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The Jerusalem Council – Reasons and Results

Posted by on Oct 1, 2010 in scripture | 28 comments

The Jerusalem Council – Reasons and Results

For the last few days, I’ve been publishing posts about the so-called “Jerusalem Council” from Acts 15:1-35. (See my posts “The Jerusalem Council – Introduction,” “The Jerusalem Council – Literary Position,” and “The Jerusalem Council – The Decision.”) In this post – the final in the series – I want to consider the reasons for the “Jerusalem Council” and the results.

First, note that when Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey, they did not plan to return to Jerusalem. They were sent out by the church in Antioch, and only planned to return to Antioch.

However, some Jewish Christians soon began to argue with Paul and Barnabas about the necessity for Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas then went to Jerusalem to settle the matter.

Why did they go to Jerusalem? Did they go to Jerusalem because Jerusalem was the mother-church and, therefore, only the Jerusalem church could settle such problems? No. They went to Jerusalem because the trouble-makers had come from Judea (Jerusalem), and, from James’ reaction later, the trouble-makers had intimated that they had been sent by the Jerusalem church – that is, the trouble-makers were saying that they represented the views of the Jerusalem church.

So, Paul and Barnabas (and others – Acts 15:2) went to Jerusalem to find out if the church there had sent out these people.

When the church gathered together, several people spoke, although Luke only records the words of Peter and James. Everyone who spoke reaffirmed what had already been recognized and decided earlier, that is, that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to be saved.

They decided (per James’ recommendation) to send a letter to the Gentile churches. This letter actually says very little about the salvation of the Gentiles and doesn’t mention circumcision at all. Instead, the letter (Acts 15:23-29) specified two things: 1) That those who claim that Gentiles need to be circumcised in order to be saved have not been sent by the Jerusalem church, and 2) That Gentiles should follow certain Jewish requirements that otherwise would prohibit Gentile and Jewish fellowship.

Later in the Book of Acts, when this letter is mentioned again (Acts 21:25), the question about circumcision and salvation is not mentioned. Instead, only the prohibition requirements are listed. So, we must ask, did the participants in the “Jerusalem Council” think that the meeting was about salvation? Or did they think it was about something else?

If we observe what is said in the letter sent after the meeting and what is said about this letter later, it seems that the result of the “council” was not about salvation at all. Yes, during the meeting, Peter and James (as well as Paul and Barnabas, it seems) talked about God’s work among the Gentiles. But the result and decision of the meeting was more about who represents the church in Jerusalem (not those who require circumcision) and what Gentiles should do so as to not offend Jews (including Jewish Christians).

In the book of Acts, we see the church handling many problems. In Acts 6, there was the problem of widows receiving food. In Acts 11, there was the problem of Gentiles being saved. In Acts 15, the problem seems to be whether or not these teacher who required circumcision actually represented the views of the church in Jerusalem.

I do not think it is helpful or beneficial to place special significance on any of these particular church meetings. There was a problem, and the church got together to decide how to take care of the problem. We see Paul telling the church in Corinth to get together to decide how to take care of problems there. There is no reason to consider Acts 15 a special kind of council meeting.


28 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-1-2010

    Alan:

    There are a number of problems here, but let me limit the discussion to three. First, I find it incredulous that you would state that “the result of the “council” was not about salvation at all.” Either your understanding of salvation is too narrow or you have ignored the numerous clues in Acts 15 that the issue was related to salvation (e.g., 15:1, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14, 17, 19) and thus any result would have to be related to salvation (if one assumes that they actually dealt with the issue at hand). I believe that the issue was not IF but HOW Gentiles could be saved. Second, while you are correct in noting that only the prohibitions are mentioned specifically in Acts 21:25, these prohibitions are mentioned in a larger context and not in isolation. What is the issue(s) in 21:17-26? Third, surely your statement “There is no reason to consider Acts 15 a special kind of council meeting” is an overstatement. “No” is awfully hard to take seriously when I gave a number of reasons in my response to your post yesterday and that the general consensus does see this as a special meeting. I find it unlikely that a general consensus that spans theological spectrum would arrive at the same conclusion if there were NO reason to do so.

  2. 10-1-2010

    Charles,

    Again, thanks for the interaction. I truly do appreciate it.

    The remarks about salvation in Acts 15 are very important. But, they are important because they describe what God had already done and decided. There was no decision concerning salvation for the church in Jerusalem to make (or for any other church, for that matter).

    Where does anyone in Scripture (including Luke) show that they consider the “Jerusalem Council” a more important meeting of the church than any other meeting? Where do they say that the decision about salvation made by the church in Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-35 is an important decision for the church?

    -Alan

  3. 10-1-2010

    Alan:

    It seems to me you are confusing the point of if and how. The point of Acts 15 is not to decide IF Gentiles could be saved. That had indeed been decided. The question in Acts 15 is HOW Gentiles would be saved. That was an issue still in flux by the time of Acts 15. By the way, this is fairly clear regardless of how you relate Galatians to Acts. I also am troubled by your narrow view of decision, but I will leave that for another time.

    Yes Luke does not specifically explicitly narrate something like “And this was a momentous event in the church.” This is not typically how biblical narratives work. Does Luke ever say anything like this for any even in Luke or Acts? More often than not then, you determine that a narrated event is significant in how how that event is told. Or in other words, you practice some form of literary criticism.
    (See the works of A. Berlin, M. Sternberg, etc.) If you do this, I think that there are numerous clues, some of which I shared yesterday. As for the lack of specific mention of the Council elsewhere in Scripture you are correct. But keep in mind that the conversion of Cornelius, and most other events in Acts are not mentioned in Scripture either. Or to turn it another way, Acts never mentions any of Paul’s epistles. Do we thus conclude that Paul’s epistles were unimportant? So I find your point here unpersuasive.

  4. 10-1-2010

    Charles,

    There are many ways that the biblical authors indicate what is important to them. You’ve mentioned several. But, they also used repetition. They also used foreshadowing and reflection.

    By the way, you know scholars have argued for a long time why Paul doesn’t mention the Jerusalem Council in Galatians, when he had a perfect opportunity to do so. Or, why he barely mentioned it, if that’s what he’s talking about.

    -Alan

  5. 10-1-2010

    Alan:

    The techniques you have noted are literary tools. I agree wholeheartedly. I have argued in previous posts that such literary features in Acts suggest that what is going on in Acts 15 is quite significant. As I have already noted, the Prohibitions are mentioned three times in Acts. See this post at my \blog: http://www.bibleexposition.net/2009/07/repetition-in-acts.html I don’t want to continue to repeat myself, but look at the placement and function of Acts 15, especially in relation to Acts 1:8 and its role in the Gentile mission.

    I believe that Galatians was written before Acts (I know that it is a minority position but it is held by Bock, Peterson, Stein, Witherington, and others. Thus, the reason the Council is not mentioned is because it had not yet occurred. If you hold that Galatians 2 and Acts 15 refer to the same event (for the options see the article by C. Talbert), there are a number of problems harmonizing the accounts. In fact, many proponents of this view argue that the Paul of his Epistles is different from the Paul of Acts. I am not willing to concede that.

  6. 10-2-2010

    Charles, I was unable to read the article you had mentioned in your comments on a previous post (pay wall). I have been reading and enjoying the debate. You and Alan are doing a good job of modeling Christian debate in a public forum. I appreciate it.

    I was curious to know if you could summarize your thoughts on the prohibitions. I think I understand Alan as saying that they are prohibitions to promote unity and fellowship.

    The interests I have in the are the following:

    Abstaining from the pollution of idols and from sexual immorality goes beyond simple Jewish requirements, to holiness. Evidently, culturally those coming from pagan backgrounds were much involved in idolatry and sexual sin. This would be a general call to sanctification and repentance in that area, I think.

    Abstaining from things strangled and from blood do seem to fit better into the context of fellowship with Jewish Christians. I wonder about their authoritativeness in general eating habits, however because of Mark’s comment (7:19) on Jesus’ words.

  7. 10-2-2010

    Stephen:

    I appreciate your comments, interest in my article, and your questions. Concerning access to my article, I found the link by “Googling” it. But if you want to contact me directly at my blog (www.bibleexposition.net) I can give you a copy. The questions you ask concerning the prohibitions are fairly complex and I would rather have you look at my article than seek to summarize the points here.

    Just to be clear, my differences with Alan in these posts do not pertain to the prohibitions themselves. We may have significant differences in our understanding of them, but we have not really addressed the pertinent issues. Rather, our differences as I understand it, concern the nature, purpose, function, and significance of Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council for Acts. In sum, I believe that Acts 15 is central to Acts and Alan does not. I believe that the Jerusalem Council was a special and significant meeting but Alan does not. I believe that the Jerusalem Council made a decisive decision regarding the salvation of Gentiles (not if but how) and Alan does not. There are other areas of dispute as well, but I think these are the major ones. This is Alan’s blog and he of course can speak for himself, but this is my understanding.

  8. 5-23-2012

    Can you guys not use such long words to describe little words? reading your paragraphs hurt my eyes >:o, try putting it in english , short, and simple

  9. 10-20-2012

    Thank you sir for this answer but it’s not detailed to someone like me that i wnted to use it as an assignment but ireally appreciate it, God bless you.

  10. 11-4-2012

    It seems that James,the brother of Jesus, expected the Gentiles to continue hearing GOD’S word in the synagouges on GOD’S Sabbath.

    Paul had been teaching both Jews and Gentiles in the synagogues on GOD’S Sabbath. Acts 13:42-44

    James started the Gentiles with four simple laws expecting them to continue learning on GOD’S Sabbath. Acts 15:20&21

    This is what pleased the apostles, the elders, and the whole church.

    Four simple laws for Gentiles would NOT have pleased the apostles, the elders, and the whole church, or solved the problem.

  11. 11-5-2012

    Jackie,

    Thanks for the comment. I don’t see any indication in Acts 15 or other passages of Scripture that anyone suggested that the Gentile believers begin attending Jewish synagogue meetings. However, there is plenty of evidence in Scripture that there were relational issues between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians because of various traditions of each (including those traditions that had been taught in the synagogues in every city). I still think that (relational friction between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians) is a better explanation for the result of the “Jerusalem Conference.”

    -Alan

  12. 11-5-2012

    Hi Alan,

    It seems that for over 14 hundred years GOD had commanded HIS chosen people to remember HIS Sabbath and keep it holy and when HE came in the flesh HE kept it holy. Paul was continualy in the synogogues on GOD’S Sabbath through out the book of Acts.
    At this time the only place one could hear the reading of GOD’S word was in the synogogues on GOD’S Sabbath. This is reinforced by Acts 15:21

    GOD’S word never indicates that christians rested, worshiped, kept holy, or celebreated the dicovery of our Savior’s empty tomb on the Roman Sun day.

  13. 11-5-2012

    Jackie,

    I don’t have any interest in arguing about the Sabbath. I think that matter is settled in the New Testament. If it helps you to keep the Sabbath, that’s fine. But, your final statement does not hold up under comparison to several New Testament passages.

    -Alan

  14. 11-5-2012

    Alan, I agree we should reason not argue.

    Over the last few years I have been trying to understand how GOD’S Sabbath was changed. I have discovered that the Romans changed the measurement of time. They changed the measurement of a day to be measured from midnight to midnight. GOD’S “first day of the week” is from sunset Saturday evening tilL sunset Sunday evening.

    This means Acts 20:7 could only have happened on Saturday evening and Paul would have left Toras on Sun day morning . Paul did not rest, worship, keep holy, or celebrate the discovery of our Savior’s empty tomb on SUN DAY.

  15. 11-5-2012

    Jackie,

    By our timekeeping, Acts 20:7 refers to Saturday evening. I don’t think there are many people who would argue that point. But, that has nothing to do with “keeping the Sabbath.” Feel free to write your own post about Sabbath keeping, but that’s not the point of this post. It’s clear that you’re happy with your position; I’m happy with mine. So, I ask that we leave this discussion here at this point instead of getting into an argument. Thanks.

    -Alan

  16. 11-5-2012

    GOD Bless,
    jackie

  17. 4-9-2013

    It seems that James started Gentiles with only four laws from the old law expecting them to continue learning GOD’S word on GOD’S Sabbath. Acts 15:20-21 After all this is what they were already being taught by an observant Jew by the name of Paul Acts 13:42-44
    Or were the elders, the apostles, and the whole church pleased that Gentils were only bound to four laws from the law of Moses?

  18. 4-9-2013

    Jackie,

    I’m not convinced that James was giving the Gentile Christians any laws for them to keep. Instead, he was pointing out what was necessary for continued fellowship with Christians who were also Jews. These were the ones who had been taught in the synagogues from the Book of Moses.

    -Alan

  19. 5-10-2013

    Alan,
    The Gentiles were also being taught GOD’S word in the synagoguges on GOD’S Sabbath by Paul. Acts 13:42-44

    GOD Bless,
    jackie

  20. 5-10-2013

    Jackie,

    That passage refers to Jews and converts to Judaism. These converts would have been part of the synagogue, because they were becoming part of the Jewish community. The first century synagogue was more of a community center for Jewish groups throughout the Roman empire. The purpose of the synagogue changed after the destruction of the Temple. So, everyone who attended various synagogue meetings would have been Jews or those interested in Judaism. Most Gentiles would not have been part of synagogues.

    -Alan

  21. 5-11-2013

    Alan,

    There is only one verse in GOD’S word that seems to imply a change to GOD’S Sabbath, Acts 20:7. However in the Greek it reads “One of Sabbaths” not “first [day] of the week”. Also this was a one time event 25 years after the cross. Also GOD’S “first day of the week” is from sunset on Saturday till sunset Sunday. Therefore this meeting could have only been on Saturday evening at the close of GOD’S Sabbath(See Havdalah). In the Greek Paul dialogued,he did not preach. And if to break bread is the Lord’s supper then the early church did it every day. Acts 2:46

    There seems to be no instructions or examples anywhere in GOD’S word of christians celebrating the discovery of our Savior’s empty tomb on Sunday morning.
    GOD Bless,

  22. 5-11-2013

    Jackie,

    I’m not interesting in arguing whether or not Christians should still “keep the sabbath.” I’ll stick with Romans 14:5-6. If you’re convinced you should honor one day to the Lord, that’s fine. I’m one of those who honor all days to the Lord. My understanding of the sabbath (rest) for followers of Jesus is found in Hebrews 4.

    -Alan

  23. 5-11-2013

    Alan,

    I agree there is no need to argue over GOD’S word. However in Romans 14:5-6 there is no mention of GOD’S Sabbath but seems to more about days of fasting. There is no mention of not keeping GOD’S fourth command which was written in stone by the hand of GOD in Romans 14.

    GOD Bless,

  24. 5-11-2013

    Jackie,

    Like I said, I’ll continue to keep the sabbath (rest) that we have in Jesus Christ.

    -Alan

  25. 5-12-2013

    Alan,

    How is it that Paul could be teaching his Jewish blood brothers a new Sabbath rest in Jesus yet after two trials they could not find 3 Jews to accuse Paul of blasphemy against GOD’S 4th command, keeping GOD’S Sabbath Holy?
    Acts 24:13-14 & 25:7-10

    If religious Jews to this day believe keeping GOD’S Sabbath is part of GOD’S law how could Paul have said he believed all things written in the law and he had not offended the law of the Jews? Acts 24:14 & 25:8

    How could Paul say he had commited nothing against the people or the customs of our fathers if he was teaching them not to keep GOD’S Sabbath, the seventh day? Acts 28:17

    Was Paul trying to decieve the Jews or was he telling them the truth?

    It seems that Paul was an observant Jew and is saying he kept GOD’S
    Sabbath.

    GOD Bless,

  26. 5-12-2013

    Jackie,

    Paul was a Jew. He continued to be a Jew. But, he did not teach Gentiles to become Jews (or keep the law – including the law about the Sabbath), and he did not teach Jews to continue keeping the law. He taught that the law had a purpose, but that purpose was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

    Again, I’ll let Paul speak for himself:

    “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17 ESV)

    I’ll stick with the substance that we now have in Jesus Christ instead of the shadow.

    As I’ve said before, I’m not interested in arguing about these things further. You obviously feel that you should keep the Sabbath. If so, then please do so. Again, though, I’m asking you not to argue those convictions here. This is not the place.

    -Alan

  27. 5-13-2013

    Jackie,

    I’ll be glad to continue this discussion via email. I attempted to use the email address that you provided, but it was returned as an invalid email address. You can email me at alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

    -Alan

  28. 5-18-2013