The next occurrence of “gathering language” in Acts is found in Acts 15:6 –
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. (Acts 15:6 ESV)
Once again, the â€œgathering languageâ€ in Acts 15:6 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 as â€œgathered togetherâ€ in this verse. Again, the verb is passive.
This verse falls in the middle of what is generally called “the Jerusalem Council”. After Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch (Acts 14:27), some believers come down to Antioch from Jerusalem teaching that all people must be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). They all go to Jerusalem to sort things out.
(By the way, remember that the church had already recognized and accepted that God has extended his grace to Gentiles in Acts 11:18. Thus, this discussion seems similar to many denominational distinctives today, where others are recognized as “saved” but perhaps barely saved since those people don’t hold to the right distinctives.)
Apostles, and elders, and the church (Acts 15:22) were gathered together to here both sides of the situation. Interestingly, Luke does not use different language for this type of gathering than for other gatherings of believers. He apparently sees this as another gathering of believers, this time for the purpose of determining whether or not circumcision was required.
While Peter’s and James’ speeches are recorded for us, apparently there was “much debate” about this issue (Acts 15:7). The deciding factor in the argument was based on the work that God was already doing among the Gentiles. Since the people could not deny that God had extended his grace to Gentiles, they recognized that the Gentiles must also be accepted as brothers and sisters without circumcision.
Luke does not tell us how the people reached an agreement on this issue. He does not tell us if some refused the accept the agreement. Instead, we are only told that everyone (elders, apostles, and church) agreed with James’ conclusion that they should ask the Gentiles to abstain from certain things that offended Jews.
So, the decided action had nothing to do with acceptance of Gentiles, but in laying the groundwork for mutual relationships between Jews and Gentiles. Notice that when they mentioned certain things (abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. Acts 15:20), they did not associate these things with salvation, but only that these things were taught to Jews (Acts 15:21). The Jewish believers simply asked the Gentile believers not do anything that was cause a Jewish brother or sister to stumble.
So, the outcome of this “council”, which was really nothing more than a meeting of the church, was an recognition that God has extended his grace to Gentiles apart from keeping the law (specifically circumcision), and a request that the Gentiles abstain from certain things around Jews that the Jews would find offensive.