As stated previously the "apostolic decree" in Acts 15 referencing the Laws of Noah for non-Jewish believers is a very important since it is the first pronouncement made by a "Christian" synod. We will concern ourselves in the following articles primarily with those concerning table-fellowship between Jew and non-Jew.
This first item, abstinence from meats sacrificed to idols, is based on Leviticus 17:8-19 and was understood, at least by Paul (I Cor. 10:28), to refer to foods known to have been consecrated to pagan Gods but not to meals eaten at Temples.
The second, abstinence from blood, has to do with the dietary regulations of Leviticus 17:10-12, and was so interpreted later (Eusebius, H.E. 5, 1, 26). At one point, however, Tertullian took it in regard to murder (De pudic. 12, 4-5). So did the Rabbis by the way.
The third, abstinence from the meat of animals which had been strangled, without their blood being drained; was an ordinance certainly Jewish in origin (Lev. 17:13-14) and enforced among Jewish Christians (Clem. Hom. 7,8; 8,19; Clem. Rec. 4, 36). This was not discussed by Paul; it is absent from the text of Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian.
The fourth item, abstinence from "fornication," seems strange in this context, although Paul may refer to it in letters from and to Corinth (1 Thess. 4:3; I Cor. 5:1, 6:13; 7:2). Among Jewish Christians it was referred to rules about marital intercourse and ritual washings (Lev. I8:6-19).
By the early second century two versions of James' decree were in circulation. One of them contained the four items listed above; the other omitted any reference to "things strangled" and added the "golden rule" that "whatever they do not wish done to themselves they should not do to others" (cf. Tobit 4:15; Didache 1,2). Witnesses to the third item include both Clement and Origen at Alexandria. The other version was known to Irenaeus and Tertullian, probably also to Theophilus of Antioch (Ad Autol. 2, 34).
What this modification indicates is that the decree was seriously regarded as Christian legislation and for this reason was modified later by those who wished to not accept James' decree! This decision from the Jerusalem Church for the non-Jewish believers in Asia Minor was to be transmitted to Antioch and throughout Syria and Cilicia by two Jerusalem "prophets," Judas Barsabbas and Silas, who were to accompany Barnabas and Paul in order to make sure that it was delivered. Later on, we learn that Judas and Silas delivered the decree at Antioch and then returned to Jerusalem (Acts 15:30-33); and Paul went so far as to circumcise the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father (15:40-16:4). Indeed, Silas accompanied Paul through Asia Minor to Macedonia and Achaea, disappearing from the picture just before Paul's extended stay at Corinth (18:5).
The precise extent to which Paul may have regarded such a decree as binding upon Gentile convertsfor example, outside Syria and Ciliciais problematical. He and Silas (Sylvanus) wrote a letter from Corinth, insisting that God wills holiness and specifically referring to "abstaining from fornication" (I Thess. 4:3). Paul does not speak of dietary regulations (for obvious reasons as you will see shortly), but he praises "the churches of God in Judaea in Christ Jesus" as persecuted by the Jews just as the Thessalonians are persecuted by Gentiles ( I Thess. 1:14). It is likely that he had told them of the apostolic decree, for the substance of it seems to appear in I Corinthians. Sections of practical counsel in that letter begin with discussions of "fornication" (5:I, specifically related to Lev. 18:7) and of "meats sacrificed to idols" (8:1). At the same time, it is evident that Paul cannot accept the legal principle underlying the decree. For Paul Christians are not bound by dietary regulations, though they may observe them for the sake of others (10:23-29).
1 Cor 10:23-29
23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not [how can that be Paul when there are 365 negative Commandments?]
24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth.
25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: [what is this? Might this constitute idolatry for Paul and those who follow his advice?]
26 For the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.
27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. [what is this? Might this constitute idolatry for Paul and those who follow his advice?]
28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof: [is Paul more concerned that others might see him break the commandments of God than God seeing him?]
29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? (KJV) [since when are you more concerned what men think of you than what God thinks of you Paul .after all did you not say you were not a man-pleaser but a God pleaser?]
Growing up as a Christian you might say as I did this sounds good to me, however these Pauline suggestions violate Commandments given in the Old Testament in the Laws of Moses and the Covenant of Noah. We will see this in detail as we go on but understand Pauline theology that violates and contradicts the written Commandments of God is sin even if they sound good and are taught by the Christian Church today. Pauls Christ never gave him authority to do away with the Commandments of God and you need to face that fact now!
If Silas continued to adhere to the Jerusalem regulations, which were no more than the reiteration of the already existing Covenant responsibilities God had given the non-Jew in the Covenant of Noah, it is no wonder that he left Paul at Corinth. According to Acts 21:25, the elders at Jerusalem were still concerned with observance of them when Paul last visited the church there; they had heard that Paul taught"becoming everything to everyone," as he wrote himself (I Cor. 9:22):
The Jerusalem church had even heard that Paul was even teaching and urging Jewish Christians not to observe the law (Acts 21:21):
The word "customs" is interesting:
1485 ethos- 1) custom 2) usage prescribed by law, institute, prescription, rite
The Jerusalem had heard that Paul was teaching "all" the Jews in his mission to not abide by "the law" which for us means the Commandments of God!
Yet we find under the authority of James and the Jerusalem church, according to Acts 21:26, that Paul submitted to James' mandate and submitted to the Nazirite vow of consecration (Num. 6:9-20.....oh, by the way, this included blood sacrifices and sin offerings.....and Paul did this over 25 years after Jesus' death which we are told is the last sin offering...THINK?). At Jerusalem, one would suppose, Paul accepted the practices of the church there. He was under Jerusalem jurisdiction.
It must be admitted that to try to coordinate Paul's account in Galatians with the "literary" narrative in Acts leads to many difficulties. It is most unlikely that in the long run Paul DID NOT regard the Jerusalem decree as binding upon his converts or himself.
If the decree was known at Antioch, problems arose there as soon as Cephas (Peter) visited the city. Swayed by emissaries from James of Jerusalem, Peter withdrew from table fellowship with gentiles and was followed by other Jews, including even Barnabas. Paul insisted that his action was; inconsistent and irresponsible (Gal. 2:11-I4).
To be sure, the question of infringement as to authority arose in many of the provinces where Paul had previously maintained control over them not only by personal visits but also by writing letters and by sending his lieutenants especially Timothy and Titus, to them. At Corinth, he speaks of others as proclaiming "another gospel" (2 Cor. 11:4), using the same language as that employed in the Galatian controversy (Gal. 1:6-9). Ironically those whom Paul accuses of preaching another Gospel are the Apostles and the Jerusalem church and the Christian Church has missed this, maybe on purpose, for two thousand years!
This is the irony that I wish to expose to you. But not following through by upholding James' decree along with the mandate of the Jerusalem Church Paul caused those he taught along with his churches to be in violation of many of the dogmas contained in the Covenant of Noah and the Laws of Noah.
Being so far removed today we find Gentile Christianity no better off in this regard and a strong rebuke and call to repentance is needed. It is to these issues we now turn.
It is our prayerful hope that you, upon examining these articles, will make the necessary corrections in your religious belief system and conduct before God. Shalom.