A partial history of interpretations of "abstain from...blood"
The "abstain from...blood" rule appears as one of four rules that resulted
from the Council of Jerusalem, about 49 AD, of Acts 15. The four rules are at
verses 20 and 29.
The Wikipedia article found at that link indicates how the ideas about the
Council of Jerusalem were passed along through history and interpreted. Most
of the information below was abbreviated from that article. One basic thing I
notice about it is that the early writers don't seem as concerned to deal with
the issue and explain it as with the views of Jesus and spirit. This opened up
the possibility for a range of views that soon included an east-west division
The Western version of Acts substitutes the negative form of the Golden Rule
(don't do unto others what you wouldn't have them do unto you) for the prohibi-
tion against things strangled. Some then interpreted the rules to refer to
idolatry, murder, and adultery.
"Of the remaining types of texts which Westcott and Hort isolated, the so-
called Western Type is both ancient and widespread.... Its date of origin must
have been extremely early, perhaps before the middle of the second century.
Marcion, Tatian, Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian and Cyprian all made
use to a greater or less extent of a Western form of text." ("The Text of the
New Testament," Bruce M. Metzger, 1968, p.132)
Although the JWs leaders' writers have used Cyprian and Tertullian to support
their view, Cyprian and Tertullian were like many who understood the Western
text to refer to three moral rules--idolatry, murder, and adultery.
The Didache, from about the time of Acts and later part of the Ethiopian Or-
thodox Bible, has been taken by some to refer to somebody's idea of a version
of the Council of Jerusalem. It gives 25 things to not do, including adultery
and other sexual offenses (and murder, theft, magic, etc.). Of the other three
rules of the council of Jerusalem, it prohibits eating things offered to idols.
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, chap.47, 2nd century, in the
direction of this concern, just indicates Christians didn't need to be circum-
cized or follow Mosaic law. He doesn't bring up the council explicitly.
Origen, 3rd century, puts the council in Antioch and is just known for a par-
tial quote of the event. He gives the Gentiles as being told to abstain from
the three foods, fornication isn't included, and no further explanation or in-
terpretation is given.
By the time of the Synod of Gangra, 300's AD?, the Latin Christians in the
east weren't observing the food rules as the Greeks in the west were.
Pope Gregory the Third, 731 AD, punished the eating of blood or things
strangled with a penance of forty days.
Augustine, Contra Faustum, about 400 AD, writes that the council was meant to
unite the Jews and heathens in a Noahide way, but when the barrier between them
fell, the rules about blood and things strangled lost their meaning and were
just followed by a few.
The Apostolic Constitutions, a late 300's AD collection of 200's and 300's AD
writings, just refers to the four rules given to the Gentiles as being like the
(The seven Noahide or Noachine rules were used by the Mosaic law-following
Jewish people as a minimal requirement of Gentiles for acceptance in their com-
munity. They prohibited idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, sexual immorality,
eating the limb of a living animal, and required the establishing of courts of
(There were various lists of Noahide rules before the list became more stan-
dardized with the Mishnah, but most put idolatry first. Similarly, at Act 15:
20,29, where the rules of the Council of Jerusalem are first given, the order of
the rules is different in each but "things offered to idols" is listed first in
GTW editorial interlude
The Noahide rules reference above interprets the rules as being similarly
meant to appease the Mosaic law followers that they wouldn't be offended by, to
the point of not being able to socialize with, Gentile who did things that were
known to be popular among the Gentiles. This would be a particular sore point
in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religion which the rules of the council of
Jerusalem were sent from.
Mosaic law followers would think their conservative rules on sexuality were
very different from the views and behavior of Gentile culture, and they could
want some reassurance that the Gentiles weren't misbehaving sexually even
though fornication was considered a sin in Christian teaching otherwise.
If you try to relate the four Council of Jerusalem rules to the seven Noahide
rules beyond a general Noahide-type approach, it raises a few questions, though.
One, "things strangled" wouldn't be, and "blood" could be separate from, things
eaten from a live animal (possibly also implying a need to not eat the blood re-
moved of an animal killed by slaughter), the Jewish interpretation of Gen.9:3,4.
By that view, animal blood and unbled animals weren't explicitly banned until
afterward by Mosaic law.
Another is how to relate "things offered to idols" to the Noahide rule against
idolatry. The phrase is insufficient as a way to refer to all manner of worship
of something other than God as God. If any manner of belief in "idolatry" was
meant, "idolatry" would be the comprehensive way to phrase it.
The four rules came about in reaction to Jewish law followers, who also taught
that it made them unclean to eat the things offered that way any time after it
had been offered--to eat meat from animals slaughtered be Gentiles any time.
But Christianity didn't have any unclean food rules (Acts 10 and 11).
Like fornication, idolatry was taught as a sin in Jewish law and Christiani-
ty. More prevalent in Gentile culture than idolatry was eating "things offered
to idols," meat taken from an idol temple, but Jewish law forbid eating "things
offered" anytime. Christianity only forbid it circumstantially--if someone was
around who'd mistakenly think the Christian was advocating idolatry by eating it
or if the Christian a conscience (probably Jewish law conscience) problem about
The JWs leaders' interpretation of "things offered to idols" is that they're
banned when near an idol temple, or after someone says they came from one, so
have an idolatrous connotation regardless of the lack of idolatrous belief by
the potential partaker.
Thanks to Atlantis of the Jehovah's Witness Discussion forum web site for the
scans of "Insight on the Scriptures," 1988, Vol.1, "IDOLS, MEATS OFFERED TO,"
Augustine of Hippo, Contra Faustum 32.13, 4th century, says many thought of
the four rules as being like the Noachine rules, with a minority thinking of
"abstain from...blood" figuratively to refer to murder. He writes that Gen-
tiles were to remove blood from meat the same as the Israelites to be together
for the sake of Jesus.
By at least as early as 1000 AD (?), the western church had stopped seeing
the food rules of the Council of Jerusalem as general bans of eating certain
Sir Isaac Newton, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, 1728, thought
the four rules of the council were the four exceptions to the Christians not
being held to Mosaic laws--that Christians had to keep these four rules because
they were older and imposed on all nations since the days of Noah. (His quote
doesn't explain why Gen.9:5,6, about murder, for example, would be left out.)
The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-1906, a history of the Jews published by Funk
and Wagnalls, says Paul, after strong rejection from the Jews, was taught by
the Council of Jerusalem to bring Gentiles into the church as proselytes of the
gate who accepted the Noahide rules.
Proselytes of the gate didn't have to be circumcised or obey all of Mosaic
law (in comparison to righteous proselytes who had to do those things). They
had to abide by the seven Noahide rules, abstain from work on the Sabbath, and
refrain from the use of leavened bread during the time of the Passover.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1913 by The Encyclopedia Press, re-
garding Paul's reaction to those who'd have him follow Mosaic law, says Paul
observed Mosaic law as need be for diplomacy with those who followed it, as
when he had Timothy circumcised because of the Jews that were in that area