Acts 15:24

Virginia countryside.

Saturday, 25 March 2023

Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment— Acts 15:24

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

The previous verse cited the introduction to the letter to the Gentile brethren in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. The main content of the letter begins with this verse. Of note is that some manuscripts (and thus some versions) drop out the highly important words of this verse concerning law observance and circumcision –

“Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions.” ESV et al

“Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law’—to whom we gave no such commandment.” NKJV et al

Although the words are missing here, anyone who reads the full content of the chapter will know exactly what is intended. Whether the words were added by one text for clarity or dropped out of the other for some unknown reason, the intent of the overall passage remains unchanged. Having noted that, the verse begins with, “Since we have heard.”

The council immediately distances itself from any connection to those who had brought the false message of circumcision and law observance presented in Acts 15:1 –

“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”

The council heard about this but had not directed it. That will be explained more fully as the verse unfolds. For now, the words continue, saying, “that some who went out from us.”

Those in the council openly acknowledge that the source of the trouble was “from us,” but no further explanation is given. In other words, because the letter is addressed to Gentiles within the church, it could simply mean “from Jews.” That is probably the way it should be taken, meaning in a general sense and not from either the apostles or elders in Jerusalem. Next, it notes that these unsanctioned people, “have troubled you with words.”

These men, whoever they were, did not come with either a letter of authority or with a demonstration of signs and wonders that may have substantiated the message of true apostles. They spoke as if they possessed authority within the church but their words were not on behalf of the church. Instead, they brought forth doctrines that had no basis or standing within the doctrines set forth for Gentile converts.

In fact, to this point, the matter had not even been established by the apostles and elders. As such, their message was without any basis at all. Because of this, the letter continues, saying that their words were “unsettling your souls.”

Here is a word found nowhere else in Scripture, anaskeuazó, translated as “unsettling.” Of this word, Vincent’s Word Studies says –

“Only here in New Testament, and not found either in the Septuagint or in the Apocrypha. Originally, it means to pack up baggage, and so to carry away; hence, to dismantle or disfurnish. … From this comes the more general meaning to lay waste, or ravage. The idea here is that of turning the minds of the Gentile converts upside down; throwing them into confusion like a dismantled house.”

Where there was order and harmony at the teaching of Paul and Barnabas, there was suddenly upheaval and turmoil because of the false message of these men. This is perfectly evident from the words of Acts 15:2, “Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them.”

The Gentile converts probably stood there watching as the two sides sparred over the issue, which, according to these false teachers, was that “You must be circumcised and keep the law.”

This is the message the false teachers had carried as was previously cited from Acts 15:1. If their teaching was true, it would mean that salvation was conditional and up to the works of each person. There would be no security in trusting in the works of Jesus. Hence, it would relegate the cross of Christ to a door that He might have opened, but which would need to be kept open by the power of the individual.

And more, if the door was shut again, it would then be up to the individual, not Christ, to reopen it. The utterly ridiculous thought presented by these heretics would mean that “Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21).

Of these aberrant heretics who carried their false doctrine to the Gentiles, the letter next says, “to whom we gave no such commandment.” Again, Vincent’s Word Studies provides the intent of the statement –

“The word originally means to put asunder; hence, to distinguish, and so of a commandment or injunction, to distinguish and emphasize it. Therefore implying express orders, and so always in the New Testament, where it is almost uniformly rendered charge. The idea here is, then, “we gave no express injunction on the points which these Judaizers have raised.”

These Jews went forward without any such authority or charge. They had appointed themselves as the arbiter of what God was doing and then they sent themselves out to express their self-appointed authority to others. The council has, through their concise words, completely removed themselves from these false teachers and their doctrine. Their letter, which is now included in Scripture, testifies to the matter as much today as it did when it was written.

Life application: The world is filled with exactly the type of people that are described in the letter from the council. They have a certain genealogy or heritage that allows them to appear as if they are specialists in their field, not because of proper training and endowed authority, but because of who they are in relation to some unimportant aspect of their existence.

For example, a person may be related to a famous preacher or teacher who rightly handled the word of God. Along comes his son, we’ll call him Dandy Andy. He does not rightly handle the word and he has never established himself in the manner expected of a proper handler of the word. And yet, because of who he is in relation to his dad, he is given an ear and becomes a famous and yet unsound teacher of the word.

Another example would be someone who is Jewish. For no other reason than that, he is given an ear. He knows just enough of the word to be able to make illogical connections about what is going on in the world. However, he is a skilled writer and so he writes books about world events, tying them in with his unsound understanding of the Bible. Because the books are tingling to the ear, supposedly based on Scripture, and because he is Jewish, he becomes famous and is sought out as a renowned “scholar” of the Bible.

Why do these things happen? The answer is, “Because those who listen to these people are 1) not willing to learn Scripture and find out if what they are being sold is sound or not; 2) starstruck by the figure, joining in to be a part of what is exciting and novel; or 3) find the message pleasing to the ears, sensational, and exciting.”

For these, and certainly other reasons, countless people are pulled away from what is sound. Entire denominations of people have followed false teachers, and their false messages have continued on for generations, simply because the word is ignored.

Read the word! Meditate on the word! Be prepared to evaluate the message of those you encounter against the word! In this, you will keep yourself from harm.

Lord God, we are so very thankful to You because of Your wonderful word. It is a guide for our lives, a light for our path, the illumination of Your intent for us, and a solid rock we can stand on against the wiles of false teachers. Help us to treat this word with care. It is what reveals Your heart in the giving of Jesus. That is what we need to pursue. And so, help us to do so all the days of our lives. Amen.