Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Jerusalem Council and what can we learn from this council

The primary issue dealt by the Jerusalem Council was whether Gentile believers should comply to the Mosaic law in order to be saved.

The Judaizers had wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised (Act 15:5). I could imagine if this issue was not handled properly, it could have potentially split the church and if that happened, what we would have today are two different religions.

Of had the Judaizers won that day, the Gentiles would have been required to be circumcised and this would have brought the message of Jesus back to square one. Christianity would have been part of Judaism or another form of Judaism.

The situation was so intense that Paul, Barnabas and others decided to take the issue to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2). Although this was seemingly a human decision, Paul later revealed in Galatians 2:1-2 that he went up there “by revelation”. 

There, in a speech, Peter gave four compelling reasons why the Gentiles need not comply to the Mosaic Law:

1.    It was God’s will that the Gentiles should hear the message of Christ (Acts 15:7)
2.    And that the Gentiles had been given the Holy Spirit, thus, proving the genuineness of their salvation (Acts 15:8; 2:4)
3.    Why would the Jews want to impose a yoke that they themselves could not bear? (Acts 15:10)
4.    The salvation that was received was by the grace of God to everyone, both Jews and Gentiles and not of their own works (Acts 15:11)

Later, James also gave a speech. James's judgment was that Gentile believers did not have to be circumcised, but they should stay away from food sacrificed to idols, from sexual immorality (a common part of idol worship), and from consuming blood (Lev 17:14) or eating meat of strangled animals.

But if circumcision is unnecessary for salvation, then why were these restrictions imposed? These restrictions were given not as prerequisites for salvation but for respecting the “weaker” brother (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). The counsel to respect dietary restrictions was intended to demonstrate love and respect for the Jewish Christians. Because of their background, Jewish Christians would have struggled to share a meal with Gentiles who would not comply with the traditional Jewish dietary customs (cf. Acts 15:19–21). In short, love seems to be the motivating factor in resolving this conflict.

A number of other lessons could also be learned from this issue confronted by the Jerusalem council:

1.    Paul and others were courageous to confront the issue.
2.    All sides must be given a fair hearing before a decision would be made.
3.    The discussion should be done in the presence of wise counsel (leaders who are spiritually mature and trustworthy to make wise decisions).
4.    One the decision is made, everyone should then abide by the decisions.

1.    Tenney, Merrill C., and Walter M. Dunnett. New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985

2.    Life Application Study Bible: New Living Translation. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1996

3.    Wiersbe's Expository Outlines on the Old and New Testament: David C Cook, 2010.

4.    Gospel Transformation Bible: English Standard Version: Crossway, 2013.

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