Council of Jerusalem

Council of Jerusalem
Datec. 50
Accepted bymost Christian denominations
Next council
Ancient church councils (pre-ecumenical)
Presidentunspecified, but presumably James the Just and perhaps Simon Peter
TopicsControversy of circumcision and the validity of the Law of Moses.
Documents and statements
Excerpts from New Testament (Acts of Apostles and perhaps Epistle to the Galatians).
Chronological list of ecumenical councils
Acts 15:19–29, c. 78 AD: "we should write to them [Gentiles] to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood..." (NRSV)

The Council of Jerusalem or Apostolic Council was held in Jerusalem around AD 50. It is unique among the ancient pre-ecumenical councils in that it is considered by Catholics and Orthodox to be a prototype and forerunner of the later ecumenical councils and a key part of Christian ethics. The council decided that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obligated to keep most of the Law of Moses, including the rules concerning circumcision of males. The Council did, however, retain the prohibitions on eating blood, meat containing blood, and meat of animals not properly slain, and on fornication and idolatry, sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Decree or Jerusalem Quadrilateral.

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.[1] Some scholars dispute that Galatians 2 is about the Council of Jerusalem (notably because Galatians 2 describes a private meeting) while other scholars dispute the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles.

Historical background

The Council of Jerusalem is generally dated to 48 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 whether or not male Gentiles who were converting to become followers of Jesus were required to become circumcised; circumcision was considered repulsive during the period of Hellenization of the Eastern Mediterranean.[2]

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 Alister McGrath, the Jewish Christians affirmed every aspect of the then contemporary Second Temple Judaism with the addition of the belief that Jesus was the Messiah.[3] Unless males were circumcised, they could not be God's People. The meeting was called to decide whether circumcision for gentile converts was requisite for community membership since certain individuals were teaching that "[u]nless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved".[4]

Circumcision as a mandate was associated with Abraham (see also Abrahamic covenant), but it is cited as "the custom of Moses" because Moses is considered the traditional giver of the Law as a whole. The circumcision mandate was made more official and binding in the John 7:22 the words of Jesus are reported to be that Moses gave the people circumcision.

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