The Jerusalem Council
Read Acts 15:1-35 and trace the steps of Paul during this time on the map.
What doctrinal controversy developed in the church at Antioch? What did the church in Antioch decide to do about the controversy?
Who was the first major speaker whose words are recorded? To what past incident did he make reference? What conclusions did he draw?
Who was the second major speaker whose words are recorded? What point did he make? What conclusions did he draw? What suggestion did he make?
What decision was reached by the Jerusalem Council? What actions were taken? What were the results of the council?
The suggestion of James in Acts 15:20 that, "We write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood," may seem strange to us today. However, these were very important suggestions for the early church in which there were sharp divisions between Jews and Gentiles. F.F. Bruce, an English Bible scholar, sums up the situation in the following manner: "Although the apostolic decree did not impose circumcision, it did lay down certain requirements for Gentile converts to observe. These requirements may have been intended to facilitate social intercourse between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Some Gentile practices were especially offensive to Jews, and if these practices were given up, Jewish Christians would feel that an obstacle in the way of table-fellowship and the like with their Gentile brethren had been removed. Three of the requirements have the nature of food-restrictions; the fourth—abstention from fornication—is apparently ethical. …Perhaps, however, fornication in the decree does not mean general sexual laxity but has a more technical sense. The most elementary teaching given to converts from paganism almost certainly made it clear that fornication and similar practices were incompatible with the Christian way. Even so, the Jerusalem leaders may have felt that no harm would be done by underlining this in the decree. But fornication could bear a more technical sense of marital union within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity or affinity laid down in the Hebrew ‘lay of holiness’…Many Gentile Christians were perfectly willing to make practical concessions of this kind: indeed, over wide areas of the Christian world the terms of the apostolic decree were observed for many centuries as essential to the Christian way of life." (F.F. Bruce, Paul—Apostle of the Heart Set Free, pp. 185-186.)
People today often contend that we cannot be absolutely certain of the meaning of the Bible. Therefore, they claim that the interpretation of every individual should be viewed as equally valid. Is such a contention supported by the actions of the early Christian of Antioch and Jerusalem?
People today frown upon any doctrinal controversy, claiming it is not in keeping with Christ’s command to love, and it is not conducive to external Christian unity. Is such an attitude justified in view of the results of the Jerusalem Council?
The Jerusalem Council was a victory for early Christianity. What might we learn from these early Christians when it comes to dealing with doctrinal controversies?