What Church Taught Me About Jews and the Torah

paul-editedThen after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.

Galatians 2:1-3 (NASB)

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Acts 16:1-3 (NASB)

I know I’ve written in this before, but during Pastor’s sermon in church this morning (as I write this), I had a small revelation. Pastor was preaching on Acts 16:1-5 and in the course of his preaching, I had plenty of material to take notes on and plenty of points where I know Pastor and I don’t see eye to eye.

But of course, he had to bring up the issue of Paul’s circumcision of Timothy, even though he believes that after the crucifixion of Christ, the Jewish believers were no longer obligated to observe the Torah mitzvot. Fortunately, he contrasted the circumcision of Timothy with the following:

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

Galatians 5:1-6 (NASB)

We are pretty sure Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians before the Acts 15 decision of the Jerusalem Council and thus before the events involving Timothy in Acts 16. But comparing these two statements makes Paul seem like a hypocrite, doesn’t it? If circumcision and non-circumcision mean nothing, why did he circumcise Timothy? Because he gave into Jewish peer pressure and was worried about what Jewish people would say of Timothy when he was accompanying Paul? That doesn’t sound like the no-nonsense, no compromises Paul that I know.

Remember, the question in Acts 15:1-2 was whether or not the Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to enter into the Jewish religious community of “the Way” as co-participants and disciples of Jesus. The Council’s final legal decision (Acts 15:19-22) which was recorded in a letter (Acts 15:23-29) that was later transmitted to the various Gentiles in different communities in the diaspora (Acts 15:30-32, Acts 16:4-5). Gentiles were allowed to enter the Messianic congregation without being circumcised.

It’s been said in some Christian commentaries that Paul also encouraged Jews to give up on circumcising their children. He was even accused (falsely) of this by other Jews (Acts 21:21). In trial after trial, Paul defended himself and said he had done nothing against Jewish or Roman law (Acts 25:8, 28:17). In his sermon today, my Pastor even agreed that it was right for Jewish believers to be circumcised as a requirement of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:9-14). However, he says that the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants aren’t directly connected and while the Abrahamic covenant was meant to be permanent, the Mosaic was always intended to be temporary.

Except he’s got a few problems.

The first is that in the Tanakh (Old Testament), no where do I read that it was God’s intension to “expire” the Torah upon the entrance of Messiah (or at Messiah’s death). In fact, I get the very clear intension that God took the Torah and Torah observance by Jews quite seriously, and meant for Jewish Torah observance to be continual.

Also, there’s what Paul said in Galatians 5:3:

And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.

Paul inexorably links circumcision (he was talking about ritual conversion to Judaism, but I’ll also read into it the circumcision of people born Jewish) to obligation to observe all of the Torah mitzvot.

Paul by RembrantIn another blog post, I attempted to establish a continuing Jewish obligation to observe the mitzvot based on the past commands of God in the Torah and the future Messianic prophesies we read in the Tanakh. Dr. Stuart Dauermann, interestingly enough, posted something quite similar on Facebook (which I can’t find at the moment) making the same argument.

The “weakness” of my argument, if you will, was in not being able to locate support in the Apostolic scriptures, especially something written by Paul, that firmly establishes continued Torah observance for Jews during that time frame and extending into our present era…that is, until now. Ironically, I have my Pastor to thank for making the connection, not that he meant to.

In Galatians 5 and in other portions of that letter, Paul firmly links circumcision to Torah observance, warning the Gentiles (and presumably the Jews) in the churches in Galatia, that being ethnically Jewish or a Jewish convert does not justify you before God. Only faith and grace does that (salvation is not contingent upon being circumcised or not being circumcised). He also says that anyone who is circumcised (because they are a Jewish male or are a Gentile male undergoing conversion) is obligated to observe the entire Torah. So far so good.

Next, in Galatians 2, we see Paul deliberately using the Greek man Titus as an example of a Gentile believer who does not require circumcision (conversion to Judaism and obligatory Torah obedience) in order to be saved and be an equal co-participant in the community of “the Way.”

In Acts 15 and confirmed in Acts 21:25, we see a binding legal decision rendered by the authorities of the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem that the Gentiles do not have to be circumcised (convert) and obey the Law of Moses in order to be justified before God and to be co-equal community members.

And in Acts 16 Paul circumcises Timothy because he has a Jewish mother and, if we believe Paul in Galatians 5, then the act of circumcision (which is a covenant requirement for all Jewish males) must also confirm that Timothy is (and probably always was since he’s considered Jewish) obligated to keep all of the Torah.

We don’t know the reasons he wasn’t circumcised on the eighth day. Timothy’s mother married a Gentile. Perhaps his Greek father forbade it. Perhaps Timothy’s mother was an “assimilated” Jewish person, living in the Diaspora (was this a problem for many Jews living in the Diaspora in those days?), having fallen away from Jewish practices (which seems odd, even to me, because she was such a faithful believer and Jewish faith in Messiah at that point in history was a very Jewish way of life). We probably won’t know the answer to these questions this side of Messiah’s return, but we do know that Paul circumcised Timothy because his mother was Jewish and everyone knew Timothy’s mother was Jewish.

And this isn’t the only example of a Jewish man being circumcised “late in the game,” so to speak.

Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, “You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him alone. At that time she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood”—because of the circumcision.

Exodus 4:24-26 (NASB)

Moses too was living apart from his people. He married Zipporah, a Midianite woman, fathered a son by her, lived among Midianites, was a shepherd in Midian for forty years…

…and in all those years, he never circumcised his son. Even Zipporah knew better, at least in time to prevent a disaster.

So I’ll suggest that we can’t say Timothy not being circumcised on the eighth day was incredibly unusual, especially for Jewish people living away from the Jewish community (and according to some news articles, this is a problem among the Jewish people today).

I know, my Pastor isn’t likely to accept my arguments, but I think they’re good ones. I think they should be taken seriously. I think we can establish from the Biblical record, in Torah, in the Prophets, and in the Apostolic Scriptures, that the Torah was founded by God for the ancient Israelites and for all their descendants:

Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today…

Deuteronomy 29:14-15 (NASB)

Rolling the Torah ScrollVirtually all reliable commentators agree that the ones with whom the covenant was made, yet who were not there at Sinai, were all the future generations of Israel, the Jewish people, projected forward in time.

The Torah speaks of the expectation of Israel to observe the Torah of Moses from the point it was given at Sinai and into the future. The Prophets speak of the future Messianic Age, where Torah will be observed as it was in days of old, and Messiah, the Prince, will offer sacrifices at the Temple. And Paul says that anyone circumcised, which is definitely any convert to Judaism and any Jewish male under the covenant obligation to be circumcised, is also obligated to observe the entire Torah. James and the Council made a legally binding ruling that only the Gentiles in the Jewish movement of Messiah were exempt from circumcision and full Torah obligation.

It really doesn’t get more plain than that. We have witnesses in the ancient past at Sinai, in the day of Paul, and prophetic witnesses that speak to the future, all of them, every single one, telling us that those obligated to be circumcised because of Abraham, the Jewish people, must all perform the Torah mitzvot because of covenant requirements.

All of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have a covenant obligation to be circumcised. The descendants of Jacob stood at Sinai and received the Mosaic covenant obligation. The later covenant adds to the earlier one. Paul understood that one leads to another. The Church must catch up with this understanding.

It’s all in the Bible. All you have to do is look.

24 thoughts on “What Church Taught Me About Jews and the Torah”

  1. Another issue with circumcision among the gentiles, is that because the male body was considered the epitome of perfection in beauty, circumcision was abhorrent. So, one could assume that a gentile circumcised might be rejected by his community in the same way an uncircumcised Jewish man would be.

  2. That’s a good point, Chaya. As I recall, even some Jewish men tried to have their circumcisions “reversed” in order to pass more comfortably in Greek society.

  3. There is an interesting opinion expressed in the Talmud that falls pretty close to what I think Paul’s was:

    Talmud, Yevamoth 46a Our Rabbis taught: ‘If a proselyte was circumcised but had not performed the prescribed ritual ablution, R. Eliezer said, ‘Behold he is a proper proselyte; for so we find that our forefathers were circumcised and had not performed ritual ablution’. If he performed the prescribed ablution but had not been circumcised, R. Joshua said, ‘Behold he is a proper proselyte;

  4. We have to be kind of careful in trying to “retrofit” later Rabbinic writings into Paul’s letters, but we can’t entirely divorce them either, since they represent a long, continually developing stream of Jewish thought across history.

  5. Rabbi Joshua ben Hanania quoted above was very close to the time of Paul. Joshua was a pupil of Yochanan ben Zakkai at the time of the destruction of the Temple. This made him near contemporary with the disciples of Jesus.

  6. Can I ask you guys for a somewhat off-topic recommendation? What book would you recommend for a sincere person who seems clueless as to the dark side of Christianity? I am thinking, “Sword of Constantine,” but that is a bit hard to plow through. Any other suggestions?

  7. Future Israel by Barry Horner is a good book. It’s kind of dry (I read it a year or two ago) but it’s a very good history of the church and how the ‘antidote’ to the church’s anti-Semitic past is to realize its glorious Messianic future. Good call, Ruth.

  8. Greetings, oogenhand. Don’t take this the wrong way but which “part” is Jewish? More to the point, is your mother Jewish or your father?

    The reason I ask is that according to Jewish law, you would be considered Jewish if your mother is Jewish even if your father is not. If your father is Jewish and your mother is not, you are not considered Jewish, generally speaking, although you’d be accepted as a Jew in a Reform synagogue. Halachah says you are either Jewish or not, there is no “part-Jewish.”

    Have you been talking with anyone about this, including getting a bris? It’s not just a matter of being circumcised. In modern Judaism, there is a ceremony that accompanies the procedure, and the operation must be performed by a mohel.

    I apologize if you know all this already, but it’s difficult to tell in a text-only communications venue.

    I will certainly pray for you.

  9. Thank you guys. I think that book might be really good to give to someone reformed, as the author is, and I know there are Zionists in the reform camp just as there are charismatics, but they don’t make up the bulk. This person is very pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, but doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of Christian antisemitism, as well as other dirty laundry in the church closet. Although I don’t know this, I would be willing to wager a guess that seminaries and bible colleges fail to offer even one course about historic Christian antisemitism.

    Since I know James and some of you others enjoy reading, I was stoked to get my new book from Amazon today. “The Beast That Crouches at the Door,” by Rabbi David Fohrman, looks like it is going to be fascinating. I love getting stuff mail order; it is like someone is sending me a present, even if I am paying for it 🙂

  10. Thanks for the book recommendation, Chaya. I’m reading three (or is it four) books right now, with others waiting in the wings, so it might be a bit before I can get to it. Also, I have to watch how big a credit card bill I create. The missus takes a dim view of me spending too much. 😉

    1. There is a flaw, oogenhand, with the simplicity of your syllogism. An MJ that “accepts” Reform Jews themselves as Jews is not the same as saying that it accepts everything their movement approves, hence it may not be so “accepting” of Reform converts as valid Jews, “when push comes to shove” (so to speak). The children of Reform fathers and non-Jewish mothers would not be accepted as Jews by orthodox MJs, though certainly they would be considered for halakhic conversion, probably on a “fast-track” basis. The IDF Rabbinate performed expedited conversions for many Russian “Jews” who were granted admission to Israel and into the IDF but whose genealogy was insufficient for the Interior Ministry to register them as Jews until valid conversion had been applied.

  11. Only Reform, of the 3 major branches, accept those with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother as Jewish. So, the other branches would not accept these persons as Jewish, whether they were Reform or whatever they were.

  12. Chaya, “The Crucified Jew” by Dan Cohn-Sherbok is a book I often turn to as a resource. I would highly suggest “The Holocaust and the Christian World” edited by Carol Rittner, Stephen D. Smith and Irena Steingeldt as well as “A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism” published by Facing History and Ourselves. “Revolutionary Antisemitism in Germany from Kant to Wagner” by Paul Lawrence Rose is more narrow, dealing with the advent of modern antisemitism, but lays out the impact of Martin Luther. This is a bit late, but nevertheless…

  13. The history of Christian Antisemitism is what I believe to be a critical blockage standing in the way of the Jewish people accepting Yeshua as Messiah. How can a Jewish individual trust the opinion of those of a faith perspective that claims it has “replaced” Israel as HaShem’s sole vehicle of redemption and that has, institutionally speaking, persecuted the Jewish people for centuries, then stood by as the Final Solution was carried out in their midst? I see this dark history as an unprecedented opportunity for Christianity to send out unprecedented spiritual light to the Jewish people and the world, should some of us take responsibility for the past as an element of our responsibility to God. To acknowledge and confront the history of Christian antisemitism is an opportunity for the Christian to take individual responsibility for the collective past as a witness of the One – especially to the Jewish people – who came to set men free. It is a matter of restoring trust. I hope your friend accepts the past and moves on to be a great witness of Yeshua to the Jewish people.

  14. Dan, thank you for those recommendations, some that I was not familiar with.

    Since we are not accepted as Jewish, it seems a bit ludicrous for us to turn the tables and claim that there are those we will not accept as Jewish within the Jewish community that doesn’t accept us. MJ is almost completely made up of Jewish men who fail to find Jewish women desirable as wives, yet claim to be so kosher, especially among leadership. So, I assume the children of these families are accepted as Jewish? Then the next generation marries non-Jews and all they can say is, “My grandpa is/was? Jewish.

    1. @chaya — I sympathize with the complaint of Jewish women that all the eligible Jewish men seem to fail to find Jewish women desirable. This complaint is not limited to the MJ community, though in this community there are more non-Jewish women present whose values and godly motivations seem to resemble those that a Jewish wife should represent. Regrettably, in much of American Jewish society, Jewish women have been inculcated with “success-demanding” values and expectations, and they are thus perceived by Jewish men as less available and more difficult to please (even selfish and not at all nurturing or encouraging). Meeting a few such women is enough to discourage Jewish men from further effort, encouraging them to seek “greener pastures” among non-Jewish women. This social dynamic is not encouraging for the American Jewish community’s future, and likewise for the MJ community’s future. That is one reason why the current generation’s efforts toward “tikun” have included emphasis on conversion and broader acceptance of the offspring of mixed families, which presumes that Jewish behavior should be the paramount concern. If this should include a healthy emphasis on traditional Jewish values, including the taboo against further intermarriage, the next generations may fare better.

  15. I recently discovered your blog and am enjoying your articles. This article was very helpful and cleared up a subject I had wondered about lately but just never clicked. Thank you!

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