Monday, March 10, 2008

Octavius: No Blood in our Food

Continuing with my examination of Octavius' apology (as recorded by Minucius Felix), this passage reminded me of a question I've always had:

To us it is not lawful either to see or to hear of homicide; and so much do we shrink from human blood, that we do not use the blood even of eatable animals in our food.
Fair enough. Christians did not eat blood at the time. This would be consistent with the decision of the Jerusalem Council:
Acts 15:19-20
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
While Jesus had declared all foods clean(Mark 7:19), this part of eating Kosher (abstinence from blood and improperly killed animals) remained infallible dogma for Christians.

I've always wondered why this teaching has all but completely disappeared from Christianity. Perhaps again we would find the answer in Mark 7:14-15
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' "
Still, the disciples who heard Him say this were the same ones who, by the Holy Spirit, pronounced the prohibition against eating blood to be consistent with this 'baptizing' of all foods.

We must remind ourselves that Peter (at the time) did not interpret Jesus' words to constitute an abolishment of the Mosaic dietary laws as is made quite clear by his dream in Acts 10:13-15:
Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
And even after the dream, Peter does not yet seem to acknowledge it having anything other than a metaphorical meaning. St. Mark, Peter's interpreter and by widespread patristic witness, the author of the gospel bearing his name (ratified by Peter himself) wrote the above passage - the only explicit allowance for eating unclean animals anywhere in the New Testament. As Patristic witness and some modern scholarship assert, it may have actually been Peter's very words recorded in the gospel of Mark (a summary of Matthew & Luke). Though this theory is not particularly popular among scholars (Pope Benedict I know for one does not believe it) it still has a lot of explanatory power and is quite feasible.

If the above is indeed true, then perhaps the Markan passage represents a later tradition on interpreting this saying of Jesus and just how all encompassing the meaning of Jesus' words were. The council of Jerusalem (15-19 years ahead of the gospel of Mark by almost anyone's estimation) would be perhaps an initial decree of the Church on this issue, and later came the liberalization of eating blood. The "spirit of the law" expounded by Mark (Peter) superseded the "letter of the law" as declared by the Jerusalem council. (It is also helpful to remind ourselves that Peter presided over both the Jerusalem council and the writing of the gospel of Mark).

However, it still leaves us with a problem. The early Christians (as attested to by Octavius above) apparently continued following the Jerusalem council.

At any rate, I'm not sure of the answer - I'm just thinking out loud. One thing I know for sure, the law has been liberalized and no Christian today thinks twice about rejecting that part of the Jerusalem council and ordering a nice, bloody fillet mignon at their favorite steak house.


andrew preslar said...

perhaps the declaration of the Jerusalem Council concerning things strangled and blood should be viewed as a disciplinary, not a dogmatic, canon. Thus, we have not a change in dogma, but a change in discipline, according to what is prudent (or imprudent) for a given time and place.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Good point. I was thinking something along those lines.