COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM
THE CROSS-CULTURAL CHALLENGE
IN THE FIRST CENTURY
15:1 It was in Antioch that "certain from Jerusalem taught Gentile
'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you
cannot be saved'"
Christianity was a cult within the Jewish religion.
other Christians, its adherents believe that Jesus of Nazareth, whom
they call Yeshua, is the resurrected Messiah and the Divine
Savior. Messianic Judaism adds to this basic belief the observance
of Jewish Law, These observances include observing Jewish
Shabbat, abstaining from pork, shellfish, and other foods banned
by Jewish law, and observing Jewish holidays.
But now the
gospel has reached out. A large number of believers who do not
understand Jewish religion formed an external faction. The central
belief was in the resurrection of Jesus and the central ritual was
the breaking of bread together.
The problem was,
how do we integrate these newcomers. There were two possible
solutions. The first and the easy solution was to integrate them
into the Jewish Religion. Knowing the Jewish emphasis on the
detailed laws and elaboration of them, this brought in a lot of
rubbish baggage. So two parties favoring the two possible
alternatives came into the mission. First argued for total merging
of the new sect into Jewish Religion and remain as a cult within it.
We have no names of the leaders of this group. The other proposed a
total break away from the law into faith part alone. The leader of
this group was Paul and Barnabas.
Judaism takes place normally in several steps.
Once some one is interested in the religion. He will have to
present himself before the Bet Din, the religious court.
The Religious Court, or Bet Din, consists of three people, at least
one of whom must be a rabbi. The Bet Din officially oversees the
formal conversion who examines the person with regard to the
sincerity of their intentions. Once this is established the ritual
One requirement for males who wish to be converted is
circumcision, or brit milah. If a circumcision has already been
performed, the Orthodox and Conservative movements require that a
drop of blood be drawn as a symbolic circumcision. This ceremony
is called Hatafat Dam Brit.(In the modern Judaistic Reform and
Reconstructionist movements circumcision is not required as
part of the conversion process. But then these are recent
IMMERSION : BAPTISM
male and female candidates immerse themselves in a ritual bath
called a mikveh. This ceremony is called tevillah. The mikveh
can be any body of natural water, though the term usually refers to
a specific pool that is built for the purposes of ritual
purification. Blessings are recited and the person goes bending into
the water. According to traditional Jewish law, three witnesses must
Mikva , found in the excavated portion of the Herodian mansion in
Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem
While the temple lasted, during the Apostolic period, the
brought sacrifices or offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. After
the Temple was destroyed, this ceremony disappeared.
The Proselyte may then receive a new name since this is a new birth
through the waters of mikveh. It was common for the proselyte to
make a public confession of faith.
Brit milah, which
means "covenant of circumcision," In Yiddish it is "bris."
P and J Traditions
not unique to the Israelites, as this Egyptian tomb painting from
sixth dynasty (2350-2000 B.C.E.) Saqqara demonstrates,
all Egyptians were circumcised. The question is who were the people
who were circumcised among the Egyptians and why? Godfrey
Higgins, a Masonian author ("Anacalypsis", London 1836), suggests
that , "Priests only of the Egyptians were circumcised." This
probably was the practice among the class of people who were
initiated into religious teachings through circumcision, around
puberty-age and only to virgin boys. Masonic historian, Manly P.
Hall ("Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians", Los Angeles 1936),
indicates this idea "In ancient Egypt learning was regarded as a
high privilege and education was under the direction of a small
number of individuals who were organized into bonds, pledges and
vows of secrecy....(a candidate) having applied at Heliopolis, was
referred to the Learned of the Institution at Memphis, and these
sent him to Thebes (where) he was circumcised." In fact some
believe that the Great Pyramid (Cheops) was a temple of initiation.
Some believe that initiates taught the mysteries in steps until at
some point they were admitted into full Priesthood with impartation
of secret knowledge and circumcised.
traditional ritual has the following prayers as part of ceremony.
The mohel recites benedictions of circumcision, then the
father offers the blessing:
“Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has
sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to bring him
into the covenant of Abraham, our father.” Any guests present say,
"Amen," and then give the blessing:
“As he entered the covenant, may he enter into the study of Torah,
into marriage and into the doing of good deeds.”
Like all ancient
religions there are several myths surrounding the idea. Some
suggests that there was a God of Circumcision itself who maintained
the fertility of the Nile banks. This God circumcised himself and
the blood from his penis fell and created the universe.
a sacrifice. In cutting away part of the sexual organ was a
symbolic sacrifice of one’s own life. Thus it becomes a symbol of
covenant between the person and God. It is in this sense the
circumcision became the covenant symbol.
-6 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, "Behold, my
covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of
nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name
shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of
nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you
into nations, and kings shall come from you.
Gen 17:7-10 And I
will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring
after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant,
to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to
you and to your offspring ….for an everlasting possession, and I
will be their God." And God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall
keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their
generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me
and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be
the first commandment given by God to
the first Jew, and is central to Judaism.
a tribal sign and it was important in a world of tribal war fare
where a wandering tribal man was sure to meet death. It was not an
option and hence it was given on the eighth day.
essentially two traditions as understood by the bible scholars – The
Priestly tradition and the Yahvite tradition – commonly know and P
and J Traditions. The place different meaning to this ritual.
In the Priestly
Tradition circumcision established itself within Judaism as the
premiere mark of covenant commitment. Sealing the covenant by
circumcising the organ of procreation with a knife, with its obvious
threat of infertility, has the effect of symbolically handing over
the possibility of offspring to the grace of God. By practicing the
rite from generation to generation, the Israelites almost literally
placed their future into the hands of the God of covenant. In this
sense it is a self sacrifice.
In the Yahvite
Tradition, The covenant was primarily a convention whereby Yahweh
granted blessing in perpetuity. For the Yahvist, covenant took the
form of a charter covenant given to Abraham with no required action
in return, only a commitment of faith. By retaining both notions of
covenant within the Abrahamic narrative, the final edition affirms
that the two covenants complement each other. All prophets
therefore spoke of circumcision as “remove the foreskin of our
Jer 4:4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of
your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Moses himself was not circumcised as he was brought up in the
Pahraoh’s Palaca and his statements therefore follows the J
traditions giving it a spiritual meaning.
Deut. 10:16, 18 Ye shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and
shall no longer harden your neck, doing the judgment of the orphan
and the widow, and loving the stranger to give him bread and raiment
unto Joshua, Make thee swords of rocks, and circumcise the sons of
Israel the second time and Joshua made him swords of rocks, and
circumcised the sons of Israel at the hill of the foreskins and
Jehovah said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach
of Egypt from off you; and he called the name of that place Gilgal
(Rolling-off) (Joshua 5:2, 3, 9);
The Law and Grace?
ACTS 15:2 And
when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them,
the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of
them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning
The question was
whether the Jewish law is binding to the followers of Jesus
Jerusalem Council AD 50
The leaders of
new way gathered together as a council in Jerusalem and the council
heard both sides.
Peter being the
initiator of the ministry outside of the Jews now supported the
proposal of Paul and Barnabas. Acts 15:7-11. It was now clear to
the whole council that "God is doing something new" Acts
is doing something new"
"God is doing something new"
This was the
emergence of Christianity as it broke the umbilical cord from the
So this indeed
was the beginning of the Church. The only imposition was the four
Under the New
Covenant, God is calling a spiritual nation composed of individuals
converted and begotten by His Holy Spirit. God's people now are all
to be "circumcised" spiritually. Physical circumcision is no longer
necessary for religious purposes. It was a forerunner or type of
what God really wanted—circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16;
30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). Paul told the congregation in Rome that
physical circumcision is of no spiritual benefit (Romans 2:25-29);
Spiritual circumcision, though, is a process of conversion. That
Christ circumcises us spiritually is made plain in Colossians
This is why the
assembled apostles and elders of the New Testament church declared
circumcision to be one of the physical requirements of the Old
Covenant that is not necessary for Christians (Acts 15:24, 28).
Since Peter was
now involved in the mission among the Jews in dispersion, James, and
not Peter, was the undisputed leader of the Jerusalem Church. We
know that Peter had difficulty in accepting the new faith as a
“Then it seemed good to the
apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from
among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They
sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the
brethren, with the following letter:
"The brethren, both the apostles
and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch
and Syria and Cilicia, greeting. Since we have heard that some
persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds,
although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us,
having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with
our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for
the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and
Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of
mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay
upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you
abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and
from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves
from these, you will do well. Farewell."
"So when they were sent off,
they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation
together, they delivered the letter." (Acts 15:22-30 )