Acts 15:1-35 – Requirements for Gentiles Reconsidered


Acts 15:1-35


At a meeting in Jerusalem, “the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church” (15:22) comes to understand that God calls Gentiles to saving faith in Christ without requiring them to be circumcised and keep all Jewish laws.


The issue of the mission to Gentiles is first raised in Acts 10 and Acts 11:1-18, when Peter’s report about his vision and encounter with Cornelius convinces believers in the Jerusalem community, not least because of the Spirit’s legitimation. But in Acts 15 the issue must be reconsidered. Some believers from Judea insist that God requires that baptized Gentiles be circumcised (and probably keep food laws). A council is held in which Peter again testifies to God’s plan of salvation for Gentiles through faith in Christ, without the necessity of receiving circumcision or adhering to all Jewish laws. For the sake of harmony in mixed Jewish-Gentile congregations, however, the council recommends that Gentile believers abstain from some “essential” Jewish taboos, namely: “things polluted by idols . . . fornication . . . whatever has been strangled . . . and from blood” (15:20, 28‒29). These forbidden elements were associated with idolatrous practices, such as consuming meat offered to false gods in pagan temple ceremonies (the animals would have also been butchered by strangulation and other methods retaining blood, in violation of kosher practices). 

The Jerusalem council’s decision to welcome Gentile believers apart from circumcision  is certified as the will of God directed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:8-928). At the same time, suspicion about the Gentiles’ lack of adherence to the Torah (Jewish law) continues to be an issue. Suspicion later dogs Paul’s footsteps, as he discovers when he returns to Jerusalem (21:20-25).