A partial history of interpretations of "abstain from...blood"
The Wikipedia article found at that link indicates how the ideas about the
Council of Jerusalem were passed
along through history and interpreted. Most
of the information below was abbreviated from that article. One
basic thing I
notice about it is that the early writers don't seem as concerned to deal with
the issue and explain it
as with the views of Jesus and spirit. This opened up
the possibility for a range of views that soon included an
The Western version of Acts substitutes the negative form of the Golden Rule
(don't do unto others what you
wouldn't have them do unto you) for the prohibi-
tion against things strangled. Some then interpreted the rules to
idolatry, murder, and adultery.
"Of the remaining types of texts which Westcott and Hort isolated, the so-
called Western Type is both ancient
and widespread.... Its date of origin must
have been extremely early, perhaps before the middle of the second century.
Tatian, Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian and Cyprian all made
use to a greater or less extent of a Western form
of text." ("The Text of the
New Testament," Bruce M. Metzger, 1968, p.132)
Although the JWs leaders' writers have used Cyprian and Tertullian to support
their view, Cyprian and
Tertullian were like many who understood the Western
text to refer to three moral rules--idolatry, murder, and adultery.
The Didache, from about the time of Acts and later part of the Ethiopian Or-
thodox Bible, has been taken by
some to refer to somebody's idea of a version
of the Council of Jerusalem. It gives 25 things to not do, including
and other sexual offenses (and murder, theft, magic, etc.). Of the other three
rules of the council of
Jerusalem, it prohibits eating things offered to idols.
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, chap.47, 2nd century, in the
direction of this concern, just indicates
Christians didn't need to be circum-
cized or follow Mosaic law. He doesn't bring up the council explicitly.
Origen, 3rd century, puts the council in Antioch and is just known for a par-
tial quote of the event.
He gives the Gentiles as being told to abstain from
the three foods, fornication isn't included, and no further explanation
terpretation is given.
By the time of the Synod of Gangra, 300's AD?, the Latin Christians in the
east weren't observing the food
rules as the Greeks in the west were.
Pope Gregory the Third, 731 AD, punished the eating of blood or things
strangled with a penance of forty days.
Augustine, Contra Faustum, about 400 AD, writes that the council was meant to
unite the Jews and heathens in
a Noahide way, but when the barrier between them
fell, the rules about blood and things strangled lost their meaning and
just followed by a few.
The Apostolic Constitutions, a late 300's AD collection of 200's and 300's AD
writings, just refers to the
four rules given to the Gentiles as being like the
(The seven Noahide or Noachine rules were used by the Mosaic law-following
Jewish people as a minimal requirement
of Gentiles for acceptance in their com-
munity. They prohibited idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, sexual immorality,
the limb of a living animal, and required the establishing of courts of
(There were various lists of Noahide rules before the list became more stan-
dardized with the Mishnah,
but most put idolatry first. Similarly, at Act 15:
20,29, where the rules of the Council of Jerusalem are first given,
the order of
the rules is different in each but "things offered to idols" is listed first in
GTW editorial interlude
The Noahide rules reference above interprets the rules as being similarly
meant to appease the Mosaic law followers
that they wouldn't be offended by, to
the point of not being able to socialize with, Gentile who did things that were
to be popular among the Gentiles. This would be a particular sore point
in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religion
which the rules of the council of
Jerusalem were sent from.
Mosaic law followers would think their conservative rules on sexuality were
very different from the views and
behavior of Gentile culture, and they could
want some reassurance that the Gentiles weren't misbehaving sexually even
fornication was considered a sin in Christian teaching otherwise.
If you try to relate the four Council of Jerusalem rules to the seven Noahide
rules beyond a general Noahide-type
approach, it raises a few questions, though.
One, "things strangled" wouldn't be, and "blood" could be separate from, things
from a live animal (possibly also implying a need to not eat the blood re-
moved of an animal killed by slaughter), the
Jewish interpretation of Gen.9:3,4.
By that view, animal blood and unbled animals weren't explicitly banned until
by Mosaic law.
Another is how to relate "things offered to idols" to the Noahide rule against
idolatry. The phrase is
insufficient as a way to refer to all manner of worship
of something other than God as God. If any manner of belief
in "idolatry" was
meant, "idolatry" would be the comprehensive way to phrase it.
The four rules came about in reaction to Jewish law followers, who also taught
that it made them unclean to
eat the things offered that way any time after it
had been offered--to eat meat from animals slaughtered be Gentiles any
But Christianity didn't have any unclean food rules (Acts 10 and 11).
Like fornication, idolatry was taught as a sin in Jewish law and Christiani-
ty. More prevalent in Gentile
culture than idolatry was eating "things offered
to idols," meat taken from an idol temple, but Jewish law forbid eating
offered" anytime. Christianity only forbid it circumstantially--if someone was
around who'd mistakenly
think the Christian was advocating idolatry by eating it
or if the Christian a conscience (probably Jewish law conscience)
The JWs leaders' interpretation of "things offered to idols" is that they're
banned when near an idol temple,
or after someone says they came from one, so
have an idolatrous connotation regardless of the lack of idolatrous belief
the potential partaker.
Augustine of Hippo, Contra Faustum 32.13, 4th century, says many thought of
the four rules as being like the
Noachine rules, with a minority thinking of
"abstain from...blood" figuratively to refer to murder. He writes that
tiles were to remove blood from meat the same as the Israelites to be together
for the sake of Jesus.
By at least as early as 1,000 AD (?), the western church had stopped seeing
the food rules of the Council of
Jerusalem as general bans of eating certain
foods. At the next link, go most of the way down the page to paragraph
61, etc., which are very informative. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Middle_Ages
Sir Isaac Newton, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, 1728, thought
the four rules of the council were
the four exceptions to the Christians not
being held to Mosaic laws--that Christians had to keep these four rules because
were older and imposed on all nations since the days of Noah. (His quote
doesn't explain why Gen.9:5,6, about murder,
for example, would be left out.)
The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-1906, a history of the Jews published by Funk
and Wagnalls, says Paul, after
strong rejection from the Jews, was taught by
the Council of Jerusalem to bring Gentiles into the church as proselytes
gate who accepted the Noahide rules. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Encyclopedia
Proselytes of the gate didn't have to be circumcised or obey all of Mosaic
law (in comparison to righteous
proselytes who had to do those things). They
had to abide by the seven Noahide rules, abstain from work on the Sabbath,
refrain from the use of leavened bread during the time of the Passover. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proselyte
The Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1913 by The Encyclopedia Press, re-
garding Paul's reaction to those
who'd have him follow Mosaic law, says Paul
observed Mosaic law as need be for diplomacy with those who followed it, as
he had Timothy circumcised because of the Jews that were in that area
(Acts 16:1-6). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia