Lesson 92: Acts 15

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual, 2016


Introduction

Some Church members from Judea told Gentile converts in Antioch that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas took the issue to the Apostles in Jerusalem. During an event called the Jerusalem conference (about A.D. 49–50), Peter testified that God would save faithful Jews and Gentiles, regardless of whether they had been circumcised. The Apostles sent letters to Church members explaining that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. Paul chose Silas as his missionary companion and embarked on his second mission.

Suggestions for Teaching

Acts 15:1–29

Through inspired counsel, Peter and the other Apostles determine that circumcision is no longer required by the Lord

Invite students to make a list on the board of several important decisions they need to make now and in the future.

  • Whom do you talk to when you need to make important decisions? Why do you talk to them?

  • Why is it wise to seek God’s help before making decisions?

Invite students to look for truths as they study Acts 15 that can guide them when they seek to know God’s will for them.

Explain that while Paul and Barnabas were visiting the Saints in Antioch, some Jews from Judea who had converted to Christianity made some claims about what Gentile converts needed to do to be saved.

Invite a student to read Acts 15:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what these men from Judea claimed Gentile converts needed to do to be saved.

  • What did these men claim that Gentile converts needed to do to be saved?

Explain that as part of the covenant made with Abraham, God commanded that all males who entered into the covenant with Him be circumcised. “Circumcision was performed by cutting off the ‘flesh of the foreskin’ of male infants and adults alike” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Circumcision,” scriptures.lds.org). Circumcision was instituted as a token or reminder of the covenant the people made with God.

Invite a student to read Acts 15:2–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened after Paul and Barnabas heard these men claim that the Gentile converts needed to be circumcised.

  • According to verse 2, what happened when these men said that Church converts needed to be circumcised?

  • What did the Church members in Antioch determine should be done?

Invite a student to read Acts 15:4–6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened when Paul and the others arrived in Jerusalem.

  • After Paul and Barnabas related their experiences of sharing the gospel with the Gentiles, what did some of the converted Pharisees believe Gentile converts needed to do to be saved?

  • According to verse 6, what did the Apostles and elders gather to do?

handout iconWrite the following questions on the board or provide them to students on a handout:

Acts 15:7–11

  1. 1.

    Who stood up to speak?

  2. 2.

    What do you think Peter meant when he said that God “put no difference between us [the converted Jews] and them [the converted Gentiles]”?

  3. 3.

    What phrases in verses 8, 9, and 11 indicate that the Gentile converts did not need to be circumcised in order to be saved?

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Divide the class into pairs. Invite students to read Acts 15:7–11 with their partners, looking for answers to the questions listed. Before they read, explain that the phrase “when there had been much disputing” in verse 7 means that the Apostles had vigorously debated the issue of circumcision.

After sufficient time, invite a few students to report their responses to the class. After students respond to the first question, remind them that Peter was the senior Apostle on the earth and was, therefore, authorized to speak for the Lord.

  • What is one way we can know the will of the Lord? (Students should identify a truth similar to the following: We can know the will of the Lord through His living prophets and apostles. Write this truth on the board.)

  • What are some ways the living Apostles help us know the revelations they have received?

Invite a student to read Acts 15:12–15 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the multitude responded to Peter’s declaration that circumcision was not necessary for salvation.

  • How did the multitude respond to Peter’s declaration?

  • What did Paul and Barnabas do to confirm Peter’s declaration that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised?

  • According to verse 15, whose words did James say Peter’s (Simeon’s) declaration agreed with?

You may want to explain that Peter presided at the conference, and it appears that James had a prominent role there as well. James was the half brother of Jesus Christ and the first bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. Summarize Acts 15:16–18 by explaining that James quoted Amos 9:11–12 to show that Peter’s declaration agreed with the words of prophets, as recorded in the scriptures.

  • Based on what James taught, what is another way we can know the will of the Lord? (Students may use different words but should identify a truth similar to the following: We can know the will of the Lord through studying the scriptures. Write this truth on the board.)

Invite a student to read Acts 15:19–20 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what James counseled that Church leaders do. Explain that the word sentence in verse 19 means a proposal or recommendation (see Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 2:143).

  • What did James counsel that Church leaders do for the Gentiles? (James recommended that Church leaders “trouble them not” [verse 19], or not make living the gospel harder for the converted Gentiles, and not require them to perform the rituals of the law of Moses before joining the Church. In saying this, James was supporting the decision given earlier by Peter.)

  • According to verse 20, what parts of the law of Moses did James think the Gentile converts still needed to keep? (Prohibitions against committing sexual sin, eating meats offered as sacrifices to idols, and eating blood.)

Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Acts 15:22–27. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the council’s decision.

  • What did the Apostles decide to do? (Send an epistle to the Church members declaring that circumcision was not required for salvation.)

  • Why do you think the Apostles decided to send Church leaders like Paul and Silas to deliver the epistle? (Students may have various responses, but one reason is to verify that the declaration came through the united decision of the Apostles. Point out that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles follow these same practices in our day to provide inspired guidance to Church members.)

  • What truth can we learn from this account about how Church leaders receive inspiration about difficult problems? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: By counseling together and seeking revelation from God, Church leaders receive inspiration about difficult problems.)

To help students understand how this truth relates to the Church today, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder D. Todd Christofferson

“These same patterns are followed today in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. The President of the Church may announce or interpret doctrines based on revelation to him (see, for example, D&C 138). Doctrinal exposition may also come through the combined council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see, for example, Official Declaration 2). Council deliberations will often include a weighing of canonized scriptures, the teachings of Church leaders, and past practice. But in the end, just as in the New Testament Church, the objective is not simply consensus among council members but revelation from God. It is a process involving both reason and faith for obtaining the mind and will of the Lord” (“The Doctrine of Christ,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 88).

  • Why do you think it is important for Church leaders to counsel together often when seeking revelation from God?

Invite a student to read Acts 15:28–29 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Apostles and elders wrote in the epistle to the Church members.

  • What did the Apostles and elders write in the epistle to the Church members?

  • In verse 28, what does the phrase “to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” mean? (The people did not need to obey any extra requirements that had come from people and not from God.)

  • According to verse 28, how did the Apostles know God’s will regarding the requirements for the converted Gentiles?

Point out that the Holy Ghost inspired the Apostles as they counseled together. He also provided a confirming witness that their decision was correct.

  • Based on how Church leaders knew the will of the Lord as recorded in verse 28, how can we know the will of the Lord? (Students may use different words, but make sure they understand that we can know the will of the Lord through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Write this truth on the board.)

Invite students to look at the truths on the board.

  • How can these truths help us when we need to make an important decision?

  • According to these truths, what do we need to do in order to know the Lord’s will?

  • When have you felt like you came to know the Lord’s will as you have followed these truths?

Encourage students to study the words of modern prophets and the scriptures. Explain that as they do so, they can come to know the Lord’s will through the Holy Ghost when making important decisions.

Acts 15:30–41

Paul and others deliver the Apostles’ epistle to the members in Antioch

Summarize Acts 15:30–41 by explaining that several Church leaders delivered the Apostles’ epistle to the members of the Church in Antioch. After preaching in Antioch, Paul asked Barnabas to go with him to visit all the places where they had preached the gospel. Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, but Paul refused. After some contention between the two Church leaders, Barnabas decided to take Mark with him, so Paul chose Silas as a mission companion and set out on his second mission. Explain that it is not considered a sin to disagree with others. However, instead of becoming contentious, we should seek to find solutions to our disagreements together. (We learn in 2 Timothy 4:11 that the problem between Paul and Mark was later resolved.)

Conclude by testifying of the truths students identified in Acts 15.

Commentary and Background Information

Acts 15:6. “The apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how the Savior reveals His will to His prophets:

“How does the Savior reveal His will and doctrine to prophets, seers, and revelators? He may act by messenger or in His own person. He may speak by His own voice or by the voice of the Holy Spirit—a communication of Spirit to spirit that may be expressed in words or in feelings that convey understanding beyond words (see 1 Nephi 17:45; D&C 9:8). He may direct Himself to His servants individually or acting in council (see 3 Nephi 27:1–8)” (“The Doctrine of Christ,” Ensign or Liahona,May 2012, 87).

Acts 15:6–11. Peter declared the mind of the Lord after the Apostles counseled together

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught about the decisions of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

“No decision emanates from the deliberations of the First Presidency and the Twelve without total unanimity among all concerned. At the outset in considering matters, there may be differences of opinion. These are to be expected. These men come from different backgrounds. They are men who think for themselves. But before a final decision is reached, there comes a unanimity of mind and voice.

“This is to be expected if the revealed word of the Lord is followed. Again I quote from the revelation:

“‘The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;

“‘Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord’ (D&C 107:30–31).

“I add by way of personal testimony that during the twenty years I served as a member of the Council of the Twelve and during the nearly thirteen years that I have served in the First Presidency, there has never been a major action taken where this procedure was not observed. I have seen differences of opinion presented in these deliberations. Out of this very process of men speaking their minds has come a sifting and winnowing of ideas and concepts. But I have never observed serious discord or personal enmity among my Brethren. I have, rather, observed a beautiful and remarkable thing—the coming together, under the directing influence of the Holy Spirit and under the power of revelation, of divergent views until there is total harmony and full agreement. Only then is implementation made. That, I testify, represents the spirit of revelation manifested again and again in directing this the Lord’s work” (“God Is at the Helm,” Ensign, May 1994, 54, 59).

Acts 15:20. “Things strangled, and from blood”

“Because the law of Moses prohibited the eating of blood (see Leviticus 3:17; 17:10–14; 19:26), James’s counsel to abstain from ‘things strangled, and from blood’ may have been meant to avoid giving offense to Jews and thus hindering missionary work among them” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 309).