Messianic Worship

Torah and the Christian: An “In-a-Nutshell” Explanation

A few days ago, my friend and One Law proponent Pete Rambo posted a blog titled The ‘ger’ was expected to do what??. In his write-up, he summarizes the apparent obligations of the Ger or “resident alien” (sometimes translated and “convert” or “proselyte”) who was dwelling among the ancient Israelite people as we see chronicled in the Torah (Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible). These passages are used in part to support the belief among One Law Gentiles that all believers in Jesus are obligated to observe the same set of commandments in the Torah that were assigned to the Israelites.

This is by no means the entire rationale or set of evidence supporting this idea, but it is a critical one. Pete and I have been engaged in an ongoing online dialogue between his blog and mine arguing the pros and cons of this position, with Pete obviously taking the “pro” position.

I think it would help before proceeding to expand a little bit on the status of the “Gerim” (plural of Ger), the resident aliens among the ancient Israelites as we see them in the Torah:

In contrast with the foreigner, the ger (גֵּר), the resident alien, lived more or less permanently in his adopted community. Like the Arabic jār, he was “the protected stranger,” who was totally dependent on his patrons for his well-being. As W.R. Smith noted, his status was an extension of that of the guest, whose person was inviolable, though he could not enjoy all the privileges of the native. He, in turn, was expected to be loyal to his protectors (Gen. 21:23) and to be bound by their laws (Num. 15:15–16).

Since all of the landed property belonged to Israelites (cf. Lev. 25:23–24), the gerim were largely day laborers and artisans (Deut. 24: 14–15; cf. 29:10). Both the Book of the Covenant which classed them among those who were dependent (Ex. 23:12) and the Decalogue which referred to them as “your stranger” (gerkha; Ex. 20:10; cf. Deut. 5:14) attest their inferior position in Israelite society. While a few acquired wealth (cf. Lev. 25:47), most of them were poor and were treated as the impoverished natives. Thus, they were permitted to share in the fallen fruit in the vineyard (Lev. 19:10), the edges of the field, and the gleanings of the harvest (Lev. 23:22; see also Poor, Provisions *for). Like the other poor folk they were also granted a share in the tithe of the third year (Deut. 14:29) and the produce of the Sabbatical Year (Lev. 25:6).

With the passage of time, the gerim were assimilated culturally and religiously. Doeg the Edomite, for instance, was a worshiper of YHWH by the time of Saul (I Sam. 21:8), as was Uriah the Hittite in the reign of David (II Sam. 11:11). Hence, the ger, in contrast to the nokhri, was required in many cases to conform to the ritual practices of the native Israelite. Thus, gerim were subject to laws dealing with ritual purification (Num. 19:2–10), incest (Lev. 18:26) and some of the food taboos (Lev. 17:10–16; but cf. Deut. 14:21). They were expected to observe the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14), participate in the religious festivals (Deut. 16:11, 14), and fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29). They were permitted to offer up burnt offerings (Lev. 17:8; 22:18; Num. 15:14ff.) and, if circumcised, even to sacrifice the paschal lamb (Ex. 12:48–49; Num. 9:14). Indeed, they, no less than the Israelites, were expected to be loyal to YHWH (Lev. 20:2; cf. Ezek. 14:5–8).

However, social differences did remain, and some gerim were better received than others. While third generation offspring of Edomites and Egyptians might “be admitted into the congregation of the Lord” (Deut. 23:8–9), Ammonites and Moabites were not to be admitted “even in the tenth generation” (23:4). Furthermore, even while the Holiness Code admonished Israelites not to subject their fellows to slavery (Lev. 25:39), they were specifically permitted to do so to the children of resident aliens (25:45–46). A Hebrew slave belonging to a ger could be redeemed immediately, and if not redeemed served until the Jubilee Year (25:47ff.), but one belonging to an Israelite served until the *Jubilee (25:39ff.). Correspondingly, a Hebrew could serve as a hired or bound laborer (25:40) of an Israelite, but only as a hired laborer of an alien (25:50). Indeed, the humble position of the ger generally was emphasized by the usage of the term in the Holiness Code: e.g., “The land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me” (25:23; cf. 25:35, but see *Proselyte).

-from “Strangers and Gentiles”
Jewish Virtual Library

Sorry for the long block of quoted text, but I wanted to present a cohesive thought. Click on the link I provided above to read all of the article and get a complete picture of how the “Ger” was thought of and functioned in ancient Israelite society.

Apostle Paul preachingGetting back to Pete’s blog, after my first reading of his article, I posted an initial response to each of his points. Later that day, one of my long-time “debating partners” Zion replied to me with his own set of ideas. That started me thinking and reading and today, I responded to him. This blog post is an expansion on that response since I hopefully have crafted an “in-a-nutshell” (more or less) description of why neither the historical Ger nor the Acts 15 apostolic decree supports One Law. In fact, I believe this is a tidy explanation of how the example of the Ger and the apostolic decree create a halachic (legal) precedent stating that Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah (Jesus Christ) were (and are) expected to observe only a subset of what we might think of as Torah commands in the present age and then only if considered to be “residing among Israel.”

The following is my actual response to Zion on Pete’s blog:

Interestingly enough, D. Thomas Lancaster in his Torah Club commentary on Acts 15 actually presents the legal decision made by James and the Council of Apostles and Elders as granting Gentiles “resident alien” status among the nation of Israel based on his understanding of Leviticus 17 and 18.

I reviewed his work about 18 months ago and based in part on Markus Bockmuehl’s book, “Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics,” he believes that non-Jews are saved as non-Jews and, referencing the aforementioned chapters in Leviticus:

In those chapters, the Torah describes the sins of the Canaanites, warns the people of Israel against imitating their ways, and prescribes four prohibitions which both the Israelite and the stranger who dwells among the nation much keep. “These correspond to the four prohibitions of the apostolic decree, in the order in which they occur in the apostolic letter.” [Richard Bauckham, “James and the Jerusalem Church,” in “The Book of Acts In Its Palestinian Setting, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 459]

In his article “The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses” for FFOZ publication Messiah Journal (issue 109/Winter 2012), which I reviewed when it first came out and then again last year, Toby Janicki says about the Acts 15 decree:

At first glance it appears that the Gentiles have very few commandments to deal with, but upon closer examination each of these four prohibitions becomes, in a sense, an overarching category which contains many sub-category commandments. This may be one of the reasons the Apostle James adds the phrase about Moses being read in the Synagogue every Sabbath. The new Gentile believer would need to attend the local synagogue to learn how each of these four prohibitions plays out practically in everyday life.

Referring back to Pete’s list of those things the Ger was either required or encouraged to perform while living among the ancient Israelites (including my initial response to his list), we see this is a subset of the overall commandments issued to the Children of Israel by God through Moses. Based on this subset, we cannot reasonably infer that somehow the Gentile Gerim were obligated to the entire set of mitzvot as were the Israelites, but only those mitzvot where they are specifically mentioned.

Putting this all together, I think the best we can come up with for those of us who identify as “Messianic Gentiles” is that we have some overlap in terms of obligation with Messianic Jews but we do not possess an identical obligation to God with Israel, that is, the Jewish people. By legal precedent, both in specified portions of the Torah and in Acts 15, the Gentiles who are attached to Israel in the present (Old Covenant) age, have been given a lighter “yoke” to bear so that, in Peter’s words (Acts 15:10-11), “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.”

Peter wasn’t kidding when he called the Torah “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” The history of Israel in the Tanakh is a litany of her failures in obedience and in straying away from God and the Torah and into idolatry. The reason for the establishment of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-40, Ezekiel 36:22-30) is to make it possible for the Jewish people to perfectly obey God’s Torah by writing it on their hearts rather than on external objects, and to give them a new Spirit so each and every Jewish person would have a perfect apprehension of God greater than the prophets of old.

AbrahamThanks to the “seed of Abraham,” that is Messiah or Christ, and God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a “father to many nations” and a “blessing to the nations,” we people of the nations, that is Gentiles, are able to share in the blessings of the New Covenant by also having our sins forgiven and there being no partiality between Gentile and Jew in access to the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection and life in the Messianic Era of peace and tranquility.

But that equality is specific to those blessings, and based on what we know of the Gerim and Acts 15, we do not also share in identical obligations. Blessings yes, obligations, no. There are some duties that will always be exclusive to the Jewish people, just like serving in the Temple is a duty that is specific to the Levitical Priests.

I suppose all this is flying in the face of this morning’s Elul blog post:

Frankly, my plate is full just in keeping up with all I need to learn on my journey of spiritual growth. I don’t have a lot of time to worry about what other Christians or what Jews are or aren’t doing.

If I’m to borrow anything useful from Elul, let me adopt a discipline of repentance, increased prayer, introspection, and seeking to draw nearer to God.

On the other hand, it is a further exploration of who I am and I continually re-examine what I believe and why I study the Bible and worship God as I do. Am I going in the right direction? What can I do to be a better person? Only by asking myself some hard questions (sometimes that means asking others those questions as well) will I find the answers.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Good Shabbos.

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8 thoughts on “Torah and the Christian: An “In-a-Nutshell” Explanation”

  1. I responded on the other blog, in response to some points you raised here… but its almost Shabbat, and this dirty gentile likes to observe it, so I gotta get ready… 😛

    Have a blessed Shabbat!

  2. You too. I posted a response to your response, but because it had three links in it, WordPress automatically held it for moderation (it also has a broken *strong* tag which I’m sure Pete will fix). Guess you’ll have to wait until after Shabbat to read it.

    Good Shabbos, Zion.

  3. James, do your and your blogging colleagues not write on Shabbat? I understand the Talmudic injunction about not writing even two Hebraic letters on Shabbat, but writing is my ministry.

    Should I then take the day off from writing, and study, and do something I don’t do the other 6 days of the week?

    Have a blessed Shabbat.

  4. Oh that the Acts 15 council would have said, “one law for all,” seeing as how that is what they had been asked to address. But they didn’t and I choose not to argue with Yeshua’s talmidim. In court an attorney would respond to the question with, “asked and answered!”

    Supersessionism naturally follows from this view, whether consciously or not, intended or not. And supersessionism flies in the face of Jer 31.

  5. Shavua tov, Questor — I can’t answer for James’ praxis, but I as an orthodox Jewish messianist in Israel do observe the Shabbat, which means not turning on the computer, among other things. Shabbat ended just a little while ago, here. If you are not a Jew, then perhaps James can offer you a better suggestion than I can about procedures for non-Jewish honoring of the Jewish Shabbat a-la Is.56.

  6. Thank you, PL. I leave my computer running all the time, so it’s not a matter of lighting a fire…it is a fire always burning. When I lose electricity from my solar array, I will daresay not be concerned…it’s all mechanical, like the water in my greenhouse, to run the well, and so forth, and I don’t mind flicking a switch, being merely a talmid ha Torah, a former Pagan who is adding on obedience one step at a time.

    I was thinking more in terms of what a Rabbi does on Shabbat, not that I can compare myself to one, except that Abba commanded me directly to write, so I write in response to others writings, to explain things on questions I have answers to, to ask questions, or just write as I study and pray. Since my writings are being done in obedience, even as a Rabbi teaches on Shabbat, or a Cantor sings, both of which are generally paid positions in America, even as the cohanim, who were provided for by YHVH through the tithes and offerings, always performed their duties on High Holidays, as any other day, except perhaps a bit more reverently at those times of the moedim.

    Not having a Messianic Synagogue to attend, and since I avoid Christian Churches, writing is also my main connection with the world of intellect in regard to YHVH and Torah. The internet is my shul, even as the writing is my communication with likeminded Believers in Yehoshua. I simply talk with my fingers.

    I am not looking for validation or approval, exactly…I was merely curious about other’s practices, and perhaps a cogent argument on refraining from what I do the rest of the week…for my Sabbaths do not differ in my studies and writing during the rest of the week, except my errands, tending my greenhouse, or household tasks. There are many times, when being alone, and tired on a Shabbat, I just want to put my feet up, and read a good book, and talk to Abba as I do so. Consequently I was wondering how others treated their time and focus on Shabbat, outside of Synagogue and Family.

  7. @Questor: I can hardly be accused of observing a proper Shabbat, but there are certain things from which I choose to refrain, mainly to honor those who do observe Shabbos. One of them is publishing blog posts on the Shabbat. I know of people who shut down their computers and ignore the Internet for twenty-four hours and a certain number of minutes to honor God. If they are Jewish, they do so because the Shabbat is a sign of the Sinai Covenant and they are so commanded. If they are Gentile, they do so to honor God as sovereign creator of the universe and in solidarity with the Jewish people (that would be my reason, anyway).

    Most of the non-Jews I know who say they keep or observe Shabbat still drive, cook, write, and perform a number of the other activities that are formally considered “work” in Judaism, so they are choosing their own path as far as what they think “keeping Shabbat” means.

    On another blog post I included a link to the Aish.com “Ask the Rabbi” column where a Jewish person was explaining how overwhelmed he was at the thought of attempting to become observant. 613 commandments is a lot to suddenly take on board. You can click the link I just provided to see the answer, but in short, since non-Jewish disciples of the Master are commanded to observe what might be considered a “subset” of the mitzvot, then if you fee compelled to respond to one or more of the mitzvah related to Shabbat, then just respond to that, candle lighting for instance, or some of the traditional prayers.

    Teshuvah and drawing nearer to God only starts with turning around. After that, it’s a series of small steps that can be considered to be additive. Taking even one step in the right direction is better than no steps at all or, Heaven forbid, walking in the wrong direction.

    On the other hand, if you do not feel driven, led, or compelled to observe Shabbos in any manner, then consider how you would like to draw nearer to God in any other manner. Part of what I believe we are commanded to do is to continually improve our spiritual walk with Hashem. What can you do to renew your relationship with Him today?

  8. Something else I just read that may apply to this conversation, Questor (and everyone else). I read a commentary today written by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski where he quotes from Shulchan Aruch:

    If one wishes to add on more restrictions than the law requires, one may do so for oneself, but not [make such demands] of others…

    Some non-Jews in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements have a tendency to first decide what is right for them and then to convince others it’s right for everyone. For instance, there are Gentiles who feel they cannot please God unless they observe some form of Kosher (usually straight out of Leviticus 11 without the associated Jewish interpretation of all that “kosher” means), then then tell all believers that they are sinning if they eat a ham sandwich.

    Rabbi Twerski is writing to a Jewish audience but given that some non-Jews who identify as “Messianic” have taken on board additional mitzvoth based on personal conviction doesn’t mean they can apply their personal conviction on to you (or anyone else). Especially if you don’t belong to a faith community whereby you are required to meet certain behavioral standards as a condition of membership, you must navigate your relationship with God as an individual. That doesn’t mean making up the rules as you go along, but it does mean establishing a relationship with God and then through prayer, sound teaching, and Bible study, determining step-by-step where the path of relationship leads. No one can do that for you…even if they think they can.

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