At first, the Christian Church was made up entirely of Jews. This makes sense, of course, for Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. The apostles only went out to Jews originally because they did not realize Jesus was relevant to everyone (and the Mosaic Laws, which they still kept, did not allow them to easily evangelize Gentiles).But then God’s visions to Paul and Peter opened the door to the Gentiles. They were evangelized, but they were required to convert to Jewish customs, including circumcision because…of course…the Jews still thought the blessings of Jesus only were for the Jews.This caused a great deal of problems for Paul in particular. There were many Gentiles who wanted to join Christianity, but they did not want to go through circumcision…which is very painful in adults. The circumcision requirement was keeping Gentiles “at the gates,” stopping salvation to reach everyone who wanted to follow Jesus.And so the Jerusalem Council was held [Acts 15]. After Peter and Paul spoke, James offered as a compromise to foster peace in the church between Jewish Christians (who demanded all Christians be circumcised and follow the Law) and Gentile Christians (who Paul had told did not need to be circumcised.) James’ compromise was to require the Gentiles to keep some of the Law, avoiding the actions many Jews found particularly repugnant.The thing that intrigues me about this piece of church history is that circumcision was stopping people from joining the church and following Christ, keeping thousands of people out of the church, and the decision was made not to require it (for good reason).
Today a similar situation occurs in conservative Christianity. How many people love Christ’s teachings but just cannot get over the idea that only Christians avoid hell? The requirement to hold this doctrine seems like a modern circumcision requirement, keeping millions of people from pursuing biblical Christianity…instead they find churches that do not care about the Bible or they just reject Christianity altogether.
The Jews were certain scripture required everyone to be circumcised….just like modern conservative Christians are certain the Bible says all non-believers go to hell.
But those early Jewish Christians were wrong about their understanding of Scripture, and Paul showed them. And evangelicals are wrong about their interpretation of scripture… and I hope to show them.