What Is the Bible’s View?
‘Abstain from Blood’—for How Long?
NINETEEN hundred years is a long time, is it not? Do you know that there was a religious meeting held that long ago that may have a bearing on your life and the lives of your family?
The meeting, held in Jerusalem in the year 49 C.E., was a council of the apostles and Christian older men. The decision they reached was so important that men, women and children down to this time are willing to face possible death to uphold it.
These people are the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. They, refer to the record of that decision, found in the Bible in Acts chapter 15, as one proof that Christians today must not accept blood, such as in a blood transfusion. In part, that decision said that Christians must ‘abstain from blood.’ Do you believe that this decision, reached so long ago, is binding on you and your family?
Some persons in Christendom, both medical men and Bible commentators, have held that the statement that Christians must ‘abstain from blood’ was a temporary concession and not a permanent rule that God holds Christians to at this time. Is that correct?
In 49 C.E. a question about circumcision was taken to the Christian governing council in Jerusalem. Some Jewish Christians had insisted that Gentiles must “get circumcised according to the custom of Moses.” But the basic issue was whether non-Jewish converts had to keep all “the law of Moses.”—Acts 15:1, 5.
At the council meeting Peter, Paul and Barnabas reported what God did through them. Gentile converts had been accepted on the basis of faith without first conforming to the Mosaic law’s regulations. Peter reasoned that there was no need to try to insist that Gentiles keep a law code that even the Jews could not keep. Then the council considered Amos 9:11, 12, which contained an inspired indication that God would accept people of the nations. It was evident that Gentiles would not have to get circumcised and conform to the law of Moses before they could become Christians. (Acts 15:6-18) The disciple James, who appears to have been the chairman, said:
“My decision is not to trouble those from the nations who are turning to God, but to write them to abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For from ancient times Moses has had in city after city those who preach him, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath.” (Acts 15:19-21) The council agreed, their written decision being: “The holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to [Gentiles], except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.”—Acts 15:28, 29.
To Cause No Offense?
Does God view that decree as binding today? What was the reason for it and for how long was it to apply?
Some persons who argue that Christians today are not bound by this decree contend that it was nothing more than a temporary ‘concession to Jewish feelings.’ They point for support to Acts 15:21, where James followed up his listing of prohibited things with the comment that Moses was read each week in the synagogues. They reason that James was suggesting that Gentile Christians abstain from these things so they would not be so offensive to Jews who viewed such things as flagrant violations of the Mosaic law. Is that what James meant in Acts 15:21?
There is no question that the early Christians appreciated the value of avoiding things that would needlessly cause stumbling or tend to interfere with spreading the good news. Thus, even though Paul knew that he was no longer under the Mosaic law, he was willing to conform to the ways of those who highly regarded it. (1 Cor. 9:20-23; Acts 21:20-28) The Law’s requirements were not bad or harmful. By conforming to these requirements, Paul, a natural-born Jew, would sidestep what tended to hinder other Jews’ accepting his message and work. Similarly, if Gentile Christians, abiding by the council’s decision, avoided idolatry, blood and fornication, they might find less religious resistance in dealing with Jews. But is that all that James meant?
That decree could not have been only an effort to give the appearance that Christians were complying with the law of Moses. How could it? For the decision specifically did not require Gentile Christians to get circumcised, and circumcision was fundamental for anyone to be a Jew or proselyte. (Phil. 3:5) And what about all the other Jewish laws? Simply avoiding the four things that James listed would not make uncircumcised Christians some sort of ‘half brothers’ with Jews.
What else could James have meant when he followed his list of the four things that Christians must abstain from with a reference to Moses being read each sabbath in the synagogue?
Learn What from “Moses”?
Observe that James did not say that ‘the law of Moses is read every sabbath.’ He said, “Moses . . . is read aloud. . . on every sabbath.” (Acts 15:21) What is the difference? Moses was famous for having written the Pentateuch or Torah, the first five books of the Bible. These books certainly do set forth the Law. But they contain much more. Moses’ writings also contain a record of God’s dealings and expressed views that predate the Law.—Compare Mark 12:26 and Exodus 3:2, 6.
This was an important point to bear in mind in connection with the Christian congregation. Even though God was no longer requiring observance of the Mosaic Law code, there were earlier indications of his will that he expected to be upheld by any human serving him. So, if some, whether Jews or Jewish Christians, had great regard for Moses’ writings, they should be able to see the need for true worshipers to abstain from “these necessary things” that came before the Law and continued after it ended.
God’s expressed will regarding blood is an example. Many centuries before he gave the law through Moses, God told Noah to abstain from blood. In giving humans permission to eat flesh Jehovah stated plainly: “Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.” That ruled out eating meat from an animal that was strangled to keep its blood in the flesh. It also ruled out eating or drinking blood. (Gen. 9:3, 4) Later, God stated his will about blood in the law given to the Israelites. (Lev. 17:11-14; Deut. 12:23) Yet, when the Law was fulfilled and no longer binding on true worshipers, the prohibition in Genesis 9:3, 4 remained. And it had not been given just to Israel, but through Noah, the progenitor of the human race, to all mankind.
Consequently, the weekly reading of “Moses,” which would include Genesis 9:3, 4, would do more than present what just the Mosaic law for Jews said about blood. It would also show that abstaining from blood and things strangled was still necessary for all persons wanting God’s approval. That would be plain to Jews in their synagogues. It would be plain to Hebrew Christians who were well acquainted with what was read in the synagogues. And it would be plain to any Gentiles who, by contact with Jews or Christians, came to know of the basic precepts set forth in God’s Word.
It was similar with the decree’s reference to “fornication,” which, according to the Greek word here used, would cover a wide range of immoral sexual conduct. A person did not have to be under and trying to abide by the law of Moses in order to know that God disapproved of these sexual offenses. Pre-Mosaic law events made it clear that they were wrong in His sight.—Gen. 12:15-17; 20:2-9; 26:8-11; 34:2-7; 38:12-26; 19:5-11; Jude 7.
Also, the record of true worship before the Mosaic law was given showed plainly that idolatry was bad. (Gen. 35:2, 4; Ex. 8:25-27; 12:12; compare Joshua 24:15.) This provided ample basis for the Jerusalem council to require that Christians abstain from “things sacrificed to idols.” To be approved by God, a Christian could not partake of sacrificial food during an idolatrous ceremony or do anything else that was an act of worship of an idol or false god. (Num. 25:2; Rev. 2:14) Gentiles becoming Christians would have to manifest that they were ‘guarding themselves from idols,’ as the apostle John wrote near the end of the first century.—1 John 5:21.
Does this not help to clarify the import of James’ words, showing the direct link between the four things from which Christians must abstain and the reading of what Moses wrote? And do you see its bearing on your life and actions?
Jehovah’s dealings through Peter, Paul and Barnabas and the decision of the Jerusalem council indicated that a Gentile convert did not have to get circumcised or try to keep the Mosaic law. And Paul’s inspired writings repeatedly stated this fact. (Col. 2:13-17; Gal. 3:23-25; Rom. 6:14) Still, reading Moses’ writings revealed the continuing need to avoid blood, things strangled, fornication and things sacrificed to idols. The fact that Moses wrote down this information under the inspiration of holy spirit gave additional force to the Jerusalem council’s comment: “Holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things.”—Acts 15:28.
It certainly would be wrong to say that for the sake of peace with Jews the Christian governing council was requiring that Christians only temporarily abstain from fornication. Absolutely not! Immoral sexual intercourse was wrong before the Law was given. It was wrong under the Law. It was wrong in 49 C.E. after the Law was fulfilled. And it still is definitely wrong. Those who practice it cannot inherit God’s kingdom.—1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:19-21; Rev. 21:8.
The same is true of idolatry and the misuse of blood. These things are permanently forbidden to those who want the approval of the Life-Giver, the One deserving of our exclusive devotion.—Gen. 9:3, 4; Acts 21:25.