Jan 17, 2010
Apostolic Decree as Pragrmatic Compromise
Frank Thielman, in discussing the Apostolic Decree in Acts 15:20. 28-29; 21:25, argues that,
". . . the Apostolic Decree more naturally plays the role of a pragmatic compromise. The strict Judean Jews and the believing Pharisees have suffered a sound defeat, but in the decree the apostles and elders offer a few guidelines for softening the practical implications of this defeat. By advising the Gentiles to abstain from meat offered to idols, from the consumption of blood, from strangled animals, and - from sexual immorality, the apostles and elders have made it easier for the most conservative Jewish Christians to associate with Gentile believers. Adherence to these rules would allow scrupulous Jewish Christians to mingle with Gentile Christians around a common table without fear of compromising basic Jewish dietary rules. It would also put to rest fears that mixing with Gentiles might lead to sexual immorality and idolatry as it had in ancient times (Num. 25:1–18)" (Frank Thielman, The Law and the New Testament: The Question of Continuity [New York: Crossroad, 1999], 158).
I tend to agree with Thielman. Furthermore, although Thielman does not get into it here, I would suggest that Ben Witherington is correct in suggesting that the main problem reflected in the four prohibitions is their association with idolatry.