Study Guide for Acts 15 - The Jerusalem Council
A. The dispute between the men from Judea and Paul and Barnabas.
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
2. (Acts 15:2-4) Paul and Barnabas respond to the teaching of the men from Judea.
Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.
3. (Acts 15:5) The men from Judea re-state their teaching.
But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."
B. The Jerusalem council-LESSON VERSES:
1. (Acts 15:6-11) In the midst of a great dispute, the apostle Peter speaks to the issue.
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."
2. Skipped--(Acts 15:12) Paul and Barnabas tell of their work among the Gentiles, supporting Peter's claim that God is doing a work among them.
12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
3. Skipped--(Acts 15:13-21) James, the brother of Jesus, speaks to the issue, supporting what Peter and Paul.
And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, "Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 'After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD who does all these things.' Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
4. (Acts 15:22-29) A letter of decision is drafted-LESSON BEGINS v. 24.
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: "The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers[a] who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you[b] with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."
C. Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch.
1. (Acts 15:30-31) A joyful reception among the Gentile Christians at the church of Antioch.
30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.
ACTS 15 INTRODUCTION: I see something similar taking place in our text. As a result of the first missionary journey, Gentiles had come to faith in large numbers. While unbelieving Jews resisted the preaching of the gospel to Gentiles, some Jewish believers were insisting that Gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the Old Testament Law of Moses. Gentile converts were truly grateful to be included in the salvation God brought about through the Jews. To some, grateful Gentile converts submitting to circumcision and to law keeping might not appear to be such a huge concession. But they did not understand the implications of circumcision. Paul did, and he, along with Barnabas, strongly opposed the teaching of these Judaizers - those who believed that Gentiles must enter into the faith by converting to Judaism. As a result, the first church council was called, and this is described in the text for this message. This decision is a watershed event, not only in the Book of Acts, but in the history of the church. Let us listen well to the words of our text, and let us seek to learn what the Jerusalem Council meant for those in that day, as well as for Christians today.
Summary 15:1-10: The ambivalence (hypocrisy) of apostles like Peter probably encouraged others who were even more radical in their views to press their demands publicly, as we read in Acts 15:
1 Now some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). 5 But some from the religious party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe the law of Moses" (Acts 15:5).
We should note that these Judaizers who demanded circumcision and law keeping were not evangelists who were preaching their message to Gentile pagans. These were Jewish believers (those of the Pharisee party) who were targeting newly saved Gentiles. It is interesting how some are more than willing to let others do the evangelizing, only to prey upon these new converts with their distorted doctrines. At first glance, what these Judaizers were demanding may not have seemed that much to ask. They wanted Gentile converts to undergo circumcision. But the rite of circumcision, like baptism, was a symbol, and it implied much more. To the Jews, being circumcised was viewed as a commitment to live under the Law of Moses, as the Old Testament Israelites did. In our text, the implications of circumcision will be spelled out by Peter in just a few verses. But that would be getting ahead of our story. Paul strongly opposed this added requirement of circumcision as heresy; indeed, it was the introduction of another gospel:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel - 7 not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! 9 As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! (Galatians 1:6-9)
Because of this, Paul goes on in his Epistle to the Galatians to describe how he rebuked Peter (Cephas) and other Jews (including Barnabas) for their hypocrisy when they separated themselves from Gentile believers at Antioch. 13 If the events of Galatians 2 took place before the Jerusalem Council (as I am inclined to think), then Paul's strong opposition to error among the saints (including men like Peter) played a crucial role in helping Peter (and the others who were present at the Jerusalem Council) to see this matter much more clearly. To get back to our text, the church at Antioch wisely determined that this debate had raised a vitally important theological question, one that the apostles in Jerusalem needed to answer. And so they sent Paul and Barnabas, along with others, to Jerusalem. On their way to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas reported the success of their ministry among the Gentiles to the saints in Phoenicia and Samaria, which was met with great rejoicing. (One would assume that those rejoicing were Gentiles.) When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the church, and they gave a similar report concerning the success of their first missionary journey. Some did not find this an occasion for rejoicing, but instead took this as an opportunity to press their demands that Gentile converts must be required to be circumcised and to keep the Law of Moses (see v.5, above):
THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL - ACTS 15:6-21
6 Both the apostles and the elders met together to deliberate about this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are."
It is not just the apostles who gather to decide on the issue of circumcision (verse 6). It is the apostles and the elders of the church at Jerusalem. Those who came to Antioch "from James" were undoubtedly not apostles, but they did give the impression that they spoke with apostolic approval. It is important that the decision reached in Jerusalem embrace all the leaders in the church. That way, anyone who taught differently would be recognized as a rogue, that is, as a false teacher, speaking only for themselves. This is one of the reasons a letter was written to the Gentile churches.
Luke makes it very clear to his readers that he is not reporting every conversation, nor is he elaborating on the viewpoint of those who are demanding circumcision. He gives a summary of the contribution of four individuals: Peter (Acts 15:7-11), Barnabas and Paul15 (Acts 15:12), and James (Acts 15:13-21). An abridged version of the participation of these four is recorded for us, but only after Luke has told us that there had already been "much debate" (Acts 15:7). I would understand this to mean that Luke purposely spared his readers from hearing a complete re-hash of the Judaisers' arguments. They were wrong, after all, and their error did not need to be publicized. (If these folks were genuinely convinced by the apostles, and fully endorsed the decision of the Council, they would not want their arguments to be aired publicly.)
Peter's argument is recorded first, and James seems to bring the closing word. Barnabas and Paul speak between Peter and James. Peter's argument is five verses long; James' argument is somewhat longer (nine verses). Luke grants Barnabas and Paul merely one verse in his account. Why would this be? Barnabas and Paul were the ones under attack. They already had their say with these Judaisers. The purpose of the Council was to hear where the Jerusalem leaders stood on this issue. Peter's argument is simple and direct. In reality, it is merely a reminder of the events of Acts 10 and 11, and the conclusion which this same group reached. God directed Peter to go to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile, and there to preach the gospel. While Peter was still speaking to them, the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles, indicating that they were saved, having equal standing with the Jewish believers.
Peter seems to be saying something like this: "Haven't we already dealt with this issue and made our decision? Didn't we agree that God is saving Gentiles as well as Jews? Didn't we agree that these Gentile saints need only be baptized with water, and not circumcised? Can't we see that God did not distinguish between these Gentiles and us, because in both cases our hearts were cleansed by faith, and not by works? If, then, we are all saved by faith, and not by works, why are we insisting that Gentiles be burdened with law keeping when it did not save us, nor any of our ancestors?
Peter then makes a remarkable statement: "We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are." I am indebted to James Montgomery Boice 16 for pointing out that this is exactly the opposite of how some Jewish Christians were thinking. The Jews were used to thinking that anyone who wanted to be saved must be saved like they were. In fact, some still were. They were insisting that Gentiles can only participate in God's blessings to the seed of Abraham by doing what Abraham did - be circumcised. But Peter insists that the Law never saved anyone; it only condemned (compare Romans 3:19-20). He then states that Jews must be saved the same way Gentiles are saved, by faith, apart from law keeping.
In verses 13-21, James steps forward. One does not get the impression that Peter is the dominant leader here; instead, James seems to play that role. James does something that the three before him have not done - he cites Scripture. Thus, the decision that is reached is based both upon Scripture and on experience. James follows up on what Peter has said. God has revealed His purpose to save Gentiles as well as Jews. This is the fulfillment of what the Old Testament prophets had foretold. James turns to the words of Amos 9:11-12 to establish his point:
16 'After this I will return, and I will rebuild the fallen tent of David; I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, 17 so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, namely, all the Gentiles I have called to be my own,' says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from long ago
FOLLOWING THROUGH - ACTS 15:22-33
22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to send men chosen from among them, Judas called Barsabbas and Silas, leaders among the brothers, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. 23 They sent this letter with them: From the apostles and elders, your brothers, to the Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greetings! 24 Since we have heard that some have gone out from among us with no orders from us and have confused you, upsetting your minds by what they said, 25 we have unanimously decided to choose men to send to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas who will tell you these things themselves in person. 28 For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: 29 that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well. Farewell. 30 So when they were dismissed, they went down to Antioch, and after gathering the entire group together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they read it aloud, the people rejoiced at its encouragement. 32 Both Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with a long speech. 33 After they had spent some time there, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them (Acts 15:22-33).
The first (and rather amazing) thing we should notice is that the decision reached by the Jerusalem Council was unanimous. This decision was reached by the apostles, the elders, and the whole church. This doctrine of justification by faith, apart from works, is so fundamental that one cannot differ with it and be considered a Christian. Since some had gone out teaching "another gospel" (salvation by faith plus works), claiming the approval of the Jerusalem leaders, it was important to distinguish these false teachers from those who were committed to the truth. The letter was the first step in this process. It disavowed those teachers who had gone out, claiming the approval and authority of their teaching by the Jerusalem leaders. They were not authorized to teach what they did, and their teaching only served to create confusion. In general terms, the Jerusalem leaders renounced the teaching of those who had gone out without authorization. These false teachers are not named, but the Gentile saints would know who they were. Four teachers are designated by the Jerusalem leaders as authorized to speak with their authority: "Judas called Barsabbas and Silas" (two men from Jerusalem), and Barnabas and Paul, who are called their "dear friends." Paul and Barnabas are identified as men who have risked their lives for the sake of the gospel. These are men who are proven, and who are approved by Jerusalem's leaders.
The more I have thought about this letter, the less specific it is. Circumcision is not mentioned and neither is the Law. Only the four prohibitions are itemized as being necessary rules. Actually, this makes sense to me. We know that "much debate" occurred before the Council reached its decision. Why would we suppose that one brief letter could adequately clarify all the issues that needed to be addressed? Think of all the Old Testament passages that needed to be cited. Think of all the exposition of Scripture that was required. The purpose of the letter was primarily to identify those who were authorized to speak for the Jerusalem leaders - and, who were not. This is why the four men were sent to these churches. They spent considerable time in these cities:
Conclusion: In many ways, Acts 15 is a watershed chapter. Peter virtually disappears after this chapter, and the church in Jerusalem fades to relative insignificance. But Gentile evangelism virtually explodes. This is because the theological basis for Gentile evangelism has now been established. It is no wonder that from here on, Gentile converts are in the majority. Think of how things might have gone had God not superintended here. The case of Roe v. Wade opened the floodgates for the slaughter of millions of innocent and helpless human beings (I have chosen my words carefully here). Had the Jerusalem Council ruled in favor of the Judaisers, the Great Commission would have been frustrated, rather than fulfilled.22Spiritually speaking, the Jerusalem Council is the Gentiles' Declaration of Independence. Gentile believers are not dependent upon Judaism for their salvation, even in part; they are dependent only upon Jesus Christ and His work at Calvary. The threat which the Judaisers posed to Christianity in the first century is no isolated danger. We have seen it all through history. When God delivered the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt, there were those who longingly looked back to their time in Egypt. More than once, there were those who sought to convince the Israelites that they should return to Egypt.
BARNES' NOTES ON ACTS 15
And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
And the apostles and elders ... - They came together in accordance with the authority in Matthew 18:19-20. It would seem, also, that the whole church was convened on this occasion, and that the church concurred, at least, in the judgment expressed in this case. See Acts 15:12, Acts 15:22-23.
For to consider of this matter - Not to decide it arbitrarily, or even by authority, without deliberation; but to compare their views, and to express the result of the whole to the church at Antioch. It was a grave and difficult question, deeply affecting the entire constitution of the Christian church, and they therefore solemnly engaged in deliberation on the subject.
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.
Much disputing - Or rather, much inquiry or deliberation. With our word disputing we commonly connect the idea of heat and anger. This is not necessarily implied in the word used here. It might have been calm, solemn, deliberate inquiry; and there is no evidence that it was conducted with undue warmth or anger.
Peter rose up and said - Peter was probably the most aged, and was most accustomed to speak, Acts 2:14, etc.; Acts 3:6, Acts 3:12. Besides, there was a particular reason for his speaking here, as he had been engaged in similar scenes, and understood the case, and had had evidence that God had converted sinners without the Mosaic rites, and knew that it would have been inexpedient to have imposed these rites on those who had thus been converted.
A good while ago - See Acts 10:Some time since. So long since that there had been opportunity to ascertain whether it was necessary to observe the laws of Moses in order to the edification of the church.
God made choice ... - That is, of all the apostles, he designated me to engage in this work. Compare the notes on Matthew 16:18, with Acts 10.
That the Gentiles - Cornelius, and those who were assembled with him at Caesarea. This was the first case that had occurred, and therefore it was important to appeal to it.
And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he didunto us;
And God, which knoweth the hearts - Acts 1:24. God thus knew whether they were true converts or not, and gave a demonstration that he acknowledged them as his.
Giving them the Holy Ghost ... - Acts 10:45-46.
And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
And put no difference ... - Though they had not been circumcised, and though they did not conform to the Law of Moses. Thus, God showed that the observance of these rites was not necessary in order to the true conversion of people, and to acceptance with him. He did not give us, who are Jews, any advantage over them, but justified and purified all in the same manner.
Purifying their hearts - Thus, giving the best evidence that he had renewed them, and admitted them to favor with him.
By faith - By believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. This demonstrated that the plan on which God was now about to show favor to people was not by external rites and ceremonies, but by a scheme which required faith as the only condition of acceptance. It is further implied here that there is no true faith which does not purify the heart.
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?
Why tempt ye God? - Why provoke him to displeasure? Why, since he has shown his determination to accept them without such rites, do you provoke him by attempting to impose on his own people rites without his authority, and a against his manifest will? The argument is, that God had already accepted them. To attempt to impose these rites would be to provoke him to anger; to introduce observances which he had shown it was his purpose should now be abolished.
To put a yoke - That which would be burdensome and oppressive, or which would infringe on their just freedom as the children of God. It is called in Galatians 5:1, "a yoke of bondage." Compare the notes on Matthew 23:4. A "yoke" is an emblem of slavery or bondage 1 Timothy 6:1; or of affliction Lamentations 3:27; or of punishment Lamentations 1:14; or of oppressive and burdensome ceremonies, as in this place, or of the restraints of Christianity, Matthew 11:29-30. In this place those rites are called a yoke, because:
(1) They were burdensome and oppressive; and,
(2) Because they would be an infringement of Christian freedom. One design of the gospel was to set people free from such rites and ceremonies.
Which neither our fathers ... - Which have been found burdensome at all times. They were expensive, and painful, and oppressive; and as they had been found to be so, it was not proper to impose them on the Gentile converts, but should rather rejoice at any evidence that the people of God might be delivered from them.
Were able to bear - Which are found to be oppressive and burdensome. They were attended with great inconvenience and many transgressions, as the consequence.
But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
But we believe - We apostles, who have been with them, and have seen the evidences of their acceptance with God.
Through the grace ... - By the grace or mercy of Christ alone, without any of the rites and ceremonies of the Jews.
We shall be saved, even as they - In the same manner, by the mere grace of Christ. So far from being necessary to their salvation, they are really of no use in ours. We are to be saved, not by these ceremonies, but by the mere mercy of God in the Redeemer. They should not, therefore, be imposed on others.
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 suchcommandment:
Forasmuch - Since we have heard.
That certain - That some, Acts 15:1.
Have troubled you with words - With doctrines. They have disturbed your minds, and produced contentions.
Subverting your souls - The word used here occurs nowhere else in the New Testament ἀνασκευάζοντες anaskeuazontes. It properly means "to collect together the vessels used in a house the household furniture - for the purpose of removing it." It is applied to marauders, robbers, and enemies who remove and bear off property, thus producing distress, confusion, and disorder. It is thus used in the sense of disturbing or destroying, and here denotes that they "unsettled their minds" - that they produced anxiety, disturbance, and distress by these doctrines about Moses.
To whom we gave no such commandment - They went, therefore, without authority. Self-constituted and self-sent teachers not infrequently produce disturbance and distress. Had the apostles been consulted on this subject, the difficulty would have been avoided. By thus saying that they had not given them a command to teach these things, they practically assured the Gentile converts that they did not approve of the course which those who went from Judea had taken.
It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Men that have hazarded their lives ... - See Acts 14:This was a noble testimony to the character of Barnabas and Paul. It was a commendation of them to the confidence of the churches, and an implied expression that they wished their authority to be regarded in the establishment and organization of the church.
For the name - In the cause of the Lord Jesus.
We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
The same things - The same things that we wrote to you They will confirm all by their own statements.
For 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 - This is a strong and undoubted claim to inspiration. It was with special reference to the organization of the church that the Holy Spirit had been promised to them by the Lord Jesus, Matthew 18:18-20; John 14:26.
No greater burden - To impose no greater restraints to enjoin no other observances. See the notes on Acts 15:10.
Than these necessary things - Necessary:
(1) In order to preserve the peace of the church.
(2) to conciliate the minds of the Jewish converts, Acts 15:21.
(3) in their circumstances particularly, because the crime which is specified - licentiousness was one to which all early converts were especially exposed. See the notes on Acts 15:20.
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.
From meats offered to idols - This explains what is meant by "pollutions of idols," Acts 15:20.
Ye shall do well - You will do what ought to be done in regard to the subjects of dispute.
So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:
Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.
They rejoiced for the consolation - They acquiesced in the decision of the apostles and elders, and rejoiced that they were not to be subjected to the burdensome rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion. This closes the account of the first Christian council. It was conducted throughout on Christian principles; in a mild, kind, conciliatory spirit, and is a model for all similar assemblages. It came together, not to promote, but to silence disputation; not to persecute the people of God, but to promote their peace; not to be a scene of harsh and angry recrimination, but to be an example of all that was mild, and tender, and kind. Those who composed it came together, not to carry a point, not to overreach their adversaries, not to be party people, but to mingle their sober counsels, to inquire what was right, and to express, in a Christian manner, what was proper to be done. Great and important principles were to be established in regard to the Christian church, and they engaged in their work evidently with a deep sense of their responsibility, and with a just view of their dependence on the aid of the Holy Spirit. How happy Would it have been if this spirit had been possessed by all professedly Christian councils; if all had really sought the peace and harmony of the churches; if none had ever been convened to kindle the fires of persecution, or to rend and destroy the church of God!
This council has been usually appealed to as the authority for councils in the church as a permanent arrangement, and especially as an authority for courts of appeal and control. But it establishes neither, and should be brought as authority for neither. For:
(1) It was not a court of appeal in any intelligible sense. It was an assembly convened for a special purpose; designed to settle an inquiry which arose in a particular part of the church, and which required the collected wisdom of the apostles and elders.
(2) it had none of the marks or appendages of a court. The term "court," or judicature, is nowhere applied to it, nor to any assembly of Christian people in the New Testament. Nor should these terms be used now in the churches. courts of judicature imply a degree of authority which cannot be proved from the New Testament to have been conceded to any ecclesiastical body of people.
(3) there is not the slightest intimation that anything like permanency was to be attached to this council, or that it would be periodically or regularly repeated. It proves, indeed, that, when cases of difficulty occur - when Christians are perplexed and embarrassed, or when contentions arise - it is proper to refer to Christian people for advice and direction. Such was the case here, and such a course is obviously proper. If it should be maintained that it is well that Christian ministers and laymen should assemble periodically, at stated intervals, on the supposition that such cases may arise, this is conceded; but the example of the apostles and elders should not be pleaded as making such assemblies of divine right and authority, or as being essential to the existence of a church of God. Such an arrangement has been deemed to be so desirable by Christians, that it has been adopted by Episcopalians in their regular annual and triennial Conventions; by Methodists in their conferences; by Presbyterians in their General Assembly; by Friends in their Yearly Meetings; by Baptists and congregationalists in their Associations, etc.; but the example of the council summoned on a special emergency at Jerusalem should not be pleaded as giving divine authority to these periodical assemblages. They are wise and prudent arrangements, contributing to the peace of the church, and the example of the council at Jerusalem can be adduced as furnishing as reach divine authority for one as for another; that is, it does not make all or either of them of divine authority, or obligatory on the church of God.
(4) it should be added that a degree of authority (compare Acts 16:4) would, of course, be attached to the decision of the apostles and elders at that time which cannot be to any body of ministers and laymen now. Besides, it should never be forgotten - what, alas! it seems to have been the pleasure and the interest of ecclesiastics to forget that neither the apostles nor elders asserted any jurisdiction over the churches of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia; that they did not claim a right to have these cases referred to them; that they did not attempt to "lord it" over their faith or their consciences. The case was a single, specific, definite question referred to them, and they decided it as such. They asserted no abstract right of such jurisdiction; they sought not to intermeddle With the case; they enjoined no future reference of such cases to them, to their successors, or to any ecclesiastical tribunal. They evidently regarded the churches as blessed with the most ample freedom, and contemplated no arrangement of a permanent character asserting a right to legislate on articles of faith, or to make laws for the direction of the Lord's freemen.