In Acts 15:29, the Jerusalem Council prohibited eating meats sacrificed to idols, but in 1 Corinthians 8:13, Paul suggested eating them would be acceptable, as long as it did not cause offense to other believers. How can we reconcile this?
One of the easiest approaches to solving apparent discrepancies like this one is to understand that the book of Acts is a transitional book. Things occurred in Acts that were not consistently carried over into first-century Christianity and into assembly truth and fellowship. The types and shadows of Judaism were giving way to the realities of the new-found faith in Christ and the gospel of God. The synagogues were giving way to assemblies that were being planted by the faithful gospel work of the Apostles. And one of the issues represented in the Council of Jerusalem was the brand-new reality of saved Jews fellowshipping with saved Gentiles. Acts 14 closes by noting that when Paul and Barnabas had “gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (v27 KJV).
Here are a few of the transitional events in Acts. The Apostles were able to heal many sick and infirm with “signs and wonders” (chs3,5). A Christian couple was stricken dead for lying to the Holy Spirit (ch5). Peter was able to tell that Simon was not saved (ch8). And Peter was given a vision from heaven, allowing him to preach the gospel to Cornelius and the first Gentiles. These things and others ceased to be as the Church matured.
But the Council’s decision in Acts 15 was a wise one for that time. At issue were not only the edicts of the Law that many of the new Jewish believers considered themselves to still be under, but also the struggle to accept as fellow-believers Gentiles who had also trusted the Savior. Saved Jews and saved Gentiles were now together in the assembly at Jerusalem. That church had accepted the first Gentile converts on an equal basis with Jewish believers. But many struggled with the Law and with grace. What about circumcision? What about free fellowship and social contact? And the question of unrestricted social interaction led to the question, “What foods do I eat?”
The decision of the Council as to the “abstain[ing] from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from [the eating of] blood” (v20 KJV) was an acknowledgment of what the new Jewish believers had been accustomed to under the Law for centuries. But they decided to ask this same restriction of the newly-saved Gentiles to promote unity and fellowship in the church at Jerusalem. It is fairly apparent that by the time Paul addressed this issue in the letter to the Corinthians this prohibition had been slowly lifted.
In 1 Corinthians 8, the subject is Christian liberty. Could a believer eat this same meat that had been restricted in a prior day? Paul uses this object lesson to teach that one’s Christian liberty should never stumble or offend a fellow-believer. He states that if one stumbles another, it is a sin against Christ (v12). Far removed from issues of the Law clashing with grace, the issue now is that my liberty should never be used to hurt or stumble another Christian.