19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21 ESV)
James/Jacob concludes the deliberations of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 by deciding against the circumcision party: gentile converts to Christianity need NOT be circumcised and commit to living by Torah. So far so good. But it causes much puzzlement to the reader today that he then adds four conditions. Gentiles must abstain from:
- things polluted by idols
- sexual immorality
- what has been strangled, and
Uh, okay. Whuh …?
First, it has been pointed out that Leviticus, which is all about Israel, priests, sacrifices, feasts, days, clean&unclean, and holiness laws — all specific to Israel — also has four laws that apply to the gentiles who live in the land. Leviticus 16 and 17 have The Four Gentile Laws, and, what do you know, they match up with the stipulations that James/Jacob makes at the conclusion of the Jerusalem council. The section begins in 17:8 and ends in 18:26:
- 17:8 “And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the LORD, that man shall be cut off from his people. ..
- 18:26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.
And in between 17:8 and 18:26 are a series of laws and statutes that can be summarized by the four categories that James/Jacob names.
So that answers part of the question. But it raises another. Is this council decree perpetual? It sure satisfied the apostles and all the assembly, so does it have some continuing force in the church today? I mean, the sexual immorality bit makes total sense, but at what point is eating a nice, rare, juicy steak “eating blood?” And according to the Internet, “Blood pudding, also sometimes known as “black pudding,” is a type of sausage made with animal blood.” Does that mean no blood pudding for Christians? Should the church today be diligent in teaching these restrictions? I don’t know any that are. On what basis do we ignore an apostolic ruling?
Happily, in his concluding statement, James/Jacob may help us see something like an expiration date or a limit to these four restrictions. He says, “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” This seems like an odd way to conclude this dispute. Why does he state the very obvious, and what is the connection with the business of the council?
The answer may be that these four restrictions have in view the tension in those days between the synagogue and the church. In most cities, the churches got their core group from the synagogues, and subsequently the leading opposition to the churches came from the synagogue. So the idea here may be that the synagogues, reading Moses every week, would come to the four gentile laws of Leviticus and have at least some of their hostility reduced seeing that the gentiles in the church next door are at least behaving like Moses said they should.
I suppose this policy would make the most sense in Judea, The Land, though most of those churches would not have a large gentile membership. But even in the diaspora, gentiles who respected Torah as gentiles should, would be good policy.
Then the whole arrangement would disappear with the destruction of the temple and the very very end of the whole levitical and priestly system.
So blood pudding may be served at the church potluck.