When Paul and Barnabas when down to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles about whether Gentiles ought to be compelled to be circumcised, the final word comes from James:

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.—Acts 15:19-21 (ESV)

Paul seems to have interpreted this as meaning that the Mosaic Laws were not binding. (See Galatians.)

However, this interesting article presents the hypothesis that the ruling of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 was never meant to replace the Torah but only to function as a guideline for acceptance of Gentiles into the community. It is then hypothesised further that the eventual learning of the Torah by Gentiles was the envisioned aim all along.

Does the text of Acts support this hypothesis?

  • I am bothered by the lack of exegesis in Preference for Eisegetical answers being offered on a hermenutics forum.
    – Lowther
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 20:52

5 Answers 5


The OP quote from James in Acts is consistent with requiring the Gentiles to adhere to the seven commandments to bnei Noah, but not to "trouble" them with the other 606 commandments still required of the nation of Israel, at least not immediately as a prerequisite for learning the Torah. James's opinion might indicate that the Gentiles should then study the Torah and follow all of the commandments, which would be consistent with the view of Hillel the Elder in the story of the convert who wanted to learn the entire Torah while standing on one foot. But it could also be that James is in fact making no conclusive statement regarding the final requirement of the Gentiles to accept all 613 commandments of the Mosaic law but only stating the requirements for immediate acceptance. This delay of final decision could be consistent with the expectation of the Apostles that Jesus's return to settle these questions was imminent. I don't think that there is sufficient textual support from Acts 15 alone for the hypothesis in herealittletherealittle.net.


Not really, unless we imagine the decision of the Council is at odds not only with Paul's wishes, but also with what Peter stated during the course of the argument (describing the yoke of Torah as something that "neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear," Acts 15:10). According to Acts, Paul certainly seems to have thought the decision was a vindication of his gospel to the Gentiles; he immediately promulgates it not only in Antioch but also Galatia (Acts 15:30; 16:4; cf 16:6). (This is particularly significant, because in my view, the epistle to the Galatians was written at the end of ch 14, while Paul was in Antioch. I don't have time to defend that view at the moment, and it would probably take us too far afield, in any case.)

This is a bit of an aside, but I think it will help us understand the bigger picture: Even under the old covenant, the Hebrew Scriptures did not require Gentiles to adopt Torah in order to be "saved." Only those who wished to observe Passover and become united to Israel were required to do so. (Illustration: Naaman was allowed to serve Yahweh without circumcision, and Jonah's message of repentance to Nineveh likewise had no implications of entering into the Mosaic covenant.) The thing that makes things critical in the Christian Church is that all involved seem to recognize that there are eschatological promises intended to unite Jew and Gentile in Abraham. The conflict arises over how that is to be resolved; the ultimate answer that prevails is that Gentiles are to be received as Gentiles, not as former goyim who became Jews; and Jews may practice Torah only insofar as it does not restrict their unity with fellow Christ-believers among the Gentiles.

  • No, certainly not. But the apostles weren't giving Gentiles a free pass, either. Commented Jun 2, 2013 at 20:38
  • good answer. especially since we consider the fact that Paul too advocated for a strong standard of behaviour from the gentiles. It’s a huge misunderstanding being perpetuated today that Paul taught a “cheap grace” for Gentiles. Paul was very serious in exhorting believers to be of the same standard of holiness that God’s people in the OT were called to - the only difference is that this behaviour is not meritorious for salvation. Torah or no Torah, all believers in Christ are to be set-apart, and both Jesus, Paul, Peter etc affirm this! (+1)
    – ellied
    Commented Aug 4, 2022 at 3:25

James and the Jerusalem leaders...

  • DID NOT intend to abandon the Torah,

Rather, James and the Jerusalem leaders...

  • completely affirmed the Torah.

So what was the the Jerusalem Council really about then?

Paul had a disagreement with fellow Jewish Believers who were teaching that Gentile Believers had to be circumcised. During a meeting in Jerusalem (called the Jerusalem Council), some of the Pharisees who believed said that it was necessary to circumcise Gentile Believers, AND to command them to keep the law of Moses. (Acts 15:1-2 and Acts 15:5 5)

During the Jerusalem Council it was decided that a letter would be sent to the Assemblies, stating that Gentile Believers do not need to be troubled by those claiming that they need to be circumcised. However, they do need to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. They stated that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to them, to lay no greater burden on Gentile Believers than these necessary things. (Acts 15:19-21 19 and Acts 15:28-29)

It was never argued that Jewish Believers did not need to obey the Ten Commandments. It was never argued that Gentile Believers did not need to obey the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments have always been Yahweh's Covenant with mankind.

The Ten Commandments have always been applicable and have never been questioned, until recently...

It was never argued that Jewish Believers do not need to obey the Mosaic Law. Jewish Believers understood that the WHOLE Law is a Covenant with Yahweh FOREVER. All of Israel agreed to the terms of the Covenant when they were in the desert of Sinai. They agreed to obey ALL the words which Yahweh had commanded Moses to teach them. That included all of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law. (Exodus 19:7-8)

It was never argued that Jewish Believers did not need to circumcise. They were only debating whether or not Gentile Believers needed to circumcise.

Yahweh does not change His mind! He said that every male who is born in your house, and he who is bought with money from a foreigner, must be circumcised. The male who is not circumcised, shall be cut off from his people. Yahweh said that the Covenant of circumcision will be in your flesh for an EVERLASTING Covenant.

EVERLASTING means that the Covenant of circumcision will last FOREVER. (Genesis 17:7-14)

Later, when Paul returned to Jerusalem, he was accused by Jewish Believers, who were all zealous for the law, of teaching other Jewish Believers who lived among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children neither to walk after the customs (Acts 21:17-21)

At the time of this second meeting in Jerusalem, Paul went through a purification ceremony (which was the conclusion of a Nazarite Vow that he had taken as recorded in Acts 18:18) to prove that there was no truth in these accusations, and to prove that he walked keeping the Law (obeying the whole Law). (Acts 18:18)

When a person took a Nazarite Vow, he would shave his head. During the remainder of the time that he was under the vow, no razor was to come to his head, and he was to refrain from wine or any other grape products. At the conclusion of the vow, he was to shave the hair that had grown during the time of the vow; and offer it, along with specified animal, bread, and drink sacrifices. (Numbers Chapter 6)

The sacrifices required by Law to conclude a Nazarite Vow would have been a large expense. To prove that he was keeping the Law, Paul paid for the animals, cakes of bread, and drink offerings that were required for the conclusion of his own vow; and he also paid the expenses (for the animals, cakes of bread, and drink offerings) for four other men who were also concluding their Nazarite Vows. (Acts 21:22-24)

The Jewish Believers were ALL zealous for the Law. They understood the teaching of Yeshua; that no part of the Law had been abolished. (Acts 21:20)

It was stated that the Elders had already written their decision concerning the Gentiles who believe, that they do not need to circumcise; but they do need to keep themselves from food offered to idols, from blood, from strangled things, and from sexual immorality. (Acts 21:25)

There is no logical reason that some of the Jewish Believers would insist that Gentile Believers had to be circumcised AND keep the Law of Moses if the Jewish Believers themselves were not circumcising AND keeping the Law of Moses. (Acts 15:5)

Why would Jewish Believers require others to keep laws and ordinances that they themselves were not keeping? Why would they even have that discussion?

Because Jews are obligated to obey the ordinances of the Mosaic Law.

They were only arguing whether or not Gentile Believers needed to be circumcised.

The Elders never disagreed with the Jewish Believers who were all zealous for the law. Instead, they had Paul participate in a Nazarite Vow to prove that he was keeping the Law.

The entire ministry of Yeshua was centered around teaching the importance of obeying the Law; both the letter of the Law and the spirit of the Law (Matthew 5:17-37). During His ministry, Yeshua restated most of the Ten Commandments and parts of the Levitical Law (Mosaic Law). He never said that the Law was repealed or replaced. He taught that the Law should be kept fully; in spirit and in truth; from the heart, and not in the letter of the Law only. (Matthew 5:17-37)

The conclusion of the Jerusalem Council was that Gentile Believers should not be required to be circumcised. The Council NEVER concluded that Gentile Believers are not required to keep the Law of Moses.

The Elders of the Council sent out a message to the Assemblies, stating that Gentile Believers only needed to abstain from these four things: (Acts 15:29)

  • From things sacrificed to idols
  • From sexual immorality
  • From things that had been strangled
  • From blood

Acts 15 & 21 in no way imply that the Law was nailed to the cross or was in any way abolished.

Remember, sin is defined as transgressing the Law. (1 John 3:4)

Sin is not charged when there is no law. (Romans 5:13)

We are all under the Law, so that all the world may be brought under the judgement of Yahweh. (Romans 3:19)

Why these four things? (Acts 15:29, 21:25)

Notice that all four of the prohibitions included by the Jerusalem Council that Gentile Believers are to observe are associated with pagan idolatry. Gentile Believers are to abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from strangled things, and from sexual immorality.

Meat that has been sacrificed to an idol is obviously associated with pagan idolatry. Strangling animals and drinking blood are also associated with paganism.

Sexual immorality that is associated with pagan temple prostitution, sometimes called harlotry, is also pagan idolatry.

The Hebrew word, qĕdeshah, which is translated in most English translations as harlot, means temple prostitute.

The Greek word, Strong's G4202, means any type of sexual perversion; including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.

The Greek word, Strong's G4202, can also metaphorically refer to the worship of idols.

The meaning of the word, Strong's G4202, includes sexual perversion and defilement associated with idolatry. Temple prostitution is also sexual perversion associated with idolatry.

The Greek word, Strong's G4202, translated as sexual immorality in Acts Chapters 15 & 21, could carry a similar connotation to the Hebrew word, qĕdeshah (a woman devoted to temple prostitution in connection to the worship of pagan deities)

The emphasis of the message sent out by the Jerusalem Council was to avoid ALL paganism.

All four of these things are prohibited by the Second Commandment (or by the First and Second Commandments, depending on how the Commandments are counted). (Exodus 20:3-6)

Two statements in Acts 21 stand out...

Paul walked keeping the Law. (Acts 21:24)

Gentile Believers should observe no such thing (circumcision); BUT they must keep themselves from food offered to idols, from blood, from strangled things, and from sexual immorality. (Acts 21:25)

It would be easy to interpret these two statements as meaning that Gentile Believers only need to observe these four things; and are not required to keep the rest of the Law.

But is that the correct interpretation?

It has already been established that ALL of mankind is (and always has been) under the obligation to obey the Ten Commandments.

All four of the prohibitions of Acts 15 & 21 are covered under the Ten Commandments.

There were certain things that first-century Gentile Believers would not have been able to observe, even when the Temple was still standing in Jerusalem.

Gentiles were never allowed in the Temple. They would not have been able to observe the Feast Days, the sacred assemblies, or the sacrificial offerings prescribed by the Law, unless they became a Proselyte (which was never required of Gentile Believers).

There are many sacrificial offerings prescribed in the Mosaic Law which have nothing to do with the annual sin sacrifice; and which Gentile Believers would have been unable to perform at that time.

Remember, all of the events recorded in the Book of Acts occurred before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Ever since the destruction of the Temple, there has been no Temple in Jerusalem for the Jews to be able to properly observe the Feast Days, sacred assemblies, and offerings specific to the Temple.

Neither Jewish Believers nor Gentile Believers can properly observe anything associated with the Temple when there is no Temple.

Does that mean that Gentile Believers are only obligated to obey the Ten Commandments?

Does that mean we can eat anything we want to and marry our own mother or sister?

Is it legal anywhere in the world to marry your own mother or sister? Such an idea would be detestable! It would be abominable! It is also detestable and abominable to Yahweh.

Should we use cloth or a food storage container that is contaminated with mold? Should we allow a diseased person to contaminate others with his illness? This would be discouraged in any society. People would become sick and die. According to Yahweh, these things should never be done.

According to Yahweh, eating pig's flesh is comparable to eating a mouse. (Isaiah 66:17) That would be disgusting! Yahweh called it detestable! (Leviticus 11)

Why would we want to eat anything that our Creator said is not food?

Yahweh created us. He knows what is best for us. Why would we ignore His instructions?

  • The decision of the Jerusalem Council was focused on admonishing Gentile Believers to avoid any and ALL pagan idolatry.

In Jewish culture, paganism was associated with the uncircumcised. Gentiles were thought of as unclean, uncircumcised pagans.

  • The decision of the Jerusalem Council (guided by the Holy Spirit) was a means of separating the uncircumcised Gentile Believer from the pagan Gentile.

It was meant to remind Gentile Believers that, although they were not required to circumcise, they should avoid ALL paganism.

  • The decision was also meant to remind Jewish Believers that, even though Gentile Believers are not circumcised, they are NOT to be thought of as uncircumcised pagans.

Just as Peter had learned from his vision of the unclean animals, Gentile Believers are NOT to be treated as unclean.

  • The Jerusalem Council's admonishment to Gentile Believers was focused on abstaining any form of idolatry.
  • They were not focused on the Ten Commandments, which were never questioned.
  • They were not focused on Laws relating to basic cleanliness, which are common sense to obey.
  • They were not focused on Laws relating to who a person cannot marry.
  • They were not focused on telling people not to eat something that is not food.

We don't need to be told not to eat feces. That is common sense. We don't need to be told not to eat cockroaches or worms or other detestable insects.

Why do we need to be told not to eat rodents, pigs, frogs, crabs, squid, and snails? We should not really need to be told that either. According to Yahweh, those things are detestable! They are not food!

To avoid any confusion, Yahweh listed out criteria by which we can judge something to be food or not food. He created us. He knows what we should eat and what we should not eat.

Why do we resist the Laws of Yahweh?

Yeshua said that NONE of the Law would pass until heaven and Earth pass away. That includes the Law of Moses! The Torah! (Matthew 5:17-19)

  • Hey the8Keningeneer, welcome to BHSE! If you have time, please take the tour to get yourself familiarized with this site. Thanks! hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour
    – sara
    Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 20:09

Yes, the text could definitely be read as an admonition on how to except Gentiles, just consider the exegesis of the quote:

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to:

  1. abstain from the things polluted by idols, Torah- Exo 34:15

    1. and from sexual immorality,Exo 20:14, Lev 18:20, Deu 22-Torah

    2. and from what has been strangled, Deuteronomy 12:16- Torah

    3. and from blood. Lev 7:26-27 , 17:10- Torah

    4. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues. Exo 20:8 Remember the Sabbath Day- Torah

—Acts 15:19-21 (ESV)

Just looking at this specific Text it is a very weak place to assume an abrogation of everything the Bible and YHWH the God of the Bible has plainly said prior in Scripture.

Rather let's consider the concern here in this same text under examination:

"Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God..."

The trouble spoken of is the direct reason for the councils assembly: Acts 15:1 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. And

5 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.

This whole council is centered around "salvation" and those who have "turned to God", in fact this question is concerning justification by Faith, frankly.

Are these men 'saved' who have turned to God (YHWH God of Israel who believe in Christ), or not? Do they need do more, or not?

And the answer is obvious : Acts 15:9 And put (God through the Holy Spirit) no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

Peter has declared these men who truly believe as "saved" and James answer is added to this, as a means of sanctification by the Torah/ Law of God, that the letter sent by the council is not a new law but a correction of the trouble the gentiles are going through on account of a poor understanding of the nature of what Faith in Christ has done and can do when one is a sinner, which all are Jew or Gentile, and has believed.

James response shows the doctrine of progressive sanctification and Peter the doctrine of definitive sanctification as it should be, Christ's forgiveness and salvation working hand in hand to bring sinners to the Father.


James does not say the the Gentiles have no need for the Torah. He states Moses was read and will continue to be read every Sabbath. Nor are the requirements taken from the Noahide Laws:

Verse 21. - From generations of old for of old time, A.V.; sabbath for sabbath day, A.V. The meaning of this verse seems to be that, in requiring the above compliances, the council was not enjoining anything new or strange, because the Gentiles who attended the synagogues were familiar with these Mosaic doctrines. It has been often stated that these four prohibitions were in substance the same as the so-called seven precepts of Noah, which were binding upon proselytes of the gate. This is, however, scarcely borne out by the facts.1

At this point in history, the Noahide Law was an oral Rabbinic tradition, not a written document. So when James says "as it is written..." (15:15), he is referring to Scripture, not an unwritten tradition. Moreover, if James was aware of and built his ruling on this tradition, he likely would have included the prohibitions against murder, blasphemy, and robbery. Instead, as Joseph B. Tyson states, the requirements are taken from the Torah:

That these requirements come out of the Jewish tradition would probably be clear to any Greek reader of Acts, but it would be perfectly clear to to one whom Luke regards as a Godfearer...The use of the term eidōlōn, in whatever combination, is a signal of the Jewish background of the apostolic decree. But the narrator wants to assure that the implied reader not miss the point, and he adds in 15:21 the explanatory phrase, "For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every Sabbath in the synagogues." The function of this verse in this context, immediately following the first report of the apostolic decree, is to affirm that the requirements, which are understood to be Mosaic, are familiar to those Gentiles in the Diaspora who have attached themselves to synagogues. 2

About the four conditions imposed Jacob Jervell notes:

No matter how the complicated passage Acts 15:21 is to be interpreted in detail, the function of the verse is to validate the decree, to call upon Moses as witness. Everyone who truly hears Moses knows that the decree expresses what Moses demands from Gentiles in order that they may live among Israelites (15:15-17). The four prescriptions are what the law demands of Gentiles; perhaps Luke consciously refers to what Lev 17-18 demands from 'strangers' that sojourn among Israelites. 3

The four requirements summarize Leviticus 17 and 18. Three 3 of the 4 conditions are addressed directly and the fourth, avoiding the pollution of idols is consistent with Leviticus 18:1-5. Thus the four conditions imposed on the Gentile Christians parallel the four requirements Leviticus imposes on foreigners living with the Israelites.

The decree of the Jerusalem council shows while the Torah is not essential for salvation and is burdensome in its entirety, it is still necessary to observe it in part:

Although some Christian Pharisees insist that the new converts must be subject to the entire Torah and must undergo circumcision, the leaders determine that such would be unnecessarily burdensome. At the same time, however, they agree that certain minimal ritualistic requirements, drawn from the Mosaic legislation, should be imposed on the Gentiles. If we should image a spectrum of opinions ranging from those on the right that would advocate the retention of the entire Torah to those on the left that would totally dispense with it, Luke-Acts occupies a centrist position. It teaches that while observance of the entire Torah is burdensome, it cannot be totally jettisoned. It is good to observe certain parts (15:29).4

1. The Pulpit Commentary.
2. Joseph B. Tyson, Images of Judaism in Luke-Acts, University of South Carolina Press, 1992, p. 149
3. Jacob Jervell, Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts, Augsburg Publishing House, 1972, p. 144
4. Tyson, p. 149

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