Chapter fifteen introduces the first major theological issue the early Church faced. About A.D. 50 (17 years after Acts 2), as the church at Antioch continued to grow with no sign of slowing down, some of the Jewish believers felt it necessary to “correct” an issue about which they had some concern. Specifically, the Gentiles were not being circumcised “ACCORDING TO THE CUSTOM OF MOSES” (Acts 15:1). In Exodus 12:48, circumcision was required of Gentiles for them to participate in Passover; spiritually, circumcision made them just like a natural-born Jew.
As Gentiles were being saved, many Jewish believers thought that they were essentially joining their Jewish Church, which required becoming a Jew (Acts 15:1-5). 1 To sort this out, Antioch sent “PAUL AND BARNABAS AND SOME OTHERS” to Jerusalem to meet with “BOTH THE APOSTLES AND THE ELDERS…TO DELIBERATE ABOUT THIS MATTER” (Acts 15:6). 2 During the discussion, Peter recounted what had happened to Cornelius (Acts 15:7-11), while Paul and Barnabas shared their ministry among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). Finally, James spoke, the brother of Jesus and Chief Elder or Lead Pastor of the Jerusalem Church. After reminding the crowd that Gentiles were always part of God’s calling, he concluded that “WE SHOULD NOT CAUSE EXTRA DIFFICULTY FOR THOSE AMONG THE GENTILES WHO ARE TURNING TO GOD” (Acts 15:19). He suggested only that they refrain from a few things that were either blatant sin or that could cause Jews to stumble. So the church sent an official letter back to Antioch via Paul’s team, encouraging the believers and giving the results of their conference (Acts 15:22-35).
The chapter concludes with Paul making preparations for a second missionary tour (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas wanted to include his nephew John Mark again, but Paul was vehemently against him because the young man had quit on the previous tour. The argument ended with the two apostles splitting ways. Barnabas took John to Cyprus, while Paul invited Silas to join him.
- This group was probably the source of the Jewish opponents that Paul faced throughout his career, as they followed him around, adding the requirement of circumcision to his message of faith alone. ↩
- The mention of elders here, distinct from the apostles, shows that the Seven from Acts 6 were not the only ones the apostles had placed into leadership in the Church. It is significant that they appointed “elders” to lead, not additional or new “apostles.” Thus, even this early, we see the two-fold distinction of elders and deacons that Paul taught further in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and mentioned in Philippians 1:1. ↩