The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (Part 2 of 2)
By Kelly McDonald Jr.
This week we are going to continue looking at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.
Last week, we reviewed that the ‘yoke of bondage’ in Acts 15 had nothing to do with the law of God, but instead referred to man-made rules. This week, we will break down the conclusion of the council.
At the end of the council, the disciples concluded that “…we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:20-21).
Notice that four things are mentioned as requirements for Gentiles: abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals, and from blood. These were the minimum standards for Gentiles to obey so that they could attend the Synagogue and learn the law on the Sabbath. Notice that the Apostles even specify what they want Gentile converts to learn (Moses), where they want them to learn it (Synagogue), and when they want them to learn it (Sabbath)!
Some teachers have insinuated that these four requirements are the only four things Gentile believers in Jesus should be required to obey. This interpretation has serious problems because lying, stealing, murder, coveting, idol worship, and a host of other sins are not listed either. Paul said thieves, coveters, and drunkards will not enter the Kingdom (I Cor. 6:9-10). He gave a similar list in Galatians 5:19-21. So Paul clearly taught more than these four things, which confirms that they were not the only standard of obedience for Christians. We cannot support an interpretation of the Bible that hinders people from entering the Kingdom of God.
When we read Acts chapter 15 in context, we can understand that the apostles were establishing a minimum level of conduct for Gentiles so they could attend synagogue and hear the Word of God. The Gentiles of that time were caught up in a host of sins, and this simplification was so that they had a starting place for their obedience, not an end-place.
You must remember that circumcision was the sign of the covenant. This was why this became a big issue in the early church. Requiring mew converts to be circumcised might have made them think that salvation came by works. In fact, many Gentiles might have been discouraged by this.
It takes time to learn God’s ways and walk them out. Realizing this, the apostles made the initial requirements simple; there had to be some minimum level of commitment to show that they were serious and wanted to grow. As new believers walk in the power of God’s Spirit, obedience to the commandments will manifest. As Paul wrote:
“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31).
“1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit…7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:1-8).
For Gentile converts, the only way to hear the Word of God was to go to a Synagogue and the only day for them to hear it is on the Sabbath. It is clear that Acts chapter 15 does not contradict the Ten Commandments, but reinforces it.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President www.biblesabbath.org