elders: Lit., “older men.” Here the Greek term pre·sbyʹte·ros refers to those who held a position of responsibility in the early Christian congregation. The elders of the Jerusalem congregation are mentioned together with the apostles as the ones to whom Paul, Barnabas, and some other brothers from Syrian Antioch went in order to get the matter of circumcision settled. So just as some elders served in fleshly Israel on a national level, these elders together with the apostles formed a governing body for all the Christian congregations in the first century C.E. This indicates that the original group serving as a governing body, the 12 apostles, had now been enlarged.—Ac 1:21, 22, 26; see study notes on Mt 16:21; Ac 11:30.
issue: Or “dispute.” The Greek word zeʹte·ma often refers to a controversial question or a specific issue being debated. It is related to a Greek word meaning “to seek” (ze·teʹo).—See study note on Ac 15:7.
conversion: The Greek word used here, e·pi·stro·pheʹ, comes from a verb that means “to return; to turn back (around).” (Joh 12:40; 21:20; Ac 15:36) Used in a spiritual sense, it may involve turning to or returning to the true God as well as turning away from idols and false gods. (This verb appears at Ac 3:19; 14:15; 15:19; 26:18, 20; 2Co 3:16.) At 1Th 1:9, the verb is used in the phrase “how you turned to God from your idols.” Conversion is preceded by repentance.—See study notes on Mt 3:2, 8; Ac 3:19; 26:20.
those of the sect of the Pharisees: Apparently, these Christians were still identified in some sense with their Pharisaic background.—Compare study note on Ac 23:6.
intense discussion: Or “disputing.” The Greek word used here is related to a verb meaning “to seek” (ze·teʹo) and denotes “a seeking; a questioning.” (Kingdom Interlinear) It thus indicates that the apostles and elders diligently searched out the matter by asking questions, by carefully investigating the issue, and no doubt by frankly and openly expressing their different opinions.
wonders: Or “portents.”—See study note on Ac 2:19.
James: Likely referring to Jesus’ half brother and the James mentioned at Ac 12:17. (See study notes on Mt 13:55; Ac 12:17.) It appears that when the circumcision issue came before “the apostles and elders in Jerusalem,” James presided over the discussion. (Ac 15:1, 2) Apparently referring to that occasion, Paul mentions that James, Cephas (Peter), and John were “the ones who seemed to be pillars” of the Jerusalem congregation.—Ga 2:1-9.
Symeon: That is, Simon Peter. The Greek form Sy·me·onʹ closely reflects the Hebrew form of the name (Simeon). The use of the Greek form of the name that closely reflects the Hebrew form of the name indicates that Hebrew may have been the language spoken at this meeting. In the Bible, the apostle Peter is only once called by this form of the name.—See study note on Mt 10:2.
a people for his name: This expression may allude to statements in the Hebrew Scriptures where Jehovah is said to have chosen a people as his special property. (Ex 19:5; De 7:6; 14:2; 26:18, 19) This new people bearing Jehovah’s name, referred to as “the Israel of God,” that is, spiritual Israel, would now also include non-Jewish believers. (Ga 6:16; Ro 11:25, 26a; Re 14:1) They were to declare the praises of the One they represented and were to glorify his name publicly. (1Pe 2:9, 10) As had been true of fleshly Israel, members of spiritual Israel were the ones Jehovah called “the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Isa 43:21) Those early Christians boldly proclaimed that Jehovah is the one true God, exposing as false all the gods that were being worshipped at that time.—1Th 1:9.
the words of the Prophets: The speech by Symeon, or Simon Peter (Ac 15:7-11), and the evidence submitted by Barnabas and Paul (Ac 15:12) probably brought to James’ mind pertinent scriptures that shed light on the subject under discussion. (Joh 14:26) After saying that “the words of the Prophets agree” with what was just presented, James quoted Am 9:11, 12, a book in the part of the Hebrew Scriptures commonly called “the Prophets.”—Mt 22:40; Ac 15:16-18; see study note on Lu 24:44.
the tent of David: Or “the booth (dwelling) of David.” Jehovah promised that David’s kingdom would “be secure forever.” (2Sa 7:12-16) “The tent of David,” that is, his royal house, or dynasty, fell when King Zedekiah was dethroned. (Eze 21:27) From that time on, no king of the line of David occupied “Jehovah’s throne” in earthly Jerusalem. (1Ch 29:23) However, Jehovah would rebuild the symbolic tent of David with David’s descendant Jesus as the permanent King. (Ac 2:29-36) James indicated that this rebuilding foretold by Amos (the reestablishment of the kingship in David’s line) would include the gathering of Jesus’ disciples (Kingdom heirs) from among both Jews and Gentiles.—Am 9:11, 12.
so that the men who remain may earnestly seek Jehovah: As shown in the study note on Ac 15:15, James quoted the words of Am 9:11, 12. Parts of this quote, however, read somewhat differently from the Hebrew text that is currently available. It has been suggested that the difference may exist because James quoted from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, when James referred to Peter, he used a Greek form of the name that closely reflects the Hebrew name Simeon, indicating that Hebrew may have been spoken at this meeting. (Ac 15:14) If that is so, another possibility is that James quoted the verses in Hebrew but Luke recorded the quotation using the wording from the Septuagint. This approach was used by Luke, James, and other Bible writers when they quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures. While some of such verses quoted from the Septuagint vary slightly from the Hebrew text that is available today, Jehovah permitted the Bible writers to use this translation, thereby making such quotes part of the inspired record. (2Ti 3:16) Regarding this quotation from Am 9:12, it is noteworthy that the Septuagint reads “the men who remain,” whereas the available Hebrew manuscripts read “what is remaining of Edom.” Some suggest that the difference may have arisen because in ancient Hebrew the word for “men” looked very similar to the word for “Edom.” The Hebrew words for “seek” and “possess” also look similar. It has been suggested that the Septuagint rendering of Am 9:12 was based on an ancient Hebrew text that varied from the Hebrew text available today; however, that remains uncertain. Whatever the case, the Septuagint and the Hebrew Masoretic text convey the basic thrust of James’ argument; both texts indicate that Amos foretold that Gentiles would be called by Jehovah’s name.
Jehovah: James says at Ac 15:14 that Symeon related “how God . . . turned his attention to the nations,” and in verse 19, James refers to “the nations who are turning to God.” James is here quoting from Am 9:11, 12. In the original Hebrew text, the divine name appears once, in the expression “declares [or, “says”] Jehovah.” However, the Greek term Kyʹri·os (Lord) appears twice here at Ac 15:17, both times referring to Jehovah. In view of the context, the Hebrew Scripture background, and the use of the term Kyʹri·os in the Septuagint and elsewhere in the Christian Greek Scriptures, there are good reasons for using the divine name in both occurrences of Kyʹri·os in this verse.—See App. C1 and C3 introduction; Ac 15:17.
together with people of all the nations: That is, with non-Jews, or Gentiles. A Gentile who submitted himself to circumcision would no longer be considered a man of the nations but would “become like a native of the land,” in other words, a Jew. (Ex 12:48, 49) In Esther’s day, many Gentiles “were declaring themselves Jews.” (Es 8:17) It is worth noting that the Septuagint rendering of Es 8:17 says that these Gentiles “were circumcised, and became Jews.” The prophecy at Am 9:11, 12, as quoted here in Acts, stated that “people of all the nations” (uncircumcised Gentiles) would join “the men who remain” of the house of Israel (Jews and circumcised proselytes) and would become “people who are called by my [Jehovah’s] name.” On the basis of this prophecy, the disciples discerned that uncircumcised people of the nations would not have to get circumcised to become acceptable to God.
people who are called by my name: Or “people on whom my name has been called.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, Jehovah’s name being called on the Israelites indicated that they were his people. (De 28:10; 2Ch 7:14; Isa 43:7; 63:19; Da 9:19) Jehovah also placed his name on Jerusalem with its temple, thereby accepting it as the approved center for worship of him.—2Ki 21:4, 7.
my decision is: Or “my opinion (conclusion) is.” Lit., “I am judging.” As the Greek expression is used here, it does not indicate that James, who apparently was acting as chairman of the meeting, tried to impose his own opinion on the entire group. Rather, he was proposing for their consideration a course of action based on the evidence heard and on what the Scriptures said about the matter. One lexicon defines the Greek word in this context as “to make a judgment based on taking various factors into account.” Therefore, the verb used here refers, not to a formal judicial decision, but to James’ opinion based on his conclusion from the scripture just quoted.
sexual immorality: The Greek word por·neiʹa is a general term for all sexual activity that is unlawful according to the Bible. It includes adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between unmarried individuals, homosexual acts, and bestiality.—See Glossary.
what is strangled: Or “what is killed without draining its blood.” This prohibition would apparently also include an animal that dies by itself or as a result of a wound caused by another animal. In either case, the animal’s body would not have been properly drained of its blood.—Ex 22:31; Le 17:15; De 14:21.
Moses: James referred to the writings of Moses, which included not only the Law code but also a record of God’s dealings with His people and the indications of His will that predated the Law. For example, God’s view on the consumption of blood, on adultery, and on idolatry can be plainly seen in the book of Genesis. (Ge 9:3, 4; 20:2-9; 35:2, 4) Jehovah thus revealed principles that are binding on all of mankind, whether Jew or Gentile. The decision recorded at Ac 15:19, 20 would not “trouble,” or make things difficult for, Gentile Christians by imposing on them the many requirements of the Mosaic Law. It would also show respect for the conscientious views held by Jewish Christians, who over the years had heard Moses . . . read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath. (See study notes on Lu 4:16; Ac 13:15.) The recommended course would strengthen the bond between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
the apostles and the elders: See study note on Ac 15:2.
Greetings!: The Greek word khaiʹro, which literally means “to rejoice,” is here used as a salutation and conveys the thought “may things be well with you.” The introduction to this letter concerning circumcision, which was sent to the congregations, follows the common ancient form of letter writing. First the writer was mentioned, then a person was addressed, and third the common greeting was given. (See study note on Ac 23:26.) Of all the letters included in the Christian Greek Scriptures, only the letter of James uses the Greek term khaiʹro as a salutation in the same way as this letter from the first-century governing body. (Jas 1:1) The disciple James was involved in formulating this letter, which supports the conclusion that the James who wrote the letter bearing his name is the same as the one who had a prominent part in the meeting recounted in Acts chapter 15.
subvert you: Or “unsettle you.” Here “you” is rendered from the Greek “the souls of you [plural].” In this context, psy·kheʹ, traditionally rendered “soul,” refers to the person himself, so it is rendered by the pronoun “you.”—See Glossary, “Soul.”
unanimous: Lit., “like-mindedly (of one mind).” The Greek word ho·mo·thy·ma·donʹ appears several times in the book of Acts, often describing the unique unity among the early Christians. Some examples are “with one purpose,” Ac 1:14; “with a united purpose,” Ac 2:46; “with one accord,” Ac 4:24.
have given up their lives for: Here the plural form of the Greek word psy·kheʹ, often rendered “soul,” is rendered “lives.” It can refer to a person or to a person’s life. (See Glossary, “Soul.”) The whole phrase could be understood to mean “have risked their lives (souls) for” or “have devoted their lives (or, themselves) to.”
keep abstaining from: Or “keep away from.” The verb used here could apply to all the practices that follow. Christians were to avoid idolatry, sexual immorality, and the eating of meat from animals that were strangled and thus not bled properly. With regard to abstaining from blood, the meaning of this verb is broader than simply not consuming blood. It implies avoiding all misuse of blood, showing regard for its sacredness.—Le 17:11, 14; De 12:23.
keep abstaining . . . from blood: This decree rests, ultimately, on God’s command not to eat blood, a command given to Noah and his sons and, therefore, to all mankind. (Ge 9:4-6) Eight centuries later, God put that command in his Law to the Israelites. (Le 17:13-16) Fifteen centuries after that, he reaffirmed it to the Christian congregation, as mentioned here. In God’s eyes, abstaining from blood is as important as avoiding idolatry and sexual immorality.
what is strangled: See study note on Ac 15:20.
sexual immorality: See study note on Ac 15:20.
Good health to you!: Or “Farewell.” The Greek expression used here was typical for letters of that time. It does not necessarily mean that the requirements mentioned immediately before were given as health measures, suggesting that ‘if you abstain from these things, you will have better health.’ However, it was a closing wish for the recipient to have strength, health, and happiness. The expression is similar in intent to the Hebrew expression sha·lohmʹ, wishing “peace” to the recipient. (Ex 4:18; Jg 18:6; 19:20; 1Sa 1:17) In fact, one translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures into modern Hebrew (referred to as J22 in App. C4) renders the expression sha·lohmʹ la·khemʹ, “May you have peace!”
Some later Greek manuscripts and some ancient translations into other languages, with slight variations in wording, add: “But it seemed good to Silas to remain there further; however Judas alone departed for Jerusalem.” These words, though, do not appear in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts and thus are not part of the original text of Acts. The passage was probably a marginal note intended to explain Ac 15:40; in time, it was added to the text of a minority of manuscripts.—See App. A3.
of Jehovah: In the book of Acts, the expression undeserved kindness is most often connected with God. (Ac 11:23; 13:43; 20:24, 32) At Ac 14:26, the similar expression “entrusted to the undeserved kindness of God” is found.—See App. C3 introduction; Ac 15:40.