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Christians And The Law Of Moses

Part 1: The Jerusalem Council Decree


"There seems to be quite a bit of confusion among Christians over the Law of Moses, what it is and whether they are under it. The Apostle Paul writes in his letters a great deal about Christians being free from 'the law of commmandments in ordinances'. What was he referring to?"


Some time ago two somewhat contrasting questions about the Law of Moses came in by email from visitors to this web site:

1) "Are Christians commanded to keep the Law of Moses of which the Ten Commandments are a part?"
2) "In Acts 15, are they referring to the Law that Moses wrote or the Ten Commandments written by God?"


This web page article addresses those two questions. I hope, through it, readers will better understand what guides us as Christians in walking in life and godliness.


(Content of this section: The apostles and elders come together to consider the matter of circumcision and the Law of Moses)


The Early Church held a council at Jerusalem to consider the insistence of some that the new Gentile converts be circumcised and commanded to keep the law of Moses. The proceedings of the council, what triggered it, what was said during it and what the apostles were led to conclude and do are all recorded in Acts 15.

Here is what is recorded of what triggered the council being convened,

When they (Paul and Barnabas) had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them (among the Gentiles). But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."

Acts 15:4 - 5 - NKJV

(Content of this section: The apostle Peter's testimony of the salvation of the Gentiles)


During the council the apostle Peter testified at length of how the Gentile household in Caesarea came to salvation in Christ when he preached to them the Gospel of Christ. He pointed out that God made no distinction between Gentiles and Jews in giving this gift of salvation. He therefore challenged those who were calling for an insistence on circumcision and keeping of the Law of Moses with the words,

Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

Acts 15:10 - NKJV

(Content of this section: The Jerusalem Council's letter to the Gentile converts in the churches)


The council came to their conclusion and wrote a letter to the churches as follows,

The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, "You must be circumcised and keep the law" - to whom we gave no such commandment - it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

Acts 15:23 - 29 - NKJV

(Content of this section: The Decree of the Jerusalem Council regarding circumcision and the Law of Moses)


You see then that the apostles and elders of the Early Church decreed that the Gentile converts to Christianity were free from the necessity of circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses. They added authority to this decision with the words,

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.

Acts 15:28 - NKJV

(Content of this section: A look at whether the term 'the Law of Moses' is one that encompasses the Ten Commandments)


What we now need to take a close look at is what they were referring to by the Law of Moses. Was the term "the Law of Moses" one that referred to everything Moses wrote and therefore included what we refer to as the Ten Commandments? Or was this term referring to a particular body of law or law code that did not include the Ten Commandments?

In Paul's letter to the Ephesians we hear him exhorting them very specifically to keep Commandment 6 of the Ten Commandments. Here's what he wrote,

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth."

Ephesians 6:1 - 3 - NKJV

(Content of this section: A look at Paul's ministry to the Gentile Christians and his reference to the Ten Commandments)


Elsewhere in Paul's letter to the Ephesians we find him exhorting them not to steal and not to lie. Both of those exhortations are very clearly two extracts from the Ten Commandments. See Ephesians 4:25, 28.

If Christians are free from the Law of Moses why was he doing this? It seems we need check our understanding of what the Law of Moses refers to. I suggest we need to look again at the message the Jerusalem Council sent to the churches.

Preview of content in next part:

  • Defining what the term Law of Moses refers to by finding an example of its use in the Gospels
  • The Law of Moses is the Law Code that came by Moses
  • Christ repelled the Law Code that hindered more than it helped
  • A fresh look at what the Ten Commandments are
  • Defining the Ten Commandments as the Decalogue or Ten Words
  • The Decalogue is not a part of the Law Code but rather it is Ten Words from God to us
  • Heeding the Ten Words ensures the benefit of our covenant relationship with God can be received unhindered
  • An example in the New Testament of Decalogue defined behaviour seeing to the divine gracious design being unthwarted

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