Acts 15:19-21 (NIV) “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

What is the connection between:

“the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath". (Acts 15:21)


“we should (therefore) write to them (to the Christian gentiles), telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood". (Acts 15:20)

I have difficulty understanding the reasoning here.

  • 1
    I have said in my anwer on CSE that it's because the Law of Moses was still fresh in the minds of those who would at the time be receiving the Gospel, which would include people that have heard of and/or have embraced the Judaic tradition, so that they (1) would not have their conscience defiled assimilated belief in eating blood being wrong (this is in the answer) and (2) they would not have too much temptation to disbelieve the Gospel as it would be radically different to the "tune" of the Law. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/68313/…
    – Dmitri
    Jan 29, 2019 at 16:54
  • +1. I have just read your answer in the other question you gave a reference to. It is a good answer, and I appreciate your summary here. Jan 30, 2019 at 3:25
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    This is a verse whereby I speculate on, that synagogues, were not only from Jews but also the ten lost tribes of Israel that were given a certificate of divorce. These became gentiles once divorced. I might consider expanding this comment if there is interest. Jan 30, 2019 at 19:26
  • Yes. I think that that is one of the explanations why there was knowledge about Moses outside Israel. Jan 30, 2019 at 22:54

7 Answers 7


It is clear that in NT times, any Gentiles that were interested in spiritual things attended local synagogues and heard both the preaching about Christ and preaching from the Torah and what we now call the Old Testament. Here is a sample:

  • Acts 11:1 - gentiles were being converted by the preaching of the Word which could have only been from the OT
  • Acts 17:4, 17 - "God-fearing" gentiles participated in synagogue services and thus would have been familiar with the Torah
  • Eph 3:1, 6, 8 also records how gentiles received the Word of God

Thus, non-Jews were familiar with the OT as it was regularly read in the synagogues. Thus, the injunction recorded in Acts 15 would have come as little surprise to gentiles and was a significant simplification of the 613 Torah laws that were now set aside.

  • +1. It was especially interesting to read the Eph reference. Jan 30, 2019 at 0:27

During Jesus times ,the Greeks, Romans and other pagan nations ,offered meats on the altar to their idol gods as sacrifice. The meat offered to demons symbolized by the idol would be consumed by the priests , the worshipers and perhaps other sold on the market.

Some pagans that became Christians continued to eat such meats offered to demons, and so became partakers with the demon gods represented by the idol. In order to protect the Christians ,the apostles and the elders guided by the Spirit of God, send a letter to the churches forbidding the eating of meats offered to idols.We read :

Acts 15:19,20 (NASB)

19 "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood."

James advised in his writing to the non Jewish Christians to abstain from :1/ things contaminated by idols,2/ from fornification (sexual immorality) and 3/ what is strangled and from blood. These prohibitions were in the Torah as given to Moses from ancient times and was read in the synagogues every Sabbath day. (Acts 15:21)

Jesus read from such a scroll: Luke 4:15-20

  • +1. I have wondered why it says "things", not "food". What do you think? Jan 30, 2019 at 0:32
  • Coonstantthin: the Koine Greek word is "Αλισγηματών" pronounced "alisgematton" and literally means "pollutions". Most translations such as ASV,KJV,NABRE,RSVCE, and GW use"polluted/pollution/pollutions. The NIV has "food". I believe it is a matter for the translators ,however the word "things" is not the best translation from a literal/formal translation like the NASB, I would prefer the word "polluted". Jan 30, 2019 at 19:16
  • Well, if "polluted" is the right word then my thoughts are drawn to wine, strong wine, and the like (drugs). Stuff that is poisonous to body and mind. What do you think about that? Would that be a plausible explanation to what "polluted" refers to? Jan 31, 2019 at 22:32
  • @Conatantthin: Any food could also include wine , compare 1Cor 8:7NASB. The Bible does not tell us one by one the things which are clean or unclean, but gives us guide lines on what to avoid.Paul urged Corinthians to "cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit." (2Cor.7:1 NASB ) Jesus said:“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matt.22:37 GW) Certainly we cannot worship God with all our heart,soul and mind, if we are addicted to drugs,alcohol,caffeine ,gambling , surprising tattooing is also prohibited. Lev. 19:28 Feb 1, 2019 at 18:35

There was confusion which entered into the church as to whether or not the sacrificial system, along with its rites and ceremonies, was to be observed. It was the contention of some that Gentiles should be exhorted to keep the "law of Moses", as it is called, while on the other hand the Holy Spirit and the apostles agreed that the law of Moses had reached its end. See Acts 15, which brings out all of this information.

This being the case, there were some issues which were clearly addressed only in the ceremonial law of Moses that became confused. Eating blood was one of these issues, as well as eating foods sacrificed to idols. While the feast days, sacrifices, and pilgrimages were at an end, and the earthly sanctuary,-- soon to be destroyed,-- had lost its meaning, the moral, sanitary, and dietary precepts that it taught were still binding upon all men everywhere.

Moses being preached in the synagogues every Sabbath, the Gentiles knew what sin was. They knew the ten commandments, the story of Joseph, and his fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It wasn't necessary to exhort them about keeping the ten commandments and other elementary things of the Christian walk. What they were not sure of was, if the ceremonial system and circumcision were gone, "do we still need observe these certain things other things that the ceremonial system said?"

And of course, the answer came back yes. While circumcision isn't necessary and sacrifices were a thing of the past, that doesn't take away the teachings of not eating fat and blood, nor does it make idolatrous feasting okay, nor does it suddenly sanctify the kinds of fornication which are clearly condemned in the law of Moses.

  • +1. Short and concise. Jan 31, 2019 at 22:40

I'm constantly amazed at just how much ink is spilled in the NT regarding the place of the Torah in Paul's "new humanity":

Eph 2:15 KJV - 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;

Despite the long, drawn out polemics in scripture, the letters of Paul and the accounts in Acts, people are usually very fuzzy about the bottom line and many groups and individuals remain convinced that Torah observance is required in the new creation.

To avoid confusion regarding the Acts 15:20-21 passage I would point to these pieces of background:

  • Paul claimed to be "born prematurely":

1Co 15:8 KJV - 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Normally one would not survive an untimely birth:

Job 3:16 KJV - 16 Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light. Psa 58:8 KJV - 8 As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun. Ecc 6:3 KJV - 3 If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.

By this he seems to refer to the fact that he was born before the obviation of the Mosaic covenant. So Paul was gathering in the gentiles while the elect Jews were still beholden to Moses and charged with teaching the same things that Jesus taught, which included fidelity to the Torah.

So Paul's teaching of justification by faith alone was not relevant to the elect Jews since they were in the new covenant, which was about having the Torah written upon their hearts. The old and new covenants would not be set aside until the temple was destroyed:

Heb 8:13 KJV - 13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

Heb 9:26 ASV - 26 else must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Mat 24:1-3 NKJV - 1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." 3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"

So while the Jewish apostles, Peter, James, John, etc. were, for example, were given a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the Torah being written on their hearts and while they kept and taught the Jews to be faithful to Moses and not forsake the law or the temple, Paul was teaching the gentiles justification by alone:

Heb 10:25 KJV - 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Jesus had said the "heaven and earth would pass away", referring not to the "biodome" but rather to the covenant and political fabric of Judaism. For Peter, their dissolution and the establishment of a whole new non-temple righteousness:

2Pe 3:13 KJV - 13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.

So what James is saying is, "While we keep the Torah, the gentiles do not'. The old covenant, like the new covenant, was not a covenant which involved the gentiles.

The commands he refers to appear to be a reference to Genesis 9 where God commanded Noah (a gentile) in some basics.

So the Jewish apostles agreed to take their faith + works gospel to the circumcision while Paul took his faith without works message to the gentiles:

Gal 2:3-10 KJV - 3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. 6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: 7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; 8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) 9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. 10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

  • the second insight is found in Paul's writing to Timothy:

1Ti 1:8 KJV - 8 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;

What does "use it lawfully" mean? It means that the law must not be used to incriminate a righteous person (IE: a gentile who is already righteous by faith alone):

1Ti 1:9-10 KJV - 9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

In other words, the gentiles, are justified by faith ala Abraham who was counted righteous while still uncircumcised:

Rom 4:8-12 KJV - 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. 9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

So, back to the question. James, ever the pragmatist, is saying that the gentiles need to live godly lives but without regard to the covenant terms of the Torah. Any wisdom they can apply to their lives from the Torah is freely available so they need not be ignorant of God's nature and ways and they need no litany of commands. But James and the believing Jews were to keep the sabbaths, feasts, food laws, etc. This practical and pastoral injunction given to the gentiles is akin to the charge he gave to Paul:

Gal 2:10 KJV - 10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

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    +1. I have difficulty reading long answers, but I give you an up-vote for supplying additional light to the issue. I am going to re-read it a couple of times to try to find highlights I can point out. Jan 31, 2019 at 4:05
  • So according to Ruminatorism, God does show partiality? Feb 1, 2019 at 19:02
  • Absolutely. Amo 3:2 KJV - 2 You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.
    – Ruminator
    Feb 1, 2019 at 19:12
  • Jesus was "birthed by a woman, born beholden to the Torah". Mat 15:24 KJV - 24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
    – Ruminator
    Feb 1, 2019 at 19:57
  • Mat 5:18-20 NIV 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the...
    – Ruminator
    Feb 1, 2019 at 19:57

Most of the current answers seem to be using eisegesis, explaining the text in terms of what is already believed.

Exegesis and abductive reasoning produce a much simpler and self-consistent answer.

See my answer in Christianity.SE: exegesis - Were there implicit laws not referenced in the Acts 15 letter to gentile believers? - Christianity Stack Exchange.

The quick summary is that the prohibitions in Acts 15:20 are the the Noahide Laws, with the obvious restrictions (blasphemy, murder, theft, injustice) removed. Gentiles unwilling to accept these laws would not be welcomed in synagogues, the only place they could have access to the written scriptures and hear biblical readings, sermons, discussions, etc.


One of the early church Fathers said that the Greeks had plagiarized the wisdom of the Hebrews.

The odd rules of the Jews were known throughout the world due to David and Solomon's conquests and the dispersions. The dietary laws particularly stood out as Jews negotiated the markets daily. Seeker gentiles would have heard more details.

But the goal is to not make it difficult. Therefor the admonition is 'easy' since it is already familiar to them. If the Gentiles would follow those rules with which they were already familiar, the observant Jews could fellowship with them. In this case, the Jews are the weaker brothers.


The Mosaic Law contained certain requirements for Gentiles living among Israelites:

No matter how the complicated passage Acts 15:21 is to be interpreted in detail, the function of the verse is to validate the decree, to call upon Moses as witness. Everyone who truly hears Moses knows that the decree expresses what Moses demands from Gentiles in order that they may live among Israelites (15:15-17). The four prescriptions are what the law demands of Gentiles; perhaps Luke consciously refers to what Lev 17-18 demands from 'strangers' that sojourn among Israelites.1

The Law does have minimal requirements for Gentiles, but does not include circumcision. James reasoning is straight forward: since the Law does not require circumcision for Gentiles living among the Israelites, it cannot be used to require circumcision outside of Israel.

That these requirements come out of the Jewish tradition would probably be clear to any Greek reader of Acts, but it would be perfectly clear to to one whom Luke regards as a Godfearer...The use of the term eidōlōn, in whatever combination, is a signal of the Jewish background of the apostolic decree. But the narrator wants to assure that the implied reader not miss the point, and he adds in 15:21 the explanatory phrase, "For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every Sabbath in the synagogues." The function of this verse in this context, immediately following the first report of the apostolic decree, is to affirm that the requirements, which are understood to be Mosaic, are familiar to those Gentiles in the Diaspora who have attached themselves to synagogues.2

In other words, those knowledgeable of the Law of Moses know the decision follows the Law.

1. Jacob Jervell, Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts, Augsburg Publishing House, 1972, p. 144
2. Joseph B. Tyson, Images of Judaism in Luke-Acts, University of South Carolina Press, 1992, p. 149

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