Apostolic Council

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The Council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15 is sometimes called the Apostolic Council though it was presided over by James, brother of the Lord and not himself one of the Twelve. The account in Acts was written much later than the event (which was probably held in 49 ce) and describes a far more temperate debate and harmonious decision than would be gathered from the violent language used by Paul in Gal. 2. The conflict was caused by the success of Paul's mission to the Gentiles, whom he received into the Church by baptism without their first undergoing admission to Judaism by circumcision. Jewish Christians feared an influx of pagan converts who had never known the discipline of the Law or the heritage of God's ancient people of Israel. It followed that for strict Jewish Christians it was not acceptable to share a common meal with uncircumcised Gentile Christians. Although, to be sure, one important MS omits mention of the ban on eating flesh killed by strangulation (Gen. 9: 4) and so turns the decree into straightforward moral obligation, it is more likely that a compromise was reached: circumcision was not to be demanded of Gentile converts, but Gentiles were to respect Jewish Christian scruples about food so that full table fellowship should not be impaired. However, a grave difficulty about the historical accuracy of this decision is that Paul, himself said to be present at the debate, never once mentions the decree, even to settle the dispute at Corinth (1 Cor. 8).

Subjects: Biblical Studies.

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