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What was explicitly forbidden to 1st Century Christians

Act 15:19-20 ESV  Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,  20  but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Act 15:28-29 ESV  For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:  29  that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

  1. Don’t eat things sacrificed to idols
  2. Don’t commit sexual immorality
  3. Don’t consume blood
  4. Don’t eat that which has been strangled 

 The last two are essentially the same. They are basically describing either

  1. Directly consuming blood
  2. Or indirectly consuming blood through animals that have not been properly slaughtered (and thus bled)

1. Don’t eat things sacrificed to idols

Paul explains this further. It was not meant as a universal command but was rather intended to stop one group of Christians being offended by another.

1Co 8:4-9 ESV  Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”  5  For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—  6  yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.  7  However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.  8  Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  9  But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

2. Don’t commit sexual immorality

This is a universal command binding on all people everywhere.

1Co 6:18 ESV  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

3. Don’t consume blood

This command is more nuanced. It was given before the Mosaic law.

Gen 9:3-4 ESV  Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.  4  But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

It was also commanded along side and possibly linked to the command forbidding murder.

Gen 9:5-6 ESV  And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.  6  “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. 

The command was later affirmed by Moses and binding on all people in Israel, not just Jews.

Lev 17:10-14 ESV  “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.  11  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.  12  Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.  13  “Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.  14  For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.

Deu 12:23-25 ESV  Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh.  24  You shall not eat it; you shall pour it out on the earth like water.  25  You shall not eat it, that all may go well with you and with your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.

Deu 15:23 ESV  Only you shall not eat its blood; you shall pour it out on the ground like water.

And then, as we have seen, it was required of 1st century Gentile believers. So should believers today also be required to keep the command not to consume blood?

Are today’s Christians permitted to consume blood?

The answer is not clear because it is possible that the prohibition might fall into either of the first two categories. That is, it might be a universal prohibition (like sexual immorality) or it might be contextual prohibition (like eating food sacrificed to idols).

Jesus explained that nothing that goes into the mouth can make a person impure.

Mat 15:10-11 ESV  And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand:  11  it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

This would seem to answer the question. However Jesus also describes, indeed commands, that believers are to “drink His blood”.

Joh 6:53-56 ESV  So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  54  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  55  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  56  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

Of course this is not meant literally. However, it seems that the prohibition of not consuming blood was intended for the specific purpose of pointing us to Jesus. We are to consume no blood but His. It is only His blood that should give us life – we should not rely on or enjoy the ‘blood-life’ of any other than Him.

Second, although we don’t have the same idolatry related blood consumption today, we do have a well developed vampire myth. Perhaps separating ourselves as far as possible from this is to be desired. 

This seems to be one of those commands where there is no encouragement to annul it and much to keep it. I feel the breaking of it should be the exception not the rule and done only when the circumstances truly demand it.

Interesting Articles

  1. BBC: The people who drink human blood 

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