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: 

Greetings. 

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. 

Farewell. 

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.

Applications

  • 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.

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