Online Bible Commentary
Acts 15:1 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 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. 3 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. 4 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. 5 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." (NKJV)
Paul and Barnabas were back at their home church in Antioch, Syria after Paul’s first missionary journey through Asia Minor where he established the churches of Galatia. The time is now A. D. 49, likely about two years after returning from his missionary journey.
“Certain men” have come to Antioch “from Judea”, referring to Jews who have converted to Christianity (v. 1a). They are teaching the believers in Antioch, who are predominantly Gentiles, that they must be circumcised, like themselves, in order to be Christians (v. 1b).
Obviously this is false teaching, not having been required by Christ. So Paul and Barnabas vehemently objected to this false teaching (v. 2a). Since this teaching came from the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch decided to sponsor a team to Jerusalem in order to put down this false teaching.
Paul, feeling the call of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 2:2), would lead this team and Barnabas would join him (v. 2). The two Jews (Paul and Barnabas) brought along a Gentile (Titus) to help make their point (Gal. 2:1).
Jerusalem was some 480 miles due south of Antioch. On the road they first traveled through the long strip of land along the coast of the Mediterranean called Phoenicia, and then through the region of Samaria (v. 3a). As they travelled they briefed the Christians of their successes in establishing churches in Galatia, which brought about “great joy” among those whom they briefed (v. 3B).
Upon arriving in Jerusalem, the party was welcomed by the church, including “the apostles and the elders” (v. 4a). Paul reported their successes with the Gentiles in Galatia (v. 4b).
Paul’s report revealed those Jews who were false teaching regarding the need for circumcision. They were a “sect of the Pharisees” who had converted to Christianity (v. 5a). They issued a command to Paul: "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (v. 5b).
This passage leads up to what is called The Jerusalem Council of A. D.49. It would settle the matter of whether or not Gentiles converting to Christianity would be required to be circumcised.
Obviously, they would not. Christians were not required to continue to follow Mosaic Law. Christ brought freedom from the Law. Christians would live under grace, not law.
This passage represents an example of false teaching. False teaching is anything that adds to or takes away from the Gospel teaching of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the New Testament.
As Christians we must always be careful to not be guilty of false teaching. We must not require anything not expressly required by the teaching of Christ. By the same token, we must not require anything expressly prohibited by the teaching of Christ. If we do either, we are guilty of false teaching.