Acts 15Came down from Judea; to Antioch.—Except ye be, circumcised; referring to the Gentile converts. Their meaning was, that they must become Jews as well as Christians, and conform to the Mosaic institutions. They regarded Christianity as only the end and consummation of Judaism,—the exclusive inheritance of those who had been, or who were willing to become, a part of the great family of Abraham.
Phenice and Samaria; provinces which will be seen by the map to be intermediate between Antioch and Jerusalem.
Them; the Gentile converts.
The—elders; the leading and influential men. That the assembly was numerous, is shown by allusions in v. 12, 22, and 23. Perhaps these expressions, especially that in v. 23, where the brethren particularly are mentioned, imply that the disciples generally were convened; as there is no evidence that the body of believers was very large at this time in Jerusalem, for a very considerable proportion of the early converts were residents of other places; and of those who belonged to the city, the persecution had driven many away. The account, however, leaves the constitution of the council uncertain, and has led, consequently, to eager discussion between those advocates of the different systems of ecclesiastical polity, who feel bound to discover models in the Acts for the institutions and customs which they find prevailing in their respective communions.
God made choice, &c.; referring to the circumstances related Acts 10:
Faith; that is, simply by faith in Christ, without requiring of them obedience to the ceremonial law.
Through the grace, &c.; and not by our Jewish ceremonies.
James; James the less,—James the brother of John having been slain. (12:1, 2.)
My sentence; that is, my judgment.
That is, while they were held excused from positive acts of conformity with the Jewish ceremonial law, they were bound to abstain from all those practices of paganism, which were either immoral in themselves, or were held in peculiar abhorrence by Jews. Thus the Jews were not to impose the burdens of their ceremonial law upon the Gentile converts, nor were the Gentile converts to do any thing which should countenance idolatry, or shock the feelings of their Jewish brethren.
The meaning seems to be, "As a Christian church, we neither enjoin nor condemn Judaism. We leave it to its own established means of defence and dissemination."
The apostles, and elders, and brethren. There is no more remarkable trait in the character of the apostles than the scrupulousness with which they refrain from the assumption of ecclesiastical authority over the church. Men were never placed in circumstances more favorable for forming, or for the means of executing, ambitious designs. Notwithstanding the high personal influence which they must necessarily have possessed, they are always very slow to assume the exercise of any great official authority. They call meetings for consultation; they suggest; they propose; but it is the whole body of disciples that decide and act. (Acts 1:15, 21, 22, 23, 6:2, 3.) In the remarkable case here recorded, they do not assume that they are to decide the question. They call a meeting; they consult; they argue; they state facts; and they admit of counter arguments and statements, and then the decision, when it is made, goes forth in the name of the apostles, and elders, and brethren.
Certain which went out from us; as is related v. 1.
To the Holy Ghost, and to us; to us under the guidance of the Holy Ghost.
The narrative contained in the preceding verses of this chapter, has been the subject of a great deal of discussion, this council being claimed by the advocates of various systems of ecclesiastical polity, as the original model of the institutions which they respectively defend; the arguments on all sides being built on inferences drawn from the few and doubtful intimations given in the account,—and, where these fail on imagination and conjecture If it had been intended as a model, it is impossible to doubt that its constitution and rules of procedure would have been more definitely detailed. He who reads the narrative without a point to carry, will see in it only an informal and an unpremeditated meeting for consultation, arising out of a peculiar and unique emergency,—without any idea, on the part of the actors, that they were establishing any precedent either for themselves or for others; far less that they were founding a system to extend over all the nations of Christendom, and to endure for all periods of time. It seems to have been simply a consultation, conforming, in its arrangements, to the situation of the parties interested, and to the nature of the emergency which called it forth. The apostles laid down no definite system of ecclesiastical organization, but adapted measures to emergencies, and instituted such forms of organization as were suited to their circumstances, and to the ideas of their age. The successive generations of Christians, in all branches of the church, have followed the apostolical example in this respect; and though, in theory, some profess to follow closely the original models, in practice, all agree in modifying their forms as required by the various exigencies of nations, and by the changes resulting from the lapse of time.
And went not with them; as related Acts 13:13,
The contention. The historian leaves us uninformed in regard to the merits of this controversy. It is uncertain whether Paul was unreasonable or Mark unfaithful. Paul was afterwards reconciled to Mark, and sent for him to come to Rome. (2 Tim. 4:11.) The disposition of Barnabas to judge more leniently than Paul, in this case, may have arisen from the fact that Mark was his relative. (Col. 4:10.)
Silas; one of those who had been sent from Jerusalem with the letter. (v. 27.)
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