Acts 15, The Jerusalem Council

The Jerusalem Council and its effect on the Messianic/Hebrew roots congregation

12apostlesThere is a lot of argument as to the keeping of the Law or not between the Messianic/Hebrew roots congregations and the inherited churches. So it was in the first century.

The first church council ever was held to solve this first problem. [Acts 15] We don’t know how many apostles there were or who those elder were, for it was only James that said anything that  was worth recording.

12 And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.  13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brethren, listen to me.  14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.  15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written,  16 ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up,  17 that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,  18 says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.’  19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,  20 but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.  21 For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.” Acts 15:15-21

This decision appears to have been made with little consideration for such an important matter. However it did not happen in a vacuum. A discussion of this very issue had gone on extensively for several centuries among the Jews. When the Messiah came would the Gentiles be bound to keep all or part of the Law? If only part, what part?

(For the dwelling of David, which has fallen See Also:  The Promise of Third Temple)

The Rabbis had reasoned that The Prophet was going speak directly from God.

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren — him you shall heed — Deut. 18:15 

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. Deut. 18:18

That this Prophet would teach the New Covenant and written them on their hearts.

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.  33 But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  Jer. 31:31-35

This is what the Rabbis were asking when they asked John the Baptist if he was The Prophet.

And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” John 1:21

They believed that the prophet would come before Messiah and would reform the laws functions, purposes and tasks. This argument came down to, what of the Law of Moses would be left untouched? They knew the temple was to be destroyed from Dan 9:27. So, did that mean the whole of the sacrificial code would be gone as well? All this flew in the face of the teaching that the law was never to cease, and that no prophet could change a word of them.

They were of many opinions. All that would be left would be:

  • The Whole Law

A New Law because of;

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, Jer 31:31

  • The Noahic Law

1   And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.  2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.  3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.  4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.  5 For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.  6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.  7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it.”Gen. 9:1-7

  • The Mini Law in Lev 19, the problem with this mini law is that it contains a blood sacrifice. Many thought that these would cease. So it would be impossible for Lev 19 to that which continued.

20 “If a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave, betrothed to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free;  21 but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the LORD, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering.  22 And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed; and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him. Lev. 19:20-22

  • That the Gentiles would be given 30 commandments only because of;

Then the LORD said to me, “Cast it into the treasury” — the lordly price at which I was paid off by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver and cast them into the treasury in the house of the LORD. Zech. 11:13

  • The Feast of Tabernacles and the binding of Phylacteries because of a Midrash on;

In thee, O LORD, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame; in thy righteousness deliver me! Psa. 31:1

  • That the righteous Gentiles would call forth eternal thanksgiving from Gehinnom because of;

The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Song 2:13

  • That the binding laws of kosher would be gone because of;

. . . who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; Psa. 146:7

That part where the English translated sets the prisoners free, actually says to free the bound, which could be prisoners, but in rabbinic literature it is common to refer to things being bound or unbound, or, clean or unclean. Where we would say allowed or disallowed.

All this comes from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by  Alfred Edersheim, Appendix note 14.

The Jerusalem Council’s Decision

They may have had a rather lengthy argument in light of all things they could have been considering. However one suspects that Peter’s vision might have had a large impact on the council’s decision, as it showed the Gentiles were not to be rejected buy rather embraced.

9   The next day, as they were on their journey and coming near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.  10 And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth.  12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.  13 And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”  14 But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”  16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Acts 10:9-16

Only when we realize where it came from is some of that confusion solved. They clearly went with the three simple rules of the Noahic Law. As we said no two Greek manuscripts are alike here. The RSV has to abstain from the pollutions of idols, which may mean just idol worship, or as some others indicate that it meant the food offered to idols. As many pagan temples operated as butcher and meat market. However this seems unlikely to be the meaning because of what Paul later wrote.

23   “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.  24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.  25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 1Cor. 10:23-24

They were to be admonished to avoid unchastity, this may have many meanings. This come from the Noahic admonition to be fruitful and multiply. Bastard children in the pagan Roman world where often euthanized, by either outright killing or exposer. Only children of a proper marriage where likely to be kept, loved, and raised, and the point of the law was to fill the earth.

FYI: One of the things that upset the Romans about these new Christians is that they would go out at night undercover of darkness, (because it was illegal) and take these unwanted babies that had been left exposed in the open areas around Rome and other big cities, an adopted the survivors.

This is all that is required of believers. If one wants to celebrate these events they are free to do so as our congregation does to observe Biblical festivals. It is not a requirement, nothing in this prohibits such actions either. (See Also: Why do you keep the Feasts?)

One thought on “Acts 15, The Jerusalem Council

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