Acts 16:4

Wooden bridge. Virginia.

Saturday, 15 April 2023

And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Acts 16:4

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).

In the previous verse, Timothy was taken and circumcised by Paul. With that now accomplished, the narrative continues, saying, “And as they went through the cities.”

Rather, the verb is imperfect, “they were going through the cities.” There is a sense of ongoing action as the team travels from city to city. They have already been through the areas of Syria and Cilicia as was seen in Acts 15:41. They had come to Derbe and Lystra in Acts 16:1. So they are continuing on from there. Verse 16:6 will note Phrygia and the region of Galatia, so it is the general area that they are now going through.

Anywhere there was already an established church, they made sure to stop because, as it next says, “they delivered to them the decrees to keep.” Again, the verb is imperfect, saying, “they were delivering to them the decrees to keep.”

In each city where there was a church, they were careful to stop and provide the judgment that had previously been rendered. The narrative may imply that a sufficient number of certified copies of the edict had been prepared and that each church was given its own.

Even if not, the decrees were transmitted to them in a suitable manner. The word translated as “decrees” is dogma. It is now seen for only the second time, the first being in Luke 2:1. Of it, Albert Barnes states –

“It properly means a law or edict of a king or legislature. In this instance it was the decision of the council in a case submitted to it, and implied an obligation on the Christians to submit to that decision, since they had submitted the matter to them. The same principles, also, would be applicable everywhere, and the decision, therefore, at Jerusalem became conclusive.”

As for providing copies or maybe making a copy from a single original, with Silas accompanying the team, he stood as a representative of the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22).  And so, he could vouch for its contents “which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.”

The council was the final human authority on such matters at this time. As such, their decision stood as a witness against any Judaizers that would come in and try to bully the Gentiles into being circumcised and observing the Law of Moses. This was necessary as is evidenced by the trouble that had come about in Antioch. It is the same trouble that Paul agonizes over in his letter to those in Galatia.

At such an early time in the church, the heresy of law observance was at the forefront of issues that were infecting the minds of believers. Personally carrying the contents of the council was, therefore, a matter of critical importance for ensuring the purity of the gospel.

Life application: There is no council of apostles and elders in Jerusalem today. When the apostles were all dead, that was the end of the authority of this body in deciding matters concerning the church. This is a clear and poignant point that tells us of the importance of Scripture for the guidance of the church.

Despite the claims of the Vatican’s “Holy See,” no set council or body has been bestowed the authority over such matters when the body of believers in Jerusalem faded away. And none is needed. The writings of the apostles were saved and compiled into the New Testament. It now stands as the sole authority for deciding matters concerning the faith.

No pope, council, conference, synod, or congregation has the right to make any ruling that does not comply with what is stated in Scripture. If a matter is raised that is not addressed in Scripture, then there is freedom to decide how to handle it. But that decision should not be considered as authoritative and binding, as if it is on the same level as Scripture.

Care must be taken to keep Scripture alone as the divinely inspired authority for matters of the faith. Anything else is to be considered as a guideline for those who meet in a church, but it is a guideline that can be changed as the situation demands. Scripture, on the other hand, cannot be.

This is an important lesson we must learn. Because there is no “council in Jerusalem,” and because God has not left the church to run willy-nilly in every direction, we can – and must – conclude that He has given us a suitable standard by which we can determine necessary matters of the faith. That standard is the Holy Bible.

Glorious God Almighty, may we carefully consider how important it is to maintain the Bible in its proper place in our lives. It is the final authority for all matters relating to our relationship with You. Help us to never trifle with its sacred contents, but to carefully consider it and obediently apply it to our lives. Amen.