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Acts 15:19-20 read (KJV):

Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

One commentary I have (in the Neue evangelistiche Übersetzung, which is in German, so I won't quote it directly) says these are the four requirements for gentiles living among the Israelites, and this is found in the law in Leviticus 17 and 18. And indeed, that portion surely does correspond (with a lot more detail):

  • burnt offerings and sacrifices only to be made at the sanctuary/tabernacle (otherwise it was done to the "devils")
  • blood not to be eaten, slaughtered animals to be bled out properly (because blood has a special significance in the atonement of sin)
  • meat from animals that died of themselves, or were torn, is not to be eaten
  • all manner of sexual relations that are forbidden, including but not limited to incest and bestiality

I have always wondered why these four requirements exactly were used by the apostles (and why not also for instance theft or murder), and this explanation pointing back to the basis in Mosaic law seems to make sense. But:

  1. Is Leviticus 17 & 18 the only portion of Mosaic law pertaining particularly to gentiles sojourning with Israel? (I do recall some conditional requirements, e.g. if a gentile would have wished to participate in the passover; conditional because it was not required of him to participate.)
  2. Are there other passages that could be taken as a basis for these four requirements?
  3. Is the above commentary on the right track in claiming the relationship between these two passages?
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The most likely (and traditional) source for the conclusion to the first Jerusalem council is the Noahide covenant recorded in Gen 8:20 to 9:17 which was established with all humanity and all animals. Specifically, we have:

  • prohibition of eating blood (and by extension meat of strangled animals) Gen 9:1-3

Modern Jews see much more in this covenant but that is not the subject for this question. The prohibition against idolatry is also found in

  • Gen 31:32-35 – Jacob clearly understood that idolatry was forbidden.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

The prohibition against fornication is found in -

  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for almost tricking a pagan king into committing adultery
  • Gen 19 records the appalling events involving attempted pack-rape of the two angels
  • Gen 39:7-9 – Joseph calls Potiphar’s wife proposal “a great evil and sin against God”.
  • Gen 49:4 – Reuben is scalded for his sin of incest
  • Gen 34 – the story of Dinah records a heinous incident involving her defilement (plus murder and lying)

[NOTE: A similar analysis shows that all of the 10 commandments were well-known in the book of Genesis.]

Many of the moral laws of Leviticus and Numbers are based on either an expansion of one of the 10 commandments or on the Noahide law referenced above.

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