Online Bible Commentary
Followers of Christ
Acts 15:13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, "Men and brethren, listen to me: 14 Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 16 '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; 17 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.' 18 "Known to God from eternity are all His works. 19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath." (NKJV)
The time is A.D.49. Paul, Barnabas and Titus have come to the church in Jerusalem from their home church in Antioch, Syria to attend the meeting of the Jerusalem Council. The topic of discussion is should new Gentile believers be required to be circumcised like the Jews were required to be under Mosaic Law. A group of Jewish believers were engaged in this false teaching.
After both sides voiced their opinions, Peter stated to the church that the Lord had appointed him to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Then, Paul and Barnabas told of the miracles the Lord had performed through them while ministering to the Gentiles. Never was the need for circumcision mentioned.
The testimony of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas at the Jerusalem Council affirmed that salvation is received by faith through the grace of God. Neither circumcision, as the false teachers claimed, nor any other works could purchase salvation for the Gentiles.
Next, James, the brother of Jesus and the head of the church in Jerusalem, took the floor (v. 13). He stated that “Simon” (Peter) “has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name” (v. 14). He backed this up with scripture from “the prophets”, Amos and Isaiah (v. 15). James quoted from Amos 9:11-12 and Isaiah 45:21 (vv. 16-18) as proof texts that God foretold that Gentiles would be called by His name.
James, therefore, concluded that they “should not trouble” Gentile believers with the requirement of circumcision (v. 19). Instead, they should just hold them to some of God’s principles of morality that apply to all people.
James cited four principles:
(1) Abstaining “from things polluted by idols”, a reference to abstaining from idol worship (v. 20a).
(2) Abstaining “from sexual immorality”, the cardinal sin of Gentiles (v. 20b).
(3) Abstaining “from things strangled” (v. 20c), a commandment given to Noah after the flood and applying to all people (Gen 9:4).
(4) Abstaining “from blood” (v. 20d), also from Genesis 9:4.
James then declared the morality of these principles even among Jews by declaring that they also had been preached of as being from Moses “in the synagogues every Sabbath" (v. 21). So, with James’ speech, it was definitely decided by the Jerusalem Council that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to be saved.
The work of the Jerusalem Council of 49 was extremely important to the growth of the church. A huge obstacle to Gentiles becoming Christians was averted.
At the same time, a certain code of morality was established that was both Gentile and Jew. This would further blur the lines between Gentile and Jewish believers. They were no longer Gentile or Jew. They were just Christians. They were one people, followers of Christ.