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In the early years of Christianity, there was a lot of debate whether people of non-Jewish origin should follow the strict Mosaic laws, especially circumcision.

A consensus was made that for pagans who wish to become Christians, no circumcision or other old Jewish traditions and laws should be compulsory, with four exceptions, as described in Acts 15:20.

The KJV translation says:

But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

My non-English translation effectively says:

  • do not worship idols. (this is, of course, self-explanatory)
  • no adultery (still clear)
  • do not consume the flesh of animals who died by drowning (why? Of course, it makes sense in a sanitary way, but why make it a condition of being allowed to become a Christian?)
  • do not consume blood. (was that meaning ritual sacrifices that pagans might have done in that time? What about blood sausage, a common food in many parts of Europe, even among the strongly religious, except maybe a few small groups. Or was that, according the translations where the word "consuming" is missing, just "thou shalt not murder"?)
  • You should see how many chickens drown in the abbatoir when they are being stunned. There is no respect for them. – gideon marx Oct 16 '13 at 10:40
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The prohibition from eating the meat of strangled animals is essentially the same thing as the prohibition from eating blood. If an animal was strangled, that means its blood was not drained from its body. Therefore, eating the meat of strangled animals was another method of consuming their blood. The Mosaic Law outlawed the consumption of blood.

Lev. 17:10-11 (NASB)
And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.

Deut. 12:16 (NASB)
Only you shall not eat the blood; you are to pour it out on the ground like water.

Deut. 12:23 (NASB)
Only be sure not to eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh.

Since eating blood was so detestable to the Jews, and presumably associated with pagan rituals, the Apostles felt that it was important for the gentile Christians to abstain from eating blood, even though they were not following the rest of the Mosaic Law. By doing so, they would not cause offense to Jews and weaker brethren.

1 Cor. 10:23-33 (NASB)
All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.

Some people take this command further and believe that, even today, it is a sin for Christians to eat blood. They believe that, since God outlawed the consumption of blood prior to the Mosaic Law, it is a general moral law which applies to all people for all time, not just those subject to the Mosaic Covenant.

Gen. 9:4-5 (NASB)
Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

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Idolatry: This law was necessary because the gentile new comers were mostly idol worshipers. They did not know the law of Moses on idolatry. It was necessary to inform them that idolatry is a sin, otherwise they might start making idols of Jesus and bow down before it.

Adultery: This law also was required because the gentiles did not come from a stricter society like the Jews who maintained good moral practices. They need to be informed that sexual immorality is a sin.

Dietary law: A strangled animal or which died on it's own has blood still in it. It seems like this law was given in favor of the Jews so that Jews and gentiles could worship together. Jews abhorred people who eat strangled things and blood. This Mosaic law became their custom. This problem is common among people with very different eating habits. This problem is still going on to this present day. For example, some newly converted members from religions which forbid eating meat (Hindus, Jains etc.) find it difficult to adjust with Christians who are mostly meat eaters. They never eat meat since childhood and participating in Christian festivals like Christmas where meat is usually served become troublesome to them. Paul addressed this issue very well.

1 Corinthians 8:13 (NKJV) Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

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The good 'ol Matthew Henry has quite a good explanation to your question here. Do a search on the page for "From things strangled, and from blood," (without the quotes).

In summary, Matthew Henry says that the last two items are about not giving unnecessary offence to the Jews, who, being steeped in the Law, would find people doing these things to be repulsive.

The first two items in the list we hold, as it were, with a clenched fist and will not give ground on (idols, adultery). The latter two items we hold with an open hand, since we do not wish to give unnecessary offense to others, but wish to win them to Christ. HTH

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  • This reminds me of Paul's letter to the Romans 14:13. – vsz Jul 28 '13 at 13:02
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What is the significance of the four laws given to early Christians who were not ethnically Jews?

These were a summary of how the law was to be applied to “sojourners” in Israel

Leviticus 17:7-11 And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. And thou shalt say unto them, Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers which sojourn among you, that offereth a burnt offering or sacrifice, And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer it unto the LORD; even that man shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.

The reference in Acts 15 to the restrictions on gentile believers was to be in accordance with the binding a loosing referred to in Matthew 16 and exercised by James.

Matthew 16:19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

A more accurate translation would be

whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall have been already been bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall have already been loosed in heaven.

Instead of reading the passage in Matthew as giving new power to Peter, it is more accurately read as giving new responsibility to the disciples.

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