After God sent His Spirit upon Gentiles in Acts 10:44-46, just as He had upon those gathered in the temple in Acts 2:1-13, controversy developed as to what the Gentiles needed to do in order to be saved. Despite the fact that Peter and Paul preached the gospel to Gentiles and reported that God’s Spirit came upon them, some in Jerusalem still demanded that Gentiles follow the law of Moses. The Jerusalem Council was convened to reach a verdict on what Gentiles needed to do in order to be saved. James stated that the decision he reached was consistent with the Old Testament prophesies that God would call the Gentiles once Israel was restored.
(1) In Acts 15:1 and 5, some argued that circumcision according to the law was required for salvation. The Lord instituted circumcision for Israelite males when He commanded Abraham to circumcise his son Ishmael and all the males of his household (Gen 17:9-14). Only those foreigners that underwent circumcision were allowed to eat the Passover (Exod 12:43-49). Joshua circumcised the males born during the forty years that Israel traveled in the wilderness before they entered Canaan (Josh 5:1-9). Luke wrote that while Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch, some prophets came from Judea commanding that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). The debate was so sharp that the church in Antioch decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to report all that God had done through them among the Gentiles—apart from the requirement of circumcision. When those in Jerusalem gathered, “Some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!’” (Acts 15:5). After a period of debate, Peter reminded the delegates at the council that God—in accord with his vision of unclean animals and the command to eat them (Acts 10:9-15)—“made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe” (Acts 15:7). Peter reported that the presence of the Spirit among the Gentiles (Acts 10:17-11:18) was evidence that they had received salvation in the same way that the Jews experienced salvation at Pentecost.
(2) In Acts 15:16-18, James cited Amos 9:11-12 as the basis of his verdict that the difficulties of the law were not to be placed upon Gentiles for salvation. Amos proclaimed that after the Lord disciplined His people, He would restore their fortunes and rebuild their dwelling in the land. “In that day,” the Lord said, “I will restore the fallen booth of David: I will repair its gaps, restore its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that are called by My name” (Amos 9:11-12). James interpreted Peter’s work among the Gentiles as the fulfillment of Amos’s prophecy that the Gentiles would seek the Lord. Little more needed to be said. James amended his thesis only briefly, proposing that the Gentile believers should yet be instructed to “abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20).