The basics of the religious rules deliberated on
at the Council of Jerusalem
The common view and the JWs leaders' view of the four rules
The common view (aka "the because of the Jews view")
The JWs leaders' view
"Mack the Knife" (Weill-Brecht) by Bobby Darin, 1959
The basics of the religious rules deliberated on at the Council of Jerusalem
The first Christians were Mosaic law followers. But since Acts 10,11, the
Christian leaders knew that Gentiles, who didn't follow Mosaic law, could con-
vert to Christianity. Some Christians of the Pharisees wanted the Gentile
Christians to become circumcised full followers of Mosaic law--for all Chris-
tians to obey Mosaic law.
So instead of deciding to put all Christians under Mosaic law, they decided
to send four rules to the Gentiles because of the presence of Mosaic law follow-
So the thing left to deliberate over is what meaning was meant by the four
rules the Christian leaders sent to the Gentile Christians alone.
The common view and the JWs leaders' view of the four rules
The common view (aka "the because of the Jews view")
I don't know a name for the non-JWs leaders' view, so I'll call it the common
view. I also think of it as "the because of the Jews view" because the rules
are addressed to the Gentiles "For Moses from ancient generations has in every
city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath"
(Acts 15:21) (NASB) and because...
Paul uses the same reason, "because of the Jews" (i.e. for acceptance from and
socialization with Jewish law followers), for having Timothy circumcised at the
start of the next chapter, Acts 16:1-5, and for going through a Jewish cleansing
ritual the second time the four rules are brought up, at Acts 21:17-26.
By the common view, this is seen as Luke, the writer of Acts, making sure the
reader doesn't miss the point of the four rules being like the two things Paul
did--things Christians did to socialize with Jewish law followers.
The four rules wouldn't be the four things the non-Christian Jews required for
socialization, which would involve cleansing rituals, etc., as Paul showed.
The four rules wouldn't be the four rules Gentile Christians had to obey, like
a four rule version of ten commandments or a variation of the Golden Rule.
The four rules wouldn't be four rules for Gentile Christians to obey added to
the ones they had before. The Gentile Christians should already have had a rule
about fornication/sexual immorality as a part of the basic ethics Christianity
shared with the Jewish law.
In this case, the four rules were about four things the Jewish law following
Christians thought were more common violations of Jewish law among Gentile
Christians. The Jewish law following Christians didn't persuade the Christian
leaders to make abidance by Mosaic law a requirement for Christian salvation, so
they settled for having these four rules sent to the Gentile Christians to mini-
mize trouble with socialization with the Christians who followed Jewish law.
(It would diminish some of the bigger objections non-Christian Jewish law fol-
lowers had about Christians accepting Gentiles into their group, too.
Since this was done because of the Jewish law followers, the three food rules
would be circumstantial--things to abstain from in order to socialize with Jew-
ish law following Christians (and better enable the Gentile Christians to dis-
cuss Christianity with other Jewish law followers). If the Gentile Christian
socialized or expected to socialize with Jewish law followers, the foods would
be abstained from as Jewish law followers would: things offered to idols, blood,
including meat with blood, and meat from strangled animals wouldn't be eaten at
all--meat would come from animals that were drained of blood by both slaughter
and koshering, very likely from a Jewish source so considered clean.
Jews living far beyond Israel at the time (the second temple period), beyond
the areas the rules address, assimilated with varying habits and adherence to
traditions. The rules would have more common application in and around Israel.
"Abstain" is defined by context for the food rules. Christians didn't have
things which were unclean to touch (Acts 10,11) and blood transfusion wasn't a
consideration. The food rules just referred to eating food.
"Blood"--a problem with the JWs leaders' view (see below), which alleges that
Christians only had to remove about half of the blood from animal meat, not ko-
sher it (pp.12,15), is that this difference from the common cultural understand-
ing isn't explained in the Council decree.
By the common view, no distinction is explained from the Jewish idea of degree
of blood removal because none was intended. When around or intending socializa-
tion with the Jewish law followers, the Gentile Christians would avoid eating
blood the same way the Jews did in order to socialize with them.
By the common view, "blood" and "things strangled" didn't refer to the Jewish
view of Gen.9:3,4--to not eat from a live animal, but the Jewish view of the
second temple period to not eat them at all. (It's generally guessed that a
Gentile religious group strangled animals as part of an idol ceremony.)
A couple of later passages by apostle Paul are shown below. They should be
reconciled with the fact that most meats in Corinth were available at Gentiles'
idol temples and not koshered of blood.
1 Cor.10:24-11:1 "Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.
Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for con-
science' sake; FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS. If one of the
unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you
without asking questions for conscience' sake. But if anyone says to you, 'This
is meat sacrificed to idols,' do not eat it, for the sake of the one who in-
formed you, and for conscience' sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the
other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience? If I partake
with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?
"Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of
God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just
as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit
of the many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I also am
of Christ." (NASB)
Col.2:16-23 "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or
drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which
are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let
no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the
worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without
cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the en-
tire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows
with a growth which is from God.
"If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why,
as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,
'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined
to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?
These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made
religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no val-
ue against fleshly indulgence." (NASB)
Paul meant Mosaic law by "a shadow of of what is to come; but the substance
belongs to Christ." He referred to Christians, not obliged to Mosaic food laws,
being judged against by followers of Mosaic food laws. Paul taught that Chris-
tians aren't to consider such accusation of sin valid. (I'm not sure who prac-
ticed self-abasement, worship of angels, and had visions, etc. It reminds me a
little of the JWs leaders.)
A common way this could come up is in regard to a Jewish reaction to a Chris-
tian eating meat, not koshered of blood, from an idol temple. This jibes with
the idea that the rules about "blood" and "things offered to idols" in Acts 15
aren't blanket bans but are diplomacy concerns to not offend Mosaic law follow-
ers and keep the dialogue about Jesus open with them. A Christian shouldn't be
expected to predict they would be socializing with a Jewish law follower farther
away from Israel or if not part of another Jewish community.
"Idolatry" would be dealt with otherwise. For one thing, the Jewish interpre-
tation of Jesus as God, never mind it being a monotheistic view, was seen as
idolatry to some Jews who didn't believe in it, so would be discussed beyond the
context of these rules. But these rules were agreed to so the discussion could
even take place.
Paul refers to the same basic diplomatic outlook of the common view of the
four rules in various passages he wrote later, such as 1 Cor.10:32-11:1 "Give no
offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also
please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the
many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of
This is notably shown when making his longer explanations about such things as
in Romans 14 and 1 Cor.8-11:1, 23-34.
The Christian scriptures never refer to Noah and the rule of Gen.9:3,4 as a
way to explain their understanding about food rules for blood or animal meat.
By the common view, Deut.14:21, for which a Mosaic law follower was to give an
animal found dead and unbled to a resident alien to eat, goes against the JWs
leaders' idea of Gen.9:3,4 being binding on the whole world thereafter (p.15).
The most obvious scriptural support for this idea is that Christians aren't
given a small set of Noahide rules to teach non-Christians as a minimal set of
rules for salvation apart from Jesus' crucifixion, etc. The JWs leaders just
apply their idea of it, supposedly binding on the whole world after Gen.9:3,4,
to their rendition of the rules for Gentile Christians of Acts 15 as though binding as blanket
rules on all Christians. In comparison, Orthodox Jews who believe in a version
of Noahide rules teach them to others as a minimal set of rules for non-Jews to
be acceptable to God.
It's possible that the four rules of the Council of Jerusalem were an early
variation of what became known in rabbinical Judaism as the Noahide rules,
This view doesn't consider transfusing blood to be the same as eating blood.
Blood transfusions aren't processed by the body the same as eating blood.
Whole blood is transfused into the body intact, whereas when someone eats blood,
the body uses the amino acids and iron and only some parts of it enter the
The similarity between transfusing and eating something depends on the thing
in question. The similarity is greater with alcohol than with blood, so the JWs
leaders' example of the similarity between transfusing and drinking alcohol as a
reason to see eating and transfusing blood as similar is misleading. One
doesn't generally assume being told to abstain from one, or to do one, implies
the other. With blood, eating and transfusing are analogous in the sense of one
thing being similar to another thing in one regard but not another, like a horse
and a cow or an orange and an apple.
With Christians having no blanket ban of a food per se, whatever religious
reason to not eat a food--blood, flesh, spoiled foods, poisonous foods, what-
ever--would be found in the other rules they had. For instance, Mosaic law,
which had the most food rules of any covenant in the Bible, didn't ban the eat-
ing of plants, animals, or things that could harm or kill people, or determine
harmful or fatal dosages of them. Murdering a person by serving them such a
thing would be covered by the rule against murder. Paul taught that caring
about food and not God, making your appetite (NASB) or stomach (NIV) your god
(Philip.3:19), and drunkenness (Gal.5:21) are bad.
The JWs leaders' view
The four rules give four things that are rules for all Christians regardless
"Abstain" The JWs leaders' stance is that "abstain" is a broad enough word to
encompass eating and transfusion (but not broad enough to rule out eating as
much as about half of the blood of animal meat).
"Blood" According to the JWs leaders, blood shouldn't be eaten, so meat
As explained on pp.12 and 15, the degree isn't clarified in writing in the OT.
By the JWs leaders' view, it wouldn't become clarified in writing till Rom.14
and 1 Cor.8 implied non-koshered meat was allowable food. But the JWs leaders'
view claims it was the understanding for Gen.9:3,4 and onward. The common view
doesn't claim to know what degree Noah and Moses understood, only that the
Christians at this time had to deal with the Jewish law idea for it.
The JWs leaders add their expanded rendition of the Mosaic "pour and bury"
verses (p.18), that any blood that comes out of a body should be disposed of, to
their rule about abstaining from blood.
"Things offered to idols" According to the JWs leaders, things offered to
idols were meats from animals sacrificed to idols when the meats--due to proxim-
ity to an idol temple, or a non-Christian serving the meat saying the meat came
from a sacrifice to an idol--had an idolatrous connotation regardless of the
Christian's personal conscience, but otherwise were allowed as food.
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,"
According to apostle Paul, worrying about the pagan connotations of things is
being weak of faith (1 Cor.8:4-7). It's probably so hard to be of an especially
righteous 144,000 and weak of faith at the same time that you just can't (pp.36-
According to the JWs leaders, the blood rule is a reaffirmation of Gen.9:3,4
taken to mean you shouldn't eat from an animal till the blood was removed that
was removed by slaughter. This is seen as binding on the whole world thereaf-
Paul didn't teach about salvation in faith for what Jesus did for us and of-
fer a discount package for those not ready for it yet. He wasn't sent to con-
vert the Gentiles to Christ with Barnabas having the hamburger detail (just
watch your lunchmeat and try not to kill anybody). The apostles never taught a
set of Noahide rules as a minimum for salvation.
The JWs leaders' views of the food rules for blood and things offered to idols
are different than what the Jewish law followers of Jerusalem thought those
phrases meant--to not eat them at all. But what the JWs leaders allege were
meant by the phrases that was different from the Jewish law followers views
about them isn't explained at Acts 15.
The JWs leaders claim that blood transfusions are like eating blood, so
should be avoided if eating is avoided. Eating and transfusing blood are com-
pared to intravenous feeding, and the JWs leaders offer the example of eating
and transfusing alcohol--if a doctor advised you to not do one, you wouldn't do
The JWs leaders' view doesn't ban transfusions on the terms of them being a
form of cannibalism of the human body. The JWs leaders' view allows organ
The JWs leaders' view claims the ban on blood also bans the major blood frac-
tions: red and white blood cells, platelets, and plasma.
The JWs leaders allow the use of minor blood fractions as a matter of personal
The JWs leaders base their stance on minor blood fractions on their stance on
meat from an animal sacrifice made at an idol temple: if the meat isn't near the
idol temple or isn't served at a dinner of a non-believer who says it came from
a sacrifice to an idol, the meat doesn't carry the connotation of idolatry so is
allowable food for Christians (pp.37-39). The minor blood fractions are less
recognizable as blood so don't carry the connotation of whole blood, so the med-
ical uses of them are matters of conscience.
(The JWs leaders' stance requiring JWs to avoid things with idolatrous or pa-
gan connotations is used in the JWs leaders' bans of the cross symbol and vari-
ous holidays, too. See p.1a.)
(of red blood cells)
(of white blood cells)
Human serum albumin
Wound healing factor
The JWs leaders also allow the following substances to be used as a matter of
The JWs leaders allow the use of a dialysis machine as a matter of conscience.
It recycles one's own blood back into one's body so can be imagined as either
removing blood, which the JWs leaders say should be disposed of as with their
stance that the "pour and bury" verses mean that any blood taken from a body
should be disposed of (p.18), or it could be imagined as creating an extension
of one's own blood system, so the blood could be allowed to recirculate.