BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 8, Day 2: Acts 15:1-12

Summary of passage:  Men from Judea (Judaizers) came down to Antioch and began preaching that people must be circumcised to be saved.  Paul and Barnabas disagreed strongly so they traveled to Jerusalem to debate the issue with the elders. On their way, they told how the Gentiles had been converted (basically stirring up the troops for their cause).

Upon arrival, Peter got up and recounted his vision given to him from God some 10 years earlier.  He told them God accepted the Gentiles as proven when He gave them the Holy Spirit, which purified their hearts just like the Jews.  He asks them why are they testing God with a yoke not even they could bear?  It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus alone that everyone is saved.  Paul and Barnabas backed up Peter’s vision with the telling of the wondrous signs and miracles God has performed amongst the Gentiles.

Questions:

3)  The Christians at Antioch had the attitude:  Everyone can be saved as long as you have faith and belief in Jesus Christ our Savior.  The Jerusalem Christians put additional conditions on this claim:  They added you must have faith and belief in Jesus Christ but you also must be circumcised.

4a) Because now the Gentile believers outnumbered the Jewish Christians (my study Bible says between Acts 10 and Acts 15 ten full years had passed), making them the minority.  And we all know it’s the will of the majority that rules (elects leaders, etc).

Gentiles are everyone outside the Jewish faith–a huge number of eligible converts even back then.  Enough to completely overwhelm the Jews.  In today’s terms, think of the number of Jews today versus every other religion.  Even back then they could see the potential ramifications of allowing others into their faith.  They would be a small voice amidst a huge crowd.

b)  Circumcision was a custom taught by Moses, saying all believers had to be circumcised.

Circumcision has a fascinating history.  In the beginning in Old Testament times beginning with Abraham (who was circumcised at the age of 99), all believers had to be circumcised.  “You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between you and me,” God says in Genesis 17:11.  It was a way for God to make his people; to set them apart.  Anyone who was “bought” or converted had to be circumcised as well.

Now, when God says something people tend to listen.

The Council is referring to Mosaic Law as given in Exodus 12:43-49 where God decrees to celebrate Passover, one must be circumcised first.  If one is circumcised, “he may take part like one born in the land” (verse 48).  Here, God extends his covenant made with Abraham in Genesis to Gentiles in Exodus.

This Law holds UNTIL ACTS 10 where God reveals His plan for the Gentiles to Peter and Peter baptized Cornelius without being circumcised.  This is the verifiable proof God accepts all and Jesus died for all.  However, the law was broken with Jesus’ death. But the people are slow to understand this.

So, let’s remember the times:  the Jerusalem Christians have been performing circumcisions for millennium now.  Never questioned.  Tradition.  So it seemed only natural to continue this tradition even after Christ died.

I’m not convinced they fully understood the full meaning, implications, and ramifications of Jesus’ death yet.  After all, it had only been 20 years or so, not even a full generation had passed.  A lot of these people may even have seen Jesus alive–a real human being, God incarnate.

So, yes, they are still holding on to their traditions fiercely.

Also, this was probably a power play.  Circumcision in infancy is not fun.  But in adulthood it can be akin to major surgery and takes a while to get over (for a great story on this see Genesis 34 Dinah and the Shechemites–gives you a greater understanding of the aftermath).  Most men didn’t want to undergo such a procedure.  So if it were conditional for being a Christian, less would convert (and if the men didn’t convert odds were their wives wouldn’t either) and the Jews would retain more power.

c)  I’ve wondering if the question is supposed to be Peter here instead of Paul because Peter is the one quoted in Acts 15:7-11, retelling how God gave him the words (Acts 10) at Cornelius’ house that God makes no distinction in who is to be saved since it is through His grace alone that we are saved.

Paul opposes it because it would restrict those who can be saved by God.  Also, Paul has seen God’s work first hand in the miraculous signs and wonders God has done amongst the Gentiles.  Would God do such wonders if he didn’t want the Gentiles to know Him?  No.  God wouldn’t have shown up.  So one can intuit that God wants the Gentiles as much as He does the Jews based on the acts God has performed.

5)  Peter is referring to the vision God gave him on his journey to Cornelius the Roman Centurion’s house that told him that God does not show favoritism amongst His people and everyone is now eligible for redemption thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross.

Conclusions:  Even amongst believers there is resistance to newcomers and new commandments.  People are inherently resistant to change and this is a great illustration of it here.  The Judaizers were probably resentful of the Gentiles and still held prejudices about them.

In today’s time, not all change can be good.  Some traditions are thrown by the wayside that shouldn’t be (like the Native American way of life 150 years ago) that was forced upon them.

Yet change is inevitable.  We must adapt or we’ll spend our lives bitter, resentful, and ultimately broken people.  We are powerless to stop change in the end if the majority approve it.  We can only pray that it is God’s will and we conform to His will. We must follow our inner faith and our true north, which if aligned with God’s heart, will never lead us astray.

End Note:  What I am coming to discover and believe (especially from this lesson–this is my second day I’ve worked on this and counting) is that God’s people (which is everyone by the way) did not understand what Jesus’ death meant.  They just didn’t get it!

Which I can understand.  There wasn’t a huge explosion.  Every day life didn’t change for most people because Jesus died. Everyone still struggled to survive from one day to the next.

So, as we’re following the apostles along we are following them as they begin to understand the full implications of Jesus’s death.  How Jesus’s death changed everything!  So what we’re seeing here is slowly revelations are being made (like Acts 10 where Peter sees that the Gentiles are equal to the Jews) to the apostles who then are trying to convey this to others (including the leaders).

We have the benefit of 2000 years between us and Peter and Paul.  We know what happened after they died (for we have the rest of the Bible!).  We have almost 2000 years of church doctrine and history to study and learn from.

So it’s hard for us to understand what’s happening in the Bible because we (I believe) understand (at least more so than in the apostles time) what happened after.  We know what Jesus’s death meant.  They didn’t.

So some of this stuff (like the circumcision debate–which was HUGE in that time) is no big deal to us.  Why?  Because we already know it’s not a big deal to God.  But they didn’t!

Do you follow me here?

So it’s hard for us to understand the Bible because we understand so much more than they did.

Now, I’m not saying we “get” it.  I’m not saying we know everything.  What I am saying is this:  we have the benefit of history and knowledge that the disciples just didn’t immediately after Jesus’s death.

They had to fight tradition.  We don’t.  They waged battles for us that we reap the benefits of.  They worked out God’s will slowly over time which we don’t have to.

Maybe you all caught this but I didn’t until this Lesson:  Acts 10 is HUGE in terms of God’s proof of accepting us (me and you if you’re not Jewish) into His kingdom.  I think God did this so His people would understand He is for everyone, regardless of circumcised or not.

I think the argument was meant to rest here in Acts 10 but the debate was far from over as we see in Acts 15.

This website is AWESOME.  You can keep clicking forever and learn all about circumcision, God’s laws, and how it all changed and when in the New Testament.  You gotta read this site!!!

http://www.gentiles-and-circumcision.info/exodus-12-48-passover-gentiles-circumcised.html

Caveat to this website and others I post on my site:  If you follow along with the arguments made here, this site concludes that only circumcision was done away with and the rest of God’s laws from the OT still stand.

The first page says very clearly to decide for yourself what you believe and to look to God’s word (the Bible) to answer your questions.

This website has Jewish overtones but it’s meant to answer questions for everyone.

Still, it does a great job of laying out the circumcision argument.

We all have our own beliefs.  The links I put on my site are for information gathering purposes.  I post links that have given me a greater understanding of God’s word.  Do I believe all the conclusions on these sites?  No.  But I go for the facts, not the interpretations.  We all have minds that can draw our own conclusions.

My goal in posting links to sites is this:  I do my research and post what I find interesting; the sites I learned from.  Hopefully, I cut out some of the work for you all.  That being said you must always be vigilant when it comes to fact versus opinion, especially when researching theological issues.

I don’t have all the answers.  I am still struggling myself to understand Old Testament theology.  But I know what I believe about what Jesus did for me on the cross.  And this I hold dear to.

In my humble opinion, Jesus nullified everything in the Old Testament in terms of conditions of being saved.  Obviously, such laws as the Ten Commandments still stand.

Jesus died.  If you believe in him and what he did for you on the cross and have faith, Bam!  Saved.  Done with.  Over.  You accept Jesus.  You get to Heaven.  That’s what I believe.

I believe in a God without conditions except this one.  I don’t need to do anything to get to Heaven.  I don’t have to earn Heaven. I don’t have to watch what I eat or sacrifice lambs and the like.

Sorry for the spiel.  Point being:  take what you can from these sites that I post.  Take what aligns with your beliefs and leave the rest.  Learn about the Old Testament and how God has set up everything for Jesus’ coming.  You will deepen your relationship and your appreciation for God and Jesus.

Then share your knowledge with others.  And your beliefs.  Making distinctions between fact and belief.  For there is a difference.  Caveat emptor!