Covenant of Noah invites early converts to Christianity

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

Why would anyone, except a vampire, be tempted to drink blood? Not many people would. 

In that case, why do the apostles prohibit it, along with several other practices? That is what Sunday’s first reading tells us in Acts 15:1-2, 22-29.

It orders the Christians of Gentile origin “to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.” 

This prohibition against consuming blood harkens back to Gn 9:3a, 4: “Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat. . . . Only flesh with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.” 

In this passage, God is speaking to Noah after the flood waters have subsided. God is establishing a covenant with Noah. The prohibition against consuming blood forms part of that covenant. 

For the ancients, blood represented the life of the animal. That is why it is reserved to God. Life belongs to God.

The Book of Deuteronomy confirms this, where it commands: “But make sure that you do not partake of the blood; for blood is life, and you shall not consume this seat of life with the flesh” (12:23).

When an animal was offered in sacrifice to God, its blood was often splashed on the altar as part of the offering: “Aaron’s sons, the priests, shall offer up its blood by splashing it on the sides of the altar” (Lv 1:5).

In making a covenant between God and the people, the blood would also be sprinkled on the people as well as on the altar. In this way, the blood would create a bond between God and the people, a bond of blood.

This covenant between God and Noah, in which the prohibition against consuming blood figures prominently, precedes that covenant between God and Abraham that gave origin to the people of Israel.

Entrance into the covenant of Abraham would require circumcision for the men. It would require observance of the Law of Moses. Gentile converts to Christianity ordinarily did not wish to go that route. 

Instead, they would settle for the covenant of Noah. That essentially is the requirement that the apostles are imposing in the message quoted in Sunday’s reading.

The apostles realize that following Jesus Christ will already involve much hardship and sacrifice as it is. It is not necessary to make it more difficult.

That is why they decide “not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities” stated in their letter.

One Response

  1. john at |

    that may go to explaining why so many Jews walked away from Jesus when he said that he was the bread of life and anyone who ate his flesh and drank his blood would have life eternal……this was a hard saying and many of his diciples did not follow him after this.

    Reply

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