Acts 15

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Acts 15:1 Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved

The law of circumcision was given to Abraham more than 400 years prior to the ministry of Moses (Gen 17:9-14). Circumcision was performed as a token of the covenant of Abraham, the permanent change in the flesh being representative of the everlasting covenant (Gen 17:13). When the Law of Moses was given, the law of circumcision was repeated (Lev 12:3), but over the many subsequent centuries, it became the preeminent symbol, not of the everlasting covenant, but of the Law of Moses. With this association, it also represented Jewish nationalism, political allegiance, and divine approbation. The Judean brethren even asserted that circumcision was a necessary prerequisite for salvation-a doctrine which would necessarily damn Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Melchizedek, who were never circumcised.

"This problem would always plague Paul and be a topic in many letters...The problem was not salvation by faith alone; it was not a question of freedom from gospel requirements and ordinances. Instead, it was a question of whether Gentile converts to Christianity had also to obey the law of Moses. As we have seen, the Gentile 'disciples' had already been baptized and taught strictly to 'continue in the faith' as a condition of salvation (Acts 14:22). But this did not satisfy Jewish Christians strictly observing the Law of Moses. Circumcision symbolized this issue, but Judaizers were talking about hundreds of obligations beyond circumcision. The orthodox Jews count 613 commandments in the five books of Moses, and the Rabbinical rules of the Mishnah multiply the commandments to thousands. So it is a gross simplification to see Paul advocating a gospel without rules. Instead, he opposed a tradition of too many rules." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 51)

Acts 15:2 no small dissension and disputation

No doctrinal principle is important enough to argue over. When a doctrinal debate leads to an argument with the spirit of contention, both sides are at fault, and the Spirit of the Lord is grieved. Understandably, the ancient apostles let their zeal for the truth preempt their love of peace and harmony, but the Lord has said:

'there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.
'For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

'Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.' (3 Ne 11:28-30)

George Q. Cannon

"My brethren and sisters, above all things, therefore, we should seek for this spirit of union and love. It should be sought for in our councils, and we should not contend. Now, suppose that I should take it into my head to say that a certain doctrine is true, and I contend for it, determined to have it so; does my contention make it true? Suppose that I should contend from now until the Savior came that it is true, would my contention make it true? Certainly not. I cannot change a principle of truth. Then why contend or dispute, or argue about it?...There can be no change wrought in doctrine and in truth by our contention. But I will tell you where there is room for differences of opinion--in regard to the policy to be pursued. There ought to be no contention, however. God speaks against it. We have no right to be a disputing, contentious people. And whenever I dispute with my brother I am likely to grieve the Spirit of the Lord and darken my own mind. Therefore, let us avoid contention, in our councils and in all our intercourse one with another." (Collected Discourses 1886-1898, ed. by Brian Stuy, vol. 4, George Q. Cannon, Apr. 7, 1895)

Dallin H. Oaks

"The commandment to avoid contention applies to those who are right as well as to those who are wrong. It is not enough for the Savior's followers to have a correct understanding of doctrine and procedure. They must also be harmonious in their personal relationships and in the way they seek to serve him.

"In the years following the Savior's personal ministry to his followers on the American continent, all were converted and enjoyed a golden age of righteousness, peace, and prosperity. I find it significant that the scriptural description of this period stresses that 'there were no contentions and disputations among them' (4 Ne. 1:2; also see verse 15), suggesting that the absence of contention is a most significant bellwether of righteousness." (The Lord's Way, p. 142)

Acts 15:5 there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them

It seems logical that it was the Pharisees who had the most problem with this new doctrine. The Bible Dictionary tells us that the Pharisees were separatists, who "prided themselves on their strict observance of the law, and on the care with which they avoided contact with things gentile." Yet, ironically, the strictest Pharisee of them all was the greatest champion of the gentiles. Paul wrote of himself, 'after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.' (Acts 26:5) Yet Paul understood much better than his old colleagues how Christ had fulfilled the Law of Moses.

In principle, these Christian Pharisees may have been more Pharisee than they were Christian. They had not fully understood that the Lord's yoke is easy, and His burden is light (Matt 11:30). Edersheim wrote of them, "And the true wisdom, which qualified for the Kingdom, was to take up His yoke, which would be found easy, and a lightsome burden, not like that unbearable yoke of Rabbinic conditions." (Edersheim, Alfred, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 572.)

"No doubt some of the greatest burdens we bear come from well-intended but misguided attempts to browbeat ourselves into righteousness. Some waste away their lives in anxiety and exhaustion, trying desperately to do it all themselves. In the meridian of time, Jesus offered hope and rest to the Jews, who were met on all sides by the taxing and ubiquitous requirements of the Law of Moses (see "Acts 15:10Acts 15:10); to these he promised alleviation of their guilt and liberation of their souls. In our day the Lord offers hope and rest to those who have tried every way but the right way to be good; to these he promises relief and comfort in return for their trust and reliance and continued faithfulness. His rest is the quiet assurance of divine approbation, that peace that comes from having been cleansed and filled." (Robert L. Millet, An Eye Single to the Glory of God: Reflections on the Cost of Discipleship [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 18.)

Acts 15:6 the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter

The importance of this council, often referred to as the Jerusalem Council, cannot be overstated. A living church is capable of inspired change; a dead church is only capable of decay. "Similar problems today in most churches have no solution-only an uncomfortable truce between conservatives and liberals or a split into two churches. The solution of the Early Church was to take the question to the inspired general authorities for an answer." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul, 52)

This assembly of major figures in the Early Church is a rare and important event. We get a rare glimpse into the doctrinal considerations and policy making procedures of the early Apostles. Furthermore, this account of the Jerusalem Council demonstrates many different elements of appropriate church councils. They will be emphasized throughout the rest of the chapter as they are important principles for us to learn and apply today.

M. Russell Ballard

"...there is a great need in the Church for leaders, particularly stake presidents, bishops, and parents, to understand and harvest the spiritual power of the council system. There is no problem in the family, ward, or stake that cannot be solved if we look for solutions in the Lord's way by counseling-really counseling-with one another...God, the Master Organizer, has inspired the creation of a system of committees and councils. If understood and carefully implemented and utilized, that system will lessen the burden on any one individual leader and extend the reach and impact of his or her ministry by bringing together the judgment, talents, and wisdom of many leaders who are entitled to the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit." (Counseling with Our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 8-9.)

Acts 15:7 when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up

David O. McKay

"There was a time when Simon, the Jewish fisherman, with all his Jewish prejudices, would have rather yielded to the Jewish side of this question; but now, it was not Simon, the fisherman, who spoke, but Peter, the chief Apostle of the Lord. What were prejudices to him in the light of the inspiration of truth! All that was necessary for him to know was whether the thing was right, and prejudice or no prejudice, favor or no favor, he would defend it." (Gospel Ideals: Selections from the Discourses of David O. McKay [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953], 235.)

Acts 15:10 a yoke...which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear

"There is no heavier yoke than the demand for perfection-the curse of the law. And many of the Saints still struggle under its load. But the good news is that in Christ we are set free of that crushing burden. He bore that particular burden for us, and his perfect performance extended and applied to us frees us from a similar requirement at this time. In the gospel covenant, we exchange the burden of sin for the obligation to love him and each other and to do the very best we can." (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 45.)

Acts 15:13 the role of James in the Jerusalem Council

"In A.D. 44, the first Herod Agrippa 'stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.' (Acts 12:1.) He imprisoned Peter and 'killed James the brother of John with the sword.' (Acts 12:2.) This vacancy in the leading three was soon filled by another James, whom Paul, in writing to the Galatians about A.D. 56, said was the brother of Jesus...John is prominent with Peter in the first half of Acts, but afterward James the brother of the Lord is the prominent leader at Jerusalem, where he is mentioned often in association with Peter. When the angel released Peter from prison, the chief Apostle sent word to 'James, and to the brethren.' (Acts 12:17.) Because of James's leading position, later Christian writers titled him Bishop of Jerusalem, but they wrote in an era that knew no higher authority than bishop. James's specific responsibility included decisions on doctrine for the whole Church, which went far beyond the calling of any New Testament bishop. This is apparent in the prominent role James played at the Jerusalem Council, the meeting of the Apostles and elders to determine whether gentile converts needed circumcision as well as baptism. Peter spoke first in favor of the gentiles, Paul and Barnabas supported him, and James proposed the details of the solution." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The First Presidency of the Early Church: Their Lives and Epistles," Ensign, Aug. 1988, 16)

As stated above, this James is James the Lord's brother, not James, the brother of John. It may be confusing to some that he has the last word in this important Jerusalem Council. From this we learn of his importance in the Early Church. Likely, he took the martyred James' place as one of the three leading apostles. (The "First Presidency" of the Early Church acted within the quorum of the twelve apostles and was not separate from it as it is today.) Nevertheless, Peter's preeminent role as the leader of the church is not overshadowed by James. Notably, Peter's comments put an end to the disputations and were so powerful that the council was silent thereafter (v. 6-12). It is apparent that James final decision closely reflected the ideas that Peter put forth. From a latter-day standpoint, we would say that Peter presided over the Jerusalem Council and James conducted the meeting.

Bruce R. McConkie

"Uninspired commentators and others who are unaware of the true system of apostolic succession falsely assume that James was making a decision in the case and therefore was head of the Church in Jerusalem, having some pre-eminence over Peter. Some Protestants have argued that Peter could not have fathered a church in Rome because James and not Peter is in fact here shown to be the chief officer of the Christian kingdom. Interesting as this may be, the fact is Peter was the presiding officer in the Church and had in fact rendered and announced judgment on the issue of circumcision. (Verses 7-11.) James is simply proposing the detailed instructions to put in force the decision already announced by Peter." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:143)

Acts 15:13 after they had held their peace, James answered

James would not speak until all had their say. As the individual conducting the meeting, he was too busy listening to everyone else.

M. Russell Ballard

"The presidents and bishops who utilize Church councils most effectively are those who do a lot of listening in council meetings. If you're the presiding officer, that doesn't mean that you just sit there quietly. It means that you really listen to what your counselors and other council members are saying and feeling, and that you ask meaningful, penetrating questions when you don't understand their perspective. While it is true that final decisions and directions rest with the person who has been called to preside, there is little reason to have council members with unique insights, experiences, and abilities if you're not going to pay attention to what they have to say. Let your council members know that you value their input and that you expect them to express themselves. Since the presiding officer sets the tone in each meeting, it is up to you to make sure that those who serve under your direction feel that their participation is welcome. It is usually helpful to hear other opinions before offering your own. Too often, when a leader expresses his or her opinion first, the discussions conclude prematurely.

'Let not all be spokesmen at once,' the Lord said, 'but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege' (D&C 88:122). (Counseling with Our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 65-66.)

Acts 15:14 Simeon

The name, Simeon, is the Hebrew form of Simon (Peter). (Bruce R. McConkie, DNTC 2:143)

Acts 15:16-17 I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord

Here, James quotes Amos 9:11-12 somewhat differently than it appears in our text. The prophecy refers to a Millenial day when the Lord will reestablish his kingdom in Jerusalem (See also Isa 16:5). Consistent with the prophecies of Isaiah and others, the Gentile nations will look to Zion for salvation. James uses the prophecy because, in his version, the Gentiles seek after the Lord. As Isaiah taught, 'many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord' (Isa 2:3, emphasis added). 'And then shall the heathen nations be redeemed' (DC 45:54).

Acts 15:18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world

John Taylor

"The plan of redemption was also made thousands of years ago. Jesus is spoken of by the prophets as being 'The Lamb slain from before the creation of the world.' The future destiny of this earth is also spoken of by prophecy; the binding of Satan; the destruction, and redemption of the world; its celestial destiny; its becoming as a sea of glass; the descent of the new Jerusalem from heaven; the destruction of iniquity by a power exercised in the heavens, associated with one on the earth; and a time is spoken of where John says-'Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.' (Rev. 5:13) But I shall let this pass for the present, and content myself with saying on this subject, that in the councils of God, in the eternal world, all these things were understood: for if He gave prophets wisdom to testify of these things, they obtained their knowledge from Him, and He could not impart what He did not know; but 'known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world.' Acts 15:18. God, then, has a moral government in the heavens, and it is the development of that government that is manifested in the works of creation; as Paul says, 'The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.' Romans 1:20." (The Government of God [Liverpool: S. W. Richards, 1852], 3.)

Acts 15:19 my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God

"The goal of all, including James, was not to 'trouble' the converted Gentiles with Jewish requirements (Acts 15:19)... Few Christians today see the implications of this powerful ruling of the Twelve. Conservatives today search the Bible for answers, but had the apostles done this, they would have required circumcision for the Gentiles, since it is commanded in the Bible. The apostles were inspired to go beyond the Bible, to reverse the lesser law given earlier and to extend the higher law through Christ. In other words, not past scripture but new revelation was the foundation of the Church of Christ. What guided the apostles was not the New Testament, for their acts created it. The Bible does not make the true church, but the true church makes the Bible. Past scriptures are a guide to truth, but living prophets give new scripture." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 53.)

J. Reuben Clark

"It is difficult for us today to realize the tremendous revolution involved in altering the ritualism of the Law of Moses into the humble and lowly concept of worship, not with the sacrificial blood of animals, but with this broken heart and contrite spirit of the worshiper...[Animal sacrifice] was always a vicarious sacrifice, apparently with little actual sacrifice except for the value of the animal sacrificed, by the individuals themselves, to cancel the debit, so to speak, against their lives and living in the eyes of the Almighty One. The sinner seemingly, in general, took on no obligation and considered himself under no obligation to abandon his sins, but took on only the obligation to offer sacrifice therefore. But under the new covenant that came in with Christ, the sinner must offer the sacrifice out of his own life, not by offering the blood of some other creature; he must give up his sins, he must repent, he himself must make the sacrifice." (Behold the Lamb of God, pp. 107-9 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 406-7)

Acts 15:25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord

The principle of unity is often taken for granted. The Prophet Joseph taught, "...could we all come together with one heart and one mind in perfect faith the veil might as well be rent today as next week, or any other time." (Teachings, p. 9) This is particularly true when church councils must take action.

Gordon B. Hinckley

"No decision emanates from the deliberations of the First Presidency and the Twelve without total unanimity among all concerned. At the outset in considering matters, there may be differences of opinion. These are to be expected. These men come from different backgrounds. They are men who think for themselves. But before a final decision is reached, there comes a unanimity of mind and voice. . . .

"I add by way of personal testimony that during the twenty years I served as a member of the Council of the Twelve and during the years that I have served in the First Presidency, there has never been a major action taken where this procedure was not observed. I have seen differences of opinion presented in these deliberations. Out of this very process of men speaking their minds has come a sifting and winnowing of ideas and concepts. But I have never observed serious discord or personal enmity among my Brethren. I have, rather, observed a beautiful and remarkable thing-the coming together, under the directing influence of the Holy Spirit and under the power of revelation, of divergent views until there is total harmony and full agreement. Only then is implementation made. That, I testify, represents the spirit of revelation manifested again and again in directing this the Lord's work. ("God Is at the Helm," 54, 59)

Acts 15:28 it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us

M. Russell Ballard

"Elder Rulon G. Craven, a former member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, once described the decision-making process that is followed in meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

'It has been my privilege as Executive Secretary to the Quorum of the Twelve to sit in some of the leading councils of the Church and witness the communication processes that take place in conducting the business of the Church. From these experiences, I have witnessed that the business of the Church is carried out under the influence of the Spirit. I know that the righteousness of the individuals who sit in those councils contributes much to the inspiration and the effectiveness of the council meetings.

'...Let me share with you a typical experience in a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve. They always work from an agenda. The agenda is distributed to each member of the Twelve the night before the meeting so that they have an opportunity to read, ponder, and consider each item in preparation for the meeting. When they meet together they usually express love and concern for one another. After an opening prayer, in which a request is made for the Spirit to be in the meeting, the President of the Twelve addresses each item on the agenda one by one. He may make some short preparatory comments that he feels necessary concerning the item, and then he presents the item or asks one of the Twelve to present the item for discussion.

'The Brethren express their thoughts and feelings. They are men of strong character, men from different backgrounds-they are certainly not "yes" men. They speak as they are moved by the Spirit. They strive to feel the manifestations of the Spirit concerning the item being discussed, which may necessitate a change in their own feelings and thoughts in order to be in harmony with the entire Council. When the President of the Twelve senses a unity taking place concerning the item on the agenda, he may ask for a recommendation, or one of the Twelve may present a recommendation to the Twelve. The recommendation remarkably summarizes the feelings of the total Council. The President will then state, "We have before us a recommendation. Is there any further discussion?" Each member of the Twelve will have an opportunity again to express himself. They don't repeat what has already been said; rather, there is an unusual economy of expression in order to ascertain the total views of the Council. After all who have a desire to speak have done so, the recommendation may be modified. The recommendation is then presented in the form of a motion by a member of the Twelve, and is seconded by another. The President of the Twelve then asks for the vote of the Quorum; thus, the Twelve make decisions in harmony, unity, and faith, with the combined judgment of each member and in harmony with the Spirit.' (Called to the Work, 111-13)" (M. Russell Ballard, Counseling with Our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 46-48.)

Acts 15:29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols...and from fornication

James E. Talmage

"They were to abstain, among other things, from 'meats offered to idols,' and from 'fornication' (Acts 15:20, 29), and this decree was welcomed as the great charter of the Church's freedom. Strange as the close union of the moral and the positive commands may seem to us, it did not seem so to the synod at Jerusalem. The two sins were very closely allied, often even in the closest proximity of time and place. The messages to the churches of Asia, and the later Apostolic Epistles (II Peter, and Jude) indicate that the two evils appeared at that period also in close alliance. The teachers of the Church branded them with a name that expressed their true character. Then men who did and taught such things were followers of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11) They, like the false prophet of Pethor, united brave words with evil deeds. In a time of persecution, when the eating or not eating of things sacrificed to idols was more than ever a crucial test of faithfulness, they persuaded men more than ever that it was a thing indifferent (Rev. 2:13, 14). This was bad enough, but there was a yet worse evil. Mingling themselves in the orgies of idolatrous feasts, they brought the impurities of those feasts into the meetings of the Christian Church. And all this was done, it must be remembered, not simply as an indulgence of appetite, but as part of a system supported by a 'doctrine,' accompanied by the boast of a prophetic illumination (2 Pet. 2:1)." (The Great Apostasy [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1958], 108.)

Acts 15:39 the contention was so sharp between them

Bruce R. McConkie

" Even apostles and prophets, being mortal and subject to like passions as other men, have prejudices which sometimes are reflected in ministerial assignments and decisions. But the marvel is not the isolated disagreements on details, but the near universal unity on basic principles; not the occasional personality conflicts, but the common acceptance, for the good of the work, of the faults of others. It is not the conflict between Paul and Barnabas which concerns us, but the fact that they (being even as we are) rose thereafter to spiritual heights where they saw visions, received revelations, and made their callings and elections sure-the fact of their disagreement thus bearing witness that we in our weaknesses can also press forward to that unity and perfection which shall assure us of salvation." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:145)

Acts 15:40 Paul chose Silas

"The Silas spoken of in Acts is thought to be the same person as Silvanus of the Pauline letters (2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). He was prominent among the leaders of the church at Jerusalem. In his own right he was a prophet who preached the gospel (Acts 15:32). With Paul, he delivered to Antioch the decision of the Jerusalem Council concerning the requirements for church membership (Acts 15:1-35). When Paul disagreed with Barnabas, Silas was chosen as Paul's companion to accompany him on the second missionary journey. His missionary experiences and travels include imprisonment at Philippi, where the jailor and his family were converted (Acts 16:16-40); travels to Thessalonica and then Berea, with a short stay at Berea while Paul went to Athens (Acts 17:-15); and labors with Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5;2 Corinthians 1:19). If, in fact, Silas was the same person as Silvanus, he was the scribe for the book of 1 Peter, and he carried that same letter of Peter's to Asia Minor (1 Peter 5:12). He may have been a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37)." (Institute Manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & his Apostles, 2nd ed., p. 264)