UNDERSTANDING ACTS 15Back to Alphabetical Index | Back to Chapter Index
What is expected of the elect of God today concerning the laws that were given to national Israel through Moses? Which ones, if any, must be practiced by the elect of God? Some people would answer that none of these laws need to be practiced. Some believe that all of these laws are still binding upon God's people and others believe that only some of these laws must still be practiced by God's elect today.
Are there any solid answers to the many difficult questions concerning the practice of God's law? Yes, there are easily understood answers to the questions about which of the laws of God must be practiced by the elect of God today. Those who desire to live their lives after the ways of God can easily find these answers, because the apostles recorded them for all who are seeking to do the will of God.
In order to understand what God requires of his children today concerning the law of Moses, it is important to remember that the temple worship system existed for about 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Moreover, during this time many converted Jews still worshiped in local synagogues as well as at the Temple in Jerusalem and they continued to observed certain aspects of the temple worship system. It is during this time of transition between the old and new agreements with national Israel that we find a biblical record of much of the controversy about the law and its observance.
A QUESTION CONCERNING CIRCUMCISION
In the Book of Acts, chapter 15, the apostles are gathered at Jerusalem to consider the questions brought to them concerning circumcision, the Law of Moses, and salvation. The apostle's decision concerning these issues was for their day as well as ours. Their decisions concerning this matter established a concise guideline as to what God expects of his elect children concerning the practice of his law, which was given through Moses to national Israel.
The Authority of the Eldership
It is important to understand that this meeting at Jerusalem was a formal council of the apostles and elders who governed the congregations of God. This was not just an informal gathering of a few of the elect; this was a meeting to resolve major issues that affected the entire body of the elect and needed to be resolved by those who were in authority.
The authority to govern the church first resided with the apostles and later with the apostles and the elders:
"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven" (Matt.18:18-19 NIV). See also Deut.chp.17 and our study concerning the governing of the church.
The First Question
"And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question" (Acts 15:1-2 KJV).
Is circumcision required for salvation? The reason this question is so important is that it has to do with how a person is supposed to obtain justification and be declared righteous in God's eyes.
The Second Question
"But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses" (Acts 15:5 KJV).
The second question before the apostles and elders concerns obedience to the laws God gave national Israel through Moses.
These men who believed in Jesus Christ thought that, in order for the Gentile converts to secure salvation, they had to practice all of the laws that were a part of the first agreement between God and Israel. This is exactly what many people today believe; they feel that virtually everything in the first covenant with national Israel applies to Christians (spiritual Israelites) today.
Basically the two questions that are answered in Acts 15 are the following:
PETER GIVES HIS OPINION
"And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said to them, Men and brethren, you know how that a good while ago God made a choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knows the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the holy spirit, even as he did to us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:7-9 KJV).
Here, Peter refers to the events recorded in Acts 10. Notice that the Gentiles were to "hear and believe." These are very important scriptures because, Peter was inspired to document that there is no difference between an Israelite and Gentile concerning the call to salvation and the requirements for justification before God. Peter clearly shows that, concerning salvation and justification, both the Gentile and the Jew are equal in God's eyes. Therefore, they must have the same covenant relationship with God.
The Gentiles did receive justification, their sins were forgiven, and their hearts were purified through their faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. Moreover, they did receive the holy spirit without being circumcised. See Acts 5:32.
THE YOKE OF BONDAGE
"Therefore why do you test God, by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we had the strength to bear? But through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we believe in order to be saved, according to the same manner they also believed" (Acts 15:10-11 Para.).
Peter felt that those who wanted the Gentiles to obey the law of circumcision and other laws given to Israel through Moses were trying to place an unbearable burden upon them. Again, Peter points out the fact that both Jew and Gentile were saved by the same belief in Jesus Christ.
But what is this yoke that is an impossible burden to carry? Was this yoke a part of the law of Moses, which these men felt the Gentiles should practice? It seems reasonable to believe this is what Peter was saying. The word, 'yoke' in verse 10 is from the Greek word 'zugos', which means 'of bondage'. As we will see, this bondage only refers to the laws concerning justification (the sacrificial worship system), which Christ altered by becoming the perfect sacrifice to take away sin?
When one studies the laws given to ancient Israel concerning justification, it becomes evident that there was no way for a person to remain in a state of perpetual harmony with God under the terms and conditions of that agreement. Each time a person intentionally or unintentionally sinned they would cause a breach in their relationship with God, and this breach could only be repaired and a harmonious relationship with God could only be re-established when the appropriate sacrifice was offered. And even then, the atoning sacrifice could only provide a temporary repair of the breach between God and the one guilty of violating his law. See our study paper concerning the Day of Atonement.
Animal sacrifices could only provide for the temporary setting aside of sin. The sin and its penalty was not forgiven nor forgotten; it still remained and awaited the perfect sacrifice of Christ to remove it forever:
"For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (Heb.10:4 Para.).
The yoke that neither the fathers nor the apostles could bear was the sacrificial system of justification that was not able to remove sin and its penalty; therefore, it left the worshiper subject to eternal death. If Christ had not accepted the penalty for the sins of humanity, all humanity would still be in bondage to sin and the penalty of death. But he did die in the place of humanity; thus, he set the fathers (the ones who followed the sacrificial system), the apostles, the elders, and all of humanity free from the yoke of sin and death.
The second reason the law of sacrifice was considered a yoke is that it was very difficult for a person to continually come before God with the proper sacrifice each time they knew they had sinned. Under the new agreement, both Jew and Gentile remain in a constant state of justification, and upon recognition of sin, they only need to ask forgiveness through the sacrifice of Christ; hence, they are no longer in bondage to sin.
THE APOSTLE PAUL EXPLAINS THE YOKE OF BONDAGE
In order to more fully understand the yoke of bondage, it is necessary to review some of the teachings of Paul after the decision of the Jerusalem Council.
Galatians 4:21-31 Paraphrased
"Tell me, those desiring to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written: Abraham had two sons, one out of a slave-woman, and one out of the free woman. But indeed he of the slave-woman has been born according to the flesh; and he of the free woman through the promise" (vs.21-23).
Here, Paul begins to explain the difference between the sacrificial system of justification that the patriarchs and national Israel were under and being justified through the sacrificial blood of Christ under the new agreement.
"Which things are being allegorized; for these are two covenants, one indeed from Mount Sinai bringing forth slavery—which is Hagar, for Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, and she is in slavery with her children" (vs.24-25).
Paul uses Ishmael's mother, Hagar, as an allegory for the Mount Sinai covenant. And depicts those who look to the temple system in Jerusalem for their justification as being in slavery (i.e., in bondage to the sacrificial system).
"But Jerusalem from above is free, who is the mother of us all. For it has been written, be glad barren one not baring: break forth and shout, the one not travailing, for more are the children of the desolate rather than she having the husband" (vs.26-27). Quoted from Isa.54:1-6.
Those who have accepted the freedom offered by God the Father from heavenly Jerusalem are totally free because they have come under the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ and are free of sin—justified before God continually. They are no longer slaves to the sacrificial system of justification but they are partakers of a new agreement and freed from the bondage of the former.
"But brothers we are children of promise according to Isaac. But then even as he born according to flesh persecuted the one according to the spirit, so is it now. But what do the scriptures say? Cast out the slave-woman and her son, for in no way shall the son of the slave-woman inherit with the son of the free. Then brothers we are not children of a slave-woman, but of the free woman" (vs.28-31).
Paul continues to make an analogy of the bondage of the former agreement and the freedom of the new. Only the free could legally have an inheritance in Israel under the law of God. Moreover, those under the old sacrificial system of justification do not have an inheritance, but those under the new system through the blood of Jesus Christ do have an inheritance because they are truly free.
BARNABAS AND PAUL
It is important to note that, after Paul's conversion, he continued to observe many of the laws God gave to Israel through Moses (see Acts 17:2; 20:6,16; Col. 2:16). However, neither Barnabas nor Paul taught circumcision or obedience to the law of God for the purpose of being justified to the Father.
Barnabas and Paul relate their experiences with the Gentiles and tell of the miracles and wonders that were being done among them by God:
"Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them" (Acts 15:12 KJV).
JAMES: HIS ASSESSMENT, AND JUDGMENT
After all the apostles and elders had given their opinions about the questions concerning circumcision and the law of Moses, the apostle James who was the president of the Jerusalem council gives his assessment and judgement concerning these questions before the council:
Acts 15:13-18 NIV
"When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages" (vs.13-18). Quoted from Amos 9:11-12.
Through their writings the prophets agreed with what had been said so far, because they had foretold that God would call individuals from among other nations to receive his spirit.
By quoting the prophets, James begins to lay the foundation for his decision concerning circumcision and the law of Moses and the edict, which the council wrote that was to be sent to the churches.
Verse 16 holds the key to understanding the edict of Acts 15:
"After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it" (v16).
After what events will David's tent be rebuilt?:
It is apparent from the Bible that God is concerned with national Israel before the return of his Son to rule the earth. See Jer.31:31-33; Hos.2:16,19; Heb.8:8-13. However, during this age before Christ's return, God the Father is choosing people out of all nations to partake of salvation with the Patriarchs and the Israelites. See Acts 10; Rom.2:9-15, 28-29; Heb.3:1-19.
Versus 17 and 18
Verses 17 and 18 reveal that, after Christ returns, God the Father will call other nations in a systematic way and have them participate in the re-established sacrificial worship system at Jerusalem and live in obedience to all his laws until, eventually, all nations on earth come under his rule and authority. See the prophecies in the Book of Ezekiel that show the new temple worship system, which will be administered by the descendants of Zadok.
THE PROPHECY OF AMOS
The prophecy of Amos verifies the assessment and decision of James concerning circumcision and the law of Moses and the meaning of Peter's experiences while proclaiming the gospel message to the Gentiles:
"For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us. In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old" (vs.9-11 KJV).
Amos also speaks of salvation being offered to all nations after the return of Christ:
"That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, says the Lord that does this" (v12 KJV).
The Authorized King James translation of Amos 9:12 is a corruption of the original scripture. The Scofield Bible notes the following: The ancient Greek translation rendered this verse as follows:
"That the rest of mankind may seek [the Lord], and all the nations upon whom my name is called, says the Lord, who does all these things."
The corruption of this verse must have occurred after the time of the apostles, because James quoted the verse as in the Scofield Bible at the Jerusalem Council and based his decision upon it (Acts 15:14-17). There were learned men present at the Jerusalem council, and some of them were hostile to James' view on God's calling of the Gentiles. These men would certainly have shouted him down if he had based his decision upon a reading that was different from that which existed in Hebrew manuscripts. See Scofield Bible quote.
"Behold, the days comes, says the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that sows seed; and the mountains shall drop with wine, and all the hills shall melt. And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, says the Lord your God" (vs.13-15).
James quoted the prophecy of Amos, which can be summarized as follows:
The prophesies of Isaiah and Micah both lend support to what James had to say concerning the salvation of Gentiles:
"And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious" (Isa.11:10 KJV). Please read verses 1-16 for the context of Isa.chp.11.
"But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow to it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Mic.4:1-3 KJV).
Without doubt, James is referring to the return of Christ as King of kings when he quotes the prophet Amos:
"After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David. . ." (Acts 15:16).
THE JUDGMENT OF JAMES
Acts 15:19-21 NIV
"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. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."
The Living Bible Paraphrased translates verse 21,
"For these things have been preached against in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations."
The things taught in the synagogues that are referred to in verse 21 were the laws concerning idolatry, sexual immorality, improper slaughter of animals, eating blood, and diet.
The analysis and conclusion of James was correct and supported by all those at the Council. Therefore, the Council wrote a letter to be distributed as a confirmation to the Gentile and other converts. Some men who could further explain the Council's decision were sent to deliver the letter.
"Then it seemed good to the apostles and elders, with all the church, to send chosen men from them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas being called Barnabas and Silas, leading men among the brothers" (v22 Para.).
"And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting to the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia. Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, You must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment" (vs.23-24 KJV).
The Council felt that those who taught justification by works were subverting the flock. It seems that these heretical teachings not only included circumcision but also other aspects of the law of Moses that the Jerusalem Council knew to be unnecessary for justification and salvation.
"It seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to send chosen men to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul. Men who have forsaken their own pursuits on behalf of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore, Judas and Silas, they also through word announcing the same things. For it seemed good to the holy spirit and to us to put not one greater burden on you than these necessary things" (Para.).
THE LOGIC OF THE DECISION
The majority of the converted Gentiles were not living in Judea, so they were subject to the civil laws of the nations where they lived. Because these Gentile converts were scattered throughout the world and the Jews had a hostile attitude toward them, it was impossible for most of the Gentiles to worship at the temple in Jerusalem.
It was obviously impossible for most Gentile converts to follow all of the laws God gave to national Israel, because of who they were and where they lived. In light of this and other considerations, the apostles and elders made their decision concerning circumcision and the law of Moses.
THE ELECT OF GOD
Today, the elect of God, whether Jew or Gentile, are living under the same conditions concerning the worship of God, because there is no longer a temple worship system. The temple worship system at Jerusalem ceased being practiced in 70 A.D.. Therefore, the elect are now in the same situation as the early Gentile converts.
The edict of Acts 15 will continue to apply to all of the elect everywhere on earth even after the temple system is re-established before the return of Christ.
THE EDICT OF ACTS 15
After investigation of the rationale behind the decision that the apostles and elders made, it is possible to understand the details of the four major points of the edict.
"That you abstain from meats offered to idols and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if you keep yourselves, you shall do well. Fare you well" (v29 KJV).
"To hold back from idol sacrifices, and blood, and that strangled, and from fornication; from which continually keeping yourselves you do well. Be prospered" (v29 Para.).
Although these Gentile converts lived during a time when pagan religions impacted almost every aspect of daily life, these people were neither given a special dispensation nor exempted from practicing the laws of God that were necessary for salvation, because this would have been inconsistent with the teachings of the apostles and scripture:
"Then they indeed being released went to Antioch. And gathered the multitude, and delivered the letter. And reading it they rejoiced at the comfort in it. And Judas and Silas, themselves also being prophets, exhorted the brothers through much speech and confirmed what was in the letter. And continuing for a time, they were sent away with peace from the brothers to the apostles" (vs.30-33 Para.).
THE FOUR THINGS THE GENTILES HAD TO AVOID
The following are the four specific things listed in the letter from which the Gentiles had to abstain:
In order to understand why these were the only things listed for the Gentiles to abstain from, it must first be discovered what God finds wrong with each of these things. A good place to begin the search is to review the events that occurred while the Israelites were camped at Mount Sinai and Peor.
WORSHIPING THE GOLDEN CALF
At the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites broke the agreement that they had made with God. Notice that God became so angry that he would have destroyed the entire nation if it had not been for the pleadings of Moses.
Exodus 32: 1-10 (LBP)
"When Moses didn't come back down the mountain right away, the people went to Aaron. "Look," they said, "make us a god to lead us, for this fellow Moses who brought us here from Egypt has disappeared; something must have happened to him." "Give me your golden earrings", Aaron replied. So they all did—men and women, boys and girls. Aaron melted the gold, then molded and tooled it into the form of a calf. The people exclaimed, "O Israel, this is the god that brought you out of Egypt!" (vs.1-4).
"When Aaron saw how happy the people were about it, he built an altar before the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a feast to Jehovah!" So they went up early the next morning and began offering burnt offerings and peace offerings to the calf-idol; afterwards they sat down to feast and drink at a wild party, followed by sexual immorality" (vs.5-6).
"Then the Lord told Moses, "Quick! Go on down , for your people that you brought from Egypt have defiled themselves, and have quickly abandoned my laws. They have molded themselves a calf, and worshiped it, and sacrificed to it, and said, `This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of Egypt.' "Then the Lord said, "I have seen what a stubborn, rebellious lot these people are. Now let me alone and my anger shall blaze out against them and destroy them all; and I will make you, Moses, into a great nation instead of them" (vs.7-10).
ISRAEL WORSHIPS BAAL-PEOR
While the Israelites were camped east of the Jordan river at Peor, they repeated many of the same mistakes they made at Mount Sinai: they were having wrongful sexual relations with the Moabite women and participating in the worship of the Moabite god, Peor. See Acts 15:19-20,29.
It is useful to read both the KJV and LBP translations of Numbers 25:1-5 in order to clearly understand what Israel had done in worshiping Peor.
"And Israel abode in Shittim [Acacia], and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself to Baal-peor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel" (Num. 25:1-3 KJV).
"While Israel was camped at Acacia [Shittim], some of the young men began going to wild parties with the local Moabite girls. These girls also invited them to attend the sacrifices to their gods, and soon the men were not only attending the feasts, but also bowing down and worshiping the idols. Before long all Israel was joining freely in the worship of Baal, the god of Moab; and the anger of the Lord was hot against his people" (Num.25:1-3 LBP).
"And the Lord said to Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel. And Moses said to the judges of Israel, Slay you every one his men that were joined to Baal-peor" (Num.25:4-5 KJV).
"He issued the following command to Moses: "Execute all the tribal leaders of Israel. Hang them up before the Lord in broad daylight, so that his fierce anger will turn away from his people." So Moses ordered the judges to execute all who had worshiped Baal" (Num.25:4-5 LBP).
"They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods; they provoked the Lord to anger by their wicked deeds. . ." (Psa.106:28-29 NIV). See also Num.25:6-18; 31:1-17; Deut.4:1-4; Jos. 22:1-17; Hos.9:8-10; 1.Jn.5:21; Rev.2:14, 20-23.
The Israelite's behavior at Mount Sinai and Peor showed their disregard for the very foundation of God's laws, principals and precepts; to worship another god and to commit sexual immorality are abominations in God's sight. Both of these actions by the Israelites violated God's law and displayed a great contempt and lack of respect for their Creator and the agreement they had made with him at Mount Sinai. In Revelation 2:24, Jesus says that these types of sins are the deep things of Satan.
The incident in the wilderness in which the Israelites worshiped the golden calf shows how abhorrent idolatry is to God. But does idolatry affect a person's relationship with God? The first four of the Ten Commandments give instruction on how one must relate to God. Three of these laws are as follows:
1. You shall not have any other gods beside me.
2. You shall not make a carved image for yourself of any likeness, which is in the heavens above, or which is in the earth beneath, or which is in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them and you shall not serve them, for I am God your God, a jealous God, visiting the lawlessness of fathers on their children, to the third and on the fourth generations of them that hate me; and doing kindness to thousands who love me, and to those who keep my commandments.
3. You shall not take the name of God in vain; for God will not leave unpunished the one who takes his name in vain.
These three laws define the respect a person must have for God, and if a person violates these laws, the relationship between the person and God is severely damaged. Moreover, if the violations are not repented of, they will lead to the severing of the relationship between God and the violator of the law.
The Israelites had an agreement with God and they were accountable to him under its terms and conditions. By making the golden calf at Mount Sinai, the Israelites broke the first two laws governing their relationship with God. Therefore, they showed their contempt for the one who had saved them from the Egyptians and made an agreement with them to bless them above all the nations of the earth:
"They made a calf in Horeb, and worshiped the molten image. They changed their glory into the similitude [image] of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God their savior, which had done great things in Egypt" (Psa.106:19-21 KJV).
At Sinai, sexual immorality followed the making of the golden calf and was a part of their drunken feast to their new god. At Peor, sexual immorality preceded the Israelite's worship of the god of Peor. Both of these events demonstrate the destructive effects that sexual immorality has on the character of an individual and a nation. Both are examples of the flesh and spirit being defiled by unholy relationships with false gods.
There can be no doubt that sexual immorality is in direct opposition to God's instructions for human behavior and his desire and purpose for humans to become a part of his family.
The law of God prohibits sexual promiscuity, deviance, and adultery. The immoral sexual acts of the Israelites at Sinai and Peor were considered by God as spiritual infidelity (i.e., spiritual adultery), because they were committed as a part of worshiping a false god. Thereby, the Israelites broke the Sinai agreement, and the law concerning idolatry. The following are a few of the many scriptures that tell of God's great concern for the Israelites and his judgment upon them because of their infidelity.
Exodus 34:10-17: God warns the Israelites not to give themselves to other gods or make molten images.
Jeremiah 3:1-25: God tells of his divorce from Israel because of their spiritual adultery. He also foretells the time when he will again try to save them.
Ezekiel 16:1-63: God tells of his blessings to Israel, Israel's infidelity by worshiping other gods, his punishment upon them, and his promise to save them out of their wickedness.
Hosea 2:11-17; 4:1-19; 9:1-17: These scriptures reveal Israel's physical and spiritual infidelity and God's punishment upon them for their infidelity.
See also Ex.3:2-11; Lev.17:7; Deut.31:15-20 and Ezk.6:1-14, which all warn of a loss of blessings for committing idolatry.
PAUL INSTRUCTS THE CORINTHIANS
Before the formation of the early church, the Jewish world had been taught for centuries that sexual immorality and idolatry were wrong. However, this was not generally true with the Gentile world; many of the Gentile nations still practiced basically the same satanic worship system that had ensnared the Israelites of Moses' time. This is why Paul instructed the elect (both Jew and Gentile) at Corinth to avoid sexual and spiritual immorality. Moreover, this is why he gave them guidance about when it was acceptable and when it was not acceptable to eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.
1.Corinthians 6:9-20 (NIV)
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed , you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything. Food for the stomach and the stomach for food—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also" (vs.9-14).
It is important to understand that Paul taught from the law of God, and he said that, although he had the right to do everything that God permits, he would still maintain control of his actions. He did not say that he was allowed to do anything he wanted to in opposition to the law of God.
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit" (vs.15-17).
The critical point Paul made is that, if a person does something in opposition to God's rules of behavior, this person is in danger of being united with evil spirits.
"Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (vs.18-20).
Paul instructed the Corinthians to flee from sexual immorality and he explained that the physical body of a child of God is in fact the dwelling place of the holy spirit. If a child of God commits immoral acts, they violate the temple of God (the physical body) where the holy spirit dwells. See also 1.Cor.3:16-17; 2.Cor.6:14-18.
Paul's message to the Corinthians was not for them alone, because many of the problems they experienced were common to the other early Christian communities that lived within Gentile nations. Notice Paul's admonition and warning to those at Thessalonica about unrighteous behavior that leads to destruction:
"It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his holy spirit" (1.Thes.4:3-8 NIV). See also Rom.1:21-32.
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that you should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be you idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand" (vs.1-8 KJV).
Here, Paul uses the example of the Israelites when they worshiped the false god at Peor and committed sexual immorality to show that these same acts and attitudes were a violation of God's laws, precepts, and principles.
The NIV translates these verses as follows:
"For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry. We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died" (vs.1-8 NIV).
Paul reminds the Corinthians of God's punishment on the Israelites for their idolatrous and immoral conduct. It is important to note that eating things sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, and idol worship are mentioned together many times throughout the Bible, because it is through these three methods that evil spirits repeatedly teach people to disobey God.
"We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (vs.9-11 NIV).
MEATS SACRIFICED TO IDOLS
In verses 14-17, Paul admonishes the elect at Corinth to feast and eat at God's table because they are the body of Christ. Then, in verses 18-21, he speaks very bluntly about the consumption of meats sacrificed to idols and he leaves no doubt as to the seriousness of such an act and its end result:
"Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (vs.14-17 NIV). See also Col.3:5; 1.Sam.15:23.
For clarity of verses 18-21, both the NIV and LBP translations are quoted below.
"Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons" (vs.18-21 NIV).
"And the Jewish people, all who eat the sacrifices, are united by that act. What am I trying to say? Am I saying that the idols to whom the heathen bring sacrifices are really alive and are real gods, and that these sacrifices are of some value? No, not at all. What I am saying is that those who offer food to these idols are united together in sacrificing to demons, certainly not to God. And I don't want any of you to be partners with demons when you eat the same food, along with the heathen, that has been offered to these idols. You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord's Table and at Satan's table, too. You cannot eat bread both at the Lord's Table and at Satan's table" (vs.18-21 LBP).
Paul restates what he said earlier in 1.Corinthians 6:12 about the eating of food:
"Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others" (1.Cor.10:23-24 NIV).
"Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it. "If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience sake—the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?" (vs.25-30 NIV).
Some people interpret these verses to mean that it is lawful to eat meat that has been contaminated by idol worship. Some also feel that verses 25-30 and 1.Timothy 4:3-4 give the elect of God the freedom to eat any kind of meat desired. However, this is absolutely not true. God's law prohibits the slaughtering of animals to idols and forbids eating of such sacrifices.
In context, 1.Corinthians 10:25-26 clearly refers to a person's attitude about what is eaten and not the type of meat eaten. However, God's law only permits the eating of meats that are fit for human consumption. It is lawful to eat only those species that God has designated as fit for human consumption and that have been slaughtered according to his directions (See our study paper concerning the kinds of flesh that God permits to be eaten.) A good guideline to remember is that something can only be lawful if it is in harmony with God's law:
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (vs.31-32 NIV). See also 1.Cor.11:1.
Paul was not only concerned about what was lawful, he was also concerned about what brings a person to spiritual maturity. Paul says that mature Christians should carefully consider their actions when they are in the presence of other people to ensure that what is done or said will not give the wrong impression to others or a brother in Christ. A legal act according to the law of God would be unprofitable to a weaker brother if he is led astray by a misconception of what the brother who was acting legally had done.
If a brother is offended or his relationship with God is adversely impacted by a particular action of another brother, it is wise for the offending brother to refrain from the offending behavior in his presence. This advice is transferable to several subjects that are in question among believers today. And, if this advise is followed, it will help maintain the strength of maturity and purpose within the body of Christ.
ANIMALS STRANGLED AND BLOOD
There are many reasons why the edict of Acts 15 included prohibitions against eating animals strangled and consuming blood. The following are two of these reasons:
Therefore, the instruction against eating strangled animals and their blood was a reminder that this law was still in force and was a part of the terms and conditions of God's agreement with his elect children. A clear understanding of "things strangled and blood" must also include an understanding of the significance of blood in relation to God's law and the sacrificial worship system.
The penalty for violating the law of God is the death of the violator. In order to satisfy the law, God allowed an animal life to be a temporary substitute, under certain circumstances, for the life of the law breaker.
In order to form a new and better agreement with humanity, God the Father sent the Creator God (Jesus Christ) to sacrifice his own life as a permanent substitute for the life of all humans who violate his law.
With this understanding, it is possible to see the sacredness of blood from the aspect of the edict in Acts 15.
The Blood of Atonement
In the Book of Leviticus, there is a clear statement that the life-blood of an animal is given to make atonement for a human life:
"Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood—I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, "None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood. Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is [in] its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, "You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is [in] its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off" (Lev.17:10-14 NIV).
Life is in the Blood
"Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it" (Gen. 9:3-4 NIV).
The blood that was shed in the sacrifices was sacred; it was the life of the sacrificial victim. And because life is sacred, the blood that sustains it is also sacred and symbolic of life.
In Deuteronomy 12:20-25 the Israelites were told:
"When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, "I would like some meat," then you may eat as much of it as you want . . .. But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord" (vs.20-25 NIV).
God also gave instructions that care must be taken not to eat the blood of an animal when partaking of a fellowship meal with him:
Deuteronomy 15:19-23 NIV
"Set apart for the Lord your God every firstborn male of your herds and flocks. Do not put the firstborn of your oxen to work, and do not shear the firstborn of your sheep. Each year you and your family are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose. If an animal has a defect, is lame or blind, or has any serious flaw, you must not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. You are to eat it in your own towns. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it, as if it were gazelle or deer. But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water." See also Gen. 9:4; Lev.7:26-27; Deut.12:15-16; 1.Sam.14:32-34.
Today, many who profess to follow the teachings of the Bible believe that the things mentioned in Acts 15 do not apply; however, these things are very relevant, because the same basic attitudes that existed during the time of the early church still exists today.
Do people of our day eat things sacrificed to idols, live sexually immoral lives, eat blood and strangled animals? The answer is, Yes!
Do any of the things mentioned for the Gentiles to avoid exist in today's societies? The answer is obviously that they do. They all exist in one form or another. Divorce, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, and many other types of sexual immorality exist within all societies. Moreover, religious celebrations (e.g., Christmas and Easter) in every nation are rooted in the worship of idols and demons. The source of such celebrations and their sacrifices has been very cleverly disguised over the centuries to hide their true meaning. For example, during the Christmas and Easter celebrations, millions of worshipers eat meals in honor of the false gods represented by these days. See Deut.12:29-31; Ezk.8:16; Jer.10:1-5.
In many nations, the eating of blood pudding, blood sausage, blood bread, and animals which have been killed without draining the blood from them is still practiced.
The concepts Paul conveyed to the Corinthians about the interaction among God's elect, immoral behavior, and false worship systems are just as valid today as they were then; the only difference is that these practices are sometimes very cleverly disguised as something harmless.
Paul instructed the elect at Corinth and others about the law so that they would know what is pleasing to God. Today, true servants of God also teach and proclaim God's law and way of life, a way in which "the called out ones" may grow into spiritual maturity.
Without the foundation of God's law, those who are called by God to become perfect would not have a guide to help them achieve perfection in the spirit. Those who do not teach God's commandments, precepts, and principles, which were not questioned by the apostles and prophets, are deceived by the lawless spirit who deceives the whole world (see 1.Thes.2:7-12). Those who teach that the law of God has been done away with through the sacrifice of Jesus have not heard the voice of God's spirit, because the holy spirit upholds the law of God and teaches the elect to do likewise. See 1.Jn.2:1-6; 3:7-10; Rev.2:12-29.
The law of God is not burdensome, it is the way of love. Every law is based on the principal of love—love for God and love for one's neighbor. Without Godly love just like ancient Israel, we will also violate the law of God.
THE TRANSITION PERIOD
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, there was a short period of time when both the old agreement with ancient Israel and the new agreement existed together. This situation allowed the elect of God to participate in certain aspects of the temple worship system. At the end of this time period, the old agreement relationship with national Israel/Judah was suspended:
"In the saying, New, He has made the first old. And the thing being made old and growing aged will soon disappear" (Heb.8:13 Para.).
The following events in the transition from the temple worship system to the worship of God in spirit are listed in sequential order:
1. When Christ became the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, the need to sacrifice animals to atone for one's sin in order to become justified before God was abolished.
2. On the Day of Pentecost in 30 A.D., the holy spirit came to dwell within the elect of God. This demonstrated that God had moved his dwelling place and that the new and better agreement that he had promised through the prophets was in effect.
The indwelling of the holy spirit eliminated the need for a physical priesthood to mediate between God and his elect children of the gospel age of salvation, because Christ is now the new High Priest who intercedes for the elect. See 1.Cor.3:16; 6:19-20; Heb.4:14-16.
3. With the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., all laws that required the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices for their fulfillment were suspended until the return of the Messiah. After the return of Jesus Christ, animal sacrifices will again be instituted as noted in Ezekiel 45 and Zechariah 14:16-20. The Bible gives very few details regarding these future sacrifices, except that they will be officiated over by the sons of Zadok and that they are for the purification of the people. See our study paper concerning the sacrificial system after the return of Christ.
AFTER THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE
In the book of Lamentations, God inspired a prophecy of the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem:
"And he has violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he has destroyed his places of the assembly: the Lord has caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and has despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest. The Lord has cast off his altar, he has abhorred his sanctuary, he has given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have made a noise in the house of the Lord, as in the day of a solemn feast" (Lam.2:6-7 KJV).
With the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., it became impossible for anyone to take part in the temple worship system as required under the first agreement with national Israel. Therefore, all temple services were set aside. This also applies to all of the laws concerning the operation of a national Israel/Judah. Without the temple and the priesthood, neither converted Jew nor Gentile can legally observe any law that requires the temple and the priesthood for its practice.
The Future Temple:
The prophetic writings show a restoration of the temple worship system will occur before the return of Jesus Christ. Shortly after his return, he will establish the Davidic dynasty again (Acts 15:16), along with his government through which he will rule the world. After these events, a new temple system will be instituted. See Ezk.chps.40-48.
GOD'S HOLY PLACE TODAY
God's Holy Place (his earthly temple where his spirit resides) was transferred from the temple at Jerusalem in 30 A.D. to the physical bodies of his elect children whom he calls from among all peoples during the gospel age of salvation.
"Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells within you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (1.Cor.3:16-17 KJV).
"What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own?" (1.Cor.6:19 KJV).
THE SHADOW OF GOOD THINGS
Hebrews 10:1-15 Paraphrased
"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshipers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (vs.1-4).
These scriptures prove that there was a need for a perfect sacrifice, which was the sacrifice of Christ that allowed for an individual to be totally justified to God the Father.
"Therefore when he comes into the world, he says, Sacrifice and offering you do not want, but a body have you prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do your will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin you do not want, neither have pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do your will, O God. He takes away the first, that he may establish the second" (vs.5-9).
Christ's sacrifice provided total justification, canceled the old agreement that required animal sacrifices for the atonement for spiritual and moral sin, and established a new agreement between God the Father, Jesus Christ, and those called to salvation.
"By which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the holy spirit also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before" (vs.10-15).
The New Agreement
"For finding fault with them, he says, Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:" (Heb.8:8-10 KJV). See also Jer.31:30-33.
Hebrews 10:16-25 KJV
"This is the agreement that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and lawlessness I will not remember. Now where there is remission of sin, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his [Christ's] flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching."
This new agreement is a "new and living way"; it is totally different in many ways from the old agreement in terms, conditions, and performance. Remember, it is called a better agreement not only because of better promises and rewards but also because of better terms, conditions, and performance standards between God the Father, Jesus Christ, and those who are called to salvation.
THE LAW WITHOUT AND WITHIN
The sacrificial system was used as a school master to bring us to Christ. Therefore, because this was accomplished by the law, what particular law was the schoolmaster?
"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" (Gal.3:24-25 KJV).
Before the sacrifice of Christ, people stood outside the law and tried to measure up to its standards, but they could not because people are physical and the law of God is both physical and spiritual. It was only possible for a few individuals to measure up to the physical side of the law temporarily, but it was impossible to totally measure up to its spiritual aspects until Christ came.
Those who have the spirit of God become at one with the law of God, because the law resides within them. The law is a part of their thought process. Notice what is said about the law becoming a part of those whom God calls to salvation:
"For this is the agreement that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Heb.8:10 Para.).
The elect of God are stewards of the law because it resides within them. They are to be a representation of the law of God in action. No longer is the law to be symbolic, because a converted, spirit-filled, child of God is to be a reality of the law just as Christ was.
HOW THE EDICT OF ACTS 15 APPLIES TODAY
The answers given to the questions asked of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 and the edict that was issued are still valid. But now, the principles of their edict apply to all of God's children, whether they are Gentiles or Jews. Today, both converted Gentiles and Jews are in the same situation in regard to the law of God.
PAUL AND THE LAW OF CIRCUMCISIONBack to Alphabetical Index | Back to Top | Back to Chapter Index
The law of circumcision is first mentioned in Genesis 17:10-12 in reference to the covenant between God and Abraham. Later it is mentioned as a part of the covenant with the Nation of Israel (Lev.12:1-3).
"This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your seed after you; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of your seed" (Gen.17:10-12 KJV).
"And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof: But every man's servant that is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof. In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall you break a bone thereof. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall sojourn with you, and will keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof" (Ex.12:43-48 KJV). See also Lev.12:3.
Circumcision is of the Heart
Although circumcision is a physical act, its spiritual implications were known by the Israelites:
"Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's your God, the earth also, with all that therein is. Only the Lord had a delight in your fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked" (Deut.10:14-16 KJV).
When God made the first agreement with national Israel at Mount Sinai, he required all the males to be circumcised as an outward sign of the agreement. This condition was imposed on any male who was considered to be a part of national Israel. Moreover, non-Israelite males (e.g., servants, slaves, and converts of other nationalities) who were considered a part of national Israel were to be circumcised without exception.
There is no doubt that circumcision was part of the terms and conditions of the first agreement with national Israel, and that it was a physical sign of this agreement. The reason circumcision was so important under this agreement was that it had to do with each individual's and the nation's relationship with God. Moreover, circumcision pertained to the ability to worship God and receive his blessings. The men who asked the question regarding circumcision in Acts 15 believed it was still necessary for all males (both Israelite and Gentile) to be circumcised in order to have an agreement with God. Therefore, they said, "Except you be circumcised you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1 KJV).
TIMOTHY AND TITUS
Some use the example of Timothy's circumcision to argue that, even though Paul had agreed with the Jerusalem council's decision that circumcision was no longer necessary for salvation, he later decided they were wrong and went against their decision. However, this assumption is not true. See Acts 15:19-24.
"Paul wanted to take him [Timothy] along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in the area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek" (Acts 16:3 NIV).
The reason for Timothy's circumcision is very clear. It was done because it was the wise thing to do under the circumstances. Although Timothy's mother was Jewish, the Jews considered him a Gentile because his father was Greek. Therefore, Timothy was circumcised so that he would be more acceptable to the Jews.
"Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preached among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you" (Gal.2:1-5 NIV).
Paul and his companions resisted those who demanded that Titus be circumcised. This clearly shows that Paul and others of the Eldership were upholding the edict made concerning justification and the Gentiles.
"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even as we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal.2:16 KJV).
WHO IS A SPIRITUAL JEW?
"For indeed circumcision profits if you practice the law, but if you are a transgressor of the law, your circumcision becomes no circumcision. If, then, the circumcision keeps the demands of the law, will not his lack of circumcision be counted for circumcision? And will not the lack of circumcision by nature by keeping the law judge you, the one who through letter and circumcision becomes transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew that is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that of the outwardly flesh; but he is a Jew that is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, in spirit, not in letter, of whom praise is not from men, but of God" (Rom.2:25-29 Para.). See also Deut.10:14-16.
Paul wrote this letter to the Romans around 56 A.D., which was about seven years after the ministerial conference of Acts 15 that was held in 49 A.D..
FREEDOM IN CHRIST
Galatians 5:1-15 Paraphrased
"Then stand firm in the freedom with which Christ made us free, and do not again be held with a yoke of slavery. Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing" (vs.1-2).
Paul warns the Galatians against attempting to become justified before God by becoming circumcised, because anyone who does this places himself back under the law before Christ's sacrifice, and is saying by his actions that he does not believe that Christ's sacrifice sealed the breach between man and God the Father.
"Any that rely on circumcision in order to justify themselves to God must practice the entire law. And I testify again to every man being circumcised, that he is a debtor to do all the law: You who are justified by the law are deprived all of the benefit from Christ—you fell from grace" (vs.3-4).
Those who became circumcised in an attempt to become justified before God are fallen from grace, because they make the sacrifice of Christ void by trying to earn justification through keeping the law through their own efforts. Christ died for our justification and reconciliation to God the Father, and anyone who seeks to be justified under the conditions of the old agreement is fallen from grace.
"For we through the spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith" (v5).
The Living Bible translates verse 5:
"But we by the help of the holy spirit are counting on Christ's death to clear away our sins and make us right with God."
Paul tells the Romans that it is through the death of Christ that we are justified and put into right-standing with God. In addition, he says that it is only through Christ's life that we can obtain salvation:
"For if being enemies, we are reconciled to God through the death of his son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life" (Rom.5:10 Para.).
Physical circumcision does not bring salvation:
"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor the lack of circumcision has any strength, but faith working through love" (v6).
The King James Bible translates this verse:
"For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love."
Paul's statement here is extremely important because he supports the decision made by the apostles and elders at the Jerusalem council concerning circumcision and the law. See Acts 15:19-30.
"You were running well; Who held you back that you do not obey the truth? The persuasion is not from him calling you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I trust as to you in the Lord that you will think nothing else, but one troubling you shall bear the judgment, whoever he may be" (vs.7-10).
Paul warns the Galatians about those who were destroying them with the false teachings about circumcision and the law, and he confirms that he was not teaching circumcision as a way to obtain salvation. Moreover, Paul gives a stern warning to those who cause others to doubt their salvation through the false teaching of reconciliation through circumcision, because those who teach these things will themselves be cut off from salvation:
"But I, brothers, if I proclaim circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the offense of the cross has passed away. Would that the ones causing you to doubt will cut themselves off" (vs.11-12). See also Eph.2:8-22.
Galatians 6:11-15 Paraphrased
"See in what large letters I write to you with my hand. As many as desire to look well in the flesh, these compel you to be circumcised; only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For they themselves having been circumcised do not even keep the law; but they desire you to be circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. But may it never be for me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any strength, nor the lack of circumcision; but a new creation." See also Rom.3:27-30; 4:9-12; 1.Cor.7:18-19; Col.2:8-13; 3:9-11 and our study concerning the new creation.
Colossians 2:11-14 LBP
"When you came to Christ he set you free from your evil desires, not by a bodily operation of circumcision but by a spiritual operation, the baptism of your souls. For in baptism you see how your old, evil nature died with him and was buried with him; and then you came up out of death with him into a new life because you trusted the Word of the mighty God who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead in sins, and your sinful desires were not yet cut away. Then he gave you a share in the very life of Christ, for he forgave all your sins, and blotted out the charges proved against you, the list of his commandments which you had not obeyed. He took this list of sins and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross."
Did any action or teaching of the apostle Paul concerning circumcision contradict the decision of the apostles and elders noted in Acts 15? The answer is an emphatic NO! All of Paul's writings show that he supported and clearly understood the edict of Acts 15.
PAUL AND THE NAZARITE VOWBack to Alphabetical Index | Back to Top | Back to Chapter Index
The account of Paul's trip to Jerusalem and his Nazarite vow gives a clear picture of the apostles' and elders' views and practices concerning the existing temple worship system and justification under the old agreements with national Israel and justification under the new agreement that had been established by Jesus Christ.
In order to establish the fact that Paul and others of the early church observed much of the temple worship system, it is important to understand that Paul had taken a Nazarite vow, which was part of the temple worship system. He had taken this vow sometime before going to Jerusalem. Moreover, once he was at the temple in Jerusalem, he offered sacrifices in conjunction with his vow. See Acts 15:26-27.
"Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken" (Acts 18:18 NIV).
The only vow that required one to cut off all the hair on one's head was the Nazarite vow.
The Nazarite Vow
Numbers 6:1-21 Paraphrased
"And the Lord said to Moses, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When either a man or a woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves to the Lord. He or she shall separate from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no wine vinegar, or strong drink of vinegar, nor drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist or dried grapes," (vs.1-3).
"All the days of this separation nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk shall be eaten.. All the days of the vow of this separation there shall no razor come upon the head: until the days of separation are fulfilled to the Lord, and he or she shall be holy, and let the locks of the hair of the head grow" (vs.4-5).
"All the days of the separation to the Lord he or she shall not touch a dead body, nor become unclean for a father, mother, brother, or sister that dies: because of the consecration of God is upon the separated one's head. All the days of separation he or she is holy to the Lord" (vs.6-8).
"And if any man dies suddenly by one who is separated, and defiles the head of his consecration; then the head of the separated one must be shaved in the day of cleansing, on the seventh day the head shall be shaved. And on the eighth day the separated one shall bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (vs.9-10).
"And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for the separated one, because of the sin caused by touching the dead, and he or she shall hallow their head that same day. And shall consecrate to the Lord the day of separation, and shall bring a lamb of the first year for a trespass offering: but the days that were before shall be lost, because the separation was defiled" (vs.11-12).
"And this is the law of the Nazarite, when the days of separation are fulfilled: he or she shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: And offer an offering to the Lord, one he-lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings" (vs.13-14).
"And a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meal offering, and their drink offerings. And the priest shall bring them before the Lord, and shall offer his or her sin offering, and burnt offering" (vs.15-16).
"And he or she shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread: the priest shall offer also the meal offering, and the drink offering. And the Nazarite shall shave the head of the separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of the separation, and put it into the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings" (vs.17-18).
"And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, and one unleavened cake out of the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and shall put them upon the hands of the Nazarite, after the hair of the separation is shaved: And the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord: this is holy for the priest, with the wave breast and heave shoulder: and after that the Nazarite may drink wine" (vs.19-20).
"This is the law of the Nazarite who has vowed, and of his or her offering to the Lord for the separation, beside that, that the separated one's hand shall get: according to the vow which was vowed, so he or she must do after the law of the separation" (v21).
"So shortly afterwards, we packed our things and left for Jerusalem. Some disciples from Caesarea accompanied us, and on arrival we were guests at the home of Mnason, originally from Cyprus, one of the early believers; and all the believers at Jerusalem welcomed us cordially. The second day Paul took us with him to meet with James and the elders of the Jerusalem church. After greetings were exchanged, Paul recounted the many things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his work" (vs.15-19 LBP).
Zealous for the law
"You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law" (v20 NIV).
What is the law that is being referred to? Is it the Ten Commandments or some other law ? As we review this event it will become apparent that the law referred to here is the sacrificial law which required the temple at Jerusalem for its practice.
Before coming to Jerusalem, Paul was accused of teaching the Jews to stop practicing the law of Moses:
"They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children. . ." (v21 NIV).
However, Paul did not teach the Jews to turn away from the law of Moses; he merely pointed out the fact that circumcision and the practice of the law would not justify a person before God:
"Be it known to you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39 Para.).
In order to show the Jews that he still believed and taught the laws of the temple system of worship, which did not pertain to justification, Paul was advised to participate in the rites of the Nazarite vow at the temple:
"What shall we do ? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law" (vs.22-24 NIV).
It is extremely important to understand that Paul and the men spoken of here were converted Jews who had taken a Nazarite vow, which had nothing to do with forgiveness of sin or justification.
This event clearly shows that, as late as 56-57 A.D., Paul and the other apostles were teaching and practicing some of the laws that were a part of the first agreement.
"As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality" (v25 NIV).
It is clear that the apostles knew it was not necessary for Gentile converts to participate in the temple worship system that God gave to Israel through Moses. However, they also knew it was permissible and expedient for themselves as teachers of the way of God to participate in the temple worship system as an example to the Jews.
"The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul in the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him" (vs.26-27 NIV).
Verse 26 and 27 are very important because they contain the following irrefutable proof that Paul had taken a Nazarite vow:
Paul Stands Accused Before Felix
Acts 24:14-18 KJV
In defending himself against the accusation of heresy before Felix, Paul states some very important beliefs and tells why he was in the temple in the account of Acts 21:27.
Paul Speaks to Felix:
"But this I confess to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which were written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. And I do hereby exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men" (vs.14-16).
Notice the primary reason that Paul went to the temple:
"Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. Wherein certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult" (vs.17-18).
Here, we see Paul observing part of the worship system commanded under God's first agreement with national Israel. This is yet another proof that Paul observed and practiced much of the temple worship system many years after his conversion.
Although an Israelitish Christian could partake of the temple worship as Paul did, it was not mandatory for a Christian to follow or obey the temple worship system. However, it still existed for about 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. See our study concerning the various agreements that God has made with different people in different ages of salvation.
Did Paul's Nazarite vow, sacrifice, and giving of gifts at the temple contradict the decision concerning the Law of Moses that the apostles and elders made, which is recorded in Acts 15? Did his taking this vow violate the terms and conditions of the new agreement that Jesus Christ instituted? The answer is an emphatic NO! Paul was not seeking forgiveness of sin or justification before God by these acts; he did them because of a prior commitment and as a witness to those who accused Paul of teaching against the law of Moses.
THE APOSTLES AND SACRIFICE
The account of Paul's trip to Jerusalem and his Nazarite vow reveals the mind of the Father and Jesus Christ concerning those who were sons of God and their relationship to the offering of sacrifices after the formation of the new covenant church.
This account clearly shows that certain aspects of the temple and sacrificial worship system are perfectly compatible with the new agreement that was instituted by Jesus Christ and that these aspects could be practiced by the Father's sons who have his spirit residing within them.
It is also noteworthy to mention that Jesus Christ who had the holy spirit without measure also participated in the sacrificial system as he lived his life and presented himself as the perfect example of righteousness.
REMEMBER THE LAW
Under the first agreement with the people of national Israel, the Israelites were to perform certain physical acts as a reminder of the laws of God. Under the new agreement, the law is implanted within a person by the holy spirit. Therefore, these physical reminders are not necessary.
The following are two of the commands to the nation of Israel regarding the law and its remembrance:
Fringes on the Garment
"Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribbon of blue: And it shall be to you for a fringe, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to go a whoring: That you may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God" (Num.15: 38-40 KJV).
Law on the Door Post
"Therefore shall you lay these words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them upon the door posts of your house, and upon your gates" (Deut.11:18-20 KJV).
Would it be wrong for a Christian to wear a fringe on their garments or write the commandments upon their door post?
It would not be wrong if the person is not doing these things to obtain justification before God; these laws were a part of the first agreement between God and national Israel, but they are not a part of the new agreement between the Father and the elect of God.
However, it would be wrong for one called to salvation during the gospel age to perform these acts in hope of being justified. This would be trying to gain justification under the law of justification by works; thereby, it would deny the sacrifice of Christ.
Notice what Paul says about trying to be justified by the law:
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherein Christ has made us free, and be not entangled with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say to you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace" (Gal.5:1-4 Para.).