The Synod of Jerusalem

The Council of Jerusalem is generally dated to around 48–50 AD, roughly 15 to 25 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (between 26 and 36 AD). Acts 15 and Galatians 2 both suggest that the meeting was called to debate the legitimacy of the Evangelizing mission of Barnabas and Paul to the Gentiles and the Gentile converts’ freedom from observing aspects of the Mosaic Law such as observing the Sabbath and dietary regulations, but especially from the circumcision of males, (a practice that was considered repulsive in the Greco-Roman world).  At the time, most followers of Jesus (which historians refer to as Jewish Christians) were Jewish by birth and even converts would have considered the early Christians as a part of Judaism. According to scholars, the Jewish Christians affirmed every aspect of the then contemporary Second Temple Judaism with the addition of the belief that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.  The primary issue which was addressed related to the requirement of circumcision, since circumcision is considered the “everlasting” sign of the Abrahamic covenant in Judaism (Genesis 17:9–14).  The main concern for the Apostle Paul, which he would later express in great detail with his letters, was that for Gentiles to be included in God’s New Covenant, faith in Christ and His teachings was sufficient for salvation.  Therefore, it was not necessary for Gentiles to keep the Mosaic Law unless they wished to become Jewish, in which case they would need to keep the entire Law.  A point that was later expressed in James 2:10: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”  

After much debate at the council (Acts 15:6), Peter then rises and gives the following speech: “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith . . . we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:7-11).  After this the assembly fell silent (Acts 15:12).  Since the debate was settled, James spoke up and gave his pastoral judgment upon how they should proceed going forward: “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…” (Acts 15:20).

The Synod of Jerusalem:

The Council of Jerusalem (Acts Chapter 15:1-21)

15 Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers.[a] When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers,[b] you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. 10 Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

12 The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers,[c] listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,

16 ‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
    from its ruins I will rebuild it,
        and I will set it up,
17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—
    even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
        Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things 18 known from long ago.’[d]

19 Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled[e] and from blood. 21 For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”