Four Apostolic Decrees |

TBC Staff

After Paul and Barnabas declared all that God had done during their journey, particularly the conversion of the Gentiles, some of the “believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts:15:1–5). The apostles and elders debated the matter for a time, and then Peter stood and argued that such burdens mentioned in verse 5 (circumcision and Mosaic law) should not be placed on the Gentile believers. “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts:15:10–11).

I have spoken with someone in the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM) who responded to this by saying that this referred only to the evangelistic message, and that once a Gentile became a believer, then he would be expected to be circumcised and keep the law. However, this is flatly contradicted by what happened next. James addressed the group and said, “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” (Acts:15:19–20).

So why did James think that four restrictions should be placed on Gentiles? Was it because Gentiles needed to obey these laws to be saved? Not at all! He answers that question in the next verse. “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts:15:21). One HRM follower told me that this verse meant that the Gentiles would go to the synagogues in those cities to learn about following the law. But that is not even close to what James said. The reason for the restrictions was so that the Gentile Christians who were not under the Mosaic law would not unnecessarily offend the Jews. Notice, James did not include circumcision or the entirety of the law in his response. In fact, the four “apostolic decrees,” as they have been called, are quite similar to four of the regulations in the Mosaic law placed upon foreigners who wished to remain in the land of Israel. They were to abstain from pagan sacrifices (Leviticus:17:8–9), from blood (17:10–14), things strangled (17:13–14),6 and sexual immorality (18:6–23).

—Tim Chaffey (Answers in Genesis).