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Tuesday: The Debate — 34 Comments

  1. After much discussion, Peter gets up and addresses the crowd.
    1) God chose me to preach the gospel to the gentiles.
    2) God knows and accepts and He does not discriminate
    3) God allowed the Holy Spirit to be poured upon the uncircumcised gentiles.
    We are saved, just as the gentiles are through the belief in Jesus Christ.

    God had already prepared Peter for the Jerusalem council.

    Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I distinguish the end from the beginning, and ancient times from what is still to come, saying: ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’ I summon a bird of prey from the east, a man for My purpose from a far-off land. Truly I have spoken, truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, I will surely do it.

    He makes provision even before a thought enters our heart.
    Praise God

  2. We are only told the highlights of the Jerusalem council but I suspect that there were probably more speakers than those mentioned. Here are three thoughts:

    A. Peter spoke from experience. He was the one who had had the vision from God that had started the work among the Gentiles and who had seen the results.

    B. James provided a Biblical background quoting from Amos. He took the words of an Old Testament prophet and applied them to the new situation. Given the nature of this discussion that was a Spirit-led move.

    C. The message to the Gentiles was surprisingly simple. Nobody could complain about it being hard to understand.

    Of course, not everyone accepted the outcome and the Judaizers remained a major irritation to the first-century church until eventually, they became irrelevant.

  3. The Judiaisers were operating from a viewpoint where unity is seen as uniformity. For them, ‘unity’ meant that everyone had to ‘behave’ the same.

    James, motivated by the Spirit of God, was operating from much deeper understanding of unity where unity and diversity harmoniously co-exist. In this view, there is unity at the level of core motive, even though there is diversity at the level of behaviour. This is the kind of ‘Oneness’ that Jesus prayed (eg John 17: 23-26) that His followers would manifest - that each follower would also be motivated by the same other-centred Agape love that God’s own heart is filled with.

  4. As christians, our mission is to preach Jesus, His salvation by grace and His soon return to anyone. In the core of seventh-day adventists there is also 1) the worship of God, the Creator of all, 2) the fall of Babylon and 3) the warning against worshiping the beast! The 3 angel's message (Rev 14:6-10).
    As we get closer to God, through His son Jesus, our lives are transformed and changed according to His will - this is the direction we need to be.

  5. The purpose of "all scripture", which is from God, is to be "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.". In this we can understand why the opposing arguments of the Judaizers is not included in the account of this council. Why would it need to be? Wouldn't it just continue their argument with any inclined to agree with them? We need only a "thus saith the Lord" in order to know HIS will and follow it.

    The account of Peter's experience with the household of Cornelius was the evidence through the Holy Spirit that reinforced the teaching of Jesus and His commission to the church, which never included circumcision. Wasn't this part of the teachings of Jesus the disciples had not yet been ready to hear until after their conversion? What is Jesus wanting to teach His people today? Are we ready to hear, or are the old wineskins just not up to the task?

    • I would argue that the Judaizers had a scriptural argument. There are many references in the Old Testament to support circumcision as a requirement. At issue was the notion that a vision reported by one of the Apostles had more weight than all the scriptural references they could muster. With the twenty-twenty vision of hindsight, I have no problem in accepting the outcome, but I can also understand the reticence of the Judaizers to accept it.

      • What scriptural argument did the Judaizers have? Where in the Bible were non-Jews commanded to be circumcised? Where in scripture was it taught only Israel is saved and all non-Jews are lost? It was not just based on a vision by one apostle, many of the Pharisees (school of Hillel) did not see non-Jews needing circumcision to be saved only some of the other Pharisees did, some of these became believers and insisted on something not taught in the Bible.

        • Here is the Judaizer's scriptural argument:

          And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” Gen 17: 9-14

          And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. Ex 12:48.

          It involved a fairly big step for Jewish converts to accept what was to them a non-scriptural position. It was a tough issue in its historical context. And it has consequences for how we handle some of the issues that divide us today.

          • What the Bible does not say is "Abraham you and everyone else" rather the Bible says you; your descendants and those in your house. This does not appear to be a universal command for everyone.

            Secondly when a stranger wants to keep the Passover. Please notice "wants" to this seems to be voluntary not mandatory. It is only mandatory that those who eat the Passover must be circumcised. Again it is not a universal command to keep Passover.

            Thus the actions of the Jerusalem council seem consistent with the Bible to me. Certainly, some (not all) Jewish believers had a hard time with this but this was based on their own misconceptions, not the Bible.

          • I think that the "want to keep the Passover" phrase is a figure of speech. Do you think a stranger would really just want to eat lamb roasted with bitter herbs? The Biblical-based rule was straightforward. I have to admit that if I was a sola-scripture Jew I would have been asking the question as to why this change in attitude had come about. Hopefully, I would be persuaded by the Holy Spirit too. But for a Scripture-based Jew their concern would have been quite understandable. Their reaction, however, is a different story and that is perhaps where we can learn a lesson.

          • My apologies for my late response Maurice.
            If I understand the matter, the Judaizers were saying that the blood of Jesus was not enough for salvation, the Gentiles had to do other "works of the law".
            "Except ye be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, you can't be saved", they asserted. But that is as wrong as is saying today except you keep Sabbath and become vegan you can't be saved.
            What is required for salvation is the issue here. The answer now as well as then is the same- "for by grace are ye saved through faith... not by works lest any man should boast.
            In insisting that the Gentiles be circumcised, they were belittling the sacrifice of our Blessed Lord and Saviour, and perhaps they did not realize that was what they were doing.
            May God help us to avoid their mistakes.

      • If the Judaizers had scripture support(not incorrectly applied scripture) then the apostles were wrong and circumcision as a sign of being Christ's follower must be required today. Did Jesus go against scripture? Did the Holy Spirit go against scripture?

        The Truth is not based on one vision or "miracle", but on the word of God and teaching of Jesus. If Jesus commanded against scripture, then He could not have died as our propitiation and would still be in the tomb.

        Circumcision had nothing to do with Christ or being His follower. It was part of the system that Jesus death nullified, making it no longer required. The "old wineskins" just could not hold the present truth.

        Consider this: is baptism prefigured in Old Testament Scripture? Is the Church (not Israel) foretold in scripture? Look close.

        • I believe it is scripturally consistent to say: it is not that circumcision was no longer required for gentiles but rather that it never was required for gentiles. In 1st century Judaism God fearers were not commanded to be circumcised and the gentile God fearers remained uncircumcised. Only some Pharisee believers thought all gentile believers needed to be circumcised, their belief cannot be supported by scripture and was not widely accepted by the Jews and none today hold this belief.

          I would agree circumcision had nothing to do with Christ for a gentile as they were not commanded this. In regards to Jews we see Paul had Timothy (whose mother was Jewish thus regarded Jewish) circumcised (Acts 16:1-3) as it would be a poor witness among the Jews if Timothy was not circumcised. Both James and Paul wished to make it clear that Paul did not command the Jews to refrain from circumcising their sons (Acts 21:20-24). Paul himself again made it clear he did not teach against the law (Acts 25:8). Finally I believe Paul is very consistent with scripture on what he teaches Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 7:18-20).

          Baptism was not only prefigured it was widely practiced in the first Temple and Second Temple periods and was an integral part of the Temple service. John the Baptist did not invent a new rite it goes back to the Old Testament.

          • Robert, circumcision WAS required for any "strangers"(anyone not of Israel by birth) to sojourn with Israel, and observe the Passover. It was part of the law, and as with every law handed down to Israel, allowed for the stranger to be "as one born in the land(of Israel) though born elsewhere. It was always God's intention to save the world which He "so loved". Israel/Jews simply lost sight of God's purpose, because of their national pride, while allowing the exclusive manners, which were to be a safeguard from idolatry, to lead them to consider themselves the sole objects of God's salvation, which they thought of as favor and privileges rather than actually overcoming sin.

            However, as with all the ceremonies connected to the worship of God through types, symbols, and even the priesthood, circumcision was ended with the rending of the veil, and sojourning with Israel and their God is now replaced by coming individually to Christ as our personal Savior, becoming One with Him, and with all others who are One with Him. This constitutes the true Church.

        • Robert, Maurice clearly demonstrated that the Judaizers "had scriptural support." But the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures in the first place led in a new direction. The covenant including circumcision with Abraham was to be "forever." (Gen 17:13) The leading of the Holy Spirit demonstrates that that particular "forever" ended with the cross.

          The problem with the Judaizers was that they considered themselves the arbiters of Scripture and did not recognize the Spirit's leading. I see the same thing happening in our church today by the same sort of people who consider themselves the backbone of the church. I believe that any of us who think our understanding is superior to that of our brothers and sisters is in danger of erring just as the Judaizers were.

          • I agree with Robert Whiteman that: circumcision WAS required for any "stranger"(anyone not of Israel by birth) to observe the Passover. I also agree the Law allowed almost any stranger to join the house of Israel but allowed is not the same as commanded. The question is were all non-Israelites commanded to become Israelites? Were God-fearers in the 1st century obligated and commanded to be circumcised and join the house of Israel? Where all laws in the Torah universal? If so why is it some laws only applied to Levites and not to other Israelites? Why is it some laws only applied to Priests and not to Levites or the other Israelites? Why is it some laws only applied to the high Priests and not to other Priests? The laws in the Torah do not all seem to be universal for all people. Yes, some laws are universal but not all. Again what makes us think circumcision was a universal command? I agree the Judaizers thought it was a universal command but does that make it so? If that makes it so what about the other Jews who did not feel it was a universal command and did not command God-fearers to be circumcised were they wrong?

  6. In a normal setup, debates sometimes become controversial given the weight of the topic of discussion,and,winners have their way and losers concede. In the context of Jerusalem council, who are the winners and who are the losers? Did the losers concede convincingly?

  7. For those interested in understanding whether or not there was/is scripture support for the proposals and insistence of the Judaizers, read the appropriate chapter in "Acts of the Apostles". Better yet, study Paul's epistles to both the Galatians and Romans. It's all there.

  8. Robert, it seems to me that the only "Scripture" the Jewish believers could reference were what we now call the Old Testament. And, as demonstrated above, they had solid support for their teaching that the new believers needed to be circumcised to become part of God's people.

    But the Holy Spirit led in a different direction, and Paul's epistles are all about the Holy Spirit's leading, even though that appeared to be contrary to the recognized Scriptures of the time.

    • Inge- I'm convinced each time that without the Holy Spirit we are doomed! I'm thinking in our present era, how many times we have argued on topics in church that have scriptural evidences but the HolySpirit is leading in a different direction?
      I can think of an eg. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute but if he was in our church today and an elder should bring a perfidious person to the pastor for marriage, pastor as well as members would think it's unequal yoke. I get it that circumcision isnt a means of salvation but I wondered if the Jews thought how unfair it was for them to go thru this unpleasant act while the Gentiles come in scotch free? I'm so glad for this website I'm learning as I go along and the questions and comments opens my thought processes as well. Blessings!

      • You may have a point, Nikki. Ellen White gives a more nuanced perspective on the topic in Chapter 19, "Jew and Gentile" in Acts of the Apostles. I just read it, and if you'll click on the link, you can read it online.

        Early in the chapter she notes that

        "The Jews had always prided themselves upon their divinely appointed services, and many of those who had been converted to the faith of Christ still felt that since God had once clearly outlined the Hebrew manner of worship, it was improbable that He would ever authorize a change in any of its specifications. They insisted that the Jewish laws and ceremonies should be incorporated into the rites of the Christian religion. They were slow to discern that all the sacrificial offerings had but prefigured the death of the Son of God, in which type met antitype, and after which the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic dispensation were no longer binding."

        But there's so much more that really helps in understanding the situation at the time.

  9. Judaizers had no scriptural support for imposing circumcision upon Gentiles. If a Gentile was seeking to be united with Israel according to the flesh, circumcision was required. With the New Covenant believers become united with and bound to Christ, their Head. Jewish believers have no part imposing physical circumcision upon them. Believers are “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried WITH Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Col 2:11,12

  10. Peter's words must have been very convincing for the Jews presents during that council. Acts 15:9 "He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith." Here, Peter, wisely reminded them of the true meaning of circoncision which was to symbolize both the act of purification of the heart from God and acceptance from the person. God had now provided a way for the believer; true purification is that of the heart and not of the flesh. Romans 2:28,29 "For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter.[a] That man’s praise[b] is not from men but from God."

  11. Interesting some people believe the Jerusalem council is consistent with scripture and others believe that it overturns scripture. If nothing else we can appreciate the differences that the believers had at that time too. Now if the Holy Spirit can overturn scripture as in the case of the Peter and later the Jerusalem council then who is to say the Holy Spirit can later overturn other commandments in the Bible? Is that not what happened, and even today it is claimed the Holy Spirit is leading to overthrow that which is taught in the New Testament as well as the Old Testament? To begin with was Peter correct when he said: “it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile” (Acts 10:28)? Did the vision overthrow the Law or was Peter mistaken about the Law? I would argue that God revealed that he was mistaken; the law did not forbid Jews to associate with Gentiles in fact the Nation of Israel was supposed to be God’s witness to the other nations. Some Jews in the time of Peter believed only Israel had a share in the world to come (this was a minority view) and a gentile could only have a share in the world to come if they became Jews. This I also believe is mistaken, the Bible makes plenty references to other nations in regards to salvation. The Law of Moses did not require gentiles to keep all the laws, for instance the foreigner or alien was allowed to eat anything that died of itself (Duet 14:21). If gentiles were required to keep the whole Law of Moses how it is Israelites were forbidden to eat that which died of itself and gentiles were allowed? I would suggest that this passage and others teach that gentiles were never obligated to keep the whole law, and likewise never obligated to circumcise their sons. Thus the Jerusalem council is completely consistent with scripture. Paul said he did not teach against the Law (Act 25:8). I sincerely believe he is correct.

  12. What needs to be considered is the close of Israel's probation with the stoning of Stephen marking the end of the 70 "weeks" determined upon them. This meant that there was no more Israel in God's reckoning as a nation led by God. Wouldn't this nullify the "need" for circumcision to sojourn with Israel? A new "nation"(the church) was now keepers of the Vineyard as God's witnesses in the earth, being sent to it's "uttermost part".

    No Jew(or anyone else) could be saved except by believing in Jesus and being baptized in the name of the Trinity. Notice that Jesus' commission has no requirement for circumcision.

    Any scripture requiring circumcision did not apply to receiving Christ or joining the fellowship of believers in the church. Israel as a nation was no longer involved.

    • What you say is essentially true, but we also need to recognise that within the context of the early church experience it took a while for that message to get through. A complicating factor was that Paul was complicit in Stephen's death and his emergence as a follower of Jesus was treated with some suspicion.

      In my experience as a teacher I often had to allow my students "soakage time" after presenting them with a new concept. They needed time for their minds to sort through the new information and understand its implications for other things they had learned. Likewise the early Christians did not come to terms with all the new ideas immediately and there was a period where the new idea of the Messiah and its implications developed in their own minds (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of course). Even Paul needed time to work through some of the issues - for example, the circumcision of Timothy, and his participation in the cleansing ceremony that led to his arrest and ultimate journey to Rome.

      • Maurice

        I really appreciated a point you raised earlier today - which appears to have been missed or lost sight of in the subsequent responses: "With the twenty-twenty vision of hindsight, I have no problem in accepting the outcome, but I can also understand the reticence of the Judaizers to accept it."

        Without consideration of another's experience from their perspective (ie walking in their shoes), it is all too easy to fall into a judgemental attitude...

        Thank you Maurice.

      • Yes, as with Israel coming out of Egypt, there was a learning curve involved, but only in those who demonstrated unbelief. And what eventually happened to all but two from that generation? The problem in the church concerning circumcision existed only because of national pride. This can only exist in a soul not fully converted. Sin blinds us to the truth in God's word and we read it subjectively while applying it to everyone but ourselves. My point is that there was/is no scripture support for circumcising the Gentile believers, as Paul made clear in his letters to the Galatians and the Romans. He even addresses this issue in general in his letter to the Ephesians in regards to Christ having removed the distinction between Jewish sinners and Gentile sinners, with all needing to be saved by faith in Christ alone. Add to this the prophecy in Daniel of the 70 weeks, and we find no purpose for imposing this upon anyone. It was a false doctrine, and Paul effectively exposed it.

        There is no "judgment" going on here, just pointing out the truth of the matter as revealed in scripture. Can we see it clearly?

        • Thanks Robert. I see where you are coming from.

          Is there not also a learning curve for those who are growing in faith?

          • Phil, are you referring to the Judaizers? They had the same scriptures as Paul, and if not exercising unbelief through national pride or harboring sin, they too had the promise of the Holy Spirit. If filled with the Spirit, would there not be one accord? But if lacking the Spirit through unbelief, then they hinder their own understanding and the "learning curve" becomes an obstacle to advancement in the knowledge of God and His will as revealed in His word. We make our own learning curve difficult through unbelief. Notice how the others had no such hindrance, even though the scriptures were new to them?

            Perhaps we can understand Paul's strong language concerning these who worked to hinder the Gospel work with opposing distraction and contradiction of faith?

          • You're probably right, Robert. It's evident that human nature hasn't changed much since the time of Paul. We still have the "defenders of the faith" with us today - the same sort as gave Paul trouble and whom we now call "Judaizers." They were sure they knew the meaning of Scripture. It was abundantly clear that God had prescribed the rite of the circumcision as a sign of the covenant *forever* for His covenant people. They were no more willing to accept the different interpretation of Scripture that Paul presented than those of us who defend Adventist teachings against what we see as an attempt to destroy the faith. (I know of some who refuse to fellowship with their churches because they believe that the whole congregation has apostatized.) Is it possible that we who feel we are defending the truth may also lacking the Spirit through unbelief, thus hindering our understanding?

            I am not suggesting that we should abandon foundational doctrines, but much of the dissension I see is not about foundational doctrines but interpretations of Scripture applied in different ways to current issues. There are parallels made between modern questions and ancient ones, and perhaps we should not be so certain that that parallels are correct. And if they are not correct, neither are the resulting applications correct.

          • Robert, your comment proposed that "there was a learning curve involved, but only in those who demonstrated unbelief".

            As far as I can see, even people who exercise faith, who are "filled with the Spirit" and are of "one accord" still experience a learning curve in their past, present and future walk of faith. We are always learning and relearning - hence there is always a learning curve.

            Or are you perhaps referring to something different under the term 'learning curve'?

  13. I confess, I feel a sense of fear that the relevance of the Gospel of Christ is endangered in the hands of "debating" humans. I know I shouldn't "feel" this way in view of Christ's statement in Mt 16:18, but that my humanity trembles is undeniable.

    The need for Scriptural circumcision still exists (Dt 10:16). Christ did not abolish Scripture, He fulfilled it (Mt 5:17-18). I don't think that the human tendency to be "stiff-necked" (that is, inflexible, difficult, obstinate or defiant) has ever had anything to do with the male genitalia. Our human tendency in those directions remains despite a mountain of discarded foreskins and surpassing amounts of "debates". Paul made an insightful statement in 2 Cor 3:14, that he applied to his day. Is that truth still relevant in our day? He did not say that the people of his day were illiterate or had any mental disability. However, something about the condition of their collective minds prevented them from understanding and/or accepting the consistent truth of Scripture (Lk 24:25). That "veil", like the foreskin, he asserted is only removed in Christ (2 Cor 3:15-16; Col 2:11). Our mind's inability to align with the truth of God's way of thinking is not an insignificant defect. Christ attributes this work to His arch-enemy (Mt 13:19,28; 2 Cor 4:3-4), which is now branded into our fallen nature.

    So, our tendencies toward being inflexible, difficult, obstinate and defiant is also related to being slow, dense and foolish...take it or leave it, that's the bad news but truth of the Scripture regarding ALL humans. Providentially, there is also the Good News of Christ's Gospel, which ensures the complete and permanent removal of the "veil" (Dt 30:6; 10:12-13,16; 29:4; Lk 24:45). This work of kindness is accomplished through the united agency of the Father (2 Cor 4:6; Col 1:13), Son (Jn 3:17) and Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Jn 15:26). No one who has had his (or her!) "veil" of defiance and/or denseness excised, should ever want to go and have it stitched back in place! Let's "debate" with a humble awareness.


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