On “Blood” in the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19-20)

Articles 10 Comments

Flusser and Safrai's premise is that "blood" in this passage does not refer to the consumption of blood but rather to murder. They conclude that the apostolic decision prohibiting eating meat sacrificed to idols, fornication, and blood is equal to the rabbinic decree that under penalty of death a Jew may violate any of the commandments of the Torah with the exception of idolatry, adultery and murder.

Revised: 28-Oct-2013

In the excellent article written by Professors Flusser and Safrai and translated by Halvor Ronning entitled, “The Apostolic Decree and the Noahide Commandments,”[1] the subject of the Apostolic Decree is discussed within the context of ancient Jewish traditions and writings. Flusser and Safrai conclude that the prohibition of blood is not a prohibition against consuming blood, but rather the rabbinic prohibition of murder. In their own words:

As we have attempted to demonstrate, it is precisely the ritual food laws of the secondary form of the Apostolic Decree that go back to two extra-canonical Jewish restrictions. The original form of the Apostolic Decree was purely ethical [text in bold is author’s emphasis throughout this article] and was identical with the three Mosaic obligations for non-Jews, i.e., with the original (three) Noahide commandments.

Flusser and Safrai’s premise is that “blood” in this passage does not refer to the consumption of blood but rather to murder. They conclude that the apostolic decision prohibiting eating meat sacrificed to idols, fornication, and blood is equal to the rabbinic decree that under penalty of death a Jew may violate any of the commandments of the Torah with the exception of idolatry, adultery and murder.[2]

There is a strong similarity between the rabbinic decree and the apostolic decree, and in the historical context of the times these similarities cannot be ignored. However, there is an element to both of these decrees that I believe has been overlooked. The original rabbinic decree would have been given in the Semitic tongue of Hebrew (or possibly, Aramaic), and in its historical setting, most probably the Apostolic decree as well. Hebrew is a very inclusive language and often a word has a depth of meaning that cannot be easily expressed by a single word in another language.[3] Therefore, a single word may express multiple meanings at one and the same time. It is in this light that I believe something significant has been overlooked.

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  • [1] David Flusser and Shmuel Safrai, “The Apostolic Decree and the Noahide Commandments” (April 20, 2012).
  • [2] Resch’s studies of the non-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree helped three Jewish researchers independently to get on the right track. All three noted the relationship between the western form of the Apostolic Decree and the decision of the rabbinic synod of Lydda. This synod met in the year 120 C.E. and handed down the following decision: “Of all the trespasses forbidden in the Torah it holds true that if you are told, ‘trespass or be killed,’ you may trespass them all, except for idolatry, fornication and bloodshed [murder].”
  • [3] As my friend and mentor, Dwight Pryor, taught me, you need two hands to think Hebraically: For on the one hand statement A is true, but on the other hand, statement B is also true.

Comments 10

  1. As a non-expert, I wonder whether anyone has considered comparing the Council’s decision with the standard Torah lays down for the ger? Are they identical, more stringent or less? One might expect distinct similarities …

    1. David Woods

      Toby Janicki has written about the application of Torah to the ger and about Gentile believers’ obligation to Torah in his book, ‘God Fearer’ (2012, First Fruits of Zion). He makes an interesting observation that the concept of a ger shifted from the time of the exodus (when it denoted a stranger among Israel) to the late Second Temple period (when it ‘almost universally’ referred to a full proselyte).

  2. David Woods

    The premise that the language of the council in Acts 15 was Hebrew, or possibly Aramaic, seems somewhat undermined by the James’ quote from the LXX. Both the MT and the DSS say אדום (‘Edom’) whilst the LXX uses ανθρωπος (‘humanity’, from אדם, not אדום). I have to wonder if there wasn’t another Hebrew reading that said אדם in Amos 9; that would explain the LXX’s use of ανθρωπος instead of Εδωμ.

    1. David Woods

      I just read Bauckham’s chapter in Rudolph & Willits’ “Introduction to Messianic Judaism” in which he refers to ‘the variant form of the Hebrew text that is represented by the Septuagint Greek translation’. I guess this means there is, or is assumed that there was, a Hebrew variant that said אדם instead of אדום, though Bauckham is drawing attention to another point – that ‘the rest of humanity will seek’ rather than ‘they will possess the rest of humanity’.

  3. aaabrown

    I read what I could of the article and I vehemently disagree with it, of course murder should be avoided but we cannot ignore the text where this prohibition was given, it prohibited consuming animal blood and murder.

    Gen 9:4 contains a prohibition of *eating blood* that is not specific to the Jewish nation. This would apply to all mankind.

    What sense would it make for the Apostles to decree that gentiles may eat blood while the Jew is forbidden to?

    Please note that in the Gen 9 text, “eating animal blood” was mentioned BEFORE the prohibition of murder.

    How could Jews and their Gentile members of the community even have fellowship meals if the food brought by the Gentile contained blood?

    Genesis 9:
    3 “Every living, moving creature will be food for you. Just as I gave you green plants before, so now you have everything.

    4 *However, you are not to eat meat with its life—that is, its blood—in it!*

    5 Also, I will certainly demand an accounting regarding bloodshed, from every animal and from every human being.

    1. Clifton Payne Post
      Author

      Actually you do agree with the article. That is the point that the eating of blood is forbidden to gentiles as well as jews. Some scholars hold the position that in this context it only refers to murder. Please read the article again.

  4. Great article! I’ve also come to the same conclusion regarding blood applying to both. I wonder if it’s significant that where both prohibitions are found in Gen. 9:4-6, blood is in the singular.

  5. Trevor Griffiths

    From another Dwight Pryor fan, I think this is the wrong way round :-

    “is equal to the rabbinic decree that under penalty of death a Jew may not violate any of the commandments of the Torah with the exception of idolatry, adultery and murder.”

    Should not the ‘not’ be taken out?

    1. David N. Bivin
    2. Clifton Payne Post
      Author

      Thanks for catching that Trevor. I hope you re-read the article as I have edited and updated it with some new and additional material.

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