Council of Jerusalem – Acts 15
Most of us who know anything about the Church will have heard of the many councils held throughout Church History. In the Eastern Church they recognise 7 Councils wil the western Church recognises many more right up to the present. We have all heard of Councils like Nicea etc, but what about the Jerusalem Council. Most Churches have never recognised it as what the Church in Rome or Greece would refer to as official Councils. But the Council of Jerusalem should have more authority than all these other Councils put together. For a start it is the only coulcil which is thoroughly Biblical (it is in the Bible for a start). But what was the Jerusalem Council all about and why should it be important for us today?
Most people who come to Acts 15 think that it was about whether Gentiles should follow the “law”. This is an unfortunate Translation of Torah which does not mean law. It rather should be closer to a translation like straight arrow or guidance. But this is not it at all. The Council was actually over the question, “Must Gentiles become Jewish under the auspices of the rabbinically prescribed ritual in order to be saved?” If the answer was yes to this question then it was tantamount to saying that God does not have the power to save non-Jews. It is the same as saying that Jesus’ sacrifice is inadequate; it must also go together with conversion to Judaism. The Council conclusion after much debate was that requiring anything more than faith from these non-Jewish believers in order to merit salvation would be contrary to Messiah’s Grace. Maybe the Catholic Church should have read this before they starting teaching Salvation by works.
But is this all that the Council decided? No. The council decided on setting 4 minimum requirements for Gentiles. These requirments where not intended to be a salvation issue rather they where an obedience issue. This is where a lot of Protestants and Catholics have got confused. Catholics would argue that you need works for Salvation whereas Protestants would say you don’t. I would say that both are wrong. We do not need works for our salvation and at the same time as James says in his epistle faith without works is dead. So what where these requirements. We find them in Acts 15: 20-21, “Instead, we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is trangled and from blood. For from the earliest times, Moshe has had in every city those who proclaim him, with words being read in the synagogues every Shabbat.” But why where these things mentioned and not others. Derek Leman from Messianic Jewish Musings suggests that this is based on Leviticus 18. His main reasons are, “the overriding concern in Lev 18 and Acts 15 is separation from pagan worship: “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you” (Lev 18:3)”; “the first issue in Lev 18 is sexual immorality”; “Lev 17 is about the sanctity of blood and avoiding ingesting it”; “Lev 19 early on warns against idolatry”; and “Note that James does not include Lev 19:3, about revering parents and keeping Sabbath. I’d say Sabbath is omitted because it does not apply to non-Jews and revering parents because the concern in Acts 15 is pollution from involvement in pagan temples and the command to revere parents is in a different sphere.” I would go along with most of what Derek said here. But I would also suggest that it could also be linked back to what is known as the Noahide laws based on Genesis 9. The main reason I say this is that they sound somewhat similar. But also a because of the phrase used which says “perpetual generations”. In everyday english this basically means for every generation. While people can argue whether the Torah of Moses is for us or not there is no argument here. The “Torah of Noah” for want of a better phrase was for everyone in all generations. Just think there wasn’t any Jews up until Abraham.
So getting back to Acts 15. Should we as believers today keep the council of Jerusalem in the same was we keep other council. I would suggest yes and more so. Most of us already abstain from Idols polluted by idols and sexual immorality. But what about meat that has been strangled and blood. I don’t mean to offend my brothers and sisters in England, but if I was a believer there I wouldn’t tough your black pudding. For me it would be breaking this Council. Again let me reiterate. This is not a salavtion issue rather it is an obedience issue. God knows whats best for us and for our bodies and if he says we shouldn’t do something then maybe we shouldn’t. In a crude way is is like if you buy a computer with a manual but you never read the manual. Yes the Computer will work but it will never work as well as it should if you had only read the manual. In the same way the Torah of God and his commands is like a manual which if obeyed will help us to live better before him. I suggest if you have time sit down and re-read Act 15 amd meditate on in for we while and see what it has to say to you. Have a good Day.