Jerusalem Council - Christianity to Gentiles

Conflict with Jewish law

The Jerusalem Council, as described in Acts 15, stands as a pivotal moment in the history of early Christianity.  As the Gospel spread beyond Jewish communities, more and more Gentiles (non-Jews) were converting to Christianity. Some Jewish Christians – including some Apostles – insisted on adherence to the Law, a view likely held by many Pharisees who became believers.

 A central question emerged: Did Gentile converts need to fully adopt Jewish Law and customs, including circumcision, to become true Christians? Others argued this was an unnecessary burden, believing salvation came solely through faith in Jesus Christ. As a consequence, the matter justified a Council of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem in 50 CE.

The Council

A gathering convened in Jerusalem, including apostles like Peter and James (Jesus’ brother), Paul, Barnabas, and other leaders of the early church. During the intense discussion and debate. Peter recounted his experience with Cornelius, arguing God had accepted Gentiles without requiring the full Jewish law (Acts 10). Paul and Barnabas further testified to the work of the Holy Spirit among Gentile believers (Acts 10:12).

The Decision

James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, proposed a compromise, finding a middle ground that honored Jewish sensibilities while welcoming Gentiles fully into the community. The agreement included that Gentile Christians, like their Jewish brethren, should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, and consumption of meat from strangled animals and blood. By its absence, circumcision was NOT required for Gentile believers.  This ruling laid the groundwork for the Christian belief in salvation through grace alone, rather than through adherence to external laws.

The Council’s decision prevented a potential schism between Jewish and Gentile converts, preserving unity within the early Church. It also opened the door for Christianity to become a truly universal faith. While the issue (circumcision) would resurface occasionally, Paul could proceed with his missions to the gentiles unhindered by the demand for full Jewish law adherence.