The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 (Part 2 of 2)
By Kelly McDonald Jr.
This week we are going to finish the blog we started last week about Acts 15.
When the apostles conferred to decide how to handle this question in Acts 15, they decided 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).
These four commands are the minimum requirements for Gentiles 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 have said that these four requirements are the only four things that Gentile believers in Jesus should obey, but this interpretation has problems because lying, stealing, 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). When we read it in context, the apostles are establishing a minimum level of conduct for Gentiles so they can attend synagogue and hear the Word of God.
This same command is repeated to believers in Judea in Acts 21:17-26. In the second mentioning of this decision, we learn something very important about the life of Paul, God’s chosen instrument to carry the gospel to the Gentiles.
“When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.’ The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when their days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.”
Paul was questioned by his Jewish friends. Reports came to them that claimed he was teaching Gentiles to turn away from the law. Paul is then tested by his fellow brothers: If he participates in the purification vows of the men, then he will show that the reports are not true and that he is obedient to the law (and teaches others to do the same). In the latter half of this passage, Paul partakes in the purification vows of these men in the temple area and shows them that he does not teach against the Law or break the Law himself.
You must remember that circumcision was the sign of the covenant. This was why this became a big issue in the early church.
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 the word of God is on the Sabbath. Requiring converts to be circumcised or be completely obedient to the commandments before even coming to the synagogue might have made new converts think that salvation came by works. In fact, many Gentiles might have been discouraged by this because it takes time to learn God’s ways and walk them out. Realizing this, the apostles made the requirements simple. When Gentiles enter into the synagogues and other places of worship, they can learn with everyone else as long as they follow those four precepts.
We will finish this next week!
Kelly McDonald, Jr. is the BSA President. You can visit his website here: kellymcdonaldjr.com