One of the glories of life in the Messianic Jewish community is the unity of worship and service between its Jewish and Gentile members within a specifically Jewish context. In recent years, however, a trend has developed that challenges the Messianic Jewish community on this very issue. This trend involves various groups and movements that teach that all Jews and Gentiles under the new covenant are called to keep the same Torah in all regards.
In so doing, these One Law movements not only misinterpret a great body of Scripture, but they also miss the unique calling of Jews and Gentiles within the Body of Messiah, robbing both groups of the biblical richness of their identity. They lose the new covenant vision of unity in Messiah between Jews and Gentiles and replace it with a man-made rallying cry, which One Law advocate Tim Hegg has expressed as “One people, One Messiah, One Torah.”
This has already started something of a minor “buzz” in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots blogospheres. I wasn’t going to write about it, but since a certain amount if misinformation (or disinformation) is already becoming promoted (no, not at Derek’s blog) on the web, I felt it necessary to present a more balanced perspective. Also, since the Juster and Resnik paper significantly mentions Acts 15 and since I’ve already spent a lot of time and effort addressing Acts 15 from the current perspective of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) as published in D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary in Torah Club Volume 6, I thought my perspective might provide just a little illumination.
I also want to say that FFOZ is mentioned in the Juster and Resnik paper and not in a complementary fashion. The paper was published in 2005 and references material produced by FFOZ from 2003 which was written by then-contributor Tim Hegg, a well-known Hebrew Roots scholar and proponent of “One Torah.” Since that time, FFOZ has shifted its theological and doctrinal perspective to be quite a bit more like that of Juster and Resnik as documented in their paper. It’s not identical but it’s pretty close. Unfortunately, this dates the Juster/Resnik paper somewhat, but the other content they present is fairly well “spot on.”
A few things.
By the time of Yeshua, an interpretative tradition was developing concerning the requirements for Gentiles. These later became formulated as the Noahide laws, binding on all people and rooted in the covenant with Noah. Already in the first century, Judaism made a distinction between universal requirements and requirements that were the particular responsibility of Jews.
Juster/Resnik, pg 4
This statement could be misconstrued to suggest that Juster and Resnik believe the Acts 15 letter is a reworking of the Noahide Laws and that such laws were the only restrictions incumbent upon the Gentile believers in Christ from the perspective of James and the Jerusalem Council. However, a further reading of the paper reveals this is not entirely true.
As has been noted, these are very similar to the Noahide laws. This does not mean that Gentiles are free to murder, steal, and dishonor their parents. The passage assumes a universal morality, as do Paul, Peter, and James (who were present that day), and John in their writings. As Romans 2 notes, Gentiles can perceive the law of God, even without the revelation of Moses, and are responsible for many standards that are also expressed in the Bible. For example, classic Roman moral law taught the ideals of monogamous marriage, honoring parents, honesty and much more. The essential and unique addition of New Covenant ethics is the sacrificial example of Yeshua.
I disagree that the halachah developed by James for the Gentile believers was a reworking of the Noahide Laws although this is a commonly held belief by many scholars and laypeople. But according to Lancaster, it would make little sense to require the Gentile believers to comply only to the Noahide Laws when in fact all of humanity is accountable to God by those standards. In fact, as I’ve mentioned on one of my blog posts, Lancaster states that James only uses the Noahide Laws as a starter and seems to leverage Leviticus 17 and 18 to forge a distinct Gentile identity in Messiah based, to some degree, on the stranger or “ger” in Israel.
In those chapters, the Torah describes the sins of the Canaanites, warns the people of Israel against imitating their ways, and prescribes four prohibitions which both the Israelite and the stranger who dwells among the nation much keep. “These correspond to the four prohibitions of the apostolic decree, in the order in which they occur in the apostolic letter.” [Richard Bauckham, “James and the Jerusalem Church,” in “The Book of Acts In Its Palestinian Setting, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 459]
-D. Thomas Lancaster
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Mishpatim (“Judgments”) (pg 461)
Commentary on Acts 15:20-31
I would also direct the reader to Toby Janicki’s article The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses, found in issue 109 of Messiah Journal (Winter 2012), pp 45-62 to understand how the deceptively brief “four prohibitions” are extended to provide a rich and robust Torah observance for the non-Jewish believers that does not intrude on Jewish identity or unique covenant obligation to God.
Having read one staunch critic of the paper as well as Leman this morning, I agree that the Noahide Laws cannot be applied to the “fourfold decree” of the apostles, but that doesn’t shoot down the foundation of Juster’s and Resnik’s argument opposing the position of “grafted in” Gentile believers and Jewish believers forming a fused and completely uniform corporate identity. The so-called “One Law/One Torah” position by necessity, essentially eliminates the Jewish people in Messiah and replaces them with “One Torah” cookie cutter produced humanity. This may be inadvertent replacement theology on the part of One Law/One Torah advocates, but it is replacement theology nonetheless.
As far as I can tell, the criticism of the Juster/Resnik paper I read this morning is based on only a single element and since the Juster/Resnik position, as we see in Lancaster, is otherwise well supported, then the basic assumption of the paper remains valid.
Acts 15 specifically declares that nothing should be required of the Gentiles but four laws, three of them related to blood. Galatians 5 warns Gentiles not to receive circumcision or they will be required to keep the whole Torah. The clear implication here is that without circumcision, Gentiles are not required to keep the whole Torah. Colossians 2 warns that no one is to judge the Colossians with regard to Sabbath, New Moons or festivals. These are a shadow; the substance is Messiah. In Galatians 4:10 Paul writes that he fears that he labored over the Galatian Gentile congregations in vain because they were now observing “special days, months, seasons and years.”
Juster/Resnik, pg 2
This is probably one of the more devastating portions of their argument since the statement emphasized in the quote above plainly illustrates that the non-Jewish believers could not be obligated to keep the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews unless they were circumcised (i.e. converted to Judaism).
One of the comments I made on Leman’s blog was that Juster and Resnik seem to draw a hard and clear line in the sand between Jewish and Gentile Torah observance, especially in their belief of how Paul saw the matter, while the Lancaster commentary appears to allow for more leeway, providing a sort of “permission” for Gentiles to extend themselves into more of the mitzvot without an implicit or explicit command to be obligated to full Torah observance over some undefined period of time.
One of the things I liked about the Juster/Resnik paper is that it was very clear in showing what Paul, or James for that matter, didn’t say (I apologize in advance for the length of this quote):
One Law teachers make a big point of James’s statement that “Moses has been read every week in the Synagogue” (Acts 15:21). This is taken to imply that Gentile believers will, in the normal course of their new life, attend synagogue and adopt more and more of the whole Torah. Since Torah life is good and beautiful, why wouldn’t he? On this basis, the verse is taken as an exhortation to further learning and the adoption of the whole Torah. Thus, One Law teachers transform an ambiguous statement into a strong and unambiguous exhortation.
They apparently overlook, however, the fact that these words spoken in the council were not included in the apostolic letter that was circulated among the congregations. If this were such a crucial exhortation to Gentiles, it is amazing indeed that the apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, did not think it important enough to put in their letter!
It is most telling that in all the epistles to congregations there is not a single word commanding Gentiles to adopt the whole Torah, and no direct statement of hope that they will eventually adopt a fully Torah- keeping life in the same way as the Jews. There is no word of such an exhortation or even mild encouragement throughout the whole book of Acts, which is written in part to show the relationship of Jewish-Gentile fellowship!
Even were we to say that Gentiles are free to embrace Torah, the calendar of Israel, and more, there is no word that there is any covenant responsibility for Gentiles to do so. Acts 21 reinforces this impression. Here James tells Paul of the rumor that he teaches Jews who embrace Yeshua to forsake Torah. This of course is not true. So, Paul demonstrates this to be a false rumor by his Temple involvement. James reminds Paul that Gentiles were freed from responsibility for the full weight of Torah. Neither Paul nor James gives the slightest hint that they were encouraging full Torah observance among Gentiles. Paul could have said, “Not only do I not teach Jews to forsake Moses, but I even encourage Gentiles to embrace more and more of the Torah as they come to understand and appreciate it.” This is the emphasis of the One Law teachers, but there is not one word in the New Testament that explicitly encourages Gentiles to grow in keeping the whole Torah.
Galatians 5 is a watershed passage. Here Paul in the strongest terms exhorts Gentiles not to receive circumcision. Some One Law teachers want to allow a legitimate option of circumcision, so they add the proviso that it should not be done for the wrong reasons. Yet, this is not in the text. The New Covenant offers the fullness of God’s blessing upon Gentiles without the necessity of circumcision. This was not the case in the Mosaic order.
ibid, pg 5
I think when added to the body of work produced by Lancaster, we find ample support for the Juster/Resnik position. I mentioned on Leman’s blog that I hope, given the age of the paper, the authors would be willing at some point to update and expand the document to reflect changes that have occurred in the movement and in research over the past eight years.
But given my numerous blog posts of this week, lest you think I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, I also said this on Leman’s blog:
My blog post tomorrow is my tying up all the loose ends of my “rant” for this week regarding these sorts of debates. One of the problems I have with some of our discussions is they tend to overlook the fact that, even though we disagree, we *all* still are part of the body of Messiah. I believe it is important to point out error and to support a more correct interpretation of the Bible, but how do we balance that against the need to bring organization and some manner of unity to *all* of the members of the body of Yeshua, Jewish and Gentile alike?
Rob Roy, a One Law supporter, said on the same blog post:
Probably a sign that folks are growing tired of this debate.
I’m getting tired of it, too. But my question to Derek stands. In spite of the radical differences in perspective, theology, and theory between Messianic Judaism and certain expressions of Hebrew Roots, we are all disciples of the same Master and members of the body of Messiah. If the internal organs of a person’s body fought each other as much as we do, the person would die. What’s going to happen to the body of Messiah because of us and because of the much wider “battle” of body parts we find in the various Christianites of the modern era?
My appeal to “come together” will be published in tomorrow’s morning meditation. In the meantime, we still have to talk and we’ll still disagree. May God have mercy on our limitations and particularly on our foolishness in presuming we know more than our Master.
Now can we all go out for a beer or two and loosen up or are we going to just fragment the body some more?