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jerusalem council: 2 questions

Sorry about the multiple postings… I don’t know what happened.

For a very interesting Catholic, as in Roman, take on Acts 15 and the Jerusalem council

For a paper from a Wheaton gradstudent. He actually takes as broad a reading as possible, saying that this one injunction includes:

In short, the decrees may refer to the three major concerns faced by Jews when associating with Gentiles (1) idolatry and all associated with it, (2) low ethical and moral standards among Gentiles, and (3) Gentile disregard for Jewish ceremonies, customs, and religio-cultural tabus.

But I have no beef with them. I just think that their readings are interesting. At the same time (and both their texts are indicative of one of the questions I want to raise), though both address the Acts in something of a historicist mode, neither, when discussing Scripture, move very much beyond chapter 15. Rarely, in fact, have I seen a discussion of the Jerusalem Council that cites anything but Galatians, and that only because Paul speaks of going down to the Council. (To be fair, both above also cite Galatians. And, I don’t expect them to address the text in the way that I am… it’s not their purpose. Especially the first post, he wants to look at the role of councils.)

So, 1) why don’t we ever address the fact that the Holy Spirit was understood as having decreed abstinence from meat sacrificed to idols, blood, and meats of strangled animals, yet Paul in Romans and Corinthians seems to dismiss the need to abstain from this meat, unless it becomes a stumbling block. We have, then, a case where a council decrees one thing, believing the Holy Spirit to have guided them and Paul, later on, apprently contradicting that decree.

My point is not to call into question anyone’s view of Scripture nor to point out contradictions (should people want the latter, they can go to the Skeptics Bible. I must admit, even though the SB at times hits the mark, I find its hermeneutics as problematic as a plenarist’s. It frustrates me that it takes such a naive approach to Scripture to call into question the authority of Scripture rather than to parody bad hermeneutics; often the contradictions it raises are part of the hermeneutics it employs rather than the texts themselves.). Instead, my point is that it seems that we have a case in Scripture where the Holy Spirit, at two distinct moments in the Church’s development (though one could also say, through the pens of two very different personalities) is saying two very different things… is revising in fact something previously understood as law.

How, then, should we use and understand this difference? How would the reading of a plenarist differ from the reading of someone who does not believe in the literal, word for word inspiration of Scripture? Even, though I cannot answer this question (largely because I am not a plenarist), how would a plenarist read this difference?

2) The second question has to do with porneia, which, has about as many translations as the Kama Sutra does positions. I have seen everything from the traditional sexual immorality to incest, adultery, fornication, unlawful marriage, marriage to an idolator, and ritual prostetution.

The word itself is in a list of prohibitions… meats sacrificed to idols, blood, and strangulated animals. It’s curious that the first three are all about ingesting meats and the fourth is of another kind of meat. It’s also curious that the first three all are, or can be, related to the worship of idols… as can the fourth. So, is porneia and the rest of the prohibitions listed here being used as euphamisms for idolatry and the practices related to idolatry? (It seems that John in Revelation makes the connection between porneia and idolatry several times.) Yes, I realize that there is a large body of literature out there that makes this point.

I know of many Latin American CoCers and evangelicals who take this passage as binding and will not eat blood sausage… and I know of many persons who have bought a live chiken at market only to give it away upon arriving home because the neck was broken in transit. Yet, if indeed, this is a euphamism for something else… something larger than blood and strangulation, a euphamism for ritual impurity and idolatry… how then should we read this? Actually, the real question is what other euphamisms are out there that we read literally? That is, can this serve as a lesson about the difficulty of a literalist reading that does not take into consideration the historical embeddedness of Scripture… and, again, with this revelation what other texts can be shown to be more euphamistic than literal?



I could have a lot to say about this, but I can’t tell: I’m tired and disorganized, which makes me tireder. What I do have to say is that the Jerusalem council was a foundational moment in Paul’s theology, and it’s nessa to talk about it in relation to Galatians insofar as Galatians is foundational in Paul’s theology too. not Romans, neither the Corinthian letters, nor Thess, would have been what they are without the council/Gal.

i don’t disagree with you in the least.

and maybe aspects of the second question discount the first?

that is, if indeed the list of prohibitions is a euphamism for idolatry, then i’ve confused the metonymy for what it stands for and there is no tension between Acts and Romans or Acts and Corinthians. but, if the list, while being a euphamism, is still a condemnation of that particular act (the act of eating meat sacrificed to idols, because it is understood as participating in idolatry), then it seems that Paul and James are at odds.

and i have some notions regarding what to do with this difference, but it’s even later here.

what is more, i do not deny the fact that i could be absolutely dead wrong on every count.

okay, okay, i’ll stop being coy.

though my position was more than hinted at…

could one not see this as an example of not just the importance of councils but the importance of reevaluating and revising proscriptions?

that is, these behaviors are associated with and confused with idolatry… by the time we get to Romans and Corinthians Paul is able to disassociate the eating of meats sacrificed to idols with idols as idolatry.

i imagine that the plenarist could contain this because, afer all, in both cases it’s the Holy Spirit.

but couldn’t such a thing be used as a blueprint for how to handle cultural/historical differences?

or, again, has the euphamism bit, the metonymy bit bitten me in the butt?

or, again, i guess what i am asking is… could this be seen as an instance in the early church that shows it to be alive and malleable rather than set in stone… and if a plenarist could read it this way as well?

so, i take it from your silence g, that you have nothing to say about this… that i am in a hermeneutical nether world.

No, just that I’ve been busy and it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about things 1st century. I like reading my NT for political wranglings between factions of the church (e.g. James’s Jerusalem vs Paul’s Antioch), and Paul’s actions often represent highly diplomatic efforts to ensure that he gets to do what he wants—that is, what the Spirit leads him to do separate from and against and sometimes with what the Spirit leads others to do.

I haven’t commented yet, because I’ve been trying to distill my wide ranging, disoriented thoughts on these big issues. I don’t know if I’ve done it yet.

First, if the euphamism idea prevails, then I believe the council’s missive is radically more applicable to us. It’s not a historic tidbit of insight into an ancient controversy but it would force us to evaluate everything, all the time, for hints of idolatry. I think that’s probably a good idea.

Second, the RCC idea of a continuous legacy of active, Spirit-led authority within the Church’s leadership is compelling to me. If this were just the first council among many in history with the power to bind and direct the church, as they believe, then the rest of us need to be more attentive. Now in my thinking, I wonder if we are not driven to the implication that the RCC is either all right or all wrong, in almost all respects? If the linear, councillor authority held up, they might just be.