Should Christians Eat Beef Burgers? (Acts 15)

My first ever blog post! What shall I discuss? Hmmmm. Some really big theological issue sounds like just the thing. I know! Beef burgers! OK - perhaps not up there with Christology but still worth a comment perhaps. And this time I am not thinking about the ethics of burgers. I'm thinking about the blood.

Here is my controversial claim: Christians should not eat meat with blood in it. Thus, if a burger has blood in it then a Christian should not eat it (except perhaps in special circumstances).

Here is my argument: Leviticus 17:10-12 tells us not to.

OK, before you think that I have lost my marbles and reply that Christians are not under the Law of Moses consider this (based on Richard Bauckham's article "James and the Gentiles (Acts 15:13-21)" - read that if you want the details):

In Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council it was decreed that all Gentile Christians should abstain from blood.

15:29 "... that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality."

This was an authoritative ruling for all Gentile Christians (and, in case you are wondering, it was accepted without question by Paul). To understand this odd decree read on ...

The big debate in the earliest church was whether Gentiles could have full status as members of the community of Israel, God's people. Judaism allowed Gentiles to have a guest status within the community as God fearers and it also allowed Gentiles to fully convert to Judaism (marked by circumcision) as prosylites. So on the normal Jewish view Gentiles could only have full membership status within Israel if they converted to Judaism (see the work of Mark Nanos for all the details on this).

However, there was an expectation in some strands of Judaism (as witnessed in OT prophetic texts) that when Israel was renewed in the end-times then the Gentile nations would come to Jerusalem and join Israel in the worship of Yhwh. They would not need to convert to Judaism.

The early Jewish believers in Jesus considered themselves to be a microcosm of end-time, restored Israel. Consequently they came to see the Gentiles believers in Jesus as the nations making the end-time pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That is basically the theological reason why Paul and the Jerusalem Church headed up by Jesus' brother James came to the decision that Gentile Chrisians did not have to convert to Judaism to have full community membership status. To require Gentiles to get circumcised and submit themselves to the whole Jewish Law would be to deny that Christ had inaugurated the new age foretold by the prophets. (As an aside, note that the debate was about whether Gentiles needed to obey the whole Torah. It was taken for granted that Jewish believers in Jesus would.)

So why insist on the four prohibitions? Many Christians argue that these were simply pragmatic rulings that were made to enable Jewish and Gentile Christians to share table fellowship together. On that interpretation eating blood is actually OK for Gentiles so long as no Jewish Christ-believers are offended.

Richard Bauckham has made a persuasive argument that (a) the standard interpretation is wrong and (b) that the 4-fold prohibition was a principled one and not a pragmatic one.

Very briefly, the four prohibitions are based on the rules Lev 18-19 placed on those Gentiles "living in the midst" of Israel. These are the only four laws in the Torah that the alien living "in your midst" is told to obey. They occur in the same order in Lev 17-18 as they do in the apostolic decree.
  • abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, (Lev 17:8-9)
  • and from blood, (Lev 17:10-12)
  • and from what has been strangled, (Lev 17:13 - a strangled animal is one that has not had its blood drained)
  • and from sexual immorality. (Lev 18:6-23)

The logic behind the decree is that the Jewish believers are a microcosm of end-time Israel and the Gentile believers are a microcosm of the end-time nations joining them in worship. Gentile Christians are the eschatological equivalent of the Gentiles "living in the midst of Israel" spoken of in Lev-17-18. That is why the early Church insisted on these rules. And Gentile Christians followed the blood ban well into the third century.

So here is my question - on what grounds do we feel that we can disregard the apostolic decree that bound all the early Gentile Christians?

I hope that I have not spoiled your lunch. :-)


Jason Clark said…
I know your views were the same as Paternoster, it makes them a more exciting publisher ;-)

I wonder what caveat I should have on my site?

Welcome to blogging, I look forward to tracking your thoughts, about time you had a blog.

You're out of the gate with a catchy first blog post title. I just a double whopper with no mayo for my lunch, from Burger King, so your post is very timely.
Robin Parry said…

Thanks. I am hoping to find a way to keep eating burgers - I need to talk to a butcher first.

I'll try something more conventional next time :-)

Pilgrim said…
Welcome to the blogosphere, Robin :) — adding you to the UKCBD Blogroll.

Can't say as I get over-excited over burgers either way so this opener's like an aeroplane to me. Never mind. But what I will say is:

Paragraph breaks, please.

Maybe it's just me, but I do find reading great long blocks of text without any paragraph breaks difficult...

Happy daze, amigo!
Robin Parry said…

Thanks. I did put lots of paragraph breaks in but because the post was so long the 'computer'/blog site removed them all to fit it on the page.

Future blogs will be shorter. Next one will be on the curse of charismatic happiness.

Darrell Cosden said…
So Robin can you also comment on Paul's attitude to Meat sacrificed to idols. Seems to me that may be an important tie up with your comments.

By the way, I don't blog that much but hi.
Pilgrim said…
Hey - you've got the paragraph breaks in: nice one!

On the OP, however: having said it's over my head, the issue of how we pick and choose which bits of the Bible we disregard is, of course, an important question... and even the raving fundies do it: it's not just a liberal thing. There's no such thing as an uninterpreted reading of scripture...
Andrew Perriman said…
Robin, I would agree with Bauckham in principle, but I would argue that AD 70 made the requirement effectively obsolete. Paul's image of Gentile branches grafted into the stock of Israel made sense as long as it was still possible that all Israel would repent and escape the wrath of God. After AD 70 the Acts 15 ruling becomes merely a localized pragmatic requirement - for the sake of a mission to Jews.
Robin Parry said…

Provocative as ever! You may need to spell that out some more because I simply cannot see how AD 70 makes the prohobition obsolete. If the logic is that the church is composed of renewed Israel (believing Jews) with the pilgrim nations (believing nations) how does AD 70 change that? As I see things this is still what the church is.
Andrew Perriman said…
The four rules apply, as you have made the case, to a situation in which Gentiles are understood (figuratively) to be 'living in the midst of Israel'. That naturally brings to mind Paul's metaphor of the olive tree of Israel: Gentiles have been grafted in to share in the 'root of the fatness of the olive tree' (Rom. 11:17). Paul also entertains the possibility that the removed branches of disobedient Israel might at some point be reinstated, which would lead to all Israel being saved (11:26). In my view he is thinking historically (the argument, for what it's worth, is set out here): the war of AD 60-70 would be God's punishment of recalcitrant Israel; if as a consequence of that punishment Israel were to repent, the nation would be made whole again, ie. 'saved'; the Gentiles would retain their status as aliens living by grace 'in the midst of Israel'; and the limited purity requirements would continue to be relevant.

However, Israel did not repent following the judgment of AD 70, the nation was not 'saved', and what resulted was a situation in which the tree was progressively taken over by the ingrafted Gentiles, until it became, in effect, a Gentile tree. That is a pragmatic rather than theological argument perhaps, because in principle the remnant remained in place, as the stem of the tree. But historically that situation was bound to change: the stem ceased to be a living tradition that would give continuing definition to the people of God. We no longer have a situation in which the Gentiles are 'living in the midst of Israel', and the four purity requirements have become redundant, and we can go to McDonald's with a clear conscience (ho, ho!).

To my mind, this is a good example of why it is so important to take the eschatological boundary of AD 70 into account as we read the New Testament.
Robin Parry said…

I see. This is why you are one of the most interesting people out there! However, I guess that I do not read Romans 11 within that horizon (I still think that 'all Israel will be saved' at some future time).

But even if I did take the Perriman view I still think that part of the very essence of what the Church is is that it is the eschatologically renewed Israel (Jesus-believing Jews) joined by eschatological pilgim nations (Jesus-believing Gentiles). The Church is still theologically framed in part by that vision and the extent that we have departed from it is the extent that we have lost touch with some of our roots and part of our own identity.

We Gentiles are still the wild branches grafted into the root of Israel. So even if we vastly outnumber the native branches we are still the Gentiles dwelling in the midst of Israel.

So I think anyway (I never was much of a progressive, eh!)
Robin Parry said…

you are quite right. There was a book put out some years ago critical of evangelical uses of Leviticus 18 in the homosexual debates. It was called something like, "Should Christians Eat Black Pudding?" The reader was supposed to answer the question with a resounding, "If they wish to!" at which point the book points out that it is hypocritical to ignore the ruling on black pudding and yet to enforce the one on homosexuality. Fair enough.

However, James and the early Church in Acts 15 would say, "No they should not eat black pudding and no they should no engage in homosexual acts because Lev 17-18 forbid both to the Gentiles living in the midst of Israel"
Paul said…
great first post, the way to the bloggers heart is thru their stomach, or maybe that's jus me.

Hmmm i wonder if that's what God intended with all these food laws?

I can't believe that Clark eats at burger king, what a pagan. There burgers should come with a health warning more related to clogging up our own blood supply rather than their blood filled contents. Having been a BK boy for a summer i still need pray ministry for that whopper trauma!

Any views on why God picked out those 4 commands for gentiles living in the land in the first place - what was the thinking behind them observing just those ones?
Robin Parry said…

Thanks for the kind words BK boy!

great Q. I am afraid that I don't have a clue. Clearly Gentiles don't need to follow kosher food laws (so we can eat pork and shellfish). Why? Dunno. I have not really looked into it. This is all very new to me.

Robin Parry said…

actually - we don't even know why God forbade certain foods to the Jews (I never found the health explanation very convincing. Was it Philo who first suggested that one?). We know that there was nothing inherently unclean about pigs, for instance (as even an ultra Orthodox Jew will tell you). It was simply the divine command that made the pig unclean for Israel. It sounds arbitrary and yet ...

hmmm (deep though) HMMMM

Chirpy said…
Does that mean I can't eat black pudding either.

Tell me this why was there a heard of 2000 pigs. Who would keep them if they were of no value to the Jews.

Ruth says don't eat beef burgers coz they make you fat, stuff the blood thing
Nick Norelli said…

As someone who has eaten countless burgers, and worked as a short-order cook for a number of years, I can assure you that if you cook the meat until it's well-done then there is no remnant of blood in it. I don't know if you've ever eaten in Kosher restaurants, but you can get a good beef burger in any number of them, the blood will just be cooked out (and don't ask for cheese on it because you won't get it!) So keep on eating!


Gentiles would keep them for eating and sacrifice to idols. Remember, that story took place in the Decapolis which was largely Gentile territory.
Nathan Fellingham said…
Nice to see you blogging Robin. It's a good opportunity for stretching the mind! Hope you don't mind a bit of musing from me...!

I have to say, I've always favoured the understanding that those restrictions by James were purely to help relations between Jews and Gentiles at a time where everything suddenly looked very different. Acceptance before God wasn't to be found through observing the law any more, but instead it was to be found completely in Jesus. You see Peter working through the change being bold as anything earlier in the Acts passage you mention here but then needing a rebuke from Paul (in Galatians) because he'd become slightly hypocritical, not eating with his Gentile brothers.

To me these commands fit squarely in the category of not causing your brother to stumble and "becoming all things to all men" as Paul says.

If you feel as 'Aliens"we should be observing these commands, do you think that Jewish Christians should also be observing the rest of the Torah?

Thanks for listening! Nath
Michael F. Bird said…
Good to see you on the blogosphere!
Welcome to blogging! I think the short answer, to parody what most Christians probably think and few if any will openly omit, is "These burgers are so tasty and smell soooooo good, God can't possibly have prohibited them." When we all agree in liking something, we find ways of making sense of the Bible that allow for it. When we don't like something, all it takes is a single verse to convince us that the thing in question is "unbiblical".

On the other hand, as I recall Philo explained the prohibition of pork in terms of it being so tasty, and thus the prohibition was to teach self-denial. The same could apply to Burger King flame broiled burgers, but by this rationale one could probably eat at McDonalds without qualms.

If all other attempts to justify one's burger habit fail, one can always selectively quote Paul: "Eat whatever is set before you, asking no questions..." :)
Anonymous said…
I think I'm really going to enjoy this blog.

Welcome to blogdom RP!
Antony Billington said…
Hi Robin – great to have you blogging, and I’ll be checking in regularly. On the presenting issue, I’d be curious to know how Mark 7:19 figures in your thoughts...
Michael F. Bird said…
The Jerusalem council was a via media that required Gentile believers to hold to the Noachide commandments in order to avoid idolatry and not offend Jewish scruples in mixed gatherings of believers. So its limitations were temporary and biding only in light of the situation that called for the council. Even so, in Revelation (2.14, 20) eating idol food is expressly forbidden, while in 1 Corinthians (8.1-13; 10.25-33) it is a matter of conscience in so far as it does not offend a ‘weaker’ brother. This arguably signifies different appropriations of the apostolic decree but both share a conviction that Christians should avoid idolatry.

Me, personally, I'm eating my bacon and double beef delux burger with extra cheese to the glory of God and to hasten my entrance into glory.
Robin Parry said…

I am not saying that Gentiles Christians should follow Levitical food laws (we can eat pork, etc) but I am saying that Jewish Jesus-believers should. That seems presupposed by Acts 15. If the early Church thought that Jewish believers were liberated from following Torah then there would not even be a discussion about whether Gentiles should obey it.

On Mark 7:19 I am inclined to follow James Crossley and take it that Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees for going beyond Torah by insisting on hand washing for ordinary meals (see ch 7 of his book on the date of Mark's gospel). So Jesus is saying that all foods declared clean by the Torah really are clean and do not require a ceremonial handwashing. The oral Torah is adding to the traditions of men.

(BTW - on the traditional interpretation of Mark 7:19 Jesus is doing precisely what he criticized the Pharisees for doing in that very concersation - nullifying the word of God in the Torah. If he did that he is shooting himself in the foot)

Alternatively there is a good article in EQ by David Randolph that takes a different line on Mark 7:19 that still retains food laws for Jewish believers.

But this is all new thinking for me so I have yet to cross all my 't's and dot all my 'i's.

Robin Parry said…

I mean David Rudolph (sorry - I was thinking Oxford Hotels at the time)

Robin Parry said…

Oh dear! I have all these proper NT people responding now and I only know about the OT. I've never really studied the NT properly so I am on shakey ground. But I'm all for throwing myself before the lions for a bit of fun!

Where do you derive the idea that the apostolic decree was to avoid offending Jewish scruples in mixed gatherings?

And if that was the rationalle why was this not mentioned? Indeed the ban allows Gentiles to eat pork and that might possibly be a problem at table fellowship so are you sure that the motivation is pragmatic?

Indeed if the pragmatics of table fellowship was the rationalle why does James' argument - if Bauckham is correct - seem to offer a principled exegetical basis for the ban rather than a simple pragmatic one.

In other words - the rationalle behind the ban is principled not pragmatic so on what grounds do you say that it is temporary? It seems to apply when Jews are not present (and Gentiles seemed to take it that way for quite a long time so far as we can tell).

I'll get back to you on 1 Cor 8
David Seruyange said…
There goes the state of South Dakota...
Robin Parry said…
Nathan - I will reply to your email tomorrow. You raise some important issues.
Robin Parry said…

I think that your comment raises some very critical issues. I suspect that I am not the best placed person to answer them so I have invited David Rudolph, a Messianic Jewish NT scholar, to do a guest post addressing them (once he has finished moving house to Los Angeles).

Here are just a very brief and inadequate reply.

Yes we are all saved through Christ - both Jewish and Gentile believers. So Torah-obedience is not about getting saved. Nevertheless, it is (so I think) part of the appropriate mode of covenant loyalty for Jewish Jesus-followers.

2. Of course, everything boils down to how the texts that you mention are interpreted and related to each other. Your interpretation is the traditional Christian way of reading them and it has to be taken seriously - it is most emphatically not silly (indeed there are loads of NT scholars who would defend it at great length). But I am pretty inclined to think that we have misunderstood those texts.
I could comment on them all but as David did his Cambridge DPhil on the 1 Cor 9 passage that you mention and also covers Galatians 2 and Acts 10 (plus a host of other relevant texts) I think I will leave him to comment on how they might be read differently from the trad Christian view.

I think that David will kick off a really fun and ferocious debate so I'll let him throw himself to the lions whilst I look on.

graham old said…
'So here is my question - on what grounds do we feel that we can disregard the apostolic decree that bound all the early Gentile Christians?'

Because it's pointless?

If I had to make that sound more theological, I'd echo some of what Andrew's said and add that we are no longer Gentiles in Israel, but redeemed humanity on the New Earth.
Robin Parry said…

I love it! Strength to you brother!

"And I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn't for you pesky preterites!"

My reply? Simply that from a biblical perspective redeemed humanity on a new earth is the resurrected people of God composed of redeemed Israel and the pilgrim nations.

It is a theological mistake, in my view, to imagine that because Israel and the Church are united as a new humanity in the body of the Messiah that all distinctions between Jew and Gentile are abolished or of no significance. They are of no soteriological significance (there is neither Jew nor Greek) but that does not mean that Christians are a 'third race' that are neither Jewish nor Gentile. In the same way, just because there is neither male not female in Christ it does not follow that we are a 'third sex' that is neither male nor female (so sex is still OK - phew!).

So I think that my reply to the point Andrew made (that you refer to) still stands. All I can do is point back to that and insite your reflections.

Peace out!
Robin Parry said…

Pointless? Sorry - I forgot to comment on that part. Good point.

Well, in the sense that there is nothing inherently bad about eating meat with blood in it then it is 'pointless'. But then so are many symbolic actions and rituals. Perhaps the point is in what is symbolised (that life belongs to God) and this is how God tells us to remind ourselves of this point.

We also need to consider that it does not follow from the claim that "I cannot see a point to this action" that "there is no point to this action". So there may well be a good reason but we simply don't (yet) know what it is.

There is also the issue that if God forbade it then it is not silly to obey even if we never know the point if it. To suppose that it is our obligation to vet all God's commands before deciding whether or not to follow them is not necessarily a wise default mode.

I do see your point - indeed, I feel very similarly. But I would need a good theological reason to see the command as no longer obligatory (and that is from a lifelong burger-eater who is now reforming his ways)
nathan fellingham said…
Thanks for getting back to each of us Robin. DId you know what you were letting yourself in for??!

I look forward to David's response of course. But he's bound to be very clever - which I am not. So before we get to that, I'd love to ask something else from your response. If a nominal Jew (i.e someone who has never really followed the Torah, but is however Jewish) were to find themselves repenting of their sins and following Jesus, having an understanding that he stands on Jesus righteousness, rather than his own and in that way is now acceptable before God, would you then think it is the right thing for him to also start following the Torah? And if so, for what benefit?


Robin Parry said…

another good question! Well, this is all new territory to me but my answer would be 'Yes'. Of course, they are saved in Christ whether they do ot not but it seems to me to be the most appropriate mode of response.

The problem is that for hundreds of years Christians have presumed that Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah should stop being Jews and become de facto Gentiles.

Both the Synagogue and the Church have acted as though we have two totally distinct religions here - Judaism and Christianity - and one must be in either one or the other. So a Jew who accepts Jesus moves from Judaism to Christianity and Jewish covenant regulations no longer apply.

Such an approach is utterly alien to the NT and I do think that we need to recover what we have lost here. This will require some serious rethinking.

Anonymous said…
Great blog Robin,

I have enjoyed reading every article.

I have taken the opportunity to highlight it at Eclectic Christian.

Looking forward to reading much more.

Mike Bell
Robin Parry said…

Thanks for the encouragement

Damian said…

It seems to me the only people who argued against your point on scriptural basis where preterist who believed that 70AD indicated a negation of these rules.

Did I miss any arguments, or is there no hope for we futurists who love burgers?

This grieves me.
Jakeb Brasee said…
Oh hi! I have arrived from the future to talk about this!

What are your thoughts on this, Robin et al:

Included with the blood and strangling, are prohibitions against food sacrificed to idols and against sexual immorality.

But your error is in assuming that these restrictions are all of a kind. Paul makes it clear elsewhere that you CAN eat food sacrificed to idols without a worry or a care. He also makes it clear elsewhere that sexual immorality is absolutely forbidden. So it's pretty clear that these are not 100% pragmatic OR 100% principled. At least one of them is simply pragmatic, and at least one is simply principled (if pragmatic means doing it to help other people, and principled means avoiding what is inherently sinful).

So the question becomes -- how do we know where the other two fall? Even their position in the list is unhelpful, sitting as they do between the definitely pragmatic and principled statements. Do we have any reason for choosing one grouping over another? Or maybe they belong to an entirely different category altogether? It may require some reconsideration.

Your thoughts?
Jakeb Brasee said…
Also, you guys know the blood drains/cooks out and most animals these days aren't strangled, right? Mayhaps you have learned this in the last two years. ;)
Robin Parry said…
For those of you who are interested: here is a good article on koshering meat.

Popular Posts