This was a contested and recorded issue in the first century. Some former Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) who became believers in Yeshua (Jesus) felt strongly that people of the nations (Gentiles) had to follow the Mosaic law and needed to be circumcised. Some today feel that observing the Sabbath is needed. The following verses help answer this issue of whether it is necessary or not:
15 Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can’t be saved.” 2 Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small discord and discussion with them, they appointed Paul and Barnabas, and some others of them, to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. 3 They, being sent on their way by the assembly, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. They caused great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the assembly and the apostles and the elders, and they reported everything that God had done with them.
5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
In the following verses, notice how Peter mentions how people of the nations would hear the word and believe and that God made no distinction between the Jews who were circumcised and followed the Mosaic Law and people of the nations who did not:
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to see about this matter. 7 When there had been much discussion, Peter rose up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that a good while ago God made a choice among you that by my mouth the nations should hear the word of the Good News and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, testified about them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just like he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you tempt God, that you should put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are.”
Next, Paul and Barnabas related to the group the signs that God did through them for the nations:
12 All the multitude kept silence, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting what signs and wonders God had done among the nations through them. 13 After they were silent, James answered, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has reported how God first visited the nations to take out of them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets. As it is written,
16 ‘After these things I will return.
I will again build the tabernacle of David, which has fallen.
I will again build its ruins.
I will set it up 17 that the rest of men may seek after the Lord;
all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who does all these things.’ Amos 9:11-12
18 “All of God’s works are known to him from eternity. 19 Therefore my judgment is that we don’t trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood.
The apostles and older men decided to send this decision vis chosen men to congregations which were of the nations. They were not required to be circumcised and were not required to follow the Law, which includes the Sabbath:
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brothers. 23 They wrote these things by their hand:
“The apostles, the elders, and the brothers, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: greetings. 24 Because we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law,’ to whom we gave no commandment; 25 it seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose out men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves will also tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, from which if you keep yourselves, it will be well with you. Farewell.”
30 So, when they were sent off, they came to Antioch. Having gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over the encouragement.
Very interesting relative events are recorded in Acts 10. A Gentile named Cornelius, had a vision and in the vision was told to send men to find Peter. Peter relates how God revealed to him that God is not partial but everyone who fears God and works righteousness is acceptable to him. Notice in verse 45, those who were circumcised were amazed. They were amazed because Gentiles (Non-circumcised and non-followers of the Mosaic Law) were receiving the free gift of the Holy Spirit!
10 Now there was a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man, and one who feared God with all his house, who gave gifts for the needy generously to the people, and always prayed to God. 3 At about the ninth hour of the day, he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God coming to him, and saying to him, “Cornelius!”
4 He, fastening his eyes on him, and being frightened, said, “What is it, Lord?”
He said to him, “Your prayers and your gifts to the needy have gone up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and get Simon, who is also called Peter. 6 He is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the seaside.
7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier of those who waited on him continually. 8 Having explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. 9 Now on the next day as they were on their journey, and got close to the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray at about noon. 10 He became hungry and desired to eat, but while they were preparing, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and a certain container descending to him, like a great sheet let down by four corners on the earth, 12 in which were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild animals, reptiles, and birds of the sky. 13 A voice came to him, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat!”
14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”
15 A voice came to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.” 16 This was done three times, and immediately the vessel was received up into heaven. 17 Now while Peter was very perplexed in himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate, 18 and called and asked whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was lodging there. 19 While Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men seek you. 20 But arise, get down, and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”
21 Peter went down to the men, and said, “Behold, I am he whom you seek. Why have you come?”
22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous man and one who fears God, and well spoken of by all the nation of the Jews, was directed by a holy angel to invite you to his house, and to listen to what you say.” 23 So he called them in and provided a place to stay. On the next day Peter arose and went out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 On the next day they entered into Caesarea. Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his relatives and his near friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell down at his feet, and worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up! I myself am also a man.” 27 As he talked with him, he went in and found many gathered together. 28 He said to them, “You yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man who is a Jew to join himself or come to one of another nation, but God has shown me that I shouldn’t call any man unholy or unclean. 29 Therefore I also came without complaint when I was sent for. I ask therefore, why did you send for me?”
30 Cornelius said, “Four days ago, I was fasting until this hour, and at the ninth hour, I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer is heard, and your gifts to the needy are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and summon Simon, who is also called Peter. He is staying in the house of a tanner named Simon, by the seaside. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 Therefore I sent to you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God to hear all things that have been commanded you by God.”
34 Peter opened his mouth and said, “Truly I perceive that God doesn’t show favoritism; 35 but in every nation he who fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him. 36 The word which he sent to the children of Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all— 37 you yourselves know what happened, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38 even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they also killed, hanging him on a tree. 40 God raised him up the third day, and gave him to be revealed, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen before by God, to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that this is he who is appointed by God as the Judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him, that through his name everyone who believes in him will receive remission of sins.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. 45 They of the circumcision who believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was also poured out on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and magnifying God.
Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just like us.” 48 He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay some days.
For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believeth.
In conclusion, circumcision or following the Sabbath (Which is part of the Mosaic Law) is not required and does not make any difference in order to receive God’s approval. For as Peter had mentioned, God is not partial but accepts anyone who believes and works righteousness.