Acts 15:19-20 read, “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those 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” (NKJV). In order to understand these verses we must see that there was a crisis brewing in the early church that resulted in a “church council” to try to settle the matter. Let’s read verses 1-2 to get the background: “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.”

The gospel had been preached in Antioch and many souls had been saved followed by sound teaching by Barnabas and Paul (see Acts 11:19-26). Sometime later Jewish teachers from Jerusalem came to Antioch with their false teaching that in order to be saved, you had to be circumcised. In other words, they told them it’s wasn’t enough to simply “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” you have to follow the Law of Moses for salvation. Paul and Barnabas defended the truth by opposing their false teaching by finally they decided this was so important it needed to be addressed before the church in Jerusalem where the false teaching had come from.

After a heated discussion between the apostles and elders the most convincing argument was put forth by the apostle Peter in verses 7-11, “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. 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.” Peter’s “bottom line” was this, “We were saved by simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and so are they!”

In the verses we are considering, James gave his judgment. His “bottom line” was “Let’s not trouble the Gentiles who have turned to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet he does suggest that they write to them to advise them to abstain from the following things:

  1. Things polluted by idols. We believe he is referring to FOODS that had been offered to idols. In 1st Corinthians 8:7 the apostle Paul speaks of this: “However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now EAT IT AS A THING OFFERED TO AN IDOL; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.”
  2. Sexual immorality. This type of sin was pervasive in the Gentile world (see 1st Corinthians 6:15-18).
  3. Things strangled and from blood. This was a prohibition given to Noah after the flood and was never revoked in succeeding ages. Genesis 9:4 says, “But you shall not eat the flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Leviticus 17:11-12 reads, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood…Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.”

Was James guilty of putting them under law by giving these prohibitions? No, for these were “things” that have always been offensive to God or to man and thus they should be avoided. Observing these things did NOT take away from the blessed truth that a sinner is saved, as Peter declared, “by faith…through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (277.9) (DO)