Acts xv.Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 1. Unless you be circumcised. Many who had been converted from Judaism, held that none, not even converted from paganism, could be saved, unless they were circumcised, and observed the other ceremonies of the law of Moses. (Witham) — See Galatians v. 2.

Ver. 2. To the apostles and priests,[1] where we find again presbyters in Greek, meaning bishops and priests. (Witham) — Paul…should go to…Jerusalem. We learn from Galatians ii. 2. 4. that St. Paul undertook this journey in consequence of a divine revelation, and was accompanied by Barnabas and Titus, the latter of whom he would not suffer to be circumcised. Such confidence had he in the rectitude of the opinion he defended. From the example of St. Paul and St. Barnabas, apostles, and men full of the Spirit of God, we learn, that as often as any contest arises about faith, recourse should be had to the supreme visible authority established by Jesus Christ, to have all differences adjusted. This is the order of divine Providence with regard to the Church; without it truth and unity could not be preserved; without it, the Church of God would be more defective and inefficient than any human government. Tell the Church: and if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican. (Matthew xviii. 17.)

Ver. 7. Former days. Literally, in the days of old; that is, at the conversion of Cornelius, many years ago, about the year 35; and it was now 51. (Witham) — St. Peter at the head of the Council, spoke first; St. James as Bishop of Jerusalem, spoke next, and all, as St. Jerome says, came into the sentence of Peter. (Ep. lxxxix. ad S. Aug. chap. 2.)

Ver. 10. Why tempt you God, by calling in question what he hath sufficiently attested, and approved, and by being incredulous to his promises of giving salvation to the Gentiles, and to all nations. (Witham)

Ver. 11. In the historical sense he is speaking of the prosperity of the house of Juda, in the reign of Ezechias, or their return from captivity. But in this respect, it is certain that the prophecy never had its entire accomplishment. The passage in the text is cited from the Septuagint. The Hebrew is, “I will raise up the house of David…that it may possess all the nations,” &c. Now it is true that the nations never were subject to the house of David, or known by the name of the people of God; but by their vocation to the gospel, as St. James explains it. (Calmet)

Ver. 18. To the Lord was known his own work. He bringeth it to pass, as he hath decreed, though his decrees are to us unknown. (Witham)

Ver. 19. Wherefore I judge, and join my judgment with Peter. St. Chrysostom thinks that James had a special authority in the Council, as bishop of Jerusalem, and because of the great veneration, which those zealous for the Jewish law had for him: but his power was certainly inferior to that of St. Peter, who was head of all, as St. Chrysostom teacheth, hom. iii. on the Acts.

Ver. 20. Things strangled and from blood. In these prohibitions, the Church indulged the particular feelings of the Jews, that the bond of union between them and the Gentiles might be more closely united; the latter in these two instances giving way to the prejudices of the former, who in their turn gave up much, by submitting to the abolition of the ceremonial law of Moses. This prohibition was of course only temporary, and to cease with the reasons, which gave rise to it. (Menochius) — The Jews had such a horror of blood, that they considered those who eat it as defiled, and violators of the law of nature. The Lord had in effect from the beginning forbidden the use of blood to Noe [Noah], (Genesis ix. 4.) which he likewise reported in the strongest terms in Leviticus viii. 26.[vii. 26.?] By this we see the great authority of God’s Church, and Councils which may make permanent or temporary decrees, such as are fitting for the state of the times or peoples, without any express Scripture at all, and by this authoritative exaction, things become of strict obligation, which previous to it, were in themselves indifferent. (Bristow)

Ver. 21. For Moses…hath in every city. Not only the Jews, but the Christians converted from Judaism, still followed the ceremonies of the law of Moses. (Witham) — Let not the Jews complain, that we abandon Moses, and destroy the law by this regulation. No: it shall subsist for ever in a more perfect state, read in the synagogue, and revered by the Church. (Calmet) — Others give a different explanation of this verse. Let the Jews, say they, follow Moses, and hear him in their assemblies; we have other laws, and enjoy other privileges. (Tirinus)

Ver. 23. The brethren of the Gentiles. Hence we see, that the letter, with the decree of the Council, only regarded those converts, who had been Gentiles; neither are they forbidden to use the Jewish ceremonies, but a declaration is made, that they have no obligation to follow the said ceremonies and precepts, as it will appear by other places. (Witham)

Ver. 24. Some who went out from us, from Jerusalem, and pretended to speak our mind, and in our name, but we gave them no such commission. (Witham) — A proper description of heretics, schismatics, and seditious preachers, who go out from their own superiors, and pretend to teach and preach without any mission, et quomodo prÄ™dicabunt nisi mittantur; how can they preach, unless they are sent? (Romans x. 15.)

Ver. 28. It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us. To us in these matters, wherein by the promises of Christ, we are directed by the Holy Ghost, the spirit of truth, &c. — Than these necessary things. Necessary at this juncture, and always, if we except that order of abstaining from blood, and things strangled, which was not a perpetual, unchangeable precept, but to last only for a time, as St. Chrysostom observes. (Witham) — This is the first general council held in the Church, and the model of all succeeding ones. In it the apostles, in a commanding and authoritative manner, laid down the law, which was to be the guide of the faithful, knowing they had a right to impose any regulations in the Church, and that they could not employ this authority but to good purposes, directed as they were by the unerring spirit of truth, which Christ had promised (Matthew xxviii. 20.) should remain with his Church for ever. Hence it would appear that we have no more ground refusing obedience to the voice of the Church at present, than at her first establishment: and that those who will not hear the Church now, speaking in her Councils, would with as little ceremony have opposed the apostles on this occasion, had they lived at the time. By what spirit of seduction has been introduced, and spread, to such an alarming extent, the opinion, that Christianity (the very leading feature of which is to hear and to obey) authorizes unrestricted liberty? Is then authority an unmeaning word? (Haydock)

Ver. 29. From blood, and from things strangled. The use of these things, though of their own nature indifferent, were here prohibited, to bring the Jews more easily to admit of the society of the Gentiles; and to exercise the latter in obedience. But this prohibition was but temporary, and has long since ceased to oblige; more especially in the western churches. (Challoner) — See note on ver. 20, above.

Ver. 31. We may here briefly remark, that the controversy was finally adjusted by the decree of the Council. 2ndly, That all, not only the Gentiles, but the abettors and masters of the former dissension, experienced great consolation in the promulgation of the decision, receiving it as the resolve not of mere mortal men, but of the Holy Ghost. It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.

Ver. 32. Judas and Silas, being prophets, that is, preachers, as the word prophet, is divers times taken. (Witham) — Not only such were called prophets, as had the gift of predicting future events, but such moreover as had the gift of interpreting Scripture, and of speaking of the things of God. (Bible de Vence)

Ver. 39. There was a dissension,[2] or dispute, with reasoning, and arguing upon the matter. St. Paul represented to St. Barnabas, that he was not for having John Mark to be their companion, because he had before left them, but St. Barnabas was for having with them his kinsman Mark; and the dispute was such, that upon it St. Paul and Barnabas separated; which gave occasion to the preaching of the gospel in more places. See St. Chrysostom, hom. xxxiii. — The fault in this contention lay with St. Barnabas; o Paulos to dikaion, o Barnabas to philanthropon: Paul sought what was just; Barnabas what was pleasing to nature. The Greeks, moreover, remark, that this severity of Paul was of service in strengthening the too pliant character of Mark, and as such he is saluted by Paul. (Colossians iv. 10.) They separated, as formerly Abraham and Lot, without prejudice to their friendship. (Genesis xiii. 9.) (Mat. Polus, synop. criticorum, fol. 4. p. 1528.)


[1] Ver. 2. presbuterous; presbyteros. For the same Greek word we sometimes find in the vulgar Latin, presbyteros, sometimes seniores, sometimes majores natu: yet it is generally a word of dignity in the ministry of Christ, signifying those who were afterwards known by the name of bishops or priests. When mention is made of presbuteros, or seniores, of the old law, I have translated elders: but where the ministers of the new law are understood, when in the Latin we have presbyteri, I have put priests; when majores natu or seniores, I have put in English seniors, bishops or priests, being to be understood.

[2] Ver. 39. Dissentio, paroxusmos, acris disceptatio. See. St. Chrysostom.

Bible Text & Cross-references:

A dissension about circumcision. The decision and letter of the council of Jerusalem.

1 And *some coming down from Judea, taught the brethren: That unless you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.

2 And when Paul and Barnabas had no small contest with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of the other side, should go up to the apostles and priests to Jerusalem, about this question.

3 They, therefore, being brought on their way by the church, passed through Phœnice, and Samaria, relating the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy to all the brethren.

4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church, and by the apostles and ancients, declaring how great things God had done with them.

5 But there arose some of the sect of the Pharisees that believed, saying: They must be circumcised, and be commanded to observe the law of Moses.

6 And the apostles and ancients assembled to consider of this matter.

7 And when there was much disputing, Peter rising up, said to them: *Men, brethren, you know that in former days God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

8 And God, who knoweth the hearts, gave them testimony, *giving the Holy Ghost to them as well as to us.

9 And made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

10 Now, therefore, why tempt you God, to put a yoke upon the necks of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

11 But by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we believe to be saved, as they also.

12 And all the multitude held their peace: and gave ear to Barnabas and Paul, relating what great signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying: Men, brethren, hear me.

14 Simon hath related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people to his name.

15 And to this agree the words of the prophets, as it is written:

16 *After these things I will return, and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down, and I will rebuild the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:

17 That the rest of men may seek after the Lord, and all nations upon whom my name is invoked, saith the Lord, who doth these things.

18 To the Lord was known his own work from the beginning of the world.

19 Wherefore I judge that they, who from among the Gentiles are converted to God, are not to be disquieted.

20 But that we write to them, that they refrain themselves from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

21 For Moses, from ancient times, hath in every city them that preach him in the synagogues, *where he is read every sabbath.

22 Then it pleased the apostles and ancients, with the whole church, to choose men of their own company, and to send them to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas; Judas, who was surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren,

23 Writing by their hands. The apostles and ancients, brethren, to the brethren of the Gentiles, that are at Antioch, and in Syria and Cilicia, greeting.

24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that some, who went out from us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, to whom we gave no commands:

25 It hath seemed good to us, assembled together, to choose out men, and send them to you, with our dearly beloved Barnabas and Paul,

26 Men who have given their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

27 We have sent, therefore, Judas and Silas, who themselves also will, by word of mouth, tell you the same things.

28 For it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay no further burden upon you, than these necessary things:

29 That you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which things keeping yourselves, you shall do well. Fare ye well.

30 They, therefore, being dismissed, went down to Antioch: and when they had gathered together the multitude, they delivered the epistle.

31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.

32 But Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, comforted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.

33 And having remained there some time, they were dismissed with peace, by the brethren, to those who had sent them.

34 But it seemed good to Silas to remain there: and Judas alone set out for Jerusalem.

35 But Paul and Barnabas continued at Antioch, teaching and preaching with many others the word of the Lord.

36 *And after some days, Paul said to Barnabas: Let us return and visit the brethren in all the cities, wherein we have preached the word of the Lord, to see how they do.

37 And Barnabas wished to take along with him John also, who was surnamed Mark.

38 But Paul desired that he (as having departed from them out of Pamphylia, *and not gone with them to the work) might not be received.

39 And there was a dissension, so that they departed one from another, and Barnabas indeed taking Mark, sailed to Cyprus.

40 But Paul, choosing Silas, departed, being delivered by the brethren to the grace of God.

41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches: commanding them to keep the precepts of the apostles, and the ancients.



1: about the year A.D. 49.; Galatians v. 2.

7: Acts x. 20.

8: Acts x. 45.

16: Amos ix. 11.

21: Acts xiii. 27.

36: about the year A.D. 51.

38: Acts xiii. 13.