In the writings of the Decalogue by Moses you will find much instruction as to the expected behavior and diet of God’s chosen people—the children of Israel. The question remains, Is a Christian today under moral obligation concerning how he uses his body, or did the Christian religion do away with all the health laws written by Moses?
In the first Christian council held by the Christian church recorded in Acts 15, we find a record of the problems that the apostles were facing. Many people from all over the world were accepting the doctrines of Christianity, both Jews and Gentiles, but between them there were what seemed to be insurmountable barriers. Among the Gentiles it was the custom to eat the flesh of animals that had been strangled. However, the Jews had been divinely instructed in regard to the food that they used, and they had been told not to eat blood. In fact, throughout the Old Testament there is no place where God ever permitted the use of blood by His people for food.
The first time animal food was allowed by divine permission to the human race was after the flood. Genesis 9:4 reads, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”
This instruction was repeated by Moses several times. He said, “This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings; you shall eat neither fat nor blood” (Leviticus 3:17). Emphatically, he said (this time adding a consequence), “You shall not eat any blood in any of your dwellings, whether of bird or beast. Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people” (Leviticus 7:26, 27).
The Jews considered this issue critical and never ate blood. The Gentiles not only ate it in the meat, but they often caught the blood and drank it, which caused great distress to the Jews. Their differing dietary habits made it impossible for the two groups to eat together.
The Gentiles also bought food that had been offered to idols. The apostle Paul makes it very clear that whether the food has been offered to idols really does not matter, because an idol does not know anything. However, by eating these foods it could give the impression of condoning idolatry, which is strictly prohibited in both the Old and New Testaments. Where the Jews were very strict in this, the Gentiles who had come out of idolatry didn’t think that much about eating this food.
Many Greeks had also become Christians. The Greek nation was an extremely licentious nation. The Greek converts understood that it was a crime to steal another man’s wife but there were some who continued to practice fornication, which the Jews knew was forbidden. This difference of understanding caused another barrier between the Jewish and Gentile Christians.
There were many Jews who believed that if the Gentiles were really sincere about accepting Christianity, they should be circumcised and keep all of the ceremonies commanded by Moses. So the apostles came together to discuss this question. The Bible says, “Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith’ ” (Acts 15:7–9).
The blood of Jesus is able to cleanse from all uncleanness. Whatever race, whether you are Jew or Gentile, whatever skin color or nationality you are, if you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, your heart can be purified by faith. Peter continues, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (verses 10, 11).
Peter recounted the vision he had been given in Acts 10 and how he had been sent to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his house. He explained that God was no respecter of persons and He accepted every person who feared Him and worked righteousness from any nationality. That is still true today, “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 11:34 KJV). He does not practice partiality. If you surrender your life to Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you will be accepted and you will receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will purify your heart and give you the power to live a new life. No one is to be regarded inferior to someone else because the blood of Jesus is capable of cleansing from all uncleanness.
Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Whether male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, there is no difference with God who does not practice partiality; He is no respecter of persons.
In Galatians 5:1, 2 the apostle Paul says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.”
This yoke of bondage that both Peter and Paul spoke of was not the law of ten commandments which is spoken of in the Bible as a law of liberty. The apostle James says, “If you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:9–12).
The principles of God’s law are eternal and were laid down long before they were written on tables of stone. Adam and Eve broke the very 1st commandment, “You shall not have any other god before Me” (Exodus 20:3, literal translation), in the Garden of Eden. They broke the 10th commandment by coveting fruit which God told them not to eat (verse 17). The 8th commandment was broken when they stole the fruit which God said did not belong to them (verse 15). And in dishonoring their heavenly Father they broke the 5th commandment (verse 12).
Adam and Eve broke the law of God in the Garden of Eden. As a result of the law being broken, Paul says, in Galatians 3:19, “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions [of the moral law], till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.”
A moral law was transgressed. “Where there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15, last part).
The law was to point men toward the fact that a Redeemer was coming who would save them from the guilt and penalty of their sin. The only way they could be saved from their sin was if a sacrifice that was perfect would die in their place. Hebrews 9:22 says, “According to the law almost all things are purged with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (literal translation). The Bible says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but might have everlasting life” (John 3:16, literal translation).
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, in order that whoever believes in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:14, 15, literal translation).
For the 4,000 years before Jesus would fulfill this prophecy, it was kept fresh before the minds of men. Ever since the days of Adam and Eve, those who believed and had faith that God was going to send a sacrifice to pay the price for their sins and offer them forgiveness, manifested their faith in a Redeemer to come by offering a lamb, an animal sacrifice, for their sin. The whole purpose of the ceremonial law and the Levitical priesthood was to provide a sacrifice and an intercessory priest to have your sins forgiven.
When Jesus offered His life for our sins on the cross of Calvary He was our sacrifice. However, after He ascended to heaven He also became our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary so that He, by virtue of His own merits, could take away the guilt of the sin of anyone who confessed and repented of their sins to Him (see Hebrews).
But, this law of ceremonies that involved animal sacrifices, a Levitical priesthood, an earthly sanctuary, and various other ceremonial laws that pointed forward to the Christian dispensation, was made null and void by the true sacrifice—the crucifixion of Christ. However, it took time for people to realize the significance of what really happened when Jesus died on the cross. The moment He died, an unseen hand tore the veil in the temple from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51, first part). Now that veil was not like just a common household curtain. It was more like a carpet or a rug, something that no human being, unless you were Sampson, could tear apart.
This act signified that no longer would believers need the services of an earthly priest to approach God. Jesus Christ was now our high priest. There is only one Mediator between God and man, as Peter said, “We are all priests who can come to our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man” (1 Timothy 2:5, literal translation). We see here that the earthly tabernacle had no more real significance because it was all a type of the reality that was to come. All of the earthly ceremonies connected with the sanctuary had no more significance, once Christ’s sacrifice was complete.
Paul describes these ceremonies both in his letters to both the Ephesians and the Colossians. In Colossians 2:14, he says, “… having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Contrary to what some have thought, the apostle Paul is not here referring to the ten commandments, but rather to the ordinances that were handwritten by Moses.
Handwriting is something that humans do. We take hold of a pen or pencil with our fingers when we write. But when God writes, He does not need a pen or a pencil. Instead, He writes with His finger (John 8:6). God wrote the Ten Commandments with His finger on tables of stone. They were not handwritten.
Paul says, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it (that’s in the cross). So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:15–17).
The substance is of Christ; the body is of Christ. Don’t let anyone pass any judgment on you in regard to any of these ceremonial requirements, Paul said. That was the same decision that was made at the Jerusalem council—that the Jews were not to enforce these things upon the Gentile Christians.
At this first Christian council, after everyone who wanted to speak had the opportunity, the apostle James arose and said, “Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon [Peter] has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things’ ” (Acts 15:13–17).
James continued: “Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogue every Sabbath” (verses 18–21).
Notice, it was James who led out at the council and made the final decision, contrary to the belief that Peter was the head of the church. The rest of the apostles agreed with what he said and the letter was written saying, “We have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law’—to whom we gave no such commandment—it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” (verses 24–29).
Notice, the Gentile Christians were not to be forced to keep all the Jewish laws, or any of the ceremonial laws, but they were to keep the moral law of God. They were to live righteous, holy lives, and they were not to eat blood or things that were strangled. It is interesting that out of only four things Christians were not to do we find that many Christians do today. In both the Old and the New Testaments, the use of blood as food is strictly forbidden. This is something we need to study if we want to be living in harmony with every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
At the council, the argument in question was decided by the Holy Spirit, as they say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” That being the case, since the Holy Spirit is the leader, the guide, the king, the authority in the Christian church, our job as Christians is to know the way the Holy Spirit is leading us. At that first council the whole body of Christians was not called to vote upon the question.
The apostles and elders, men of influence and judgment, framed and issued the decree, and it was thereafter accepted generally by the Christian churches. Everybody, however, was not pleased with this decision. There was a faction of brethren called Judaizers, who assumed to engage in the work on their own responsibility and indulged in murmuring and fault-finding. They continued wherever they went to try to get Christians to keep the ceremonial law. The church has had such types of obstacles to meet ever since the beginning and it will continue until the end of time.
Even some of the apostles were not prepared to accept the decision of the council, remaining zealous for the ceremonial law. They regarded Paul with jealousy, thinking his principles were lax in regard to the obligation of the Jewish law. It took time for them to understand these things and there were times when the apostle Paul had to stand all alone. He was regarded by many of the Jewish Christians as a teacher of dangerous doctrines. However, the doctrine that the Holy Spirit taught them is still in force today. We still need to live by the principles that this first council passed if we want to be approved by the Lord in the Day of Judgment.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.