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Jerusalem Council Does Away with the Law, or Does it?

March 23, 2010

This is my 2nd post in a series correcting the errors and false claims by Pastor J. Mark Martin.  Last time, we’ve learned that Martin was sloppy and irresponsible in his interpretation of the Greek usage of Nomos and Entole, in that he misinterpreted the words to mean Old and New Covenant laws/commandments.

Today we’re going to look at his claim that the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15 does away with the 10 Commandments, and by extension, our requirement as Christians to keep the Seventh-day Sabbath.

Does the Jerusalem Council talk about the Sabbath?

According to Martin, it does.  Here is what he says about the meetings that took place:

WHEN THE COUNSEL OF ACTS 15 CONVENED to determine what Gentile Christians must observe, SABBATH KEEPING IS CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT. Peter exhorts the leadership of the Church not to place the Gentiles under the Law:

“Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” Acts 15:10-11.

The final judgment of the Jerusalem Council contains no reference to Sabbath keeping. Circumcision was discussed and deemed unnecessary (vss. 5-6; 19-20). If Sabbath keeping were to be an essential part of the New Covenant relationship with God it would have been mentioned in the discussion because it would have been an unfamiliar practice to the Gentiles. Sabbath keeping was not even discussed because it is not a requirement for New Covenant believers:

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials; that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29).


Martin is right when he says:

The final judgment of the Jerusalem Council contains no reference to Sabbath keeping.

Why? Because Sabbath-keeping wasn’t the issue at all.  However this is where he goes wrong, and Martin goes on to argue that because Sabbath-keeping wasn’t mentioned, therefore, it’s no longer valid or binding anymore.  This is a common mistake that Christians make.  It’s an argument of silence, which doesn’t prove anything, for or against.  Using his logic, the command to steal or kill wasn’t reiterated in the Council either, I guess it’s okay for us now, but we know that’s not the case. 

What Martin fails to realize is that Sabbath keeping was never an issue or question during the Apostolic time.  It was widely understood and accepted as the day of worship.  Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and followers of Christ all worshiped on the Sabbath.  (See my list of NT texts on the Sabbath).  New believers would have already been introduced to the practice of Sabbath-keeping as part of the basic teachings of the early church.

The issue of the Jerusalem Council was whether to impose Jewish traditions, such as circumcision on new believers.  Lets look at Acts 15:

1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. 4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” [emphasis mine]

I want you to notice 2 things.  First, the issue was started because certain men were imposing circumcision (according to the custom of Moses) to new believers in order to be saved (v 1).  This is confirmed by believers that came from a Pharisee background further adding that new believers keep the law of Moses (v5).  But which laws, because as we know, Pharisees had a whole set of rules and laws, which Jesus himself often had to correct and clarify during his ministry.  So keep that in mind as we continue with Acts 15:

6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. 7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ[a] we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

Now remember the context, some devout Jewish Christians, likely former Pharisee’s were trying to impose their laws upon the new convert and Gentile believers, insisting that they be circumcised.   However, verse 10, Peter talks about a yoke, a burden that neither they, nor their “fathers” were able to bear.  Peter is obviously talking about a set of laws and regulations, but which one?  Is it God’s Law, or the Law of Moses, or the rules and regulations that the Pharisee’s made.  It is interesting that Peter uses “yoke”, because Jesus uses the same term in regards to the man-made laws:

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11)

Notice that there IS a yoke, but it is easy, and it’s burden is light.  Jesus spent the rest of his ministry on earth clarifying the Law of God, he lifted the man-made burden of the Sabbath, with all its rules and regulations imposed by the Pharisees, and made it easy.  Jesus didn’t do away with the Sabbath, he reemphasized its importance and reminded people that it is a day to do good (Matt 12:12)

So what is the burden and yoke that Peter was talking about? Paul calls the Mosaic law, a “yoke of bondage” (c.f. Gal 4:3, 9;  5:1, and here)

Verse 7 hints it was a hotly contested issue, as there was “much dispute” over it.  Other translations use “much debate” or “much discussion” concerning the issue.  The rest of the chapter also gives us a hint on what they debated about, and the consensus they finally reach, and it is summarized by James exhortation and the letter they drafted together:

19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality,from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

That was James’ summary of the issues regarding the burden.  Notice first, that none of these things are explicitly stated in the Decalogue.  Secondly, these items are part of the Mosaic law, that was written over time.   They all agreed that circumcision was not required for the Gentiles, and they were not to be burdened all the aspects of the Jewish ceremonial laws.  They then drafted a letter:

23 They wrote this, letter by them:

The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,

To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:


24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”[f]—to whom we gave no such commandment— 25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.[g] If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.


Remember, the whole issue was started because some Christians were trying to impose circumcision upon the new believers.  They debated over this topic and other aspects of the Jewish law, and came up with the following items, so as to not burden the new believers:

Abstain from:

  1. things offered to idols
  2. blood
  3. from things strangled
  4. sexual immorality

The fact that some believers elsewhere were upset that circumcision was no longer a requirement shows us that this was a pretty big deal, just over circumcision (Acts 21).  Just imagine the magnitude of complaints if it were the Sabbath that was being done away with.  The fact there is no hint of protest about the Sabbath tells us that it was still the normal practice, as seen in various places throughout the book of Acts.

For Martin to declare that because the Sabbath was not mentioned, therefore not necessary for “New Testament” Christians is totally irresponsible.  Using his logic, the Council didn’t mention the other commandments, therefore it is okay for us to steal, kill, and lie.  Obviously this is not the case.

Therefore, we know that the Jerusalem Council was not talking about God’s Law (10 commandments), but the burden of man-made laws.

Answering Critics: series Part 1: Law or Commandments, are they the same? Part 2: Jerusalem Council and the Law?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Thomas Mason permalink
    February 2, 2017 12:13 pm

    The key to understanding the councils decision in Acts 15 is to understand the controversy from the perspective of the first century believers. In first century Jewish tradition it was believed it was necessary to circumcise a gentile convert in order to bring Him into the covenant. The ritual act of circumcision was seen as necessary for justification, and converts would have to become a proselyte to Judaism. The council in Acts 15 decided that it is not necessary for new converts to the faith to under go circumcision and proselyzation in order to become a Christian. The whole process of adult circumcision and learning the oral law and the Torah in order to come into the faith is Jewish tradition based on Jewish oral law and is not biblical. The council decided that new converts must adhere to 4 laws (from Torah) immediately, and in verse 21 it says the new converts would learn Moses on the Sabbath in the synagogue each week. The idea was not to make turning to God a burden, but for the new converts to learn how to keep the ways of God over time, as they learn and grow.

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