A Serious Argument
It looked like the opposition had two thousand years of religious tradition on their side. Abraham, the father of the Jews, and his sons were all circumcised in obedience to God’s command. Moses commanded that on the eighth day Jewish boys must be circumcised (Lev. 12:3), and during the Maccabean revolt when the Greeks demanded Jews to stop circumcising their sons, martyrs gave their lives upholding the practice.
According to Luke, both Jesus and John the Baptist were circumcised (Lk. 1:59, 2:21). Didn’t all this argue that the Gentiles who had recently trusted Jesus during Paul and Barnabas’ first mission trip need to take the next step to guarantee their salvation—submit to circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses?
This is the argument that Jewish followers of Jesus from Judea made when they came north and started spreading these ideas in the church of Antioch. Here’s how Dr. Luke described how Paul and Barnabas responded and how it led to the first Church Council:
“Now certain ones arrived from Judea and were teaching the brothers in Christ that unless you are circumcised according to the customs of Moses you are not able to be saved. And intense strife and debate erupted between Paul and Barnabas and the Judeans. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some of the other believers, to go down to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
After being sent on their way by the church, Paul and Barnabas and those with them traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria telling in detail about the conversion of the Gentiles. All the brothers were filled with great joy when they heard this news.
Arriving in Jerusalem, the church and the apostles and elders welcomed them. Paul and Barnabas proceeded to report what God had done through them. But then some from the party of the Pharisees who had believed in Jesus stood up, saying, ‘It’s necessary to circumcise these Gentiles who have responded and command them to keep the law of Moses.’” - Acts 15:1-5
By the way Luke presents the story it’s obvious which side he takes in this debate. But he is challenging each of us to decide what we believe is necessary to stand right before God. These first century Christian Pharisees said that we must believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection plus circumcision and obedience to the Laws of Moses. Were they right or wrong?
LORD, for two thousand years it’s been hard to accept that all anyone has to do to be accepted by you is to believe in your Son and receive his forgiveness based only upon his death and resurrection. Use our exposure to the discussion and decision of the Council in Acts 15 to move many to realize that “by grace we are saved through faith!
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