Acts of the Apostles 15:1-6
|1 And some coming down from Judea, taught the brethren: That except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.||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. Wi. — See Gal. v. 2.
|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.||To the apostles and priests,  where we find again presbyters in Greek, meaning bishops and priests. Wi. — Paul . . . should go to . . . Jerusalem. We learn from Gal. ii. 2. 4. that S. 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 S. Paul and S. 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. Matt. xviii. 17.
|3 They therefore being brought on their way by the church, passed through Phenice, 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 had been much disputing, Peter, rising up, said to them: Men, brethren, you know, that in former days God made choice among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.||Former days. Lit. in the days of old; that is, at the conversion of Cornelius, many years ago, about the year 35; and it was now 51. Wi. — S. Peter at the head of the Council, spoke first; S. James as Bishop of Jerusalem, spoke next, and all, as S. Jerom says, came into the sentence of Peter. Ep. lxxxix. ad S. Aug. c. 2.
|8 And God, who knoweth the hearts, gave testimony, giving unto them the Holy Ghost, as well as to us;|
|9 And put no difference 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 have been able to bear?||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. Wi.
|11 But by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we believe to be saved, in like manner as they also.||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 S. James explains it. Calmet.
|12 And all the multitude held their peace; and they heard Barnabas and Paul telling 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 to take of the Gentiles 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 the ruins thereof I will rebuild, and I will set it up:|
|17 That the residue 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 his own work known from the beginning of the world.||To the Lord was known his own work. He bringeth it to pass, as he hath decreed, though his decrees are to us unknown. Wi.
|19 For which cause I judge that they, who from among the Gentiles are converted to God, are not to be disquieted.||Wherefore I judge, and join my judgment with Peter. S. Chrys. 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 S. Peter, who was head of all, as S. Chrys. teacheth, hom. iii. on the Acts.
|20 But that we write unto them, that they refrain themselves from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.||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, (Gen. ix. 4.) which he likewise reported in the strongest terms in Leviticus viii. 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. B.
|21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him in the synagogues, where he is read every sabbath.||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. Wi. — 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.
|22 Then it pleased the apostles and ancients, with the whole church, to choose men of their own company, and to send to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas, namely, 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.||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. Wi.
|24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that some going out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls; to whom we gave no commandment:||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. Wi. — 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 prædicabunt nisi mittantur; how can they preach, unless they are sent? Rom. x. 15.
|25 It hath seemed good to us, being assembled together, to choose out men, and to send them unto you, with our well beloved Barnabas and Paul:|
|26 Men that 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:||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 S. Chrys. observes. Wi. — 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 (Matt. 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? A.
|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.||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. Ch. — See note on v. 20. supra.
|30 They therefore being dismissed, went down to Antioch; and gathering together the multitude, delivered the epistle.|
|31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.||We may here briefly remark, that the controversy was finally adjusted by the decree of the Council. 2dly, 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.
|32 But Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, with many words comforted the brethren, and confirmed them.||Judas and Silas, being prophets, that is, preachers, as the word prophet, is divers times taken. Wi. — 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. V.
|33 And after they had spent some time there, they were let go with peace by the brethren, unto them that had sent them.|
|34 But it seemed good unto Silas to remain there; and Judas alone departed to Jerusalem.|
|35 And 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 our brethren in all the cities wherein we have preached the word of the Lord, to see how they do.|
|37 And Barnabas would have taken with them John also, that 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 arose a dissension, so that they departed one from another; and Barnabas indeed taking Mark, sailed to Cyprus.||There was a dissension,  or dispute, with reasoning, and arguing upon the matter. S. Paul represented to S. Barnabas, that he was not for having John Mark to be their companion, because he had before left them, but S. Barnabas was for having with them his kinsman Mark; and the dispute was such, that upon it S. Paul and Barnabas separated; which gave occasion to the preaching of the gospel in more places. See S. Chrys. hom. xxxiii. — The fault in this contention lay with S. Barnabas; ο Παυλος το δικαιον, ο Βαρναβας το φιλανθρωπον : 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. Col. iv. 10. They separated, as formerly Abraham and Lot, without prejudice to their friendship. Gen. xiii. 9. Mat. Polus synop. criticorum, fol. 4. p. 1528.
|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.|
Footnotes: Acts of the Apostles 15
|1 I am the true vine; and my Father is the husbandman.||I am the true vine. Christ, says S. Aug. speaks of himself, as man, when he compares himself to a vine, his disciples to the branches, and his Father to the husbandman. He himself, as God, is also the husbandman. — Without me, you can do nothing, that shall be meritorious of a reward in heaven. Wi. — These words are supposed to have been spoken by our Saviour, when on the road, as he was going from the house, where he had supped, to the garden of Olives. It was then about midnight. Calmet. — Though many other interpreters think they were spoken before Jesus Christ left the house.
|2 Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit.||He here shews, that the virtuous themselves stand in need of the help of the husbandman; therefore the Almighty sends them tribulations, and temptations, that they may be cleansed, and rendered firm, like the vine, which, the more it is pruned, the more vigorous are its shoots. S. Chrys. hom. lxxv. in Joan.
|3 Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you.||See supra xiii. 10.
|4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.|
|5 I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.|
|6 If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and case him into the fire, and be burneth.|
|7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you.||On account of our being in this world, we sometimes ask for that, which is not expedient for us. But these things will not be granted us, if we remain in Christ, who never grants us any thing, unless it be profitable to us. S. Aug. tract. 81. in Joan. — If we abide in Christ, by a lively faith, and his words abide in us by a lively, ardent charity, which can make us produce the fruits of good works, all that we ask, will be granted us. V. — These conditional expressions, if you remain in the vine, if you keep my commandments, &c. give us to understand, that our perseverance and salvation are upon conditions, to be fulfilled by us. — S. Aug. de cor. & gra. c. 13.
|8 In this is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become my disciples.||It is the glory of the husbandman, to see his vine well cultivated, and laden with fruit. And it is the glory of God, my Father, to see you filled with faith, charity, and good works, and to behold you usefully employed, in the conversion of others. Then will men, seeing your good works, and the fruit of your preaching, among all nations, glorify your heavenly Father, as the author of all these blessings. S. Matt. v. 16. Calmet.
|9 As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you.|
|10 If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father's commandments, and do abide in his love.||As I also have kept my Father's commandments. He still speaks of himself, as man. Wi. — This frequent admonition, of keeping the commandments, proveth, that a Christian's life consists not in faith only, but in good works. B.
|11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled.|
|12 This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.|
|13 Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.|
|14 You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you.||You are my friends. A wonderful condescension, says S. Aug. in our blessed Redeemer, who was God as well as man, to call such poor and sinful creatures, his friends; who, when we have done all we can, and ought, are still but unprofitable servants. I have called you my friends, because I have made known to you, &c. We can only understand these words, as S. Chrys. takes notice, of all things which they were capable of understanding, or which it was proper to communicate to them; for, as Christ tells them in the next chap. (v. 12.) I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. Wi.
|15 I will not now call you servants: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth. But I have called you friends: because all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you.|
|16 You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.||O ineffable grace! For what were we, before Christ chose us, but wretched and abandoned creatures? Such we were; but now we are chosen, in order that we may become good by the grace of Him that hath chosen us. S. Aug. tract. 86. in Joan.
|17 These things I command you, that you love one another.|
|18 If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you.||If the world hate you. The wicked, unbelieving world, hate and persecute you, as they have done me; remember, that the servant must not desire to be treated better than his master. Wi.
|19 If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.|
|20 Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.||Here Christ predicts, that many will be deaf to the words of his Church, as they have neglected to attend to his precepts.
|21 But all these things they will do to you for my name's sake: because they know not him who sent me.|
|22 If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.||They would not have sin, or would not be guilty of sin: that is, they might be excused, as to their not believing me to be their Messias: but after so many instructions, which I have given them, and so many, and such miracles done in their sight, which also were foretold of their Messias, they can have no excuse for their obstinate sin of unbelief. They have hated both me, and my Father: that is, by hating me, the true Son, who have one and the same nature with my Father, they have also hated him, though they pretend to honour him as God. See on this chap. S. Aug. (tract. 81.) and S. Chrys. (hom. lxxvi.) lat. edit. hom. lxxvii. in Joan. in the Greek.
|23 He that hateth me, hateth my Father also.|
|24 If I had not done among them the works that no other man hath done, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.||How can this be true, that Christ wrought greater wonders than any one else had ever done? We find recounted in the Old Testament, the miracles of Elias and Eliseus, who raised the dead to life, healed the sick, and brought down fire from heaven; of Moses, who afflicted Egypt with plagues, divided the Red Sea, for the passage of the Israelites, and brought water from the rock; of Josue, who stopped the waters of the Jordan, for the passage of the children of Israel, and in the battle of Gabaon, made the sun and moon stand still; in all which miracles, there appeared a greater manifestation of power, than in any of the miracles wrought by our Saviour, during his ministry. But to this may be answered, that the miracles of our Saviour were much more numerous than those of any of the saints of the Old Testament, even of Moses himself; particularly when we compare the few years which he preached, and manifested the glory of his Father by his miracles, with the long life of Moses: Christ
did not preach full four years, whereas Moses governed the people forty years. Again, if the miracles of Jesus were not of so astonishing a nature, at least they always had for their object, the healing of the sick, and the good of the people; which the prophets have given us, as the distinguishing characteristics of the miracles of the Messias. Add to this, the ease and authority with which he performs them, which are most sensible proofs of their superiority. But what chiefly distinguishes his miracles, from those of the other saints, is, that he performed them in proof of his divinity, and of his mission, as the deliverer of Israel: whereas the prophets only perform miracles, as the ministers of the Lord, and as so many voices, which foretold the Messias. Besides, if the ancient saints could work miracles, they never could confer that power upon others, as Christ did upon his disciples, of which the Jews themselves were witnesses, in all the places whither Christ sent his
disciples. We omit mentioning his resurrection, which at this time he had not performed, but had already foretold, and which was the greatest miracle that has ever been performed. Calmet.
|25 But that the word may be fulfilled which is written in their law: They hated me without cause.|
|26 But when the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me.||Whom I will send. The Holy Ghost is sent by the Son: therefore he proceedeth from him also, as from the Father; though the schismatical Greeks think differently; (B.) otherwise, as Dr. Challoner says, he could not be sent by the Son.
|27 And you shall give testimony, because you are with me from the beginning.||
You shall give.
He vouchsafes to join together the testimony of the Holy Ghost, and of the apostles; that we may see the testimony of truth, jointly to consist in the Holy Ghost, and in the prelates of the Catholic Church. See Acts, xv. 28.