This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 15:1-12. These verses describe how Paul spoke to the council at Jerusalem.
Teachers of error come to Antioch
¶ "Some men from Judea came down to Antioch, and told the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised as is the custom of Moses, you can't be saved.” So Paul and Barnabas had a big disagreement and discussion with them. So the congregation appointed Paul and Barnabas, with some others of their number, to go up to Jerusalem and consult the apostles and elders about this question."(Acts 15:1-2).
Custom of Moses. The church in Antioch Syria, and the churches Paul and Barnabas had established, were making disciples among the Gentiles. These converts were not required to be circumcised or to keep the law of Moses; nor were they required to become Jewish proselytes and attend the synagogue every Sabbath. People were accepted as complete Christians without practising Judaism or the Mosaic law. They were required only to keep themselves from pagan practices and to follow the gospel of Christ. Now trouble makers from among the Jewish Christians were contradicting that. This put in danger the new movement to take Christ to the Gentiles.
Men from Judea. Paul and Barnabas had heated discussion with these intruders from Judea. The issue was not resolved. So the Antioch church decided to consult the Jerusalem church about the problem. Jerusalem is the capital of Judea. Since these teachers came from Judea, let Jerusalem sort out the problem before it spreads further.
To go to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some others, to make the journey up to Jerusalem, and to put the question before
the apostles and elders there. This isn't because the Jerusalem church had jurisdiction over the Antioch church, but simply because the trouble makers came from Jerusalem’s region. The source of the problem is the first place to look for a solution.
Paul speaks to the council at Jerusalem
¶ "Paul and Barnabas, after being sent forth by the church at Antioch, passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, telling about the conversion of the Gentiles. They caused great joy to all the brethren. When they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and elders. Paul and Barnabas reported all things that God had done with them."(Acts 15:3-4).
The journey to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas visited churches along the way, to tell them about the Gentile conversions. They probably took the opportunity to emphasise that the Gentiles were converted to Christianity, not to Judaism. The news cause gladness. The light of the gospel was now shining among the nations.
Received by the church. The delegation from Antioch received a welcome from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and a meeting was quickly arranged. Rather than talk about the problem, Paul and Barnabas used this meeting to deliver the same report to Jerusalem that they had delivered to the other churches along the way. The first missionary journey had given a great impetus to the outreach among Gentiles. Nothing should be allowed to undo this important advance, especially because it was a work that God had done.
¶ "But some believers from the sect of the Pharisees rose up saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” So the apostles and the elders gathered together to examine this matter."(Acts 15:5-6).
Some believers rose up. Paul and Barnabas didn't have to raise the Antioch problem. Its protagonists in Jerusalem were quick to raise it themselves. They were saying, in effect, that Paul and Barnabas had got it wrong. They should have made their Gentile converts become not only Christians but also Jewish proselytes.
Sect of the Pharisees. This sect believed in a resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:8) so some of them were able to accept that Jesus had risen. Hence they were believers. But they treated the Christian faith as a development within Judaism, not as a replacement for it. This was contrary to the message that Paul and Barnabas had preached on their missionary journey. So there it was. The controversy was on the table. So a second meeting was called to examine the issue.
¶ "When there had been much discussion, Peter rose up and said to the congregation, “Brethren, you know that a good while ago God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentile nations should hear the word of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, testified about them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just like he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith"(Acts 15:7-9).
Much discussion. As in all such meetings, everyone put in his sixpence worth. Talk like this often goes up and down every garden path but reaches no conclusion. So Peter decides to bring it to a focus. He, in a few crisp sentences, reminds them of the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius and his household (Acts 11:15). Then Peter draws his conclusion as follows...
¶ "Now therefore why do you tempt God, that you should put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as they are”"(Acts 15:10-11).
Saved by grace. A few more crisp sentences from Peter, and the matter is made simple and clear. The law of Moses is a burden nobody needs to bear any longer. Not only can Gentiles be saved without it, so can Jews. Both Gentiles and Jews, without distinction, are saved by faith through grace. Moses is no longer necessary. The Christ (Messiah) has made all things new.
A yoke on the neck. A yoke is a frame connecting the necks of beasts of burden, keeping them together sharing the load.
¶ "After Peter spoke, the congregation kept silence, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting the signs and wonders that God had done by them among the Gentile nations"(Acts 15:12).
Kept silence and listened. Peter’s statement brought silence to the meeting —not that he put a dampener on discussion, but that he clarified the issue so that it was pretty well settled. Barnabas and Paul then relate the miracles God did to confirm their message. Just as Peter had signs from God to cite, so did Barnabas and Paul. The Pharisees opposing them had no signs from God to confirm their assertions. So it was game, set, and match. End of controversy.