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“But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”—Acts 28:22


"Abstain from Blood" – A Command or a Concession for Jewish Sensitivities?

Some have presented the notion that the Apostolic Decree to "abstain from blood" and the other abstinences mentioned were not commands for Christians to adhere to indefinitely, but were simply concessions made for the sensitivities of the Jewish populace among them. These ones appeal to 1 Corinthians 8 to prove this claim. We will take a closer look at this to determine the truth of the matter.

The topic in Acts 15 specifically addressed what some JEWISH Christians felt the Gentiles had to do to be saved. That WAS the backdrop of the entire conversation as is clearly spelled out in the first verse and the verses to follow. Follow it through and you will see this clearly demonstrated.

Notice the following that is interspersed throughout this chapter 15:

Verse 1: The supporters of the circumcision claim that Gentile Christians must be circumcised AND observe the Law of Moses in order TO BE SAVED.

Verse 2: The dispute escalates and they decide to take it to the Apostles and older men in Jerusalem.

Verse 5: Again the Jewish faction states it is NECESSARY for Gentiles to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. In what sense were they using the word NECESSARY? In keeping with the context as established with verse one they were stating that is was necessary for their SALVATION to get circumcised and follow the Law of Moses.

Verse 11: Peter clarifies the Christian position regarding SALVATION which is through the undeserved kindness (grace) of the Lord Jesus.

Verses 23-29: After a decision is made regarding the issues, a letter is drawn up to inform the Gentiles what would be NECESSARY for them to do that had a bearing on the principles found in the Mosaic Law. Again, in keeping with the context, the word NECESSARY is used in regard to SALVATION as that is the entire backdrop to the dispute as is shown from verses 1, 5 and 11. To deny a connection with salvation is to deny the context.

At this point I would like to address further the claim that this is merely a command given out of regard for Jewish sensitivities. There are a number of things which speak against such a conclusion. First, as I have demonstrated, the backdrop of the discussion was SALVATION. How could it not be in regard to Acts 15:1, 5 and 11 in the equation?

Secondly, consider this: If such a command to abstain from things sacrificed to idols and things strangled and from blood was merely for the sensitivities of the Jews one could ask why the Apostles and older men did not recommend "circumcision" for Gentile Christians which was a MUCH MORE burning and divisive issue of that day? The circumcision issue was the CAUSE for the conference of the body at Jerusalem and the moving cause for writing the letter! There was strong opposition to the decree about circumcision by those Jews who falsely claimed to be Christian and insisted on staying under the Law. Notice the following passages: Galatians 5:3-6, 11, 12; 6:12-15; Romans 2:25-29; 4:9-12; Philippians 3:2-4. If anything should have been considered in regard to Jewish sensitivities it should have been that one, yet, why would the apostles conciliate them on the point of blood and things sacrificed to idols and raise greater opposition to circumcision, since we know that Paul in the very next chapter was willing to let someone BE CIRCUMCISED out of regard for the JEWISH SENSITIVITIES? (Acts 16:3) Surely, if the list in Acts 15 was merely for their sensitivities, circumcision would have been included since the next chapter shows how they handled circumcision in regard to Jewish sensitivities.

With that considered and with the backdrop of the entire council being a connection with salvation, this should dispel the notion in anyone's mind that it was not binding and lasting MORAL LAW. It WAS binding and lasting moral Law. The sensitivity argument does not fit the context and neither does the claim that the issues did not have to do with salvation.

Furthermore, consider the following information in Insight on the Scriptures under "Blood" (published by Jehovah's Witnesses):

Noah and his sons were allowed by Jehovah to add animal flesh to their diet after the Flood, but they were strictly commanded not to eat blood. (Ge 9:1, 3, 4) God here set out a regulation that applied, not merely to Noah and his immediate family, but to all mankind from that time on, because all those living since the Flood are descendants of Noah's family.

Concerning the permanence of this prohibition, Joseph Benson noted: "It ought to be observed, that this prohibition of eating blood, given to Noah and all his posterity, and repeated to the Israelites, in a most solemn manner, under the Mosaic dispensation, has never been revoked, but, on the contrary, has been confirmed under the New Testament, Acts xv.; and thereby made of perpetual obligation."—Benson's Notes, 1839, Vol. I, p. 43. …

[The Apostolic] decree rests, ultimately, on God's command not to eat blood, as given to Noah and his sons and, therefore, to all mankind. In this regard, the following is found in The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, by Sir Isaac Newton (Dublin, 1728, p. 184): "This law [of abstaining from blood] was ancienter [sic] than the days of Moses, being given to Noah and his sons, long before the days of Abraham: and therefore when the Apostles and Elders in the Council at Jerusalem declared that the Gentiles were not obliged to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, they excepted this law of abstaining from blood, and things strangled, as being an earlier law of God, imposed not on the sons of Abraham only, but on all nations, while they lived together in Shinar under the dominion of Noah: and of the same kind is the law of abstaining from meats offered to Idols or false Gods, and from fornication."—Italics his.

…The Jerusalem council sent its decision to the Christian congregations to be observed. (Ac 16:4) About seven years after the Jerusalem council issued the decree, Christians continued to comply with the "decision that they should keep themselves from what is sacrificed to idols as well as from blood and what is strangled and from fornication." (Ac 21:25) And more than a hundred years later, in 177 C.E., in Lyons (now in France), when religious enemies falsely accused Christians of eating children, a woman named Biblis said: "How would such men eat children, when they are not allowed to eat the blood even of irrational animals?"—The Ecclesiastical History, by Eusebius, V, I, 26.

Early Christians abstained from eating any sort of blood. In this regard Tertullian (c. 155-a. 220 C.E.) pointed out in his work Apology (IX, 13, 14): "Let your error blush before the Christians, for we do not include even animals' blood in our natural diet. We abstain on that account from things strangled or that die of themselves, that we may not in any way be polluted by blood, even if it is buried in the meat. Finally, when you are testing Christians, you offer them sausages full of blood; you are thoroughly well aware, of course, that among them it is forbidden; but you want to make them transgress." Minucius Felix, a Roman lawyer who lived until about 250 C.E., made the same point, writing: "For us it is not permissible either to see or to hear of human slaughter; we have such a shrinking from human blood that at our meals we avoid the blood of animals used for food."—Octavius, XXX, 6.

Surely "fornication" was not being forbidden for the sake of Jewish sensitivities. It was forbidden absolutely, and the word "necessary" in verse 28 would certainly mean necessary in the same sense. The word "necessary" is applied equally to each thing in the list.

Fornication in ANY form would not only cause offense, but would be a death-dealing sin against God. Likewise with the rest of the list. The word "necessary" would not apply to one item in the list differently then it would apply to the rest.

Therefore, one of those things in the list is unquestionably a sin that if committed without repentance could cost us our salvation. What about the others though that are in that list? Do we see indication that those things are "sin" as well, or are they simply issues of sensitivity?

Let's take a look at the very word that others use to establish that what was really spoken of was just a sensitivity issue and not a sin that could cost us our salvation. That word used is "eidolothuton," generally translated as "things sacrificed to idols." Also another very pertinent phrase that we must include in this examination is "alisgema eidolon," generally translated as things "polluted by idols" or "pollution of idols," found at Acts 15:20.

We will note first that the phrase "pollution" of idols in verse 20 is equated with the phrase "things sacrificed to idols" in verse 29. So, in this context, whatever was meant by the "pollution" of idols was also meant by what was stated in verse 29. It should also be noted that the word "meat" as is found in many translations of verse 29 does not occur there, which is a bit misleading to the overall context. The Greek word there used simply means "things sacrificed to idols." There is no "meat" specified at all. So what was spoken of in verse 29 was a "pollution" of idols as is stated in verse 20, they being parallel statements.

Therefore, we are not just speaking of "things" sacrificed to idols but the "pollution" that those things would create, which seems a clear reference to the fact this is speaking of "idolatry," and not just items that might serve as idols to the pagan mind. Do we have any other biblical evidence to help us appreciate that even the phrase "things sacrificed to idols" could be understood in a "forbidden" sense to ALL Christians? Not just for sake of sensitivity issues but because of direct idolatrous connection? Yes we do. In fact, one of those occurrences is in the very chapter that most refer to as the passage that supposedly waters down the Apostolic Decree to a mere sensitivity issue. But first, before coming to 1 Corinthians 8, let's look at another passage which clearly equates the phrase "things sacrificed to idols" with "sin," not just an issue of sensitivity.

In Revelation 2:14 and 2:20, it states in regard to the Pergamum congregation and the Thyatiran congregation that they were tolerating that woman Jezebel (obviously a symbolism for a Jezebel-like woman) and holding fast to the teaching of Balaam who leads them to "commit fornication" and to "eat things sacrificed to idols." Both times the "eating of things sacrificed to idols" is listed with the undeniably deadly sin of fornication. Clearly, in these passages, the "eating of things sacrificed to idols" was the sin of "idolatry" that brought God's condemnation to those congregations. This is undeniable when one looks up what happened in the incidents that are referred to in Revelation in connection with the teaching of Balaam. (Numbers 25:1-3, 31:15,16)

With it established that the phrase "things sacrificed to idols" and "eating" things sacrificed to idols can be a clear reference to "idolatrous practices" it would be no wonder then that Acts 15:20 parallel "pollutions" of idols with "things sacrificed to idols," which both could clearly refer to idolatrous practices, especially the phrase involving the word "pollution."

Now, what about then the 8th chapter of 1 Corinthians? Is the phrase "things sacrificed to idols" or "eating" things sacrificed to idols ever presented as a clear "sin"? Let's go through each verse and then we can see of course that it is.

"4 Now concerning the eating of foods offered to idols,"

This use of the phrase is obviously referring to the non-idolatrous connection of eating something that had been sacrificed to an idol, as the argument that follows conclusively shows. To a Christian, an idol should mean nothing, and therefore eating something sacrificed to an idol should mean nothing.

"…we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even though there are those who are called "gods," whether in heaven or on earth, just as there are many "gods" and many "lords," 6 there is actually to us one God the Father, out of whom all things are, and we for him; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and we through him. 7 Nevertheless, there is not this knowledge in all persons; but some, being accustomed until now to the idol, eat food as something sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled."

Here, it is clear that the phrase "eating something sacrificed to an idol" has direct idolatrous connection in the mind of the one eating, as the contrast that is brought out by stating, "there is not this knowledge in all persons." So far then, twice the phrase "eating things sacrificed to idols" is used and once it refers to the "non-idolatrous connection" and the other time it refers to the "idolatrous connection" which would surely serve as a "pollution" of idols to a Christian, that which the Apostolic Decree forbids.

"8 But food will not commend us to God; if we do not eat, we do not fall short, and, if we eat, we have no credit to ourselves. 9 But keep watching that this authority of YOURS does not somehow become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone should see you, the one having knowledge, reclining at a meal in an idol temple, will not the conscience of that one who is weak be built up to the point of eating foods offered to idols?"

Again the phrase "eating foods sacrificed to idols" is used in the sense of an "idolatrous connection" because this is what the "weak conscienced" brother would be "emboldened" to do. Surely, there would be nothing wrong with him being emboldened to eat WITHOUT the idolatrous connection, in fact, that would be fine, but here, it is the "idolatrous" POLLUTION that is spoken of again, something that the Apostles clearly condemned as it was listed with fornication which is clearly condemned in ANY context, surely not just in the context of protecting a weak person's conscience.

"11 Really, by your knowledge, the man that is weak is being ruined, brother for whose sake Christ died."

Ruined because he has committed an act of idolatry in his mind.

So, it is clear beyond any doubt that the phrase "eating things sacrificed to idols" can be equated, and predominantly so, with the idea of "idolatry." Therefore, there is no real reason for anyone to insist that what the Apostolic Decree was speaking of was not idolatry. In fact, there are many reasons to insist the opposite because of the inclusion of fornication in the list mentioned in Acts 15. To insist otherwise surely strains the context to the breaking point since the backdrop of the council was "salvational" and what was necessary in that regard. Obviously idolatry and fornication are salvationally necessary abstentions. Likewise therefore, that would be the case with the references to blood and things strangled. Frankly, we can see no other option without destroying the context of what is stated there.

So, what happens is this: they misunderstand the point Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 8. The point is that if you emboldened your brother's conscience to the point of eating meat sacrificed to idols with that ceremonial attachment in his mind, he not only would have violated his conscience but he would have violated God's Law against "ceremonially" eating things sacrificed to idols, for it would have then been a form of idolatry, would it not? How could it not be? It is this understanding that keeps perfect harmony between 1 Corinthians 8 and Acts 15. Acts 15 was decided upon in the context of salvational issues, abstaining from things that could cost you your salvation, such as the "fornication" that was mentioned, and of course the "idolatry." Abstaining from "blood" would have therefore been in the same category.

The point of departure comes in not realizing that what the Apostles forbid in Acts was the "ceremonial" attachment to the idol. What Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians was not the "ceremonial" eating of meat in regard for the idol, which would be idolatry, but what Paul was talking about being acceptable was the incidental eating of the meat that had been sacrificed to the idol without the ceremonial attachment in the mind of the Christian. It is important to clearly understand this as it is crucial to the harmony and the differences between Acts the 15th chapter and 1 Corinthians the 8th.

1 Corinthians 8 just wasn't about Paul's view. It was the view of those "brothers" weak in conscience who might sin by "being emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols." (Verse 10) If it was okay to do so, then why did Paul present this act as a sin in verses 9-13? One must discern the difference between incidental eating of something sacrificed to an idol and the ceremonial attachment of such in the conscience of a weak brother.

Next article: "Abstain from Blood" – Noachian? Jewish? Christian? Or all of the above? The Underlying Principle

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