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Acts 15:28 and 29 tells us that basically all of the old law covenant is no longer to be observed except:

Acts 15:28 KJV For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;

Are Christians under obligation to avoid any or all of those 4 things today?

Acts 15:29 KJV That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

Most religions are in agreement that sexual immorality (fornication) should be avoided.

Of particular interest is what it meant in ancient times to abstain from blood and what it means now in modern times to abstain from blood.

As far as I know only the Jehovahs Witnesses refuse blood transfusing for religious reasons.

I would like an overview of mainstream Christian groups' interpretation of this scripture, in light of the vastly different conditions we have now with most of us never being involved in the slaughter of the animals we consume, in addition to the many medical therapies that involve blood and fractions thereof.

Edit

Answers should specifically state what various denominations teach regarding abstinence from blood.

What must adherents of denomination X do or not do to demonstrate they are abstaining from blood?

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    Most of the answers here seem to be ignoring that the ruling was directed only at "the Gentiles who are turning to God" (verse 19, NKJV). There is no reason to think that it should apply to Gentiles that have already converted. Dec 29, 2022 at 15:18
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    @User14 says "by default it also was directed to Jewish converts". How do you get that? It's explicitly to "the Gentiles who are turning to God". It isn't talking about Jews or about converts. Dec 29, 2022 at 21:48
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    @User14, Initially Christianity was a sect within Judaism, so obviously one couldn't convert to Christianity without first converting to Judaism. But the conference decided otherwise: that Gentiles that convert to Christianity don't need to be part of the Israelite Covenant. The big significance is that after this decision, Christianity was no longer a sect within Judaism. Dec 29, 2022 at 21:56
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    @User14, generally one starts out as curious (observing), then interested (learning about it), then a proselyte (formally training and studying), and finally a convert (fully committed and officially accepted by the organization as a full member). In some denominations, it can all happen in a day, in others (e.g. modern Catholicism and Judaism) it can take years. "who are turning to God" would refer to any of the categories before full conversion. Dec 30, 2022 at 2:59
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    Besides blood transfusions, one noticeable difference between denominations can be seen in consumption of some food products that include specifically blood, As far as I know this sort of products may not exist in, say the United States. I have mostly seen such in northern Europe, one example being a Finnish food called Mustamakkara. In Sweden I remember a version of Black pudding was occasionally served at school lunches and a classmate who was a Jehovah's Witnesses had other food those days.
    – user19845
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:21

6 Answers 6

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+200

It's necessary to consider the context in which the Council of Jerusalem made their declaration, as described in Acts 15. And to do that one has to go back to events that happened more than 2600 years before that.

The Seven Laws. Laws which were supposed by the Rabbis to have been binding upon mankind at large even before the revelation at Sinai, and which are still binding upon non-Jews.
The term Noachian indicates the universality of these ordinances, since the whole human race was supposed to be descended from the three sons of Noah, who alone survived the Flood.
LAWS, NOACHIAN - JewishEncyclopedia.com

These laws, commonly known as the Noahide Laws, or Noachian Laws, are:

  1. not to worship idols.
  2. not to blaspheme the name of God.
  3. to establish courts of justice.
  4. not to kill.
  5. not to commit adultery.
  6. not to rob.
  7. not to eat flesh that had been cut from a living animal.

Judaism does not proselytize, and does not believe that Gentiles should obey God's commandments as delivered through Moses, but it does believe that these seven laws do apply to everyone, and views Gentiles that obey these Noahide laws as good people.

The only place that prospective converts to the early Christian Church could study the scriptures was in a Synagogue. For Gentiles to be admitted and allowed to view the holy scrolls, they would have to be known to obey the Noahide Laws.

These Roman and Greek proselytes came from moral and law-abiding backgrounds (especially the ascetics, who saw anything pleasurable as sin), so they would already take for granted the concept of courts of justice and the laws against theft, murder, and blasphemy.

But within their society, they had commonly worshiped idols, used temple prostitutes, and eaten flesh from animals that still had life in them (i.e. contained blood).

Now, in that context, consider Acts 15:17–21:

17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things." [Amos 9]
18 Known to God from eternity are all His works. 19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God,
20 But that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.

Notice that:

  • The restrictions correspond exactly to the Noahide Laws that the proselytes weren't already following.
  • It mentions reading the holy scrolls in the synagogues.
  • The ruling is directed at "the Gentiles who are turning to God", those that are still learning and have not yet converted to Christianity.

Many of Paul's epistles are directed at over-zealous Christians who are trying to subject proselytes and other interested people to the full Christian way of life. For many of them, especially ascetics and dualists, this is too much and too soon, and Paul warns that this attitude is going to scare these people away from Christianity, not convert them. For instance, people that have spent their whole life as vegetarians aren't suddenly going to start eating meat simply because they are considering becoming Christian. Forcing them to eat animal flesh is an unreasonable burden to impose, and their personal feelings are going to take them a long time to change.

The Church cannot reasonably expect the proselytes to follow all of Gods laws yet; not until they are ready for their conversion.

(Even today, Judaism has a similar rule for proselytes. In fact, not only are they not expected to follow all the rules, up until their conversion they are required to break some of them. Proselytes for example must violate the Sabbath each week.)


Acts 15:28 and 29 tells us that basically all of the old law covenant is no longer to be observed except:

No. It says that proselytes and other interested people should not be forced to obey the biblical commandments, ceremonies, rituals, etc. It does not say they aren't allowed to follow the laws when they are ready to do so, and it certainly doesn't say anything about converted Christians (who are expected to follow God's laws).

Believing that these are the only laws Christians must obey makes little sense. Otherwise murder, theft, etc. would be considered acceptable behaviour.

except: … these necessary things

The Noahide Laws are "necessary", because that's the minimum requirement that the proselytes will have to do to be accepted by the Jewish community in order to have access to the holy scriptures and engage in discussion about them.

Are Christians under obligation to avoid any or all of those 4 things today?

Of course they are. The Noahide Laws apply to all mankind, not only to Christians or Jews.


I would like an overview of mainstream Christian groups' interpretation of this scripture

Most mainstream Christian groups (i.e. the Roman Church and the various Protestant denominations that branched from it) have generally abandoned these (and many other) biblical laws. They treat Acts 15 either as something specific for the time and place, or as associating blood with sacrifices to idols, and either way it is irrelevant today.

The Roman Catholic Church sees this prohibition as symbolic, doesn't feel obliged to enforce it, and uses syncretism to promote ecumenism:

From the viewpoint of exegesis the explicit reason for this prohibition is not exactly theological, it rather reflects a symbolical representation: “the life (nepheš) of all flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17.11, 14; Deut 12.23). After the apostolic era the Church did not feel obliged to make this a basis for formulating precise rules for the butcher and the kitchen, and still less in our own times to prohibit blood transfusion. The trans-cultural value underlying the particular decision of the Church in Acts 15 was a desire to foster the harmonious integration of the various groups, albeit at the price of a provisional compromise. — The Bible and Morality - Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct, Pontifical Biblical Commission, 11 March 2008

Unlike Rome, the Eastern Orthodox Church however does prohibit the consumption of blood:

Actually – and this is not well-known – the Orthodox position is that the Apostolic Council is still binding, and this includes the prohibition on eating blood. Two canonical sources which uphold the restriction of Acts 15 are:

Canon LXIII (63) of the Apostles: If any bishop, or presbyter or deacon or anyone else on the sacerdotal list at all, eat meat in the blood of its soul, or that has been killed by a wild beast, or that has died a natural death, let him be deposed. For the Law has forbidden this. But if any layman do the same let him be excommunicated.

Canon LXVII (67) from the Quinesext Council: Divine Scripture has commanded us to ‘abstain from blood, and strangled flesh and fornication’ (Gen 9:3-4, Lev 17 & 18:3, Acts 15: 28-29). We therefore suitably penance those who on account of their dainty stomach eat the blood of any animal after they have rendered it eatable by some art. If therefore anyone from now on should attempt to eat the blood of any animal in any way whatsoever, if he be a clergyman, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman let him be excommunicated.

The great Orthodox canonists (Zonaras, Balsamon) have reaffirmed the applicability of these canons.

Eating Food that has Blood in It according to Canon Law

The Orthodox Church seems to be the only mainstream denomination that abstains from blood.

Although individuals may personally find the thought of consuming blood distasteful, there is no other mainstream Christian doctrine about this topic, either requiring or forbidding it. Within the rest of mainstream Christianity consuming blood (or biblical unclean animals) is now an irrelevant secular issue, no different from that of eating broccoli or sauerkraut.

Many other denominations that didn't originate from the Roman Church also abstain from blood, but they aren't considered "mainstream".

For instance:

Like mainstream Christianity, Seventh Day Adventists believe that the prohibition against eating blood was only temporary. But unlike most denominations, rather than eventually allowing blood they believe the exact opposite: their long-term position is that meat of any kind should not be eaten:

It was not until after the Flood that meat in any form was permitted. This was an emergency measure, and given only because vegetation was destroyed during the Flood, and it would take a period of time for it to be restored. Certain definite restrictions were placed on its use then. It was not to contain blood.

"These necessary things" (Acts 15:19, 20, 28, 29) include abstinence from blood as commanded when meat was first allowed after the Flood. Thus, we see that man has never been given permission to eat meat as it is ordinarily eaten today.

Ministry Magazine | Nutrition According to the Bible

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the dietary laws were strictly part of the covenant with Israel, but they also recognize that eating or drinking blood is forbidden to all mankind. Their belief that life is in the blood is so strong, that this includes not consuming blood by any means, such as receiving blood products during medical surgery:

This is a religious issue rather than a medical one. Both the Old and New Testaments clearly command us to abstain from blood. (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10; Deuteronomy 12:23; Acts 15:28, 29) Also, God views blood as representing life. (Leviticus 17:14) So we avoid taking blood not only in obedience to God but also out of respect for him as the Giver of life.
Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Accept Blood Transfusions?.

Like Jehovah's Witnesses, Rastafarians also do not believe in the medical use of blood, nor does their diet include meat from unclean animals. Their version of "kosher" is known as Ital, (the word "Vital" without the "V"). Like Seventh Day Adventists, they too aim for vegetarianism.

"Church of God"ists follow the biblical dietary laws. (E.g. What Does the Bible Teach About Clean and Unclean Meats? | United Church of God.), but allow the medical use of blood:

Sometimes it’s been interpreted that the biblical law against eating blood means that people also shouldn’t have blood transfusions.

Since there’s no dogmatic statement on a modern medical procedure like a blood transfusion in the Bible, it’s up to the individual to make decisions about health care and treatment programs.
What Does the Bible Say About Getting Blood Transfusions? | United Church of God


in light of the vastly different conditions we have now with most of us never being involved in the slaughter of the animals we consume

Some societies do deliberately eat or drink blood (e.g. German blood sausages), but generally most animals today are slaughtered in ways that allow the animal to bleed to death, draining the circulatory system of blood. The red "blood" that one sees running out of raw meat isn't blood (haemoglobin), it is myoglobin, which performs a similar function but remains within the muscles and doesn't circulate.

In terms of modern meat production, there is only a small difference between common slaughter and Kosher/Halal slaughter.

The ritual slaughter uses an extremely sharp knife (painless) to cut through the throat without touching the spinal cord. This results in almost immediate loss of consciousness while allowing the heart to continue pumping the blood out through the severed arteries. (A prayer is also recited during the process.)

Common slaughter first stuns the animal with a blow to the head before the throat is cut. To allow proper bleeding, this stun must be light enough that it doesn't actually kill the animal, so the force used is set to err on the side of being too little rather than too much.

Strangely, most animal-rights advocates mistakenly believe that the ritual killing is more cruel.


What must adherents of denomination X do or not do to demonstrate they are abstaining from blood?

Demonstrating that one is doing the right thing was big with the Pharisees (e.g. ritual hand washing before and after meals), but really has no part in Christianity (or Judaism). God knows what everyone is doing and why they are doing it; what other people think is irrelevant.

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    Thank you for dealing with the issue of blood transfusions, something that did not exist (as far as I know) during the first century. +1 for your penultimate sentence in your concluding paragraph.
    – Lesley
    Dec 27, 2022 at 8:15
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    @User14, context is everything. Judaism follows the letter of the law, it's the deed that counts, evil thoughts aren't sinful until acted upon. But "choose life" overrides other laws, so one should consume blood to prevent starving to death. But not because of a threat against one's life based on religion (e.g. "Drink and violate your faith or I'll kill you."). ¶ Christianity follows the spirit of the law. Is it drunk in defiance, in carelessness, for some specific purpose? Motivation counts, not the act. ¶ Mainstreamers don't think there is anything wrong in consuming blood. Dec 27, 2022 at 14:10
  • @RayButterworth Please note that I and very many Christians I know would never eat or drink blood. Is that what you mean by "consuming"? If so, be aware that Jehovah's Witnesses consider accepting a blood transfusion equal to consuming blood. I agree that life is sacred and Christians should "choose life" rather than deny life (especially to minors). However, you may need to explain what you mean by "consuming blood" because Jehovah's Witnesses have an entirely different take on this, thinking that having a blood transfusion equals ingesting blood. Personally I would never eat or drink blood.
    – Lesley
    Dec 28, 2022 at 8:52
  • You state that 'Mainstream Christian groups (i.e. the Roman Church and the various Orthodox and Protestant denominations that branched from it) have generally abandoned these (and many other) biblical laws." However the Orthodox canon law forbids it.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 29, 2022 at 15:24
  • @KenGraham, right. I had thought that only some of the eastern spin-offs of Orthodoxy (e.g. Ethiopian) held this belief. It seems to be a not very high profile doctrine of the main church. I've revised my answer accordingly. Thanks. Dec 29, 2022 at 16:46
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I only have information from Protestant groups that would include Baptists, Brethren, Church of Scotland, Church of England, and Reformed Presbyterian. Those comprise a broad range of mainstream denominations. Quotations in this answer range from books written in the early 1700s up until the late 1990s.

All of them treat Acts chapter 15 in context, and they never isolate mention of blood from the other injunctions. None of them try to make a doctrine out of the Acts 15 mention of blood, unlike the doctrine of the blood of Christ, shed for sinners, which is a fundamental doctrine across the entire Christian spectrum.

I have personally sat through a few sermons on Acts 15 but none of them mentioned modern-day use of blood in medical treatments. They all focused on the problem first-century Christians had in reaching out with the gospel to Jewish people; how Jewish sensitivities regarding moral issues, idolatry, and dietary matters in the Hebrew scriptures had to be respected if any were to be converted to faith in Christ. This is exemplified in the following quotes:

"4. Here is the direction what to require from the Gentile converts, where observe,

(1) The matter of the injunction, which is according to the advice given by James, that to avoid giving offence to the Jews,

[1.] They should never eat any thing that they knew had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, but look upon it as, though clean in itself, yet thereby polluted to them. This prohibition was afterwards, in part, taken off, for they were allowed to eat whatever was sold in the shambles, or set before them at their friend's table, though it had been offered to idols, except when three was danger of giving offence by it, that is, of giving occasion either to a weak Christian to think the worse of our Christianity, or to a wicked heathen to think the better of his idolatry; and in these cases it is good to forbear, 1 Cor. 10:25, etc. This to us is an antiquated case.

[2.] That they should not eat blood, nor drink it; but avoid every thing that looked cruel and barbarous in that ceremony which had been so long standing.

[3.] That they should not eat any thing that was strangled, or died of itself, or had not had the blood let out.

[4.] That they should be very strict in censuring those that were guilty of fornication, or marrying within the degrees prohibited by the Levitical law, which, some think, is principally intended here. See 1 Cor. 5:1 Dr. Hammond states this matter thus: the judaizing teachers would have the Gentile converts submit to all that those submitted to whom they called the proselytes of righteousness, to be circumcised and keep the whole law; but the apostles required no more of them than what was required of the proselytes of the gate, which was to observe the seven precepts of the sons of Noah, which, he thinks, are here referred to. But the only ground of this decree being in complaisance to the rigid Jews that had embraced the Christian faith, and, except in that one case of scandal, all meats pronounced free and indifferent to all Christians as soon as the reason of the decree ceased, which, at furthest, was after the destruction of Jerusalem, the obligation of it ceased likewise. "These things are in a particular manner offensive to the Jews, and therefore do not disoblige them herein for the present; in a little time the Jews will incorporate with the Gentiles, and then the danger is over"." Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, page 1704 middle and r.h.s. columns. Bold mine. A similar and less verbose analysis in The International Bible Commentary edited by F.F. Bruce, pp. 1293-1294 Zondervan 1986

He then goes on to deal with the manner in which the chapter is worded, and the authority of the Holy Spirit in all of this is stressed. This is confirmed in a more modern commentary. The author deals with the way in which the Holy Spirit's post-Pentecostal activity involves "The new community is formed and sustained under the governing activity of the Spirit (Acts 6:3, 5; 7:55; 10:19, 44-48; 13:2-4; 15:28; 16:6-10) The Holy Spirit, p. 94, Sinclair Ferguson, IVP 1996

There is much more said about Acts chapter 15 in this other Protestant book which here deals with the men who came from Judea to Antioch (Acts 15:1):

"We need to be clear what they were saying, and what the point at issue was. They were insisting, in Luke's tell-tale summary, that without circumcision converts could not be saved... making it a condition of salvation. They were telling Gentile converts that faith in Jesus was not enough, not sufficient for salvation: they must add to faith circumcision, and to circumcision observance of the law. In other words, they must let Moses complete what Jesus had begun, and let the law supplement the gospel. The issue was immense. The way of salvation was at stake...

No sooner had the delegation from Antioch been given a warm welcome by the Jerusalem church than the controversy broke out afresh. Then some of the believers, who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, 'The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.'...

At the same time, having established the principle that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, without works, it was necessary to appeal to these Gentile believers to respect the conscience of their Jewish fellow-believers by abstaining from a few practices which might offend them. For, James went on to explain, Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times...

A degree of uncertainty, however, surrounds what is sometimes referred to, at least in Anglican circles, as 'the Jerusalem Quadrilateral', that is, the four requested abstentions. At first sight, they appear to be an odd mixture of moral and ceremonial matters, since sexual immorality belongs to the former category, and idol-meats, 'things strangled' (AV) and blood to the latter. How could James combine them, as if they were of equal importance? Besides, sexual chastity is an elementary ingredient in Christian holiness; so why state the obvious by including it in the list? The Message of Acts, pp. 242-250, John Stott, IVP 2000 reprint"

The author then takes two pages to look at textual variants, and to expand on why those four matters were put together. This is a thorough examination and interpretation of this chapter. Then comes three pages under the heading Permanent lessons which deals with your query, "Are Christians under obligation to avoid any or all of those 4 things today?"

"Students who read Acts 15 today are tempted to dismiss it impatiently as being of purely antiquarian interest. There is no circumcision party nowadays trying to impose Mosaic rituals on anybody, ...although some of them (like eating kosher food) could still apply to Christians living among conservative Jews." (Ibid. p255)

He details two lessons relevant to Christians today, showing the principles that can be applied to expose distortions of the doctrine of salvation (the gospel), and how fellowship is an issue of Christian love. I cannot copy his more-than two pages of small-print text on this, but will summarise.

It is one thing to secure the gospel from corruptions, and it is another to preserve the church from fragmentation. Acts chapter 15 shows how beginning to add to the gospel (more required than faith in Christ's finished work) will lead to fragmentation of the Church. And has not history proved that! Whenever people professing to be Christians either take away from the "simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3, the biblical Jesus), or add to the gospel of salvation extra 'things' that must be believe and done, arguments and strife arise, leading to heretical teachers leaving, and setting up their own followings. That is why the author says:

"We must resist modern theologians who set the New Testament writers at variance with each other... Today people try to add works of a different kind, philanthropy perhaps or religious observances, or a particular ceremony or experience. In each case it is a 'Jesus plus' gospel... We and they, Jews and Gentiles, are saved in the same way, through the one and only apostolic gospel of God's grace. (v. 11)" Ibid. pp. 255-6

In context of the question, a principle would be that any group claiming that members who accept modern treatments that include whole blood, or who eat food that has blood in it (like black pudding, or jugged hare) will lose salvation, is teaching a 'Jesus plus' distortion of the gospel. Nobody's salvation depends on observing such regulations, even to the death - only faith in the death and resurrection of Christ saves anybody. The author then shows that

"...once the theological principle was firmly established, that salvation is by grace alone, and that circumcision was not required but neutral, Paul was prepared to adjust his practical policies. He made two notable concessions, both for the same conciliatory reason... He urged Christians with a 'strong' (or educated) conscience not to violate the consciences of the 'weak' (or over-scrupulous)... Again, though free, Paul was willing to make himself a slave to others... As Luther put it, Paul was strong in faith, and soft in love... Or as John Newton once said during a meeting of the Eclectic Society in 1799, 'Paul was a reed in non-essentials, an iron pillar in essentials.'" (Ibid. p. 257)

Conclusion - Many Protestant commentators on Acts 15 deal with the situation that obtained in the first century. It is held that the situation later changed so that when Jewish and Gentile converts were established in worship, with a clear grasp of salvation in Christ alone as an act of God's grace and not due to law-keeping, all the focus was on preaching Christ and living as his followers. Christ never required circumcision nor observance of dietary regulations. Only some men who were adding to the gospel of Christ did that, so Acts 15 was the Church's response, to keep the gospel pure, and the Church maintaining loving fellowship. The same principles apply today but with different issues.

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    @User14 The question header and the body of the question are about blood. That has been answered, clearly. You are requiring something, by way of comment, that was not in the question.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 27, 2022 at 5:27
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    Up-voted as an excellent overview +1. Although Protestant myself, I don't agree with the - generally held - Protestant conclusions, myself. They have missed the importance of what was conveyed to Noah (apart from and prior to Moses) and its relevance to humanity in general.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 27, 2022 at 5:31
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    @User 14 I fear you have skimmed through my answer, indicated by you inserting the phrase 'completely ignore' the blood prohibitions of the 1st century. My answer shows various Protestant expositions of Acts 15, Presbyterian, Anglican (C of E), Baptist, etc. They apply the principles to various modern situations, but never to such sectarian demands that members be prepared to die rather than accept whole blood transfusion. See Butterworth's answer for that specific modern-day issue. I decline your request, for those reasons.
    – Anne
    Dec 27, 2022 at 11:32
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    @User14 - OK. I'm going to assume you really want answers.. buy two books.. "Interpretation of the Scriptures" by A. W. Pink (about £3.50 on ebay) and "Not like any other book" by Peter Masters (£9 from Tabernacle Bookshop, London). There are rules to understanding scripture.. they are nearly all obvious rules, but needed when we are being bombarded by people who sound so confident they "just know" the meaning of a passage. Some rules: No interpret. of any passage should contradict the rest of scripture. Interpret shorter passages by longer ones on same subject. There are many other rules. Dec 27, 2022 at 14:08
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    @User14 - Another rule is "build big houses on big foundations": big doctrinal positions should be built on big scriptural foundations. This is a warning sign for the JW interpretation of Acts 15 on blood issues: where is the big foundation? Why is there no bigger explanation found in the New Testament? We have this recommendation of the "Jerusalem Council" and that is it, no more explanation. Therefore we should not make a big thing about it, certainly not something which contradicts the way of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians ch 8-10 explain. Dec 27, 2022 at 14:31
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How have mainstream Christian denominations interpreted the Acts (Acts 15:28-29) command to abstain from blood?

28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

From the beginning of Christendom, this passage would have to be looked at both a historical point of view as well as how various Christian denominations have come to arrive at their particular interpretation of St. Paul’s words.

Paul is dealing with several issues here. Some of which the average Christian may or may not be aware of.

  • Historians such as Pliny tell us that in Romans times, the Roman populace at times drank the blood of gladiators.

  • Pagans occasionally cooked animal (such as pig) blood as part of their culinary diets. One just look at the Roman De re culinaria bares this out. See here.

  • Ancient pagans, both Greek and Roman offered animal sacrifices to their pagans gods. While the exta and blood are reserved for the gods, the flesh could either be eaten in a communal meal or sold on the market.

  • The Ancient Hebrews drained the blood of the animals they consumed because the life of the animal is in the blood. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.Therefore I say to the Israelites, "None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood." - Leviticus 17:11-12

  • Most Christians do not believe that St. Paul is speaking about modern medical blood transfusions here, save a small minority Christian denominations such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is their privilege to interpret it as such.

It was not until 1615 AD that the function of blood within the human body actually began to be understood. Eating Blood & Blood Transfusions — one Christian’s Opinion

Further along in Acts 21:25 we can read what St. James has to say about what the gentiles should do concerning eating animal flesh sacrificed to idols, blood and from flesh of strangled animals.

As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.

It seems that the very Early Church did in fact abstain from eating blood, but as the Christian Church grew this was not so.

In other words, we’re not faced with a significant Jewish population in the Church who would take offense at the eating of blood. John Calvin commented in a similar vein:

Wherefore, what Tertullian relates, that in his time it was unlawful among Christians to taste the blood of cattle, savours of superstition. For the apostles, in commanding the Gentiles to observe this rite, for a short time, did not intend to inject a scruple into their consciences, but only to prevent the liberty which was otherwise sacred, from proving an occasion of offence to the ignorant and the weak. (Commentary on Genesis 9:4)

Thus, I conclude that Acts 15:28-29 does not make it unlawful for Christians today to consume blood. - Can a Christian Eat Black Pudding?

Further more St. Paul says “Nothing is unclean in itself” (Romans 14:14). But if eating that meat causes a brother in Christ to violate his conscience, Paul “will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). This was the same concern the Jerusalem leaders had in Acts 15: if the Gentile believers ate meat with the blood in it, the Jewish believers might be tempted to violate their conscience and join them in the feast. One’s conscience is a sacred thing, and we dare not act against it (see 1 Corinthians 8:7-12 and Romans 14:5).

In short, eating a steak rare or well done is a matter of conscience and of taste. What enters the mouth does not make us unclean (see Matthew 15:17-18). Eating black pudding may not appeal to everyone, but it is not a sin.

In this end we see that some denominations may eat flesh with blood mixed with it. For example, the Catholic Church has no issue of eating blood of animals.

Returning now to our discussion, unlike the other prohibitions, Paul never specifically mentions the non-consumption of blood in any other of his letters. The only reference he makes is to the cup of demons — "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons" (1 Corinthians 10:21). What exactly the cup of demons is here is unclear. It could be referring to certain pagan wine or drink offerings (e.g. Isaiah 65:11; Jer 7:18), but most probably, in light of the verses that precede this one, it is the blood of animals sacrificed at pagan rituals. "Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice [18] they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons" (1 Corinthians 18-20). Here Paul is talking about a ritual where an animal is sacrificed, and then its blood is placed in a cup and drunk. Paul appears to be referring to the same ritual to acquire "divine life" condemned in the Old Testament, which lead to the law against the consumption of blood.

This passage is intriguing because Paul seems to change his idea on offerings to idols. But this is not so necessarily, especially if this passage is taken in context. He still says the food and idols are nothing, but that they are really worshipping demons now. What does he mean by demons though? Paul seems to be referring to Deuteronomy 32:17[19] "They sacrificed to demons which were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come in of late, whom your fathers had never dreaded. It is quite possible that demons equals "no gods" here as also in De 32:21. This is also Paul's reply to the pagan who claimed that they worshipped the gods represented by the images and not the mere wood or stone or metal idols in Acts 17:18. Throughout most of the New Testament his word does refer to evil spirits, but that cannot be conclusively said for this passage. In addition, we might also see here another instance of Paul being "all things to all people" with the community in Corinth. Regardless of the confusion though, what is important is context he mentions it in — that in of a discussion on the Eucharist, the partaking of the body and blood of Christ. - Unless You Drink of My Blood...

If a Christian lives in a country or culture where the eating of blood is extremely offensive, then that individual should refrain from the eating of blood, not because it is sinful, but because it would be sinful to be a stumbling block to those who believe it is wrong. It is not sinful for a Christian to eat blood, but it might be advisable in certain circumstances to refrain.

Apparently our Orthodox Brethren still refrain from eating animal blood. What is more it is in their Canon Law.

The Orthodox position is that the Apostolic Council is still binding, and this includes the prohibition on eating blood. Two canonical sources which uphold the restriction of Acts 15 are:

Canon LXIII (63) of the Apostles: If any bishop, or presbyter or deacon or anyone else on the sacerdotal list at all, eat meat in the blood of its soul, or that has been killed by a wild beast, or that has died a natural death, let him be deposed. For the Law has forbidden this. But if any layman do the same let him be excommunicated.

Canon LXVII (67) from the Quinesext Council: Divine Scripture has commanded us to ‘abstain from blood, and strangled flesh and fornication’ (Gen 9:3-4, Lev 17 & 18:3, Acts 15: 28-29). We therefore suitably penance those who on account of their dainty stomach eat the blood of any animal after they have rendered it eatable by some art. If therefore anyone from now on should attempt to eat the blood of any animal in any way whatsoever, if he be a clergyman, let him be deposed from office; but if he be a layman let him be excommunicated.

Eating Food that has Blood in It according to Canon Law

As for Protestants, it seems they are a little divided on each side of the fence whether eating animal blood should be allowed or not. Here follows one Baptist viewpoint.

With the major doctrinal issue resolved, James turned his attention to practical matters of fellowship. Aware that Gentiles might use their newfound freedom in ways that offended Jewish sensibilities, James proposed a way to ensure that cultural differences wouldn’t become a source of division within the church. His proposal was simple: Gentile believers should abstain from four things (Acts 15:20–21):

  • the things polluted by idols,

  • from sexual immorality,

  • from what has been strangled

  • from blood

What’s Behind the Blood?

What about the third and fourth items on James’s list? These requests—abstaining from what’s been strangled and from blood—may seem odd to most modern ears. An awareness of the historical context, though, helps explain why these prohibitions were included in a conversation about Jew-Gentile fellowship.

The Jewish concern for rightly handling blood originates in Genesis 9:4–6. There God first allowed Noah and his descendants to eat animal flesh, while still forbidding them to eat blood, highlighting the fact that the animal’s blood is its life. This same teaching was later codified for Israel in Leviticus 17:10–16, where God explicitly prohibited the eating of blood. The reason for this command is given in Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”

Two important truths are communicated here. First, blood is sacred because it represents life. As Allen Ross explains, “When blood is shed, life is relinquished.” Second, within the sacrificial system, the life-blood is the means by which atonement is made for the one bringing the sacrifice. Based on this reasoning, one can see why animal blood was a fitting (albeit imperfect) type of the final sacrifice, whose blood alone actually takes away sins (Heb. 9:22; 10:4; 1 John 1:7). For these reasons, the Israelites weren’t to devalue blood by human consumption.

With this historical context in mind, James’s request that the Gentile Christians refrain from eating blood should be understood as a matter of preserving fellowship between Christians of differing cultures. By following the council’s guidance, the early church exhibited discretion and forbearance—traits necessary for deep, authentic fellowship to flourish in diverse, multi-ethnic congregations. Because Moses “has had in every city those who proclaim him” (Acts 15:21), Jews around the ancient world would’ve struggled if Gentiles flaunted their liberty without regard for these particular Jewish sensitivities. Living in a diverse community was challenging enough already; there was no need to antagonize a brother or sister unnecessarily.

Wisdom for Today

While the question of blood is no longer pressing for most Christians, the way it was settled provides important lessons for Christians today.

As our congregations continue to deal with essential and tertiary issues within our midst, we should follow the example of the Jerusalem Council first and foremost by loving God and preferring our neighbor above ourselves. - Are Christians Forbidden to Eat Blood?

I would like to emphasize my own thought that all meat one buys from the supermarket has been drained of blood (or nearly all the blood) to prevent spoilage. Some sources claim all the blood is drained from slaughtered animals, while some claim that a minute may remain in the animal. There is a reason why animals are drained of their blood in industry. Just think about how long the meat is sitting there, and how long it will be sitting in one’s fridge before you cook it up. In that time, the blood will most definitely congeal and rot, and spoil the meat soon after it hits the shelves in grocery stores.

According to Professor Carol O’Neil who teaches nutrition at Louisiana State University Agricultural, says that there isn’t enough studies to confirm the claim of Halal and Kosher meat being healthy than conventional meat. - Is Halal meat considered healthy since they drain all the blood out before completely killing the animal?

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TL;DR: Appearance of evil: Drinking blood was an element of Pagan sacrifice

Are we under obligation to avoid any or all of those 4 things [meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication] today?

Original context: Pagan sacrifices

These four items appear to be linked together because all of them were elements of pagan sacrifices. According to this essay,

Often, pagan worship included the sacrificing and eating of animals, sometimes with the drained blood being offered as a “course” in the meal. These festivities also generally included sexual participation by the guest in any number of immoral ways. Coffman* noted: “Idol feasts were shameful debaucheries, marked by the most vulgar and immoral behavior.... In fact, it is possible that all four of these restrictions relate to idol worship” (1977, p. 299)

*Coffman, James Burton (1977), Commentary on Acts (Abilene, TX: ACU Press)

Other discussions in the epistles of Paul

The apostle Paul made it abundantly clear that sexual immorality was unacceptable in the church.

  • 1Cor 6:18 Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin that a man does is outside the body,” but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. WEB

  • Gal 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, WEB

  • Eph 5:3 But sexual immorality, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be mentioned among you, as becomes saints; WEB

Paul also specifically allows eating of meat which has been sacrificed, as long as it did not produce a bad witness. If a brother or sister in the Lord would be offended, or if someone specifically pointed out that "this meat was sacrificed" -- presumably to test what the believer would do -- then the meat offered should be avoided. It appears that eating the meat was not in conflict with the requirements of the Jerusalem conference if there was no offense. It is not clearly stated in scripture whether eating strangled animals or drinking blood was also ok if it gave no offense, but these seem to be closely related and are not otherwise forbidden to Christians.

Later church practice

Almost all Christian groups today reject sexual immorality as sinful, though there is some variation in what constitutes immorality (some groups even finding premarital relations to be acceptable). Pagan sacrifices seem to be rare enough in Europe and the Americas that little is written about it in most denominations. In practice, most Christians would avoid being seen as an active participant in any sacrifice they consider inappropriate. While most groups say nothing about blood or strangled animals, the Witnesses of Jehovah and the Eastern Orthodox churches do forbid them. Some Pentacostal groups interpret the conference requirements as commands still in effect, but spiritualize them, for example "strangled meat" is careless doctrinal statements.

A Catholic viewpoint:

Notice, neither the letter nor the restrictions were meant for the Church as a whole, but only to the Gentile converts in a certain section of the world. Nor was it making any "dogmatic" statement, but only a practical one. Thus most do not interpret this passage as being meant for all generations of Christians. It was meant to keep peace between the Jewish and Gentile converts in a specific community at a specific time. In addition, it, like the rest of scripture, was prohibiting the consumption of blood 1, not its use in medical operations 3

The Orthodox churches apparently consider all four prohibitions to still be in effect today. Here is a statement from an Orthodox apologetics site:

Actually – and this is not well-known – the Orthodox position is that the Apostolic Council is still binding, and this includes the prohibition on eating blood (including blood sausage, etc and strangled meats. This prohibition on eating blood has however never been understood as a strict prohibition on the use of blood transfusions in case of medical emergency.

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  • This is poorly referenced for an overview of modern practice, but better than nothing and I hope to improve it.
    – Bit Chaser
    Sep 2, 2018 at 21:55
  • I’m impressed so far. I know overview questions are laborious. I guess that’s why it has gone unanswered for 2.5 years. I appreciate the efforts.
    – Kris
    Sep 2, 2018 at 23:09
  • 2
    @Kris One reason why it's difficult to get official denominational statements on this is that most Christian groups stick to matters determining salvation in their creeds and do not pontificate on lesser issues. Acts 15 was addressing Gentiles who already were Christians; this was counsel to avoid them offending Jews, which would put Jews off listening to the gospel. To "abstain from blood" means blood-guilt, like murder or manslaughter, plus not drinking blood or eating meat not bled kosher-style.
    – Anne
    Sep 20, 2018 at 14:44
  • 1
    The O.T. speaks time and again of people being blood-guilty due to murder and manslaughter. From "the ground crying out" to God for the blood of Abel spilled by Cain to 6 cities of refuge for unintentional killers of another person (Numbers ch. 35), God holds guilty those who spill blood. But the new Gentile Christians in Acts were never brought up on the OT. All this would be new to them even though murder is known to be wrong in every society. The biblical details about blood-guilt go far deeper and that is why they needed such instruction in Acts 15. Disciple's answer is good & sufficient.
    – Anne
    Sep 22, 2018 at 6:37
  • 2
    I agree with Anne that the context of Acts 15 is one of tension between Jews and Gentile converts and the restrictions are aimed at alleviating these pressures, ala 1 Corinthians 8. I disagree about the blood-guilt connection. Sep 29, 2020 at 22:18
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There are many fine answers here with aspects of the whole of the matter. If I can avoid it, I'll not re-hash these things.

It's critical to keep in mind that when the Jerusalem council met in Acts 15 (A.D. 50) the Jewish temple was still standing and the sacrificial system was still in place. The four things prohibited by the council at Jerusalem were absolutely excluded from the worship of Jehovah. Even though the letter carried by Paul and Barnabas was sent back with them to Antioch, and even though there was no lawful temple or sacrifice being made at Antioch, there was certainly a synagogue of the Jews and membership or attendance there would depend primarily upon adherence and respect toward the sacrificial system.

As such, animal blood was to be highly respected as that which contains the life of the animal and makes atonement for sins: It was not for human consumption. For a Jew to consume animal blood would be an absolute denial and flat out rejection of the means that Jehovah had given for the atonement of sin. If a Gentile drank blood as part of a pagan ritual or even as part of a normal diet they would not be welcome in any fellowship with the people of Israel:

And any man of the house of Israel, or of the sojourners, who is sojourning in your midst, who eateth any blood, I have even set My face against the person who is eating the blood, and have cut him off from the midst of 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 which maketh atonement for the soul. 'Therefore I have said to the sons of Israel, No person among you doth eat blood, and the sojourner who is sojourning in your midst doth not eat blood; and any man of the sons of Israel, or of the sojourners, who is sojourning in your midst, who hunteth venison, beast or fowl, which is eaten—hath even poured out its blood, and hath covered it with dust; for it is the life of all flesh, its blood is for its life; and I say to the sons of Israel, Blood of any flesh ye do not eat, for the life of all flesh is its blood; any one eating it is cut off - Leviticus 17:10-14

There is a direct correspondence drawn here between eating blood and eating atoning life and a direct statement that it is given on the altar and not for food. The council at Jerusalem was writing a letter while the context of blood being given on the altar was still occurring. This was a letter written during a sharp transitional period.

The only reason that eating blood was prohibited by Jehovah was that the blood contains the life of the animal and makes atonement for sins. The transition is that, now it is the blood (and the life therein) of the Son of God which has made atonement for sins once for all and abstention from consuming blood is no longer a matter of the atoning life that animal blood contains. If one continues to think of animal blood in the old way it is a tacit denial of the efficacy of Christ's blood. Therefore if one abstains from eating blood it must be for a different reason.

The Jerusalem council came together because there was strife between Jewish and Gentile believers over what is lawfully required for inclusion within Jehovah's people and the declaration is made keeping these things in mind:

  1. Jewish believers in Christ at that time were living with one eye on the Lord's sacrifice and one eye on the temple sacrifices. They were clinging to both type and anti-type until the temple's destruction and although the cessation of the Levitical system was coming they had no way of knowing.

  2. Gentile believers in Christ were never tethered directly to the Levitical system but only tangentially (if at all), as sojourners with Israel. As such, the freedom from Law as the vehicle for righteousness was much more immediately accessible to them.

  3. Fellowship between these two groups in the synagogues where the gospel was being proclaimed would require one of these two groups to alter their behavior and the Jews were never going to be convinced that consuming blood was okay. It was easiest for the Gentiles to make the concession on behalf of the Jewish conscience. If blood consumption had been an idolatrous practice for them it was right to cease idolatry. If blood consumption had been strictly dietary for them it was loving to cease for the sake of the conscience of Jewish brethren.

Nowadays, 2000+ years after the cessation of the Levitical system of worship and any actual atoning virtue in the lifeblood of an animal, consuming blood is a matter of taste and conscience. That is not to say that it should be taken lightly:

It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. - Romans 14:21-23

but only to say that eating blood is not sin in and of itself. If one thinks it is sin, that one should definitely not eat and if another knows it is perceived in this way both should abstain when they are together:

Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. - Romans 14:19

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  • This question is asking for an overview of different Christian denominations.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 29, 2022 at 15:27
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Of particular interest is what it ... means now in modern times ...

In school (Roman-Catholic religious education) we were told that the reason for this instruction is that Christians being Jews would have refused to live together (e.g. visit, pray together) with Christians eating such kind of food (here: meat containing blood).

Sooner or later, the very early Church would have broken into two parts: Non-Jewish Christians who are eating such kind of food and Jewish Christians refusing to have contact to people doing this.

The goal of the instruction is to ensure that there is no group of Christians refusing to have contact to another other group of Christians.

Because this is told in the official Roman-Catholic Religious education classes, I assume that this is the interpretation of this verse(s) of the Catholic Church today.

EDIT

Interesting but my question is what does it mean to abstain from blood today?

Our religious education teacher made one more statement; according to that statement (if I understood it correctly), the two verses are interpreted in the following way:

(Interpretation of) 5:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than this necessary thing: 5:29 That you do not do anything which is seen as indecent by other Christians. Fare ye well.

As you can see, according to this interpretation the verse does not mandate a specific behavior (e.g. abstaining from blood) but it mandates more generally to behave in a way that other members of the parish do not feel disgusted.

For this reason the Catholic Church seems not to derive any specific commandments from this verse.

Surely, the Catholic Church has very strict ideas about sexual morality and there are also commandments about food; however, these commandments are not derived from Acts 5:29.

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  • @Kris I edited my answer to make my point a bit clearer. Oct 4, 2020 at 16:30
  • @Anne. Notice how this answer concludes. It is clear that for Catholics the prohibition on blood is not relevant today.
    – Kris
    Dec 27, 2022 at 12:52

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