Ezekiel and Paul on Messiah and Torah

destruction_of_the_templeFor they have committed adultery and there is blood on their hands and they have committed adultery with their idols; and even their children, whom they had borne for Me, they passed before them to be consumed. Moreover, they have done this to Me: They defiled My Sanctuary on that day, and they desecrated my Sabbaths, when they slaughtered their children for their idols they would come to My Sanctuary on that very day to defile it! Behold, they have done this in My Temple!

Ezekiel 23:37-39 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

Sorry. This is a long one. I was dozing in bed this (Sunday) morning when a few thoughts pulled together for me. This “mediation” is the result.

It seems that, according to the prophet Ezekiel (and many other prophets in the Tanakh), God really, really cared about the Israelites keeping His Sabbaths (the weekly Sabbath and the Moedim or Holy, appointed times), but Paul seems to think they don’t matter. Of course, the traditional Christian resolution is that Ezekiel lived on one side of the cross and Paul on the other. Jesus changed everything.

But did he?

I won’t be seeing my Pastor again for one of our conversations for another week or so, but in our review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, and specifically the chapter covering Galatians 2:15-16, Pastor asked me to read all of Galatians 2 as well as Romans 3 and 4, and Colossians 2 to prepare for our next discussion.

I can see where he’s leading.

Not too long ago, I reviewed an episode of the First Fruits of Zion TV show called The Torah is Not Canceled. The episode is based on a particular interpretation of the following words of the Master:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

crossYou can click the links I provided to get the deeper analysis from my review or by watching the episode, but the basic idea is that Jesus is saying he did not come to neglect the Torah or to teach others to neglect it, but rather to teach it correctly and to obey Torah himself. Of course, this too is on the “wrong side of the cross,” so my Pastor could just say that after his death and resurrection, Jesus changed his teachings. But that would be really confusing for him to teach one way before his death and then completely change things after the resurrection. Christian doctrine demands that he did so, but it defies not only logic, but the overall narrative of the Bible as God’s message to the Jewish people and the rest of the world.

In Ezekiel and many other places in the Old Testament, we see God caring very much about whether or not the ancient Israelites obeyed His commandments. There were dire consequences for them neglecting the mitzvot including exile and death.

Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord had commanded. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.

1 Kings 11:9-11 (NASB)

But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes and they rejected My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them. But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, before whose sight I had brought them out. Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands, because they rejected My ordinances, and as for My statutes, they did not walk in them; they even profaned My sabbaths, for their heart continually went after their idols.

Ezekiel 20:13-16 (NASB)

God expects obedience to His commands by Israel’s Kings, Prophets, and the nation as a whole. Disobedience carries dire consequences.

Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to fulfill. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod or one thorn will pass away from the Torah until all has been established.

Matthew 5:17-18 (DHE Gospels)

messiah-prayerJesus tells his disciples and his critics that he has not come to disobey the mitzvot or to teach others to do so but rather, to teach others to obey the mitzvot and to obey them himself. Further, he says that heaven and earth will pass away before even the tiniest detail of the Torah passes away. Since heaven and earth continue to exist, long after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, logically, I have to conclude that the Torah still applies to the Jewish people as it did the day Jesus uttered those words.

But then, what do I do with the following?

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Galatians 2:21 (NASB)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

Romans 3:21-30 (NASB)

Of course, Paul immediately says in the next verse, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

From my point of view, Paul isn’t “undoing” the Torah (Law) but rather, he’s saying (and this is how I read his entire message to the churches in Galatia) that Torah obedience doesn’t justify anyone before God.

However…

…that doesn’t mean God disdains the Law that He Himself created or that Jesus unplugged Jewish obedience to God from God’s overall plan. Jesus said that the Torah wouldn’t pass away, not even in the smallest detail, until heaven and earth passed away.

So the “anti-Torah” portions of Paul’s letters either mean Paul was hopelessly conflicted about the Torah or that Christian tradition has erroneously interpreted Paul for a very long time now.

As you probably guessed, I read Ezekiel quite recently and I “discovered” some startling things about the future; about the Messianic Age that is yet to come:

And He said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord God, ‘These are the statutes for the altar on the day it is built, to offer burnt offerings on it and to sprinkle blood on it. You shall give to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who draw near to Me to minister to Me,’ declares the Lord God, ‘a young bull for a sin offering. You shall take some of its blood and put it on its four horns and on the four corners of the ledge and on the border round about; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it. You shall also take the bull for the sin offering, and it shall be burned in the appointed place of the house, outside the sanctuary.

Ezekiel 43:18-21 (NASB)

temple-of-messiahHere we see the future Temple, the one that will exist in the Messianic Era. God is describing the sacrifices that will be offered by the Levitical priests in the future Temple, just as those sacrifices were offered in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert and in Solomon’s Temple. In Ezekiel 44:15-31, God is describing the ordinances that apply to the Levitical priests, which mirror those originally given in the Torah.

And then we have this:

‘Thus says the Lord God, “The gate of the inner court facing east shall be shut the six working days; but it shall be opened on the sabbath day and opened on the day of the new moon. The prince shall enter by way of the porch of the gate from outside and stand by the post of the gate. Then the priests shall provide his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate and then go out; but the gate shall not be shut until the evening. The people of the land shall also worship at the doorway of that gate before the Lord on the sabbaths and on the new moons. The burnt offering which the prince shall offer to the Lord on the sabbath day shall be six lambs without blemish and a ram without blemish; and the grain offering shall be an ephah with the ram, and the grain offering with the lambs as much as he is able to give, and a hin of oil with an ephah. On the day of the new moon he shall offer a young bull without blemish, also six lambs and a ram, which shall be without blemish. And he shall provide a grain offering, an ephah with the bull and an ephah with the ram, and with the lambs as much as he is able, and a hin of oil with an ephah. When the prince enters, he shall go in by way of the porch of the gate and go out by the same way. But when the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by way of the north gate to worship shall go out by way of the south gate. And he who enters by way of the south gate shall go out by way of the north gate. No one shall return by way of the gate by which he entered but shall go straight out. When they go in, the prince shall go in among them; and when they go out, he shall go out.”

Ezekiel 46:1-10 (NASB)

The Prince, that is, Messiah, will offer the traditional sacrifices in the Temple, and he shall, along with all Israel, observe the New Moons and Sabbaths in accordance with the commands of God in the Torah. This is all supposed to happen in the future Messianic Age, on the “right side of the cross,” and apparently in direct contradiction to what Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16-17.

So we have a few options to consider. If the traditional Christian interpretation of Paul is right, then in spite of all of the evidence in the Old Testament to the contrary, and especially Ezekiel, Jesus “undid” the Torah of Moses for the Jewish people. But that doesn’t make sense. Not only would Paul have to contradict the Old Testament prophets, but he’d have to contradict Jesus and even himself. The scriptures between the Old Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and the different letters of Paul don’t match up.

If that option doesn’t work, where can we turn?

The only other direction to move in (unless we want to dismantle Christianity) seems to be the fact that the traditions Christianity have been using to understand the New Testament and probably the whole Bible need a bit of reworking. You can’t ignore one part of the Bible in favor of the other. If Paul seems to contradict the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself, then either Paul is wrong and our New Testament is hopelessly flawed (in which case, we have to dismantle Christianity), or we’re seriously reading things in the wrong way. We don’t understand Paul and we are forcing an interpretation on him that doesn’t fit and that Paul himself would never recognize.

Apostle-PaulWe know from Ezekiel that the Messiah and all Israel will once again offer sacrifices at the Temple, that all of the Sabbaths and New Moons will be observed, that the Levitical priesthood will be restored, and that the Torah mitzvot will be performed correctly by the Jewish people. From Matthew, we know that not one tiny detail of the Torah will pass away until heaven and earth pass away. And from Paul we learn that no matter how important obeying God is by observing the Torah mitzvot, behavioral obedience doesn’t justify anyone, Jew or Gentile, before God. Only faith justifies through God’s grace.

But we still have one little problem. If the Torah is still fully in effect for the Jewish people, what about Jewish disobedience? We have a long record in the Tanakh of the ghastly consequences for such disobedience. While the nation of Israel exists again today, it is still a largely secular nation. Also, many, many Jewish people still choose to live in the diaspora (exile) rather than making Aliyah to Israel and living in the Land, which is also a commandment. Many, many Jews in Israel and all over the world do not observe all or even some of the mitzvot.

What is God’s response to all of this?

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Acts 15:10-11 (NASB)

We see a couple of interesting things here. First of all, Peter calls the Torah “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” If that’s true, then why do we see so many complementary references to the Torah in both the Old and New Testaments? The answer, I believe, is the long history of Israelite disobedience to the mitzvot which resulted in God’s terrible wrath upon Israel. Faith and obedience to God in the Torah is wonderful, but the consequences of faithlessness and disobedience are disastrous, a yoke that Israel has not been able to bear.

But Peter also said something else. It wasn’t the words he used but the order of them. He said that “But we believe that we (Jews) are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they (Gentiles) also are.” As a Jewish person and an apostle, you’d have expected Peter to say that the Gentiles are saved in just the same way as we Jews are. That’s how it was expressed on previous occasions including Acts 10:45.

I think this might be the answer:

For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:10-14 (NASB)

clinging_to_torahI believe Paul is saying a couple of things here. First, he is continuing with his central theme in this letter that no one is justified by obedience to Torah in and of itself. If anyone depends on their Torah obedience to justify them before God, then they will be judged by God based on their obedience alone. Since we have a long history of Israel disobeying Torah or not obeying it completely, any disobedience carries with it the curses God proscribed for disobedience, namely things like famine, exile, war, and death.

There is evidence that some first century Jewish people, including some Jewish believers, thought that they could only be justified before God by obedience to the mitzvot (Acts 15:1-2 for example). I think the “light bulb” went off over Peter’s head as he was speaking in front of the Council in Acts 15. I think he understood the Gentiles were saved by faith but it suddenly dawned on him that the same “mechanism” that saves Gentiles also saves Jews…faith, not observance of the mitzvot alone and not being ethnically Jewish.

So what did Jesus “nail to the cross?” Not the Torah. We have too much evidence that says the “curse of the Law” isn’t the Law itself. I believe what he “nailed to the cross” were the curses for Jewish disobedience of Torah. The “yoke” that Israel has never been able to bear. This is the freedom the Jewish people experience in Messiah. And through Messiah, the blessing of Abraham has come to the people of the nations so we too can receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

I found a rather helpful individual comment on the blogosphere that I think helps illuminate this point:

I would like to add to this that Yeshua removed the curse of the Torah not by making this curse in itself invalid or inapplicable, but by introducing an atonement which exceeds the means of atonement provided by the legal system of the Torah. For in and through his sacrifice we can be justified from all things, from which we couldn’t be justified by the Torah of Moses (cf. Acts 13:39). In becoming a curse for us by being hanged on a tree, Messiah provided a means of atonement which results in eternal and definite forgiveness for those who truly repent, and in this manner he redeemed us from the curse of the Torah (Gal. 3:13).

More: Derek Leman has recently written a blog post on a related topic called Physical and Spiritual Election.

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31 thoughts on “Ezekiel and Paul on Messiah and Torah”

  1. James, thanks for the plug on the “Physical and Spiritual Election” article. I enjoyed reading your thoughts interpreting the relationship between obedience to commandments on the one hand and justification at the final judgment on the other. I disagree with some of the details of your presentation, but would need to spend a few hours writing an alternative way of putting all this together. A key resource, I think, is N.T. Wright’s Justification which explores the confusing ground of justification. Romans 2:6-13 needs to be a part of our theology too.

  2. James: I think that you have chosen a very bad translation (NASB) of Colossians 2:16-17. First of all, the word “mere” doesn’t exist in the greek text. The translator is implying that a shadow is a “bad” thing… which is not. Also, the words “belongs” and “substance” also are not correct… If you take for example KJV it says “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Notice that the “is” in the phrase “but the body is of Christ” is also inserted by the translator… so it should say “but the body of Christ”, meaning “only the body of Christ”… in other words, only the body of Christ (that is all “real” Christians”) could judge you about all those things… IF you are not keeping them !!!

  3. Good post, James.

    I think the objection that Baptist/dispensational eschatology would have with this is that they believe the Jews are here for the Millennial reign, but they are not, therefore, Ezekiel proves nothing (for them). Reformed Presbyterians/Ammillennialists, on the other hand, dodge this whole line of reasoning by claiming that Ezekiel is to be entirely spiritualized and will not happen literally. Neither group wants to deal with the implications of the whole book. Just my experience…

    On Peter’s ‘yoke’ use… Jesus said, ‘Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me… and you shall find rest unto your souls.’ I think here he is drawing a direct line to Jeremiah 6:16-19… It begins, “Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls….”

    Yeshua is saying His ‘yoke’ is the ‘ancient path, the good way…’ Torah, which Moses said ‘is not too difficult.’

    Could Peter’s use of ‘yoke’ mean/include oral tradition that some of the Pharisees were trying to backdoor? I don’t think he would call the written Torah a yoke and then agree in Acts 15:21 to have the Gentile believers ‘learn Moses every Sabbath in the synagogue.’ JMO.

    I agree with the overall post. We are saved by faith.. all of us. We are saved TO a life of obedience. The Torah stands!

  4. Derek said: I disagree with some of the details of your presentation, but would need to spend a few hours writing an alternative way of putting all this together.

    I’m certainly no theological genius, but then again, the point of my blog isn’t to always be right (and no one ever is) but to learn more.

    I think, is N.T. Wright’s “Justification” which explores the confusing ground of justification.

    Oh, gee. Another book. I just ordered the Didache, too.

    Thanks for that, Alfredo. It’s difficult to know which translation to lean on. The ESV was recommended to me, but my Pastor has problems with it and says that the NT translation tends toward supersessionism. I thought the NASB was a fair mix of the literal and the “understandable” in terms of modern English. Apparently, I have much to learn.

    Pete said: Could Peter’s use of ‘yoke’ mean/include oral tradition that some of the Pharisees were trying to backdoor? I don’t think he would call the written Torah a yoke and then agree in Acts 15:21 to have the Gentile believers ‘learn Moses every Sabbath in the synagogue.’ JMO.

    The problem I have with that line of thinking is that Peter said “a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors (sometimes translated as “fathers”) have been able to bear.” Since the “leaven of the Pharisees” was a fairly recent insertion in terms of the overall history of the Jewish people, I’d have to take a longer view of Peter’s words and say he was talking about the general historical experience of Israel and the Torah going back to the ancient prophets.

    When Israel turned to God in faith and devotion, the yoke was easy and the burden light. Psalms 19 and 119 sing the enormous praises of Torah, so there is much joy in the mitzvot. Nevertheless, the Tanakh records significant time periods when Israel strayed from God and the Torah and the result is that God brought upon them the curses He had promised for disobedience. This would be (IMHO) the yoke they and their fathers could not bear.

    The good news is that, according to Paul in Galatians 3:10-14, Yeshua was the atonement who lived the curses of the Torah, rather than the Torah itself. Putting all this together, perhaps the unbearable yoke isn’t the Torah itself but the curses for disobedience.

    Imagine abruptly telling a large and growing number of Gentile disciples that they had to keep the Torah mitzvot when they came to faith in Messiah. Jewish people are born into the covenant and are raised in Torah obedience (not that anyone is perfect in obedience and certainly the nation of Israel has a history of sometimes being disobedient). Would you deliberately invite curses down on the Gentiles by requiring them to adhere to a set of practices and a lifestyle, particularly in the diaspora, they were completely unfamiliar with? It seemed good to the Jerusalem Council and to the Holy Spirit not to do so.

  5. But that would be really confusing for him to teach one way before his death and then completely change things after the resurrection. Christian doctrine demands that he did so, but it defies not only logic, but the overall narrative of the Bible as God’s message to the Jewish people and the rest of the world.

    Well said, logically, this would make 80% of Yeshua’s teachings irrelevant after His death.

    The problem I have with that line of thinking is that Peter said “a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors (sometimes translated as “fathers”) have been able to bear.” Since the “leaven of the Pharisees” was a fairly recent insertion in terms of the overall history of the Jewish people, I’d have to take a longer view of Peter’s words and say he was talking about the general historical experience of Israel and the Torah going back to the ancient prophets.

    The problem here is that the same language of the fathers in used in Mark 7, where Yeshua’s disciples are accused of breaking the “traditions of the Fathers”. The other issue is that we are specifically told in Deuteronomy 30:11-14, those verses in themselves eliminate any possibility in my opinion, of referring to “the yoke being not being bearable”… as it is described as something not too difficult, which would put these verses in contradiction.

    Imagine abruptly telling a large and growing number of Gentile disciples that they had to keep the Torah mitzvot when they came to faith in Messiah. Jewish people are born into the covenant and are raised in Torah obedience (not that anyone is perfect in obedience and certainly the nation of Israel has a history of sometimes being disobedient). Would you deliberately invite curses down on the Gentiles by requiring them to adhere to a set of practices and a lifestyle, particularly in the diaspora, they were completely unfamiliar with? It seemed good to the Jerusalem Council and to the Holy Spirit not to do so.

    Abruptly would be terrible, many imagine this is why an essential list was given, some even believe that the essential list is based on the Torah, which means they were put on an essential Torah list, others believe it was based on halachah, and now as you say, they have invited curses upon themselves. We have to understand, there had to be a different approach to the Gentiles who were now becoming part of the ‘covenant community’ without any formal training, as they would have received in a Proselyte conversion scenario. In Judaism no gentile would have immediately taken upon the Torah and no gentile would have been accepted into a covenant community, without first agreeing to the conversion scenario and thus completing it, and they would have been given at least 1 year to 2 years and even potentially longer in Torah and community education, before being responsible to the whole package, so why would it be any different in this case… Yet in this case it is different, gentiles were being brought into the covenant community, minus any Proselyte rituals and minus any prerequisites other than repentance and faith, something Judaism would have never allowed, and these gentiles did not have a 1 to 2 year preparation, to simply require former pagans of a lifestyle they are uneducated on, as to immediately change, would be wrong, but to say they do not need to change their lifestyle, would also be wrong, they needed an introductory or essential list to get started, and this list is a halachic standard set by the Apostles.

  6. James,

    You already posted it, but Romans 3:31 is solid, I would also recommend Romans 9:31-32:

    but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.

    Law and Faith are not opposites, they work hand in hand, Paul is saying, that if Israel had pursued the Law by Faith, they would have arrived. Just as he establishes in Romans 3:31.

  7. On Colossians 2, I think the key to the chapter sits in verses 4, 8, 18-23, these verses conclude with doctrines, decrees, or traditions of men… The Colossians were majority gentile, and they were keeping the feast days of the Torah, the Sabbath, the New Moons, etc. While some men came along judging them and trying to persuade them to do otherwise with false doctrines, simply, traditions of men.

  8. Excellent discussion. Good point, James. The key is pursuit by faith! Zion backs that up. Thanks!

    Thinking out loud…

    Is it possible that Gentiles enter by faith that should lead them to obedience, while Jews enter with obedience that should lead them to faith?

    At the end, both should arrive at the ‘one new man:’ Faith AND obedience.

    Thoughts?

  9. Zion, Acts 15:1 sets the stage and defines the context:

    “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

    Since circumcision was actually established with Abraham and not with Moses, I must believe these critics of Paul and Barnabas must have been saying that unless the Gentiles become circumcised (conversion to Judaism, taking on the key physical attribute of covenant) according to the custom of Moses (we associate Moses with the Torah, so there is apparently more than just a ritual circumcision involved), they cannot be saved (be justified before God).

    Paul and Barnabas disagree strongly, but Luke doesn’t record the discussion, so we don’t know the arguments and counterarguments being presented. They must come to some sort of stalemate, because it’s decided that they should take their argument to the Council of apostles and elders in Jerusalem for a final, legal decision.

    Remember, the question is whether or not the Gentiles must convert to Judaism and take on board everything that goes along with that in order to be justified before God.

    This isn’t an unreasonable expectation of the “men who came down from Judea,” since it was a common practice in the other streams of Judaism. If you weren’t a convert or on the fast track to conversion, you were a Gentile “God-fearer”, but God-fearers had no status before God (except perhaps as a Noahide, but this can be argued).

    What sort of status must a Gentile have in order to be reconciled before God and yet not have to convert to Judaism. Acts 10 and probably other experiences with the Gentiles had convinced Peter and probably Paul that Gentiles could receive the Spirit without circumcision and conversion to Judaism. The question is, if they weren’t converts, what legal status did they hold?

    I really don’t what to have to write all this out again, since I have already composed a six-part series on the subject. The question is, must Gentiles convert to Judaism or do they have another status that can be established?

    Amos 9:11-12 is used as legal justification since it establishes that in the Messianic Kingdom, there will be Israel and there will be the people of the nations called by His Name. This establishes that both Jewish Israel and Gentiles attached to God must exist in order to fulfill prophesy. God doesn’t expect the whole world to convert to Judaism to be part of “the plan.”

    I’ll stand by my argument that the Torah isn’t expected by God to be too difficult for the Jewish people to observe, but nevertheless, they disobeyed it. If the “ease” of Torah was a given, the I don’t think God would have had to deliver his warning in Deuteronomy 30:11-14. God expected that Israel would oppose observance of Torah (and who should know better than God) and history and the Tanakh establish without question that Israel did abandon observance of Torah on numerous occasions, chasing after other “gods”.

    At best, Torah is not too difficult to observe (at least in the original sense…the modern day version of observance in Orthodox Judaism makes my head spin sometimes), but human nature finds many excuses. Besides Yeshua, I doubt you will find any human being who ever perfectly observed the mitzvot, which is why a system of atonement had to be set in place. It wasn’t perfectly easy, otherwise atonement wouldn’t have been necessary. I think my interpretation of Peter’s words is credible and even likely. I think he was talking about Torah, and that the traditions of the Pharisees and scribes is injected in order to “excuse” the idea that the Torah might be perceived as a burden. After all, point to one person in Hebrew Roots today who is flawless in their observance, without compromise (excusing driving and cooking on Shabbos).

    So I still don’t believe that the Gentile males ever were required to be circumcised for any reason, and I don’t think they were ever expected to completely emulate their Jewish mentors in Torah observance…otherwise, they might as well convert to Judaism as their behavior would be no different.

    I completely agree that both Jews and Gentiles were to enter into the body of Messiah by faith and faith alone. I completely agree that faith and Torah are not mutually exclusive concepts and in fact, for a Jewish person, both are requirement, with faith needing to come first, and then out of faith, obedience.

    Where we part company is what obedience looks like for Jewish and Gentiles members of Messiah’s body. Must they be identical for both? Acts 15 can be read as defining distinctions between the two populations. Acts 21:20-25 also distinguishes between Jewish believers who all were zealous for Torah and the Gentile believers who were given “our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” Since we have to assume that some time had passed between Acts 15 and Acts 21, if the Gentiles were supposed to move into full Torah observance, then I’d have expected the response of James and the elders to have been different, reflecting a growing Gentile “zealousness for Torah.”

    On the other hand, I don’t want to be accused of allowing “lawlessness” among the Gentile believers. I have said that I believe a significant amount of Torah ultimately does apply to Gentile believers, but without those portions that specifically identify a person as a Jew. Why stress the Gentile “right” to wear tzitzit and lay tefillin when there is so much more of Torah that is expected of us, such as feeding the poor and comforting the grieving? There’s just tons and tons of “Torah” that we have at our fingertips, and this is the Torah that we find large numbers of Christians in the Church already observing (they just don’t call it “Torah”).

    I mentioned previously that I plan to compare Acts 15 and the Didache to see if there’s any possibility that the Didache records more detail about early Gentile behavioral expectations as members of “the Way.” I have no idea is this is a viable theory, but I plan to find out.

  10. ” Why stress the Gentile “right” to wear tzitzit and lay tefillin when there is so much more of Torah that is expected of us, such as feeding the poor and comforting the grieving? There’s just tons and tons of “Torah” that we have at our fingertips, and this is the Torah that we find large numbers of Christians in the Church already observing (they just don’t call it “Torah”).”

    It seems here that you are departing from the BE crowed in that you do not say anymore that Tzitzit and Tefilin Are “Jewish” things…Way to go, James…..

  11. Remember, the question is whether or not the Gentiles must convert to Judaism and take on board everything that goes along with that in order to be justified before God.

    Actually, covenant inclusion would be the argument, as it was believed that if one were a Jew, they were guaranteed a place in the world to come…(Salvation), it turns out that for both Jew and Gentile, it is by faith. But we also have to consider why was it important to ever level this issue, gentiles were coming into the covenant community, and Judaism would never allow this without first going through proselyte conversion, however gentiles were accepted into the covenant community despite proselyte conversion and this was proven in their receiving a New Covenant promise, that being the Holy Spirit.

    Amos 9:11-12 is used as legal justification since it establishes that in the Messianic Kingdom, there will be Israel and there will be the people of the nations called by His Name.

    This is not a legal justification as this is already true, there has always been a distinction between the nations and Israel. Gentiles were being brought into covenant relationship, and on what basis was the Jewish community going to accept them without Proselyte conversion. Paul expounds on this in Ephesians, elevating the place of gentiles in the Messiah, as having a status unlike ever before.

    I think he was talking about Torah, and that the traditions of the Pharisees and scribes is injected in order to “excuse” the idea that the Torah might be perceived as a burden.

    There is no excuse, scripture clearly states such, Matthew 23:4, They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

    Also, the fact that Yeshua draws a difference between the “traditions of the fathers”(halachah) and the commandments of God, shows in itself, they cannot be taken hand in hand.

    So it is easy to see Peter potentially speaking on what Yeshua already declared is extra burdensome, beyond the Torah(the scriptures).

    if the Gentiles were supposed to move into full Torah observance, then I’d have expected the response of James and the elders to have been different, reflecting a growing Gentile “zealousness for Torah.”

    The fact that we see gentiles keeping the Torah and being instructed in many of Paul’s writings from the Torah, shows it was happening naturally, so, no need. Take Colossians, as I pointed out above, the Colossians were majority gentiles, they were keeping the Feast, the Sabbath, the New Moon, etc, they were practicing well beyond the 4 essentials, and there are more examples… Ultimately if gentiles are also to be imitators of the Messiah, and if there is to be any tangible reality to a gentiles life towards God, it will resemble the Messiah, an observant Jew.

    I have said that I believe a significant amount of Torah ultimately does apply to Gentile believers, but without those portions that specifically identify a person as a Jew.

    But now you are saying two different things, earlier you said gentiles were only required to keep the 4 essentials and were not held to the Law of Moses, and that James and the Apostles did not reverse that ruling, but now you are saying that gentiles are required to keep a significant amount of the Torah… So which is it? You got my head spinning.

    Why stress the Gentile “right” to wear tzitzit and lay tefillin when there is so much more of Torah that is expected of us, such as feeding the poor and comforting the grieving? There’s just tons and tons of “Torah” that we have at our fingertips, and this is the Torah that we find large numbers of Christians in the Church already observing (they just don’t call it “Torah”).

    Agreed, well said, by why deny any Torah or only teach limited, the Torah is considered a whole unit. Teach it all, as it is the word of God!

    Anyways, I know we will have to agree to disagree, because we simply do not hold the same perspective, but it is good for us all to voice our opinions and to see the various view points.

  12. Actually, what I’m saying Dan is that Hebrew Roots seems to stress “obedience to God” and “Torah observance” by those things that are obviously considered Jewish. I’m suggesting that if Gentiles desire to actually observe mitzvot, they should consider the weightier matters of Torah. I’ve already mentioned examples. I also said above that it is not incumbent upon Gentiles (and I’ve said this many times before) to focus on those mitzvot that particularly identify a person as Jewish.

    Just a reminder folks, this blog post along with my other recent writings, are focused not on this sort of debate, but rather addressing the difference between a Christian and Jewish viewpoint of Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom. Zion chose to steer the conversation into a different (though arguably related) direction, and I’ve tried to be a polite host, but I’ve strenuously been avoiding these OL vs MJ conversation because there’s no value added to these dialogues. It might be better to focus on what we have in common, that is, the effort to demonstrate a Jewish Messiah to Christianity. As Paul wrote:

    So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

    2 Timothy 2:22-26

    I know neither one of us could be accused of being “youthful” anymore Dan, but at heart, you’ll always be a feisty 16 year old. 😉

  13. Zion said: There is no excuse…

    I mean the “excuse” (and I used the quotes deliberately) that modern Hebrew Roots folks use to explain Peter’s statement. It must mean the extra-Biblical halachah, because otherwise, it would mean the actual Torah, not that there’s an excuse for Jewish disobedience to God’s Torah.

    So it is easy to see Peter potentially speaking on what Yeshua already declared is extra burdensome, beyond the Torah(the scriptures).

    Perhaps, but I don’t buy it. In this case, I’ll take the plain meaning of Peter’s words and my own interpretation. From a purely human perspective, I can accept that Torah is experienced, depending on circumstance, as exquisite holiness and an unbearable burden.

    I don’t dispute that the believing Gentiles probably looked more “Jewish” since they interacted closely with the Jewish community, but there’s a difference between what is allowed and what is expected in relation to the Acts 15 ruling.

    But now you are saying two different things, earlier you said gentiles were only required to keep the 4 essentials..

    Now you’re trying to draw me into an argument, Zion. Sorry. I decline.

    First of all, the four essentials are deceptively simple. There’s really a lot going on under the surface. I wrote about that before. Also, if you got around to reading (I know it’s long) the Return to Jerusalem series, you’d probably find my response to most of your questions. I’ve been patient with your line of inquiry, but I don’t feel like I should have to endlessly repeat what I’ve already written about.

    Anyways, I know we will have to agree to disagree, because we simply do not hold the same perspective.

    That, we can agree upon, Zion.

  14. “Actually, what I’m saying Dan is that Hebrew Roots seems to stress “obedience to God” and “Torah observance” by those things that are obviously considered Jewish. ”

    James, here I was prepared to agree to disagree, and you come up with this…. I can not let you get away with that…Are you implying that HR do not keep the weightier matters of the law? How did you get there?

  15. I know neither one of us could be accused of being “youthful” anymore Dan, but at heart, you’ll always be a feisty 16 year old. 😉

    LOL…

  16. James, here I was prepared to agree to disagree, and you come up with this…. I can not let you get away with that…Are you implying that HR do not keep the weightier matters of the law? How did you get there?

    No, not at all. But I only get a slanted view in the blogosphere, Dan. Most believers, including people in Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots, and traditional Christianity actually do keep the weightier matters of Torah. We just never talk to each other about it. If we did, we’d find we have a lot more in common than it would seem.

  17. James, I just don’t get one thing. The seven Noahide Laws are not equivalent to Acts 15 ruling.

    Noahide Laws “NL” (as known today, according to the link you kindly provided in your post entitled “The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses Revisited”)
    1.Idolatry is forbidden.
    2.Incestuous and adulterous relations are forbidden.
    3.Murder is forbidden.
    4.Cursing the name of G-d is forbidden.
    5.Theft is forbidden.
    6.Eating the flesh of a living animal is forbidden.
    7.Mankind is commanded to establish courts of justice and a just social order to enforce the first six laws and enact any other useful laws or customs.

    Acts 15 “A15”
    1.Things Contaminated by Idols
    2.Sexual Immorality
    3.Things Strangled
    4.Blood

    Comparison
    “NL” 1 = “A15” 1
    “NL” 2 = “A15” 2
    “NL” 3 = TORAH EXODUS 20
    “NL” 4 = TORAH EXODUS 20
    “NL” 5 = TORAH EXODUS 20
    “NL” 6 = “A15” 4
    “NL” 7 = SANHEDRIN ?
    KASHRUT-KOSHER = “A15” 3

  18. C’mon Zion… I’m only trying to make sense on Scriptures. You see, I’m very new in this field of getting back in the correct context of what I read in the Bible. Before, when I read Acts 15 ruling, I didn’t pay attention to “Things Strangled”… It is until now, knowing a little bit of Kosher food (which is one of the very Jewish things being mentioned), is that I can fully understand that little part of Acts 15:20 So all of a sudden, gentiles are required to follow a very specific Jewish thing… Why? Was it only the beginning of other Jewish things to come later on? Or is it only this one? And if it was only this one, why? What is so important about this specific Kashrut / Kosher rule over the rest of those rules?

  19. Alfredo, I was only joking, pulling James’s leg… 😀

    Anyways, I know you did not ask me, so I will leave it at that.

  20. Alfredo,

    If you are asking me, the 4 essentials are specific to gentile table fellowship among the Jewish community, and those 4 essentials speak specifically to ridding these new gentile converts from pagan practices, nothing more and nothing less. It was simply a starting place, gentiles would learn the Torah over time in the Synagogues.

  21. Alfredo, the 4 essentials of Acts 15 don’t map to the Noahide laws nor are they intended to. It’s questionable as to whether or not anything like the Noahide laws were recognized in the various first century Judaisms. They wouldn’t be codified until centuries later, however there could have been a less formal understanding of them based on Genesis 9.

    If you’ll go up to my comment in this discussion marked October 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm, you’ll see two links. One is to my review (or revisiting my review) of an article Toby Janicki of FFOZ wrote on the topic of the Acts 15 letter. The other starts at part 1 of a 6-part series I wrote on Acts 15 based on portions of D. Thomas Lancaster’s work in Torah Club Vol 6.

    I think both Toby and Daniel mention that the Noahide laws are not in any way related to the Acts 15 letter. You’ll get a lot more detailed information by reading the material those links lead to (yes, it’s a lot of reading) than I could cram into the comment. Hopefully, it’ll go a long way to answering your questions.

  22. Zion Wait !!! You say “the 4 essentials are specific to gentile table fellowship among the Jewish community” This means that these were the things that allowed for gentiles to sit with Peter at the table and eat with him… (Gal 2:12) But, what if some of those gentiles brought shrimp for dinner? Shrimp is not mentioned at all at Acts 15, only “Things Strangled”… so no problem for the Jewish followers of Yeshua with having gentiles followers of Yeshua eat shrimp at their table? How about today? Do today’s Jewish followers of Yeshua in the US have dinner with gentiles followers of Yeshua that eat shrimp at their table? I ask these questions because in El Salvador, where I live, the Jewish community is very small, never mind finding a Messianic Jewish around here…

  23. If you’ll look at the food items and how they are killed, you’ll see the possibility that these were foods sacrificed to idols, so the prohibition was less about kosher and more about avoiding pagan temples and pagan practices. A Gentile who was accustomed to polytheism must be made to realize that the God of Israel is not just one “god” among many, but *the* God, for whom all other “gods” are forsaken.

    As I mentioned before, the 4 essentials are deceptively simple. They can be unpackaged into many more commands. Also, in a limited way, I agree with Zion that the Gentile disciples were expected to learn more than just these rules. We can’t be incredibly literal here. The letter was delivered with verbal instructions which are lost to us. The people delivering the letter modified the text with verbal explanation in a way that would have made it more comprehensible. Luke’s Acts is a summary that covers forty years. He didn’t write down everything that happened during that time frame, nor everything that was said.

    Certainly, the God-fearers who were accustomed to the ways of the synagogue also knew about kosher foods and table fellowship and other aspects of Jewish worship. A careful reading of Acts 10 reveals that Cornelius was aware of the fixed times of prayer and practiced them, at least the afternoon prayers. Those Gentiles who did not have such a history would have to be instructed by Jewish mentors and teachers, or perhaps experienced Gentiles. It would take a long time, and we aren’t sure of the specifics of such instructions except where they implied in scripture. That’s why I want to investigate the Didache, a very early instructional primer in Christianity, to see if it may contain hints, clues, or the actual instructions for Gentile disciples of the way in the late first or early second centuries (it’s a big “if” but it holds promise).

  24. James, just a couple simple things. Yeshua, following his resurrection, instructed his talmidim to teach everything he had commanded them, and last time I looked, he didn’t change the curriculum and command them to pray the, “Four Spiritual Laws.” I don’t know Greek, but have been told by some who do that the translation, “shadow,” would be better expressed as, “representation,” or, “image.” PS: What do you think about replacing the term, “Old Testament,” with a term like, “Hebrew Canon,” because we know where that name comes from and what it represents?

  25. While some belittle or deny the comparison between the Noahide principles and the four listed in Acts 15, you’ve successfully correlated those four and merely lack explanation for why the other three (NL3, NL4, & NL5) were not included. I do not agree that they had not yet been codified. However, these three already existed in some form in the laws of the “civilized” Greek and Roman systems (though forbidding the cursing of gods was not constrained to HaShem but was rather a more general prohibition aimed at keeping the peace and preventing riots by one or another group of devotees). Hence there was no need to reiterate them and the focus in Acts 15 was to emphasize the specific additional principles that would combat idolatry.

    One other consideration that tends to get lost from the Acts 15 discussion is that these principles were the minimal set that would be deemed legally binding on the non-Jewish segment of the ecclesia, whereas the whole Torah was deemed legally binding upon Jews. For non-Jews the rest of Torah was not binding but was rather to be a source from which to learn. Of course, the three NLs that were already incorporated in the common law of the period were already still binding as such. And James has previously cited the FFOZ presentation that expands the four Acts 15 prohibitions by correlating them with numerous other elements in Torah.

  26. You are correct, Chaya, about the Greek word often translated as “shadow” that would be better translated as “image”, “picture”, “representation”. But while suggesting an alternative term in place of “Old Testament”, why not simply use the transliterated word that represents the existing Hebrew acronym: “Tenakh”? .

  27. As far as using “Old Testament” vs “Hebrew Canon” or “Tanakh,” I try to use “Old Testament” and “Tanakh” interchangeably. The reason is I’m writing for more than just a “Messianic” audience. Christians surfing in are more likely to be familiar with “New Testament” and “Old Testament,” so I’m trying to use naming that that they can relate to. In my personal thoughts, I usually refer to those sections of our Bible as “Tanakh” and “Apostolic Scriptures.”

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