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 Acts  Intro and Outlines

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Acts 15 Heading

Making Significant Decisions (Acts 15:1-36)

- The Jerusalem Council -

The Bible Teacher's Commentary

Paul J. Bucknell

A. Making Important Decisions

Acts 15:1-5

Decisions Acts 15:1-36 | Make Acts 15:1-5 | Discuss Acts 15:6-12 |
Scripture Acts 15:13-18 | Decision 15:19-21 | Council Acts 15:13-21 | Communicate Acts 15:22-36 | Acts 15 Video Making Significant Decisions

Purpose: The Bible exposition on Acts 15:1-5 Making Important Decisions (part 2 of 7) helps us see the first part of rightly handling difficult decisions between believers - one has to detect the problem. This issue of the need for circumcision is a signficant one that would have longstanding implications.

What God did through this council is amazing. It is perhaps the clearest sign of the Spirit’s work. How do we know? Just think how most people handle tense issues.

They become divisive in heart and/or separate physically. Before the separation, tremendous pressure builds up. Hatred arises with words like venom, hoping to cause their victim great damage. Sometimes things like these might even happen in the church. If one has seen such things in the past, then he will be quite cautious in taking up a role in a church again.

Be careful, though. The greatest time of danger is when everything is going well. You are off guard. Paul's first missionary trip

In this case, Paul and Barnabas just came back from the first missionary journey. People in all parts of the world (really just Cyprus and modern-day Turkey) were coming to know the Lord. Even their church, Antioch, was becoming a big hub for the advance of God’s kingdom.

This whole situation happened at a time when people thought nothing could go wrong. Be careful. Always be careful but especially when one are doing well and one’s self-confidence and pride tend to swell.

Every significant advance in the kingdom of God will be challenged! Opening the door to the Gentiles was a significant surprise and the devil was not taking a back seat.

Notice that this meeting started with general discussion and debate, followed by relevant testimony and experience and ends up with analysis of the scriptures. A bit more simpler, they detected, discussed and resolved the problem.

1. Detect the Problem (15:1-5)

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren.

4 And when they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:1-5).

kingdom challengesThe greatest threat to the church is ignorance. Being so self-absorbed that one does not even spot the enemy’s attack. Drop a lobster in boiling water, and one sees a lot of resistance. But start cooking them in cold water and slowly bring the pot to a boil and one will not observe any resistance whatsoever.

In this particular case we find some leaders visiting the Antioch church and telling the believers that they needed to be circumcised according to the custom of Moses or they could not be saved. Paul and Barnabas debated with them and observed that they needed to get a joint understanding of this whole issue or the church would soon become just another Jewish synagogue with slightly different teachings.

Circumcision came prior to the law at Abraham’s time but was part of the Old Covenant and identifying oneself with God’s people. Many Jews thought that if they were circumcised, then they were God’s child. This mindset is very similar to those who depend upon baptism in the church.

There are some who like to speak of a utopian society where everything will go well with the good church because of the Spirit of God is mightily moving among them. Remember, that though the church might go through golden periods, difficulty and conflict are common. Jesus faced persecution and challenges and so did the early church as the Book of Acts repeatedly testifies.

We should remember that the very growth of the church in Antioch Syria began because the believers had to leave their homes and land. If there is no opposition, perhaps the church should be more alarmed. In the end Paul and Barnabas headed south to seek Jerusalem’s church leaders on this contentious matter.

Notice the joy in Paul and Barnabas as they went through Phoenicia and Samaria, the lands between Antioch in Syria and Jerusalem. They might have been plagued by those bringing in false teaching, but it did not stop them in announcing the great work of God. They told everyone the great things happening on their first missionary journey and even what was happening in Antioch. Many Jews and Gentiles were coming to know the Lord. What a great time.

The Problem

Before moving on, we should observe that the problem is twice identified twice in this section. In verse 1 and 5 there were those, including those from the Pharisees, who had believed in Jesus, and yet were teaching contrary teachings. They taught that the Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and directed them to observe the Law of Moses.

ActsThe real issue had to do with salvation, though it could look like a simple clash of cultures. This will be discussed further as we trace how they approached the whole issue. How should the nonJewish believers interact with the Jewish believers? The Jews kept the Law, that is, the many laws taught in the Book of Moses (first five books of the Bible).The Gentiles perhaps did not even know anything about the laws. They would go to the same church, though. They would eat the Lord’s supper together.

Something deeper was at stake, however. Remember in verse 1 that they said unless they are circumcised they cannot be saved. So the whole issue moves from a cultural one to a critical salvation issue. What about all those Gentiles who believed in Jesus?Are they really believers? Or put in our own context, are we who are not Jews but believe in Jesus really saved?

Although this issue does come up once and a while now with various cults and Christian groups, we are thankful that they had their discussion back then. From their understanding, we know better how to understand our salvation. Let us see how they approached this whole matter.


In our society which disdains absolutes, we should remember that truth is true because it is a real representation of what is. It is not dependent upon what one feels or wants but on its reflection of what has really happened. They could debate and search out the truth because there was truth.

Many churches are following the empty philosophies of the world by not prioritizing truth and allowing them to revel in their own thinkings and feelings. This is idolatry. We appreciate, in this case, both groups believed in God’s Word and wanted to be consistent with it.

Don’t get caught unaware. There are many good apologetic books out there. Never underestimate the power of the scriptures. Having a Bible is a luxury. In it we can see what God prioritized for us to know. You want to know about the beginning or the end of the world as we know it, the Bible will tell you. You want to know how to have a better marriage. The Bible has the answer.

Let us remember that no matter how big the problems are that the church face, don’t forget to shine. Don’t get burdened down with your problems. They will be resolved in time. Every day is an opportunity to praise God and share His great acts with others.

Next -> 2. Discuss the Problem (15:6-12) - Peter, Paul, Barnabas

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Acts: Other BFF Articles

The Bible Teacher's Commentary


Acts                 Introduction and Outlines
Acts Maps:       Paul's 1-2 Journeys
Acts Maps:       Paul's 3 & Rome Journeys

(Blank versions also available!)

Acts_01:1-11    Bible Study Questions
Acts 1:6-11 The Kingdom Plan and Purpose
| Video podcast
Acts 2:14-40 Be Saved!
| Video podcast
Acts 6-7 Motivation | Acts 6:5-8 | Acts 6:9-15 | Act 6-7 Video podcast
Acts 7 Affirming motivation
Acts_7  Stephen's Defense
Acts_8.2-25    Persecution & Evangelism
Acts_8.14-24  Simon & Gnosticism
Acts_8.25-40  Ethiopean Eunuch
Acts_9:1-22   Saul the Terrorist
Acts_8-9        Perspectives on Conversion

Acts_10:1-48:       Intersecting in Time: Vision #1
Acts_10:9-16        Vision #2 Peter

Acts_10:17-48      The Meeting that Changed History

Acts_10:34-44      The Christian Historical Message

Acts_13-14           Paul's First Missionary Journey
Acts 13: 1-3          A Model for our Church

        Leadership - Diversity - God-seeking - Mission-minded
Acts_13:1-3          Sending Out Missionary Church
Acts_13:4-12        Power Encounter in Cyprus
Acts_13:13-50      Gospel Message in Antioch
Acts_13:51-14:28 Other Missionary Stops
Acts 20:28-30       
Detecting Error in the Church
Acts 21:4 Discerning God's will