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The Apostolic Decree in Acts 15

The decision reached at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 had far-reaching ramifications for the expansion of the Jesus movement in the non-Jewish world. Jesus’ brother James affirmed the position that non-Jewish Christ followers did not have to become full Jewish proselytes, but he also enjoined four stipulations on them so that they would not offend their Jewish neighbours who heard the Law of Moses read in the synagogue on every Sabbath (Acts 15:20-21, 28-29). Many scholars argue that the rules about abstaining from “idol food” (eidōlothutos), “sexual immorality” (porneia), meat from a “strangled (animal)” (pniktos), and blood (haima) were drawn from the laws enjoined on foreigners in Leviticus 17-18. This, in turn, has often been related to rabbinic discussions of the Noahide laws or the minimal moral requirements demanded of the ancestor of all humankind after the flood (Tosefta Avoda Zara 8.4; cf. Genesis 9:1-7; Jubilees 7:20-28). Nevertheless, Stephen G. Wilson’s monograph Luke and the Law has challenged the thesis that Acts 15:20 was rooted in Leviticus 17-18 and insists that the author of Acts understood these four rules as a basic, universal moral code that Gentile Christians ought to adhere to. Ben Witherington III’s article has proposed another theory that the Apostolic Decree was not related to the instructions given to Noah or the commands enforced on resident aliens in Israel, but was directed against Gentile participation in “pagan” temple cults. Regardless of the rationale for the Apostolic Decree, the issue of whether or not it was appropriate for non-Jews who turned to the God of Israel to eat food that was sacrificed to other deities was clearly a live one among the early Christian congregations (1 Corinthians 8, 10; Revelation 2:14; Didache 6:3; Justin Martyr, Dialogue 35.1-3).

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