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 concerning the Jerusalem Council of 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 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, 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). We cannot support an interpretation of the Bible that enables people to believe a life of sin will help them enter the Kingdom of God.
When we read Acts chapter 15 in context, we can understand that 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.”
In these verses, 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 participated in the purification vows of the men, then he would 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 participated in the purification vows of these men to confirm that he never taught against the Law or break it himself.
You must remember that circumcision was the sign of the covenant. This was why this became a big issue in the early church. Requiring converts to be circumcised 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.
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.
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.
Kelly McDonald, Jr. is the BSA President. www.biblesabbath.org