Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Jerusalem Council Decides

The news of Paul's soul winning amongst the Gentiles caused a great stir in the heart of the believers in Jerusalem. Several men traveled out to see Paul's work. They were amazed at what they saw. Gentile lives were changed in the same ways that their Jewish counterparts had experienced. Unfortunately, Paul didn't seem too eager to convert these new believers. "They must be converted to Judaism in order to be saved!" they said. Stubborn Paul said, "No!" So the men rightly went back to Jerusalem where they laid the entire question before the elders. "What should we do with all these Gentiles?"

The Jerusalem Council listened to both sides of the issue. Finally, James stood and gave the Council's decision.

Acts 15:19-21 (KJV)
19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

This portion of Scripture has been used as the basis for the Gentile Christians' responsibility to The Law. But is this the correct understanding? Are there only four laws that Gentile Christians need to observe? All Christians should understand that this cannot be a complete list of our responsibilities since nothing is said about murder or theft. Nothing is said about loving God first or loving our neighbor as ourselves. Obviously, this is not a complete list. So what is it? What was James trying to convey?

Let's examine these four laws. The first is the admonition to abstain from pollutions of idols. Generally, this meant that the new Christians were to stay away from any association with idols. This came into play when the believers would purchase meat in the market. Often, this meat had originally been offered to idols and then sold later at the market. Eating this meat might be construed as condoning idolatry, so the instruction was to refrain from eating this meat.

The second law was the admonition to flee fornication. This is a reference to any participation in sexual immorality.

The third is the instruction to refuse to eat meat from animals that had been strangled, and the fourth is to refrain from eating meat that has blood in it.

Let's examine how well Christians observe these laws.

Not eating meat offered to idols today is pretty simple. Christians don't really have a problem with this law. We don't buy meat in our grocery stores that have come from centers of idol worship.

What about sexual immorality? Generally. Christians understand that sexual immorality is wrong.   However, increasingly, church leaders seem to have difficulty with confronting those who sin in this way. For example, churches are afraid of confronting cohabiting individuals for fear that they will leave the church, or that that might ruffle the feelings of family members, etc. But the law itself is well understood.

The real problem comes with the third and fourth laws. Do Christians uphold them? Further explanation about the fourth law can be found in the following:

Genesis 9:4 (KJV)
4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

Leviticus 17:14 (KJV)
14 For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.

Deuteronomy 12:16 (KJV)
16 Only ye shall not eat the blood; ye shall pour it upon the earth as water.

In the first place, do Christians avoid eating blood? Personally, I know of many who love rare or medium rare meat. In fact, I don't know of anyone who teaches against eating meat that still has the blood in it. Let's be honest, the only way to know if our meat has come from an animal that has not been strangled or has had the blood drained out is by buying kosher meat. Let me say that again, we must buy kosher meat in order to make sure that it doesn't come from strangled animals and that the blood has been drained from it.

So if Christians claim that these are the only laws applicable to Gentiles they should follow them.

Lastly, if a Christian is going to stand on these four laws alone, he or she needx to look closely at verse 21 of Acts 15.

Acts 15:21 (KJV)
21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

As many times as I have read this I can see only one explanation, that Moses, meaning the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible, was preached every Sabbath day in the synagogues. James was saying that we don't want to overwhelm the new Gentile believers with all The Laws of God right away. Rather, as the believers would be in the synagogues on Saturday they would hear The Law preached every week and would gradually come to understand The Law. However, the four laws that were stated in this passage were essential for fellowship and must be understood right away.

What do you believe? Again, I welcome comments. But if you disagree with my belief that we need to continue to keep The Law, please address Acts 15:21. How can this verse be explained in any other way?

For me, this passage of Scripture is not about setting The Law aside, but rather an acknowledgement that The Law was still in force during the days of the early disciples as well as it is today.


  1. The Word is the Law which was made flesh, i.e., Yahshua is the Law that was made flesh. To deny the Law is to deny Yahshua! The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. What is the Truth? The Law, the written TORAH is the Truth. To reject the Truth, is to reject the work of the Holy Spirit, to deny the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. How so very far we have been led astray by our elders!

  2. Ray,

    Thank you for your comment. You have summarized the situation well!

  3. I very much like the account by Renee Regnier. It does seem odd that James should declare a limited set of laws to follow, because most Christians are not confused by the requirement that they follow all the commandments. It seems your explanation that this is just the beginning of what is required of the gentile Christians to begin fellowship with the Jews is consistent with the remainder of what is occurring in Acts and Galatians. I would put this in the context that the disciples are still struggling with their own understanding of what must happen next, for Paul will ultimately argue with Simon that the gentiles are being eschewed by him because of their lack of adherence to the full law. The error is that they would be prioritizing the teaching of every word of the law rather than conveying the more important matters of the law: understanding that true love of G-d and love for brothers, and believing in who G-d has sent.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! Blessings!