality.
      • From historical documents, these requirements were common practices in large segments of the church in the Gentile world.
      • The Gentile believers are then encouraged that they will do well if they follow these instructions.
      • The letter then concludes with a formal closing.

The Reaction to the Letter

Now that the letter is written, the delegation sets off to deliver their decision to Antioch. Upon their arrival, the entire church is gathered together to hear the decision from Jerusalem.

  • The congregation at Antioch rejoiced at the contents of the message.
  • Gentile Christians would no longer be pressured to follow the requirements contained in the Mosaic Law.
  • Judas and Silas, prophets in the Jerusalem church, were able to encourage the Gentile believers further.
    • Old Testament and New Testament prophecy are different.
    • New Testament prophecy is primarily a gift of inspiration where an individual delivers a word from God that addresses a present need in the church.
    • Once again, Luke is vague regarding time, but Judas and Silas spent “some time” before returning to Jerusalem.
    • The Gentile believers found great encouragement through them, and when it was time for them to return, they were sent back with the traditional blessing of shalom, the peace of God.
  • The issues regarding Gentile believers have now been settled, and Paul, Barnabas, and many others spent time teaching and preaching, leading to the church prospering.
    • The phrase “many others” is important.
    • Paul and Barnabas would soon be leaving for mission fields elsewhere. However, the church would be left in good hands with the “many others” who would carry on the work started by Paul and Barnabas.

Depending on the translation you use, you may or may not have a verse 34. Scholars believe that a scribe added this verse after the original translation, and most modern translations do not include it.

When we summarize this passage, there are two main points to remember regarding the Jewish Christian leadership.

  • They were open to the leading of God.
    • Throughout the account, God’s leading is stressed.
      • Sending the Spirit on Cornelius – verse 8.
      • Signs and wonders worked through Paul and Barnabas – verse 12.
    • This was evidence of God’s acceptance of the Gentiles and led the Jerusalem council to accept the Gentiles without any further burden.
    • The Spirit was also present during the conference – verse 28.
  • The Jewish Christian leaders showed a concern for the church’s world mission that outweighed their particular interests. 
    • Their decision aided evangelism to the Gentiles.
    • To require circumcision and adherence to the Torah would have limited or ended the Gentile evangelism effort.


  • Any decision in the church needs to be a unified decision. This is especially true for a major decision, which applied in this case. The decision here weighed the arguments of both sides and then reached a decision that didn’t compromise yet allowed contextualization of the Gospel for different people groups.
  • When decisions are made and communicated to a congregation or group, it is important that those involved in conveying the message are known and respected by those receiving the decision. It is even better if those giving the message are involved with the group. If we are a member of the congregation, we must accept the decision of those placed over us.
  • When decisions are made, it is vitally important that God’s will and leading are the primary reason for any decision or course of action. We must always follow God’s direction and not our human desires.

Acts Lesson Thirty

Acts Lesson Thirty: Acts 15:1-21 – The Jerusalem Council

Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!” But after Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, the church arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this controversy. When they had been sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, explaining in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they created great joy among all the brothers. 

When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!” 

Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them: “Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving  the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. He made no distinction between us and them,  cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.” 

12 Then the whole assembly fell silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul describing all the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they stopped speaking, James responded: “Brothers, listen to me! 14 Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 And the words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written: 

16 After these things I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. 

I will rebuild its ruins and set it up again, 

17 so the rest of humanity may seek the Lord— even all the Gentiles 

who are called by My name, declares the Lord who does these things, 

18 known from long ago. 

19 Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.” (HCSB)

When we look back at the end of the previous lesson, we’ll remember that about a year had passed between the time that Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and the beginning of Acts 15. I’ll be dividing this lesson into two parts.

  • The Dispute in Antioch – verses 1-3.
  • The Jerusalem Council – verses 4-21.

In previous lessons, I’ve addressed an issue about the enemy always being active against successful ministry endeavors. Here, we see this issue playing out once again. Paul and Barnabas returned from a successful missionary trip and were now engaged in teaching and helping the church at Antioch grow spiritually. Now, the enemy sets out to disrupt their work and discredit them. The greatest weapon of the enemy is lies. We saw that at the beginning of Genesis where Satan used lies to cause Adam and Eve to eat the fruit that was forbidden. We see lies being used in this passage. When we look at the world today, lies are still a favorite weapon of the enemy. The lie of relevant truth; what is true to me is true. The lie is that we should do whatever feels right or good to us. The lie is that having more will make us happy. I could go on and on.

The Dispute in Antioch

Although only three verses long, let’s look at some facts from this passage.

  • The men who came down from Jerusalem were of the camp of the Judaizers, which meant that they were previously Pharisees who became Christians.
    • They believed that circumcision was a requirement for salvation.
    • Christians still needed to follow the Mosaic Law.
  • It is not difficult to understand why these Jewish believers were confused.
    • The Old Testament taught that Gentiles could only be saved through Israel.
    • The only Gentiles that the Jerusalem church had seen saved were those evangelized by Peter, and that was a special act of God in Acts 11:18.
    • News traveled slowly, and they weren’t aware of all that God had accomplished through Paul and Barnabas.
    • It is also possible that once they became aware of the large number of Gentiles who were converted, they were either jealous or fearful of transition from Mosaic Law tradition to the New Covenant.
  • Paul and Barnabas engaged the Judaizers in debate, with the result being that they would go to the church in Jerusalem to have the leadership there judge the matter.
    • This didn’t indicate any hierarchy; instead it was a voluntary decision to go there.
    • God commanded Paul to go to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-2.
    • Jerusalem was still the “mother church” of Christianity.
    • The Apostles were at Jerusalem.
  • The journey between Antioch and Jerusalem was over 250 miles, likely taking a month or so to complete.
    • They evangelized along the way.
    • It is likely that most of the congregations and believers they met along the way would be on the side of Paul and Barnabas, not wanting to burden Gentile believers with circumcision and the Mosaic Law.
    • The congregations along the way rejoiced at the news of the success among the Gentiles.

The Jerusalem Council

Once the group arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the elders and Apostles. There are a few points to note regarding the first verse in this section, implied here but clarified as the passage continues.

  • Paul represented the position against circumcision and the Mosaic Law being a requirement for Gentile believers.
  • Peter represented the Apostles.
  • Jame represented the elders.
  • The Judaizers represented those who believed any Christian should be circumcised and subject to the Mosaic Law.

From the context of this section, it also appears that at least four separate meetings took place during this time.

  • A public meeting during which the Jerusalem church welcomed Paul and those traveling with him.
  • A private meeting between Paul and the key leaders is referenced in Galatians 2:2.
  • A second public meeting where the Judaizers presented their case is found in Acts 15:5 and Galatians 2:3-5.
  • The formal council meeting where the final decision was made is referenced in Acts 15:6ff. We can read Paul’s report on the issue in Galatians 1-2.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at the last two meetings mentioned above.

Let’s consider some facts from the second public meeting.

  • From the context of the passage, it appears that this meeting went on for a considerable period of time.
  • Sensing that not much progress was being made, Peter decides to intervene and stands to present his position on the debate. 
    • Peter endorses Paul on two occasions in Scripture.
      • Peter’s final act in Acts was to endorse Paul and his ministry.
      • Peter’s last written words, found in 2 Peter 3:15-16, also endorsed Paul and his ministry.
    • Peter reminds them that God allowed him to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles – Acts 10-11.
    • God had accepted the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as the Holy Spirit was given to the Jews at Pentecost.
    • They were saved by faith and grace.
    • Verse 11 is key.
      • “We believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”
      • The Law was no longer applicable to the Jews. Therefore, it was also no longer applicable to the Gentiles.
      • Salvation is “by grace, through faith” and not “obey Moses and be circumcised.”
  • Paul and his companions were the next to speak.
    • The church greatly respected Paul and Barnabas, and their words carried a great deal of weight.
    • They described God’s work among the Gentiles.
    • They emphasized the miracles that were done among the Gentiles. The miracles were proof that God was involved in the work among the Gentiles.
      • Mark 16:20 – And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the accompanying signs.
      • Romans 15:18-19 – For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed, 19 by the power of miraculous signs and wonders, and by the power of God’s Spirit. As a result, I have fully proclaimed the good news about the Messiah from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum. 
    • Their astounding report of numerous successes of evangelizing the Gentile locations was evidence that couldn’t be refuted.
    • The opponents were effectively silenced.

The transition from the second public meeting to the formal council decision occurs between Paul’s address and James giving them the final decision.

  • James is the brother of Jesus and had become the leader of the church in Jerusalem in place of Peter.
  • He didn’t become a believer until after Jesus’ resurrection.
  • James had a strong leaning towards the Law. There are at least ten references to the Law in his epistle. This would have made him acceptable to the Judaizers in the Jerusalem church.
  • The key theme in James’ address is agreement.
    • He agreed with Peter that God was saving Gentiles by grace.
    • It must have startled the Judaizers when James said the Gentiles were “a people for His name.”
      • The Jews believed they were the people for God’s name, not Gentiles.
      • The New Testament church is a church for all people.
      • The Greek word for church, ekklesia, means a “called out assembly.”
      • If the Gentiles are called out, then their salvation is from grace and not through the keeping of the Law.
      • The Judaizers didn’t understand how the Jews and Gentiles related to each other in the church or how the church fit into God’s promise to establish a kingdom for Israel.
        • They were jealous for both the future glory of Israel as well as the past glory of Moses and the Law.
        • To them, accepting the Gentiles as spiritual equals jeopardized the future of Israel.
    • The prophets also agreed with this conclusion.
      • James cites Amos 9:11-12 to back up this point.
      • Amos’ prophecy agreed with the testimony of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas.
      • Amos also prophesied that the fallen tent of David would be raised up again. We know that is fulfilled through Jesus.
    • The future Israel is the restored Jews and Gentiles who have placed their faith in Jesus.
    • What they were witnessing was the beginning of the promises foretold in Amos. The promise included the Gentiles.

The decision.

James advised the church to write to the Gentile Christians and inform them of the decision of the conference. The decision addressed four items.

  • Two were commands.
    • Don’t be involved in idolatry.
    • Don’t engage in sexual immorality.
    • Neither presented any particular problem as they have always been wrong in God’s view.
  • Two were concessions.
    • Abstain from eating blood.
    • Abstain from eating meat from animals that have died by strangulation.
  • The two concessions revolved around the fact that the early church often met together and shared meals. Most of the churches met in homes, and some likely held pot luck dinners in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper. If the Gentiles ate food that was considered “unclean,” it would cause division within the church.
    • God gave the prohibition against blood before the Law in Genesis 9:4. Moses repeated it in Leviticus 17:11-14 and Deuteronomy 12:23.
    • The prohibition against eating an animal that has been strangled is because some of the blood will remain in the body and make it unfit for a Jew to eat. 
    • Kosher meat comes from a clean animal that has been properly killed and all the blood drained from the body.
  • What we see in the decision is a position of unity between two groups of people who are debating and defending their position.
    • The Judaizers gave up their insistence on circumcision.
    • The Gentiles accepted a change in their eating habits.
    • It was a compromise that didn’t affect the truth of the Gospel.
    • Not all compromise is good, but this was a situation where compromise brought two disagreeing sides to a middle ground.
  • The seemingly out-of-place reference to Moses is probably a reference to the requirements outlined in the law to avoid eating blood and should be no shock to the Gentile believers who would have heard the passages read in the synagogues. It is also possible that the Gentile believers should be sensitive to their Jewish counterparts and not offend them in this manner so that the lost Jews could also be reached with the Gospel.


  • If you encounter people teaching a false Gospel or a Gospel with “extra” requirements, make sure you challenge them, but do it in a Christian manner. If the false teachers are members of your church and they won’t stop the false teaching, you should bring it to the attention of your church leadership. If your church leaders are engaged in false teaching, they should be confronted. If they won’t stop, you should find a new church. Also, make sure that those who received the false teaching know what portions were false.
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to share the Gospel, even in your travels. In Acts 15, we see Paul and Barnabas taking advantage of their journey from Antioch to Jerusalem to share along the way. It would have been easier for them to travel quickly so that the matter under dispute could be solved. Instead, they turned their trip into an evangelism event.
  • Any theological debate should be done in an orderly manner and with sufficient witnesses. It helps to have all sides represented so that any decision will be acceptable to all parties. 
  • Unless your church leaders are false teachers, you should always respect their decision. God has placed them in that position for a reason, and you should honor God by honoring those He has chosen.