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Acts 15 is a popular chapter for those who have delved into the topic of the Mosaic Law and its applicability to the Christian Church. The chapter tell us about the Jerusalem Council and the heated debates that took place concerning the Law and the Gentiles: are the Gentiles supposed to keep the whole law? Or are they rather supposed to keep just a few essential parts? After much debating, the Council finally issued a letter with the final resolution. Yet, something in the content of the letter reveals a very intriguing fact about the Council itself:

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers,

23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.

24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions,

25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,

26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.

28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:

29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” [Acts 15:22-29 ESV]

The Holy Spirit was explicitly mentioned in the letter as one of the parties in the final agreement. This means that the Holy Spirit, somehow, was part of the discussion and probably had some weight and influence in the final resolution issued to the Gentiles.

Question: how did the Holy Spirit intervene in the Jerusalem Council? Through what means was the Holy Spirit able to express His opinion on the topics that were being discussed? We know from verse 28 that He certainly had some active role in the Council, but exactly how?

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Let's examine this question through the testimonies of 3 people who were in attendance.

What the Holy Ghost was sent to do

The Jerusalem Conference appears to be one fulfillment of the promise Jesus gave in John 14:26:

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

They needed to know something and the Holy Ghost revealed to them what they needed to know. (this idea is relevant whether John was or was not in attendance; this is also not intended to be an exhaustive list of responsibilities of the Holy Ghost)

The testimony of James

The above is consistent with the promise in James 1:5

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

James believed in asking of God when he needed wisdom/direction.

The example of Peter

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 16:16-17)

Peter knew how to learn an important truth through revelation from God. I suspect he learned from this experience and applied the principle in the future.

The letters of Paul

Paul is typically verbose, this is helpful here, since the OP asks how this process works.

17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:

18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened... (Ephesians 1:17-18)

Note the similarity in ideas to the previous examples from James & Peter.

Paul also points out being "enlightened." This certainly seems a fair description of what happened at Pentecost (see Acts 2:2-4).

Paul provides additional details on these feelings in Galatians:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance...(Galatians 5:22-23)

Some have interpreted these verses to indicate that if you follow the Holy Spirit, this is how you will act. Others have taken it to mean that when you are enlightened by the Holy Spirit, this is how you will feel. I am of the opinion that both are true.

A still small voice

Describing what enlightenment by the Holy Ghost "feels" like has been compared to describing colors to someone who has never seen them...how can you do it without a common point of reference?

The best you could do is:

  • Describe what it is not. Paul does this rather thoroughly earlier in Galatians 5.
  • Point it out for reference when it is experienced (see discussion of Matthew 16:16-17 above)
  • Use a metaphor (cloven tongues of fire? still small voice?)

I believe one of the best descriptions is that of 1 Kings 19:12:

11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

Notice again the parallels to Pentecost. I understand this passage to describe God speaking to Elijah through the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

The testimonies of those who were in attendance suggests that God really will fulfil the promise "ask and ye shall receive", and examples are given of revelation being provided by God.

Apparently it took the apostles some time to learn how to receive enlightenment through the Holy Spirit--to receive and recognize the still small voice--so it should not surprise us if it is not as simple and thoughtless as breathing (see what I did there?). In each case it appears preparation preceded receiving the voice of God through the Holy Ghost.

There is an awful lot of theology tied to this subject. In this post I've tried to stick relatively closely to a hermeneutical presentation of the text.

A 4-minute summary of what I personally believe, and why the subject is important to me, can be found here. A more extended discussion is found in this parable.

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