Online Bible Commentary
The Jerusalem Decree
Acts 15:22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. 23 They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, "You must be circumcised and keep the law"--to whom we gave no such commandment-- 25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men 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 will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (NKJV)
The time is A.D.49. Paul, Barnabas and Titus have come to the church in Jerusalem from their home church in Antioch, Syria to attend the meeting of the Jerusalem Council. The topic of discussion is should new Gentile believers be required to be circumcised like the Jews were required to be under Mosaic Law. A group of Jewish believers were engaged in this false teaching.
In this passage, the Jerusalem Council headed by James, the brother of Jesus, have concluded their discussions and arrived at a decision. The Gentile believers would not be required to be circumcised but would be expected to live up to certain other commandments.
The ruling of the Jerusalem Council was decreed in the form of a letter, which would be carried back to the Gentiles at the church in Antioch, Syria (v. 22a). Since Paul and Barnabas were members of the church in Antioch they would be charged with carrying the letter back to their church (v. 22b). Titus was not mentioned but it is assumed that he returned to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. Judas, aka Barsabas, and Silas, aka Silvanus, would accompany them along with other members of the Jerusalem church (v. 22c).
The letter from the church at Jerusalem was addressed to “the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia” (v. 23). Cilicia was known as the south coastal region of Asia Minor, the area where Paul and Barnabas had just returned from Paul’s first missionary journey where churches were established in Galatia.
The letter initially referred to those false teachers from the church in Jerusalem (v. 24a). The letter stated that the church had given “no such commandment” for the need for believers to be circumcised (v. 24b).
Furthermore, the letter stated that the church assembly in Jerusalem felt the need to send “chosen” members back with Paul and Barnabas to show that they were all in agreement on this issue (v. 25). Paul and Barnabas were praised as “men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”, no doubt a reference to their missionary journey to Asia Minor (v. 26).
The letter stated that the Jerusalem church was sending “Judas and Silas” to voice the contents of the letter on behalf of the church (v. 27). The church, through guidance from the “Holy Spirit”, mentioned other “necessary things” to be asked of Gentile believers, likely not intended as a comprehensive list (v. 28). These “necessary things” were to “abstain from things offered to idols, from blood (Gen. 9:4), from things strangled (Gen. 9:4), and from sexual immorality” (v. 29).
Thus, the Jerusalem Decree settled the matter of circumcision requirements in the church. This Jewish tradition would not be required of Christians.