The thought of eating blood does not appeal to me in the least. Yet, I realize there are cultures in which blood is prepared and served for human consumption. It is in these situations into which the gospel of Christ goes that the question arises as to whether it is a sin to eat blood. The Bible answers the question for us, and with it we will attempt to understand what the will of the Lord is on the subject (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 3:15).

In Acts 15:20, 29, the apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church judged from Scripture to not burden Gentile converts, but “write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). These things were deemed “necessary” by the Holy Spirit and were thus delivered to Gentile saints in the cities where Barnabas, Paul, Silas and Timothy went preaching the gospel (Acts 15:28-29; 16:4). As a result, the churches “rejoiced” and “were strengthened in the faith” (Acts 15:30-31; 16:5).

Acts 15 demonstrates that the law of Moses was not to be bound on Gentiles in order for their salvation (Acts 15:1-2, 5-21). The Jerusalem letter clarified this (Acts 15:24-27).

The prohibition against eating blood in Acts 15:20, 29 that was sent to Gentile Christians also included the teaching to abstain “from things offered to idols…from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Some conclude this decree is simply an amplified way of prohibiting idolatry among the Gentiles. While one must acknowledge an association of these activities with idolatry, one must also acknowledge that these things were not exclusively associated with idolatrous worship. For instance, while fornication was often practiced in the service of idols, it was not solely an idolatrous activity. The Gentile brethren were not to conclude from the Jerusalem letter that fornication, when not associated with idolatry, was allowable. (From observing Paul’s comments in 1 Cor. 6:12-20 it is clear that some were trying to argue that fornication was acceptable conduct.) We must conclude that the scope of these “necessary things” reaches beyond the boundaries of idolatrous activities to include an even broader base of consideration and application.

These “necessary things,” while addressed to Gentile saints, were also necessary for Jewish Christians to observe. While the law of Moses was indeed impotent to save Jews or Gentiles, it was a schoolmaster to bring people to faith in Christ (Acts 15:7-11; Gal. 3:24-25; 2 Tim. 3:15). For instance, it taught against idolatry by commanding worship of the only true God (Exo. 20:1-6). It taught against fornication by commanding moral purity (Exo. 20:14, 17). And, it taught the sanctity of life by forbidding the eating of blood (Lev. 17:11-13; Deut. 12:23-25).

The Jewish people who respected the law of Moses already understood God’s will on such matters (Rom. 2:17-18). Gentiles did not. So, this letter to Gentile saints clarified that the law of Moses does not save and is not binding on men while also binding divine instruction against moral and religious defilements.

The apostles were not binding the law of Moses on Gentiles when they forbade the eating of blood (although it prohibited such) any more than they were binding the ten commandments on them (although the law of Moses forbade idolatry and fornication). In both the moral and religious aspects of the Acts 15:20, 29 decree, the gospel of Christ mandates for Gentiles and Jews God’s stipulation for mankind He gave before the law of Moses existed.

The divine prohibition against eating blood did not begin with the law of Moses. After the worldwide flood God gave “every moving thing that lives” as food for Noah (hence, to mankind) with this proviso: “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. 9:4). Before the law of Moses God gave “every moving thing” to man to eat. The law of Moses placed food restrictions on Israel. Yet, before the law of Moses, God placed mankind under commandment not to eat blood. The law of Moses also contained this command.

Christ purified all foods when He rebuked the binding of Pharisaic traditions upon men (Mk. 7:19; Matt. 15:10-20; Acts 10:9-15). The gospel of Christ, that carries binding authority upon all men, allows the eating of “every moving thing that lives” with the giving of thanks (1 Tim. 4:4-5).

Some reply, “since Jesus purified all foods, eating blood is allowed today.” No. Acts 15:20 and 29 forbid it, not because it was part of the law of Moses that God wanted bound on Gentiles, but because God, from the time of the flood onward, has always expected people to respect life. Genesis 9:3-4 says respect for life is shown by not eating the blood of animals that are killed for food. The law of Moses also taught this respect for life in its prohibition against eating blood: “Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life; you may not eat the life with the meat. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it on the earth like water. You shall not eat it, that it may go well with you and your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD” (Deut. 12:23-25; cf. Lev. 17:11-13).

God forbids the eating of blood today. To do so shows disrespect for life and for God who gives it; it is sin against Him (1 Jno. 3:4).

In summary, please consider these remarks from J. W. McGarvey on Acts 15:20:

“There was room for no other conclusion than the one which James deduced, that they should impose on the Gentiles, so far as the class of restrictions under consideration were concerned, only those necessary things which were necessary independent of the Mosaic law. Idolatry, with all the pollutions connected with it, was known to be sinful before the law of Moses was given; and so was fornication. The eating of blood, and, by implication, of strangled animals, whose blood was still in them, was forbidden to the whole world in the family of Noah. [Genesis 9:4.] In the restrictions here proposed by James, therefore, there is not the slightest extension of the law of Moses, but a mere enforcement upon the Gentiles of rules of conduct which had ever been binding, and were to be perpetual. They are as binding today as they were then. To deny this would be to despise the combined authority of all the apostles, when enjoining upon the Gentile world, of which we form a part, restrictions which they pronounce necessary. One would be surprised that it was thought necessary to mention to Gentiles, who had turned to the Lord, the sinfulness of fornication, did we not know that among heathen nations of antiquity it was deemed innocent, and even sometimes virtuous.” (Original Commentary on Acts, 185-186)

By Joe R. Price

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