Unit 19, Day 2: Acts 15

New Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students, 2015


Introduction

Church members from Judea traveled to Antioch and taught the converted Gentiles that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas took the issue to the Apostles in Jerusalem. This event, sometimes called the Jerusalem conference, was held in approximately A.D. 49–50. At this conference Peter testified that God would save the faithful Jews and Gentiles, regardless of whether they had been circumcised. James ratified Peter’s words by using the words of the scriptures. The Apostles sent letters to Church members in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia explaining that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. Paul chose Silas as his missionary companion and embarked on his second mission.

Acts 15:1–29

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

Write down at least five major decisions you will need to make now and in the future: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ponder how you would answer the following questions:

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

  • What can you do to know God’s will for you?

As you study Acts 15, look for truths that can guide you as you seek to know God’s will for you.

To better understand Acts 15, it is important to know that as Paul and Barnabas were visiting the Saints in Antioch, some Jews from Judea who had converted to Christianity made certain claims concerning what gentile converts needed to do to be saved. These men, and others like them, have come to be known as “Judaizers” because they insisted that the gentile converts also needed to convert to Judaism.

Read Acts 15:1, looking for what these men from Judea claimed all gentile converts needed to do to be saved.

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. Those who received it enjoyed the privileges and accepted the responsibilities of the covenant” (see Guide to the Scriptures, “Circumcision,” scriptures.lds.org). Circumcision became a token or reminder of the covenant the people had made with God. The practice was reinstituted during the days of Moses and continued to be practiced among the believing house of Israel until the time of the Savior.

Read Acts 15:2–3, looking for what happened after Paul and Barnabas heard these men claim that the gentile converts needed to be circumcised. The phrase “no small dissension and disputation with them” (Acts 15:2) means that the Church members argued with Paul and Barnabas claiming that Gentiles needed to be circumcised.

According to verse 2, what did they determine should be done?

Read Acts 15:4–6, looking for what happened when Paul and the others arrived in Jerusalem. The phrase “consider of this matter” in verse 6 refers to counseling together.

Read Acts 15:7–11 looking for what Peter said to the council. The phrase “when there had been much disputing” in verse 7 means that the Apostles had vigorously debated the issue of circumcision.

  1. journal icon1.

    Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: What do you think Peter meant when he said that God “put no difference between us [the converted Jews] and them [the converted Gentiles]” (Acts 15:9)?

Peter was the senior Apostle on the earth and was, therefore, authorized to speak for the Lord. Peter’s inspired declaration that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised is an example of the Lord guiding His Church by revealing His will to His Apostles (see Acts 1:2).

From these verses we can learn the following truth: We can know the will of the Lord through His living prophets and apostles. Consider writing or noting this truth in your scriptures near Acts 15:6–7.

In our day, what are some ways the living Apostles help us know the revelations they have received? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Read Acts 15:12–15, looking for how the multitude responded to Peter’s declaration that circumcision was not necessary for salvation.

Peter presided at this conference, and it appears that James conducted the meeting. James was the half-brother of Jesus Christ and the first bishop of the congregation of the Church in Jerusalem. As recorded in Acts 15:16–18, James quoted the prophet Amos (see 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, we learn the following truth: We can know the will of the Lord through studying the scriptures. Consider writing or noting this truth in your scriptures near Acts 15:15–18.

Read Acts 15:19–20, looking for what James counseled Church leaders do.

The word sentence in verse 19 means proposal or recommendation. James was voicing his support of the policy that Peter, who presided over the Church, had announced in Acts 15:7–11 (see Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3. vols. [1965–73], 2:143). In Acts 15:20, notice what parts of the law of Moses James said converts still needed to keep.

Read Acts 15:22–27, looking for the council’s decision.

The council decided to send letters to the Church members declaring that circumcision was not required for salvation and that this was the united decision of the Apostles. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles follow these same practices in our day to provide inspired guidance to Church members.

From this account in Acts 15, we learn the following truth: By counseling together and seeking revelation from God, Church leaders receive inspiration about difficult problems.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson

To better understand how this truth relates to the Church today, consider the following statement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. After using the examples in Acts 10 and Acts 15 to illustrate how the Savior “may direct Himself to His servants individually or acting in council,” Elder Christofferson said: “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, 87–88).

Read Acts 15:28–29, looking for what the Apostles and elders wrote in their letters to the Church members. The phrase “to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” in verse 28 means that the people did not need to obey any extra requirements that had come from people and not from God.

According to Acts 15:28, how did the Apostles know God’s will regarding the requirements for the converted Gentiles?

Not only had the Holy Ghost inspired the Apostles as they counseled together, but He also provided a confirming witness that their decision was correct. From Acts 15:28 we learn that one way we can know the will of the Lord is through inspiration from the Holy Ghost.

  1. journal icon2.

    Review your list of major decisions from the beginning of the lesson. In your scripture study journal, explain how you will use the words of modern prophets and the scriptures to obtain the direction of the Lord in current and future circumstances.

Acts 15:30–41

Paul and others deliver the Apostles’ letter to the Church members at Antioch

Acts 15:30–41 explains that several Church leaders delivered the Apostles’ letter to the members of the Church in Antioch. Then, after preaching in Antioch, Paul asked Barnabas to go with him to visit the places where they had preached during their first mission. Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, but Paul refused because Mark had left them during their first mission. After some contention between these two noble Church leaders, it was resolved when Barnabas decided to take Mark with him to Cyprus and Paul chose Silas as a mission companion and set out on his second mission.

It is not a sin to disagree with others. As this account illustrates, instead of being contentious we should seek to find solutions to our disagreements together.

  1. journal icon3.

    Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:

    I have studied Acts 15 and completed this lesson on (date).

    Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: