Weren’t gentiles freed from keeping the 7th day Sabbath (Acts 15)?

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By BibleAsk Team


Acts 15

The controversy at the early church was not over the 7the day Sabbath but over circumcision for certain men taught that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved(Acts 15:1). Paul and Barnabas had not required the Gentile converts to be circumcised and this greatly offended the Jewish converts.

The Judaizers maintained that circumcision was part of the law which was given to Abraham by God (Genesis 17:10–13) and was confirmed to Moses (Leviticus 12:3; John 7:22). They said that if it was neglected or refused, the whole law was broken. While they were able to accept Christ as the Messiah, they were unwilling to recognize the true relationship between Christ and the Mosaic Law.

The issue of circumcision was a reason of conflict throughout Paul’s ministry and left its mark on most of the writings of the New Testament. Through Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Romans and all the writings of Paul, we read how the apostle was trying to free the Gentiles from the burdens that the Judaizers were trying to put on them by observing the ceremonies of Moses Law.

The church did not yet understand fully that the ceremonial laws pointing to Christ were fulfilled in Him at the cross (Ephesians 2:15). They didn’t understand that the ethnic symbols characterizing the Jews as Jews were, likewise, no longer significant. For many years after the resurrection, Jewish Christians, in general, continued to observe the Temple rituals, and even Paul joined in them when he was at Jerusalem (Acts 20:16; 21:18-26).  But later the Holy Spirit showed the believers, and Paul, that there was a theological reason for not requiring the observance of the Mosaic rituals.

The Jerusalem Council’s Verdict

Peter, John, and James who were at Jerusalem when Paul and Barnabas presented this issue, along with the elders there, prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this matter (Galatians 2:9; Acts 1:19; Acts 11:30). And the Holy Spirit answered them and the council decreed that the gentiles are not required to be circumcised but to: “abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28-29).

The Holy Spirit was leading the Jerusalem Council into truth (John 16:13). The evidence that supported this decision was that God had “opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27), and that the ceremonial rites of circumcision were no longer needed. In addition, the Lord had given to the new Gentile converts who were uncircumcised the same outpouring of the Spirit as He had first given at Pentecost, thus, making no distinction between Jews and Gentiles.

Two Distinct Laws

The weekly 7th day Sabbath of the Ten Commandment (Genesis 2:2,3; Exodus 2): 8-11) was instituted before sin. However, the yearly sabbath feasts of the Mosaic law (Leviticus 23) came after sin and were in addition to, or “beside the sabbaths of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:38). These yearly sabbath feasts foreshadowed, or pointed to, the cross and ended at the cross (Colossians 2:11-20; Ephesians 2:15; Hebrews 9:1-12). But God’s weekly 7th day Sabbath could foreshadow nothing about deliverance from sin. God’s Law stands forever.

MOSES’ LAW
Called “the law of Moses” (Luke 2:22).
Called “law … contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15).
Written by Moses in a book (2 Chronicles 35:12).
Placed outside the ark (Deuteronomy 31:26).
Ended at the cross (Ephesians 2:15).
Added because of sin (Galatians 3:19).
Contrary to us, against us (Colossians 2:14).
Judges no one (Colossians 2:14-16).
Carnal (Hebrews 7:16).
Made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19).
GOD’S LAW
Called “the law of the Lord” (Isaiah 5:24).
Called Ten Commandments-“the royal law” (James 2:8).
Written by God on stone (Exodus 31:18; 32:16).
Placed inside the ark (Exodus 40:20).
Will stand forever (Luke 16:17).
Points out sin (Romans 7:7; 3:20).
Not grievous (1 John 5:3).
Judges all people (James 2:10-12).
Spiritual (Romans 7:14).
Perfect (Psalms 19:7).

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

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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