Dear Fr. Angelo,
I am writing to you because I would like to obtain advice on how to behave in a specific situation which may appear specious or of little importance to some, but which for me implies living against the teachings of the Scriptures, which for me is not a trivial matter.
In Acts 15:20, and in reference to some objections raised by the Judeo-Christian community regarding Christians of Gentile origin (Acts 15:19), regarding the observance of some Mosaic laws, the following decision is made: “only order them to abstain from anything contaminated by idols, from immodesty, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood”.
Now, we often conclude – in my opinion, too hastily – that Jesus definitively broke away from all the rules and regulations of Jewish Law (cf. Mk 7:19; Mt 15:17; Acts 10:11); however, whereas this in part may be true regarding the evolution of the faith after Moses (for example, Moses did not establish exactly how many steps it is permitted to take on the Sabbath day; this was determined by Rabbinic tradition, rightly or wrongly), this is not the case regarding the remaining parts of the Law per se (for example, the Ten Commandments). Moreover, Jesus himself in Mt 5 affirms: “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to complete them.”
Thus, based on these facts, and in relation to the result of the command recorded in Acts 15:20, I am inclined to maintain that we Christians should also respect the laws regarding animal blood: that is to say, that we should be particularly careful when purchasing meat which obviously does not abide by the regulations (never mind certain traditional recipes which call for a copious amount of blood to be used during the cooking process and / or upon serving).
Moreover, to arrive at an alternative conclusion would imply maintaining that it is not necessary to abstain from, for example, the “immodesty” which is mentioned in the list recorded in Acts 15:20.
To summarise, it is not enough to accuse anybody of alleged “Phariseeism”, even more so because it is not really within our power to choose which pages or verses we like more and / or wish to abide by. Moreover, on one occasion Jesus himself did state that: “These you should have practised, those not neglected” (Mt 23:23), referring to the relationship between justice, mercy and loyalty regarding the prescriptions of Mosaic Law.
Our interpretation of the Law does not mention this and, moreover, commentaries generally skim over these matters by providing, instead, general observations about the culture of the time that, obviously, do not address these key questions.
Personally, for my own peace of mind, I would use meat from animals that have been slaughtered according to the prescriptions of Jewish Law, for fear of undermining the commandments regarding immodesty or the contamination from idols.
What do you think about this matter?
The father’s answer
1. The first thing to bear in mind is that in the Old Testament there are three types of rules or regulations. Some of these rules are moral guidelines and these were approved by Christ.
In fact, in some cases where certain exceptions had been made to the Law in society, Jesus restored their original splendour, for example by emphasising the indissolubility of marriage and its monogamous nature.
Other rules were cultural regulations that were all abolished because they were prefigurations of the new religion, namely the cult established by Jesus Christ.
It is because of these regulations that we cannot apply the words of our Lord:
“These you should have practised, those not neglected” (Mt 23:23), which next to Baptism the other rituals which one would be expected to uphold would be circumcision in males and the celebration of ancient sacrifices alongside that of Christ.
In addition, there were numerous regulations and civil precepts. And although these were successful and held their place in a theocracy, these were also overruled.
Now the ban of consuming blood and meat from an animal that has been slaughtered through strangulation is not a prohibition of a moral nature, and it is for this reason that this regulation could be overruled.
2. The second thing to note is that the Scriptures are interpreted in the same way that they have always been interpreted.
Now regarding the specific point that you mention in your letter, it has always been held to be true that that the regulations set out in the Jerusalem Council were of a practical nature in order to avoid clashing violently with the Judeo-Christians who were still adhering to the ancient regulations.
It for this reason that, apart from what is written in the Acts of the Apostles, we find no other discussion in the history of the Church regarding the beginning of these problems.
We could say that already in the second generation of Christians these problems were completely overcome.
3. These, for example, are the thoughts expressed in the Jerusalem Bible:
“The reservations of James indicate the exact nature of the controversy. They have a strictly ritualistic nature and they are in response to the question posed in 11:3 and Galatians 2:12-14: what should we demand from ethnic Christians (that is, Pagan converts, n.d.r.) in order for it to be possible for Judeo-Christians to approach them without being contaminated by legal impurity?
Out of all the purity laws, James only wished to maintain those whose religious value seemed universal: eating meat which had been offered to idols implied a certain level of participation in a sacrilegious cult (cf. 1 Cor 8-10).
Blood represents life, which only belongs to God, and the Law’s ban regarding this (Lv 1:5) was so serious and it explained very well the Jews’ disgust and reluctance to let the Pagans off in this matter.
The case of animal meats that have been slaughtered by strangulation is similar to the case of blood.
The irregular unions figure in such a context not because of their moral status, but because of their impurity” (note for example Acts 15:20).
4. Similarly the biblist (Biblical scholar) Marco Sales observes that: “Regarding strangled animals and blood: that is to say slaughtered without shedding blood.”
There isn’t really an explicit ban on eating the meat of animals slaughtered by strangulation in the Old Testament, but such a ban could be deduced by the Law (Lev 3:17; 7:26; 17:10) as well as the ban that forbade the Jews from consuming the blood of animals.
The ban forbidding the consumption of blood, which God already transmitted to Noah (Gn 9:4), was founded on the fact that the blood at God’s disposal was not destined to the atonement of sins (Lev 17:11).
These regulations were only in place in order to assist Jews in their conversion and to keep the peace in the Church and therefore, when circumstances changed, many of these regulations naturally fell into disuse and were made redundant.
5. As you can see, one should not proceed arbitrarily, but rather one should bear in mind the various types of regulations. Moreover, everything determined by the Jerusalem Council is an example of pastoral treatment and sensitivity and consideration towards the faith that has always been practised by the Jews.
With best wishes, I will keep you in my prayers and I bless you.