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Acts 15:1-29

Context
The Jerusalem Council

15:1 Now some men came down from Judea 1  and began to teach the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised 2  according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 15:2 When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate 3  with them, the church 4  appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with 5  the apostles and elders in Jerusalem 6  about this point of disagreement. 7  15:3 So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia 8  and Samaria, they were relating at length 9  the conversion of the Gentiles and bringing great joy 10  to all the brothers. 15:4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received 11  by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported 12  all the things God had done with them. 13  15:5 But some from the religious party of the Pharisees 14  who had believed stood up and said, “It is necessary 15  to circumcise the Gentiles 16  and to order them to observe 17  the law of Moses.”

15:6 Both the apostles and the elders met together to deliberate 18  about this matter. 15:7 After there had been much debate, 19  Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that some time ago 20  God chose 21  me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message 22  of the gospel 23  and believe. 24  15:8 And God, who knows the heart, 25  has testified 26  to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 27  15:9 and he made no distinction 28  between them and us, cleansing 29  their hearts by faith. 15:10 So now why are you putting God to the test 30  by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke 31  that neither our ancestors 32  nor we have been able to bear? 15:11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through 33  the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.” 34 

15:12 The whole group kept quiet 35  and listened to Barnabas and Paul while they explained all the miraculous signs 36  and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 15:13 After they stopped speaking, 37  James replied, 38  “Brothers, listen to me. 15:14 Simeon 39  has explained 40  how God first concerned himself 41  to select 42  from among the Gentiles 43  a people for his name. 15:15 The 44  words of the prophets agree 45  with this, as it is written,

15:16After this 46  I 47  will return,

and I will rebuild the fallen tent 48  of David;

I will rebuild its ruins and restore 49  it,

15:17 so that the rest of humanity 50  may seek the Lord,

namely, 51  all the Gentiles 52  I have called to be my own, 53  says the Lord, 54  who makes these things 15:18 known 55  from long ago. 56 

15:19 “Therefore I conclude 57  that we should not cause extra difficulty 58  for those among the Gentiles 59  who are turning to God, 15:20 but that we should write them a letter 60  telling them to abstain 61  from things defiled 62  by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled 63  and from blood. 15:21 For Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, 64  because he is read aloud 65  in the synagogues 66  every Sabbath.”

15:22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided 67  to send men chosen from among them, Judas called Barsabbas and Silas, 68  leaders among the brothers, to Antioch 69  with Paul and Barnabas. 15:23 They sent this letter with them: 70 

From the apostles 71  and elders, your brothers, 72  to the Gentile brothers and sisters 73  in Antioch, 74  Syria, 75  and Cilicia, greetings! 15:24 Since we have heard that some have gone out from among us with no orders from us and have confused 76  you, upsetting 77  your minds 78  by what they said, 79  15:25 we have unanimously 80  decided 81  to choose men to send to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul, 15:26 who 82  have risked their lives 83  for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 84  15:27 Therefore we are sending 85  Judas and Silas 86  who will tell you these things themselves in person. 87  15:28 For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us 88  not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: 89  15:29 that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols 90  and from blood and from what has been strangled 91  and from sexual immorality. 92  If you keep yourselves from doing these things, 93  you will do well. Farewell. 94 

1 sn That is, they came down from Judea to Antioch in Syria.

2 tc Codex Bezae (D) and a few other witnesses have “and walk” here (i.e., instead of τῷ ἔθει τῷ Μωϋσέως [tw eqei tw Mwu>sew"] they read καὶ τῷ ἔθει τῷ Μωϋσέως περιπατῆτε [kai tw eqei tw Mwu>sew" peripathte]). This is a decidedly stronger focus on obedience to the Law. As well, D expands vv. 1-5 in various places with the overall effect of being “more sympathetic to the local tradition of the church at Jerusalem” while the Alexandrian witnesses are more sympathetic to Paul (TCGNT 377). Codex D is well known for having a significantly longer text in Acts, but modern scholarship is generally of the opinion that the text of D expands on the original wording of Acts, with a theological viewpoint that especially puts Peter in a more authoritarian light. The expansion in these five verses is in keeping with that motif even though Peter is not explicitly in view.

sn Unless you are circumcised. These teachers from Judea were teaching that Gentiles could not be saved unless they kept the law of Moses in regard to circumcision. Thus according to them a Gentile had first to become a proselyte to Judaism, including circumcision, before one could become a Christian. This party is sometimes known (collectively) as Judaizers. They did not question that Gentiles could come into the community, but disagreed with Paul and Barnabas on what basis they could do so.

3 tn Grk “no little argument and debate” (an idiom).

4 tn Grk “they”; the referent (the church, or the rest of the believers at Antioch) has been specified to avoid confusion with the Judaizers mentioned in the preceding clause.

5 tn Grk “go up to,” but in this context a meeting is implied.

6 map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

7 tn Or “point of controversy.” It is unclear whether this event parallels Gal 2:1-10 or that Gal 2 fits with Acts 11:30. More than likely Gal 2:1-10 is to be related to Acts 11:30.

8 sn Phoenicia was an area along the Mediterranean coast north of Palestine in ancient Syria.

9 tn L&N 33.201 indicates that ἐκδιηγέομαι (ekdihgeomai) means to provide detailed information in a systematic manner, “to inform, to relate, to tell fully.” “Relating at length” conveys this effectively in the present context.

10 tn For ἐποίουν (epoioun) in this verse BDAG 839 s.v. ποιέω 2.c has “they brought joy to the members.”

11 tn BDAG 761 s.v. παραδέχομαι 2 has “receive, accept” for the meaning here.

12 tn Or “announced.”

13 tn “They reported all the things God had done with them” – an identical phrase occurs in Acts 14:27. God is always the agent.

14 sn See the note on Pharisee in 5:34.

15 sn The Greek word used here (δεῖ, dei) is a strong term that expresses divine necessity. The claim is that God commanded the circumcision of Gentiles.

16 tn Grk “them”; the referent (the Gentiles) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

17 tn Or “keep.”

18 tn The translation for ἰδεῖν (idein) in this verse is given by BDAG 279-80 s.v. εἶδον 3 as “deliberate concerning this matter.” A contemporary idiom would be to “look into” a matter.

19 tn Or “discussion.” This term is repeated from v. 2.

20 tn Or “long ago” (an idiom, literally “from ancient days”). According to L&N 67.26, “this reference to Peter having been chosen by God sometime before to bring the gospel to the Gentiles can hardly be regarded as a reference to ancient times, though some persons understand this to mean that God’s decision was made at the beginning of time. The usage of ἀφ᾿ ἡμερῶν ἀρχαίων is probably designed to emphasize the established nature of God’s decision for Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles beginning with the centurion Cornelius. The fact that this was relatively early in the development of the church may also serve to explain the use of the idiom.”

21 sn God chose. The theme of God’s sovereign choice is an important point, because 1st century Jews believed Israel’s unique position and customs were a reflection of God’s choice.

22 tn Or “word.”

23 tn Or “of the good news.”

24 tn Grk “God chose among you from my mouth the Gentiles to hear the message of the gospel and to believe.” The sense of this sentence in Greek is difficult to render in English. The Greek verb ἐκλέγομαι (eklegomai, “choose”) normally takes a person or thing as a direct object; in this verse the verb has neither clearly stated. The translation understands the phrase “from my mouth,” referring to Peter, as a description of both who God chose and the task to be done. This coupled with the following statement about Gentiles hearing the message of the gospel leads to the more dynamic rendering in the translation.

25 sn The expression who knows the heart means “who knows what people think.”

26 tn Or “has borne witness.”

27 sn By giving them…just as he did to us. The allusion is to the events of Acts 10-11, esp. 10:44-48 and Peter’s remarks in 11:15-18.

28 tn BDAG 231 s.v. διακρίνω 1.b lists this passage under the meaning “to conclude that there is a difference, make a distinction, differentiate.”

29 tn Or “purifying.”

30 tn According to BDAG 793 s.v. πειράζω 2.c, “In Ac 15:10 the πειράζειν τὸν θεόν consists in the fact that after God’s will has been clearly made known through granting of the Spirit to the Gentiles (v. 8), some doubt and make trial to see whether God’s will really becomes operative.” All testing of God in Luke is negative: Luke 4:2; 11:16.

31 sn A yoke is a wooden bar or frame that joins two animals like oxen or horses so that they can pull a wagon, plow, etc. together. Here it is used figuratively of the restriction that some in the early church wanted to place on Gentile converts to Christianity of observing the law of Moses and having males circumcised. The yoke is a decidedly negative image: Matt 23:4, but cf. Matt 11:29-30.

32 tn Or “forefathers”; Grk “fathers.”

33 tn Or “by.”

34 tn Or “Jesus, just as they are.” BDAG 1016-17 s.v. τρόπος 1 translates καθ᾿ ὃν τρόπον (kaqJon tropon) here as “in the same way as.”

sn In the same way as they are. Here is an interesting reversal of the argument. Jews are saved by grace (without law), as Gentiles are.

35 tn BDAG 922 s.v. σιγάω 1.a lists this passage under the meaning “say nothing, keep still, keep silent.”

36 tn Here in connection with τέρατα (terata) the miraculous nature of these signs is indicated.

37 tn BDAG 922 s.v. σιγάω 1.b lists this passage under the meaning “stop speaking, become silent.”

38 tn Grk “answered, saying”; the redundant participle λέγων (legwn) has not been translated.

39 sn Simeon is a form of the apostle Peter’s Aramaic name. James uses Peter’s “Jewish” name here.

40 tn Or “reported,” “described.”

41 tn BDAG 378 s.v. ἐπισκέπτομαι 3 translates this phrase in Acts 15:14, “God concerned himself about winning a people fr. among the nations.”

42 tn Grk “to take,” but in the sense of selecting or choosing (accompanied by the preposition ἐκ [ek] plus a genitive specifying the group selected from) see Heb 5:1; also BDAG 584 s.v. λαμβάνω 6.

43 sn In the Greek text the expression “from among the Gentiles” is in emphatic position.

44 tn Grk “And the.” Because of the difference between Greek style, which often begins sentences or clauses with “and,” and English style, which generally does not, καί (kai) has not been translated here.

45 sn The term agree means “match” or “harmonize with.” James’ point in the introduction argues that many of the OT prophets taught this. He gives one example (which follows).

46 tn Grk “After these things.”

47 sn The first person pronoun I refers to God and his activity. It is God who is doing this.

48 tn Or more generally, “dwelling”; perhaps, “royal tent.” According to BDAG 928 s.v. σκηνή the word can mean “tent” or “hut,” or more generally “lodging” or “dwelling.” In this verse (a quotation from Amos 9:11) BDAG refers this to David’s ruined kingdom; it is possibly an allusion to a king’s tent (a royal tent). God is at work to reestablish David’s line (Acts 2:30-36; 13:32-39).

49 tn BDAG 86 s.v. ἀνορθόω places this verb under the meaning “to build someth. up again after it has fallen, rebuild, restore,” but since ἀνοικοδομέω (anoikodomew, “rebuild”) has occurred twice in this verse already, “restore” is used here.

50 tn Or “so that all other people.” The use of this term follows Amos 9:11 LXX.

51 tn Here καί (kai) introduces an explanatory clause that explains the preceding phrase “the rest of humanity.” The clause introduced by καί (kai) could also be punctuated in English as a parenthesis.

52 tn Or “all the nations” (in Greek the word for “nation” and “Gentile” is the same).

sn Note the linkage back to v. 14 through the mention of Gentiles. What Simeon explained is what the OT text says would happen.

53 tn Grk “all the Gentiles on whom my name has been called.” Based on well-attested OT usage, the passive of ἐπικαλέω (epikalew) here indicates God’s ownership (“all the Gentiles who belong to me”) or calling (“all the Gentiles whom I have called to be my own”). See L&N 11.28.

54 sn A quotation from Amos 9:11-12 LXX. James demonstrated a high degree of cultural sensitivity when he cited a version of the text (the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) that Gentiles would use.

55 sn Who makes these things known. The remark emphasizes how God’s design of these things reaches back to the time he declared them.

56 sn An allusion to Isa 45:21.

57 tn Or “I have decided,” “I think.” The verb κρίνω (krinw) has a far broader range of meaning than the often-used English verb “judge.” BDAG 568 s.v. κρίνω 3 places this use in Acts 15:19 in the category “judge, think, consider, look upon” followed by double accusative of object and predicate. However, many modern translations give the impression that a binding decision is being handed down by James: “it is my judgment” (NASB, NIV); “I have reached the decision” (NRSV). L&N 22.25, on the other hand, translate the phrase here “I think that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles.” This gives more the impression of an opinion than a binding decision. The resolution of this lies not so much in the lexical data as in how one conceives James’ role in the leadership of the Jerusalem church, plus the dynamics of the specific situation where the issue of Gentile inclusion in the church was being discussed. The major possibilities are: (1) James is handing down a binding decision to the rest of the church as the one who has ultimate authority to decide this matter; (2) James is offering his own personal opinion in the matter, which is not binding on the church; (3) James is voicing a consensus opinion of all the apostles and elders, although phrasing it as if it were his own; (4) James is making a suggestion to the rest of the leadership as to what course they should follow. In light of the difficulty in reconstructing the historical situation in detail, it is best to use a translation which maintains as many of the various options as possible. For this reason the translation “Therefore I conclude” has been used, leaving open the question whether in reaching this conclusion James is speaking only for himself or for the rest of the leadership.

58 tn Or “trouble.” This term is a NT hapax legomenon (BDAG 775 s.v. παρενοχλέω).

59 tn Or “among the nations” (in Greek the word for “nation” and “Gentile” is the same).

60 tn The translation “to write a letter, to send a letter to” for ἐπιστέλλω (epistellw) is given in L&N 33.49.

61 tn Three of the four prohibitions deal with food (the first, third and fourth) while one prohibition deals with behavior (the second, refraining from sexual immorality). Since these occur in the order they do, the translation “abstain from” is used to cover both sorts of activity (eating food items, immoral behavior).

sn Telling them to abstain. These restrictions are not on matters of salvation, but are given as acts of sensitivity to their Jewish brethren, as v. 21 makes clear. Another example of such sensitivity is seen in 1 Cor 10:14-11:1.

62 tn Or “polluted.”

63 sn What has been strangled. That is, to refrain from eating animals that had been killed without having the blood drained from them. According to the Mosaic law (Lev 17:13-14), Jews were forbidden to eat flesh with the blood still in it (note the following provision in Acts 15:20, and from blood).

64 tn Grk “from generations of old”; the translation “fr. ancient times” is given by BDAG 192 s.v. γενεά 3.b.

65 tn The translation “read aloud” is used to indicate the actual practice; translating as “read” could be misunderstood to mean private, silent reading.

66 sn See the note on synagogue in 6:9.

67 tn BDAG 255 s.v. δοκέω 2.b.β lists this verse under the meaning “it seems best to me, I decide, I resolve.”

68 sn Silas. See 2 Cor 1:19; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1 (= Silvanus).

69 sn Antioch was a city in Syria (not Antioch in Pisidia).

map For location see JP1 F2; JP2 F2; JP3 F2; JP4 F2.

70 tn Grk “writing by their hand” (an idiom for sending a letter).

71 tn Grk “The apostles.” The word “from” is not in the Greek text, but has been supplied to indicate the sender of the letter.

72 tn Grk “brothers,” but “your” is supplied to specify the relationship, since without it “brothers” could be understood as vocative in English.

73 tn Grk “to the brothers who are from the Gentiles.”

74 sn Antioch was a city in Syria (not Antioch in Pisidia).

75 tn Grk “and Syria,” but καί (kai) has not been translated since English normally uses a coordinating conjunction only between the last two elements in a series of three or more.

76 tn Here BDAG 990-91 s.v. ταράσσω 2 states, “Of mental confusion caused by false teachings ταρ. τινά Ac 15:24 (w. λόγοις foll.).”

77 tn BDAG 71 s.v. ἀνασκευάζω describes this verb with a figurative meaning: “to cause inward distress, upset, unsettle.”

78 tn Grk “souls.”

79 tn Grk “by words”; L&N 25.231 translates the phrase “they troubled and upset you by what they said.”

80 tn Grk “having become of one mind, we have decided.” This has been translated “we have unanimously decided” to reduce the awkwardness in English.

81 tn BDAG 255 s.v. δοκέω 2.b.β lists this verse under the meaning “it seems best to me, I decide, I resolve.”

82 tn Grk “men who”; but this can be misleading because in English the referent could be understood to be the men sent along with Barnabas and Paul rather than Barnabas and Paul themselves. This option does not exist in the Greek original, however, since ἀνθρώποις (anqrwpoi") is dative and must agree with “Barnabas and Paul,” while ἄνδρας (andra") is accusative. By omitting the word “men” from the translation here, it is clear in English that the phrase refers to the immediately preceding nouns “Barnabas and Paul.”

83 tn Grk “who have risked their souls”; the equivalent English idiom is “risk one’s life.” The descriptions commend Barnabas and Paul as thoroughly trustworthy.

84 tn Or “Messiah”; both “Christ” (Greek) and “Messiah” (Hebrew and Aramaic) mean “one who has been anointed.”

85 tn This verb has been translated as an epistolary aorist.

86 sn Judas and Silas were the “two witnesses” who would vouch for the truth of the recommendation.

87 tn Grk “by means of word” (an idiom for a verbal report).

88 tn This is the same expression translated “decided” in Acts 15:22, 25. BDAG 255 s.v. δοκέω 2.b.β lists “decide” as a possible gloss for this verse, and this translation would be consistent with the translation of the same expression in Acts 15:22, 25. However, the unusually awkward “the Holy Spirit and we have decided” would result. Given this approach, it would be more natural in English to say “We and the Holy Spirit have decided,” but changing the order removes the emphasis the Greek text gives to the Holy Spirit. Thus, although the similarity to the phrases in 15:22, 25 is obscured, it is better to use the alternate translation “it seems best to me” (also given by BDAG): “it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Again the scope of agreement is highlighted.

89 tn L&N 71.39 translates “indispensable (rules)” while BDAG 358 s.v. ἐπάναγκες has “the necessary things.”

90 tn There is no specific semantic component in the Greek word εἰδωλόθυτος that means “meat” (see BDAG 280 s.v. εἰδωλόθυτος; L&N 5.15). The stem –θυτος means “sacrifice” (referring to an animal sacrificially killed) and thereby implies meat.

91 tc Codex Bezae (D) and a few other witnesses lack the restriction “and from what has been strangled” (καὶ πνικτῶν, kai pniktwn), though the words are supported by a wide variety of early and important witnesses otherwise and should be considered authentic.

sn What has been strangled. That is, to refrain from eating animals that had been killed without having the blood drained from them. According to the Mosaic law (Lev 17:13-14), Jews were forbidden to eat flesh with the blood still in it (note the preceding provision in this verse, and from blood).

92 tc Codex Bezae (D) as well as 323 614 945 1739 1891 sa and other witnesses have after “sexual immorality” the following statement: “And whatever you do not want to happen to yourselves, do not do to another/others.” By adding this negative form of the Golden Rule, these witnesses effectively change the Apostolic Decree from what might be regarded as ceremonial restrictions into more ethical demands. The issues here are quite complicated, and beyond the scope of this brief note. Suffice it to say that D and its allies here are almost surely an expansion and alteration of the original text of Acts. For an excellent discussion of the exegetical and textual issues, see TCGNT 379-83.

93 tn Grk “from which things keeping yourselves.” Because of the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, the relative pronoun (ὧν, |wn) has been replaced by a pronoun (“these things”) and a new English sentence begun. The participle διατηροῦντες (diathrounte") has been translated as a conditional adverbial participle (“if you keep yourselves”). See further L&N 13.153.

94 tn The phrase ἔρρωσθε (errwsqe) may be understood as a stock device indicating a letter is complete (“good-bye,” L&N 33.24) or as a sincere wish that the persons involved may fare well (“may you fare well,” L&N 23.133).



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