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. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.
In approaching this issue two hermeneutical points are worth noting. The first is articulated by Richard Mouw,
We must insist that not all commandments which are found in the bible are to be obeyed by contemporary Christian's. For example, God commanded Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldees, and commanded Jonah to preach in Nineveh; it would be silly to suppose that it is part of every Christian's duty to obey these commands.
The second point is that not all commands in the Mosaic law are addressed to non-Jews. Alan Donagan notes, “While the whole Torah does not purport to be binding on all mankind, part of it does. Even in biblical times, the Jews had come to recognise those Gentiles who recognised that part of the Mosaic Halachah which applies to Gentiles and Jews alike.” Jewish exegesis distinguishes between what the Rabbis called the Noahide law the Mosaic law. The former are the commands God addresses to all human kind, Jew and gentile alike. Jewish tradition teaches that these laws were given first, during the time of Adam, to all Adam's descendants and then again to Noah. The Mosaic law, on the other hand, is a covenant between Jews and God. However, as the Jews are a subset of all people, many of the Noahide laws are repeated in the Mosaic law although Israel is given a body of other laws which are binding on them in virtue of their special relationship to God. I think the exegetical basis for this distinction is sound; I will briefly cite three lines of evidence for it.
First, the Mosaic law begins, prior to the giving of the law, with the narrative in Genesis which implicitly teaches that there are commands that are binding on both Jews and non-Jews. In Genesis 1:28-29, for example, all human beings are permitted to eat vegetables. Genesis 2:24, as interpreted by Jesus and Paul, condemn divorce and promiscuity. In Genesis 4, Cain is warned about his desire to sin and later condemned for committing murder. The proto-history of the flood has all human beings being condemned for sexual immorality and violence. In Genesis 9, Noah and his descendants (who in the narrative are the entire human race) are permitted to eat any animals but forbidden from committing murder and are also commanded to punish those who do, further Ham, a gentile, is condemned for uncovering his fathers nakedness. The same picture is seen in the story of Dinah in Genesis 34 where pre-marital sex on the part of gentiles is condemned. The abduction of Sarah by Egyptian kings makes it clear that God requires gentiles not to commit adultery and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah condemns a mixture of rape, sodomy and inhospitable treatment of strangers by gentiles. Hence, when Moses delivers the law at Sinai it has already been taught that many of the commandments he elaborates on were already binding on Gentiles.
Second, the oracles against gentile nations entail the same thing. Amos, Ezekiel, Nahum, Isaiah and Job all condemn gentile nations for violating standards laid down in the Mosaic law. This only makes sense if some of the commandments in the Mosaic law are actually binding on gentile nations.
Third, a careful exegesis of the Torah shows that something like the distinction between Noahide and Mosaic commandments is implicit in it. Take the issue that sparked of the Council of Jerusalem, the kosher food laws. These laws occur in the 14th chapter of Deuteronomy. They begin with, “out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession. Do not eat any detestable thing.” This is followed by a list of animals declared unclean to eat then, immediately after prohibiting the eating of such animals, the text states, “You may give it to an alien living in any of your towns, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. But you are a people holy to the LORD your God.” The text, then, is quite clear; these kinds of animals can be sold to gentiles and gentiles may eat them; the Jews, however, are to refrain from eating them because of the special covenant relationship they have with God, “out of all the peoples on the face of the earth … ” If one reads the earlier sections of the Pentateuch, such as Genesis 9, it teaches that gentiles have been permitted by God to eat any animal. Hence, the Kosher laws are not addressed to gentiles and do not expound a command that God had given to all human beings prior to Sinai.
This is in stark contrast to the laws laid down in Leviticus 18. This pericope opens with God telling Moses “speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.” God then issued a series of commands to refrain from certain sexual practices such as incest (v 6-16), bigamy (v 18), homosexual conduct (v 22), adultery (v 20), bestiality (v 23) as well as a command to refrain from infant sacrifice (v 21). God then goes on to state,
“Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
Markus Bockmuehl calls laws, like Leviticus 18, laws of the “gerim” or “resident alien.” These are laws in the Torah relating to gentiles living in Israel. Bockmuehl gives two broad categories of such laws, “The first extend social welfare rights to the gerim,” such things as a “fair trial,” protection from being overworked and support mechanisms for the disadvantaged, all of which are granted to gerim or resident aliens. The second are, “positive commands applying to the gerim along with the rest of Isreal.” Bockmuehl notes several examples including various laws about idolatry, laws relating to homicide and assault, laws relating to sexual immorality, laws relating to blasphemy and many others. The paradigm of resident alien laws comes chiefly in Leviticus 17-20. These laws were the basis for the distinction Donagan makes between between laws that applied to gentiles and those that applied to Jews only.
I think this distinction explains the aforementioned basis in Acts 15. Conzelman notes that the instructions given to the gentiles by the Apostles Council in Acts 15 appear to be a fairly concise summary of the laws of the resident alien in Leviticus 17-20. Leviticus 17:1-9 contains prohibitions on idolatrous slaughter. Acts 15 instructs the gentiles to, “abstain from food polluted by idols.” Leviticus 17:10-14 contains laws relating to the consumption of blood.” The Apostles instruct the gentiles to abstain “from blood;” Leviticus 17:15-16 contains laws relating to the eating of animals not properly bled. The Apostles instructed the Gentiles to abstain from the meat of strangled animals.” Leviticus 18 condemns various forms of sexual immorality; Acts 15 has the gentiles instructed to “abstain .. from sexual immorality.” This observation also explains the rationale at the end, “The Gentiles were not required to follow the law of Moses, but they were required to follow the requirements God has laid on all people.” This is summarised in the resident alien laws and the Gentiles can be reasonably expected to know these laws because they are found in the law of Moses and “Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
This distinction also explains how the stance of the Apostles is consistent with that of Jesus. The Apostles are not abolishing the law or telling others to break them. The Gentiles are instructed to keep those parts of the Mosaic law that apply to them. They are simply recognising that the Mosaic law is not binding on gentiles, something the Mosaic law itself teaches. It also addresses the charge of selectivity made by Mohr.
Mohr asks, “do ministers who cite what they take to be condemnations of homosexuality in Leviticus maintain in their lives all the hygienic and dietary laws of Leviticus” and concludes, “those who regularly cite the Bible to condemn an activity like homosexuality do so by reading it selectively.” This simply shows a lack of understanding of both the law and the new testament teaching on it. As I noted, the dietary laws laid down in the Mosaic law command Jews to abstain from various foods, they do not command gentiles to do this. The laws on sexual immorality, however, clearly apply to both Jews and gentiles. If Mohr wants to see selective exegesis, perhaps an examination of contemporary “liberal” Christians who dismiss the laws on homosexuality as non-applicable but oddly consider the laws against incest, bestiality, adultery and human sacrifice to be binding despite the fact that they occur in the exact same context.
 Acts 15:5 NIV.
 Acts 15:21.
 Richard Mouw “Biblical Revelation and Medical Decisions” in Stephen E Lammers and Allen Verhey On Moral Medicine (Grand Rapids MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 56.
 Alan Donagan The Theory of Morality (Chicago: Chicago University press. 1979) 4-5
 Marcus Bockmuehl Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics (Baker Academic, 2000) 153.
 Hans Conzelman Acts of the Apostles Vol 2 The International Critical Commentary (Edinburg: T&T Clark, 1998) 734.
 Richard Mohr “Gay Basics: Some Questions, Facts, and Values” in Morality in Practice ed James Sterba (Wadsworth).
Sunday Study: Did Christ Abolish the Old Testament Law? Part I