Pastor's Pen

“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.” – Acts 15:1

As Barnabas received his commission from the Jerusalem church and headed to Antioch, a group of individuals took it upon themselves to visit Antioch and express their views to the local congregation. Their teaching insisted on the circumcision of all Gentile converts, citing the “custom of Moses.” It’s worth noting that God’s law never mandated circumcision for Gentile proselytes. These individuals seemed to argue that for Jew and Gentile to stand on equal ground within the new covenant church, both being considered members of the “inner circle,” it was necessary for Gentiles to undergo circumcision.

The apostles adhered to a distinct viewpoint. They asserted that the fundamental Jew-Gentile distinction in the old covenant had been effectively eliminated by the actions of Jesus. The advent of the new covenant did not entail Gentiles adopting Jewish identity; instead, it signified that both believing Jews and believing Gentiles collectively became Christians. Consequently, Peter, in the case of Cornelius, chose not to administer circumcision but instead baptized him into the newly formed body of the church.

Furthermore, circumcision, being a bloody and sacrificial rite, was fulfilled at the Cross along with other sacrificial rituals, rendering them obsolete in the post-Cross era. Practicing circumcision, not for medical reasons but religious ones, reflects a misunderstanding of the redemptive work accomplished by Christ.

Due to the influence of the “Judaizers” in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles and elders in order to establish a resolution on this issue. During the deliberations, Peter addressed the council, emphasizing that God had bestowed the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius, paralleling the experience of the Jewish believers (Acts 15:8). Peter argued that this divine act demonstrated God’s lack of distinction between Jews and Gentiles (v. 9). According to Peter, the abolition of old covenant distinctions did not come through the circumcision of Gentiles but through the shared baptism of both Jew and Gentile.

The church is susceptible to the temptation of elevating “custom” to the status of law. This temptation often arises from a longing to witness those who are different conforming to our own practices. It’s crucial to scrutinize the criteria by which we assess individuals. Does our judgment emphasize adherence to established customs, conformity to the expectations of others, or alignment with the explicit teachings of the Word of God?