Acts 15:12
Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles by them.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12) And gave audience to Barnabas and Paul.—The leaders of the Church had clearly reserved their part in the debate to the last, and the two Apostles of the Gentiles were now called on to repeat more publicly what they had already narrated to the Apostles and elders (Acts 15:4). It was, perhaps, with a special view to the character of their hearers that they laid stress on the “signs and wonders” which had attested God’s acceptance of their work (Matthew 12:38; Matthew 16:1; 1Corinthians 1:22). Miracles had been wrought among the Gentiles as freely as among the Jews, and those who wrought them, unless they were casting out devils by Beelzebub (and the Judaisers appear to have shrunk from that charge), must have been sent by God (John 3:2; John 9:31-33).

Acts

THE CHARTER OF GENTILE LIBERTY

Acts 15:12 - Acts 15:29
.

Much was at stake in the decision of this gathering of the Church. If the Jewish party triumphed, Christianity sank to the level of a Jewish sect. The question brought up for decision was difficult, and there was much to be said for the view that the Mosaic law was binding on Gentile converts. It must have been an uprooting of deepest beliefs for a Jewish Christian to contemplate the abrogation of that law, venerable by its divine origin, by its hoary antiquity, by its national associations. We must not be hard upon men who clung to it; but we should learn from their final complete drifting away from Christianity how perilous is the position which insists on the necessity to true discipleship of any outward observance.

Our passage begins in the middle of the conference. Peter has, with characteristic vehemence, dwelt upon the divine attestation of the genuine equality of the uncircumcised converts with the Jewish, given by their possession of the same divine Spirit, and has flung fiery questions at the Judaisers, which silenced them. Then, after the impressive hush following his eager words, Barnabas and Paul tell their story once more, and clinch the nail driven by Peter by asserting that God had already by ‘signs and wonders’ given His sanction to the admission of Gentiles without circumcision. Characteristically, in Jerusalem Barnabas is restored to his place above Paul, and is named first as speaking first, and regarded by the Jerusalem Church as the superior of the missionary pair.

The next speaker is James, not an Apostle, but the bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, of whom tradition tells that he was a zealous adherent to the Mosaic law in his own person, and that his knees were as hard as a camel’s through continual prayer. It is singular that this meeting should be so often called ‘the Apostolic council,’ when, as a fact, only one Apostle said a word, and he not as an Apostle, but as the chosen instrument to preach to the Gentiles. ‘The elders,’ of whose existence we now hear for the first time in this wholly incidental manner, were associated with the Apostles {Acts 15:6}, and the ‘multitude’ {Acts 15:12} is most naturally taken to be ‘the whole Church’ {Acts 15:22}. James represents the eldership, and as bishop in Jerusalem and an eager observer of legal prescriptions, fittingly speaks. His words practically determined the question. Like a wise man, he begins with facts. His use of the intensely Jewish form of the name Simeon is an interesting reminiscence of old days. So he had been accustomed to call Peter when they were all young together, and so he calls him still, though everybody else named him by his new name. What God had done by him seems to James to settle the whole question; for it was nothing else than to put the Gentile converts without circumcision on an equality with the Jewish part of the Church.

Note the significant juxtaposition of the words ‘Gentiles’ and ‘people’-the former the name for heathen, the latter the sacred designation of the chosen nation. The great paradox which, through Peter’s preaching at Caesarea, had become a fact was that the ‘people of God’ were made up of Gentiles as well as Jews-that His name was equally imparted to both. If God had made Gentiles His people, had He not thereby shown that the special observances of Israel were put aside, and that, in particular, circumcision was no longer the condition of entrance? The end of national distinction and the opening of a new way of incorporation among the people of God were clearly contained in the facts. How much Christian narrowness would be blown to atoms if its advocates would do as James did, and let God’s facts teach them the width of God’s purposes and the comprehensiveness of Christ’s Church! We do wisely when we square our theories with facts; but many of us go to work in the opposite way, and snip down facts to the dimension of our theories.

James’s next step is marked equally by calm wisdom and open-mindedness. He looks to God’s word, as interpreted by God’s deeds, to throw light in turn on the deeds and to confirm the interpretation of these. Two things are to be noted in considering his quotation from Amos-its bearing on the question in hand, and its divergence from the existing Hebrew text. As to the former, there seems at first sight nothing relevant to James’s purpose in the quotation, which simply declares that the Gentiles will seek the Lord when the fallen tabernacle of David is rebuilt. That period of time has at least begun, thinks James, in the work of Jesus, in whom the decayed dominion of David is again in higher form established. The return of the Gentiles does not merely synchronise with, but is the intended issue of, Christ’s reign. Lifted from the earth, He will draw all men unto Him, and they shall ‘seek the Lord,’ and on them His name will be called.

Now the force of this quotation lies, as it seems, first in the fact that Peter’s experience at Caesarea is to be taken as an indication of how God means the prophecy to be fulfilled, namely, without circumcision; and secondly, in the argumentum a silentio, since the prophet says nothing about ritual or the like, but declares that moral and spiritual qualifications-on the one hand a true desire after God, and on the other receiving the proclamation of His name and calling themselves by it-are all that are needed to make Gentiles God’s people. Just because there is nothing in the prophecy about observing Jewish ceremonies, and something about longing and faith, James thinks that these are the essentials, and that the others may be dropped by the Church, as God had dropped them in the case of Cornelius, and as Amos had dropped them in his vision of the future kingdom. God knew what He meant to do when He spoke through the prophet, and what He has done has explained the words, as James says in Acts 15:18.

The variation from the Hebrew text requires a word of comment. The quotation is substantially from the Septuagint, with a slight alteration. Probably James quoted the version familiar to many of his hearers. It seems to have been made from a somewhat different Hebrew text in Acts 15:17, but the difference is very much slighter than an English reader would suppose. Our text has ‘Edom’ where the Septuagint has ‘men’; but the Hebrew words without vowels are identical but for the addition of one letter in the former. Our text has ‘inherit’ where the Septuagint has ‘seek after’; but there again the difference in the two Hebrew words would be one letter only, so that there may well have been a various reading as preserved in the Septuagint and Acts. James adds to the Septuagint ‘seek’ the evidently correct completion ‘the Lord.’

Now it is obvious that, even if we suppose his rendering of the whole verse to be a paraphrase of the same Hebrew text as we have, it is a correct representation of the meaning; for the ‘inheriting of Edom’ is no mere external victory, and Edom is always in the Old Testament the type of the godless man. The conquest of the Gentiles by the restorer of David’s tabernacle is really the seeking after the Lord, and the calling of His name upon the Gentiles.

The conclusion drawn by James is full of practical wisdom, and would have saved the Church from many a sad page in its history, if its spirit had been prevalent in later ‘councils.’ Note how the very designation given to the Gentile converts in Acts 15:19 carries argumentative force. ‘They turn to God from among the Gentiles’-if they have done that, surely their new separation and new attachment are enough, and make insistence on circumcision infinitely ridiculous. They have the thing signified; what does it matter about the sign, which is good for us Jews, but needless for them? If Church rulers had always been as open-eyed as this bishop in Jerusalem, and had been content if people were joined to God and parted from the world, what torrents of blood, what frowning walls of division, what scandals and partings of brethren would have been spared!

The observances suggested are a portion of the precepts enjoined by Judaism on proselytes. The two former were necessary to the Christian life; the two latter were not, but were concessions to the Jewish feelings of the stricter party. The conclusion may be called a compromise, but it was one dictated by the desire for unity, and had nothing unworthy in it. There should be giving and taking on both sides. If the Jewish Christians made the, to them, immense concession of waiving the necessity of circumcision, the Gentile section might surely make the small one of abstinence from things strangled and from blood. Similarities in diet would daily assimilate the lives of the two parties, and would be a more visible and continuous token of their oneness than the single act of circumcision.

But what does the reason in Acts 15:21 mean? Why should the reading of Moses every Sabbath be a reason for these concessions? Various answers are given: but the most natural is that the constant promulgation of the law made respect for the feelings {even if mistaken} of Jewish Christians advisable, and the course suggested the most likely to win Jews who were not yet Christians. Both classes would be flung farther apart if there were not some yielding. The general principle involved is that one cannot be too tender with old and deeply rooted convictions even if they be prejudices, and that Christian charity, which is truest wisdom, will consent to limitations of Christian liberty, if thereby any little one who believes in Him shall be saved from being offended, or any unbeliever from being repelled.

The letter embodying James’s wise suggestion needs little further notice. We may observe that there was no imposing and authoritative decision of the Ecclesia, but that the whole thing was threshed out in free talk, and then the unanimous judgment of the community, ‘Apostles, elders and the whole Church,’ was embodied in the epistle. Observe the accurate rendering of Acts 15:25, ‘having come to one accord,’ which gives a lively picture of the process. Note too that James’s proposal of a letter was mended by the addition of a deputation, consisting of an unknown ‘Judas called Barsabas’ {perhaps a relative of ‘Joseph called Barsabas,’ the unsuccessful nominee for Apostleship in Acts 1:23}, and the well-known Silas or Silvanus, of whom we hear so much in Paul’s letters. That journey was the turning-point in his life, and he henceforward, attracted by the mass and magnetism of Paul’s great personality, revolved round him, and forsook Jerusalem.

Probably James drew up the document, which has the same somewhat unusual ‘greeting’ as his Epistle. The sharp reference to the Judaising teachers would be difficult for their sympathisers to swallow, but charity is not broken by plain repudiation of error and its teachers. ‘Subverting your souls’ is a heavy charge. The word is only here found in the New Testament, and means to unsettle, the image in it being that of packing up baggage for removal. The disavowal of these men is more complete if we follow the Revised Version in reading {Acts 15:24} ‘no commandment’ instead of ‘no such commandment.’

These unauthorised teachers ‘went’; but, in strong contrast with them, Judas and Silas are chosen out and sent. Another thrust at the Judaising teachers is in the affectionate eulogy of Paul and Barnabas as ‘beloved,’ whatever disparaging things had been said about them, and as having ‘hazarded their lives,’ while these others had taken very good care of themselves, and had only gone to disturb converts whom Paul and Barnabas had won at the peril of their lives.

The calm matter-of-course assertion that the decision which commended itself to ‘us’ is the decision of ‘the Holy Ghost’ was warranted by Christ’s promises, and came from the consciousness that they had observed the conditions which He had laid down. They had brought their minds to bear upon the question, with the light of facts and of Scripture, and had come to a unanimous conclusion. If they believed their Lord’s parting words, they could not doubt that His Spirit had guided them. If we lived more fully in that Spirit, we should know more of the same peaceful assurance, which is far removed from the delusion of our own infallibility, and is the simple expression of trust in the veracious promises of our Lord.

The closing words of the letter are beautifully brotherly, sinking authority, and putting in the foreground the advantage to the Gentile converts of compliance with the injunctions. ‘Ye shall do well,’ rightly and conformably with the requirements of brotherly love to weaker brethren. And thus doing well, they will ‘fare well,’ and be strong. That is not the way in which ‘lords over God’s heritage’ are accustomed to end their decrees. Brotherly affection, rather than authority imposing its will, breathes here. Would that all succeeding ‘Councils’ had imitated this as well as ‘it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us’!Acts 15:12-18. Then all the multitude kept silence — Having nothing further to object to what had been advanced; and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul — Who confirmed Peter’s reasoning, by declaring what miracles God had wrought among the Gentiles — By their ministry; of which, the chief miracle was, that he had amply conferred the gifts of the Holy Spirit on the believing Gentiles, although they were uncircumcised. After they had done speaking, James, the son of Alpheus, one of the apostles, answered those who were for subjecting the Gentiles to the law, by adding, in supplement to Peter’s reasoning, that the prophets had foretold the conversion of the Gentiles; so that it was always God’s purpose to make them his people. The passage he appeals to, quoting it according to the reading of the Seventy, is Amos 9:11-12; where see the notes. It may be thus paraphrased: After this — After the Jewish dispensation expires; I will return — To my people in mercy; and will build again the tabernacle — That is, the house, or family, of David; which is fallen down — Is in a low, degraded state: I will do this by raising from his seed the Christ, who shall erect, on the ruins of his fallen tabernacle, a spiritual and eternal kingdom; that the residue of men — And not the Jews alone; might seek after the Lord — After an acquaintance with him, and the blessings consequent thereon; and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called — Or who shall be called by my name; who shall be my people. James adds, Known unto God are all his works — This the apostle infers from the prophecy itself, and the accomplishment of it. And this conversion of the Gentiles, being known to him from eternity, we ought not to think a new or strange thing. It is observable, he does not speak of God’s works in the natural world, (which would have been nothing to his present purposes) but of his dispensations toward the children of men. Now he could not know these, without knowing the characters and actions of particular persons, on a correspondence with which the wisdom and goodness of those dispensations are founded. For instance, he could not know how he would deal with heathen idolaters, (whom he was now calling into his church,) without knowing there would be heathen idolaters; and yet this was a thing purely contingent, a thing as dependant on the freedom of the human mind as any we can imagine. This text, therefore, among a thousand more, is an unanswerable proof that God foreknows future contingencies, though there are difficulties relating thereto which man cannot solve.15:7-21 We see from the words purifying their hearts by faith, and the address of St. Peter, that justification by faith, and sanctification by the Holy Ghost, cannot be separated; and that both are the gift of God. We have great cause to bless God that we have heard the gospel. May we have that faith which the great Searcher of hearts approves, and attests by the seal of the Holy Spirit. Then our hearts and consciences will be purified from the guilt of sin, and we shall be freed from the burdens some try to lay upon the disciples of Christ. Paul and Barnabas showed by plain matters of fact, that God owned the preaching of the pure gospel to the Gentiles without the law of Moses; therefore to press that law upon them, was to undo what God had done. The opinion of James was, that the Gentile converts ought not to be troubled about Jewish rites, but that they should abstain from meats offered to idols, so that they might show their hatred of idolatry. Also, that they should be cautioned against fornication, which was not abhorred by the Gentiles as it should be, and even formed a part of some of their rites. They were counselled to abstain from things strangled, and from eating blood; this was forbidden by the law of Moses, and also here, from reverence to the blood of the sacrifices, which being then still offered, it would needlessly grieve the Jewish converts, and further prejudice the unconverted Jews. But as the reason has long ceased, we are left free in this, as in the like matters. Let converts be warned to avoid all appearances of the evils which they formerly practised, or are likely to be tempted to; and caution them to use Christian liberty with moderation and prudence.Then all the multitude - Evidently the multitude of private Christians who were assembled on this occasion. That it does not refer to a synod of ministers and elders merely is apparent:

(1) Because the church, the brethren, are represented as having been present, and as concurring in the final opinion Acts 15:22-23; and,

(2) Because the word "multitude" τὸ πλῆθος to plēthos would not have been used in describing the collection of apostles and elders merely. Compare Luke 1:10-11, Luke 1:13; Luke 5:6; Luke 6:17; Luke 19:37; John 5:3; John 21:6; Acts 4:32; Acts 6:2; Matthew 3:7.

Gave audience - Heard, listened attentively to.

Barnabas and Paul - They were deeply interested in it, and they were qualified to give a fair statement of the facts as they had occurred.

Declaring what miracles and wonders ... - The argument here evidently is, that God had approved their work by miracles; that he gave evidence that what they did had his approbation; and that as all this was done without imposing on them the rites of the Jews, so it would follow that those were not now to be commanded.

12. Then all … gave audience to Barnabas and Paul—On this order of the names here, see on [2021]Ac 15:25.

declaring what miracles and signs God wrought among the Gentiles by them—This detail of facts, immediately following up those which Peter had recalled to mind, would lead all who waited only for divine teaching to see that God had Himself pronounced the Gentile converts to be disciples in as full standing as the Jews, without circumcision; and the attesting miracles to which Paul here refers would tend, in such an assembly to silence opposition.

All the multitude; the apostles and elders themselves gave attention to what Barnabas and Paul declared, and by their silence did tacitly approve of what they had said.

Miracles and wonders; the conversion of the Gentiles in itself, and not only the signs which did attend it, is truly wonderful: the saving of any one soul is a miraculous work. Then all the multitude kept silence,.... Upon this oration of Peter's, there was a profound silence in the whole assembly, among all the brethren of the church, who were come together on this occasion; they were all satisfied with, and by their silence acquiesced in, what Peter said; and waited to hear what might be further said about this matter, by other persons in the assembly; and even those who were on the other side of the question, were confounded and nonplussed, and knew not what to say, and the more so, when they perceived that the rest of the apostles and elders were of the same mind; for Beza's most ancient copy introduces this clause thus; "then the elders agreeing to the things that were said by Peter, the whole multitude was silent": and this gave Paul and Barnabas an opportunity of being heard; who, perhaps, could not so well be heard before, for the clamour of the people against them, who might not have so good an opinion of them, and of their practices:

and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul; Barnabas is mentioned first, he being most known to the Jews, and of whom they might have the better opinion; and who probably gave the account of their proceedings and success among the Gentiles:

declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them; what wonders of grace were wrought in the conversion of multitudes of them, wherever they came; and what miracles in nature were wrought for the confirmation of the Gospel, such as the striking blind Elymas the sorcerer, at Paphos in Cyprus, and curing the cripple at Lystra; and which they ascribe not to themselves but to God, whose instruments they only were.

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

(6) A true pattern of a lawful council, where God's truth alone reigns.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 15:12. The result of this speech was that the whole assembled multitude (πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος) was silent, so that thus a new συζήτησις did not begin, and the agitation of the opponents was set at rest. A happy beginning for the happy issue. Now Barnabas and Paul could without contradiction confirm the view of Peter by the communication of their own apostolic experiences among the Gentiles,

Barnabas first, on account of his older and closer relation to the church. Comp. on Acts 15:25.

σημεῖα κ. τέρατα] Comp. generally also Romans 15:19; 2 Corinthians 12:12, hence so much the less improbable (Zeller).Acts 15:12. ἐσίγησε: may mean “became silent,” “itaque antea non tacuerant” (Blass), cf. Burton, N. T. Moods and Tenses, 21, A. and R.V., “kept silence”.—πᾶν τὸ πλῆθος: implying a general assembly of the Church; on the word see Acts 2:6, Acts 4:32, etc.—ἤκουον: imperfect, marking a continuous hearing; the silence and the audience both testified to the effect produced by St. Peter’s words.—Βαρ. καὶ Π., on the order here and in Acts 15:25 cf. Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 84.—ἐξηγουμένων: setting forth in detail; see above on Acts 15:3, and Acts 10:8.—ὅσα ἐποί., cf. Acts 14:27 and Acts 15:4. In each case the appeal is made to what God had done, and to the further answer to the prayer of Acts 4:30 by the miracles wrought among the Gentiles: it was an answer which a Jewish audience would understand, John 3:2. The historical truthfulness of Paul and Barnabas thus recounting the facts, and leaving the actual proof of the rightfulness of their method of working to Peter and James, is to Zeller inconceivable—an objection sufficiently answered by the consideration that Luke wished to represent not so much the attitude of Paul and Barnabas, but that of the original Apostles to the Gentile-question; and in Jerusalem it was only natural that Peter and James should be the spokesmen.12. Then all the multitude] Though the apostles and elders are alone mentioned (Acts 15:6) as coming together, it now appears that the assembly was a large one.

kept silence] The authority with which he could speak through whom God had first opened the door of faith to the Gentiles must have silenced opposition. For he like themselves had had prejudices to overcome before his mission to Cornelius.

and gave audience] Here the imperfect tense implies the steady continuous attention to the whole narrative of that first missionary journey of St Paul.

what miracles] The word is that usually rendered signs; and the two nouns are the same which occur in the prayer of the disciples (Acts 4:30) ‘that signs and wonders may be done through the name of thy holy servant Jesus.’ The prayer was now being answered abundantly. It is well that the English rendering should accord in these places.

by them] See note on Acts 15:4 above.Acts 15:12. Ἐξηγουμένων, narrating) By which very narration the sentiment of Peter was confirmed.Verse 12. - And for then, A.V.; they hearkened for gave audience, A.V.; rehearsing what signs for declaring what miracles, A.V. Kept silence; marking the contrast between the noisy questionings and disputings which had preceded Peter's speech, and the quiet orderly attention with which they now listened to Paul and Barnabas, telling them of the conversion of the Gentiles. It recalls Virgil's description of the effect of the presence of a man of grave piety upon an excited crowd -

"Tum, pielate gravem ac meritis si forte virum quem
Aspexere, silent, arrectisque auribus adslant."


(AEneid,' 1:152.) Hearkened

The imperfect (ἤκουον) denotes attention to a continued narrative.

Declaring (ἐξηγουμένων)

Better, as Rev., rehearsing. See on Luke 24:35.

What miracles, etc

Lit., how many (ὅσα).

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