Lately i was reading Acts chapter 15 with a a group of friends and there were a discussion on whether Christians should avoid food offered to Idols. There were many mixed response, hence i would like to just study the Jerusalem decree with everyone here.

The reasons for the council of Jerusalem
In Acts 10, we read of the conversion of an Italian Centurion known as Cornelius, the church from Acts 1-9 is made up of Jews. The Hellenist in Acts 6 were actually Greek speaking Jews. The early believers are pretty much all circumcised hence the issue of Circumcision was never an issue in the early church.

There were Samaritans converted in Acts 8, but they are circumcised as well according to the Jewish law (though they kept the law of Moses slightly differently from the Jews)

After Acts 10, now the church a whole assembly of Gentiles (non Jews) who does not keep the law of Moses. Hence at that time, there a Jewish Christian from Judea who taught telling people that they need to believe in Jesus, but they must also keep the Mosaic Law. The advocated that Circumcision is necessary for Salvation.

Paul and Barnabas debated with them so they all decided to go to Jerusalem to bring the matter before the Apostles and Elders.

The Result Of The Council

The council considered the matter, Peter whom God has chosen to preach to the first gentile spoke “God has selected him to preach to the first gentile, God personally gave them the Holy Spirit (recounting Cornelius conversion in Acts 10) and in the same way that God gave the Holy Spirit to them on Pentecost (Acts 2). God made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, therefore we should not give them that burden which our forefathers cannot bear. (Acts 15:7-10) God has dedicated the same path to Salvation for both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15:11)”

So they all listened to the Testimony of Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey.

James being moved by the H/S spoke to the crowd “Peter testimony is true, moreover, it is in accordance to the prophecy of Prophet Amos (Amos 9:11-12) that God will restore Davids tent (the new testament church understand that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Messiah will restore the kingdom of David, the church is that Kingdom), and from there the Gentiles will come and seek the Lords name and receive salvation.Therefore we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are seeking God. (Acts 15:-14-19)

So they decided on 4 general principles, that are constantly preach by Moses and are being read in the synagogue every sabbath. They are

1. Abstain from food offered to Idols
2. From Sexual Immorality
3. Abstain from Strangled Animals
4. Abstain from Blood.

They wrote a letter, gave it to Paul and Barnabas , Judas and Silas, and many others to help spread the instruction to the church

Our Current View Over This Decree

In the discussion, there were very mixed response from the Audience, some felt it is no longer necessary, some said that it is just to appease the Jews. Most people have no problems with rules 2-4 but there seems to be a some contention on food offered to Idols, because Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 8:1-10 and 1 Cor 9:27-32 saying that as long as eating food offered to Idols are done with a clean conscience it is alright.

Personally I believe that since the decree went out from the Apostles and they are guided by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28-29). We should respect the Holy Spirit guidance over the matter. Moreover, Paul was tasked to share the result of the council on his next missionary journey. Although Paul did write to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 8 and 9, he would not contradict and made void the Jerusalem decree on his own personal basis.

When I was reading the chapter on 1 Cor 8 and 9, I do not think Paul is authorising the eating of food offered to Idols, but he is just further adding on to help clarify the decree. In fact he is advising against it.

Some of us may wonder, what if we ate it by “accident”, will we still be saved? Personally i believe God is a fair judge, and i do not think God will be so unfair to fault someone for what he did not know. Hence as I am writing this entry, I am not condemning or attacking people who had unknowingly broken this rule. Rather, I decided to look into the old testament to help everyone understand why did the Apostles choose these 4 principles for everyone to follow.

Abstain from food offered to Idols

I did detailed search on the old testament law and did not find a verse that specifically tells you not to eat food sacrificed to the Idols, if there are anyone who can pinpoint one, feel free to add them to the comments. But I found many instances where Moses was telling the people to stay away from Idols, here are the examples

“Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the LORD your God.” – Moses Lev 19:4
“You shall not make idols for yourselves;neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.” – Moses Lev 26:1
“They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; They have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols.” -Moses (Deut 32:21)

God has always set the Israelites as a kingdom holy and consecrated to him. Although in the new testament, Gentiles are included as well as Jews, God still wants us to remain holy and consecrated to him. To take food offered to idol is like having both Communion with God and sharing the tables of demons.

Actually Paul in 1 Cor 10:19-21 talks about it.

“What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?” – Paul (1 Cor 10:19-21)

So even Paul which is constantly misunderstood by many knew that offering to Idols is making sacrificed to demons. Therefore I believe Paul is trying to explain the reasons of the decree to the non Jewish audience (the Corinthians are Greeks).

Abstain from Sexual Immorality

The rules of marriage purity and sexual immorality are often recorded in the law of Moses (Ex 20:14, Lev 20:10-27). It is echoed even in the new testament (John 8:1-12, Heb 13:4, 1 Cor 6:9. Eph 5:5)
Paul ones reminded the Corinthians

“Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor 6:18-20)

I guess this is too straight forward for any other explanations

Abstain from Blood and Strangled Animals

The reasons for stringing this together is because they are both related. Though some of us may think that this rule originated from the Jewish diet Law. But if we were to read the Jewish diet law in Lev 11. You will notice they mention nothing of strangled animals at all.

Everyone can agree with me that when an animal is strangled. The blood of the animal remains in them and it is not possible to drain out the blood as the animal’s heart would have stopped beating. This will automatically disqualify strangled animals from  Israelite diet.

Indeed the Jewish Torah forbids the consumption of Blood.  It was first mentioned in Lev 7:22-27. Later on it was described further in Lev 17. The Jewish standard for food (Known as “Kosher”) demands that blood be drained out from the animals based on these verses. But long before God instructed Moses about the rules about blood, he once instructed Noah right after the great flood.  Let us read that instruction from God to Noah.

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.[And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. “- YHWH ( Gen 9:1-5)

Apparently the generations from Adam to Noah are strictly vegetarians, Though Abel kept flocks but it is most likely for sacrificial purpose. They would have needed the hide for clothes making. God only permitted the eating of animals after the flood. But God gave Noah special instructions regarding blood therefore we can be sure that they are required to drain off the blood of the animal before consumption.

As this instruction is given to Noah,  are Gentiles also descendant of Noah? I leave all of you to draw your own conclusion.

Conclusion

The Jerusalem decree in Acts 15 is not created by the Apostles to “appease” the Jewish Christians who practise circumcision, but rather, it is a set of basic principles from the old testament. Both you and I are counted as Gentiles of today as most of us are not Jews by birth. Therefore we should observe these principles in accordance to the Holy Spirit’s instruction. We must remember that these rules are not directly taken from the law of Moses but the Holy Spirit guided and taught the Apostles during the time of Acts.

I have also come across others who thinks that the 10 commandments are obsolete and modern Christians need not follow, because they are part of the old testament and now we are in grace, we are no longer bounded by the law. But I would seriously like them to read this verse spoken by our Lord Jesus himself.

“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus (Matt 5:19-20)

The modern Christian is saved by grace, but God still demands us to adhere to his rules, and his commands. Therefore let us all learn to listen to the voice of God and does his will. He promised to forgive us if we fall short of his standard, but he wants everyone to put in their best effort and he would complete that salvation for all of us.

May God help us.

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