In Acts chapter 15, where the debate over circumcision arises. And Peter stands up and says, "We're no longer going to practice circumcision." And he had no Scriptural precedent to do so.(see 53:51 in this mp3 recording of Dr. White's partial review of the discussion)
Dr. White provided some responses (as you will hear in the mp3), but I'd like to provide six of my own:
- The debate in Acts 15 was really a debate over sola fide, which the Judaizers opposed, claiming that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Acts 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. Compare Acts 15:8-9 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
- Peter stood up, but what he stood up to do was to argue for faith alone and against the burden of circumcision: Acts 15:7-11 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
- Peter's comment was not the announcement of a decision. The decision was pronounced by James. Acts 15:13 & 19 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: ... Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: ... And then by all the church at Jerusalem, not just the apostles and elders. Acts 15:22-23 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: and they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: ... .
- The decision of the council was specifically directed to Gentile converts, not to Jews. (see the verses in the previous bullets) It was not actually a call to end circumcision, just a recognition that circumcision is not necessary for salvation. Jews continued to be circumcised. Act 16:1-3 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.
- Peter's argument itself refers to his experience with Gentiles such as Cornelius. That experience is recorded in Scripture, whether or not an as-yet-incomplete book of Acts had been written. So, the precedent on which Peter relied is in Scripture, although it may not yet have been in Scripture at that time.
- The decision of the church of Jerusalem, however, was based on Scriptural precedent. Specifically, as James explains it we can see the Scriptural precedent, I'll provide cross-references in brackets. Acts 15:15-18 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: [Amos 9:11] that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, [cf. Hosea 3:5] and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. [Amos 9:12] Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. [cf. Isaiah 46:10]