Did the Jerusalem council do away with the 7th day Sabbath?

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By BibleAsk Team


The Jerusalem Council, as recorded in the New Testament, specifically addressed the question of whether Gentile converts to Christianity needed to observe certain aspects of the Mosaic Law, including circumcision. The Council’s decisions did not abrogate the observance of the Seventh-day Sabbath but focused on other issues. This essay explores the events and outcomes of the Jerusalem Council, its implications for the observance of the Mosaic Law and the Sabbath, and the ongoing relevance of these decisions for Christian practice.

Context and Background of the Jerusalem Council

The Jerusalem Council is described in Acts 15 and was convened to address a significant controversy in the early church. The core issue was whether Gentile converts to Christianity were required to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law to be saved.

Acts 15:1-2 (NKJV): “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.”

Proceedings of the Jerusalem Council

The Council included key figures of the early church, such as the apostles Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James. The debate centered on whether Gentile Christians should be subjected to Jewish rituals and legal requirements, particularly circumcision.

Acts 15:5-6 (NKJV): “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’ Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.”

Peter’s Argument

Peter spoke against imposing the Mosaic Law on Gentile believers, emphasizing that salvation comes through grace.

Acts 15:7-11 (NKJV): “And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.’”

Paul’s and Barnabas’ Testimonies

Paul and Barnabas recounted the signs and wonders God had performed among the Gentiles, supporting Peter’s argument that God had accepted the Gentiles without requiring adherence to the full Mosaic Law.

Acts 15:12 (NKJV): “Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles.”

James’ Conclusion and the Council’s Decision

James, a leading figure in the Jerusalem church, provided a scriptural basis for the Jerusalem Council’s decision, citing the prophets and concluding that Gentiles should not be burdened with the full yoke of the Mosaic Law.

Acts 15:13-21 (NKJV): “And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, ‘Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things.” Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.’”

James proposed, and the Council agreed, to impose only a few essential prohibitions on Gentile converts, specifically those related to idolatry, sexual immorality, and certain dietary restrictions. This decision effectively did away with the requirement for Gentiles to be circumcised or to fully adhere to the Mosaic Law.

The Decree of the Jerusalem Council

The Jerusalem Council’s decision was formalized in a letter sent to Gentile believers, emphasizing freedom from the Mosaic Law while instructing them on a few essential practices.

Acts 15:23-29 (NKJV): “They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law’—to whom we gave no such commandment—it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.'”

Implications for the Seventh-day Sabbath

It is important to note that the Jerusalem Council did not address the Seventh-day Sabbath observance in its deliberations. The Sabbath, being part of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), held a different place in Jewish life compared to ceremonial laws like circumcision and dietary regulations. The Council’s focus was on those aspects of the Mosaic Law that were causing contention, primarily circumcision and certain ritualistic practices. The Jerusalem council led by the apostles was organized to discuss “this question … this matter” of “circumcision” and “the law of Moses” (Acts 15:1, 2, 5).

Acts 15:21 (NKJV): “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

This verse indicates that the teachings of Moses, including the Sabbath, continued to be read and respected in synagogues. The omission of any direct reference to the Sabbath in the Jerusalem Council’s decree suggests that it was not seen as a point of contention needing resolution at that time. The Jerusalem Council’s silence on the Sabbath implies continuity rather than abrogation.

The Sabbath Day Sabbath in the Early Church

The Lord’s disciples kept the Sabbath after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. “They returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.”; “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day”; “when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath … the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.”; “on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made”; “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures”; “he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Luke 23:56; Acts 13:14, 42-44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4).

There’s no mention in the New Testament (written up to sixty years after Christ’s death) of changing or canceling the seventh day Sabbath.

Paul did away with the yearly Sabbath feasts of the Mosaic Law but he did not cancel the weekly Sabbath of God’s law. Paul did away with the yearly Sabbath feasts (Colossians 2:16; Ephesians 2:15; Galatians 4:9, 20) while the weekly Sabbath of Creation remains (Hebrews 4:4, 9, 10). The yearly sabbaths refer only to the sabbaths which were “a shadow of things to come” and not to the weekly seventh day Sabbath.
There were seven yearly holy days, or holidays, in ancient Israel which were also called sabbaths (Leviticus 23). These were in addition to, or “beside the sabbaths of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:38), or seventh-day Sabbath. These yearly sabbath feasts all foreshadowed, or pointed to, the cross and ended at the cross. But God’s seventh day Sabbath was made before sin entered. And, therefore, could foreshadow nothing about deliverance from sin. That’s why Colossians chapter 2 differentiates and specifically mentions the sabbaths that were “a shadow.”

Conclusion

The 7the day Sabbath itself was not debated or even discussed in the Jerusalem Council. It is important to note that in Acts 15:21 believing Gentiles were still worshiping with the Jews in their synagogues “every Sabbath day.” Thus, showing that the  “Sabbath day” was not abrogated by the Jerusalem council. Rather, it was reiterated without dissent as the biblical day of worship for both Jews and Gentiles.

The Jerusalem Council addressed critical issues concerning Gentile converts and the Mosaic Law, specifically abolishing the requirement for circumcision and certain ceremonial laws. The Jerusalem Council did not do away with the Seventh-day Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11, the 4th commandment). The decision focused on eliminating barriers to Gentile inclusion without imposing the full weight of the Mosaic Law, reflecting a nuanced understanding of the new covenant established through Jesus Christ. The Jerusalem Council’s decree, as recorded in Acts 15, focused on essential prohibitions against idolatry, sexual immorality, and certain dietary practices.

For more on the Sabbath, please check (Lessons 91-102) of the Bible Lessons.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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