the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
Decrees of the Council of the Apostles at Jerusalem
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Acts 15). These related to the following prohibitions, "that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:20); or, as it is repeated (Acts 15:29), "that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication." These are declared (Acts 15:28) to be "necessary" prohibitions. This necessity (as the γάρ, "for," of Acts 15:21 intimates) lay in the fact that wherever the Jews resided the law of Moses was read, and thus the ordinances in question were so deeply impressed upon the people's mind that they could. not tolerate the neglect of them by the Gentile Christians. Instead of laying upon the Gentiles the burden of the whole law, and consequently of circumcision, the convention of apostles and elders resolved to enforce upon them only the reception of certain individual precepts of easy observance. The object of this canon was plainly nothing but to meet in some measure the difficulties of the Jewish Christians, and to lead the Gentile Christians to shun whatever might prove offensive to their Jewish brethren, as otherwise, under the existing usages and prejudices of education and caste, it would be impossible for them to associate together in a mixed community and church without scandal. In all this it was clearly indicated that the prohibitions were not absolute; once let the Jewish Christians be more thoroughly freed from the O.T. forms, and the end for which these regulations were made would no longer exist. Now the ground on which these particular points were brought into view is explained by the circumstance that they were wont to be laid upon the proselytes of the Gate in the so-called "seven precepts of Noah" (comp. Buxtorf, Lex. Rab. s.v. גֵּר, 407 sq.). (See PROSELYTE).
This, therefore, is the import of the arrangement, that the Gentile Christians should not be obliged to become "proselytes of righteousness" by circumcision, but only to live as "proselytes of the Gate." Those of the seven precepts of Noah, (See NOAH, PRECEPTS OF), which are here omitted, viz. the ones regarding blasphemy, murder, robbery, and sedition, was of such a kind that it was self-evident to Christians that the like could have no place among them; in the present dinstance it was not so much precepts of a purely moral character that required to be brought forward, as precepts that referred simply to the outward life. (See APOSTOLICAL COUNCIL).
1. That the "pollutions of idols" (ἀλισγήματα τῶν εἰδώλων ) are thus to be understood of an outward act, viz. the eating of the flesh of sacrifices, is quite cleat from the analogous expression, "things offered to idols" (εἰδωλόθυτα, idol-sacrifices), in the parallel verse. Tho more particular distinction made by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, between such flesh of sacrifices as was bought like any other in the shambles and such as was eaten in the temple at an idol festival, is not entered into by the assembly; they interdict in the widest sense all eating of sacrifices because the Jews took offense at it. (See ALISGEMA).
2. The same holds good of the eating of blood, and, which is the same thing, of that which was strangled, in which the blood remained coagulated. The Jews had the utmost abhorrence of blood as food, which was grounded particularly upon Leviticus 17:10-11, where it is not merely said that Jehovah would set his face against the perpetrator of this act, but the blood is also represented as the support of the soul (comp. Genesis 9:4), that is, of the physical life, and it is placed in connection with the propitiation, which can only be made by the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). This law appears to have been strictly observed by the primitive Church (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. v. 1), and even in the Middle Ages the injunction was frequently given by the spiritual authorities to avoid the eating of blood (especially in the Greek Church: see canon 67 of the second Council at Trullo in 692; in the Latin Church, Augustine already took the right view, contr. Faustum, 32:13). (See BLOOD).
3. The mention of fornication (πορνεία ) appears to be quite foreign to the nature of the other injunctions, and opposed to the above view of these apostolical ordinances. — It blends a purely moral precept with enactments that refer only to matters of outward observance. The conjectural emendation (πορκείας, or χοιρείας, for πορνείας, in both passages) that proposes to refer this clause to the eating of swine's flesh is negatived by the fact that no such abstinence is alluded to in the Noachian precepts; and the forced explanation of the term (πορνεία for θυσία πορνική ), as alluding to a sacrifice purchased by the hire of a harlot, is sufficiently refuted by the objection that this would refer to a state of matters so grossly sinful as could not be thought of among Christians. Undoubtedly the only proper course is to bring into view the greater freedom of intercourse between the sexes that prevailed among the Greeks and Romans, which waas an abomination to the more serious Jews, and appeared to them, in fact, a refined species of harlotry. By the word in question, therefore, which comprehends not only gross violations of the seventh commandment, but also more polished sins of this kind, the assembled brethren enjoin upon the heathen Christians greater care and. circumspection in their intercourse with the female sex, that they might give no offense to the Jewish Christians (Olshausen, Comment. in loc. 3, 336, Am. ed.). Another reason for the insertion of this rule respecting chastity probably was the shameless violation of purity that every where took place in connection with the pagan festivals, and constituted an additional reason for a total disconnection with all idolatrous rites (Conybeare and Howson, St. Paul, 1:217). See Schaff, Apost. Church, § 69; and FORNICATION.
Among special treatises on this subject are the following: Bagge. Περὶ ἀλισγημάτων (Jen. 1748); Benzel, De decreto apostolico (Lund. 1738); Dannhauer, Διατύπωσις concilii Hieros. (Argent. 1648); Deyling, De πορνείᾷ vetita (in his Obss. Sacr. ii, 469 sq.); Doderlein, De sensu decreti apost. (Butzov. 1769 sq.); Dorscheus, De sanguine et suffocato (Rostock, 1683); Hasaeus, id. (Brem. 1703); Moebius, id. (Lips. 1688); Hannecken, De sanguine escario (Giess. 1673); Heidegger, In concil. Hieros. (Tigur. 1678); id. De sanguine et suffocato (Amst. 1662); Langguth, De concil. apost. canone (Erf. 1681); Leonhard, De decreto coane. Hieros. (Jen. 1725); Nitzsch, De decreto apostolico (Viteb. 1795; also in Veli thusenii Comment. 6:385-418); Nosselt, De conc. Hieros. (Lips. 1678); Schottgen, De ritibus in synode Hieros. prohibitis (Starg. 1723); Velthern, Hist. conc. Hieros. (Jen. 1693); Wandalin, Circa sanguinem escarium (Viteb. 1678); Carpzov, De controversiis theologicis (Lips. 1695); Kripner, De esca idolis immolatorum (Jen. 1720); Crusius, De lege Mosaica inter Christianos (Lips. 1770); Weemse, The seven Precepts of Noah (in his Exposition, 2:40); Spencer, De Legib. Hebr. i; Barrington, Works, 2:265; Nind, Sermons, 2:27; Wedgewood, Decrees of the holy Apostles (Lond. 1851). (See COUNCIL OF APOSTLES).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Decrees of the Council of the Apostles at Jerusalem'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​d/decrees-of-the-council-of-the-apostles-at-jerusalem.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.