The First Council of Jerusalem

The First Council of Jerusalem
The First Council of Jerusalem

The First Council of Jerusalem

The First Council of Jerusalem, an essential event in the early Christian Church, is documented in the Acts of the Apostles, particularly in chapter 15. This council took place around AD 50 and addressed the issue of whether Gentile converts to Christianity needed to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses, a practice fundamental to Jewish tradition.

Key Actors

  • Paul and Barnabas: Advocates for the Gentile Christians, arguing against the necessity for circumcision and full adherence to Jewish law.
  • James: The leader of the Jerusalem church and brother of Jesus, who played a pivotal role in the council’s final decision.
  • Peter (Cephas): Shared his experience of God accepting Gentiles without the need for circumcision, supporting Paul and Barnabas’s stance.

Background and Issue

The early Christian community comprised mostly Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. As the Gospel began to spread to Gentiles (non-Jews), questions arose about the requirements for these new converts. Some believers, known as Judaizers, argued that Gentiles must be circumcised and observe the Mosaic Law to be saved. This debate led to significant contention within the Church, prompting the assembly of the council.

Council Proceedings and Outcome

  • Debate: The council featured a significant debate among its members regarding the necessity of circumcision and adherence to the Law of Moses for Gentile converts.
  • Peter’s Testimony: Peter recounted his vision and experience with Cornelius, a Gentile, arguing that God had shown no distinction between Jew and Gentile, granting the Holy Spirit to both.
  • Paul and Barnabas: They shared about the signs and wonders God had performed among the Gentiles through their ministry, further supporting the argument against imposing Jewish customs on Gentile converts.
  • James’s Judgment: James concluded that Gentiles should not be burdened with circumcision or the full yoke of the Law. However, he proposed that Gentiles abstain from practices particularly abhorrent to Jews: eating food sacrificed to idols, consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and sexual immorality.


The council’s decision was a landmark moment in Christianity, affirming that Gentile converts were welcomed into the Church through faith in Jesus Christ, without the need for circumcision or complete adherence to Jewish laws. This decision paved the way for the Christian faith to become a universal religion, not confined to Jewish cultural and ceremonial practices. It highlighted the inclusivity of the Gospel and the principle that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, rather than adherence to the ceremonial law—a foundational belief that continues to shape Christian theology and practice.

Biblical references for the First Council of Jerusalem

The primary biblical reference for the First Council of Jerusalem is found in the New Testament book of Acts. Here are the key passages:

  • Acts 15:1-35: This section provides a detailed account of the council’s proceedings, debates, and the resolution regarding the question of circumcision and the observance of the Law of Moses for Gentile converts. It includes the arguments presented by Paul and Barnabas, Peter’s speech, James’s judgment, and the letter sent to Gentile believers.

Key verses within this passage include:

  • Acts 15:1-2: The issue is raised when some individuals from Judea assert that Gentile converts must be circumcised according to the custom of Moses to be saved, leading to Paul and Barnabas’s sharp disagreement and subsequent journey to Jerusalem to resolve this dispute.
  • Acts 15:7-11: Peter shares his experience and vision, emphasizing that God made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, offering salvation through faith.
  • Acts 15:12: Paul and Barnabas describe the miracles and wonders God performed among the Gentiles through their ministry.
  • Acts 15:13-21: James speaks, proposing a compromise that does not require circumcision for Gentile converts but asks them to avoid practices especially offensive to Jews.
  • Acts 15:22-29: The council’s decision is summarized in a letter sent to Gentile Christians in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, advising them on what is expected.
  • Galatians 2:1-10: Although not a detailed account of the council’s proceedings, this passage in Galatians, written by Paul, offers an additional perspective on the events and agreements reached at the council, particularly emphasizing the agreement reached between Paul and the pillars of the Church (James, Cephas, and John) regarding the mission to the Gentiles.

These passages together provide a comprehensive view of the First Council of Jerusalem, highlighting its significance in the early Christian Church and its enduring impact on Christian doctrine and practice.

The Opening of Gates

The Mission to the Gentiles in the Early Christian Church

The Christian Church’s mission to the Gentiles stands as a pivotal chapter in the annals of religious history, marking a significant transition from Christianity as a sect within Judaism to a global religion. This article delves into the strategic outreach to Gentiles, situating it within a broader historical and theological context and tracing its repercussions through the ages.

Jewish Roots and the Early Church

Christianity’s roots are deeply embedded in Judaism, with its initial followers being Jewish adherents who believed Jesus of Nazareth was the awaited Messiah. The early days following Jesus’ crucifixion and reported resurrection saw a community formed in Jerusalem, centered on the teachings of Jesus and the observance of Jewish law. However, the seeds for a wider mission were sown by Jesus himself, who, according to the Gospels, ministered to Gentiles and spoke of a message that transcended ethnic boundaries.

The Pentecost and Beyond
A Spirit for All

The event of Pentecost, described in Acts 2, where followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, symbolizes the universal nature of Christianity’s message. This event not only emboldened the apostles to preach boldly but also signified the breaking down of linguistic and cultural barriers.

Peter’s Vision and Cornelius
A Door Opens

Peter’s vision of a sheet containing unclean animals, as recounted in Acts 10, and his subsequent interaction with Cornelius, a Roman centurion, marks a significant turn in the outreach to Gentiles. Peter’s realization that “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34) underscores the inclusivity of the Christian message, a theme that would define the mission to the Gentiles.

Paul of Tarsus
Apostle to the Gentiles

While Peter played a crucial role in initiating the Gentile mission, it was Paul of Tarsus whose journeys and theological writings would cement the inclusion of Gentiles into the Christian fold. A Jew and a Roman citizen, Paul’s background uniquely equipped him for this mission. His three missionary journeys across Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome, detailed in Acts, facilitated the establishment of numerous Gentile Christian communities. Paul’s epistles further developed the theological foundations for a faith that transcended ethnic and cultural boundaries, emphasizing faith in Christ as the cornerstone of salvation for all.

The Council of Jerusalem
A Decisive Moment

The First Council of Jerusalem, as discussed earlier, was a watershed in the Christian mission to the Gentiles. It addressed the contentious issue of whether Gentile converts needed to adhere to Jewish law, particularly circumcision. The council’s decision to not impose the full yoke of the Law of Moses on Gentile converts underscored the church’s commitment to a message of grace and faith accessible to all, regardless of cultural or ethnic background.

Echoes Through the Ages

The mission to the Gentiles fundamentally shaped the trajectory of Christian history, transforming it into a global faith. The theological and cultural inclusivity espoused by early Christian leaders like Paul laid the groundwork for Christianity’s expansion beyond the Mediterranean basin, reaching far corners of the globe over subsequent centuries.

A Legacy of Inclusivity

The mission to the Gentiles is not merely a historical footnote; it is a testament to the enduring power of a message that transcends cultural, ethnic, and national boundaries. The early church’s decision to embrace Gentiles into the Christian community without requiring full adherence to Jewish customs was a radical act of inclusivity that continues to resonate. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the early Christian mission to the Gentiles reminds us of the unifying potential of faith, hope, and love.

An illustration

The First Council of Jerusalem
The First Council of Jerusalem

The image created visualizes the early Christian mission to the Gentiles, capturing the spirit of inclusivity and unity that marked this pivotal period in Christian history. It illustrates a harmonious gathering of individuals from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds of the ancient Mediterranean world, with the apostle Paul at the center, embodying the message of unity and the breaking down of barriers between Jewish and Gentile cultures.

Let us pray with Mary, the Holy Mother of Jesus, Mother of ALL

Article written with help of openai‘s chatGPT language Models, Dalle and Picsart

Time to learnSee the options

Make your own website & learn affiliate marketing

Add Comment

Optimized by Optimole
You cannot copy content of this page
Skip to content