Acts 15 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Acts 15)

Verse 2

[2] When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

They (the brethren) determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others should go up to Jerusalem about this question - This is the journey to which St. Paul refers, Galatians 2:1,2, when he says he went up by revelation: which is very consistent with this; for the Church in sending them might be directed by a revelation made either immediately to St. Paul, or to some other person, relating to so important an affair. Important indeed it was, that these Jewish impositions should be solemnly opposed in time; because multitudes of converts were still zealous for the law, and ready to contend for the observance of it. Indeed many of the Christians of Antioch would have acquiesced in the determination of Paul alone. But as many others might have prejudices against him, for his having been so much concerned for the Gentiles, it was highly expedient to take the concurrent judgment of all the apostles on this occasion.

Verse 4

[4] And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.

They were received — That is solemnly welcomed.

Verse 5

[5] But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

But certain Pharisees — For even believers are apt to retain their former turn of mind, and prejudices derived therefrom.

The law of Moses — The whole law, both moral and ritual.

Verse 7

[7] And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

After much debate — It does not appear that this was among the apostles themselves. But if it had, if they themselves had debated at first, yet might their final decision be from an unerring direction. For how really soever they were inspired, we need not suppose their inspiration was always so instantaneous and express, as to supersede any deliberation in their own minds, or any consultation with each other.

Peter rose up — This is the last time he is mentioned in the Acts.

Verse 8

[8] And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;

God bare them witness — That he had accepted them, by giving them the Holy Ghost.

Verse 9

[9] And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

Purifying — This word is repeated from Acts 10:15; their hearts - The heart is the proper seat of purity; by faith - Without concerning themselves with the Mosaic law.

Verse 10

[10] Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

Now therefore — Seeing these things are so: why tempt ye God? - Why do ye provoke him to anger, by putting so heavy a yoke on their neck?

Verse 11

[11] But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

The Lord Jesus — He does not here say our Lord; because in this solemn place he means the Lord of all, we - Jews, shall be saved even as they - Gentiles, namely, through the grace of the Lord Jesus, not by our observance of the ceremonial law.

Verse 12

[12] Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

Miracles and wonders — By which also what St. Peter had said was confirmed.

Verse 14

[14] Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.

Simon hath declared — James, the apostle of the Hebrews, calls Peter by his Hebrew name.

To take out of them a people for his name — That is to believe in him, to be called by his name.

Verse 15

[15] And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,

To this agree — St. Peter had urged the plain fact, which St. James confirms by Scripture prophecy.

The words of the prophets — One of whom is immediately cited.

Verse 16

[16] After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:

After this — After the Jewish dispensation expires.

I will build again the fallen tabernacle of David — By raising from his seed the Christ, who shall build on the ruins of his fallen tabernacle a spiritual and eternal kingdom. Amos 9:11.

Verse 17

[17] That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.

The Gentiles on whom my name is called — That is, who are called by my name; who are my people.

Verse 18

[18] Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

Known unto God are all his works from eternity — Which the apostle infers from the prophecy itself, and the accomplishment of it. And this conversion of the Gentiles being known to him from eternity, we ought not to think a new or strange thing. It is observable, he does not speak of God's works in the natural world, (which had been nothing to his present purpose,) but of his dealing with the children of men. Now he could not know these, without knowing the characters and actions of particular persons, on a correspondence with which the wisdom and goodness of his providential dispensations is founded. For instance, he could not know how he would deal with heathen idolaters (whom he was now calling into his Church) without knowing there would be heathen idolaters: and yet this was a thing purely contingent, a thing as dependent on the freedom of the human mind, as any we can imagine. This text, therefore, among a thousand more, is an unanswerable proof, that God foreknows future contingencies, though there are difficulties relating hereto which men cannot solve.

Verse 20

[20] But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

To abstain from fornication — Which even the philosophers among the heathens did not account any fault. It was particularly frequent in the worship of their idols, on which account they are here named together.

And from things strangled — That is, from whatever had been killed, without pouring out the blood. When God first permitted man to eat flesh, he commanded Noah, and in him all his posterity, whenever they killed any creature for food, to abstain from the blood thereof. It was to be poured upon the ground as water: doubtless in honour of that blood which was in due time poured out for the sin of the world.

Verse 21

[21] For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

Perhaps the connection is, To the Jews we need write nothing on these heads; for they hear the law continually.

Verse 22

[22] Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:

With the whole Church — Which therefore had a part therein; to send chosen men - Who might put it beyond all dispute, that this was the judgment of the apostles and all the brethren.

Verse 23

[23] And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:

Writing thus, and sending it by their hand — The whole conduct of this affair plainly shows that the Church in those days had no conception of St. Peter's primacy, or of his being the chief judge in controversies. For the decree is drawn up, not according to his, but the Apostle James's proposal and direction: and that in the name, not of St. Peter, but of all the apostles and elders, and of the whole Church. Nay, St. Peter's name is not mentioned at all, either in the order for sending to Jerusalem on the question, Acts 15:4, or in the letter which was written in answer.

Verse 24

[24] Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:

Forasmuch as, … — The simplicity, weightiness, and conciseness of this letter are highly observable.

Verse 26

[26] Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Men that have hazarded their lives — This is spoken of Paul and Barnabas.

Verse 27

[27] We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.

Who will tell you the same things — Which we have written.

Verse 28

[28] For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;

These necessary things — All of these were necessary for that time. But the first of them was not necessary long; and the direction concerning it was therefore repealed by the same Spirit, as we read in the former Epistle to the Corinthians.

Verse 29

[29] That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

Blood — The eating which was never permitted the children of God from the beginning of the world. Nothing can be clearer than this. For, 1. From Adam to Noah no man ate flesh at all; consequently no man then ate blood. 2. When God allowed Noah and his posterity to eat flesh, he absolutely forbade them to eat blood; and accordingly this, with the other six precepts of Noah, was delivered down from Noah to Moses. 3. God renewed this prohibition by Moses, which was not repealed from the time of Moses till Christ came. 4. Neither after his coming did any presume to repeal this decree of the Holy Ghost, till it seemed good to the bishop of Rome so to do, about the middle of the eighth century. 5. From that time those Churches which acknowledged his authority held the eating of blood to be an indifferent thing. But, 6. In all those Churches which never did acknowledge the bishop of Rome's authority, it never was allowed to eat blood; nor is it allowed at this day. This is the plain fact; let men reason as plausibly as they please on one side or the other.

From which keeping yourselves ye will do well — That is, ye will find a blessing. This gentle manner of concluding was worthy the apostolical wisdom and goodness. But how soon did succeeding councils of inferior authority change it into the style of anathemas! Forms which have proved an occasion of consecrating some of the most devilish passions under the most sacred names; and like some ill-adjusted weapons of war, are most likely to hurt the hand from which they are thrown.

Verse 35

[35] Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

Paul and Barnabas abode in Antioch — And it was during this time that Peter came down from Jerusalem, and that St. Paul withstood him to the face, for separating himself from the Gentiles, Galatians 2:11, etc.

Verse 36

[36] And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.

Let us go and visit the brethren in every city where we have preached — This was all that St. Paul designed at first; but it was not all that God designed by his journey, whose providence carried him much farther than he intended.

And see how they do — How their souls prosper: how they grow in faith, hope love: what else ought to be the grand and constant inquiry in every ecclesiastical visitation? Reader, how dost thou do?

Verse 37

[37] And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.

Barnabas counselled to take John — His kinsman.

Verse 38

[38] But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.

But Paul thought it not right — To trust him again, who had deserted them before: who had shrunk from the labour and danger of converting those they were now going to confirm.

Verse 39

[39] And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;

And there was a sharp contention — Literally, a paroxysm, or fit of a fever. But nothing in the text implies that the sharpness was on both sides. It is far more probable that it was not; that St. Paul, who had the right on his side, as he undoubtedly had,) maintained it with love.

And Barnabas taking Mark with him, sailed away to Cyprus — Forsaking the work in which he was engaged, he went away to his own country.

Verse 40

[40] And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.

But Paul departed — Held on his intended course: being recommended by the brethren to the grace of God - We do not find that Barnabas stayed for this. O how mighty is the grace of God! which in the midst of the world, in the midst of sin, among so many snares of Satan, and in spite of the incredible weakness and depravity of nature, yet overcomes all opposition, sanctifies, sustains, and preserves us to the end! It appears not only that Paul and Barnabas were afterward thoroughly reconciled, 2 Timothy 4:11.