|<< Acts 15 >>|
Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Certain teachers from Judea insist on the necessity of the converted Gentiles being circumcised, Acts 15:1. Paul and Barnabas are sent to Jerusalem to consult the apostles on this subject, Acts 15:2. They come to Jerusalem, and inform the apostles of the conversion of the Gentiles; and of the trouble which certain Pharisees had occasioned concerning circumcision, Acts 15:3-5. The apostles having assembled to consider the question, Peter delivers his opinion, Acts 15:6-11. Barnabas and Paul relate their success among the Gentiles, Acts 15:12. James delivers his judgment, Acts 15:13-21. The apostles and elders agree to what he proposes, and send Judas and Silas with Paul and Barnabas to the converted Gentiles, Acts 15:22; and send an epistle containing their decree to the Churches of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, Acts 15:23-29. Paul and his company return, and read the epistle to the brethren at Antioch, which produces great joy; and Judas and Silas preach to them, Acts 15:30-32. Judas returns to Jerusalem, but Silas continues with Paul and Barnabas, teaching and preaching, Acts 15:33-35. Paul proposes to Barnabas to visit the Churches where they had preached; and, on the latter determining to take John Mark with them, Paul refuses, Acts 15:36-38. They disagree; and Barnabas, taking John Mark, sails to Cyprus, Acts 15:39. And Paul, taking Silas, goes through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the Churches, Acts 15:40, Acts 15:41.
1And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
Except ye be circumcised, etc. - The persons who taught this doctrine appear to have been converts to Christianity; but, supposing that the Christian religion was intended to perfect the Mosaic, and not to supersede it, they insisted on the necessity of circumcision, because, by that, a man was made debtor to the whole law, to observe all its rites and ceremonies. This question produced great disturbance in the apostolic Church; and, notwithstanding the decree mentioned in this chapter, the apostles were frequently obliged to interpose their authority in order to settle it; and we find a whole Church, that at Galatia, drawn aside from the simplicity of the Christian faith by the subtilty of Judaizing teachers among themselves, who insisted on the necessity of the converted Gentiles being circumcised.
Ye cannot be saved - Ye can neither enjoy God's blessing in time, nor his glory in eternity. Such an assertion as this, from any reputable authority, must necessarily shake the confidence of young converts.
2When 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.
No small dissension and disputation - Paul and Barnabas were fully satisfied that God did not design to bring the converted Gentiles under the yoke of circumcision: they knew that Jesus Christ was the end of the law for righteousness (justification) to every one that believed, and therefore they opposed the Judaizing teachers. This was one of the first controversies in the Christian Church; but, though the difference of sentiment was considerable, it led to no breach of Christian charity nor fellowship among themselves.
They determined that Paul, etc. - This verse is read very differently in the Codex Bezae: Γενομενης δε εκτασεως και ζητησεως ουκ ολιγης τῳ Παυλῳ και τῳ Βαρναβᾳ συν αυτοις. ελεγεν γαρ ὁ Παυλος μενειν οὑτως, καθως επιϚευσαν, διΐσχυριζομενος. οἱ δε εληλυθοτες απο Ἱερουσαλημ, παρηγγειλαν αυτοις, τῳ Παυλῳ και τῳ Βαρναβᾳ και τισιν αλλοις, αναβαινειν προς τους ΑποϚολους και Πρεσβυτερους εις Ἱερουσαλημ, ὁπως κριθωσιν επ' αυτοις (αυτων) περι του ζητηματος τουτου. But when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, Paul said, with strong assurance, that they should remain so as they had believed. But those who came from Jerusalem charged Paul and Barnabas and certain others to go up to the apostles and elders to Jerusalem, that a determination might be made by them concerning this question.
And certain other of them - If this be the journey to which St. Paul alludes, Galatians 2:1-5, then he had Titus with him; and how many elders went from the Church of Antioch we cannot tell. This journey was 14 years after Paul's conversion, and was undertaken by express revelation, as he informs us, Galatians 2:2, which revelation appears to have been given to certain persons in the Church of Antioch, as we learn from this verse, and not to Paul and Barnabas themselves.
3And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
Being brought on their way by the Church - That is; the members of the Church provided them with all necessaries for their journey; for it does not appear that they had any property of their own.
Declaring the conversion of the Gentiles - Much stress is laid on this: it was a miracle of God's mercy that the Gentiles should be received into the Church of God; and they had now the fullest proof that the thing was likely to become general, by the conversion of Cornelius, the conversion of the people of Antioch, of Cyprus, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Lycaonia, etc., etc.
4And 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 of the Church - The whole body of Christian believers.
The apostles - Either the whole or part of the twelve; though we read of none but John, Peter, and James. See Galatians 2:9.
And elders - Those who were officers in the Church, under the apostles.
They declared - To this council they gave a succinct account of the great work which God had wrought by them among the Gentiles. This was St. Paul's third journey to Jerusalem after his conversion. See an account of his first journey, Acts 9:26, and of his second in Acts 11:30.
5But 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 there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees - This verse appears to be part of the declaration made by Paul and Barnabas to this council: for, having stated how God blessed their ministry among the Gentiles, they proceed to declare how all the good work was likely to be destroyed by certain Pharisees, who, having received the Christian faith, came down to Antioch, and began to teach the necessity of circumcision, etc., and thus filled the minds of the young converted Gentiles with doubtful disputations.
6And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
The apostles and elders came together - This was the first council ever held in the Christian Church; and we find that it was composed of the apostles and elders simply.
7And 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.
When there had been much disputing - By those of the sect of the believing Pharisees; for they strongly contended for circumcision, and at the head of these, tradition tells us, was Cerinthus, a name famous in the primitive Church, as one who labored to unite the law and the Gospel, and to make the salvation promised by the latter dependent on the performance of the rites and ceremonies prescribed by the former. Though the apostles and elders were under the inspiration of the Almighty, and could by this inspiration have immediately determined the question, yet it was highly necessary that the objecting party should be permitted to come forward and allege their reasons for the doctrines they preached, and that these reasons should be fairly met by argument, and the thing proved to be useless in itself, inexpedient in the present case, and unsupported by any express authority from God, and serving no purpose to the Gentiles, who in their uncircumcised state, by believing in Christ Jesus, had been made partakers of the Holy Ghost.
Peter rose up, and said - This was after the matters in dispute had been fully debated; and now the apostles, like judges, after hearing counsel on both sides, proceed to give judgment on the case.
A good while ago - Αφ' ἡμερων αρχαιων, From the days of old: a phrase which simply signifies some years ago; and, if he here refers to the conversion of Cornelius, (see Acts 10:1-48), he must mean about ten years before this time; but it is more likely that he refers to that time when Christ gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, that be might open the door of faith to the Gentiles.
God made choice among us - That is, he chose me to be the first apostle of the Gentiles.
8And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
And God which knoweth the hearts - Ο καρδιογνωϚης Θεος. We had this epithet of the Divine Being once before; see Acts 1:24, and the note there: it occurs no where else in the New Testament.
Bare them witness - Considered them as proper or fit to receive the Gospel of Christ. It is properly remarked by learned men, that μαρτυρειν τινι, to bear witness to any person, signifies to approve, to testify in behalf of. Here it signifies that, as God evidently sent the Gospel to the Gentiles, and, by the preaching of it, conveyed the Holy Spirit to them who believed, and as he can make no improper judgment of any who knows all hearts and their secrets, therefore what he had done was right: he saw that it was time for them to receive the Gospel; and he saw that they might be safely trusted with this heavenly deposit; and the experience of eighteen hundred years has justified the conduct of God.
9And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Put no difference between us and them - Giving them the Holy Spirit, though uncircumcised, just as he had given it to us who were circumcised: an evident proof that, in the judgment of God, circumcision was no preparation to receive the Gospel of Christ. And as the purification of the heart by the Holy Spirit was the grand object of the religion of God, and that alone by which the soul could be prepared for a blessed immortality, and the Gentiles had received that without circumcision, consequently, the shadow could not be considered of any worth, now the substance was communicated.
10Now 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 why tempt ye God - A God, by giving the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, evidently shows he does not design them to be circumcised, in order to become debtors to the law, to fulfill all its precepts, etc., why will ye provoke him to displeasure by doing what he evidently designs shall not be done?
A yoke - which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? - This does not refer to the moral law - that was of eternal obligation - but to the ritual law, which, through the multitude of its sacrifices, ordinances, etc., was exceedingly burthensome to the Jewish people. And had not God, by an especial providence, rendered both their fields and their flocks very fruitful, they could not possibly have borne so painful a ritual.
There is a curious story in Midrash Shochar, told in Yalkut Simeoni, part i. fol. 229, where Korah is represented as showing the oppressive nature of the law, and avarice of its priests, in justification of his rebellion. "There was," said he, "a widow in our neighbourbood who had two orphan children: she had one field; and, when she began to plough it, one came and said, Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together. When she went to sow it, he said, Thou shalt not sow thy field with divers seeds. When she began to reap, and to gather the sheaves together, he said, Leave a handful and the corners of the field for the poor. When she prepared to thresh it, he said, Give me the wave-offering, and the first and second tithes. She did as she was commanded, and then went and sold her field, and bought two ewes, that she might clothe herself and family with the wool, and get profit by the lambs. When they brought forth their lambs, Aaron came and said, Give me the firstlings, for the holy blessed God hath said, All the first born, whatsoever openeth the womb, shall be thine. She yielded to his demands, and gave him two lambs. When shearing time came, he said, Give me the first fruits of the wool. When the widow had done this, she said, I cannot stand before this man; I will kill my sheep and eat them. When she had killed the sheep, Aaron came and said, Give me the shoulder, and the jaws, and the ventricle. The widow said, Though I have killed my sheep, I am not delivered from this man; I therefore consecrate the whole to God. Then Aaron said, All belongs to me, for the holy blessed God hath said, Every thing that is consecrated in Israel shall be his, i.e. the priest's. He therefore took the whole carcasses, and marched off, leaving the widow and her orphan daughters overwhelmed with affliction." This is a terrible picture of the requisitions of the Mosaic ritual; and, though exaggerated, it contains so many true features that it may well be said, This is a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear. See Schoettgen. In the same vexatious way may the tithes of the national Church in this country be exacted, and in this very way is the exaction frequently exercised. It is high time that these abuses should be corrected.
11But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved - This seems to be an answer to an objection, "Has not God designed to save us, the Jews, by an observance of the law; and them, the Gentiles, by the faith of the Gospel?" No: for we Jews can be saved no other way than through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this is the way in which the Gentiles in question have been saved. There is but one way of salvation for Jews and Gentiles, the grace, mercy, or favor coming by and through the Lord Jesus, the Christ; this is now fully opened to the Gentiles; and we believe we shall be saved in the same way.
12Then 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.
All the multitude kept silence - The strong facts stated by St. Peter could not be controverted. His speech may be thus analyzed:
1. Circumcision is a sign of the purification of the heart.
2. That purification can only be effected by the Holy Ghost.
3. This Holy Spirit was hitherto supposed to be the portion of those only who had received circumcision.
4. But the Gentiles, who were never circumcised, nor kept any part of the law of Moses, have had their hearts purified by faith in Christ Jesus.
5. As God, therefore, has given them the thing signified, he evidently does not intend that the sign should be administered.
6. Should we impose this burthensome rite, we should most evidently be provoking God, who plainly shows us that he intends no more to save in this way.
7. Therefore it is evident that both Jews and Gentiles are to be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Gave audience to Barnabas and Paul - These apostles came forward next, to corroborate what Peter had said, by showing the miracles and wonders which God had by them wrought among the Gentiles. Peter stated facts: Paul and Barnabas confirmed the statement.
13And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:
James answered - He was evidently president of the council, and is generally called bishop of Jerusalem. The rest either argued on the subject, or gave their opinion; James alone pronounced the definitive sentence. Had Peter been prince and head of the apostles, and of the Church, he would have appeared here in the character of judge, not of mere counsellor or disputant. Thy popish writers say that "James presided because the council was held in his own church." These men forget that there was not then what they term a Church on the face of the earth. The Church, or assembly of believers, then met in private houses; for there was no building for the exclusive purpose of Christian worship then, nor till long after. These writers also forget that the pope pretends to be the head of the catholic or universal Church; and, consequently, no man can preside where he is present, but himself. Peter did not preside here; and this was the first ecclesiastical council, and now, if ever, he should have assumed his character of prince and chief; but he did not; nor did any of the other apostles invite him to it, which they would have done had they thought that Jesus Christ constituted him head of the Church. From this very circumstance there is the most demonstrative evidence that Peter was no pope, and that the right of his pretended successor is a nonentity.
14Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
Simeon hath declared - It is remarkable that James does not give him even the title which he received from our Lord at the time in which he is supposed to have been made head of the Church, and vicar of Christ upon earth; so that, it is evident, James did not understand our Lord as giving Peter any such pre-eminence; and, therefore, he does not even call him Peter, but simply Simeon. It is truly surprising that such a vast number of important pretensions should rest on such slight foundations! If tradition, no matter how interrupted or precarious, did not lend its support, feeble as that necessarily must be, the cause tried by plain Scripture would fall to the ground.
To take out of them a people for his name - To form among the Gentiles, as he had among the Jews, a people called by his name and devoted to his honor.
15And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
And to this agree the words of the prophets - Peter had asserted the fact of the conversion of the Gentiles; and James shows that that fact was the fulfillment of declarations made by the prophets.
16After 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 I will return, and will build again, etc. - These two verses, 16th and 17th, are quoted from Amos 9:11, Amos 9:12, nearly as they now stand in the best editions of the Septuagint, and evidently taken from that version, which differs considerably from the Hebrew text. As St. James quoted them as a prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles into the Church of God, it is evident the Jews must have understood them in that sense, otherwise they would have immediately disputed his application of them to the subject in question, and have rejected his conclusion by denying the premises. But that the words were thus understood by the ancient Jews, we have their own testimony. In Sanhedr. fol. 69, we have these remarkable words: "Rabbi Nachman said to Rabbi Isaac, 'Whence art thou taught when Bar Naphli will come?' He saith unto him, 'Who is this Bar Naphli?' The other replied, 'He is the Messiah.' 'Dost thou then call the Messiah Bar Naphli?' 'Yes,' said he, 'for it is written, In that day I will build again the tabernacle of David, הנפלת Hanopheleth, which is falling down.'" This is evidently a quotation from Amos 9:11, and a proof that the Jews understood it to be a prophecy concerning the Messiah. See Lightfoot.
17That 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.
That the residue of men might seek - Instead of this, the Hebrew has, That they may possess the remnant of Edom. Now it is evident that, in the copy from which the Seventy translated, they found ידרשו yidreshu, they might seek, instead of יירשו yireshu, they may possess, where the whole difference between the two words is the change of the י yod for a ד daleth, which might be easily done; and they found אדם adam, man, or men, instead of אדום Edom, the Idumeans, which differs from the other only by the insertion of ו vau between the two last letters. None of the MSS. collated by Kennicott and De Rossi confirm these readings, in which the Septuagint, Arabic, and St. James agree. It shows, however, that even in Jerusalem, and in the early part of the apostolic age, the Septuagint version was quoted in preference to the Hebrew text; or, what is tantamount, was quoted in cases where we would have thought the Hebrew text should have been preferred, because better understood. But God was evidently preparing the way of the Gospel by bringing this venerable version into general credit and use; which was to be the means of conveying the truths of Christianity to the whole Gentile world. How precious should this august and most important version be to every Christian, and especially to every Christian minister! A version, without which no man ever did or ever can critically understand the New Testament. And I may add that, without the assistance afforded by this version, there never could have been a correct translation of the Hebrew text, since that language ceased to be vernacular, into any language. Without it, even St. Jerome could have done little in translating the Old Testament into Latin; and how much all the modern versions owe to St. Jerome's Vulgate, which owes so much to the Septuagint, most Biblical scholars know.
18Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
Known unto God are all his works from the beginning - As if he had said, This is not a new counsel of God: he had purposed, from the time he called the Israelites, to make the Gentiles partakers of the same grace and mercy; and ultimately to destroy those rites and ceremonies which separated them from each other. He therefore has sent the Gospel of his Son, proclaiming equally peace to him that is afar off, the Gentiles, and to him that is nigh, the Jews.
The whole of this verse is very dubious: the principal part of it is omitted by the most ancient MSS., and Griesbach has left γνωϚα απ' αιωνος doubtful, and has thrown εϚι τῳ Θεῳ παντα τα εργα αὑτου out of the text. Of the former clause, Professor White, in his Crisews, says, "forsitan delenda," "probably these words should be blotted out." And of the latter clause he says, "certissime delenda," "most assuredly these should be blotted out." Supposing the whole to be genuine, critics have labored to find out the sense. Some very learned men, and particularly Schleusner, contend that the word γνωϚα, from γινωσκειν, to know, should be understood here in the same sense in which ידא yada is in many parts of the Old Testament, which not only signifies to know, but to approve, love, etc. They therefore would translate the passage thus: All the works of God are ever dear unto him. And, if so, consequently we might naturally expect him to be merciful to the Gentiles, as well as to the Jews; and the evidence now afforded of the conversion of the Gentiles is an additional proof that all God's works are equally dear to him.
19Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
Wherefore my sentence is - Διο εγω κρινω, Wherefore I judge. There is an authority here that does not appear in the speech of St. Peter; and this authority was felt and bowed to by all the council; and the decree proposed by St. James adopted.
20But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
But that we write unto them - Four things are prohibited in this decree:
1. Pollutions of idols;
3. things strangled;
By the first, Pollutions of Idols, or, as it is in Acts 15:25, meats offered to idols, not only all idolatry was forbidden, but eating things offered in sacrifice to idols, knowing that they were thus offered, and joining with idolaters in their sacred feasts, which were always an incentive either to idolatry itself, or to the impure acts generally attendant on such festivals.
By the second, Fornication, all uncleanness of every kind was prohibited; for πορνεια not only means fornication, but adultery, incestuous mixtures, and especially the prostitution which was so common at the idol temples, viz. in Cyprus, at the worship of Venus; and the shocking disorders exhibited in the Bacchanalia, Lupercalia, and several others.
By the third, Things Strangled, we are to understand the flesh of those animals which were strangled for the purpose of keeping the blood in the body, as such animals were esteemed a greater delicacy.
By the fourth, Blood, we are to understand, not only the thing itself, for the reasons which I have assigned in the note on Genesis 9:4, and for others detailed at the end of this chapter; but also all cruelty, manslaughter, murder, etc., as some of the ancient fathers have understood it.
Instead of του αἱματος, blood, some have conjectured that we should read χοιρειας, swine's flesh; for they cannot see, first, that there can be any harm in eating of blood; and, secondly, that, as the other three things neither have nor can have any moral evil in them, it would seem strange that they should be coupled with a thing which, on all hands, is confessed to have much moral turpitude. Answers to such trifling objections will be found at the end of the chapter. It is only necessary to add that this χοιρειας, which is the critical emendation of Dr. Bentley, is not supported by one MS. or version in existence.
At the close of this verse, the Codex Bezae, and several others, add a fifth thing, And not to do to others what they would not have done to themselves. Though this is a very ancient reading, it does not appear to be genuine.
21For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Moses of old time hath in every city - The sense of this verse seems to be this: As it was necessary to write to the Gentiles what was strictly necessary to be observed by them, relative to these points, it was not so to the converted Jews; for they had Moses, that is, the law, preached to them, κατα πολιν, in the city, that is, Antioch; and, by the reading of the law in the synagogues every Sabbath day, they were kept in remembrance of those institutions which the Gentiles, who had not the law, could not know. Therefore, James thought that a letter to the converted Gentiles would be sufficient, as the converted Jews had already ample instruction on these points.
22Then 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:
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole Church - James determined what ought to be done; and the whole assembly resolved how that should be done.
Chosen men of their own company - Paul and Barnabas were to return: they could have witnessed to the Church at Antioch what was done at the council at Jerusalem; but as it was possible that their testimony might be suspected, from the part they had already taken in this question at Antioch, it was necessary that a deputation from the council should accompany them. Accordingly Judas and Silas are sent to corroborate by their oral testimony what was contained in the letters sent from the council.
23And 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:
Send greeting unto the brethren - of the Gentiles - There was no occasion to send such a letter to the brethren which were of the Jews, because that law which had been so long read in their synagogues taught them all those things; and therefore the epistle is sent exclusively to the Gentiles. The word greeting is in the original χαιρειν, to be well, to be safe; a very usual form in Greek epistles, the word ευχομαι being understood, I wish thee to be well.
24Forasmuch 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:
Certain which went out from us - So the persons who produced these doubtful disputations at Antioch, etc., had gone out from the apostles at Jerusalem, and were of that Church: persons zealous for the law, and yet, strange to tell, so conscientiously attached to the Gospel that they risked their personal safety by professing it.
To whom we gave no such commandment - As, therefore, they went out from that Church, they should have taught nothing which was not owned and taught by it; much less should they have taught in opposition to it.
25It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
26Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Men that have hazarded their lives - This was a high character of Paul and Barnabas: they had already suffered much in the cause of Christ, and exposed their lives to the most imminent danger, and were intent on the same work, notwithstanding the increasing dangers in the way.
27We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
Judas and Silas - shall - tell you the same things - These were proofs that the testimony of Paul and Barnabas was true; and that the letter was not forged, as they could witness the same things which the letter contained.
28For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us - The whole council had met under his direction; had consulted under his influence; and gave forth their decree from his especial inspiration.
Necessary things - They were necessary, howsoever burthensome they might appear; and necessary, not only for the time, place, or occasion; but for all times, all places, and all occasions. See this proved in the observations at the end of this chapter.
29That 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.
Ye shall do well - But, if they did not keep themselves from these things, they would do ill; that is, they would sin against God, whose Spirit had commanded them to keep from these things. And who can do any of these forbidden things, and keep either a guiltless or a tender conscience?
Fare-well - An old English form of expressing good wishes and good will. It is compounded of to go, and much, well, very much. Go well, go prosperously! - tantamount with good speed! may you succeed well! may God direct you! Like to that other form of sound words, God be with you! corrupted now into good by to ye! And of the same meaning with adieu! a Dieu, to God; that is, I commend you to God. All these terms savour not only of good will, or benevolence, but also of piety. Our pious ancestors believed that nothing was safe, nothing protected, nothing prosperous, over which the shield of God was not extended; and, therefore, in their familiar good wishes, they gave each other to God. The Greek word ερῥωσθε, errhosthe, here used, from ῥωννυμι, to strengthen, make strong, has nearly the same signification: be strong, courageous, active, be in health, and be prosperous! What a pity that such benevolent and pious wishes should degenerate into cool formalities, or unmeaning compliments!
30So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:
31Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.
They rejoiced for the consolation - It was not a matter of small moment to have a question on which such stress was laid decided by an apostolic council, over which the Spirit of God presided.
32And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.
Judas and Silas, being prophets - That is, being teachers in the Church. This signification of the word prophet we have often already seen. See the notes on Acts 11:27; Acts 13:1.
Exhorted the brethren - To abide steadily attached to God, and to each other, in peace, love, and unity.
And confirmed them - In the blessed truths they had already received.
33And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles.
They were let go - That is, both had liberty to depart; but Silas chose to stay a little longer with the brethren.
34Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.
Notwithstanding it pleased Silas, etc. - This whole verse is wanting in ABEG, a great number besides, with the Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, Slavonic, Vulgate, and some of the fathers. It does not appear to have been originally in the text.
35Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
36And 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 our brethren in every city - This heavenly man projected a journey to Cyprus, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, Salamis, Paphos, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Antioch in Pisidia, and elsewhere; for in all these places he had preached and founded Churches in the preceding year. He saw it was necessary to water the seed he had planted; for these were young converts, surrounded with impiety, opposition, and superstition, and had few advantages among themselves.
37And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.
Barnabas determined to take with them John - John Mark was his sister's son; and natural affection might have led him to the partiality here mentioned.
38But 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 not good to take him with them - On this subject, see the note on Acts 13:13.
39And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;
The contention was so sharp between them - For all this sentence, there is only in the Greek text εγενετο ουν παροξυσμος; there was therefore a paroxysm, an incitement, a stirring up, from παροξυνω, compounded of παρα, intensive, and οξυνω, to whet, or sharpen: there was a sharp contention. But does this imply anger or ill-will on either side? Certainly not. Here, these two apostles differed, and were strenuous, each in support of the part he had adopted. "Paul," as an ancient Greek commentator has it, "being influenced only with the love of righteousness; Barnabas being actuated by love to his relative." John Mark had been tried in trying circumstances, and he failed; Paul, therefore, would not trust him again. The affection of Barnabas led him to hope the best, and was therefore desirous to give him another trial. Barnabas would not give up: Paul would not agree. They therefore agreed to depart from each other, and take different parts of the work: each had an attendant and companion at hand; so Barnabas took John Mark, and sailed to Cyprus: Paul took Silas, and went into Syria. John Mark proved faithful to his uncle Barnabas; and Silas proved faithful to his master Paul. To all human appearance it was best that they separated; as the Churches were more speedily visited, and the work of God more widely and more rapidly spread. And why is it that most men attach blame to this difference between Paul and Barnabas? And why is it that this is brought in as a proof of the sinful imperfection of these holy apostles? Because those who thus treat the subject can never differ with another without feeling wrong tempers; and then, as destitute of good breeding as they are of humility, they attribute to others the angry, proud, and wrathful dispositions which they feel in themselves; and, because they cannot be angry and sin not, they suppose that even apostles themselves cannot. Thus, in fact, we are always bringing our own moral or immoral qualifications to be a standard, by which we are to judge of the characters and moral feelings of men who were actuated by zeal for God's glory, brotherly kindness, and charity. Should any man say there was sin in this contention between Paul and Barnabas, I answer, there is no evidence of this in the text. Should he say, the word παροξυσμος, paroxysm, denotes this, I answer, it does not. And the verb παροξυνομαι is often used in a good sense. So Isocrates ad Demosth. cap. xx. μαλιϚα δ' αν παροξυνθειης ορεχθηναι των καλων εργων· "But thou wilt be the more stirred up to the love of good works." And such persons forget that this is the very form used by the apostle himself, Hebrews 10:24 : και κατανοωμεν αλληλους εις παροξυσμον αγαπης και καλων εργων· which, these objectors would be highly displeased with me, were I to translate, Let us consider one another to an angry contention of love and good works. From these examples, it appears that the word is used to signify incitement of any kind; and, if taken in a medical sense, to express the burning fit of an ague: it is also taken to express a strong excitement to the love of God and man, and to the fruits by which such love can be best proved; and, in the case before us, there was certainly nothing contrary to this pure principle in either of those heavenly men. See also Kypke on Hebrews 10:24.
40And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God.
Being recommended - unto the grace of God - Much stress has been laid upon this, to show that Barnabas was in the wrong, and Paul in the right, because "the brethren recommended Paul and Silas to the grace of God; but they did not recommend Barnabas and John Mark: this proves that the Church condemned the conduct of Barnabas, but approved that of Paul." Now, there is no proof that the Church did not recommend Barnabas to the grace of God, as well as Paul; but, as St. Luke had for the present dropped the story of Barnabas, and was now going on with that of Paul and Silas, he begins it at this point, viz. his being recommended by the brethren to the grace of God; and then goes on to tell of his progress in Syria, Derbe, Lystra, etc., etc. See the next chapter. And with this verse should the following chapter begin; and this is the division followed by the most correct copies of the Greek text.
41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.
Confirming the Churches - This was the object of his journey: they were young converts, and had need of establishment; and there is no doubt that, by showing them the decision made at the late council of Jerusalem, their faith was greatly strengthened, their hope confirmed, and their love increased. It was this consideration, no doubt, that led some ancient MSS. and some versions to add here, They delivered them the decrees of the apostles and elders to keep; which clause certainly was not an original part of the text, but seems to have been borrowed from the fourth verse of the following chapter. Some have thought that the fourth and fifth verses of the next chapter really belong to this place; or that the first, second, and third verses of it should be read in a parenthesis; but of this there does not appear to be any particular necessity.