Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles: Homily XXXII on Acts xv. 1.
Acts XV. 1
“And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”
Mark 734 how at every step of the right progress in respect of the Gentiles, the beginning is brought in as matter of necessity. Before this (Peter) being found fault with, justified himself, and said all that he said in the tone of apology, which was what made his words acceptable: then, the Jews having turned away, upon this (Paul) came to the Gentiles. Here again, seeing another extravagance coming in, upon this (the apostle) enacts the law. For as it is likely that they, as being taught of God, discoursed to all indifferently, this moved to jealousy them of the Jews (who had believed). And they did not merely speak of circumcision, but they said, Ye cannot even be saved. Whereas the very opposite to this was the case, that receiving circumcision they could not be saved. Do you mark how closely the trials succeed each other, from within, from without? It is well ordered too, that this happens when Paul is present, that he may answer them. “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15.2.) And Paul does not say, What? Have I not a right to be believed after so many signs? but he complied for their sakes. “And being brought on their way by the Church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.” (Acts 15.3.) And observe, the consequence is that all the Samaritans also, learn what has come to the Gentiles: and they rejoiced. “And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the Church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.” (Acts 15.4.) See what a providence is here! “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that of old days God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe.” (Acts 15.5-7.) Observe Peter from the first standing aloof (κεχωρισμένον) from the affair, and even to this time judaizing. And yet (says he) “ye know.” (Acts 10:45, Acts 11:2.) Perhaps those were present who of old found fault with him in the matter of Cornelius, and went in with him (on that occasion): for this reason he brings them forward as witnesses. “From old days,” he says, “did choose among you.” What means, “Among you?” Either, in Palestine, or, you being present. “By my mouth.” Observe how he shows that it was God speaking by him, and no human utterance. “And God, that knoweth the hearts, gave testimony unto them:” he refers them to the spiritual testimony: “by giving them the Holy Ghost even as unto us.” (Acts 15.8.) Everywhere he puts the Gentiles upon a thorough equality. “And put no difference between us and them, having purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15.9.) From faith alone, he says, they obtained the same gifts. This is also meant as a lesson to those (objectors); this is able to teach even them that faith only is needed, not works nor circumcision. For indeed they do not say all this only by way of apology for the Gentiles, but to teach (the Jewish believers) also to abandon the Law. However, at present this is not said. “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples?” (Acts 15.10.) What means, “Tempt ye God?” As if He had not power to save by faith. Consequently, it proceeds from a want of faith, this bringing in the Law. Then he shows that they themselves were nothing benefited by it, and he turns the whole (stress of his speech) against the Law, not against them, and (so) cuts short the accusation of them: “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15.11.) How full of power these words! The same that Paul says at large in the Epistle to the Romans, the same says Peter here. “For if Abraham,” says (Paul), “was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.” (Rom. iv. 2.) Do you perceive that all this is more a lesson for them than apology for the Gentiles? However, if he had spoken this without a plea for speaking, he 735 would have been suspected: an occasion having offered, he lays hold of it, and speaks out fearlessly. See on all occasions how the designs of their foes are made to work with them. If those had not stirred the question, these things would not have been spoken, nor what follows. 736
(Recapitulation.) (b) But 737 let us look more closely at what has been said. “And certain men,” etc. In Jerusalem, then, there were not any believers from among the Gentiles: but in Antioch of course there were. Therefore 738 there came down certain yet laboring under this disease of the love of rule, and wishing to have those of the Gentiles attached to them. And yet Paul, though he too was learned in the Law, was not thus affected. “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small disputation with them,” etc. (Acts 15.2.) But when he returned from thence, the doctrine also became more exact. For if they at Jerusalem enjoin no such thing, much more these (have no right to do so). “And being brought on their way,” etc, “they caused no small joy to the brethren.” (Acts 15.3.) Do you mark, as many as are not enamoured of rule, rejoiced in their believing? It was no ambitious feeling that prompted their recitals, neither was it for display, but in justification of the preaching to the Gentiles. (Acts 15.4.) Thus they say nothing of what had happened in the matter of the Jews. 739 “But there arose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed,” etc. (Acts 15.5.) (a) But even if they would needs bring over the Gentiles to their side, they learn that neither must the Apostles overlook it. 740 “And the Apostles and elders,” etc. (Acts 15.6.) “Among us,” he says, “God chose:” and “from old days:” long ago, he says, not now. And 741 this too is no small point—at a time when Jews believed, not turned away (from the Gospel). “Among us;” an argument from the place: “of old days,” from the time. And that expression, “Chose:” just as in their own case 742 he says not, (so) willed it, but, “Chose that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel and believe.” Whence is this proved? From the Spirit. Then he shows that the testimony given them is not of grace merely, but of their virtue. “And God which knoweth the hearts bare them witness” (Acts 15.8); having afforded to them nothing less (than to us), for, he says, “Put no difference between us and them.” (Acts 15.9.) Why then, hearts are what one must everywhere look to. 743 And it is very appositely said, “God that knoweth the hearts bare them witness:” as in the former instance, “Thou, Lord, that knowest the hearts of all men.” (Acts 1.24.) For to show that this is the meaning, observe what he adds, “Put no difference between us and them.” When he has mentioned the testimony borne to them, then he utters that great word, the same which Paul speaks, “Neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision.” (1 Cor. vii. 19.) “That he may make the twain one in Himself.” (Eph. ii. 5.) Of all these the seeds lie in Peters discourse. And he does not say (between) them of the circumcision, but “Between us,” that is the Apostles, “and them.” Then, that the expression, “no difference” may not seem an outrage, After faith, he says—“Having purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15.10)—He thoroughly cleansed them first. 744 Then he shows, not that the Law was evil, but themselves weak.—“But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we shall be saved even as they.” (Acts 15.11.) Mark how he ends with a fearful consideration. He 745 does not discourse to them from the Prophets, but from things present, of which themselves were witnesses. Of course 746 (the Prophets) also themselves anon add their testimony (infra v. 15), and make the reason stronger by what has now come to pass. And observe, he first permits the question to be moved in the Church, and then speaks. “And put no difference between”—he said not, them of the circumcision, but “us and them,” i.e. the Gentiles: for 747 this (gradual advance) little by little is stronger. “Why therefore tempt ye God?” who is become (the) God of the Gentiles: for this was tempting: 748 * * * whether He is able to save even after the Law. See what he does. He shows that they are in danger. For if, what the Law could not do, faith had power to do, “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus we shall be saved even as they” (comp. Gal. ii. 16): but faith falling off, behold, themselves (are) in destruction. And he did not say, Why do ye disbelieve? which was more harsh, but, “Tempt God,” and that when the fact is demonstrated.
(c) Great effrontery this, of the Pharisees, that even after faith they set up the Law, and will not obey the Apostles. But see these, how mildly they speak, and not in the tone of authority: such words are amiable, and more apt to fix themselves in the mind. Observe, it is nowhere a display of words, but demonstration by facts, by the Spirit. And yet, though they have such proofs, they still speak gently. And observe they 749 do not come accusing those at Antioch, but “declaring all things that God had done with them:” (Acts 15.4) but thence again these men lay hold upon the occasion (to compass their own objects), “but there rose up,” etc. (Acts 15.1.) Such were the pains they took in their love of power: and it was not with the knowledge of the Apostles that they Paul and Barnabas were blamed. But still they brought forward none of these charges: but when they have proved the matter, then (the Apostles) write in stronger terms.
For gentleness 750 is everywhere a great good: gentleness, I say, not stupid indifference; gentleness, not adulation: for between these there is a vast difference. Nothing ruffled Paul, nothing discomposed Peter. When thou hast convincing proofs, why lose thy temper, to render these of none effect? It is impossible for one who is out of temper ever to persuade. Yesterday also we discoursed about anger; but there is no reason why we should not to-day also; perchance a second exhortation coming directly after the first will effect somewhat. For indeed a medicine though of virtue to heal a wound, unless it be constantly renewed, mars all. And think not that our continual discoursing about the same things is a condemning of you: for if we condemned you, we should not discourse; but now, hoping that you will gain much, we speak these things. Would indeed that we did speak constantly of the same things: would that there were no other subject of our discourses, than how we might overcome our passions. For is it not contrary to all reason, that while emperors, living in luxury and so great honor, have no subject of discourse either while sitting at table, or at any other time, save only how to overcome their enemies 751 —and therefore it is that they hold their assemblies each day, and appoint generals and soldiers, and demand taxes and tributes; and that of all state affairs, the moving causes are these two, the overcoming of those who make war upon them, and the establishing of their subjects in peace—we have no mind for such themes as this, nor ever even dream of conversing upon them: but how we may buy land, or purchase slaves, and make our property greater, these are subjects we can talk about every day, and never be tired of them: while concerning things in ourselves and really our own, we neither wish to speak ourselves, nor so much as dream of tolerating advice, nor of enduring to hear others speaking about them? But answer me, what do you talk about? About dinner? Why that is a subject for cooks. Of money? Nay, that is a theme for hucksters and merchants. Of buildings? That belongs to carpenters and builders. Of land? That talk is for husbandmen. But for us, there is no other proper business, save this, how we may make wealth for the soul. Then let not the discourse be wearisome to you. Why is it that none finds fault with the physician for always discoursing of the healing art, nor with people of other crafts for talking about their peculiar arts? If indeed the mastery over our passions were really achieved, so that there were no need of putting us in mind, we might reasonably be taxed with ambition and display: or rather, not then either. For even if it were gained, for all that, there would be need of discoursing, that one might not relapse and remain uncorrected: as in fact physicians discourse not only to the sick, but also to the whole, and they have books on this subject, on the one part how to free from disease, on the other how to preserve health. So that even if we are well, still we must not give over, but must do all in order to the preserving of our health. And when we are sick there is a twofold necessity for advice: first, that we may be freed from the disease; secondly, that having been freed, we may not fall into it again. Well then, we are discoursing now by the method of treating the sick, not by the rules for the treatment of the healthy.
How then may one root out this evil passion? how subdue (ὑποσκελίσειε) this violent fever? Let us see whence it had its birth, and let us remove the cause. Whence is it wont to arise? From arrogance and much haughtiness. This cause then let us remove, and the disease is removed together with it. But what is arrogance? whence does it arise? for perhaps we are likely to have to go back to a still higher origin. But whatever course the reason of the thing may point out, that let us take, that we may go to the bottom of the mischief, and pluck it up by the roots. Whence then comes arrogance? From our not looking into our own concerns, but instead of that, busying ourselves about the nature of land, though we are not husbandmen, and the nature of gold, though we are not merchants, and concerning clothing, and everything else: while to ourselves and our own nature we never look at all. And who, you will say, is ignorant of his own nature? Many: perhaps all, save a few: and if ye will, I will show the proof of it. For, tell me, what is man? If one were asked, will he be able to answer outright to the questions, In what he differs from the brutes, in what he is akin to the heavenly inhabitants, what can be made of man? For as in the case of any other material, so also in this case: man is the subject-matter, but of this can be made either an angel or a beast. Does not this seem a strange saying? And yet ye have often heard it in the Scriptures. For of certain human beings it was said, “he is the angel of the Lord” (Mal. ii. 7): and “from his lips,” saith it, “they shall seek judgment” (Mal. iii. 1): and again, “I send My angel before Thy face:” but of some, “Serpents, generation of vipers.” (Matt. xii. 34.) So then, it all depends upon the use. Why do I say, an angel? the man can become God, and a child of God. For we read, “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.” (Ps. lxxxii. 6.) And what is greater, the power to become both God and angel and child of God is put into his own hands. Yea, so it is, man can be the maker of an angel. Perchance this saying has startled you? Hear however Christ saying: “In the Resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like unto the angels.” (Matt. xxii. 30.) And again, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” (Matt. xix. 12.) In a word, it is virtue which makes angels: but this is in our power: therefore we are able to make angels, though not in nature, certainly in will. For indeed if virtue be absent, it is no advantage to be an angel by nature; and the Devil is a proof of this, who was an angel once: but if virtue be present, it is no loss to be a man by nature; and John is a proof of this, who was a man, and Elias who went up into heaven, and all those who are about to depart thither. For these indeed, though with bodies, were not prevented from dwelling in heaven: while those others, though without bodies, could not remain in heaven. Let no one then grieve or be vexed with his nature as if it were a hindrance to him, but with his will. He (the Devil) from being incorporeal became a lion: for lo! it saith, “Our adversary, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. v. 8): we from being corporeal, become angels. For just as if a person, having found some precious material, should despise it, as not being an artificer, it will be a great loss to him, whether it be pearls, or a pearl shell, or any other such thing that he has seen; so we likewise, if we are ignorant of our own nature, shall despise it much: but if we know what it is, we shall exhibit much zeal, and reap the greatest profits. For from this nature is wrought a kings robe, from this a kings house, from this nature are fashioned a kings members: all are kingly. Let us not then misuse our own nature to our hurt. He has made us “a little lower than the angels,” (Ps. viii. 5), I mean, by reason of death: but even that little we have now recovered. There is nothing therefore to hinder us from becoming nigh to the angels, if we will. Let us then will it, let us will it, and having exercised ourselves thoroughly, let us return honor to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, world without end, Amen.
῞Ορα πανταχοῦ τῆς εἰς τὰ ἔθνη διορθώσεως (the putting things right, the introduction of the right and proper course: mod. text μεταβάσεως) ἀναγκαίαν τὴν ἀρχὴν εἰσαγομένην. Mod. text ἀπ᾽ αὐτῶν εἰσαγ. which Ben. renders, vide ubique transitum ad Gentes necessario a Judæis inductum. But the meaning is: “Throughout, it is so ordered by the Providence of God, that the Apostles do not seem to act spontaneously in this matter, but to be led by the force of circumstances.” The persons (Peter, Paul, James) are not specified, the sense being: First, upon fault being found, there is apologizing and self-justifying: then, upon the Jews open aversion, the preaching comes to the Gentiles: now, upon a new emergency, a law is enacted.—In the next sentence, B. C. διαφόρως: A. and mod. text ἀδιαφόρως, which we retain.i:735
Mod. text ἴσως οὐδαμῶς ὕποπτος ἦν, “perhaps he would not have been any way suspected.”i:736
With Lukes narrative of the Apostolic council at Jerusalem should be compared Pauls (Gal. ii.) which gives additional particulars. The conference marked an epoch in the history of the church. Here came into decisive conflict two opposing tendencies—the Pharisaic tendency which insisted that the Gentiles must enter the Kingdom through the door of the law, and the catholic spirit which, following the principles of Stephens apology and appreciating the revelations made to Peter, insisted that adherence to the Mosaic law was not only unnecessary, but was positively inconsistent with the freedom and completeness of Christs salvation. The decree of the council was, no doubt, of great service in checking the Judaizing tendencies of the early church. It was in the line of this decree that the work of Paul was done, as the champion of catholic Christianity. The chief points to be noted in Acts 15.1-12 are: (1) The representatives of the narrower Jewish view came to Antioch on purpose to antagonize the work of Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles (Acts 15.1). (2) They took the extreme position that salvation depended on circumcision and caused great anxiety and debate among the Gentile Christians regarding their relations to the Mosaic law (Acts 15.2). (3) The Apostles and messengers who were sent to appeal the question to the leaders of the mother church at Jerusalem answered their objections by the fact of the Gentiles conversion (Acts 15.3-5). (4) Peters position was now clear and pronounced. This is implied even in his subsequent conduct at Antioch whence he withdrew from the Gentiles (Gal. ii. 11 sq.) which Paul represents as an inconsistency. (5) Peters view is first given both on account of his prominence among the Apostles and because he had been the first to bear the gospel to the Gentiles.—G.B.S.i:737
In the mss. and Edd. the part marked (b) is transposed to the beginning (c) of the remarks introductory to the morale, so that the Recapitulation (announced by mod. text at the end of the first sentence of (a) is split into two halves and the latter given first. In the old text the two parts (b) (c) make the entire Recapitulation, so that it is by no means ἀκριβέστερον.i:738
Mod. text “Therefore they depart (thither) and stay no short time there (Acts 14.28). But there arose certain of the Pharisees (Acts 15.5) yet laboring under the disease,” etc.i:739
τῶν εἰς τοὺς ᾽Ιουδαίους συμβεβηκότων: i.e. of the dispute about circumcision, see below p. 203, note 7. The first sentence of (c) “Great effrontery (this) of the Pharisees,” etc., would come in suitably here, but it is required for introduction of the sentence which follows it, “But see the Apostles,” etc.i:740
Here mod. text has the formula, ᾽Αλλ᾽ ἴδωμεν ἄνωθεν τὰ εἰρημένα.i:741
Καὶ τοῦτο δὲ οὐ μικρὸν, ᾽Ιουδαίων πιστεύοντων καὶ τούτων οὐκ ἀποστραφέντων, ἀπὸ τοῦ τόπου, ἀπὸ τοῦ καιροῦ. Mod. text substitutes the sense of the latter words: δύο τούτοις ὃ λέγει πιστοῦται, τῷ καιρῷ καὶ τῷ τόπῳ: but for the former, οὐ μικρὸν δὲ τὸ καὶ ᾽Ιουδαίων πιστευόντων τοῦτο ἀποστραφῆναι, quod etiam Judæis credentibus hoc avertatur. Ben. We reject τούτων, which disturbs the sense. He says: “Long ago—therefore why raise this question now, which was settled in those early days, when Jews received the faith, not rejected it with aversion? which aversion of theirs is now the occasion of the preachers turning to the Gentiles. Yet even then the will of God was plainly declared. Thus the Apostle argues strongly both from the place—here in the midst of the Jews—and from the time.”i:742
ὥσπερ ἐπ᾽ αὐτῶν: referring to Acts 1.24. as below on καρδιογνώστης. He means, “It was a purpose of the Lord, and a high distinction: therefore he does not say, He would, or was willing that the Gentiles should hear, but He elected me for this work, as He elected us to the Apostleship.”i:743
῞Αρα καρδίας δεῖ πανταχοῦ ζητεῖν. i.e. “He implies that God, as knowing the hearts of all men saw the fitness of these Gentiles, therefore chose them, and made no distinction between us and them in point of fitness. Consequently, the heart, not circumcision, is what we must everywhere look to. Nay, he adds, this same expression, καρδιογνώστης was used by the Apostles on the occasion above referred to: so that Peter, by using it here also, declares the Gentiles to be upon a par with the Apostles themselves: no difference between us the Apostles, and them.”i:744
mss. ᾽Εξεκάθαρε πρότερον τὸν λόγον, καὶ τότε κ. τ. λ. Either τὸν λόγον has come in from another place (perhaps after εἰς φοβερὸν κατέληξε below), or some words are lost, e.g. πίστει τῇ εἰς τὸν λὸγον.i:745
The φοβερὸν is in the καθ᾽ ὃν τρόπον κἀκεῖνοι. “Our danger, through the Law, is greater than theirs. Not only are they put upon a par with us, but we may be thankful to be put upon a par with them.” To bring out this point, he reviews the tenor and drift of St. Peters speech.i:746
Εἰκότως καὶ αὐτοὶ λοιπὸν ἐπιμαρτυροῦσι: that αὐτοὶ means the Prophets (cited by St. James), seems to be shown by τοῖς ἤδη γενομένοις, “what they long ago foretold, which is even now come to pass.”i:747
τὸ γὰρ καταμικρὸν τοῦτο ἰσχυρότερον γενόμενον τῶν ἐθνῶν· τοῦτο γὰρ πειράζοντος ἦν κ. τ. λ. Mod. text τοῦτο γὰρ κατὰ μικρὸν ἐπαγόμενον ἐγίνετο ἰσχυρότερον· ἐκεῖνο δὲ πειρ. ἦν.—The meaning is: “He does not come at once to the point, but advances to it gradually: first, Put no difference—though, as he afterwards shows, if there be a difference it is in their favor: we are not to think it much that they are to be saved as we, but that we may trust to be saved even as they.”i:748
Above, it was “disbelieving God, as not able to save by faith.” Here, “You are tempting God by your unbelief: whereas the question is not so much whether He can save without the Law, as εἰ δύναται καὶ μετὰ νόμον (B. τοῦ νόμου) σῶσαι.”i:749
οὐκ ἀπέρχονται διαβάλλοντες τοὺς ἐν ᾽Αντ. This also shows the ἐπιείκεια of Paul and Barnabas, that when they come to Jerusalem, we do not find them complaining of the Jews who had come to Antioch, but they confine themselves to the recital of “all that God had done with them,” Acts 15.4; as he had said above, οὐδὲν λέγουσι περὶ τῶν εἰς τοὺς ᾽Ιουδαίους συμβεβηκότων. The next clause, ᾽Αλλ᾽ ἐκεῖθεν πάλιν λαμβάνουσιν ἀφορμὴν may be referred to the Apostles, “they again take advantage of this opportunity, viz. of the Judaizing opposition, to establish the freedom of the Gentiles.” We have referred it to the Pharisaic brethren, Acts 15.5, for the sake of connection with the following οὕτως ἐμελέτων τὸ φιλαρχεῖν.—In the next clause, καὶ (mod. text οἵ καὶ), οὐκ εἰδότων τῶν ἀποστόλων ἐμέμφθησαν, Sav. marg. has ᾽πεμφθησαν, “these Judaizers were not sent with knowledge of the Apostles.”i:750
᾽Επιείκεια, gentleness, in the sense of moderation and forbearance, keeping ones temper: here distinguished from the temper of the ψυχρὸς, which is unruffled only because he does not feel, and that of the flatterer, who puts up with everything for the sake of pleasing.i:751
He means, that to βασιλεῖς, when there is an enemy in the field against them, the engrossing theme of discourse, even at table, is how to overcome their enemies. Such was probably the state of things when this Homily was preached: for the note of time in Hom. xliv. implies that it was delivered either at the close of 400 or the beginning of 401 a.d.: now the former of these years was signalized by the revolt and defeat of Gainas. Hence the following passage might be rendered, “they are holding assemblies each day, appointing generals and demanding taxes,” etc. The war ended Dec. 400, in the defeat of Gainas.
Next: Homily XXXIII on Acts xv. 13, 15.
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: https://st-takla.org / Contact us at