Acts 15 and the Letter to the Gentiles based on Leviticus

Many have read the important event recorded in the Book of Acts, where the Elders of Jerusalem met to discuss what prerequisites were needed for the Gentiles to be part of the Congregation. The decision is made by James to ask the Gentiles to observe 4 commands (Acts 15:20) since the Torah (Books of Moses) was read in every city on the Sabbath Day (Acts 15:21). The parties which were present at this meeting (Elders, Apostles, Pharisees who believed in Christ) all agreed upon this judgement without any hesitancy. What was the reason? Where did those 4 commands come from? Did James make them up? The answers can be found in the observation of Luke’s record, which is done with intricate detail and accuracy.

The Decision of James:
Act 15:19-21 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. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

James did not want to enforce any commands on the Gentiles turning towards God, since obedience should be not out of compulsion but of love and reverence.

Then he listed 4 necessary abstensions, namely:
1. Abstain from pollutions of idols
2. Fornication
3. Things Strangled
4. Blood

This was followed by a stipulation that Moses (The books of Moses / Torah) was read in every city where the gentiles lived, being read in the Synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 13:15).

So where did these 4 abstentions that are still valid for today, come from? And what do they really mean? A person who is familiar with the Books of Moses, is well aware of these 4 abstentions mentioned in Scripture. Luke’ detailed description gives us a key to figuring it out.

The last line of the short letter sent from the Apostles at Jerusalem to the Congregation at Antioch and later shared with all of the other Congregations around the region says the following: Acts 15:29 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.

The Letter lists down the 4 Abstentions as follows:
1. Abstain from meats offered to idols
2. Blood
3. Things Strangled
4. Fornication

If you just gloss over the chapter, you may not notice it at all, but there is a curious difference in the listing. The numbering seems to be all over the place. Either Luke took no care at these details, or he took all of the care necessary to record it absolutely accurately. I am of the latter view, as it makes perfect sense when you compare it with the Abstentions given by God to Gentiles who become part of the Covenant of Israel.

Acts 15:20Acts 15:29
1. Abstain from pollutions of idols
2. Fornication
3. Things Strangled
4. Blood
1. Abstain from meats offered to idols
2. Blood
3. Things Strangled
4. Fornication

Reviewing Leviticus Chapter 17 and 18 in light of Acts Chapter 15
The book of Leviticus provides most of God’s view of Holiness in the Torah, and chapter 17 & 18 are of special importance as it is focused at both native and alien alike. While I suggest reading both of the chapters completely, we will review only the parts that are of importance for this study below.

1. Abstain from sacrifices offered to Idols
Lev 17:7-9 And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. And thou shalt say unto them, Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers which sojourn among you, that offereth a burnt offering or sacrifice, And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer it unto the LORD; even that man shall be cut off from among his people.

2. Abstain from Blood
Lev 17:10-12 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.

3. Things Strangled
Lev 17:13-14
And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.
(A little more context should be given to this Law, as God is instituting a way of killing animals for the consumption of flesh. He is banning the strangulation of an animal, and allowing only for animals to be slaughtered in a proper way with the blood to be let out properly.)

4. Fornication
Lev 18:26-29
Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations*; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations* have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations*, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
(*The Abominations listed in Chapter 18 verse 1 to 25)

Reviewing the 3 passages again, we see the following comparison:

Acts 15:20Acts 15:29Lev Chap 17 & 18
1. Abstain from pollutions of idols
2. Fornication
3. Things Strangled
4. Blood
1. Abstain from meats offered to idols
2. Blood
3. Things Strangled
4. Fornication
1. Lev 17:7-9
2. Lev 17:10-12

3. Lev 17:13-14
4. Lev 18:26-29

Acts 15:29 which records the official letter sent to the congregations is identical in order to how it is recorded by Moses in Leviticus Chapter 17 & 18. James may have given his judgement and spoken the 4 commands in a way he remembered, but the official letter recorded the proper order, keeping with Scripture. Heads and Elders of the Congregations, who would have been well versed in Scripture/ Torah, would have immediately recognised the reason for these 4 abstention as prerequisites to enter the congregation.

The question then becomes, are these 4 commands the only commands that the Gentile converts were supposed to adhere to? Don’t forget the stipulation that James made in Acts 15:21 “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” In other words, we should not force any Laws upon them other than these 4 main abstentions, the rest they would learn on their own. An approach that did not make God’s Law a Burden, but a way of life lived through love and obedience to our Heavenly Father.

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