Apostolic Decree

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"Council of Jerusalem" is a name applied in retrospect to a meeting described in Acts of the Apostles chapter 15. The events described there are generally dated about the year 50, some time before the death of James the Just in 62.

Relationship to Noahide Laws?

Some thinkers have compared James's resolution with the notion of Judaism's Noahide Laws. In this regard, the following is found in The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, by Sir Isaac Newton (Dublin, 1728, p. 184): "This law [of abstaining from blood] was ancienter than the days of Moses, being given to Noah and his sons, long before the days of Abraham: and therefore when the Apostles and Elders in the Council at Jerusalem declared that the Gentiles were not obliged to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, they excepted this law of abstaining from blood, and things strangled, as being an earlier law of God, imposed not on the sons of Abraham only, but on all nations, while they lived together in Shinar under the dominion of Noah: and of the same kind is the law of abstaining from meats offered to Idols or false Gods, and from fornication." (Italics original). The Apostolic Constitutions 6.64[1] states: "Wherefore my sentence is, that we do not trouble those who from among the Gentiles turn unto God: but to charge them that they abstain from the pollutions of the Gentiles, and from what is sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; which laws were given to the ancients who lived before the law, under the law of nature, Enos, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Job, and if there be any other of the same sort." The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Paul states: "According to Acts ... Paul began working along the traditional Jewish line of proselytizing in the various synagogues where the proselytes of the gate [for example Exodus 20:10] and the Jews met; and only because he failed to win the Jews to his views, encountering strong opposition and persecution from them, did he turn to the Gentile world after he had agreed at a convention with the apostles at Jerusalem to admit the Gentiles into the Church only as proselytes of the gate, that is, after their acceptance of the Noachian laws (Acts xv. 1-31)."

The issues

A common interpretation is that the council was convened as the result of the disagreement within the Early Christian community between those, such as the followers of James, who believed the church must observe the rules of traditional Judaism1, and Paul of Tarsus, who believed there was no such necessity (see also Supersessionism). However, the "rules of traditional Judaism", the Halakha of Rabbinic Judaism, were still under development at this time, as the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus notes: "Jesus, however, does not appear to have taken into account the fact that the Halakah was at this period just becoming crystallized, and that much variation existed as to its definite form; the disputes of the Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai were occurring about the time of his maturity."

The central issue was circumcision, as the author of Acts relates the initial confrontation in Antioch, where Paul had been preaching:

"And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." (Acts 15:1) KJV

Paul and his disciple, here called Barnabas, disputed fiercely2 with the Judaean Christians, so that it was determined that they "and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question." (Acts 15:2). The Western3 version of Acts states those from Jerusalem ordered Paul and Barnabas and some others to Jerusalem to be judged before the apostles and elders. The author of Acts identifies the position of the Jerusalem Christians as if they were "Pharisees which believed" in Christ, a label of opprobrium for radicals like the early Christians, but one that was not strictly accurate in this case:

"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)

The brackets around [them] shows that it is was an addition not found in the original that was needed to make sense in translation. An alternate translation of the Koine Greek construct (Template:Polytonic,15:5) is found in Andy Gaus' Unvarnished New Testament: "They have to be circumcised; we have to proclaim and keep the law of Moses."

At the council, following advice said to have been offered by Simon Peter, whose presence has not otherwise been signalled (Acts 15:7-11), James, the leader of the Jerusalem Church, gave his decision (later known as the Apostolic Decree):

"Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and [from] fornication, and [from] things strangled, and [from] blood.4 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day." (Acts 15:19-21)

The Western version of Acts substitutes the negative form of the Golden Rule5 for the prohibition against things strangled.

The Didache, short for "Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles", part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible and the Apostolic Fathers collection, is generally dated about the same time as Acts. Though it doesn't mention a council, its title strongly suggests it is meant to represent the decree of that council. It starts with a first commandment, the Shema and the negative form of the Golden Rule, then a second commandment has prohibitions against murder, adultery, corrupting boys, sexual promiscuity, theft, magic, sorcery, abortion, infanticide, coveting, perjury, false testimony, speaking evil, holding grudges, being double-minded, not acting as you speak, greed, avarice, hypocrisy, maliciousness, arrogance, ploting evil against neighbors, hate, narcissism and expansions on these generally with references to the words of Jesus. Chapter 4, verse 13 states you must not forsake the Lord's commandments, neither adding nor subtracting. Cha ... \n

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