It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
– Acts 15:28-29, New International Version
The Jerusalem Council
At the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:4) reported to the church and to the apostles and elders. Some of the Pharisees, who had believed, objected. They said the Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses.
Then, the apostles and elders (verse 6) came together to consider the matter. Peter told how God had used (Acts 15:7-11) him to open the door of salvation to the Gentiles without their having to be circumcised. Even though verse 12 mentions “the multitude,” whether or not this meeting was open to the entire church is not certain. One possibility, suggested by Gangel (p. 248), is that the meeting of the apostles and elders was held within the hearing of the wider assembly.
When Peter finished, the multitude was silent (verse 12) and listened to Barnabas and Paul speak. Here in Jerusalem, Barnabas is named first. This may have been due to Luke’s high standing in the Jerusalem church. They were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
When Barnabas and Paul stopped speaking, James spoke (Acts 15:13-21). He said (verse 14), “Simeon [Peter] has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name.” This was great news for the Gentiles.
Then James cites the Septuagint version of Amos 9:11-12. He bases his comments on the Scriptures. Our purpose here is not to give a full exposition of this passage with regard to Israel and the church. The main point to be emphasized here is that the redeemed Gentiles are among God’s people. The promises of God are for them too.
Then, James (Acts 15:19-20) says, “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.”
The judgment of James was that the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to become believers. Moreover, they could remain in good fellowship without the rite of circumcision. Without setting up requirements for salvation, James does set forth some guidelines for Christian living for the Gentiles. These guidelines would help the Jewish and Gentiles believers live in harmony.
The Decision of the Church
At this point it was the decision of the apostles and elders and the whole church to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas called Barsabbas and Silas. These were leading men among the brethren. The church sent a formal letter with this group to the church in Antioch.
The Spirit’s Leadership
Although the whole church had made a decision, the letter made it clear that they were led by the Holy Spirit (compare Acts 10:20
). The letter (verse28) declares: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials:” NAU Luke does not tell us how the Spirit made His wisdom known to the church. We simply know that He did. Led by the Spirit, the church had made the decision that circumcision would not be required.
When you review the entire story of the Jerusalem Council, the decision made was based on God’s direct intervention at Caesarea, Old Testament Scripture, the views of the apostles and elders, the accord of the church, the judgment of James, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. When we seek to know the will of God, this story is highly instructive for us.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Gangel, Kenneth O. Acts: Holman New Testament Commentary. General Editor: Anders, Max. Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930.
© Copyright 2003 GMF.