The Jerusalem Council is one of the turning points of the New Testament. We have Peter who, through the vision of the sail full of unclean animals, has entered the home of a Gentile, shared the gospel with him, and baptized his whole family. And we also have Paul, who has been preaching the gospel to the Gentiles all through Galatia with plans to expand all the way to Rome itself.
But this leaves the Church with a very difficult question: what does “conversion” look like for Gentiles? For Jews, who follow the Old Testament law, it means following Jesus’ interpretation of that law, his “yoke” which He claims is easy and light. But for Gentiles who do not follow the Old Testament law, how does that work?
The Pharisees among the believers believed that conversion for Gentiles was a two-step process. First, they had to become “Jewish” by following the Law of Moses, and then they could become Christians. But this didn’t work for Paul’s company who believed they could simply follow Jesus. So, what to do?
James gives them the answer after consulting with the other church leaders. The limit of the OT law they had to follow was (1) no meat offered to idols, (2) no sexual immorality, (3) no meat of strangled animals, and (4) no blood. This was to “make it easy for the Gentiles”.
Does this mean that beyond these four things, the OT law doesn’t apply to Gentiles? Does this mean that we should require the same of our churches? What exactly is covered in “sexual immorality” since the other three are pretty clear cut?
These questions have been argued and battled over for centuries, so we’re not going to answer them here. But it does show that from the very beginning, what parts of the OT law are relevant and which are not has been a hot topic for the Church.