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Chapter Five

COUNCIL OF JERUSALEM

 

THE CROSS-CULTURAL CHALLENGE
IN THE FIRST CENTURY

Acts 15:1  It was in Antioch that  "certain from Jerusalem taught Gentile converts,
'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'"

Until now Christianity was a cult within the Jewish religion. 

Like 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.

 

Conversion to Judaism

 

Conversion to 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 process  starts.

  • CIRCUMCISION
    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 developments)
  • IMMERSION :  BAPTISM

 

Both 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 be present.


Mikva , found in the  excavated  portion of the  Herodian mansion in Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem

 

·         THE OFFERING

While the temple lasted, during the Apostolic period, the proselytes brought sacrifices or offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. After the Temple was destroyed, this ceremony disappeared.  

·         PUBLIC CONFESSION

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."

Circumcision
P and J Traditions

Circumcision was not unique to the Israelites, as this Egyptian tomb painting from sixth dynasty (2350-2000 B.C.E.) Saqqara demonstrates,     

 

Apparently not 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.  

The jewish 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.  

 

Circumcision was 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.

 

Gen 17:3 -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 circumcised.”

Circumcision is the first commandment given by God to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism.

Circumcision was 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.

There are 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 otherAll  prophets therefore spoke of circumcision as “remove the foreskin of our hearts.”

 .

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

“Jehovah said 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 this issue.

 

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 15:13-21

 

"God is doing something new" Acts 15:7-11

 

      

"God is doing something new"

This was the emergence of Christianity as it broke the umbilical cord from the parental womb. 

 

So this indeed was the beginning of the Church.  The only imposition was the  four apostolic decrees.

 

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 2:10-11.

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 separate Religion.  

 

“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 )