The Jerusalem Apostolic Council: was it of a conciliatory or legislative nature?

Frank Pio Russo - January 27, 2018.

As the Christian gospel was spreading from Jerusalem and the Jews, into the rest of the gentile world, the question of proper fellowship between Jews and gentiles arose. This had been propelled to the fore following the conversion of the first gentile, namely the Roman centurion Cornelius.

As the book of Galatians shows, even the Apostle Peter had been influenced by the strong circumcision proponents amongst the Jews, and had stopped associating and fraternizing with the gentiles. Now there were various things that were peculiar to the Jews besides the very invasive circumcision which was not all that necessary for fellowship... after all there was no requirement to show one's penis before being admitted to any congregational meeting. One such thing which was peculiar to the Jews was the Sabbath, which despite being institutionalized into Jewish culture did not rate a mention even though it had a death penalty under Moses for breaking it... it was understood of course that the Christians would make good use of the Sabbath for their preaching work by often visiting and preaching at their local synagogues.

Some of the things that actually were a stumbling block to fellowship and about which the Jews felt strongly were: the eating and drinking of blood or the eating of strangled animals, the eating of the idolatrous food that had been offered to idols, and the illicit marriage unions that gentile couples often entered into. It was easy to prohibit blood, simply because it had been prohibited to Noah as a symbol of life and representing bloodguilt for the life shed. However this regulation need not be taken to extremes! To begin with, the eating of blood did not require the death penalty as demonstrated by Saul's men: at most it warranted a cutting off or expulsion from the people, or at a minimum simply the washing of their hands and be cleaned! This is further emphasized by the fact that Deuteronomy 14:21 says that an animal that had died of itself - thus being akin to a strangled animal (still containing blood) - could be sold to a foreigner living in their mist or to a foreigner and he may eat it!

Hence one must realize that the blood in a transfusion is not killed - it goes on to live up to 120 days in the recipient before the spleen recycles its nutrients. Hence there is no bloodguilt associated with a transfusion... furthermore there is no disrespect for life, but rather an extreme respect for both life and the life-giver Jehovah God is being demonstrated!

As far as the food offered to idols - although this is self-explanatory - we need to remember that following pagan temple sacrifices, the meat was often sold at meat markets. Now often a Christian  - not knowing its provenance - might have eaten in good conscience for the meat was really uncontaminated... however if a 'weak' fellow brother were to point out that it had been sacrificed... then one would abstain out of respect for such a brother so as not to stumble him!

As far as the illicit unions that the Jews frowned upon, we have two examples in the New Testament: the one of King Herod with Herodias as well as the one where someone had married his father's wife following his father's death. Apparently Herodias had divorced Herod Philip first, and Herod Antipas also divorced his wife, and then the 2 married each other. However marriage in the family was disallowed by the Jews and this was what John the Baptist was all upset about! A famous Bible commentator by the name of "F. F. Bruce", who wrote the Acts volume for the New International Version Commentaries hinted that this was what the Jerusalem Council was talking about.

As you can see from the foregoing, I lean towards the conclusion that the nature of the Jerusalem Apostolic Council of 49 CE was one of conciliation between the 2 ethnic blocks such that fellowship was not impeded, and they could function as one group without any unnecessary obstacles.

In conclusion, my strongest evidence for this fact is that, had its nature been legislative, then surely the grave sin of murder would have rated a mention! Furthermore, it must be pointed out that the referred unions were not viewed as marriage: had they been legislating, I'm sure they would have mentioned adultery in real marriages!

Frank Pio Russo.