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The Circumcision Council

Christianity began through the people of Judah, so many in the early Church at first assumed that specific symbolic rituals that were given to Abraham (who was an Iraqi-born "gentile" - see Israel's Iraqi Roots and the Fact Finder question below) applied to people of all nations who became Christians. The controversy resulted in the so-called "Council at Jerusalem," which was actually "about this question" of circumcision.

"15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

15:2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 15:3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 15:4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them." (Acts 15:1-4 KJV)

"God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us"

Most realize that there were at least two Pharisees who became Christians at or not long after the time of Christ's crucifixion (i.e. Nicodemus and Paul - see Paul's Blindness Lesson and Was Paul Among Them?), but there were others "which believed" - but still had not fully separated God's Law from the "traditions of men" (see Did Jesus Break The Law?).


"15:5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." (Acts 15:5 KJV)

Both Peter (see Peter's Ministry and Peter's Prophecy) and Paul (see Paul's Ministry) were present at the council. Interestingly, Peter, "the apostle to the Jews" ("the apostleship of the circumcision" Galatians 2:8 KJV) who was recorded foremost in the book of Acts up to that point, is not mentioned again in Acts (and hardly at all again in the entire New Testament). Acts (and most of the New Testament) thereafter deals almost entirely with Paul, "the apostle to the gentiles" ("I am the apostle of the Gentiles" Romans 11:13 KJV).

"15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 15:7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 15:8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them The Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 15:9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 15:10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 15:11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." (Acts 15:6-11 KJV)

Paul then reported how God was calling even more "gentiles" into His Church than from the people of Judah, a natural result because the people of Judah compose only a very small part of humanity - and salvation is open to anyone who truly repents and obeys the LORD according to His Word.

"15:12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

15:13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 15:14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15:15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,

15:16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 15:17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 15:18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

15:19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 15:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 15:21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day." (Acts 15:12-21 KJV)

Fact Finder: What was the purpose of circumcision? What made Abraham righteous in God's sight? Was it before or after he was circumcised?
See Circumcision

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