9-8 Need Christians Keep The Dietary Laws Of Acts 15?
The teaching of Acts 15:20,21 must be understood in context of the clear teaching of both the Lord Jesus and Paul that all types of food are now clean (Mk. 7:19; Acts 10:15; 1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Cor. 8:8) and that there’s nothing which can enter into a person and defile them. Defilement is an internal matter (Mk. 7:15-23). If Paul thought that we mustn’t eat blood, then surely he would’ve qualified his statements that all meat is clean and can be eaten.
The commands about not eating meat offered to idols, blood, strangled animals and fornication (Greek- “porneia”) are all related. “Porneia” refers specifically to sexual acts committed as part of the idol worshipping; drinking of blood and strangling animals as sacrifices were also part of the idol worshipping ritual. The Gentile converts are being asked to have nothing to do with idol temples and the rituals practiced there. I suggest that the command not to drink blood was in the context of not participating in idol worship rituals; I don’t think it means that a Christian must drain all blood out of any meat.
Elsewhere, Paul says that it is quite OK to eat any kind of meat- including meat that had been presented to an idol. But Paul says it’s wrong to eat this meat if it encourages a weaker brother to therefore worship idols (1 Cor. 8:4-12). If we are to understand Acts 15:29 literally- that we can’t eat blood nor meat that has been sacrificed to idols- then Paul would be contradicting the agreement made in Acts 15:29. It may be that he is indeed doing this- the Jewish Christians didn’t keep their part of the agreement, and so it could be that Paul decided that the compromise agreement of Acts 15 had therefore lost its meaning, and he no longer kept it. It had been a compromise aimed at reconciling Jews and Gentiles; and it didn’t work, because it’s clear from the later New Testament that the Jewish Christians drifted back to Judaism, and the Gentile Christians drifted back to paganism; and the Gentile Christians often persecuted the Jewish Christians and vice versa.
However, it may more simply be the case that 1 Cor. 8 and Acts 15 are teaching the same thing. In 1 Cor. 8, Paul is saying that it is quite OK to eat food sacrificed to idols; idols don’t exist, and all types of meat are now acceptable for a Christian to eat. However, we should not eat this food if doing so may encourage a weak brother to believe in idols. Acts 15 is similarly a compromise; the Gentile believers were asked not to eat such meat because it could cause friction with their Jewish brothers. And we should aim always to live at peace with our brothers (Rom. 12:18).
Finally, such questions of meat and food are surely matters of personal conscience. If others see this matter differently, that’s fine. They are free to not eat certain types of food just as they wish- for Paul says that all such things are matters of conscience: “Some people's faith allows them to eat anything, but the person who is weak in the faith eats only vegetables. The person who will eat anything is not to despise the one who doesn't; while the one who eats only vegetables is not to pass judgment on the one who will eat anything; for God has accepted that person. Who are you to judge the servants of someone else? It is their own Master who will decide whether they succeed or fail. And they will succeed, because the Lord is able to make them succeed. Some people think that a certain day is more important than other days, while others think that all days are the same. We each should firmly make up our own minds” (Rom. 14:2-5).