Chapter 32: Acts 13–15

New Testament Student Manual, 2014


Introduction and Timeline for Acts 13–15

Acts 13–14 contains events and teachings from Saul’s first missionary journey, during which time he began to be known as Paul. This mission led to the establishment of branches of the Church in areas far removed from Jerusalem and “opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Despite sometimes facing intense opposition, including enemies who stoned him, Paul persisted in his mission with faith in Jesus Christ and tireless efforts, and he experienced much success in the Lord’s work.

As the Church continued to grow, it faced a pivotal juncture, as recorded in Acts 15. The influx of many Gentile converts into the Church gave rise to a disputation among the Saints. Some Jewish Christians insisted that Gentile converts needed to be circumcised in order to be saved (see Acts 15:1), while others, like Peter and Paul, taught that salvation came through Jesus Christ and not through observing the law of Moses (see Acts 13:38–39; 15:11). Apostles and elders of the Church met at a conference in Jerusalem (often referred to as the Jerusalem conference) and were provided an inspired solution to the problem.

lesson 32 timeline

Commentary for Acts 13–15

Acts 13:1–14:26. Saul’s First Missionary Journey

map, eastern Mediterranean

Antioch (in Syria) is located 300 miles north of Jerusalem and was the third greatest city in the Roman Empire next to Rome and Alexandria. Its population exceeded 100,000 people. Only the city of Jerusalem was of greater importance to early Christians. Paul began each of his three missionary journeys from Antioch.

During the 10-year period between Saul’s conversion and his first recorded missionary journey, Saul (later known as Paul) taught the gospel in Damascus, Arabia, Tarsus, and finally Antioch. As recorded in Acts 13:1–3, Saul and Barnabas were called by their priesthood leaders in Antioch, including the “prophets” mentioned in verse 1, to go on a mission, which would become Saul’s first missionary journey. For more information about Barnabas with Saul, see the commentary for Acts 9:26–31; 11:22–30.

map, northeastern Mediterranean

Cities Paul visited on his first missionary journey

This first missionary journey resulted in the establishment of branches of the Church in areas far removed from Jerusalem and Samaria (see Acts 1:8). Saul and Barnabas journeyed over 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers) on this first mission, teaching the gospel in areas where people had never heard it before. When Saul and Barnabas arrived at a location where there were no members of the Church, they would typically go first to the local synagogue and announce the gospel message to fellow Jews and to Gentiles who believed Jewish teachings (see Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; the commentary for Acts 13:14–41). After teaching and baptizing those who accepted the gospel message, they called and set apart local leaders to watch over the Church after they departed (see Acts 14:23). Often they would visit the newly formed branches as they were returning to Church headquarters. The account of this first mission depicts Saul in his new capacity as a Church leader.

Acts 13:2–3. Leaders Receive Revelation about Callings

The Church leaders who called Saul and Barnabas to go on a mission had fasted and received revelation before making this important calling. Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy told about a time when he assisted President Henry B. Eyring in assigning full-time missionaries to their fields of labor. After sharing what took place that day, Elder Rasband stated: “At the end of the meeting Elder Eyring bore his witness to me of the love of the Savior, which He has for each missionary assigned to go out into the world and preach the restored gospel. He said that it is by the great love of the Savior that His servants know where these wonderful young men and women, senior missionaries, and senior couple missionaries are to serve. I had a further witness that morning that every missionary called in this Church, and assigned or reassigned to a particular mission, is called by revelation from the Lord God Almighty through one of these, His servants” (“The Divine Call of a Missionary,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2010, 53).

Acts 13:3–4. They “Laid Their Hands on Them [and] Sent Them Away”

In connection with Acts 13:3, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “Saul and Barnabas were called by prophecy and were either ordained or set apart or both by the laying on of hands” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 2:120). The laying on of hands by priesthood leaders to set people apart for callings is a long-established practice in both the ancient and modern Church (see Deuteronomy 34:9; D&C 36:1–2; Articles of Faith 1:5).

man being blessed by two men

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) explained that being set apart is of great importance today, just as it was in the ancient Church:

“The setting apart is an established practice in the Church and men and women are ‘set apart’ to special responsibility, in ecclesiastical, quorum, and auxiliary positions. …

“To some folk the setting apart seems a perfunctory act while others anticipate it eagerly, absorb every word of it, and let their lives be lifted thereby.

“The setting apart may be taken literally; it is a setting apart from sin, apart from the carnal; apart from everything which is crude, low, vicious, cheap, or vulgar; set apart from the world to a higher plane of thought and activity. The blessing is conditional upon faithful performance. …

“In my experience there have been numerous people who like Saul … have, through the setting apart, received ‘largeness of heart,’ extended influence, increased wisdom, enlarged vision, and new powers” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1958, 57).

Acts 13:4–11. Priesthood Power to Curse

At Paphos, a Roman official, Sergius Paulus, desired to hear the gospel and called for Paul and Barnabas. As they attempted to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were opposed by “a false prophet” and “sorcerer” ironically named Bar-Jesus (son of Jesus), also called Elymas (see Acts 13:6–8). Paul declared that Elymas was trying “to pervert the right ways of the Lord” and cursed him with blindness (Acts 13:10–11). This experience demonstrates that the Lord gives His authorized servants the power both to bless and to curse (see D&C 124:93; compare Alma 30:49–50).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie clarified that the priesthood should never be used to curse someone unless the priesthood holder is directed by the Spirit to do so: “Cursings as well as blessings may be administered by the power and authority of the priesthood … , but the Lord’s earthly agents are sent forth primarily to bless and not to curse, and no curse should ever be decreed except by direct revelation from the Lord commanding such to be done” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 175–76; see also the commentary for Matthew 10:14).

Acts 13:5, 13. John Mark Accompanied Paul on His First Mission

John, who is mentioned in Acts 13:5, is elsewhere called John Mark, Mark, and Marcus. He probably wrote the Gospel According to St. Mark. He was the cousin of Barnabas (see Colossians 4:10), and he accompanied Saul and Barnabas at the beginning of their first missionary journey. John Mark’s unexpected departure from the other missionaries at Perga caused a later disagreement between Saul and Barnabas as they prepared to leave on their second mission (see Acts 15:37–40). The scriptures do not mention the reason Mark left the mission field. But he later accompanied Barnabas to Cyprus, was with Timothy at Ephesus, and is probably the Marcus whom Peter spoke of as “my son” (see Acts 15:37–39; 2 Timothy 4:11; 1 Peter 5:13). Thus, Mark became a powerful force for good in the early Church.

Acts 13:9. “Saul, (Who Also Is Called Paul)”

In the early chapters of Acts, Luke referred to Saul by his Hebrew name. But beginning with Saul’s first mission among the Gentiles and continuing through the remainder of Acts, Luke referred to Saul by his Latin name, Paul, which means “little” or “small.” This was also the name by which Paul referred to himself in his letters.

Acts 13:14–41. Paul’s Sermon to Jews and to Gentiles Who Feared God

In Antioch in Pisidia (not to be confused with Antioch in Syria, where Church members were first called Christians), Paul preached both to Jews and to others who “feared God” (see Acts 13:16, 26; 14:1). God-fearers were Gentiles who accepted Jehovah as their God and lived various aspects of Judaism but did not fully convert to Judaism by undergoing the rite of circumcision. Many of Paul’s Gentile converts were God-fearers who worshipped in synagogues, knew the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament), and were in a state of readiness to accept the gospel message. For more on the practice of circumcision, see the commentary for Acts 15:1, 5, 24.

Acts 13:22–23. Jesus Christ as the Seed of David

To read about Jesus Christ as the seed of David, see the commentaries for Matthew 1:1, 17 and for Matthew 1:1–17.

Acts 13:34. “The Sure Mercies of David”

“The sure mercies of David” (Acts 13:34) refer to the promises God made to David of the resurrection (see Psalms 16:10; 89:48–49; Isaiah 55:3).

Acts 13:38–39. Forgiveness of Sins and Justification

Paul taught that “forgiveness of sins” comes only through Jesus Christ (Acts 13:38). Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:

“Whether the violation be great or small, the solution is the same: full repentance through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement with obedience to His commandments. …

“I testify that of all the necessary steps to repentance, the most critically important is for you to have a conviction that forgiveness comes in and through Jesus Christ. It is essential to know that only on His terms can you be forgiven. You will be helped as you exercise faith in Christ [see 2 Nephi 9:22–24; Alma 11:40]. That means you trust Him and His teachings” (“Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 16–17).

Paul also declared that the Savior made possible justification for “all that believe” and that this justification could not happen “by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). Justification is a gift from the Savior. He declares that a person is guiltless, free from the full demands of justice, being put back into a right relationship with God so that progress toward perfection can continue. To study more about the doctrine of justification by faith in Jesus Christ and not by the law of Moses, see the commentary for Romans 3:27–31.

Acts 13:45–46. “We Turn to the Gentiles”

Many Jews in Antioch reacted to Paul’s sermon by “contradicting and blaspheming” (Acts 13:45). The Bible Dictionary defines blasphemy as “contemptuous speech concerning God or concerning something that stands in a sacred relation toward God, such as His temple, His law, or His prophet” (Bible Dictionary, “Blasphemy”).

In response to the Antioch Jews’ opposition, Paul and Barnabas proclaimed that they would “turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). This moment foreshadowed what would increasingly happen in the missionary work of the Church as many Jews opposed the gospel and Gentile conversions. After this event, as Paul traveled to other areas, he typically continued to teach the gospel “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16), but when Jews rejected his message, Paul readily “turned to” the Gentiles, finding many ready to receive the gospel.

Acts 13:47–48. “As Many as … Believed”

Paul taught the Jews of his day that the Lord had called Israel to be “a light of the Gentiles” (Acts 13:47; Isaiah 42:6). Israel was to provide salvation for all people who would accept it, including the Gentiles. The Jews of Paul’s day knew this, but they rejected Jesus Christ and His gospel (see Acts 13:47). However, many Gentiles heard Paul’s words and accepted “the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:48). The Joseph Smith Translation of Acts 13:48 states that “as many as believed were ordained unto eternal life.”

Acts 13:51. “Shook Off the Dust of Their Feet”

To read about shaking the dust off of the feet, see the commentary for Matthew 10:14.

Acts 14:1–6, 14. Paul and Barnabas Were Apostles

This is the first reference in the New Testament to Paul being an Apostle. According to the Bible Dictionary, “Apostle … was the title Jesus gave (Luke 6:13) to the Twelve whom He chose and ordained (John 15:16) to be His closest disciples during His ministry on earth and whom He sent forth to represent Him after His Ascension into heaven. … The title was also applied to others who, though not of the number of the original Twelve, yet were called to serve as special witnesses of the Lord. Paul repeatedly spoke of himself as an Apostle (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; 9:1; Gal. 1:1). He applied the title to James, the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:19), and also to Barnabas (1 Cor. 9:5–6; see also Acts 14:14)” (Bible Dictionary, “Apostle”).

President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) stated: “Paul was an ordained apostle, and without question he took the place of one of the other brethren in [the Council of the Twelve]” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 3:153). A vacancy in the Council of the Twelve was probably created because one of the other Apostles had been put to death.

A major theme in Acts, illustrated in Acts 14:1–6, is that the preaching of the gospel caused great divisions among the people.

Acts 14:8–10. “Faith to Be Healed”

When Paul and Barnabas learned of a plot against their lives in Iconium, they departed to Lystra and Derbe. In Lystra, they met a man who had been crippled from birth. Perceiving that the man “had faith to be healed,” Paul commanded the man to walk, which he did (see Acts 14:8–10). This episode illustrates that faith is a prerequisite for all who would be healed through priesthood administration.

In a notable talk on administering to the sick, President Spencer W. Kimball said: “The need of faith is often underestimated. The ill one and the family often seem to depend wholly on the power of the priesthood and the gift of healing that they hope the administering brethren may have, whereas the greater responsibility is with him who is blessed. … The major element is the faith of the individual when that person is conscious and accountable. ‘Thy faith hath made thee whole’ [Matthew 9:22] was repeated so often by the Master that it almost became a chorus” (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Administration to the Sick,” New Era, Oct. 1981, 47).

Acts 14:11–18. Paul and Barnabas Called Gods

ancient statue of Zeus

This ancient statue of the Greek god Zeus (the chief Greek deity and equivalent of the Roman god Jupiter) was discovered in 1680 at Smyrna.

When Paul healed a crippled man at Lystra, the people of the area who believed in and worshipped idols thought he and Barnabas were gods, and they sought to worship Barnabas as Jupiter—probably because Barnabas was older than Paul and perhaps larger in stature—and Paul as Mercury, the messenger of the gods, “because [Paul] was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:12).

Acts 14:19–22. Persecution of the Lord’s Servants

Some Jews from Antioch and Lyconium so vehemently opposed Paul and Barnabas that they followed them to Lystra and persuaded people there to help stone Paul. Paul survived the ordeal, and it did not dissuade him from continuing his labors in spreading the gospel. Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that one reason the Lord does not always shield His servants from persecution is that trials allow us to experience refining, strengthening blessings:

video icon“There is meaning and purpose in our earthly challenges. Consider the Prophet Joseph Smith: throughout his life he faced daunting opposition—illness, accident, poverty, misunderstanding, false accusation, and even persecution. One might be tempted to ask, ‘Why didn’t the Lord protect His prophet from such obstacles, provide him with unlimited resources, and stop up the mouths of his accusers?’ The answer is, Each of us must go through certain experiences to become more like our Savior. In the school of mortality, the tutor is often pain and tribulation, but the lessons are meant to refine and bless us and strengthen us, not to destroy us” (“Faith through Tribulation Brings Peace and Joy,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2003, 17).

Acts 14:21–22. “Continue in the Faith”

people shaking hands

When Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, they were following their general pattern of returning to cities where they had established branches of the Church, “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22). In this context, “confirm” means to “strengthen.” In modern times, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) taught that each of us has a similar responsibility to strengthen new members of the Church: “With the ever-increasing number of converts, we must make an increasingly substantial effort to assist them as they find their way. Every one of them needs three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God’ (Moro. 6:4). It is our duty and opportunity to provide these things. … This is a work for everyone. It is a work for home teachers and visiting teachers. It is a work for the bishopric, for the priesthood quorums, for the Relief Society, the young men and young women, even the Primary” (“Converts and Young Men,” Ensign, May 1997, 47–48).

Acts 14:23. “Ordained Them Elders in Every Church”

Paul and his companions called and set apart faithful men to lead the Church in the various cities where branches of the Church were established and then “commended them to the Lord” (see Acts 14:23). Paul later exhorted Church members to honor and respect their local leaders (see 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also taught that we should support local Church authorities: “The Lord told the early members of His Church that the voice of His servants is the voice of the Lord, and that the hand of His servants is the hand of the Lord (see D&C 1:38; 36:2). I testify to the truthfulness of that principle, which imposes a solemn duty upon the members of this Church to be loyal to their leaders and faithful in following their direction. I affirm that the Lord will bless us for doing so” (“Bishop, Help!” Ensign, May 1997, 23).

Acts 14:24–28. Paul and Barnabas Conclude Their First Mission

Paul and Barnabas continued their first missionary journey by visiting several additional cities that lie within present-day Turkey and Cyprus. They concluded this journey by returning to Antioch in Syria, where they had begun their mission over two years earlier.

Acts 15:1–5. “Certain Men Which Came Down from Judea”

Christians from Judea visited Paul, Barnabas, and the other members in Antioch. These men from Judea and others like them are sometimes referred to as “Judaizers” because they insisted that Gentile converts to the Church must also convert to Judaism by undergoing circumcision and living the law of Moses. They likely saw themselves as upholding God’s commandment that Abraham and his followers be circumcised as they entered the covenant with the Lord: “And my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (see Genesis 17:10–14, italics added). However, Judaizers failed to understand that circumcision was merely a sign of the covenant rather than the covenant itself. They did not understand that for both Jews and Gentiles, entry into the new covenant with Christ was not by circumcision, but by faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost (see Acts 2:37–38).

The Judaizers’ teachings conflicted with the teachings of Paul and Barnabas, and as a result, Paul and Barnabas and other Church members were sent to Jerusalem to ask the Apostles how this issue should be resolved.

Acts 15:1, 5, 24. “Circumcised after the Manner of Moses”

Jehovah instituted the practice of circumcision among Abraham and his descendants as a token of their covenant with Jehovah. The token reminded them of their obligations and of the sacred and eternal blessings given to all who served the Lord in righteousness (see Abraham 2:8–11; Genesis 17). The law of Moses directed that every male child was to be circumcised when he was eight days old (see Leviticus 12:3) “that thou mayest know forever that children are not accountable before me [the Lord] until they are eight years old” (Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 17:11 [in the Bible appendix]). In New Testament times it was common to refer to Jews as being of the circumcision and to Gentiles as being of the uncircumcision (see Acts 10:45; Romans 3:30; Galatians 2:7–9; Ephesians 2:11).

In the new covenant instituted by Jesus Christ, the token of circumcision was replaced by the ordinance of baptism. In a revelation given to Mormon and recorded in the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ said: “The law of circumcision is done away in me” (Moroni 8:8). The debate over circumcision concerned not only the interpretation and application of doctrine, but also the accepting of new revelation through Church leaders.

Acts 15:6. Councils Seek Revelation from God

In order to settle the dispute regarding circumcision, the Apostles and elders of the Church “came together for to consider of this matter” (Acts 15:6) at what is sometimes called the Jerusalem conference. Acts 15:7–29 relates the discussion that took place among these leaders. Through counseling together and seeking the Spirit of the Lord, Church leaders were able to resolve the dispute and receive a confirming witness from the Holy Ghost. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the eternal role of councils and how counseling together can bless the Church today:

ward council

Ward council

“God called a grand council in the premortal world to present His glorious plan for our eternal welfare. The Lord’s church is organized with councils at every level, beginning with the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and extending to stake, ward, quorum, auxiliary, and family councils.

“President Stephen L Richards said, ‘The genius of our Church government is government through councils. …

“‘I have no hesitancy in giving you the assurance, if you will confer in council as you are expected to do, God will give you solutions to the problems that confront you’ (in Conference Report, Oct. 1953, p. 86). …

“… When we act in a united effort, we create spiritual synergism, which is increased effectiveness or achievement as a result of combined action or cooperation, the result of which is greater than the sum of the individual parts” (“Strength in Counsel,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 76–77).

Acts 15:6–31. The Questions Addressed at the Jerusalem Conference

The council at Jerusalem addressed two main questions. First, were Gentile converts required to be circumcised? Second, what, if any, obligations did Gentile converts have toward the law of Moses?

The question of circumcision was evidently settled early in the proceedings when Peter, the senior Apostle, “rose up” and spoke of his earlier revelation that Gentiles be accepted into the Church (see Acts 10:9–16; 11:18). He also related how uncircumcised Gentile converts had received the Holy Ghost, proving that God had “put no difference between us and them” (Acts 15:7–9). Peter affirmed that circumcision was not a requirement for their salvation. For both Jew and Gentile, salvation came through Jesus Christ (see Acts 15:10–11). The silence that followed Peter’s remarks implies that those in attendance understood and accepted the guiding authority of Peter’s revelation (see Acts 15:12).

Peter

Peter, by Marilee Campbell

James addressed the second issue of whether Gentile converts should conform to other requirements of the law of Moses (see Acts 15:13–21). James first cited scriptural support for Peter’s words, referring to the prophecy in Amos 9:11–12 that Gentiles would seek after the Lord. This scripture would have been persuasive to members of the council who were Pharisees, encouraging them to support Peter in accepting Gentile converts.

Next, James proposed that Gentile converts be instructed to observe some requirements of the law of Moses (see Acts 15:20). James recommended that Gentile converts be taught to abstain from “pollutions of idols” (meaning meats that have been polluted by being offered to idols) and from fornication. In short, converts were to avoid becoming entangled with the sexual sin and idolatry that were rampant in the ancient Greco-Roman world. 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. James explained, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him” (Acts 15:21). In other words, since there were Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean world, Gentile converts should avoid offending Jews and dissuading them from embracing the gospel.

Acts 15:7–30. The Council at Jerusalem

The following chart indicates some of the principles of effective counseling that were demonstrated at the Jerusalem council:

Acts 15

Principles Used by Effective Councils

Verse 7

Members of the council were free to voice their opinions. (“There had been much disputing.”)

Verses 7–11

The presiding authority explained his thoughts and referred to previous revelation. (Peter, the chief Apostle, presided over the council and, by referring to revelation he had already received, clarified that Gentiles need not be circumcised.)

Verse 12

Council members shared experiences and listened to each other. (Barnabas and Paul testified of the miracles God had wrought among the Gentiles, supporting the revelation received by Peter.)

Verses 13–21

Council members expressed their opinions. (James expressed his support of Peter’s counsel not to require circumcision of Gentile converts and offered his opinions about related problems.)

Verses 22, 28

The council came to a united decision, which was confirmed by the Holy Ghost. (The council’s decisions “seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us.”)

Verses 22–30

The decision was communicated to those involved. (The decree was sent to the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.)

Acts 15:13–29. James

James played an important role at the Jerusalem conference. He was the son of Joseph and Mary and the half-brother of Jesus Christ. At this time he was the leader of the branch of the Church in Jerusalem. Because of Jerusalem’s importance, James’s position in the Church was highly regarded. Paul called him an Apostle (see Galatians 1:19). He is the same James mentioned in Acts 12:17; 21:18; and 1 Corinthians 15:7. He is also the probable author of the Epistle of James.

Acts 15:22–28. The Holy Ghost Guided Leaders

In order to come to a unified decision that was in harmony with God’s will, members of the Jerusalem council sought the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Speaking of the proceedings of the conference, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated: “Having arrived at what they considered to be an appropriate solution—that is, adopting James’ statements which were based on Peter’s announcement of principle—[the council] then asked the Lord if their conclusions were true and in accord with his mind. The answer, coming by the power of the Spirit, certified to the verity of their conclusion” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:144–45). Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also spoke of the Holy Ghost’s role in the Jerusalem conference:

audio icon“After Paul, Barnabas, and perhaps others spoke in support of Peter’s declaration, James moved that the decision be implemented by letter to the Church, and the council was united “with one accord” (Acts 15:25; see also verses 12–23). In the letter announcing their decision, the Apostles said, ‘It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us’ (Acts 15:28), or in other words, this decision came by divine revelation through the Holy Spirit.

“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).

Even though there were differences of opinion and “much disputing” (Acts 15:7) among Church leaders, they ultimately achieved unity as they responded to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. President James E. Faust (1920–2007) taught about the importance of harmony in Church councils: “In some legislative assemblies of the world, there are some groups termed the ‘loyal opposition.’ I find no such principle in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Savior gave us this solemn warning: ‘Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine’ (D&C 38:27). The Lord made it clear that in the presiding quorums every decision ‘must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions’ (D&C 107:27). This means that after frank and open discussion decisions are reached in council under the direction of the presiding officer, who has the ultimate authority to decide. That decision is then sustained, because our unity comes from full agreement with righteous principles and general response to the operation of the Spirit of God” (“Keeping Covenants and Honoring the Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 37–38).

Acts 15:23–28. Decisions of the Jerusalem Conference

Despite Church leaders’ unanimous resolution to not require Gentiles to be circumcised prior to baptism, many Church members did not readily understand or accept the decision. Robert J. Matthews taught: “The action of the Jerusalem council involved a significant policy decision. … Peter’s unmistakable experience with Cornelius makes it clear that the Brethren understood that the law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ, but evidently many members of the church did not understand. It was a matter of doctrine, tradition, culture, and emotion. Even though the Brethren had settled the matter doctrinally a decade before, considerable time passed before the matter was settled culturally and emotionally in the minds of some Jewish Christians. Furthermore, at least ten years after the council, many Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were still following the law of Moses. (Acts 21:17–25.)

“The decision of the Jerusalem council was not definitive and did not forthrightly say that the law of Moses should be discontinued. Although it declared that Gentiles did not need circumcision for salvation, it did not say that Jewish members of the church need not circumcise their sons” (“Unto All Nations,” in Studies in Scripture, Volume Six: Acts to Revelation, ed. Robert L. Millet [1987], 39).

In the years following the Jerusalem conference, Paul still found it necessary to combat contrary teachings and attitudes wherever he went (see Romans 2–4; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6; 6:15; Colossians 2:11; 3:11; Bible Dictionary, “Circumcision”).

Acts 15:30–40. Contention between Paul and Barnabas

Paul and Barnabas were chosen to travel to Antioch and report on the Jerusalem council’s decision. They took with them two Church leaders, Judas and Silas, “being prophets also themselves,” who helped preach and strengthen Church members in Antioch (Acts 15:32). After some time, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they return to the cities they had preached in during their first missionary journey in order to visit their converts “and see how they do” (Acts 15:36). However, a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas began when Barnabas suggested that John Mark join them. John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (or nephew), had accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first mission but had departed from them early on (see Acts 13:13). Though little is known about why John Mark left or what impact it had on the other missionaries, apparently Paul was still apprehensive about him. Ultimately Paul and Barnabas separated, with Paul choosing Silas as his new missionary companion and Barnabas choosing John Mark. Paul and John Mark were later reconciled, as evidenced in 2 Timothy 4:11 and in Colossians 4:10. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed to Cyprus (see Acts 15:39), and Paul and Silas journeyed to cities on the mainland.

Acts 15:40. Who Was Silas?

Silas was probably the “Silvanus” mentioned by Paul in several of his letters (see 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). Silas was prominent among Church leaders in Jerusalem, and Paul chose him to accompany him on his second missionary journey. Silas was apparently the scribe for the book of 1 Peter (see 1 Peter 5:12).

    Points to Ponder

  • In Acts 13–15, we read accounts of Paul and others performing miracles, preaching, and following direction from the Holy Ghost. How does each of these help to bring about the conversion of souls?

  • Paul was able to overcome intense opposition because of his faith in Jesus Christ. How strong is your faith and belief in Jesus Christ? How well do you stand against opposition to your faith and beliefs?

    Suggested Assignments

  • Carefully study the account of the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15:6–31. List four or five things the Apostles and elders did that illustrate principles of counseling together. Write a paragraph or two describing how those same principles could be followed in a family council to address issues faced by a family.