As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD. There is to be one Torah and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
But does the Torah really make different laws for Jews and Gentiles? According to Numbers 15:15–16, there is to be only one law for both Jews and Gentiles.
This seems simple enough. According to these verses, there is one law for both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, Gentile believers should keep the whole Torah.
But wait. It’s not that clear.
I quoted from this article just the other day as an example of what sometimes provokes other believers to anger and how I want to avoid being excessively and needlessly provocative. While the “One Law” issue is a “non-event” for the vast majority of the Christian world, this is a “hot button” issue in certain small (relative to the overall body of believers worldwide) religious circles in the blogosphere.
But then, I’ve been thinking about an ad I received by email recently. Eichers.com has extended its annual Talis and Tzitzit sale to June 24th. As I read the advert, I found myself involuntarily pining for the days when I used to actually don a tallit to pray.
Then my reality check came in and I closed the ad, but not before I started pricing tallit gadolim (just “window shopping”).
Many years ago, my wife arranged for a friend who was visiting Israel, to purchase my first tallit at the Galilee Experience. It was a total surprise when it arrived from Israel by mail and my wife presented it to me.
But that was a long time ago, and to put it mildly, my wife’s attitude about Christians and tallitot has changed considerably. For that matter, so has mine.
I don’t really regret the “course correction” I’ve instituted in my life, but I do need periodic reminders of who I am and what I need to be doing that’s important to God in order to counterbalance my attraction to various aspects of Judaism as a worship practice. Really, if I had my “druthers” and it didn’t matter to God (or anyone else, especially the Missus) one way or the other, comparing evangelical Christian worship and study to a (Messianic) Jewish template, I’d probably choose Jewish practice.
In any conceivable way, nothing would be removed from my devotion to Yeshua (Jesus), but a richness in spiritual texture and connectedness to the people of God that extends all the way back to Sinai would be the platform and environment for that devotion.
I know that if any Hebrew Roots people with a bent for “One Law” ever read this, they’d probably say, “go for it!”
But, no. I have good reasons not to. It’s not my world and my practice. God chose the Jewish people for a reason and He gave them the Torah as the conditions of the Sinai covenant for a reason. Then He made it possible through the emergence of the New Covenant for Gentiles to be grafted in, and provided conditions for we grafted in Gentiles in a binding legal ruling that outlines a distinction in how Gentile disciples are obligated to the Torah.
I can live with that, knowing that we Gentiles have a unique role in supporting Messianic Jewish return to Torah and in perfecting the world in preparation of Messiah’s return.
Also, living with a Jewish wife and daughter, I have a special appreciation for their own uniqueness as Jews and how my mimicking Jewish behavior in some sort of evangelical Jewish cosplay cheapens who they are and totally misrepresents me and all other Gentile disciples of the Master.
It was also no coincidence (in my opinion) that Chabad.org’s “mitzvah minute” email was on Tzitzit: Fringe Judaism this past week.
Most people don’t think of Judaism as a fringe religion. Yet that’s our uniform. Under their shirts, Jewish men and boys wear a poncho called a tallit katan (literally: small cloak), with fringes hanging from each corner, just as the Torah prescribes (Numbers 15:37–40), “They shall make fringes on the corners of their garments . . .”
That’s “Judaism,” not Christianity that wears the fringes. I’m not a thief. I don’t take things that belong to someone else. Donning a Tallit Gadol for prayer belongs to someone else…Jewish people.
Jacob Milgrom contends that in the ancient Near East the ornateness of the hem was a mark of nobility. Hence the wearing of tzitzit denoted that all Israelites were members of a priestly nation with a universal mission. That status and its attendant obligations rest on God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery, as the passage makes clear at the end: “I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the Lord your God.” (Numbers 15:41)
I assume D. Thomas Lancaster wrote the small article on “One Law and the Gentiles” and in referencing Numbers 15:15-16, he says:
First of all, the context deals not with the application of Torah as a whole, but specifically with the sacrifices. In other words, if an alien wanted to offer a sacrifice in the Temple he needed to follow the same Torah guidelines as the Israelite. The passage is not saying that all the laws of Torah apply equally to Jews and Gentiles.
Second, by the time of the apostles, the word translated as “alien” (ger, גר) was no longer understood as just a Gentile non-Jew. The Hebrew word had shifted its semantic value to refer specifically to a Gentile who had gone through a full, legal conversion to become Jewish, i.e., a proselyte. That conversion process included circumcision, immersion, and a sacrifice. That’s how the Greek version of the Torah (lxx) translates the word too. That’s probably how the apostles would have understood it.
Interestingly enough, Lancaster (I presume) says the Didache actually agrees with the surface reading of Numbers 15:15-16:
If you are able to bear all the yoke of the Lord [i.e., Torah], you will be perfect; but if you are not able, do as much as you are able to do. (Didache 6:2)
Wait a minute! What just happened? Did Lancaster say that the Didache supports an identical application of the Torah mitzvot on both Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus?
The Didache agrees with Numbers 15:15–16. There is not supposed to be a different Torah for Gentile believers. The Gentile believers are not supposed to have a different type of worship or religion. There is only one Torah for God’s people. The only question left open is to what extent the Gentile believer is obligated. Most of the laws of the Torah apply equally to Jewish and Gentile disciples of Yeshua.
On the other hand, Gentile believers are not obligated to keep all of the ceremonial laws as the Jewish believers such as circumcision and other distinct markers of Jewish identity like the calendar, the holy days, the dietary laws, and so forth. Despite that, the Bible does not create alternative Gentile versions of these institutions.
In the days of the apostles, the Gentile believers kept most of those things along with the Jewish believers as part of their participation in their shared religion.
The Torah, the conditions for the Sinai covenant, are the same conditions for the New Covenant. God didn’t re-write the conditions, just the material upon which they are written, on paper and tablets formerly, but later, on the human heart.
So Torah applies to all who come under the New Covenant. The only question is how the roles and applications differ between those who entered into covenant with God at Sinai vs. those of us who were later grafted in, that is, between Jews and Gentiles.
Lancaster ended his small write-up by saying that in the apostolic era, it was likely the Gentile disciples, especially those embedded in Messianic Jewish synagogues in the diaspora, would have appeared much more Jewish than we Christians do today. Their practice and observance would have been modeled on their mentors, and as Lancaster mentioned, the Didache seems to support this view and was formally taught to newly-minted non-Jewish disciples.
So where does that leave me? Right where I am.
If I lived in a different environment, if my wife was Messianic, if a thousand other things were changed, how I outwardly worship God would probably not look the same as it does now. But there are no “what ifs” in God’s creation, there is only here and now and what is real.
What matters about discipleship and devotion to the Master is doing the will of God. I pray. I study. I worship in fellowship. I perform many of the mitzvot in the Torah such as giving charity to the poor, providing food for the hungry, visiting the sick, comforting those who grieve.
The message of the Good News of Messiah changes not at all for the Jew or the Gentile, and the coming of the Kingdom alters not one little bit for the descendants of Israel or the people of the nations. In fact, being a devoted Gentile who has fully apprehended a Messianic world view and perception of the Bible makes me a lot more valuable to the cause of Christ for Jewish and Christian people than if I felt that I would only be on God’s “approved list” if I looked and acted “Jewish”.
I know parts of what I’ve written will make certain people unhappy, but please remember, I’m not telling you or anyone else what to do, I’m just talking about who I am and what I need to do. I can’t allow how others view me to affect what I must do and refrain from doing before God.
The Kotzker Rebbe said that the mistake of the spies was in the words “and so we were in their sight.” It should not bother a person how others view him. (Otzer Chayim)
A person who worries about how others view him will have no rest. Regardless of what he does or does not do he will always be anxious about receiving the approval of others. Such a person makes his self-esteem dependent on the whims of others. It is a mistake to give others so much control over you. Keep your focus on doing what is right and proper.
There is “one law” but it is applied differently, even within formal Judaism, depending on who you are. It’s applied differently also for the Gentile. There is One God who is God of all. There is one Messiah who brings salvation to the world. There is one Kingdom waiting for the devoted to enter. There is one world to come where we will return to the Garden, because that’s where it all began.
If that’s not unity in Messiah, what is?
Final note: distinctiveness in identity and practice does not mean dissolution, disagreement, or disconnection. My wife and I are obviously different as man and woman, and we are different as Christian and Jew. Nevertheless, we are a family together with our children and grandson, and we share strong connections within that context. The same can be said for the Messianic community of Jews and Gentiles. We form a unity not in spite of our differences, but because of them. That is the beauty of “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). You are changed, not in terms of ethnicity, nationality, or obligation, but because, men and women, Jew and Gentile, no matter how one differs from another, we are all interconnected in Messiah, may he come soon and in our day.
Addendum: See the “sequel” to this “meditation”: Walking in the Dust of the Footsteps of Moshiach.