Acts 15:28

Monticello, where the US Constitution found its beginning.

Wednesday, 29 March 2023

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: Acts 15:28

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 verses contained the contents of the letter sent from Jerusalem to the churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. They have explained the overall reason for sending the letter and who was bringing the approved decision of the council in support of the position of Barnabas and Paul. Now, the specific directives that will be levied upon the church are to be noted in the next two verses. That begins with the words, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit.”

For the third time since verse 15:22, the word dokeó is used. It signifies “what seems to be.” In verse 15:22, it seemed good to the apostles, elders, and the whole church in Jerusalem to send word to the churches concerning the council’s decision. In verse 15:25, it seemed good to send chosen men along with Barnabas and Paul. Now, it says it seemed good to the Holy Spirit what will be presented as guidelines for the Gentiles.

This word, dokeó, is where the modern term dogma is derived from. The decision of the council, the words of this letter, are what seemed good to the Holy Spirit. This is based on the promise that the Spirit would guide the decisions of the apostles as indicated by Jesus in John –

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” John 16:12-15

It is obvious to the council that the Holy Spirit had accepted the Gentiles. That was evidenced as far back as Acts 8, confirmed in Acts 10, and had been reaffirmed repeatedly as reported by Barnabas and Paul. That is not what is being conveyed here. Rather, the words are based on what will be said. With this understood, the letter continues, saying, “and to us.”

This reflects what was referred to in verse 15:22 mentioned in the second paragraph above. The decision of the council was agreed upon and that decision was to be conveyed to the Gentiles. Said plainly, they were being obedient to what the Holy Spirit had set forth through the inspiration process. Understanding this, the words continue with, “to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.”

In other words, there are things now to be set forth that the Gentiles were to follow through with. As noted in a previous commentary, these are written now, but there is nothing to suggest that they could not later be modified with proper instruction. Such modification will be seen in the epistles when Paul gives an explanation concerning foods sacrificed to idols, what to do with sexually immoral members of the church, etc.

For the time being, these few judgments are given to avoid any conflict that might arise between Jewish and Gentile believers. As Cambridge says, “They put forward therefore this unerring guide as the warrant for their decree. And as they at the suggestion of the Spirit were laying aside their longstanding prejudices against intercourse with Gentiles, they claim that the Gentiles in their turn should deal tenderly with the scruples of Jews.”

The council’s words call the judgments necessary. Albert Barnes gives three logical reasons for this –

(1) In order to preserve the peace of the church.
(2) to conciliate the minds of the Jewish converts, Acts 15:21.
(3) in their circumstances particularly, because the crime which is specified – licentiousness was one to which all early converts were especially exposed.

The things to be mandated now seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and yet Paul further clarifies them as he is led by the Spirit. This means that they are temporary measures awaiting further, more precise, attention. As Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, it is fitting that those clarifications should come through him.

Life application: Of the words of this verse that say, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us,” Charles Ellicott states, “The words have since become almost a formula for the decrees of councils and synods, often used most recklessly when those decrees bore most clearly the marks of human policy and passion.”

Because of this, Bishop Wordsworth says, “It cannot be held that councils of the Church now are entitled to adopt the words of the text in the framing of canons.”

This is true to an extent. But what is that extent? There must be some measure by which an individual, a church, or a denomination can claim that something seems good to the Holy Spirit. There is, and that measure is the completed word of God. It is as common as bees in a hive for denominations today to claim that they are being led by the Holy Spirit at their annual conferences. The pope, likewise, will often toss in the supposed presence of the Holy Spirit when referring to his decisions or those of the gathering of the Roman Catholic church.

But such decisions cannot “seem good to the Holy Spirit” if they are in conflict with the completed word breathed out by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the measure and the standard by which any decision concerning man’s spiritual conduct before God must be the Bible.

This is another of the many reasons why it is untrue that people are receiving revelation from God today. People constantly claim that they are being given prophetic utterances, directions from God directly into their heads, inspiration concerning calculations about the timing of the rapture and other end-time events, and so forth. Unless in agreement with Scripture, these cannot be true. The only time such words concerning God are true is if they can be validated by going to Scripture.

Be immovable in your thinking about these things. If God has said in His word that “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority,” then no calculation concerning the timing of the rapture will ever be of God. He has said we won’t know. Therefore, such information cannot be derived even from the Bible itself. As God has forbidden homosexuality in the word, then it cannot be that God will condone it in the church today.

The Bible is the standard. It is the breathed-out word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And it is sufficient for the conduct of our lives as we live them out in the presence of God.

O God, help us to think clearly and rationally concerning Your word. Help us not to fall into the error of thinking anything which is contrary to what is recorded there. It is not for us to claim what Your word has not allowed. And so, Lord, may we hold fast to Your word alone for our conduct, doctrine, and walk before you. Amen.