The apostles and elders of the early Church met in Jerusalem to discuss an important and controversial issue: "Will the Church be completely Jewish, or will uncircumcised Gentiles be let in?" They knew that God had repeatedly warned Israel to keep herself separate from the Gentiles, that He had commanded, "No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the sons of Israel, shall enter My sanctuary." (Ezek. 44:9) [Please see A PEOPLE SET APART.]

They also knew that the New Covenant brought by Yeshua had been made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. (Jer. 31:31) Proselytes (i.e., Gentiles who had become Jews) could enter into this Covenant, because they had been circumcised. In fact, one of the "seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" appointed to distribute food among the believers in Jerusalem was a proselyte. (Acts 6:3-5) However, there was no known way for uncircumcised Gentiles to enter into the God’s Covenant with Israel.

Nonetheless, when Paul and Barnabas had traveled, proclaiming that Yeshua was the Messiah of Israel, many Gentiles had believed their message. (Acts 13:48, 14:1) Paul and Barnabas explained this unusual occurrence, and their own role in it, by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: "I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the end of the earth.’" (Acts 13:47; Is. 49:6)

When they arrived in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas "began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. . . . And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them, should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue." (Acts 14:27, 15:1-2) That is why the council was held. The question was basically this: Do Gentiles have to become Jewish first in order to become Christians? Must they be circumcised in order to follow Yeshua, the King of the Jews? "And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.’" (Acts 15:7-9)

Peter was referring to the time when God had told him to go and preach in the home of a Roman centurion. [Please see THE ROMAN CENTURION.] At that time, he and the other Jewish believers had been amazed that God had poured out His Holy Spirit on uncircumcised Gentiles. Yet he later testified, "If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?" (Acts 11:17)

After Peter spoke, and after Paul and Barnabas told of their ministry among the Gentiles, Jacob, the brother of Yeshua, addressed the council. "And after they had stopped speaking, Jacob answered, saying, ‘Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, "After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, in order that the rest 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." [Amos 9:11-12]

"‘Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.’" (Acts 15:13-21)

The council decided to send a letter to Antioch with the decision of Jacob. We are told that the congregation there received it with rejoicing. (Acts 15:31) Years earlier, Jewish believers had reacted in the same way after hearing of Peter’s experience with the Roman centurion: "And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’" (Acts 11:18)

Torah and the New Covenant Home Page