Bible Riches Answers the Mail

Why did the early church forbid certain kinds of food?
What about those people who have never heard the Gospel?

Why did the early church forbid certain kinds of food?

Dear Believers:

Sometimes we must be willing to give up something of personal value to us, for the greater good of the group.

Below is a question sent to me by a member in my Care Group in Waianae. I hope you will find both the question and answer edifying to you.

Grace and Peace, Rich
Member's Question
I have a question for you. As I am reading through the book of Acts, Paul tells the Gentiles who come to Christ three things to abstain from: food sacrificed to idols, blood from animals, and sexual immorality.

Why did he tell them this and was it just for that time? The Bible says that the kingdom is not about food but more about faith. What was his reason for telling them these 3 things? I can see the sexual immorality part, but what about the food and the blood?
  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. Farewell. Acts 15.28-29

The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Rom 14.17
Rich's Reply
The passage you are referring to is found in Acts 15:29. It quotes a letter that was sent from leaders of the church in Jerusalem to believers in churches located in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.

Let me briefly point out that the context of this letter written by the leaders of the Jerusalem Church to the Antioch Church, had to do with the presence of Gentiles in a predominately Jewish Church. As you can imagine, both groups had some aspects of their own particular culture that were offensive to the other.
  They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Acts 15.23

The letter itself asked for two important things: A command and a concession...

  • Concerning the command, there were two things to avoid: idolatry and immorality which the Gentiles were known for (cf. 1 Cor. 8-10).
  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. Farewell. Acts 15.28-29
  • Concerning the concession, there were also two things to abstain from: eating blood, and eating meat from animals that had died by strangulation.
  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. Farewell. Acts 15.28-29
As you pointed out, it isn’t hard to understand why God would want the Gentiles to abstain from idolatry and immorality since those sins God has always been against.

But why the prohibition against eating blood and meat from animals that have been strangled?

Let me suggest an answer to this question...

  • Remember that the early church spent a great deal of their time eating meals together as a form of fellowship.
  • Some fellowships took place in homes. Others were conducted as “love feasts” in conjunction with the Lord's Table (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
  • If, therefore, Gentile believers ate food that Jewish believers considered “unclean,” this would cause division in the church.

So this is why I referred to the food restrictions as a “concession.” Namely because...

  • For their part, the legalistic Jews had to give up insisting that Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1)
  • The Gentiles, for their part, had to give up eating bloody meat.

It was a loving compromise that did not affect the Gospel in any way.

  Certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
Acts 15.1

There are lessons here for all of us to learn...

  • Sometimes, in order to receive something of great value, we must be willing to give something up.
  • Here the great value was *unity.*
  • For the first time, Jews and Gentiles would be worshiping and taking their meals together.
  • Each of these ethnic groups, made ONE in the body of Christ, had to learn to sacrifice some form of their respective personal values for the greater good of the group.

There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved...

  • Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering
  • Bear with one another
  • Forgive one another -- if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
  • Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
  • Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body
  • And be thankful.

Col 3.11-15

There are compromises that are right and there are compromises that are NOT right...

  • Doctrinal compromises are never right, but must be held at all cost. This is the reason why idolatry and immorality were never up for discussion. Both of those issues were non-negotiable.
  • But then there are some compromises that can be done without affecting a doctrinal standard.
  • The early church saw problems and differences as opportunities for personal growth and church expansion. So should we.

In your question, you alluded to 1 Corinthians 8.8 and Romans 14.17. The point of these verses is...

  • Don't major on *external* things, such as eating and drinking, that come from the flesh
  • Instead, major on *eternal* things that come from God, such as righteousness, peace and joy.

Keep your nose in the Bible.

Much Grace, Rich

  Food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. 1 Cor 8.8

The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Rom 14.17

What about people who have never heard the Gospel?

A visitor's question
*Theophilus I* writes - Can people who have never been exposed to God or Jesus at all be saved?

Rich's Reply
Concerning the visitor's question, my reply will be in two parts as follows...

  • Part One - I will first list some verses that quite clearly say: There is NO salvation apart from Jesus.
  • Part Two - I will then discuss several verses which show [no offense intended] that the visitor's question simply does not *compute*. Namely, there simply is NO such thing as a person who has never been exposed to God.
Part One
Here are just a few of the verses where the Bible states that Jesus is the one way -- the ONLY way -- to salvation.
  • Jesus clearly stated that He is the ONLY way to the Father.
  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." John 14.6
  • Calling upon the name of Jesus is the ONLY means of salvation that God has provided to all of mankind. the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This [Jesus] is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name [than the name of Jesus] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4.10b-12
Part Two
You say: “Wait! What about those who are born in the remotest parts of this world, who will never ever see a missionary? It’s not that they reject Christ -- they haven’t even been given the opportunity to hear the message.”

But the Bible plainly states that EVERY person on earth, DOES have God's message. God has written His message in two places so that it is available to every person on earth...:
  • First, God preaches the message of His reality to all people by His creation.
  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19.1-4a

What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God's invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse Rom 1.19-20
  • Secondly, God writes the message of His holiness in the hearts and consciences of each and every person.
  When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. Rom 2.14-15
This light or revelation that enlightens every man who is born (John 1:9) is not enough to save a soul.

But it IS enough for God to supply the next step of revelation.
  That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. John 1.9
You see, God gives revelation or light based on people’s response to the amount of light they have been given.

For the unsaved, no matter where in the world they live, if their response to the light is to ask-seek-knock, then God will act on that response, and supply them with additional light that can lead to salvation.
  [Jesus said...] Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Mt 7.7-8

Remember Paul’s series of questions...

  • How shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?
  • And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?
  • How shall they hear without a preacher [or missionary]?
  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? Rom 10.14

The true and living God is able to do three miraculous things in order save people...

  • First, God can and does bring people to Himself via a preacher, or a missionary, or any believer in Jesus, including YOU!
  • Second, God can *supernaturally* bring a missionary or preacher to open the Scriptures to anyone who asks-seeks-knocks in response to the light given to her or him.
As an example of the second point, perhaps you remember the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.26-39.

I have quoted part of that passage in the panel alongside, but you really ought to open your Bible and read the full context.

As you read, notice that Philip *supernaturally* appeared to the eunuch (vv. 26-29). After the eunuch received Christ, Philip *supernaturally* disappeared, en-route to his next assignment (vv. 39-40).

The point is -- God can send one of His own people to preach the Gospel unto *whosoever* is asking-seeking-knocking.
  An angel of the Lord told Philip, "Arise and go south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority ...was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Acts 8.26, 8.27a, 8.28
  • Third, God can, if He so chooses, save someone without using any *human* agent whatsoever.
As an example of the third point, do you recall how the apostle Paul was saved?

Paul was merely riding along on his donkey when suddenly a light shone around him.

And thus was apostle Paul called unto his salvation, by the Lord Jesus Himself!

There was no human instrument, no human agency – it was all of God.
  As Paul came near Damascus, suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"

And Paul said, "Who are You, Lord?"

Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

So Paul, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" Acts 9.3-6a
As an aside... I personally believe that the stoning of Stephen [described earlier in Acts] was greatly used by God to soften and make ready Paul’s heart.   and they cast Stephen out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul [later to become the apostle Paul]. Acts 7.58
So it is possible for people to be saved and not be exposed to a preacher or missionary. Paul’s case was rare; nevertheless, it was done.

However -- take note! Even in Paul's case, he was exposed to Jesus. No one is saved without being exposed to the saving grace of Jesus.

The means of God's salvation may vary, but the Gospel remains forever the same – Jesus died, and was buried and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received:

  • that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
  • and that He was buried,
  • and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. 1 Cor 15.3-4
In closing, let me say that I always get excited when a Christian expresses concern about people who have no preachers, no Bibles, no Christian TV or radio, no access to Christian websites.

Why do I get excited? Because I am persuaded that it is none other than the Holy Spirit who puts such a concern onto a believer's heart.

I also am fully persuaded that, at one time or another, most every one of God's missionaries experienced this same concern, and responded to it by telling God: "Here am I! Send me."
  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." Isa 6.8

As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" Rom 10.15b


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