Bruce, F.F. The Book of Acts Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988. Kindle Electronic Edition. “IV. Church Extension from Antioch and Apostolic Decree at Jerusalem (12:25-15:35)” “E. The Council of Jerusalem (15:1-35)” pp. 281-300.
Bruce opens his comments on Acts 15 by observing that Luke considered this meeting in Jerusalem as terribly important. Not only did it clarify conversion of Gentiles as not requiring a conversion to Judaism, but it also laid a foundation for fellowship among Christians of different backgrounds and of leadership of elders who were not among the apostles (Bruce 1988, 281). There is a mention in Galatians 2 of a visit to Jerusalem. Scholars differ about whether these are the same visit (Bruce 1988, 282). Bruce suggests that the visit of Peter to Antioch, detailed in Galatians 2, may well have been before the events of Acts 15 and could have spurred on the Acts 15 meeting (Bruce 1988, 284). Acts 15:1-2 speaks of the uneasy relationship between Israelite and Gentile Jews. Some were compelled to be circumcised while others were not (Bruce 1988, 286). If Christianity was viewed as a natural fulfillment of Judaism, it would face the same debate. Verses 3-5 make it clear that the conversion of Gentiles was recognized as genuine, but that some were dissatisfied with what they viewed as its incomplete nature (Bruce 1988, 288).
Once the meeting in Jerusalem was under way, Peter spoke clearly, indicating that Gentiles were able to hear the Gospel and receive it by faith (Bruce 1988, 289). At issue was whether the Gentile believers would be subject to the commands given to Israel. Barnabas and Paul, in verse 12, made comments further recognizing the conversion of Gentiles to Christ even without the Mosaic Law (Bruce 1988, 291).
In verses 13-21 James, the brother of Jesus, summed up the discussion and made a recommendation (Bruce 1988, 292). Bruce notes James’ slight deviations from the text he quotes, finding these differences in other Old Testament passages about reconciliation. James sees the inclusion of Gentiles as part of God’s work of reconciling the world to Himself (Bruce 1988, 293). However, because Jews and Gentiles lived together, it was important to warn Gentiles against certain behaviors which would be very culturally offensive to the Jews (Bruce 1988, 294). They should avoid association with the sacrifices to idols and the sexual practices not accepted within Judaism (Bruce 1988, 295). James’ recommendation was accepted and a letter to that effect was distributed (Bruce 1988, 297). The letter was to be accompanied by a delegation, assuring congregations of its authenticity and force (Bruce 1988, 298).
Acts 15 closes with the positive reception of the letter in Antioch (Bruce 1988, 300). The Jewish and Gentile believers could resume their fellowship with confidence.