Some communities have odd laws when it comes to church. Young girls may not walk a tightrope in Wheeler, Mississippi, unless it’s in church. It is against the law to tickle a woman under her chin with a feather duster while she is in church in Blackwater, Kentucky. Nobody in Lee Creek, Arkansas, can attend church in a red garment. While these laws remain on the books, the rationale behind them is long forgotten.
This is how the Law of Moses seems to many of us today. It appears to be a collection of ancient and curious restrictions regarding food, clothing, and hygiene. Today’s passage indicates that it has greater significance.
One of the first decisions the New Testament church had to make was whether to continue abiding by the regulations of the Mosaic Law. This became especially important when people who did not come from a Jewish background began to believe the gospel. Certain teachers from Judea went to Antioch with a message: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). Their instruction probably went beyond circumcision to insist that the church needed to obey all the regulations of the Law of Moses. When Paul and Barnabas disagreed sharply, the church at Antioch sent them to Jerusalem to resolve the question with the apostles and elders.
Although the process was collaborative, the decision was not based on popular vote or even pragmatism. Peter described the law as “a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear” (v. 10). James supported Peter’s conclusion, using Scripture to show that God’s intent all along was to include the Gentiles (vv. 13–18). The Law of Moses was a stage in God’s plan for showing people their need for Christ.