The Jerusalem council set the protocol for how to address certain cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles who had both accepted Christianity and were having fellowship with one another. The church at Antioch was a cosmopolitan body of believers consisting of Jews, Gentile proselytes, and members converted directly from paganism (Acts 11:19, 20). The question that troubled the church then was how to deal with Gentiles in the church from the point of view of Judaism. The main issue was over circumcision.
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 apparently unwilling to recognize the true relationship between Christ and the Mosaic law. The issue of circumcision proved a continuing cause of dissension throughout Paul’s ministry and left its mark on most of the writings of the New Testament.
For this reason, 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 on this matter (Gal. 2:9; Acts 1:19; Acts 11:30). After prayer, 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 early church step by step 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), a development that proved that ceremonial rites of circumcision were no longer needed. In addition, God had given to the new Gentile converts who were uncircumcised the same outpouring of the Spirit as He had first given at Pentecost, making no distinction between Jews and Gentiles.
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