Jerusalem Council, A.D. 49

The Great Council of Jerusalem (a.k.a.: the Apostolic Council, or the Zeroeth Ecumenical Council):

Icon of the Council of Jerusalem

The Great Council of Jerusalem was convoked by the apostles and convened in late A.D. 49 (as reported in the Book of Acts, 15:6-29) to resolve the issue of whether gentile converts to Christianity should be instructed to comply with the whole of the traditional Jewish (Mosaic) law (e.g. the requirement that males be circumcised). The Apostle Peter had been trying to “Judaize” his gentile converts and the Apostle Paul and the other apostles felt that was “asking to much of them”, so they wanted to correct the apostle Peter’s doctrinal error.

The controversy of the council was mostly between Peter who was a Jew and who thought the whole of the Mosaic Law should be followed by all converts to Christianity, including gentiles (i.e. Peter was a Judaizer), and Paul who was also a Jew and a former Pharisee, who felt that gentile converts to Christianity should not be held to the Jewish ceremonial laws. The wise conclusion was proposed by James “the Just”, the Brother of Jesus (and who was by this time the 1st Bishop of Jerusalem, and had already written the Book of James, the 1st book in the NT):

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:19–21)

The council decided that some of the Old Testament ceremonial laws (e.g. the requirement that males be circumcised) were no longer valid, however the rest of the Old Testament law (e.g. the biblical moral law) was every bit as binding on them and beneficial for them as ever. The council did, retain the prohibitions on eating blood, or of meat containing blood, and meat of animals not properly slain, and on fornication and idolatry. The findings of this council are sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Decree or Jerusalem Quadrilateral. This finding is also asserted in Galatians 2:16-21.

This council is generally held by the Church (East and West) as the biblical model of Christian Conciliarism (e.g. as the biblical model for church conflict resolution) as practiced by the catholic and orthodox Church in the 7 general (ecumenical councils) which occurred over the next 8 centuries of the Church. The scriptural, apostolic, orthodox, catholic “model of church management” was one of disseminated control (e.g control by a democracy of the apostles and subsequently of the church fathers).

This democracy of the apostles stands in stark contrast to the later “model of centralized control and absolute papal authority” which became increasingly prominent in the west from the time of Bishop Gregory the Great (see A.D. 590). Some time around A.D. 750-800 the fraudulent document of the “Donation of Constantine” which claimed that the Emperor Constantine the Great had proclaimed that the Bishop of Rome (at that time, Bishop Sylvester I, seated in A.D. 314, died in 335) was given authority over all the other Christian churches and Patriarchs (Metropolitans). The donation of Constantine may well be the most famous forgery of all times. The Roman Church used this forged document as the basis to assert its control over the entire Christian church which ultimately caused the church to be rent asunder by the Great Schism (on July 16th, 1054) when the Roman Church asserted the primacy of Rome. This audacious assertion was irreversibly hammered home when the Roman Catholic Church had the impertinence and temerity to allow the Roman Catholic Cardinal Humbert, to lay a Papal Bull of the Excommunication of Michael Cerularius, the Patriarch Constantinople on the alter of Hagia Sophia Cathedral during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy (from the bishop of Rome, Pope Leo IX)!!!

The events of this council also demonstrate the Apostle Peter’s error and his willingness to accept correction, which is in stark contrast to the later assertion of the infallibility of the Roman Catholic “Petrine See” (a.k.a. the Roman Catholic Pope).