|Council of Jerusalem|
|Date||c. 48–50 AD|
|Accepted by||Mainstream Christianity and most Christian denominations|
|Ancient church councils (pre-ecumenical) and the First Council of Nicaea|
|President||Unspecified but presumably James the Just, Peter, and John.   |
|Topics||Controversy about male circumcision, the Christian views on the Old Covenant, and whether keeping the Mosaic Law is necessary for the salvation of Gentiles.   |
Documents and statements
|Excerpts from New Testament (Acts of Apostles and perhaps Epistle to the Galatians) |
|Chronological list of ecumenical councils|
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| Outline of Bible-related topics |
The Council of Jerusalem or Apostolic Council is a council described in chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, allegedly held in Jerusalem around c. 48–50 AD.
The council decided that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obligated to keep most of the rules prescribed to the Jews by the Mosaic Law, such as Jewish dietary laws and other specific rituals, including the rules concerning circumcision of males.      The council did, however, retain the prohibitions on eating blood, meat containing blood, and meat of animals that were strangled, and on fornication and idolatry, sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Decree.  The purpose and origin of these four prohibitions is debated. 
Accounts of the council are found in Acts of the Apostles (chapter 15 in two different forms, the Alexandrian and Western versions) and also possibly in Paul's letter to the Galatians (chapter 2).     Some scholars dispute that Galatians 2 is about the Council of Jerusalem, while others have defended this identification. 
Jerusalem was the first center of the Christian Church according to the Book of Acts,  and according to the Catholic Encyclopedia , the location of "the first Christian church".  The apostles lived and taught there for some time after Pentecost.  James the Just, brother of Jesus was leader of the early Christian community in Jerusalem, and his other kinsmen likely held leadership positions in the surrounding area after the destruction of the city until its rebuilding as Aelia Capitolina in c. 130 AD, when all Jews were banished from Jerusalem. 
The apostles Barnabas and Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with the "Pillars of the Church":   James the Just, Peter, and John.   The Council of Jerusalem is generally dated to c. 48–50 AD, roughly 15 to 25 years after the crucifixion of Jesus (between 26 and 36 AD). Acts 15 and Galatians 2 both suggest that the meeting was called to debate the legitimacy of the Evangelizing mission of Barnabas and Paul to the Gentiles and the Gentile converts' freedom from most of the Mosaic Law,   especially from the circumcision of males,  a practice that was considered execrable and repulsive in the Greco-Roman world during the period of Hellenization of the Eastern Mediterranean,      and was especially disdained in Classical civilization both from ancient Greeks and Romans, which instead valued the foreskin positively.     
At the time, most followers of Jesus (which historians refer to as Jewish Christians) were Jewish by birth and even converts would have considered the early Christians as a part of Judaism. According to scholars, the Jewish Christians affirmed every aspect of the then contemporary Second Temple Judaism with the addition of the belief that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. 
The purpose of the meeting, according to Acts, was to resolve a disagreement in Antioch, which had wider implications than just circumcision, since circumcision is considered the "everlasting" sign of the Abrahamic covenant in Judaism (Genesis 17:9–14). The Acts say that "certain men which came down from Judaea" were preaching that "[u]nless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved";  the Acts also states that furthermore some of the Pharisees who had become believers stated that it was "needful to circumcise [the Gentiles,] and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses" (KJV). 
The primary issue which was addressed related to the requirement of circumcision, as the author of Acts relates, but other important matters arose as well, as the Apostolic Decree indicates.  The dispute was between those, such as the followers of the "Pillars of the Church", led by James, who believed, following his interpretation of the Great Commission, that the church must observe the Torah, i.e. the rules of traditional Judaism (Galatians 2:12), and Paul the Apostle, who called himself "Apostle to the Gentiles",  who believed there was no such necessity.     The main concern for the Apostle Paul, which he subsequently expressed in greater detail with his letters directed to the early Christian communities in Asia Minor, was the inclusion of Gentiles into God's New Covenant, sending the message that faith in Christ is sufficient for salvation.   
At the council, following advice offered by Simon Peter (Acts 15:7–11 and Acts 15:14), Barnabas and Paul gave an account of their ministry among the gentiles (Acts 15:12), and the apostle James quoted from the words of the prophet Amos (Acts 15:16–17, quoting Amos 9:11–12). James added his own words  to the quotation: "Known to God from eternity are all His works"  and then submitted a proposal, which was accepted by the Church and became known as the Apostolic Decree:
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. [lower-alpha 1] For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.
Acts 15:23–29 sets out the content of the letter written in accordance with James' proposal. The Western version of Acts (see Acts of the Apostles: Manuscripts) adds the negative form of the Golden Rule ("and whatever things ye would not have done to yourselves, do not do to another"). [lower-alpha 2]
This determined questions wider than that of circumcision, particularly dietary questions, but also fornication and idolatry and blood, and also the application of Biblical law to non-Jews. It was stated by the Apostles and Elders in the council: "the Holy Spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper." (Acts 15:27–28) And this Apostolic Decree was considered binding on all the other local Christian congregations in other regions. 
The author of Acts gives an account of a restatement by James and the elders in Jerusalem of the contents of the letter on the occasion of Paul's final Jerusalem visit, immediately prior to Paul's arrest at the temple, recounting: "When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present." (Acts 21:17–18, ESV) The elders then proceed to notify Paul of what seems to have been a common concern among Jewish believers, that he was teaching Diaspora Jewish converts to Christianity "to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs." They remind the assembly that, "as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality". In the view of some scholars, the reminder of James and the elders here is an expression of concern that Paul was not fully teaching the decision of the Jerusalem Council's letter to Gentiles,  particularly in regard to non-strangled kosher meat,  which contrasts with Paul's advice to Gentiles in Corinth,  to "eat whatever is sold in the meat markets" (1 Corinthians 10:25). 
The description of the Apostolic Council in Acts 15, generally considered the same event described in Galatians 2,  is considered by some scholars to be contradictory to the Galatians account.  The historicity of Luke's account has been challenged,    and was rejected completely by some scholars in the mid to late 20th century.  However, more recent scholarship inclines towards treating the Jerusalem Council and its rulings as a historical event,  though this is sometimes expressed with caution.  Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament includes a summary of current research on the topic as of about 1994:
In conclusion, therefore, it appears that the least unsatisfactory solution of the complicated textual and exegetical problems of the Apostolic Decree is to regard the fourfold decree  as original (foods offered to idols, strangled meat, eating blood, and unchastity—whether ritual or moral), and to explain the two forms of the threefold decree  in some such way as those suggested above.  An extensive literature exists on the text and exegesis of the Apostolic Decree. ... According to Jacques Dupont, "Present day scholarship is practically unanimous in considering the 'Eastern' text of the decree as the only authentic text (in four items) and in interpreting its prescriptions in a sense not ethical but ritual" [Les problèmes du Livre des Actes d'après les travaux récents (Louvain, 1950), p.70]. 
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The council retained the prohibitions on eating blood, meat containing blood, and meat of animals that were strangled, and on fornication and idolatry. The resulting Apostolic Decree in Acts 15 may simply parallel the seven Noahide laws found in the Old Testament, and thus be a commonality rather than a differential.    However, modern scholars dispute the connection between Acts 15 and the seven Noahide laws.  The Apostolic Decree may have been a major act of differentiation of the early Church from its Jewish roots. 
The Jewish Encyclopedia states:
For great as was the success of Barnabas and Paul in the heathen world, the authorities in Jerusalem insisted upon circumcision as the condition of admission of members into the church, until, on the initiative of Peter, and of James, the head of the Jerusalem church, it was agreed that acceptance of the Noachian Laws—namely, regarding avoidance of idolatry, fornication, and the eating of flesh cut from a living animal—should be demanded of the heathen desirous of entering the Church.
The Jewish Encyclopedia also states:
R. Emden [...] gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law—which explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath.
According to the 19th-century German Catholic bishop Karl Josef von Hefele, the Apostolic Decree "has been obsolete for centuries in the West", though it is still recognized and observed by Eastern Orthodox Christians. 
The 20th-century American Catholic priest and biblical scholar Joseph A. Fitzmyer SJ disputes the claim that the Apostolic Decree is based on the seven Noahide laws (Gen 9), and instead proposes Lev 17–18 as the basis for it.  (See also: Leviticus 18).
The Epistle to the Galatians is the ninth book of the New Testament. It is a letter from Paul the Apostle to a number of Early Christian communities in Galatia. Scholars have suggested that this is either the Roman province of Galatia in southern Anatolia, or a large region defined by Galatians, an ethnic group of Celtic people in central Anatolia.
Paul, commonly known as Paul the Apostle and Saint Paul, was a Christian apostle who spread the teachings of Jesus in the first-century world. Generally regarded as one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age, he founded several Christian communities in Asia Minor and Europe from the mid-40s to the mid-50s AD.
Antinomianism is any view which rejects laws or legalism and argues against moral, religious or social norms, or is at least considered to do so. The term has both religious and secular meanings.
James the Just, or a variation of James, brother of the Lord, was "a brother of Jesus", according to the New Testament. He was an early leader of the Jerusalem Church of the Apostolic Age. Traditionally, it is believed he was martyred in AD 62 or 69 by being stoned to death by the Pharisees on order of High Priest Ananus ben Ananus.
Religious circumcision generally occurs shortly after birth, during childhood, or around puberty as part of a rite of passage. Circumcision is most prevalent in the religions of Judaism and Islam. Circumcision for religious reasons is most prominently practiced by members of the Jewish and Islamic faiths.
Pauline Christianity or Pauline theology, otherwise referred to as Gentile Christianity, is the theology and form of Christianity which developed from the beliefs and doctrines espoused by the Hellenistic-Jewish Apostle Paul through his writings and those New Testament writings traditionally attributed to him. Paul's beliefs were rooted in the earliest Jewish Christianity, but deviated from this Jewish Christianity in their emphasis on inclusion of the Gentiles into God's New Covenant, and his rejection of circumcision as an unnecessary token of upholding the Mosaic Law.
Jewish Christians were the followers of a Jewish religious sect that emerged in Judea during the late Second Temple period. These Jews believed Jesus to be the prophesied Messiah, and blended his teachings into the Jewish faith, including the observance of the Jewish law. Jewish Christianity is the foundation of Early Christianity, which later developed into Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Christianity started with Jewish eschatological expectations, and it developed into the worship of Jesus after his earthly ministry, his crucifixion, and the post-crucifixion experiences of his followers. Modern scholarship is engaged in an ongoing debate as to the proper designation for Jesus' first followers. Many see the term Jewish Christians as anachronistic given that there is no consensus on the date of the birth of Christianity. Some modern scholars have suggested the designations "Jewish believers in Jesus" or "Jewish followers of Jesus" as better reflecting the original context.
The Judaizers were a faction of the Jewish Christians, both of Jewish and non-Jewish origins, who regarded the Levitical laws of the Old Testament as still binding on all Christians. They tried to enforce Jewish circumcision upon the Gentile converts to early Christianity and were strenuously opposed and criticized for their behavior by the Apostle Paul, who employed many of his epistles to refute their doctrinal positions.
Dual-covenant or two-covenant theology is a school of thought in Christian theology regarding the relevance of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament.
The Mosaic covenant or Law of Moses – which Christians generally call the "Old Covenant" – played an important role in the origins of Christianity and has occasioned serious dispute and controversy since the beginnings of Christianity: note for example Jesus' teaching of the Law during his Sermon on the Mount and the circumcision controversy in early Christianity.
God-fearers or God-worshippers were a numerous class of Gentile sympathizers to Hellenistic Judaism that existed in the Greco-Roman world, which observed certain Jewish religious rites and traditions without becoming full converts to Judaism. The concept has precedents in the proselytes of the Hebrew Bible.
The controversy on religious male circumcision in early Christianity has played an important role in the history of Christianity and Christian theology.
The incident at Antioch was an Apostolic Age dispute between the apostles Paul and Peter which occurred in the city of Antioch around the middle of the first century. The primary source for the incident is Paul's Epistle to the Galatians 2:11–14. Since the 19th century figure Ferdinand Christian Baur, biblical scholars have found evidence of conflict among the leaders of early Christianity; for example, James D. G. Dunn proposes that Peter was a "bridge-man" between the opposing views of Paul and James, brother of Jesus. The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain, resulting in several Christian views on the Old Covenant.
The relationship between Saint Peter and Judaism is thought to have been fairly positive.
Paul the Apostle has been placed within Second Temple Judaism by recent scholarship since the 1970s. A main point of departure with older scholarship is the understanding of Second Temple Judaism; the covenant with God and the role of works as a means to either gain or keep the covenant.
Christianity in the 1st century covers the formative history of Christianity from the start of the ministry of Jesus to the death of the last of the Twelve Apostles and is thus also known as the Apostolic Age. Early Christianity developed out of the eschatological ministry of Jesus. Subsequent to Jesus' death, his earliest followers formed an apocalyptic messianic Jewish sect during the late Second Temple period of the 1st century. Initially believing that Jesus' resurrection was the start of the end time, their beliefs soon changed in the expected Second Coming of Jesus and the start of God's Kingdom at a later point in time.
Acts 15 is the fifteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It records Paul and Barnabas traveling to Jerusalem to attend the Council of Jerusalem and the beginning of Paul's second missionary journey. The book containing this chapter is anonymous but early Christian tradition uniformly affirmed that Luke composed this book as well as the Gospel of Luke.
Early Christianity, up to the First Council of Nicaea in 325, spread from the Levant, across the Roman Empire, and beyond. Originally, this progression was closely connected to already established Jewish centers in the Holy Land and the Jewish diaspora. The first followers of Christianity were Jews who had converted to the faith, i.e. Jewish Christians.
Christian dietary laws vary between denominations. The general dietary restrictions specified for Christians in the New Testament are to "abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meat of strangled animals". Some Christian denominations forbid certain foods during periods of fasting, which in some denominations may cover half the year and may exclude meat, fish, dairy products, and olive oil. Christians in the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Orthodox denominations traditionally observe Friday as a meat-free day ; many also fast and abstain from meat on Wednesday. There are various fasting periods, notably the liturgical season of Lent. A number of Christian denominations disallow alcohol consumption, but all Christian churches condemn drunkenness.
1 Corinthians 8 is the eighth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It is authored by Paul the Apostle and Sosthenes in Ephesus. In this short chapter, Paul deals with an issue about food offered to idols.
Contact with Grecian life, especially at the games of the arena [which involved nudity], made this distinction obnoxious to the Hellenists, or antinationalists; and the consequence was their attempt to appear like the Greeks by epispasm ("making themselves foreskins"; I Macc. i. 15; Josephus, "Ant." xii. 5, § 1; Assumptio Mosis, viii.; I Cor. vii. 18; Tosef., Shab. xv. 9; Yeb. 72a, b; Yer. Peah i. 16b; Yeb. viii. 9a). All the more did the law-observing Jews defy the edict of Antiochus Epiphanes prohibiting circumcision (I Macc. i. 48, 60; ii. 46); and the Jewish women showed their loyalty to the Law, even at the risk of their lives, by themselves circumcising their sons.
Circumcised barbarians, along with any others who revealed the glans penis, were the butt of ribald humor. For Greek art portrays the foreskin, often drawn in meticulous detail, as an emblem of male beauty; and children with congenitally short foreskins were sometimes subjected to a treatment, known as epispasm , that was aimed at elongation.