This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 15:13-31. These verses describe James's speech to the council at Jerusalem
James's speech to the council at Jerusalem
¶ "After Paul and Barnabas finished speaking, James answered, “Brethren, hear me. Simon Peter has reported how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets. As it is written, 'After these things I will return. I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen. I will rebuild its ruins. I will restore it so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, all the Gentiles who are called by my name. Thus says the Lord, who does all these things and knows them from eternity'”"(Acts 15:13-17).
The background. The council at Jerusalem was examining the matter of Pharisees from Judea disturbing the church in Syrian Antioch. They had gone there teaching that Christians must be circumcised and must keep the law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas had come from Antioch to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders in that city. There had been much discussion, eventually silenced by a statement from Peter condemning the Judean teaching and supporting Paul and Barnabas. They then reinforced Peter’s conclusions with stories of the miracles God had done to confirm the word they preached. James then made the above statement, supporting Peter, Paul, and Barnabas.
I will rebuild the tabernacle. God was not speaking of building a physical temple. He was speaking figuratively of the church. Jesus said, "I will build my church"(Matthew 16:18 ). Paul speaks of the church as "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the head corner stone. In him the whole building is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are being built together in the Spirit into a dwelling for God"(Ephesians 2:21-22). You'll notice, incidentally, no mention of Moses.
¶ "Therefore my judgment is that we do not trouble those who turn to God from among the Gentiles. Let us write to them only that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses, from generations of old, has in every city those who preach him, and read him in the synagogues every Sabbath” "(Acts 15:19-21).
James proposes a letter. James proposes that Jerusalem should provide a letter contradicting the Judean teachers and showing that Christianity did not need to perpetuate the law of Moses or make any disciples for him. All that was required of Gentile Christians was to put away idolatrous practices and follow Jesus Christ.
¶ "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas Barsabas, and Silas, leaders among the brethren. By their hand they sent this letter: “The apostles, the elders, and the brethren in Jerusalem, to the brethren among the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia — greetings"(Acts 15:22-23).
Judas and Silas. Just as Antioch had sent others to accompany Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, so the Jerusalem church did in return. There is safety in numbers along the road. Moreover, it reinforced the letter to have representatives from Jerusalem speak directly to the churches affected by the error that the Judeans were teaching. Silas would later become, like Barnabas, a companion for Paul.
¶ "We have heard that some have gone out from among us to trouble you with their words, unsettling your souls. They say, 'You must be circumcised and keep the law.' We gave them no such commandment. So it seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to select men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves will also tell you the same things by word of mouth"(Acts 15:24-27).
The preamble. The first part of the letter (above) made it quite clear what had happened in Jerusalem. It also clarified that the troubling doctrine had no support whatever from the Jerusalem church or the apostles and elders there.
¶ "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these things, you will do well. Farewell” "(Acts 15:28-29).
Terms of the letter. The second part of the letter made Peter’s point, that the Holy Spirit had testified about the Gentiles being welcomed by God without the law of Moses. The letter then repeats what James had said, about giving up pagan practices and simply following Christ. The letter is plain and simple. And so it goes on its way.
That you abstain. The Gentile converts are instructed to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. These refer to pagan rituals involving sacrifices and temple prostitutes. Christians don't have to make any concessions to the law of Moses, but on the other hand they do have to cut themselves off from involvement in paganism, and take into account the sensibilities of other Christians as Paul later had occasion to discuss (Romans 14,1Corinthians 10:14-33).
¶ "So, when Judas, Silas, Barnabas, and Paul, were sent off, they went to Antioch. They gathered the congregation together and delivered the letter. When they had read it, the congregation rejoiced because the letter was so encouraging"(Acts 15:30-31).
Mission accomplished. Not only had the Judean error been combatted in Antioch, but the letter could be taken to the other areas where Paul and Barnabas had been.
Lessons learned from Acts 15. We learn some lessons from this episode: deal with error at its source; don't make concessions to its propogators; deal with the error quickly and decisively; keep the answer clear and focussed on the main point.