Acts 15:1 - 41
ESV - 1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
The issue before the council in Acts 15 primarily addressed the question of how Gentile Christians were to be included and recognized alongside their Jewish counterparts in Remnant Isra'el. The reason the answer was not obvious to the Jewish apostles is because of the longstanding theology among Jews that Isra'el was comprised of Jewish people exclusively. The conclusion of the council, then, was that Gentiles did not need to become proselytes in order to enjoy full covenant status in Isra'el, which naturally includes Torah/Law participation (the term “circumcision” in Acts 15:1, 5 was shorthand for “conversion to Judaism”). The council was not voting on how much Law the Gentiles should keep in order to be saved, nor were they contemplating how much Torah Gentile Christians should be keeping after they become saved. There was one primary question and it had to do with how Gentiles got into Isra'el. Indeed, as the council would eventually decide, and as Peter had first testified in the home of Cornelius, the inclusion of the Gentiles was by the grace of God, not by means of a man-made ceremony. How then do we understand the Four Prohibitions? In order to assure their acceptance into the newly emerging Messianic Communities, the Gentiles were to make a decisive break with the pagan temple and its idolatry, which would involve ridding themselves of any of the pagan customs that marked that idolatrous form of worship. The Four Prohibitions is NOT a short list of how many commandments Gentiles must keep. As already pointed out, it was a list designed to promote peace within the early Messianic communities. Based on these data, it is imperative, then, that we understand this central biblical truth: the bringing near of the Gentile believers was not effected through negating the Torah (doing away with circumcision, etc.), but through overcoming the rabbinic teaching that required Gentiles to “become Jews” through becoming proselytes in order to be received into the covenant people of Isra'el. The gospel message of the Apostles proclaimed that, like Abraham of old, covenant membership was based upon faith, not upon the flesh (ethnic status). Acts 15:21 affirms one Law for both Jews and Gentiles to obey, particularly as both groups will learn it in the synagogues every Sabbath day. The “yoke that neither we nor our fathers could bear” (Acts 15:10) most certainly is NOT God’s gracious Torah; it is a man-made system of “righteous behavior” as regulated by the prevailing policies of that day. Practically speaking, “One Torah Theology” believes that God historically gave one covenant document to follow as a way of life for anyone wishing to identify as covenant Isra'el. Naturally, this would also include those from the nations who have been grafted into Remnant Isra'el. Instead of purporting that the NT is for Gentile Christians, and that the Torah was or is for Jews only, One Law commits both Jews and Gentiles in Yeshua, as children of faithful Abraham, to follow after the Torah of Moses, while retaining our distinctive ethnicities as Jews and Gentiles together in the Body of Messiah. Messianic bible teacher Tim Hegg’s thoughts are fitting for our conclusion: The mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant people of God was not that the Gentiles would, in fact, be included (for this was known since the beginning, Gen 12:3, etc.), but the manner in which they would be included, namely, as fellow-heirs and not as a separate group unto themselves. That the Gentiles would be blessed with the covenant blessings, and that they should worship the one God of Israel, was fully spoken of by the prophets (v. 26). But the exact method, i.e., through the giving of the Spirit Who would graft them in—this was only revealed in the Apostolic era, at least in its fullness. For even Peter himself was amazed that the Spirit was given to the Gentiles in the same manner as He was given to the Jewish believers (Acts 11:15).