New Defender's Study Bible Notes
15:1 certain men. Possibly these men were some of the priests who had become obedient to the faith, or at least they were of the Pharisees’ sect (Acts 15:5). At any rate, although these men believed in Jesus as the Messiah and in His substitutionary death and resurrection, they still felt that a convert must be either a Jew or Jewish proselyte to be eligible for salvation in Christ. They were called “Judaizers” and came to be a real problem in the early church. This particular form of legalism is not much of an issue today, but the problem of those who would add works to faith in Christ as a requirement for salvation is still very common. While genuine faith will surely produce obedience and good works (note Ephesians 2:8-10), they follow saving faith as a result, not as a condition.
15:13 James. James had, by this time, become a recognized leader (possibly a senior pastor) of the Jerusalem church, perhaps because the apostles themselves were often away preaching. He was the brother (or, better, half-brother) of Jesus, but had not been among the disciples until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He later wrote the epistle of James (James 1:1; I Corinthians 15:7). He was presiding at this significant “Jerusalem conference.”
15:14 at the first. “At the first” means “for the first time,” probably referring to Peter’s (i.e., Simeon’s) experience at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10).
15:14 a people for his name. Compare Romans 11:25; Luke 21:24.
15:15 words of the prophets. James specifically quotes Amos 9:11 here, but then paraphrases and extends Amos 9:12 beyond the original meaning of the prophet himself (although, James’ use of it follows the Septuagint translation to some degree). In any case, no doubt by the guidance of the Holy Spirit (who inspired the prophecy of Amos in the first place, and who therefore can apply and extend it however He deems appropriate), James uses it to appropriate and summarize the words of other “prophets” (note the plural here in James’ statement) to show that God had long ago planned that Gentiles as well as Jews should come under Messiah’s reign (e.g., Psalm 2:8; Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:3; Daniel 7:14; Zechariah 14:9).
15:16 tabernacle. The tabernacle of David—that is, the literal kingdom of Israel on earth—will indeed be restored under the Messiah when He comes again after the church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, has been completed.
15:18 Known unto God. No event on earth takes God by surprise! He is the God of all creation and, although He elected for a time to work through one chosen nation, His purpose had always been that of “reconciling the world unto Himself” (II Corinthians 5:19).
15:20 abstain. It was not that these restrictions (any more than circumcision) were required for salvation, but rather for fellowship with the Jerusalem church and with Jewish Christians in general. These practices were all prevalent and characteristic in the pagan world and were particularly offensive to Jews, whether Christian or not, and therefore a real stumbling block. They would also be a real temptation through peer pressure to new Gentile believers and could easily lead them to backslide into paganism if not carefully avoided.
15:20 from blood. Refraining from eating “flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof” (Genesis 9:4; see also Leviticus 17:14) long antedated the laws of Moses. It was part of the ancient Noahic mandate; its restatement here indicates the latter is still in effect (note also Romans 13:1, 4). Furthermore, the primeval dominion mandate given to Adam, which the Noahic mandate merely reconfirmed and extended, is likewise still in effect. This means that Christians are responsible to obey Christ’s primeval command to exercise stewardship over the earth (see notes on Genesis 1:26-28), as well as His great commission to preach the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).
15:34 Silas. Silas is short for Silvanus (e.g., II Corinthians 1:19); he was a God-called “prophet” (Acts 15:32), a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22), and would soon become Paul’s missionary companion (Acts 15:40).
15:39 the contention. Even though this contention seemed unfortunate, God used it for good. Now there were two missionary teams instead of one. Similar happenings still occur today. The ministry of Paul and Silas was extraordinarily fruitful, while also Mark was reclaimed spiritually (note II Timothy 4:11), and even was used to write one of the four gospels.