More on Eating Blood

The Issue: Ron, about not eating blood? I was under the impression from Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29, Acts 21:15 that God forbids the eating of blood? I could be misinformed.

The Response: Let's look at the verses you cited, remembering the importance of looking at a passage in context. The verses you cited from Acts 15 are taken from Luke's account of events at the Jerusalem council. Acts 15 opens with the news that some men had come to Antioch from Judea and had begun to teach that “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” This Judaizing did not set well with Paul and Barnabas, and they had quite a row with the Judaizers. Finally, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas and a few others should journey to Jerusalem, where they might set the question before the Apostles and elders (vv.1,2)

As they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they recounted their successes among the Gentiles, and the news was received with great joy by the brethren. (v.3). When they reached Jerusalem and reported to the Apostles and elders, however, some believers who were Pharisees made it clear that “it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (vv. 4,5) In other words, they were arguing that, in order to be saved, one first had to be a Jew.

The Jerusalem council came together to consider the matter (v.6). Peter stood up and gave the first of three speeches that together constitute one of the most powerful defenses of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone that can be found in the Scriptures (vv. 7-11). Mark especially his words in verse 10: “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”

One would think that those present must surely have understood that no one can be saved by works of the Law, yet the Judaizers were pushing compliance with Mosaic Law as a condition of salvation in Christ.

After listening as Paul and Barnabas told of the miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles (v. 12). James then made the second of the three speeches in defense of salvation by grace through faith alone (vv. 13-21), ending by saying;

Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

And this brings us to the first of the “proof texts.” In verse 20, James takes a modified stand on the Judaizing issue, but one that still seems to add to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone. His concern, and that of the others, was that Gentile converts not take such delight in their new-found freedom in Christ that Jewish believers would begin to exercise that same liberty and in so doing violate their consciences. What James proposes is that Gentile believers abstain from four pagan practices that were clear violations of Mosaic Law, so as not to offend Jewish believers.

The first proscription he proposed was that Gentile believers avoid things polluted by idols. It was the practice among the Gentiles of the region to make offerings of meat to pagan gods, after which the meat would be sold by butcher shops in the temples. God had forbidden idolatry (Exodus 20:3), and the practice was so offensive to Jews that they avoided anything having to do with idols, including consuming offerings to them.

James also proposed that Gentiles should avoid sexual immorality. Here, he is talking about not only sexual sins in general, but in particular the wild orgies that were associated with the worship of some pagan gods. James was desirous that Gentile converts not offend Jewish sensibilities concerning marriage and the relationships between the sexes.

Finally, James suggested that Gentile believers conform to certain of the dietary laws that were binding on Jews. Jews were forbidden to eat the flesh of creatures that had been killed by strangulation and from consuming the blood of animals. For Gentiles to eat these things would have been, at least in James view, offensive to Jewish sensibilities.

The Jerusalem council then prepared a letter, which they sent to Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia by Paul and those who accompanied him. (vv. 23-29). The letter makes clear that neither circumcision nor keeping the Law are required for salvation, but then closes with these words:

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 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. -- Acts 15:28-29

When examining a passage of Scripture, it is imperative to hold to a literal/historical/grammatical hermeneutic for it is only in doing so that one might hope to understand the holy words as they were understood by those to whom first delivered. In the case before us, the infant church was in danger of being split apart over the Judaizing issue. Gentile converts were not willing to be circumcised and submit to Mosaic Law in order to be saved, and Jewish believers were pushing the position that doing so was an inescapable requirement.

The Jerusalem council, under James' leadership, came up with a solution that might heal the growing breach, at least for the time being. We read, in Matthew Henry's examination of the letter prepared by the council, that those four conditions should be understood to be “in a particular manner offensive to 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.”

In other words, the four conditions are to be viewed as necessary to help prevent a breech in Christian unity that existed at that point in time and in those places (Judea, Antioch, Syria and Cilicia). From a careful, contextual examination of the proof texts, I am in agreement with Henry that “The avoiding of fornication is necessary to all Christians at all times; the avoiding of things strangled, and of blood, and of things offered to idols, is necessary at this time, for the keeping up of a good understanding between you and the Jews, and the preventing of offence;” and as long as it continues necessary to that end, and no longer, it is enjoined.

The prohibitions, established by the Jerusalem council as a temporary solution to a contemporary problem, against eating offerings to idols, meats from strangled animals and blood have long since expired and are no longer required in those places and never were required here in the New World.

The passage in Chapter 21 of Acts has to do with Paul's being held to the requirements of the Law (vv. 15-26). Some of the Judaizers had been campaigning against Paul, claiming that he was teaching Jewish believers to turn aside from their Jewish heritage (v. 21). Paul himself had not abandoned Jewish customs, as he made clear when he circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-31). Also, it should be recalled that the Apostle had taken the Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18).

Paul had returned to Jerusalem after an extended stay in Gentile territory. He was considered to be ceremonially unclean, and was required to undergo ritual purification before he could participate in the ceremonies involving the four Nazirites. In verse 25, James, leader of the church at Jerusalem, makes it clearly understood that nothing has changed as regards the Jerusalem council's requirements of Gentiles. Paul, however, being Jewish, was not free to enjoy the freedom granted to Gentile believers. In other words, verse 25 is but a confirmation of what was included in the letter quoted in Acts 15: 23-29, and should be understood in the same light.

A Footnote: The Catholic Church, which claims to be Judaism fulfilled, manifests her hypocrisy in this matter. Judaism (unfulfilled, I suppose) prohibits the consuming of blood. Judaism fulfilled, wearing Catholic colors, not only permits eating of blood but actually requires it of all her faithful at least once a year.

According to Catholic doctrine, the consecrated communion species – host and watered wine – are the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.

1413 By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1640; 1651).Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

When a Catholic takes communion he consumes, according to Romish teaching, the flesh and blood of the living Christ. And this is to be done at least one time every year

2042 The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor") requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the Mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

The second precept ("You shall confess your sins at least once a year") ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism's work of conversion and forgiveness.

The third precept ("You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season") guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord's Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy. Ibid. (Emphasis not in the original)


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