The 12 apostles never stopped keeping the law

by Nathan Rambeck on

As we read through Acts we see that the original apostles continued to keep the Law of Moses and continued to teach their followers to keep the Law of Moses all the way until the end of the book.

The house of Cornelius

In Acts chapter 10, Peter goes to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, only because the Lord gave him permission in a vision. While there, he declares how, as a faithful adherent to the Law of Moses, he was not supposed to be there among Gentiles.

Then he said to them, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Acts 10:28

When Peter returned home, the other apostles had heard about his visit and were irate. They confronted him about his disobedience to the Law.

And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” Acts 11:2–3

Peter had to defend his breach of the Law by explaining his vision from Christ and the entire turn of events. They were shocked.

The Jerusalem Council

In Acts 15 we read of the famous contention about whether the Gentiles who were being saved under Paul’s ministry were required to keep the Law of Moses. Jewish believers from Judeah had been traveling to these new Gentile churches and teaching them that they must follow the Law of Moses to be saved.

And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Acts 15:1

The reason this was a contention was because every Jewish follower of Christ until this point was faithfully keeping the Law. After all, that is what Jesus taught them to do!

The final decision of this Jerusalem Council was that these Gentile believers did not have to keep the Law of Moses. James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, made the final decision.

Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, Act 15:19

But notice that this verdict applied only to these Gentile believers. The Jews who followed Christ were still expected to faithfully keep the Law of Moses.

The final record of the original apostles

The last we hear about the original apostles in the book of Acts was when Paul returned to Jerusalem after all of his missionary journeys. When he first arrived, he was received with joy by the leaders in the Jerusalem church. After sharing all that God was doing among the Gentiles, he was gently asked to settle a dispute among the church there.

James declared how zealously the believers in Jerusalem were keeping the law.

And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; Acts 21:20

One of the most important aspects of the Law of Moses was circumcision and there were rumors going around that Paul, in his ministry to the Gentiles, was instructing Jewish followers of Christ among Gentile cities, not to continue in circumcision and keeping the Law.

but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. Acts 21:21

You see, Paul was a controversial figure. And the controversy was not just among the unbelieving Jews, but also among those who were followers of Christ. They knew his ministry was from God and had given him the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:9) when he explained to them the ministry Christ gave to him. However, this whole concept of salvation by grace through faith and without works was foreign to them. Keeping the Law, including especially circumcision, had always been and continued to be an important part of their Kingdom message. Only those who were faithful in keeping the Law of Moses would enter the Kingdom of God.

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19-20

So if the original apostles continued to the very end to preach the coming Kingdom which included zealously keeping the Law of Moses, then where does the gospel of grace come into the picture? Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at the letter written by the head of the Jerusalem church: James.

This post is part of a series entitled Foundations of Grace and is best read from beginning to end.


Nathan Rambeck is a full-time husband, father and software engineer; and a part-time Bible teacher, abolitionist and evangelist. He lives in the Dayton, Ohio area with his wife Jamie and 6 children. (Facebook)