Acts 15:28-29

(Cleo Young) #1

Acts 15:28 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.

The context of this chapter is about the Jews wanting the Gentiles to follow the law to be saved. The requirement of circumcision was eliminated, yet in the end certain requirements were established. Avoiding sexual immorality is obvious, but why are the other three mentioned? There must be a cultural component I’m missing. Every now and then I research this verse and have not found an answer. Can anyone help? Thank you.

(SeanO) #2

@cleo The council at Jerusalem was trying to help Jewish and Gentile Christians live in harmony. While all food is clean under the New Covenant (Acts 11:9) since it is not what goes in the mouth but what comes out that defiles (Matthew 15:11), the purpose of these laws is unity in the Body of Christ. In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 we see Paul telling those who are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols to not offend their brothers and sisters whose conscience is not free to do so. The same basic principle is being applied here…

You may also find this thread helpful. Christ grant you wisdom :slight_smile:

(Carson Weitnauer) #3

Hi @cleo,

These are puzzling verses. I think the key is to hone in on this simple little phrase: “If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”

For this particular problem, at this particular stage of the church’s growth, the practical solution for Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians to be enabled to fellowship and serve together was to restrain themselves from offending one another.

I think this is a powerful principle in our current day and age. Sometimes I may not like the worship music at church. But, I would “do well” to sing along to show respect for the members of the church who do find this to be a good way to worship God.

At other times, perhaps I have a preference that causes unnecessary offense to other members. While I have the freedom to keep living out that preference, out of love for my brothers and sisters, I can choose to make an adaptation so we can more easily follow God together.

This artful, humble, prayerful seeking the benefit of another is part of what helps churches remain strong and healthy as they bring people of every culture and generation together in the worship of God.

(Mitzi Witt) #4

Lots of hints in Acts 15…some of my studies suggest as follows…As we read in verse 15:20-21 of Acts… the people new to the ways of Christ and turning to Him had free access to the law of Moses especially the moral way of the ten commandments which would be well known even among the Gentiles coming to Christ. But as concerning how to worship in a new way, the old had to be abandoned. The apostles/elders directed the new converts who had previously been steeped in different worship traditions to idols ( polluting themselves) with practices such as foods offered to idols , blood, “sacred” temple prostitution, offering of dead animals etc… They were not to bring these practices of idolatrous temple worship and apply to the living God the same ways of worship. The culture was steeped in idolatrous practices in temple worship.

That may be a part of understanding this passage in Acts. :thinking:

(Kevin Hurst) #5

I really appreciated the thoughts that were given here. I had a question that maybe someone could give insight on too. Could we look at this passage as the church of that time writing up a statement of faith and practice?
This could be applied in our time as each body of believers looks at the culture they are living in. They then look at the principles of the Bible and decide together what the application of the principles should look like in the culture they are living in. They are then written down so that anyone that wants to join that body of like minded believers can study and know what the applications are in this church before they join. This will help to bring unity to that body like @SeanO was talking about.
There will be no perfect church, at least once I join it=). People will not always see things my way. But like @CarsonWeitnauer said am I willing to give up some of my preferences for the sake of my brother. (Romans 15). If what I want to do is going to cause my brother to stumble in his Christian walk, am i willing to give it up to help my other brother.

(SeanO) #6

@Kevin_Hurst I had not thought of it that way, but that makes sense. Perhaps these rules would not be requirements for membership, but rather expectations for the believers to honor one another? I can see the Pastor going over that in the membership class, “Now, let us remember that we are a diverse congregation and it is our responsibility to respect the consciences of our brothers and sisters.” Good thought!

(Kevin Hurst) #7

It was just a thought that came to me and thought I would throw it out there for discussion.

(Cleo Young) #8

Sincere appreciation to all of you who responded to my question. I got a unique tidbit from every post that helped give me understanding. Thank you so much!

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(Lakshmi Mehta) #9

@Cleo, thanks for your question! This is something which interests me due to its practical relevance, having come out of a polytheistic Hindu background just as the Gentiles. While I agree with others that we should not sacrifice unity or pass judgement in the body of Christ over matters of law or opinion, I do however think that we need a more nuanced understanding of Acts 15.

One aspect as others have described is of maintaining unity in the body of believers, since everyone is acceptable unto God only through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The criterion of Christ alone essentially levels all the differences of background, knowledge, works and abilities in approaching God. This understanding is evidenced by the fact that the Holy Spirit was given both to the Jewish and Gentile believers showing God’s acceptance of all. Jerusalem council therefore decides to not burden the Gentiles to keep the Mosaic law in order to be considered saved and included among the Jewish believers. This is the principle of love based on grace expounded in Romans 14.

The second aspect is of admonishing the Gentile believers to abstain from idolatrous practices, lest they be tempted to revert to idolatry or compromise their witness for Christ. In pagan cultures just as it is today, the civic and social life were very much intermingled with pagan rituals. So, if Gentile believers exclusively devoted themselves to Christ, there is the risk of being ostracized. To avoid the risks, two temptations for a Gentile believer are 1) to rationalize continued participation in idolatrous practices to feel included and 2) Accept Jesus in a non-exclusive manner by adding Jesus to their pantheon of gods. I remember feeling such pressures to compromise when I first became a Christian as our family celebrated many Hindu festivals and hosted Hindu gatherings at home. So, it makes sense that both the Jerusalem council’s prohibitions in Acts 15 and Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 8-11 are about fleeing idolatry and even avoiding the appearance of Christians sanctioning idolatry by eating food offered to idols publicly. The prohibitions of Acts 15 have been related to pagan idolatrous worship by many bible commentators. James Burton Coffman writes in his commentary on Acts: “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). Dennis Gaertner in his commentary on Acts, writes “in some pagan practices blood was drunk apart from the meat” (1993, p. 240-241).

The nuance in understanding comes down to the differences in how we define ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ Christian in the context of Romans 14 and 1 Cor 8-10. All would agree that the ‘strong’ in faith per Romans 14 (v 13-23) is the one who understands that the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking or observance of days but about pursuing things that make for peace and mutual upbuilding. Rom 14 is about how Gentile believers and Jewish believers ought to respect each other for what they did, knowing that the intent behind was to bring honor to the true Lord. Rom 14 however does not have any insight on food sacrificed to idols and only talks about vegetables and days of observance. Perhaps it is because food offered to idols, was always to pagan gods, and participating in that activity would never honor the true Lord!

Now let’s look at 1 Cor 8-10 - the ‘strong’ Christian according to 1 Cor 8 is the one who has the understanding that there was one God Father and one Lord Jesus Christ (monotheistic) and the ‘weak’ is defined as the one who lacks the knowledge (polytheistic) - in other words the weak one does not believe in Jesus exclusively and still believes that eating the food offered to a pagan idol would somehow help them. So, in this context the weak Gentile is involving himself in practices that does not bring honor to the true God. The strong Christian then is not the one who avoids offending the weaker believer by letting the weak believer go ahead with food offered to pagan idols but the one who relinquishes the rights for the sake of the weak believer and encourages the weaker believer to do the same. This line of thought of relinquishing rights seems to be further exemplified by Paul in 1 Cor 9 (v 12, 15, 19). Paul then shares in 1 Cor 10, an example of how the Israelites desired evil through idolatry, complaining and testing God and urges the Corinthians to not desire evil and resist being tempted into idolatry (6-12). This suggests that the Corinthians were being tempted into idolatry, rationalizing eating idolatrous food by saying that an idol is nothing and not really paying the cost of separating themselves from their pagan life. The ones who ate food offered to idols were then not actually strong but weak! Not surprisingly, Paul therefore exhorts them to flee from idolatry as it would be equivalent to participating with pagan sacrifices offered to demons (v20). When it comes to food of questionable origin sold in the meat market, Paul says they are free to eat anything as long no one informs them of its history, suggesting food offered to idol is not inherently unclean (v25). However, if someone discloses that the food was offered to idols, Corinthians were never to eat food offered to idols for the sake of the conscience of unbelievers, as it could be misconstrued that Christians sanction idolatrous practices (v 27). So except for the case where the history of food is unknown, there is no endorsement by Paul to adopt pagan practices that are overtly idolatrous. I think, even if a Christian does eat food offered to idols to show love to the unbeliever, it would be important to clarify that food has no effect on sanctifying or bringing us closer to God so that the unbeliever’s faith in pagan ideas is not strengthened.

In conclusion, while many seem to view based on 1 Cor 8, that a strong Christian is the one who understands that it is acceptable to eat food offered to idols and the weak as the one who places restrictions on eating food offered to the idols, what Paul seems to be really saying is that a strong Christians is the one who is willing to relinquish the right of eating food offered to idols for the sake of unbelievers and the new gentile believer with a syncretistic understanding (the one who includes Jesus into their polytheistic framework). 1 Cor 8-10 deals with interactions between Christians and pagan idol worshippers mainly. This is different from what we see in Rom 14 which focuses on maintaining love and unity between Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Rom 14 is about carefully exercising liberties in Christ to not offend a weaker Christian who pays attention to laws and opinions to honor the Lord. David Gardener, in commentary of Corinthians explains these differences in Romans 14 and 1 Cor 8-10 with more detail and clarity. I also think that through generalization of the context of Rom 14 to the context of 1 Cor 8-10, the sincere believer who flees idolatry to honor Christ is made to appear factious and weak in faith which ultimately does not bring about the unity or the upbuilding in faith that is being sought in the body of Christ.

Would appreciate questions or thoughts on this understanding.

Speaking to friends from other worldviews