Acts 15: The Jerusalem Conference

New Testament: Student Study guide, (2003), 103–104

Are members of the Church ever confused about what is correct Church doctrine? In Acts 15 we read about a situation like that in the early Church. Many of the Jews who had joined the Church felt that the law of Moses and the ordinance of circumcision were still necessary. They even expected the Gentiles who wanted to become Christians to follow those Jewish customs. As you read this chapter, notice how disputes over doctrine were settled in the Church. Are you aware of any modern examples of this process of settling doctrinal disputes?

Understanding the Scriptures

Acts 15

Disputation (v. 2)Argument 
Residue (v. 17)Part of, remains 
Abstain from pollutions of idols (v. 20)Refuse to participate in idol worship 
Tarried (v. 33)Stayed 
Contention (v. 39)Arguing, fighting with words 

Acts 15:1–5—Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians

As you learned in the Gospels, the Pharisees were Jews who strictly observed the law of Moses and the traditions of the elders (see the introduction to Matthew 12 in this study guide, p. 20). When some of those Pharisees were converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, they wanted to keep their traditions and believed that everyone who joined the Church, including the Gentiles, should do the same.

Paul understood that that was not right because the law of Moses, including the requirement of circumcision, had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ (see Luke 24:44; 3 Nephi 15:4–5). Neither Jewish Christians nor gentile Christians were required to live by the lesser law anymore. The disagreement between Paul and the Jewish Christians caused dissension in the Church that could only be settled by the Apostles in a Church conference.

At the conference, Peter explained that the Lord had revealed to him that gentile believers were acceptable to God without the regulations of the law of Moses (see Acts 10). The council decided to require obedience to only a portion of the old law, including that which kept the people from idolatry. Notice the process by which the problem was solved:

  • The leaders of the Church met in council to consider the problem (see Acts 15:1–6).

  • The prophet and President of the Church explained what the Lord had revealed on the subject (see vv. 7–11).

  • Other Church leaders spoke to sustain the counsel of the President and confirm that the answer was from God (see vv. 12–20).

  • The decision of the council was sent out to the rest of the members (see vv. 22–31).

The two Official Declarations (following D&C 138) are modern examples of this process in the Church.

Studying the Scriptures

Do activity A or B as you study Acts 15.

Activity A iconResolving Doctrinal Disputes

In Acts 15 is an example of how doctrinal disputes are resolved in the Lord’s Church (see the “Understanding the Scriptures” section for Acts 15:1–5). Review the following questions about settling disputes and write the answers in your notebook:

  1. 1.

    What was the dispute about in Acts 15? To whom did the people go to get an answer?

  2. 2.

    Who stood up first to answer the question? What was his calling in the Church? (see Matthew 16:16–19). How did he know that God accepted the Gentiles who believed and repented and did not require them to live the law of Moses? (see Acts 10).

  3. 3.

    Which other Church leaders spoke? Did they agree or disagree? (see Acts 15:12–22).

  4. 4.

    How did the rest of the Church learn the answer to the dispute? (see Acts 15:22–31).

  5. 5.

    What examples do we have of this process in the Church today?

Activity B iconCultural Differences in a Worldwide Church.

The dispute over circumcision and the law of Moses in Acts 15 was not just a dispute over doctrine but a clash of cultures and traditions as well. The Gentiles Paul had converted came from many different countries and their traditions were very different from those of the Jews. Elder Richard G. Scott, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said:

“Appreciation for ethnic, cultural, or national heritage can be very wholesome and beneficial, but it can also perpetuate patterns of life that should be set aside by a devoted Latter-day Saint. …

“[President Howard W. Hunter said]: ‘I suggest that you place the highest priority on your membership in the Church of Jesus Christ. Measure whatever anyone else asks you to do, whether it be from your family, loved ones, your cultural heritage, or traditions you have inherited—measure everything against the teachings of the Savior. Where you find a variance from those teachings, set that matter aside and do not pursue it. It will not bring you happiness’ (Prepare Yourself [pamphlet, 1996], 1–2)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 112; or Ensign, May 1998, 85).

Think of a custom that may be important to members of the Church from one country and not another. Write your example and explain what you think a person should do about that custom according to President Hunter and Elder Scott.

group of young people