ABSTAINING FROM BLOOD

 

There have been many debates over the question if the Christian may or may not eat blood.  At the heart of the matter is the text in Acts 15 13-32 and in particular verses 20, 28 and 29: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.   Fare ye well.”

     Under the Law, we have a number of texts which forbade the practise of eating blood.[1].  However we need to determine if this interdiction under the Law applies to the Christian era, what is termed the Church age.  

     One of the arguments advances is that this interdiction was imposed in Genesis 9:4 before the giving of the Law and therefore is not to be limited to the people of Israel.  In a reply to this argument, it should be noticed that there were several ordinances given before the Law such as animal sacrifices, circumcision, tithing and this interdiction to eat blood which were confirmed by the Law but rendered null and void by the coming and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. (see Hebrews chapter 9 and 10).

      Then we read in 1 Corinthians 10:25: “Whatsoever is sold in the shambles (the meat market) that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”  In Colossians 2:20-22, we are asked the following question : “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not;; handle not which all are to perish with e using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?”

    Without exception, in the texts that we have quoted in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit uses the verb “eat.”   For example, in Leviticus 17:12, we read: “Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood”.  

     The text that we have seen in Acts 15 does not supply us with a verb and thus we may legitimately ask what it means to abstain from blood.   We discover in Ezekiel 33:25 that there was a question not only of eating blood but of shedding it.   Then consider what the Lord Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23: 29-30: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say: if we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.”  In the context is what was quite clear that the scribes and the Pharisees claimed that they would not have shed the blood of the prophets and not that they would have eaten it.

     The fifteenth chapter of Acts reveals a problem that occurred in the assembly in Antioch.  Certain Jews from Judća were troubling the saints in the assembly seeking to impose the Mosaic Law.   For this reason Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to settle the problem.  The assembly in Jerusalem had no jurisdiction over the assembly in Antioch, each being autonomous.  The conclusion of the deliberations of the assembly was summed up by the recommendations that we read of in Acts 15:23-29 and reiterated in Acts 21:25.

 

     The first recommendation was that the saints in Antioch should abstain from the pollutions (v.20) and meats offered to idols.  The sin of idolatry is an affront to God and to eat meat that had been knowingly offered to idols was to participate in one of the most serious sins described in the Word of God.  The apostle Paul develops this truth in 1 Corinthians 8. 

 

     The second recommendation was that they should abstain from blood.  As we have seen above, for this interdiction to make sense, we must introduce a verb.  Were they to abstain from eating blood or were they to abstain from shedding blood?   Given that the Christian is no longer under the Law, it would be more reasonable that this refers to the shedding of blood.  At Gethsemane, Peter shed blood when he cut off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant but immediately the Saviour healed the severed ear (Luke 22:50-51) thus underlining the non violent character of the Christian faith.

 

      The third recommendation is more difficult to determine.   What does it mean to abstain “from strangled”?   (Acts 21:25)   The classic interpretation of this expression is that the believers were not to eat the flesh of animals killed by strangling, without shedding their blood.[2]   But we may legitimately ask if it would be allowable to eat an animal or a bird that had been strangled and then its blood poured out?   The word “strangled” is neither explained nor qualified and we believe it to be unwise to speculate as to what this particular interdiction implied.

 

    The fourth recommendation is that the believers should abstain from fornication.  Again in his first epistle to the Corinthians, (chapter 5) the apostle deals with this very sin that was defiling the fellowship of the assembly.  In writing to the Thessalonians, he exhorts them to “abstain from fornication” (1 Thess. 4:3).  Peter uses the same language when he writes: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

 

     In conclusion we see that this interdiction to abstain from blood can be interpreted in two different ways, either eating it or shedding it, and it we believe it should be left to the individual’s conscience before God as to which of the two is right.

     Certain religious movements use Acts 15 to forbid the use of blood transfusions in imposing their particular interpretation of the text affirming that accepting a blood transfusion is to eat blood.  Leviticus 17:11 teaches us that the life of the flesh is in the blood.  A blood transfusion is used, not to destroy the blood but to put it to use to perpetuate life, being a vital life giving element to the flesh.

Denis O’Hare

3 Placette des Platanes

66380 PIA

France

 

 



[1] Leviticus 3 :17,  7:26,  17 :12, 14,  19 :26,  Deuteronomy 12 :16, 23, 15 :23

[2]  This is the position of W.E. Vine in his Expositary Dictionary of New Testament Words (Volume IV, page 80) under the definition of “strangled”  PNIKTOS (πνίκτος)