Circumcision, Christians, and Christian Disputes in General–Acts 15:1-35

The First Council of Nicea, wall painting at the church of Stavropoleos, Bucharest, Romania, Wikimedia Commons

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

Read Acts 15:1-35 (I’ll offer a paraphrase but I encourage you to read Acts 15:1-35 in the translation of your choice, before you read this blog post.)

Acts 15:1-35

After returning from their mission trip, Paul and Barnabas are with the church in Antioch. Some Pharisees who had become Christians came down from Judea and asserted that the Gentile believers needed to be circumcised to be saved. Paul and Barnabas disagreed. After a lively debate it was decided that the question should be brought before those in authority over the church. So Paul, Barnabas, and some others went up to Jerusalem to learn from the Apostles what should be done about it. On their way, as they passed through Samaria and Phoenicia, they shared in detail about how God was converting Gentiles and this brought great joy among the brothers. When they arrived in Jerusalem they were met with a warm welcome from the church, the Apostles, and the elders. Again they shared all the good God had done during their mission trip. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The Apostles and elders gathered together to consider the matter, and after much debate, Peter stood up and reminded them how God had directed him, Peter, to share Jesus with the Gentile Cornelius and Cornelius’s household of Gentiles. And how the Holy Spirit fell upon these uncircumcised men. Peter pointed out that God made no distinction between Gentile and Jew when He did this. God gave them His Holy Spirit even though they were Gentiles and uncircumcised. So if God is making no distinction, why would we men put God to the test by placing an unnecessary yoke on the necks of Gentile disciples of Christ? Peter finishes with this statement: “. . . we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 10)

And all the assembly fell silent.

Then they listened while Paul and Barnabas shared about the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After Paul and Barnabas finished speaking, James the brother of Jesus, (James the brother of John, one of the twelve, had already been beheaded. (Acts 12:1-5)), James the brother of Jesus said: Listen to me, Peter reminded us about how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And the words of the prophets agree with how that happened. It is written,

After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord who makes these things known from of old.

Acts 15:16-17

Therefore, James continued, it’s my judgment that we shouldn’t trouble the Gentiles who turn to God. Let’s write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him. He is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.

Everyone there may not have agreed with James on the matter, but they had consensus. So the Apostles in Jerusalem wrote a letter to the church in Antioch stating these requirements. They sent Paul, Barnabas, and two others: Judas called Barsabbas and Silas were chosen to represent the Apostles to the members of the church in Antioch. The Apostles sent these four to Antioch with the letter.

The believers in Antioch were encouraged by the letter. And Judas and Silas encouraged and strengthened the brothers. And after they had spent a good amount of time there in Antioch, Judas and Silas were sent off in peace.

What I Learned About the Jerusalem Council

Today, like those Gentile believers in Antioch, I want to rejoice that it’s not necessary for us to be circumcised and follow the laws of Moses in order to be saved.

But I also want to share something I learned today that surprised me. According to Keener (who is one of the foremost scholars on the culture and anthropology of Jesus’ time) before Jesus there were different groups of Jews with different ideas about what was necessary for Gentiles to be saved. There were those who believed it was necessary for Gentiles to be converted to Judaism in order to be saved. And, there were those who believed Gentiles could be “saved simply by avoiding major sins.” So these two groups existed before Jesus’ time. And now after his death and resurrection, believers who are from the former group are sharing an idea they’ve always held: that Gentiles need to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved.

The solution offered by James is brilliant. He starts by tying Peter’s story about Cornelius and his household of Gentiles to a scripture from Amos. James says of the Gentiles that God wants “to take from them a people for his name.” (See Amos 9:11-12) Finally James shares requirements that appear to be based off of the requirements found in Leviticus 17 and 18 for strangers living among the Jewish community: Abstain from things polluted by idols, abstain from sexual immorality, abstain from eating animals that have been strangled, and abstain from eating or drinking blood. (See Leviticus chapters 17-18)

Consensus is reached and the letter is drafted. I didn’t realize it until today but this is how decisions were made among ancient Jews and also within the early church. There were councils. Decisions weren’t made unilaterally. Decisions were made by consensus. Not everyone necessarily agreed with the decision but everyone necessarily agreed to abide by the decision made by the ruling authority.

I share this because we live in an age and culture, especially here in the West, where individualism is worshipped. What Jesus said, what his disciples said (the disciples Jesus, the Son of God, spent all night praying about before he chose them), and what the disciples of his disciples said is discounted and even disparaged. The words and ideas of Jesus and his disciples are tossed aside in favor of our own less informed opinions. Our culture encourages this. Individually making unilateral decisions (often based on our feelings) is encouraged. We naively and arrogantly think we know more than the next guy, even if the next guy lived with the very Son of God for three years. Even if the next guy is one of the twelve and the Son of God Himself prayed about who to choose before choosing the twelve.

I used to be as guilty as anyone about approaching Jesus and God and His scripture this way.

I’m trying to become more humble in my approach to Jesus and God and His scriptures, and his disciples too.

I hope you’ll join me.

“Father, help me to fearlessly pursue the truth, wherever it leads. Help me to see You, Jesus, his disciples, his disciples’ disciples, Your words in scripture, help me to see all these the way You want me to. I want the truth Father. I want to see the way You see, the way Jesus sees, the way You want me to see. Bless me with eyes to see Father. Bless me with the truth about You and what You have to say to us.

“In Jesus’ name I ask this of You.



Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Second Edition
InterVarsity Press, 2014, pp. 366-367

Available on Amazon!

Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)

Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.

Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:

  • Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
  • How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
  • The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
  • How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
  • How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
  • How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
  • How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
  • How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
  • How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.

With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.

A life of loving like Jesus.

(Kindlehardcover, and paperback now available on Amazon.)

3 Comments on “Circumcision, Christians, and Christian Disputes in General–Acts 15:1-35

  1. Pingback: Your Change of Heart, My Change of Heart (and Paul’s change of heart)–Acts 15:36-41 | God Running

  2. My brother Kurt, your humility in agreement with the Father and his Son and submission to the Holy Spirit indeed shows your commitment to becoming a Spiritual Father. Your spiritual growth is encouragement to all who are following the Rabbi, Jesus Christ.
    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Mt 11:25–27). (2016). Crossway Bibles. 25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.7 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
    Thanks be to Jesus, who, through love and grace, elected us to be chosen. We get to see the Father, who looks at our hearts to see us as we truly are. Blessed are we who were “born again” to become as little children prepared to receive the wisdom of God through our adoption as sons and daughters into His family.
    I love that you recognize Peter, the first to stand in agreement with Paul and Barnabas, the first disciple chosen by Jesus and then became a helper to choose other disciples as well. Peter knew that anyone who is chosen to receive the Holy Spirit is also worthy to be adopted into His family as sons and daughters of the most high God. Be they Jewish or Gentile. What does that matter to God? “So what are we arguing about?” is the way Peter is quoted in The Message. Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Ac 15:11). NavPress. Circumcised or not. Your thoughts are lost on God. To Him, it matters not.
    Great blog post, brother.
    In Him,


    • Jeffrey, it’s great to hear from you! Thank you for your excellent comment. I definitely feel like a little child down here on earth in need of His help and direction, that’s for sure. I pray God blesses you with His inspiration and direction, and prospers you in doing the work of His kingdom.

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