Return to Jerusalem, Part 3

ancient_beit_dinAfter they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.

Acts 15:13-14 (ESV)

After Paul and Barnabas concluded their testimony, James the brother of the Master took the floor and addressed the assembly. He prepared to offer a formal declaration based upon the consensus that emerged around Simon Peter’s testimony

James summarized the arguments, both for and against, and then recapitulated Simon Peter’s testimony regarding Cornelius the Gentile. That story carried extra weight because it implied a halachic case precedent – something that had already been accepted and established by the assembly. Compelling Gentile believers to accept circumcision required overturning the endorsement they had granted the household of Cornelius.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Yitro (“Jethro”) (pg 440)
Commentary on Acts 15:1-20

If you have read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series (and if you haven’t, I recommend you do so before continuing here), you know the direction this is taking. Paul and Barnabas brought with them some “opponents” from the synagogue in Syrian Antioch to the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem to settle a matter of great importance. In granting the Gentiles discipleship under the Messiah in the Jewish sect “the Way,” should the Gentiles be required to convert to Judaism and consequently, take on the full yoke of Torah, as do the people born as Jews?

Many arguments, for and against have been presented before James and the Council of Apostles and elders. Peter recounted his own experiences with the Roman Cornelius and his household of God-fearers and how they too received the Holy Spirit, just as the Jews had, but without first being circumcised and converting to Judaism. They were subsequently baptized in water. God had granted the Gentiles the Spirit as He did the Jews, but He did not require that the Gentiles convert to being Jews. And it absolutely never occurred to any of the Jewish witnesses present or the Apostles that any Gentile disciple must fulfill the full body of Torah mitzvot if they remained Gentiles and did not convert.

Now James, as head of the Council, is about to establish the official halachah on this matter, and it will become binding on the Messianic community from this time forth. It this decision a “slam dunk,” so to speak?

Simon Peter based his argument on the miraculous manifestation of the Spirit that accompanied the conversion of Cornelius and his household (Blogger’s Note: “conversion” is a poor word to use in my opinion, since Cornelius maintained his status as Gentile, but was accepted by the Holy Spirit as “a Gentile called by God’s Name,” see below). Paul and Barnabas added supporting anecdotes. Despite the weight of such stories, the sages do not determine halachah on the basis of miraculous signs. Before he could issue a ruling, James needed to provide a definitive proof text to support the decision. (b.Baba Metzia 59b.) In rabbinic disputation, a legal ruling is almost always paired with supporting proof text.

-ibid

At this point, some of your reading this may be crying “foul!” How can Lancaster use a Talmudic reference in defining the process by which James would make his determination, when the Talmud wouldn’t be documented for centuries? It is said that a significant portion of the process of rabbinic examination and judgment of issues predated even Jesus. For instance, we know that the teachings of Hillel and Shammai existed a generation or more before Jesus and those teachings are with us today in the Pirkei Avot. Lancaster may be taking a few liberties with his application, but it’s not entirely unreasonable to believe James was employing (even for that day) time-honored processes and traditions in the matter of judging halachah; traditions that were later recorded by the Rabbis and preserved for Jewish communities throughout the ages and until this day.

temple-of-messiahAssuming for the moment that Lancaster is correct in his description of what James is preparing to do (and a detailed discussion on Lancaster’s opinions regarding ancient halachah is beyond the scope of my blog post), what was the “proof text” to be used to establish the aforementioned halachah for allowing Gentile’s entry into the Way as disciples of the Master?

“After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant [rest] of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.”

Acts 15:16-18 (ESV)

In this case, James has chosen Amos 9:11-12 as his proof text, a passage of scripture that describes the re-establishment of the Davidic dynasty, placing Messiah, Son of David upon the throne of Israel, and the presence of the Gentiles from the nations in the Messianic age seeking the Lord.

But how does that prove anything?

The phrase “all the nations/Gentiles who are called by my Name” employs a common biblical Hebrew idiom for ownership. Ordinarily, Israel is the people “called by God’s name” (see Deut. 28:10, 2 Chron. 7:14, and Jer.14:9 for example). Ordinarily, the Gentiles are “those who are not called by your name” (Isaiah 63:19). Therefore, the Amos prophesy implies that in the Messianic Era, there will be Gentiles who belong to God in the same sense that the Jewish people belong to God.

-ibid, pg 441

Lancaster offers a very detailed analysis of Amos 9:11-12 in this Torah Club study, and I encourage you to get a copy and read it for the full details. More than that, Boaz Michael’s recent book, Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile, goes into exquisite detail about how James, his proof text, and the subsequent halalaic decision regarding the admission of Gentiles into the discipleship of the Messiah, applies to all Christians today, particularly those of us who are “hebraically-aware” and who find ourselves drawn to a Jewish perspective on the Bible, Messiah, and God.

From Lancaster’s perspective, James delivers a midrash on Amos 9, rather than simply quoting the text, that predicts Messiah rebuilding the fallen Temple in Jerusalem from where he will continue the Davidic dynasty, and where God will once again place His Presence. Once the fallen “sukkah” of David has been re-established, the Gentiles among the nations will seek out God in Jerusalem.

(References are numerous: Isaiah 2:2-3, 25:6, 56:6-7, 60:6-7, 66:23; Jeremiah 3:17; Micah 4:1-2; Zechariah 14:16, and also in many of the Psalms where the nations are called to worship God, according to Lancaster’s notes).

Lancaster further states that James’s words,  “After this,” or “After these things,” (Acts 15:16) utilize a prophetic formula that alludes to various prophesies of the Messianic Age (see Hosea 3:5 and Jeremiah 12:15-16; also Isaiah 45:20-22).

Based on what you’ve read so far, you may be convinced that God indeed allows Gentiles to enter into covenant relationship with Him through Messiah without converting to Judaism (and most Christians believe this), but some may be asking themselves, “What is it here that says the ‘Gentiles who are called by His name’ are not obligated to the same Torah mitzvot as the Jewish awareness-of-goddisciples?” Good question, though keep in mind that Part 1 and Part 2 of this series already established that only born Jews or converts to Judaism have an obligation to the “full yoke of Torah.” Lancaster asks something very similar.

Before proceeding with Lancaster, I should say at this point that we non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah are not completely “unyoked” from Torah, but rather not “yoked” fully in the manner of the Jews, or as Derek Leman recently said (scroll down to the comments section), The “Father’s instructions” might be different for Jews and non-Jews. Something to consider. Much of what Jesus taught and what is practiced in many churches today comes directly from the Torah, so we are not “lawless.” The law is simply applied differently to us, and I hope to describe that a little better later on in this series. Now, back to Lancaster’s commentary.

How does this passage legitimize the decision of James and the Jerusalem Council? In what way does this passage justify a Gentile exemption from circumcision, conversion to Judaism, and full liability to the laws of the Torah?

To James and the believers in Jerusalem, David’s restored booth represented Yeshua (Jesus), the Davidic king who comes to rebuild the monarchy of Israel. He is the repairer of the broken places, the restorer of the ruins, who will rebuild the house of David and establish the Temple in the Messianic Era. According to the Amos passage, the restored Davidic kingdom will include Gentiles who bear God’s name, i.e., they belong to God.

The God-fearing Gentile believers fit the description: Gentiles from the nations who identified themselves with God’s name and sought after God because of the revelation of the Davidic Messiah. If the apostles required those same Gentiles to become legally Jewish, however, they would cease to be “Gentiles who are called by God’s Name.” They would be Jews. They would fail to fulfill the prophesy because a literal fulfillment of the Amos prophesy requires that both Jews and Gentiles must exist in the Messianic Era.

-ibid, pg 442

If the Council required the Gentiles to all convert to Judaism as a condition of being called by God’s Name, they would all be Jews who are called by God’s Name, not Gentiles. Not only would the Council be frustrating the Amos prophesy, but they would be robbing the Gentiles of their (our) reward and their (our) destiny in the Messianic Age.

Notice there’s still a piece or two missing. The actual decision of the Council and how it was to be expressed (in this case, by writing a letter). But for the sake of space and not requiring you to read a “meditation” that is prohibitively lengthy, I’ll save that for Part 4 of “Return to Jerusalem.”

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28 thoughts on “Return to Jerusalem, Part 3”

  1. Interestingly, the Cornelius incident represented a turning over of a commonly accepted halachic practice in that day (the invention of an added/tertiary level of uncleanness, not found in Torah) — one that caused deep splits between God’s people, and impeded the spread of the gospel (and was thus a very heavy yoke upon both Jewish and non-Jewish believers).

    Is it possible that the council’s ruling was simply an application/extension of this? A sect of the Pharisees who believed a person couldn’t enter God’s people except by circumcision — also a heavy yoke, but slightly different then the halacha described in the Cornelius incident — and the Council ruling that no, the predominant custom (halacha) of circumcising brand new converts would not not be required.

    Seems simple enough. Not sure it has anything to do with “who gets to keep which commands” though.

  2. Well, according to Lancaster, Jewishness and the ‘yoke of Torah’ go hand in hand, otherwise, the Torah wouldn’t have been brought up so significantly in the conversation, Rob. Since there were numerous sects of Judaism in that day and, to the best of my knowledge, many of them sought converts and circumcision was required for male Gentiles to convert to their Jewish sects, the ruling of James and the council would have been unusual. But the Acts 10 event with Cornelius showed Peter that God showed no partiality as to who He offered covenant relationship and salvation to. Gentiles could also be saved and they didn’t have to convert to Judaism to do it.

  3. “the invention of an added/tertiary level of uncleanness, not found in Torah”

    Rob, you do know how prevalent idol worship and idolatry-associated debauchery was among the Gentiles all around the Jewish population of the first century, even among many of those who also frequented synagogues? To indignantly fault devout first century Jews for having such an “invention” to protect themselves from those influences (and we know that many Jews at the time readily Hellenized themselves) is anachronistic to say the least. The coming of Messiah and G-d’s invitation for nations to partake in the spiritual blessings of Israel required a monumental change in Jewish attitude toward even the idolatrous Gentiles occupying the Land of Israel.

    “Do not let them (idolaters) live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.” (Exodus 23:33)

  4. This part of the conversation is anticipating later portions of my series, namely the commentary around the “four essential prohibitions,” but I agree with Gene that much of the issue had to do with the perception of ‘uncleanness’ of Gentiles relative to a lifestyle permeated with idolatrous practices.

  5. Also, wanted to add that many Gentiles in the first century converted to Judaism, before Paul’s mission to them and even after. In fact, it is well known that some Jewish sects (Pharisees being one) actively sought after them. This sort of flies in the face of the Christian revisionism that paints Jews as “racists” who viewed of Gentiles as unclean “untouchables” based on the accident of their birth alone (vs their real or perceived detestable idolatrous practices that permeated the non-Jewish world at the time) or that Jews wanted to keep Gentiles away from Israel and the Jewish people. The revolution that Jesus brought is that Gentiles could come near to Israel and spiritual blessings due to her without being Israel.

  6. To be sure, not all halachic traditions are bad — heaven forbid. And in many cases, halacha is necessary — for different, practical reasons. I’m not sure why you saw “indignation” in my post Gene.

    But the fact remains that the NT does focus our attention on some (manmade) halachic traditions that had risen to the status of divine ordinances (Mark 7: 13, Acts 10:28), that not only were not helpful to God’s people, but were in fact harmful to the relationship between Jewish and non-Jewish believers (Gal. 2:12), and to the spread of the gospel (Acts 15). Yeshua not only challenged this halachic practice (re: “commonness”), but spoke very strong words against the sect/party who expected him and his disciples to abide by this tradition (cf. Mark 7:1-13).

  7. Morning, James. Being short on time I can’t really comment on this one much today.

    A quick question though, on a related note;

    If there were a One Law congregation who believed Torah should be followed by Gentiles, believed they had become “grafted in” to the commonwealth of Israel, though not in a replacement theology, merely an “added on” so to speak, wouldn’t that be OK?

    It seems to me that much of the “noise” that circulates around this issue seems to be more of a disdain for the replacement theology that seems to come with One Law advocacy, than it is for Gentiles being obligated, or simply wanting to follow Torah in and of itself.

    To cut to the chase here (according to anti-One Law folks); if a Gentile claimed we were all obligated (being the key word, here) to Torah, that’s “not right.”

    However, If a Gentile claimed we should all seek to learn Torah, that it hasn’t been abolished, and that as entities being grafted in to Israel they should apply it as best they can (through time, and careful study), thereby, “following” Torah to the best of their ability, “that’s OK.”

    Is this roughly your position?

    In Yeshua, be blessed!

  8. To be fair Gene, I believe that the issue in Acts 15 was including the Gentiles (and everything they brought with them) as equal in the Kingdom of Heaven to the Jews without changing their halalaic status from Gentile to Jew. Yes, many Jewish sects sought converts, and they accepted Gentile God-fearers in the synagogues, but of course, not in equal covenant status, but only the Way (as far as I know) decided to allow non-Jews entry into their sect and into salvation as equal partners, so to speak.

    What the Messiah did here was revolutionary.

  9. I took today off of work to take care of some family matters, one being my grandson. I am picking him up from pre-school in a little bit and so won’t be online much today (might be back this evening, but not sure yet). If I don’t answer you in a timely fashion, I’m not ignoring you. It’s just that my grandson needs lots of his grandpa’s attention. 🙂

  10. “Were in fact harmful to the relationship between Jewish and non-Jewish believers”

    Rob, I can think of FAR more harmful things for the relationship between Jewish and non-Jewish believers THESE days than the pietist traditions of the first century Judaism. In fact, I would say that we have come full circle – Christian supersessionism and denigration of Judaism as “non-biblical” has caused far more damaged.

  11. //In fact, I would say that we have come full circle – Christian supersessionism and denigration of Judaism as “non-biblical” has caused far more damaged.//

    I think we both agree that these things have done damage. As for myself (a non-Jewish believer, grafted into the commonwealth of Israel, through faith in Israel’s messiah), I’m neither a supersessionist, nor do I discount Judaism whole hog. Though I’ll grant that some in our movement(s) do.

  12. I am held in the legal person of the King Yeshua Messiah. My life is yoked to “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of G-d”. This word entered my heart by faith and hearing in the form of an unction. I hold the legal person of the King Yeshua Messiah in my heart, a seed bearing fruit unto eternal life. My legal person is held in the legal person of the King and my name written in his Book of Life.

    I am not yoked to men’s teaching or opinions that change over time. I am yoked to the perfect word spoken by the Son of God and he “changes not”.

  13. “I am not yoked to men’s teaching or opinions that change over time. I am yoked to the perfect word spoken by the Son of God and he “changes not”.

    Steven, if only that were so! Whether you are willing to see it for what it is, your outlook on life and your faith has been thoroughly influenced by mortal men in your life, either through their preachings, their doctrines (accumulated and refined over thousands of years), their translations for the Bible, their blogs or their books. Every religious person wants to believe that he or she has a perfect unadulterated understanding of G-d’s word, but not the “other guy”! “Thank you, L-rd, that I am not like this man over there, a mutilator of scripture who has corrupted your perfect Word by traditions of men, but I am walking only by your G-d-breathed King James version with no “manmade additions””.

    1. Gene, while agree with you that I am influenced, I am not yoked. What you don’t seem to get from my comment is that “your perfect word” was planted in my heart. It will bear fruit. That means it will replace ALL traditions of men which do not lead to life and to which I am NOT yoked. What will it replace it with? The presence of G-d by his Ruach haKodesh. With this indwelling spirit my heart’s code is rewritten with the word of Truth. Whether you are willing to see it for what it is, my outlook on life and my faith have been thoroughly influenced by G-d himself.

      “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” Yeshua

      I have a Rabbi, a Master and a Father who has given me an unction, planted his seed of truth within, filled me with his Ruach haKodesh which is leading me into all Truth. I am yoked to HIM. 🙂

  14. Steve… your sentiments about how things are “ought to be” in the life of follower of Messiah are commendable. And as long as you don’t deny that your own Christian life is very much influenced and to a large degree guided by “man-made” traditions of your forefathers (consciously or subconsciously) and as long as you don’t stamps other followers of Messiah as under bondage to “man-made” traditions that influence them, you will avoid hypocrisy that our Master detested more than any tradition or any other sin for that matter.

    1. “as long as you don’t stamps other followers of Messiah as under bondage to “man-made” traditions that influence them”

      Gene, …one thing I have learned…Idolatry, hatred, sin, evil and bondage are in the heart of the man, not the idol or the tradition. The idol or tradition that causes bondage are just an outward expression of what exists in the heart.

      Yeshua said we did not have to explain to him what is “in the heart of man”, he was full aware.

      To keep G-d’s law….”it is enough”. May he continue to search my heart and uproot anything not pleasing to him and bring me to completeness. If I have traditions of my forefathers that ARE pleasing to him, may they remain. If I have traditions that influence me which displease him, may he pluck them out of my heart by the roots.

      I’m sure you feel the same, and understand, I am not judging you or your traditions. I try not to judge others although it might seem otherwise when I point out things Yeshua has said. Shalom

  15. “Gene, …one thing I have learned…Idolatry, hatred, sin, evil and bondage are in the heart of the man, not the idol or the tradition. The idol or tradition that causes bondage are just an outward expression of what exists in the heart.”

    Well said, Steven.

  16. “This part of the conversation is anticipating later portions of my series, namely the commentary around the “four essential prohibitions,” but I agree with Gene that much of the issue had to do with the perception of ‘uncleanness’ of Gentiles relative to a lifestyle permeated with idolatrous practices.”

    Where in the written Torah does it prohibit Jews from eating with Gentiles? Did not Paul admonished Peter for doing this?

  17. Where in the written Torah does it prohibit Jews from eating with Gentiles? Did not Paul admonished Peter for doing this?

    It’s not written in the Bible Dan. However, in the days of Jesus and Peter, a lot of anti-Gentile attitudes had built up in the Jewish people. Small wonder since Israel had been occupied by Gentile (Roman) forces. The vision Peter had in Acts 10 was God changing that in Peter. As you said though, Peter had a tough time getting past that.

    Speaking of superssesionism, here is a perfect example, people like Boaz and Derek receiving a fake conversion and then trying to teach us Jews how to be Jews?

    Non-sequitur, Dan. Stick to the topic and not your personal issues with individuals.

  18. “Where in the written Torah does it prohibit Jews from eating with Gentiles? ”

    Nowhere! However, many of the Torah laws, including kashrut, were designed, in part, to make Israelites “kadosh”, “separated” or “set aside” from the nations. Since nations all around them ate “treif” or idol-sacrificed food, no devout Israelite would sit down with idol worshippers at the same table, if only because of the appearance of sin. Not only that, eating with idolaters implied fellowship with them, and perhaps taking on their customs and even religions.

    However, with the coming of Messiah, G-d reached out to the Gentiles without requiring them to take on the full Yoke of Torah and live in the manner of Jews. Jews, for their part, had to overcome their Torah and culture ingrained aversion to sharing (no doubt still kosher) food with former idolaters-turned followers of the Jewish Messiah. It is said that the leader of the Jerusalem community and brother of Jesus, Yaakov (James) never drank wine or ate meat, but only ate vegetables. This may be because he wanted to fellowship with Gentile disciples of Jesus around their tables without violating the laws of kashrut, to which Gentiles were not obligated nor were expected to be versed in.

  19. Gene, I don’t know if you intended to write your statement this way, but your comment seems to function as a small but effective commentary on Ephesians 2 and an answer to how Jewish and Gentile believers can be “one new man” without obliterating Jewish identity. I’m using it as a quote in the sixth and final part of this series (which will be published on Monday).

    Good Shabbos.

    1. It there are any Torah scholars reading, I’m still wondering and asking: When King Solomon married a gentile bride, was she expected to keep the law of Moses?

      Thanks in advance if anyone can point me to the answer in the bible or other writings. Shalom

  20. Frankly Steven, nothing comes to me off the top of my head, but as I recall, Many (most? all?) of Solomon’s foreigh wives pulled him into worshiping foreign gods so if anything, his multiple gentile brides got Solomon to not keep the law of Moses more than he got them to observe the mitzvot.

  21. Gene,

    Thanks for telegraphing the third move of the BE crowed. After eliminating the gentiles from their midst and throwing Yeshua under the bus, they are now have to throw Paul’s teachings away since Paul admonished Peter for being afraid to eat with Gentiles…What next? News at 11…..

  22. “Frankly Steven, nothing comes to me off the top of my head, but as I recall, Many (most? all?) of Solomon’s foreigh wives pulled him into worshiping foreign gods so if anything, his multiple gentile brides got Solomon to not keep the law of Moses more than he got them to observe the mitzvot.”

    Great, James, now I understand why MJ UMJC style want to eliminate gentiles in their midst…It is all the fault of Solomon’s wives…How come I never saw it?….

  23. I was answering a straightforward question to the best of my knowledge. There’s no hidden agenda in my response. Really Dan, aren’t you familiar with this?

    Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

    1 Kings 11:1-8 (ESV)

    I fail to see how this scripture applies to our modern Hebrew Roots vs. Messianic Judaism arguments. The text is plain. King Solomon did allow his foreign wives to influence him to worship alien gods.

    As far as Gene’s latest blog comment goes, I found it to be a compelling response (whether he meant it as such or not) to the difficulties we find in Ephesians 2. I’ll be using the quote for the sixth and final portion of this Return to Jerusalem series (which will be published Monday morning).

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