When this group of Gentiles believed in Jesus, they immediately received the Holy Spirit in so evident a way that Peter could only conclude that God had extended salvation to them as Gentiles, not requiring that they first become Jews. He therefore baptised them, admitting them to the messianic people of God without expecting them to be circumcised or to observe any more of the Torah than they already did (as God-fearers who worshiped the God of Israel and lived by the moral principles of the Torah).
“Chapter 16: James and the Jerusalem Council Decision” (pg 178)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations
This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post. If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1 before proceeding here.
Bauckham seems to be making a few assumptions about what Peter expected, but they are reasonable assumptions, since we have no record that Cornelius (or any other Gentile disciples of the Master) was ever circumcised or ever assumed a greater obligation or duty to Torah as time progressed, at least as an expection of or obligation to God. Bauckham states that “these Gentiles received the same blessing of eschatological salvation that Peter and other Jewish believers in Jesus had received at Pentecost.” The Jewish and Gentile believers were two bodies within a single ekklesia, sharing the hope of the resurrection and the promise of the life in the world to come as co-heirs of Messiah.
But so far, this is confined to Peter’s observation of Cornelius and his household. What about the other Gentiles? What about James and the Council of Apostles (who Peter had to give an accounting to in Acts 11)?
Peter’s testimony before the council (Acts 15:9) indicated that he understood that God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile, specifically in relation to “cleansing their hearts by faith.” Whatever “impurity” that the Jewish believers saw, even in the Gentile God-fearers, was set aside (which was the point of Peter’s vision in Acts 10) as a result of the Spirit being received even by the Gentiles “through the grace of Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:11). The “distinction” that was eliminated between Jewish Israel and the believing Gentiles was the distinction between the “holy” and the “profane” with the Gentiles also receiving access to holiness through faith in Messiah.
It became possible to envisage the messianic people of God as a community of both Jews and Gentiles, the former observing Torah, the latter not. Of course, neither Peter nor any of the Jerusalem leaders entertained the idea that Jewish believers in Jesus should give up observing Torah. But Torah observance no longer constituted a barrier between Jews and Gentiles, since their fellowship was not based on Torah, but on faith in Jesus the Messiah and experience of the transformative power of the Spirit.
-ibid pg 180
Bauckham doesn’t reference Ephesians 2, but his statement seems to evoke “abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” in this case, by making Torah a “non-issue” between Jewish and Gentile believers, since it is faith in Messiah that binds them, not Torah obedience.
Bauckham’s statement will be difficult to accept for almost anyone in Christianity, both in mainstream Protestantism and the numerous variant worship platforms. However it does line up with content written by FFOZ’s Lancaster and numerous other contributors and cited sources in the Rudolph/Willitts book. In the church, we have gotten so used to the idea that we have permanently altered if not replaced Jews, Judaism, and Jewish Torah observance, that it never occurs to us to ask why Judaism should have had to change in order to accomodate the entry of Gentile disciples. We were (and are) the ones who need to change, since Israel and her King were totally foreign to any one except Israel. Faith in Yeshua HaMashiach is a perfectly expected developmental progression in Israel’s history. The really dramatic event is that the nations, Gentile Christianity, were allowed entry into the Jewish religious branch “the Way.”
In Acts 11:1-8, Peter already convinced the Council that the Gentiles could receive the Spirit as part of God’s plan for the nations, and they praised God for His graciousness to the Gentiles. In Acts 15, Peter reminds the Council of these events, and James, in deliberating the matter, offers Amos 9:11-12 (part of last week’s Haftarah portion) as the proof text supporting what Peter had observed and in support of Paul’s position to admit Gentiles without requiring they be circumcised. In using the words “all the nations over whom my name has been invoked”, according to Bauckham, James is stating that God has declared “ownership” over “all the nations” (Amos 9:12) just as He had declared ownership over Israel as His own people (e.g., Deut 28:10; 2 Chr 7:14; Jer 14:9; Dan 9:19).
It shows that in the messianic age, Gentiles, precisely as Gentiles, will no longer be “profane” but will join the Jews in belonging to God’s holy people…
-ibid, pg 182
Now I suppose you’re going to ask about the four prohibitions James laid upon the Gentiles, otherwise known at the “apostolic decree.”
The reason these four are selected from the commandments of the Torah as alone applicable to Gentile members of the messianic people of God is exegetical. They are specifically designed as obliging “the alien who sojourns in your/their midst” as well as Israelites. Applied to the situation of the messianic people of God, this phrase could be seen as referring to Gentiles included in the community along with Jews. But the point is made more precisely by the use of this same phrase in two of the prophecies about the conversion of the Gentiles in the messianic age: Jeremiah 12:16 (“they shall be built in the midst of my people”) and Zechariah 2:11 (LXX: “they shall dwell in your midst”). In light of these exegetical links, the Torah itself can be seen to make specific provision for these Gentile converts, who are not obligated, like Jews, by the commandments of Torah in general, but obligated by these specific commandments.
-ibid, pg 183
I can certainly see many of the points D. Thomas Lancaster made about Acts 15 in his Torah Club essays (which I recorded in my Return to Jerusalem series) may have had their origin in the research and documentation of Bauckham and other scholars. Boaz Michael, First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ’s) Founder and President, also made similar points in his book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile.
We see in Bauckham’s analysis, that he not only answers the Protestant Christian question about whether the Jews should continue to observe the Torah, but also the Hebrew Roots Christian question about Gentile Torah obligation. I know that neither population of Gentile believers, for the most part, will accept this position, even though it’s based on good biblical research and scholarship, but we must begin to challenge our thinking and our traditions which lead both platforms of Gentile faith in Jesus to misunderstand the plan of God for the Jews and Gentiles within the ekklesia.
Although we know that not all Jewish believers in the days of James, Peter, and Paul could accept Gentile inclusion into Jewish religious worship of Messiah, especially by allowing the Gentiles to remain as Gentiles, the alternative was to deny the words of the Prophet and the plan of God, that not only the Jews but the Gentile nations would be called by His Name, and that the nations would also belong to Him.
“In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David,
And wall up its breaches;
I will also raise up its ruins
And rebuild it as in the days of old;
That they may possess the remnant of Edom
And all the nations who are called by My name,”
Declares the Lord who does this.
–Amos 9:11-12 (NASB)
We can hardly fulfill our role in prophesy if we believe we must convert to Judaism as a requirement of Messianic disicpleship or forcably take on the full Jewish obligation to Torah observance (becoming “pseudo-Jewish”) in direct defiance of the ruling of the Council of Apostles. If we believers from the nations, insist that we too are “Israel,” then all believing humanity is “Israel” and thus, the prophesy of Amos is either a lie or it will remain forever unfulfilled.