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.
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.