Should Christians Eat Beef Burgers? (Acts 15)
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. :-)