First Church Council: Acts 15

Why did the first church council demand non-Jewish Christians abstain from idolatry, sexual immorality, the meat of strangled animals and blood?

  • A number of scholars viewed the decision of the Jerusalem meeting as a compromise between Hellenistic and Jewish cultures, and a response to contemporary challenges:

  • Avoidance of sexual immortality is one of the ten commandants, as well as avoidance of murder, theft, and false witness etc. But only sexual immortality was stressed in the meeting because this was a sin taken slightly by the Greeks and also associated with certain pagan religious festival (Barker, 1985). In addition, the use of animal blood by humans was a characteristic of Mithras worship (Larsen, 1994). Larsen suspected that there were several other mystical religions shared this trait.

  • Another piece of evidence for the "challenge and response" model is the variation of different versions. In a later edition of the Bible, the Western text, also known as Codex Bezae, the reference to strangled animals and blood was omitted (Kummel, 1973). Based upon the Western text, the decree ruled out only idolatry and sexual immorality. Harrison (1975) interpreted that in the later period of time legalism was no longer an issue in the Christian church. Instead moralism became the major concern and the modification in the Western text reflects the contemporary problem.

  • The changing emphasis of different laws in the Jewish circle also indicates laws as a response to contemporary problems. There was a severe repression following the crushing of the Bar-Kokhba revolt (A. D. 135). The rabbis of Lydda announced that if the life of a Jew is endangered, he might break any of the commandments except sexual immorality, murder and idolatry (Bruce, 1988). At that time survival was the ultimate concern and thus the ban on eating blood was put aside.

Was the prohibition of eating blood mentioned in Gen. 9: 4 applied to all mankind?

  • As cited before, Bruce (1988) found that Jewish people regarded avoidance of idolatry, fornication and murder were the three commandants to be binding on the whole human race. Avoidance of eating blood was not included.

  • Beside the Old Testament, Jewish people build the foundation of their morality on the book entitled Talmud. The Talmud contains information on the subject of The Shevah Mitzvat B'nei Noah - the Seven Universal Laws, given to humankind by God (Stein, 1994). They are:

    1. Do not worship false gods.

    2. Do not curse God or misuse His Name.

    3. Do not draw innocent blood--murder.

    4. Do not commit illicit sex acts.

    5. Do not steal or cheat.

    6. Do not fail to establish just courts of civil law.

    7. Do not eat meat taken from an animal while its alive.

    The last law may imply that eating blood is forbidden if the animal is still alive. But there is no explicit condemnation against eating blood when the meat is cooked .

  • The interpretation of Gen. 9:4 can also be framed into the "challenge and response" model. Heinsohn (1992) found that many races and tribes practiced blood sacrifice in the Bronze Age. At the same period of time there was a global catastrophe, probably a flood, which are widely documented in at least 259 ethnic groups scattering all over the world. Heinsohn argued that blood sacrifice emerged in response to the flood, which created a mass panic. Blood sacrifice provided a psychological relief to those disoriented people. Probably the commandant in Gen. 9:4 was a response to this kind of pagan worship. The commandant might not be exactly proclaimed right after the flood. Anachronism is a common style in the Old testament (Anderson, 1966).


Anderson, G. W. (1966). The history and religion of Israel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Baker, K. (1985). The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Bruce, F. F. (1988). Book of the Acts. Grand Rapid, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

Harrison, E. F. (1975). Interpreting Acts: The expanding church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Heinsohn, G. (1992). The rise of blood sacrifice and Priest-Kingship in Mesopotamia: A 'Cosmic Decree'? Religion: A Journal of Religion and Religions, 22, 109-134.

Kummel, W. G. (1973). Introduction to the New Testament. Heideberg: Quelle and Meyer.

Larsen, C. (1994, October). First church council. America Online: Christian History Discussion.

Stein, William (1994, October). About first church council. Alt.religion,christian.