So far, as nearly as I can tell, Jesus and James wanted the Gentile disciples to learn the Torah but not be obligated to it. But then why does Jesus in stating “the great commission” tell the Jewish disciples to “keep all that I have commanded you?” Something is missing. What were the Gentiles supposed to learn from the Torah by hearing it (and no doubt observing their Jewish mentors performing the mitzvot), and then what were they supposed to keep that Jesus taught?
I first want to mention that in Galatians, Paul is indeed saying that keeping the Law does not justify anyone before God, neither Jew nor Gentile. It is Christ who is our sole justification before the Father. A Jew observing the mitzvot isn’t justified simply by observing the mitzvot. Nevertheless, Paul certainly expected Jews to be obligated to the Law, otherwise, he wouldn’t have said that righteous Gentile converts were also obligated. No, the application of the Sinai covenant was not done away with by Jesus or by Paul. However, we see that it wasn’t applied to the Gentiles, at least not in the way we see it applied to the Jews.
That’s where we left off in Part 1 of this article. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so before proceeding here.
Rabbi Resnik quotes the Rambam in what I believe to be part of the answer we should seek as Christians:
What is the way that we should love God? We should love Him with an overwhelming and unlimited love, until our soul becomes permanently bound in the love of God, like one who is love-sick and cannot take his mind off the woman he loves, but always thinks of her – when lying down or rising up, when eating or drinking. Even greater than this should be the love of God in the hearts of those who love Him, thinking about Him constantly, as He commanded us, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all they soul.”
“Jewish Spiritual Practices”
(New York: Bell Tower, 2009), 8.
Resnik goes on to say:
But such devotion, laudable as it is, can become mere pietism without love for one’s neighbor, in which case it would not really be love of God at all. So, fulfillment of the first ve’ahavta depends on the second. The command to love your neighbor requires the practice of private spirituality, which is of course essential, and walks it out on the pavement of daily life. Ve’ahavta can never mean just good vibes and good intentions, but is defined throughout the Torah as active, creative, and concrete. Furthermore, the specific ordinances and judgments of Torah are to be interpreted through the dual lens of love for God and love for neighbor. The great commandment, then, is two-fold, an inter-twined mitzvah capable of supporting all the rest of the instructions of Torah.
That still sounds like Rabbi Resnik could be saying that all disciples of Jesus must obey all of the mitzvot in an identical manner, but again, what are the two greatest commandments that encapsulate the whole Law and the Prophets and that act as the lens by which we are to view and understand God and the Bible?
Loving God and thus, loving our neighbor.
What were the ancient Christians supposed to learn when they heard the Torah read in the synagogues each Shabbat? Love. What did Jesus want his Jewish disciples to teach the Gentile disciples of the nations? Love.
I am giving you a new mitzvah: that you love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. With this all will know that you are my disciples: if love dwells among you.
-John 13:34-35 (DHE Gospels)
What did Jesus teach? Did he teach Torah? Yes, of course he did. Did he teach his Jewish disciples the proper way to live a Jewish lifestyle, how to tie tzitzit, the correct way to lay tefillin, which foods were kosher, and that sort of thing? We don’t see it in the Gospels. We do see him giving specific interpretations of the Torah of Moses but he doesn’t invent anything new (he did “refresh” interpretations of Torah and established some specific halachah for his disciples)…except one thing. Love one another. Loving one’s neighbor was already in the Torah, so why does Jesus say he’s giving a “new” commandment?
According to the wee commentary I find in my ESV Bible, “The command to love one’s neighbor was not new; the newness was found in loving one another as Jesus had loved his disciples (cf. John 13:1; 15:13). In light of Jesus’ subsequent death, just as implies a love that is even willing to lay down one’s life for another (see 15:13).
This is my mitzvah: that you love one another as I have loved you. There is no love greater than the love of one who gives his life on behalf of his companions.
-John 15:12-13 (DHE Gospels)
We can argue back and forth until the second coming of Messiah as to whether or not it occurred to Jesus, James, or Paul in their wildest dreams that a Gentile Christian in the 21st century should be obligated to wear tzitzit, lay tefillin, and call himself an “Israelite” or say he’s practicing “Judaism” or “Adonaism.” We won’t get anywhere. Even if you believe a Gentile Christian must obey the full body of Torah mitzvot, Jesus might still have a criticism against you.
How terrible for you, hypocritical scholars and Prushim (Pharisees)! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but neglect the weighty things in the Torah: justice, kindness, and faith. You ought to do one without neglecting the other.
-Matthew 23:23 (DHE Gospels)
Again, it seems as if Jesus if fusing all parts of Torah obedience together, but then again, he’s talking to Jewish Pharisees, not Gentile Christians. However, if you are a Gentile who truly believes you must obey all of the mitzvot (assuming you actually can, and as I’ve learned recently, even some devout Jews cannot) and you pay special attention to the food you eat (did you kasher your kitchen?), how your tzitzit are tied, and the manner in which you lay tefillin (which tradition did you use for tying tzitzit and binding tefillin, since there are several?) but fail to feed the hungry, give clothes to the naked, and visit the sick and the prisoner (see Matthew 25:31-46), are you also “hypocritical scholars” and “blind guides?” I hope not.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
-1 Corinthians 13:8-13 (ESV)
If you love God and love your fellow by feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and comforting those who are grieving, you are indeed “keeping the Torah” as Jesus taught it. Yes, we Christians should study and learn Torah, but not to turn ourselves into “erzatz Jews.” We should study and learn to understand the type of love we should do that goes beyond all understanding. Without that foundation, the teachings of Jesus and his love are incomprehensible.
I believe this is what James wanted the Gentiles to learn in the synagogues, how to love one another as Jesus loves them…as Jesus loves us.
If you still believe somehow that commandment also obligates you to try to look and act “Jewish” as it is defined today, I certainly won’t be able to talk you out of it. But as for me, as a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife and a Father who has done his (imperfect) best to raise three Jewish children, I have determined such a path is not what God has called me to walk. Paul sternly discouraged the Gentiles from converting to Judaism and he only thought that one was obligated to the full number of the mitzvot if you were a born Jew or righteous convert from the nations. Christians are neither.
But there is a Torah that we are commanded to obey and the command is very clear. Do Love. Love one another. Rabbi Resnik says that such a love begins with those closest to you but also extends outward in the community and finally even to strangers. I learned at my own church that Christians are to have a special love for the Jewish people and are obligated to provide support for the poor and needy of Israel. My friend and FFOZ writer Jordan Levy says that Christians also have an obligation to provoke zealousness among the Jewish people. Really, it’s not as if we don’t have a lot to do in the service of God and in obedience to Christ.
You really do find the Torah taught in the synagogues and in the churches every week and often, several days a week. You find the Torah being learned and studied every time an observant Jew or devout Christian opens his or her Bible. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll find that the first and best commandment is to live a life that applies love to those around you. The rest is commentary. Go learn love and then go do love. If that is your Torah and you are living it out, you are doing well and I sincerely commend you. If it isn’t, even if you obey many other mitzvot, you are missing the entire point of Torah and you are missing God in your life.
Oh, and about sheep from different pens (see John 10:14-18) just melting into a single, homogenous flock…it doesn’t happen that way: Shelters and Housing for Sheep and Goats (PDF). I have to thank my friend Gene Shlomovich for referring me to this very informative article which I first cited in another blogspot just over two years ago.