The Burger Bites Back (Acts 15 Again!)

Given the popularity of the burger-'ban' post a couple of weeks back I thought I would revisit it. This time in light of Markus Bockmuehl's article, "James, Israel and Antioch".

It is a corker of an article. Along the way Bockmuehl argues that many Palestinian Jews in the Second Temple period conceived of the Promised Land not merely in terms of its boundaries in political reality but in ideal terms in light of biblical promises. Thus, much of Syria was thought of as part of Israel in their mental maps, even if not on political maps.

Bockmuehl also makes a pretty good case that for some first century Jews Antioch would have been seen as the gateway to the Holy Land. That was absolutely fascinating. It would never have even crossed my mind!

But how, if at all, is that relevant to the burger-debate? You will recall that we discussed Richard Bauckham's claim that the prohibitions in the Apostolic Decree in Acts 15 were based on Leviticus 17-18. There were four prohibitions placed on the Gentiles living "in the midst of Israel". In the view of Jesus' earliest followers Jewish believers in Jesus were eschatologically renewed Israel and the Gentile believers were the nations on eschatological pilgrimage. This was as the prophets of Israel had foretold. So Gentiles were granted the status of full membership of the end-time community of God's people without having to convert to Judaism. However, they still had to observe the prohibitions from Leviticus (including the ban on eating meat with blood in it).

Back to Bockmuehl. He writes:

As reported in Acts 15, this document is addressed in the first instance to Gentile believers "in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia" - areas that on the argument here presented are either part of the ideal Holy Land or at any rate immediately contiguous with it. ... It is highly significant that the stipulations of the decree are taken precisely from those passages of the Pentateuch that legislate for Gentiles living in the land of Israel. Richard Bauckham has effectively demonstrated that the prohibitions of the decree are precisely those that in Leviticus 17-18 apply to Gentiles living "in the midst of" the house of Israel.
(Jewish Law in Gentile Churches, p. 78)

Hmmmmm. So I guess it hinges on what it means for Gentiles believers in the Messiah (people like myself) to be living "in the midst of Israel".

(a) Is it a theological-symbolic status indicating our place in the universal body of Christ?
(b) is it a literal thing for any Gentile Christians living within the borders of the Holy Land?

In other words was the ban on blood in the Apostolic Decree intended to apply to all Gentile Christians or only those living in the geographical borders of idealized Israel? And what is its relevance today?

I'd love to know your thoughts.


boxthejack said…
Great posts. Actually sometimes when I argue with literalists I occasionally ask them how they take their steak and look smug!

But, logical fallacies aside, I would respond in two ways. Firstly, along the lines of Nathan’s response to your first burgers post – relationship with others within the body is a core issue. The thought of consuming blood would have been so horrific to Palestinian Jews that it is unsurprising this was kept as a caveat to freedom from law. Just imagine trying to reconcile a community of naturists with, say, the norms of Saudi Arabia.

One response would be, ah but then is the command about sexual immorality purely about relationship with one’s brother as well? I suppose in a legal sense it could be.

Which leads me on to a second response: isn’t the New Testament freedom from law tied deeply to the reality of the Kingdom coming on earth? What I mean is, shouldn’t our compass, as those being restored, be our created purpose and our eschatological hope in Christ?

This would still mean, with reference to the four rules, living in restored, secure relationships, of which covenantal monogamy is the most exhilarating example. We believe it is a gift of God.

It would still mean living in a restored fidelity to God, resisting the trappings of imperial idolatry for the sake of our higher authority. Resisting the flag, avoiding consumer credit, and limiting our exposure to advertising might be part of this.

And it also still means allowing the mustard seed Kingdom to grow through our diet. Our society no longer has a problem with blood so the relational argument doesn’t persist. But the Kingdom one does. I would imagine for us that Kingdom thinking in our diet may include reducing the amount of suffering (to any part of creation, humans first) caused by our diet, until it’s zero.

So forget blood, maybe we should be aiming for sustainable vegetarianism?
simon said…
fascinating posts, Robin. Not sure I agree but I'd like to interact with the original articles, however, you do not tell me where to find them...
Perhaps you know that the canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church still regards the decree of the apostolic Council of Jerusalem as binding, and so Orthodox Christians are expected to abide by its requirements. When I gave my life confession before my Baptism several years ago, I was a bit surprised to be asked by the priest on the matter of eating blood or strangled! :-)
Teresita said…
In other words was the ban on blood in the Apostolic Decree intended to apply to all Gentile Christians or only those living in the geographical borders of idealized Israel? And what is its relevance today?

The New Covenant worship of God "in spirit and truth" completely replaces the ritualistic ordinances of the Old Covenant, "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." (Romans 14:17). But for a time when Christianity was largely still a sect of Judaism, focused in the Holy Land, there were many converts who were not able to let go of the traditions they had obeyed all their life. Paul said (Romans 14:14), "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.". His advice for interacting with fellow Christians who could not let go of the food laws was to make allowance for them. In v. 20-21 he says, All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. After the Romans scattered the Jewish people in the Second Diaspora the center of Christiandom focused in Rome, and Jewish Christians no longer had the influence to demand such allowances, but the admonitions remain in our scripture. They are equally applicable today. Seventh Day Adventists, for example, place great importance on the Levitical food laws. We shouldn't reject them as brothers solely on those grounds.
Michael Pahl said…
Hey, Robin. Good to see you blogging. We met a few years ago over dinner (with Myron Penner whom you may remember from his Edinburgh PhD days).

It's funny, I've never made the connection between the "blood" in a rare steak and the "blood" talked about in these biblical passages. After all, the "blood" in the rare steak is not proper blood at all, is it? In the terms of our scientific age, it's myoglobin and not hemoglobin, right? Or put in terms the ancients would understand, it's not the stuff that pumps through your body and spills on the ground when an animal sacrifice is made - which is the stuff these passages are concerned about. In light of this, I've seen these as commands to make sure the "life-blood" (blood proper) is completely drained from a slaughtered animal before the meat is prepared and eaten, not that the meat of such a properly drained animal must be well done and not rare. Or perhaps I'm missing something? That's a lot of assumptions on my part, after all...
J. B. Hood said…

Fascinating series this. I wonder how 70 AD plays into the conversation, if at all? Granted Luke almost certainly write after, does he expect readers to apply it more widely?

Michael, this is all making me really, really hungry for a nice steak...
Anonymous said…
Here's a related problem: in Acts 15 and 21 we are told: "You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."

Then in 1 Corinthians 8 Paul says that idols are not real so this is a non issue, except as it offends the conscience of weaker brothers.

Then in Revelation 2 (vv 14 & 20) Jesus is pretty tough on the issue.

This might sound a bit academic but it raises all sorts of issues, including (perhaps) Christians eating halal food (e.g. in public institutions where such as prisons where all food is halal).
boxthejack said…
What do you mean by the halal reference Oliver?

Halal food isn't sacrificed, any more than kosher food is.

And if it were, we're then into the territory of "Is Allah (the Arabic word for God used by Christians longer than by Muslims) our God?"

But, if you're referring to the alleged suffering caused by halal slaughter you may have a point. Although it probably doesn't come close to the suffering caused by battery farming.

A lot of the animals we eat have been sacrificed on the alter of convenience and increased margins, or at least their welfare has been.

Now's probably the time to come out as a meat eater - it's just stuff I'm considering. The opportunity to think theologically about the mundane is all too rare - but the OT is our example if we need one. Thanks Robin.
Robin Parry said…
OH. MY. WORD! What a can of worms I have opened up (bloodless worms?). Or better - What a can of texts I have opened up!

Where do I even begin to start reflecting on that vast flock of Bible passages and themes!

One at a time (and not all in one go as I need to stop blogging right now)

Boxthejack - I see what you are saying about accomodation. The problem there is that I argued (at least, I alluded to Bauckham's argument) that the prohibitions in the Apostolic Decree were principled not pragmatic. If you are going to assert that they are pragmatic then you need to defuse Bauckham's argument that they are principled.

If the prohibitions were pragmatic I wonder why the ruling did not simply call Gentiles to follow Jewish kosher laws. But it does not. Gentiles are allowed to eat posk and shellfish, etc.

I very much like your second point - indeed, I think there are some serious challenges there -except that we can do all of that and still avoid blood. (Although if we were vegetarians it is something of a non-issue)

Robin Parry said…

No way! I really did not know that! How very interesting!


Robin Parry said…

Was that in Toronto?

Not blood? - I did not know this. Tell me more.

I think I need to talk to a butcher (it is not often that theology makes me say that!)

Robin Parry said…
I will reply to other comments tomorrow
Robin Parry said…

I'd be very happy to eat hallal meat (unless there is something I don't know about it ... which there may be). In fact, I did wonder if it might be easiest to buy meat from a hallal butcher. But I guess that any meat that is properly hung will be drained of blood. Right? (I think)

On 1 Cor 8 and 10. It all depends how you interpret the texts. I have never studied it properly but here is one view that does not set it in opposition to the Apostolic Decree (my thanks to David Rudolph for suggesting this approach in his forthcoming monograph in 1 Cor 9)-

Why does Paul forbid eating idol food in the temple or at the table of demons yet seem indifferent about eating it from the market or if offered it by a pagan unbeliever at a meal?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the meat in the temple/table of demons was clearly idol food but the meat at the market and in homes was not obviously so.

This is what Alex Cheung wrote in "Idol Food in Corinth":

"Paul urges abstention from idol
food if it is known to be such, but one is not guilty if one eats idol food unknowingly ... Paul affirms the general prohibition against eating idol food, but attaches an explanation that eating food of unknown origins does not constitute eating idol food. But once the idolatrous status of the food is known, the status of such eating changes
accordingly and is then subject to the original general prohibition."

Paul did not consider idol food intrinsically dangerous (any more than he considered unclean food to be intrinsically bad for consumption) thus the accidental consumption of it was fine.

But if it was known that the food was offered to idols - even food offered in a home by a pagan host - Paul did not allow Christians to eat it.

The church fathers from the second century on took the same approach towards the conscious eating of idol food. It was forbidden.

Our only evidence of Christians taking the eating of idol food as a matter of indifference is found in the reference to the heretics of Revelation 2:14-15, 19-20 (who are, as you say, condemned) and various Gnostic sects.

So perhaps our mistake was to interpret Paul in such a way as to suggest that he was indifferent on the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols.

On the above interpretation, nothing in 1 Cor 8 and 10 obviously conflicts with the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15. Paul is simply applying the principle into a specific context (one that may require some level of flexibility for pragmatic reasons). The nature of his application is instructive and does err on the side of liberality but he retains the ban on knowingly eating food sacrificed to idols.

Anonymous said…
Another post! I was thinking of posting something on the previous thread. Been mulling over.

I appreciate that this isn’t honing in precisely on the Acts 15 passage, but for me the key thing is what place the law now has in the life of anyone who receives Christ as their Saviour. I appreciate the whole subject of Israel and the church is a massive one, with different stances – and I won’t attempt to wade into that (on purpose anyway!!). But Paul just seems to go to such great lengths to tell us that we no longer live under the law – but instead under grace!

Galatians 3 talks about the law as a ‘Guardian” – which does it’s job for a time, but then in Jesus we instead become Sons – with the Holy Spirit in us – who we can walk with and not gratify the desires of flesh. (Galatians 5:16). The Promise to Abraham was based on His Faith, not his works of the law – and it’s in that order – now perfectly fulfilled in Jesus – that we can now relate to God.

The law shows sin for what it is, but is powerless to do anything about it - which is why we need a saviour! So the idea of seeing a nominal Jew (i.e. someone who is of Jewish decent but doesn’t follow any of the practices) come to Faith in Jesus – the one mediator between man and God –(something discussed briefly in the original post) and then to add that they also need to follow the law just seems totally contrary to what Paul is saying.

Paul also says of Peter ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’. I guess that is me wading into the church/Israel subject slightly. But doesn’t that passage show quite clearly that Peter was no longer following all the practices that he once did?

Thanks Robin.

Robin Parry said…

The easiest access to Bauckham's argument is in a different article he wrote called "James and the Jerusalem Church" in a volume called "The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting: Vol 4, Palestinian Setting. edited by Richard Bauckham (Eerdmans, 1995). He summarizes his argument there. The fuller version is in his article "James and the Gentiles" in a 1995 CUP volume edited by Ben Witherington III called "The Acts of the Historians".

The Bockmuehl article is reproduced in his book "Jewish Law in Gentile Churches". I cannot recall which journal it originally appeared in.

Hope that helps

Robin Parry said…
j.b. hood

AD 70 might feed in to the discussion but off the top of my head I cannot think how. If anyone has any suggestions feel free to throw then in the arena

Robin Parry said…

Do you spend all day just pondering the Bible? You raise some very interesting and relevant points. In many ways they are what I would call 'the standard Christian response'. I don't mean that in a dismissive way but simply to say that you are alligning yourself with a common and ancient Christian approach to the issue.

However, it is a response that I find myself in disagreement with at various points and I am pondering how best to respond. Do I simply make little comments here or do I do some posts addressing some of the issues that you raise? Looking at Natahn's comments I think that I will need to do the latter. So many controverted texts and themes are involved it is hard to handle in a brief comment.

So - over the next few weeks I will start posting on the bigger issues of Israel and the Church. Then the fur can fly!

Michael Pahl said…
Robin, I'm not an expert on the blood/not blood thing! I heard that at some point in my past life (my biology courses in university?) and simply carried that over into my reading of these texts. I would be interested in knowing about ancient Jewish perspectives on this (I did a quick glance in the Mishnah, esp. Hullin, but found nothing). As for modern Jewish perspectives, I found this summary statement at "The laws of kashrut require the extraction and drainage of all blood from beef or fowl within 72 hours of slaughtering. This is accomplished through a unique soaking and salting process—or, in some instances, through broiling. The reddish liquid that remains inside the meat after this procedure is not halachically considered blood; it is the meat's 'juice,' and is 100% kosher. Today, kosher meat is sold with the blood already removed. Therefore, if dining in a kosher restaurant, or if you bought your meat at a reliable kosher butcher, you can confidently eat your medium-rare steak."

And yes, I think that was the Toronto ETS/SBL when we met over dinner. And I'm pretty sure you ordered a nice steak, juicy rare... :-)
Robin Parry said…

your questions are all very pertinent and good ones. Right now I don't even know my thoughts on them all.

See my response to Teresita.

I think that I am going to have to step back and deal with the much bigger issue of Israel and the Church in some posts to set the cat among the mice. Problem is that I am still thinking through what I think. Throwing out half-baked ideas may not always be wise. Will ponder.

The problem for me is that so many difficult texts relate to this issue that finding a clear way through the maze (and doing so in such a way that it can be handled in short posts) is no easy trick. Galatians 3, for instance, is notoriously controversial. The Antioch Incident in Galatians 2 (which you quote at the end) is even more so.

To be honest David Rudoplph can handle all of those matters far better than I could - his PhD was on it so he's spent years thinking through exactly those issues. But I will have some stabs at it. I'll just need to think for a while how best to hurl myself to the lions.

James Pate said…
This is a question for Teresita.

You relate Romans 14 to Jewish laws, as many commentators do. But how would you explain the prohibition on drinking wine? As far as I know, Jews had no problem with that.

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