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Act 15:28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.

What is the meaning of the word seemed? Is there uncertainty?

Should we avoid eating steak done rare?

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    The construction δοκέω + infinitive is used by Luke four times in the chapter : verses 22, 25, 28 and 34.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 5 '20 at 16:00
  • The proscription regarding blood is first seen after the Flood in the new world Genesis 9:4.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 5 '20 at 16:03
  • The verb to seem or to appear is related to (visual) observation, and the (logical) inference(s) drawn from it. The Apostles witnessed certain events pointing them in such a direction; thus, Peter's words in Acts 15:7-9, for instance, recall the story described earlier, in chapter 10. As to the last paragraph, Western and Eastern Christians have historically disagreed on this topic.
    – Lucian
    Jun 6 '20 at 4:06
  • δοκέω Strong 1380 has the meaning 'esteem' something to be so. It does not convey the idea of something 'seeming' to be when it is not, or may not be, so.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 6 '20 at 22:25
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The word choice reflects the somewhat forensic (usage 1) context at hand, where a binding decision is to be passed down by the ones called upon to decide on the issue of what changes must a gentile believer make in order to share table with a Jewish believer. Since the ones who would be providing the decision was not the Holy Breath directly but rather the human leaders, the the Holy Breath is acting as an Amicus Curiae rather than Decider. The Amicus Curiae provides an amicus curiae brief, so to speak and the decision is made by the others.

I find a great deal of overlap with δοκέω, then, in the English word “deem”:

Definition of deem

transitive verb

: to come to think or judge : CONSIDER
deemed it wise to go slow
those whom she deemed worthy
a movie deemed appropriate for all ages

intransitive verb

: to have an opinion : BELIEVE

Notice the history of the word:

In the Middle Ages, "demen" was a fateful word. Closely related to "doom," this precursor of deem meant "to act as a judge" or "to sentence, condemn, or decree." These meanings passed to "deem" itself, but we haven't used "deem" to mean "legally condemn" since the early 17th century. Though "deem" is still frequently used in law contexts, today it means "judge" only in a broader sense of "to decide (something specified) regarding," as in "the act was deemed unlawful" or "the defendant is deemed to have agreed to the contract." Outside of the law, "deem" usually means simply "to consider." Some usage commentators consider "deem" pretentious, but its use is well established in both literary and journalistic contexts. We deem it perfectly acceptable.

Definition of DEEM

So I would suggest a translation in this context as “deemed”.

As to eating rare steak, it is my view that there is no reason to be troubled in one's conscience about eating a rare steak. However, if you are eating with a Jew, a Jehovah's Witness or Seventh Day Adventist (or anyone else whose conscience IS troubled by it) it would be the charitable, and therefore Christian thing to do, to abstain. IE: Don't serve a bloody steak if you know that your guests might have misgivings about partaking because of their conscience:

[Rom 14:13-23 NKJV] (13) Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. (14) I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (15) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. (16) Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; (17) for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (18) For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. (19) Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. (20) Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. (21) It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. (22) Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. (23) But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

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  • This does not address the question of meat with blood in it.
    – Dottard
    Jun 7 '20 at 20:58
  • Thanks. I added an update to address the question.
    – Ruminator
    Jun 8 '20 at 1:39
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There are two questions here that are quite independent that should be the subject of separate question but I will take them one at a time here.

The verb δοκέω (dokeó)

In Acts 15:28 this verb is part of the phrase, ἔδοξεν γὰρ τῷ Πνεύματι τῷ Ἁγίῳ καὶ ἡμῖν … = "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us … " BDAG defines this useage (#2 b β) as:

to appear to one's understanding, seem, be recognized as … impersonal: it seems to me, … it seems best to me, I decide, I resolve, eg, Luke 1:13, Acts 15:22, 25, 28.

The phrase here, "it seemed best to the Holy Spirit" is a classic anthropomorphism applied to a member of the Godhead and is a quintessential "Lukism" saying that this is what the meeting perceived the Holy Spirit was leading them to decide. (I wish more church councils would operate this way and save much heartache!)

Does this mean "Is there uncertainty?" If this were merely humans forming an opinion, then the result would be quite uncertain as with all human endeavour. However, here we are discussing the opinion of the Holy Spirit of God who is omniscient and reveals the mind of God (1 Cor 2:10, 11). Thus, when the Holy Spirit reveals something based on the opinion of God (as it necessarily is) then the result is quite certain.

Should we avoid eating steak rare?

I will not answer this question as it is a matter of personal ethics. However, I will set out what the Bible says on this controversial topic.

Of the half dozen covenants made by God with various groups of people in the Old Testament, a few contain this same requirement:

  • Under the Noahide covenant (Gen 8:20 - 9:17), made will all mankind (Gen 9:8-10, 16, 17), one of the requirements was a prohibition against eating any blood, Gen 9:4.
  • Under the Israelite covenant (Ex 19-24, Parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) one of the prohibitions was eating blood, Lev 3:17, 7:26, 27, Lev 10:18, 17:10, 13, 14, 19:26, Num 23:24, Deut 12:23-27, 15:23, etc. See also Eze 18:6, 15, 33:25. Note that this requirement specifically applied also to foreigners as well Lev 17:10-13, etc.

There is much debate about what the "New Covenant" (Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6-13, 9:15, 10:16, 29, 12:24) actually means and what it entails, that I will not debate here. All that is necessary is to observe that the resolution of the Jerusalem council reached a decision prompted by the Holy Spirit about a contentious subject (the status of the Mosaic Law, specifically circumcision) and then set out four requirements that come from the Torah and the Noahide covenant:

  • abstain from food scarified to idols
  • abstain from eating blood
  • abstain from the meat of strangled animals (presumably because it contained blood)
  • abstain from sexual immorality

It is interesting that in the history of the church, all these requirements have enjoyed a very chequered "observance" - sometimes being observed faithfully and other times ignored completely. Even the instruction to abstain from sexual immorality has notoriously often been observed in the breach resulting in numerous church official "mea culpas" over child abuse perpetrated by clergy and elders, to name just one example.

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The verb δοκέω (δοκῶ) indicates the ability to reason and deliberate, acts which only a person (a rational individual) can perform. “Δοκεῖν expresses the subjective mental estimate or opinion about a matter which men form, their δόξα [“opinion”] concerning it...”1 Hence, this verse is another proof of the personality of the Holy Spirit.2

According to BDAG,3

BDAG, p. 255, δοκέω, ②, ⓑ, β.

On the aspect of uncertainty, according to Oxford English Dictionary,4 the verb phrase “to seem good” is equivalent to “to think good.”

Oxford English Dictionary, “seem,” v.2, III., 9., a.

That is,

for, the Holy Spirit and we thought it good to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things

The verb δοκέω emphasizes the subjective judgment of the Holy Spirit and the apostles rather than any uncertainty in their judgment.


Footnotes

1 Trench, p. 305, § lxxx. δοκέω, φαίνομαι
2 cf. Meyer on 1 Cor. 12:11: Bemerke übrigens in καθὼς βούλεται die Persönlichkeit des Geistes.; “By the way, observe in καθὼς βούλεται the personality of the Spirit.”
3 BDAG, p. 255, δοκέω, ②, ⓑ, β.
4 “seem,” v.2, III., 9., a.

References

Arndt, William; Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.

Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Kritisch exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament, Fünfte Abtheilung, Kritisch exegetisches Handbuch über den Ersten Brief an die Korinther. 5th ed. Vol. 5. Göttingen: Vandenboeck and Ruprecht, 1870.

Oxford English Dictionary.

Trench, Chenevix Richard. Synonyms of the New Testament. 12th ed. London: Kegan, 1894.

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