The next verse in Acts that includes “gathering language” is Acts 15:30. Here is the verse in context:
So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. (Acts 15:30-33 ESV)
The â€œgathering languageâ€ in Acts 15:30 is found in the Greek verb ÏƒÏ…Î½Î¬Î³Ï‰ (sunagÅ) which generally means â€œI gatherâ€ or â€œI bring together.â€ The ESV translated the verb (in participle form this time) as â€œhaving gathered… togetherâ€ in this verse. Again, the verb is passive. However, the context indicates that Judas and Silas (the “they” in 15:30) were the ones who did the “gathering.”
Once the believers in Jerusalem had composed their letter, they sent Judas and Silas back to Antioch with the letter. (Acts 15:27) Paul and Barnabas also traveled with them. (Acts 15:25) The letter (Acts 15:23-29) told the Gentile believers that those who had caused trouble by saying that the Gentiles had to be circumcised were not sent by the church in Jerusalem and that they did not represent their understanding of God’s grace extended to the Gentiles. In fact, they specifically send Judas and Silas because they will report in person what the letter says. Finally, the letter requests that the Gentiles live in a certain way among the Jews so that the Jews are not offended.
This passage, then, records what happens when this group (Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas) gathers together the believers in Antioch and delivers the letter. When the church reads the letter, they rejoice. But what in the letter caused the believers to rejoice? It’s hard to tell. Luke doesn’t tell us exactly why the letter encourages the believers in Antioch. But, he does tell us that they rejoice because they find the letter encouraging.
Interestingly, in the very next sentence (Acts 15:32), we find out that Judas and Silas (who were prophets) also encouraged and strengthened the church. The repetition of “encouragement” language in these two sentences is important. The church rejoices before the letter encourages them, and then Judas and Silas encourages the church. This language is similar to what we read in Hebrews 10:24-25.
Judas and Silas end up staying in Antioch for a while before they return. Again, Luke writes about their return in a way that seems strange to our ears. We are familiar with the Jerusalem church “sending” Judas and Silas (Acts 15:27), but now we read that the Antioch church is “sending” them (Acts 15:33) back to the ones who “sent” them. Apparently, the idea of the “sending” church in Acts is not as strong as it is often made out to be today. Who “sent” Judas and Silas? Both Jerusalem and Antioch.
Finally, don’t miss the point that when Judas and Silas arrived at Antioch, both they and the believers in Antioch expected them to act as members of the church in Antioch. The two had the gift of prophecy so they were expected to prophesy in order to encourage the church. The were welcomed, accepted, and served because they were brothers and sisters… members of one another. Judas and Silas did not consider themselves “members” of the Jerusalem church and not “members” of the Antioch church.
Similarly, the believers in Antioch did not treat Judas and Silas as outsiders, but welcomed them as brothers. Remember, there were already prophets and teachers in the Antioch church (Acts 13:1). So, why were Judas and Silas given opportunity to prophesy? Because they were brothers in Christ. All believers were expected to serve one another using the gifts and opportunities that God provided.