Blood is no stranger to Chinese cuisine. In our city there’s a pudding made out of deer blood that enjoys something near delicacy status. But, thanks to a certain interpretation of Acts 15, a large number of Chinese Christians conscientiously abstain from all dishes containing blood. I’ll leave a detailed examination of the council at Jerusalem and the resulting letter to those who have already provided a more clear and thorough explanation than I could anyway. If you want answers about that text yourself, they’re not too hard to find.
As mentioned in the first post on this subject, this seems to be an area where we can safely shrug. Neither are we the better if we eat, nor are we the worse if we don’t. But to anyone who is interested in training faithful teachers of the Word (2 Tim. 2:2), seeing church leaders with such weak consciences is troubling, especially when we consider some of the wrong turns made to get there. This abstaining stance is based squarely on an undiscerning reading of a biblical text. And that certainly calls for a response.
What are some of these interpretive missteps that call for admonishing? I think it’s safe to say that none of us would like to encourage these as habits in our trainees’ studies.
1. Abandoning the text’s logical flow
After reading the request to abstain from blood, it is easy to stop reading and protest, “What could be clearer?” Then a handful of other Scriptures spring to mind – life being in the blood, blood shed for remission of sins, etc. So there seem to be several reasons why such a command would be given.
The problem is, they’re not the reason given. The next verse begins with the word ‘because’ and the reason for the command is provided. Wayne Grudem says (when treating the subject of the next post), “It is precarious to base an argument on a reason Paul did not give instead of the reason he did give.” The same is true here.
2. Favoring less clear texts over clearer ones
Very few would argue that the intent of the letter in Acts 15 is as clear as Paul’s rather blunt discussion of related issues in Romans and 1 Corinthians. If Paul meant there were some things that shouldn’t be eaten, he sure had a funny way of saying it! Again, students of the Bible – Chinese or otherwise – should use the Bible’s clear teaching to interpret its more debatable texts.
3. Contradicting the Gospel in interpretation
Meaning, first of all, a failure to reckon with the immensity, scope, and finality of the changes brought about by the arrival of the New Covenant. A minister of that New Covenant must surely be distressed when those under his teaching forsake the teaching of the Gospel for the restrictions of Old Testament law. If those training Chinese preachers overlook their difficulties in discerning between the Old Testament and the New, don’t they sentence them to a largely Gospel-less ministry?
Additionally, it seems that this stance reveals a willingness to pass over the wide testimony of Scripture for an isolated instance. Or simply an unexamined tendency to assign some texts more weight than others. For example, why the emphasis on the bloody meat and not on the strangled animals the same verse mentions?
As far as the blood pudding goes, you can take it or leave it. But I’m not sure we can be less than concerned about weak consciences among leaders in this and similar matters. Next post will bring up one other issue of major importance in Chinese churches; then hopefully another post will talk about what we can do about all this.