During the days of Yeshua and His disciples, most of the world was entrapped in pagan worship. Coming out from that lifestyle and entering in to Christianity would have been a difficult adjustment. Family and friends would likely not have approved, would not have understood, and would not be above ridiculing the new believers. The temptation to conform to the greater society and return to paganism was real and persuasive. Yet, true belief demanded obedience to Yeshua, and the new believers would try.
The Jerusalem Council, also understanding the vast body of law that was contained in the Old Testament, felt that expecting new believers to immediately embrace and correctly observe the entire law would add to the difficulty that these new Gentile believers would go through. Therefore, they limited their obligation to four things according to Acts 15:20.
1. Abstain from pollutions of idols.
2. Abstain from fornication.
3. Abstain from things strangled.
4. Abstain from blood.
Acts 15:29 repeats the list, but changes the wording of the first prohibition to:
1. Abstain from meats offered to idols.
Although Christianity has used this section of Scripture to support the claim that these four things were the only obligations placed upon the new Gentile believers, there are actually many things missing. Were theft, covetousness, and bearing false witness considered acceptable? Of course not! The list of four was not meant to be a complete set of obligations.
What it does represent is a list of four things that separated the new believers from their old pagan lifestyle. In their worship meat was offered to idols. By eating that meat, the pagan participated in the worship of that particular deity. Animals that had been strangled and were full of blood were also used in their meat offerings. The way these animals were killed violated God's law and could not be used for consumption. Sexual immorality was oftentimes a part of pagan worship. These four things were a kind of make or break list.
If the new believers wanted to immediately be accepted into the local body of Messiah, they had to forgo these pagan worship related items. There was no sitting on the fence, or being half hearted believers. Leaving these four things behind represented a complete break with paganism and brought the believers into fellowship with the body of Messiah.
After giving their declaration about the four prohibitions, the Jerusalem Council added this verse.
Acts 15:21 (KJV)
For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
The new Gentile believers were expected to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath day where Moses was read every week. They would learn the rest of God's requirements as time went on.
This method that the Jerusalem Council decided upon was a loving and gentle way of incorporating the new Gentile believers into the Christian congregation. The changes would be difficult, but they now belonged to a body of believers that would help and support them.