Circumcision in Acts 15
Necessity of Circumcision
I find it remarkable that no mention of circumcision is made in St. Luke’s
account of the Jerusalem Council when it was to discuss the need to circumcise Gentiles that the Council was convened. Also I suggest an explanation for that omission Here is the background:
Some men went down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised in the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” That resulted in heated controversy and disputation with Paul and Barnabas, so it was decided that Paul and Barnabas and some others should go up to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders about this matter.
Arriving in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church, apostles and elders. Some of the believing Pharisees stood up and said that it was necessary to circumcise them (the Gentiles, presumably) and to command them to keep the law of Moses. (That tells us that it is certain that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss circumcision.)
When the apostles and elders came together,
What, then, did they talk about ? The answer is in James’ summation:
James spoke up saying, Brothers; listen to me: Simeon has told you how God deigned to take from the Gentiles a people to His name. And the words of the prophets agree. Therefore, it is my decision not to trouble those Gentiles who turn to God, but to tell them to abstain food offered to idols, from fornication, from creatures that have been strangled and from blood, for Moses has had for generations those who read and preach him in the synagogues.
The apostles and elders and the whole assembly then decided to appoint some of their number and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, Judas Barsabbas and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with a letter saying, “Greetings from the apostles and your brother elders to the gentiles in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. When we heard that some of our number had gone went without our authorization and upset you with disturbing words, we decided to meet and choose men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have dedicated their lives to name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We also send Jude and Silas to tell you the same things in their words for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no further burden than what is necessary: To abstain from food that has been sacrificed to idols, from blood and from strangled things and also fornication. You will do well to keep yourselves from these things.
Nowhere, either in James summation nor in the follow-up letter is there a word about the matter they had been called to discuss. But why is that?
Let me tell you what I think. much was said by both sides, but the arguments were deliberately omitted by the final editor because the issue had already been decided in the church, and he favored the view that circumcision was necessary. It is significant that many Western texts add “You must be circumcised and keep the law” in verse 24. (Expositor’s Bible Commentary note 24, vol. 9 p. 451.)`
(Now we are at the meeting.) to see about the matter there was considerable argument. Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that from the first days God chose to have the Gentiles hear the good news from my mouth and to believe. And God, who knows the heart deigned to give them the Holy Spirit just as He give it to us making no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts with faith. So, why do you try God by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples, a yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? This “yoke” cannot be circumcision. Far from being a “yoke,” circumcision was regarded by the Jews as a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews. (Gen. 7:9-14). . All present shared in it.