A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 15:30-16:5. The sequel to the Council.
Having shared with his readers the text of the letter, Luke now documents its reception by the largely Gentile churches, first in Syrian Antioch (15:30-35), secondly in Syria and Cilicia (15:36-40), and thirdly in Galatia (16:1-5).
a). Antioch received the letter (15:30-35).
Antioch was named at the head of the letter as the first recipient, because it was there that the original controversy had broken out and from there that the appeal for help had come.
This gathering together of the church in Antioch must have reminded them of a similar meeting some time previously (14:27). Paul and Barnabas were present on both occasions. Then it had been to receive a report of the first missionary journey with its wonderful news of the conversion of Gentiles; now it was to receive the Jerusalem letter with its equally wonderful news that Gentiles who had believed in Jesus were to be accepted as Christians, without the need to become Jews as well. Small wonder that, on hearing the contents of the letter, *the people…were glad for its encouraging message (31). Judas and Silas*, now identified as *prophets*, stayed on for some time *and said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers* (32), but they then returned to Jerusalem, sent on their way *with the blessing of peace* (33). The statement of verse 34 that ‘Silas decided to remain there’ (NIV margin cf. AV) is obviously a gloss. The best manuscripts omit it. It was probably added to explain how in verse 40 Silas was in Antioch, but it contradicts the plain statement of verse 33 that he and Judas both left. *Paul and Barnabas* stayed, however, and with *many others taught and preached* (literally, ‘evangelized’) *the word of the Lord* (35).
b). Syria and Cilicia receive the letter (15:36-41.
The single province of Syria (to which Antioch belonged) and Ciliica (in which Tarsus was situated) had been the scene of some of Paul’s earliest evangelistic endeavours (9:30; Gal. 1:21, 23). It evidently had some Gentile churches, for they are specifically named at the head of the Jerusalem letter (23). But before Luke can narrate how the letter reached them, he is obliged in his honesty to tell the sad story of how Paul and Barnabas came to separate. (vv. 36-41)
We observe that it was *some time later* (perhaps when winter gave place to spring and travel became feasible again) that Paul made his proposal to Barnabas that they should revisit the Galatian converts and see how they were getting on (36). Barnabas agreed, but wanted to take his cousin John Mark with them, perhaps to give him a second chance (37). But Paul considered this unwise, for he took a serious view of Mark’s desertion and lack of perseverance (38). The disagreement between them was so sharp that they parted company, Barnabas taking Mark and sailing for his home country Cyprus (39), while Paul chose Silas, whose recent ministry in Antioch had evidently impressed him, and they were *commended* by the church *to the grace of the Lord* (40), just as Paul and Barnabas had been for their missionary journey (14:26). God certainly overruled ‘this melancholy disagreement’, since as a result of it ‘out of one pair two were made’, as Bengel commented. But this example of God’s providence may not be used as an excuse for Christian quarrelling. It was now that *he* (Paul, though with Silas, as we have just learned) *went through Syria and Cilicia*, which would involve their walking through the majestic, narrow pass in the Taurus mountains known as the ‘Cilician Gates’, *strengthening (JB, ‘consolidating’) the churches* (41), without doubt by delivering the letter as well as by their teaching and encouragement.
Tomorrow: c). Galatia receives the letter. (16:1-5).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.