In the Jerusalem Decree the successors to Jesus instructed the subjects of Paul’s preaching …
“…to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.” Acts 15:20 RSV
“…they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity." Acts 21:25
Paul taught a ritual meal that includes blood:
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” 1 Cor 10:16
“In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” 1 Cor 11:25
James, Peter, John and the elders, therefore, prohibited Paul’s teaching of a ritual meal that includes blood, according to the author of Acts.
When “…after fourteen years I [Paul] went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain.” Gal 2:1-2.
“[T]hen they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law, they have been told about you [Paul] that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.’” Acts 21:20-21
We have evidence that Paul was teaching people not to observe the customs and evidence that many thousands among the Jews had been told that Paul was forsaking the customs. Paul’s teaching of blood associated with the cup is forbidden by the customs - both the Noahide covenant and the Mosaic covenant:
Noahide Covenant: “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Gen 9:4
Mosaic Covenant: "For the life of every creature is the blood of it; therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.” Lev 17:14
The reason we are not to consume the blood is because the life is in the blood.
When the leaders issued the Jerusalem Decree they must have been aware that Paul was teaching the drinking of Jesus’ blood, but they could not have inherited the tradition from Jesus. They upheld the customary prohibition of consuming blood when confronted with Paul’s teaching. They could not have been practicing a ritual that they prohibited Paul from teaching.
The Noahide Covenant has seven prohibitions. The Jerusalem Decree names four prohibited items. “What is strangled” is not prohibited by the Noahide Covenant. Its inclusion in the Jerusalem Decree may be a reiteration of the prohibition of blood, the blood not being drained from a strangled thing. If so, there would be three things prohibited by the Jerusalem Decree, with blood doubly prohibited.
But since four things were named, four things might have been intended. If a crucified man dies of asphyxiation, the bread that Paul called “the body of Christ” might be considered a “strangled thing” and represent a fourth item prohibited by the Jerusalem Decree. Eating “the body of Christ” would certainly be considered in violation by those who were “building a fence around the Torah” at the time the
gospels were produced late in the first century.
(The four elements of the Noahide Covenant not included in the Jerusalem Decree are the prohibition of blasphemy, theft and murder, and the requirement to set up courts to justly enforce laws.)
In Acts 10:14, Peter’s vision of the sheet, we find additional evidence that a disciple was not aware that blood imagery associated with a meal had originated with Jesus. Peter is depicted as stating that he had “never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” Blood is unclean. If Jesus had instructed Peter to drink his blood as depicted in the gospels, Peter’s vision of the sheet shows that Peter did not
remember this event.
The voice that commanded “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:13) was teaching Peter, a Jew, to violate the customs of Moses. The synoptic Last Supper texts depict Jesus violating the Law and also teaching other Jews to forsake the customs. At issue is not whether Paul violated the customs and taught others to do so also. He did. The
problem is why does the teaching that the followers of Jesus learned from Jesus himself differ from the teaching that Paul learned from the risen Christ?
Paul claims he “did not receive [his gospel] from man, nor was [he] taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ...” and he “did not confer with flesh and blood” in learning of it. Gal 1:12, 16.
Paul states he did not learn of the inclusion of blood in a commemorative meal from the disciples of Jesus. The disciples of Jesus denied and prohibited the practice. Therefore the body and blood symbolism associated with the Eucharist did not originate with Jesus or people who knew him according to the historical evidence. The body and blood symbolism associated with the commemorative meal originated,
in the texts, with Paul.
It is necessary to believe that Paul's supernatural claim is true and also necessary to discount the eyewitness testimony of the disciples to believe that Jesus taught his disciples to eat his body and drink his blood. This is inconsistent with scientific method and is a theological claim.
As he states in Galatians 1, Paul’s gospel was a rival gospel. The evidence in Acts shows that Paul’s gospel was not aligned with the teaching and practices of people known to be associated with Jesus with regard to the drinking of blood.
The orthodox view/received tradition/scholarly consensus asserts that Paul was not teaching against the customs, even though the texts depict both Jesus and Paul violating the customs and teaching others to do the same. How can we believe that Jesus was guilty of the charges brought against Paul, but that Paul was innocent? Only with theology and not by historical-critical methods.
The texts demonstrate that the group at Jerusalem is not associated with the idea that a legal consequence of the resurrection of Jesus was that covenant violations such as drinking blood became permissible.
Paul’s claim that the risen Christ taught him to teach violation of the covenants relies upon supernatural agency. The command to violate the customs of Moses that Peter received in his vision of the sheet also relies upon supernatural agency. These supernatural events are historical in that they leave literary evidence that are clues to what was occurring at the time in the world of ideas. Science discounts the
truth of supernatural claims but assumes that they are made for a purpose.
* * * *
If, as depicted in the synoptic gospels, Jesus was blameless before the Law until the night before his execution, when he violated the covenant of Moses and taught other Jews to do the same, then he was not a sacrifice without blemish at the time of his crucifixion. This is a logical flaw that surely would have been noticed by upholders of
the Covenant in the first century.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus incurs blame before the Law earlier than in the synoptic gospels:
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.’” John 6:53-55.
In John 6, Jesus was blameless before the Law until he preached the body and blood symbolism in the synagogue in Capernaum at Passover one year prior to the fateful Passover in Jerusalem. But Acts depicts the disciples and relatives of Jesus as being unaware of this and using their authority to prohibit both elements of Paul’s Eucharist – the blood and the strangled thing.
One wonders at the ineptitude of the disciples, missing such a key element of Jesus’ ministry. A common theme in all four gospels is that it was only later that the disciples realized that a consequence of Jesus’ career was that observance of ancestral law had ended with the introduction of a new covenant.
A text explains their lack of understanding:
John 12:16 “His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him.”
According to the storyline of the gospels, prior to the “glorification” Jesus spoke cryptically using parables and hidden symbols that was not understood by the disciples.
But Acts and Galatians show that they still did not remember that Jesus had violated the covenant and that he had taught them to do the same when they were confronted with Paul’s teaching.
Participation in the wine/blood and bread/body ritual is a public violation of the Covenant of Moses and/or the Covenant of Noah and the Jerusalem Decree. It is a violation legally similar to eating the pig sacrificed on the altar in the Jerusalem Temple during the time of Menelaus which helped to spark the Maccabean rebellion. It differs from the sacrifice of the pig by envisioning the termination of the
centralization of worship at Jerusalem.
This could not have been the goal of a covenant renewal movement.
The gospel depictions of Jesus violating the covenant and teaching other Jews to also violate the covenant must have been produced by people associated with Paul and could not have been created by people associated with Jesus. Likewise the command to Peter, in his vision of the sheet, to violate the customs originated with the author of Acts.
The theological interpretation of these texts (shared by most historical scholars!) is that Paul did not teach other Jews to violate the customs of Moses, even though it is plain that Jesus taught other Jews to violate the customs when he instituted the Eucharist and that the voice in Peter’s vision of the sheet did also.
"Criterion of Embarrassment
"Another criterion states that material that tended to embarrass the church or contradict its point of view would probably not have been created by the church and may therefore preserve historical information. If we accept this criterion, the tradition that John the Baptist baptized Jesus is probably true. The church, in competition with disciples of John, tended to exalt Jesus over John and would not have created a tradition that subordinated Jesus to John. This criterion would be a useful tool except that no gospel contains a great deal that would embarrass the church."
-An introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity p. 248
By Delbert Royce Burkett
Cambridge University Press, 2002
The evidence of Acts 10, 15 and 21 (and Galatians?*) – evidence that Jesus’ disciples were not aware that Jesus had taught them to drink his blood - meets the criterion of embarrassment and probably preserves historical information. Jesus teaching his disciples to drink his blood was likely a creation of “the church”. Who were they?
The codexes containing the gospel depictions of Jesus violating the covenant and teaching other Jews to do the same must have been produced by people associated with Paul’s rival gospel and could not have been created by people associated with Jesus. Likewise the literary (but not historical) command to Peter to violate the customs, in the vision of the sheet, originated with someone who supported
relaxation of the requirements of the Law.
*If the practices at Antioch conformed to Paul’s teaching, they may have been practicing a communal meal there that included consuming the “body and blood of Christ”.
“But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” Gal 1:11-12.