yoked animals

The Yoke We Must Bear

An implement taken from the pastoral life served as a metaphor in rabbinic literature, itself the product of city life. That implement was the yoke, which in linking animals to the plow and to one another made farming possible. For the rabbis, there were two yokes. The first was the yoke of Heaven: the acceptance of the existence of God as one and unique and the proclamation that there was no other. The second was the yoke of commandments: the acceptance by a Jew that the same God had enjoined the people to follow a particular path and to live a particular kind of life. The commandments were both ceremonial and ethical; their specificity grew out of a specific concept of God. Thus the yoke of Heaven created a particular kind of yoke of commandments.

“The Yoke of Torah,” p.50
from Chapter Three: “Know Where You Came From; Know Where You Are Going”
Pirke Avot: A Modern Commentary on Jewish Ethics

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 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?”

Acts 15:7-10 (NASB)

I have no doubt that God desires that all human beings, not just the Jewish people, acknowledge the “yoke of Heaven,” that is, accept “the existence of God as one and unique and the proclamation that there was no other.” After all, this is the very first commandment that God gave the Children of Israel at Sinai:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Exodus 20:2

Most Christians don’t realize this is a commandment because it reads more like a declarative statement, but it is a commandment. However, as I said above, God desires “all flesh” to bow before him, not just “Jewish flesh”. The question is how?

That’s not much of a question for most of us. The vast, vast majority of church-going Christians have a fairly good idea of what they think they need to do to serve God. So do the vast majority of religious Jews. But somewhere in between is a group of Jews and Gentiles who are affiliated, to one degree or another, under the banner of “Messianic Judaism.”

Of course, and I’ve written many times on this before, it becomes somewhat problematic to think about a non-Jew having involvement in a Judaism as such. This is one reason why the other branches of Judaism consider Messianic Judaism to be a form of Christianity with a thin Jewish overlay. For their part, many Christians see Messianic Judaism as “too Jewish” for their taste and this “yoke of commandments” seems rather “legalistic,” though they misunderstand the role of Torah and the mitzvot in the lives of Messianic Jews (and Gentiles).

But as indicated above, the yoke of Heaven and the yoke of the (Torah) commandments are metaphors used to describe the relationship between humanity and Deity. These yokes then, are the connection between who we are as living creations of Hashem and the Creator Himself. The first is awareness and acknowledgement of the very existence of God and our willing proclamation of that fact, and the second, which our writer from the Pirke Avot commentary calls a particular path for the Jewish people, is a living response or extension of the first yoke, but only for the Jew.

Apostle Paul preachingOf course the commentary I’m citing doesn’t take into account the role of Yeshua (Jesus) as Master, Messiah, and Mediator of the New Covenant, so it could be said, at least by some non-Jews, that in coming to Messianic faith, the Gentile takes on board both yokes, just as does the Jew.

But what yoke was Peter talking about in Acts 15:10?

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?

Peter certainly couldn’t have been dismissing the yoke of Heaven as a requirement of becoming a disciple of the Master, since without a basic acknowledgement of God as Creator and Sovereign, everything that follows is meaningless. But there’s only one other yoke to consider: the commandments, that is, the Torah of Moses.

Now many, most, or all Christians will consider “the disciples” to be all disciples, Jewish and Gentile, and thus reach the conclusion that Peter was advocating for doing away with the commandments (and replacing them with grace). But they miss the fact that in verse 7, Peter identifies the object of his statement as “the Gentiles,” thus he is talking about the yoke of the commandments as being too great a burden to place on them, that is, on us, the non-Jewish disciples.

All of Acts 15 is an attempt to answer the question, “What do you do with a bunch of Gentiles who are being invited to become disciples within Judaism?” Since even a brief inventory of the Tanakh (what Christians call the “Old Testament”) describes the rather difficult history of the ancient Jewish people relative to their obedience to God, I think Peter is justified in saying that the mitzvot are a yoke which neither their (Jewish) fathers nor they (the Jews present at this legal proceeding, and by extension, Jewish people in general) could bear.

This isn’t to say that God expected any Jewish person to perfectly and flawlessly perform the mitzvot. God doesn’t expect the unreasonable out of flawed human beings. Certainly King David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22), was less than perfect, and yet even in light of his many human mistakes, he continually and passionately pursued God. James, the brother of the Master, said that “works without faith is dead” (James 2:17, 2:26), so obviously both are required in a life acknowledging the yoke of Heaven and of the mitzvot.

In reading the continuation of the Acts 15 narrative, we see James and the Council ultimately ruling in favor of Peter’s (and Paul’s) interpretation of scripture that the Gentiles should be exempt from many elements of the yoke of Torah. As I mentioned, the yoke of Heaven is a minimum requirement for anyone oriented toward God, so no one can be made exempt from this requirement.

In fact (citing Acts 15:28), it (that is, this decision) seemed “good to the Holy Spirit” that only a limited subset of mitzvot be applied to the Gentile disciples, rather than test God by laying a stumbling block in their path and causing them to repel from coming to faith.

But if God provided two yokes for the Jewish people, the yoke of Heaven and then a path to live out their faith in the yoke of the commandments, what about the rest of us? Actually, I attempted to answer that question, not by providing an exhaustive list of “do this” and “don’t do that” (which seems to be the standard expectation), but rather a higher level conceptualization of humanity’s overarching relationship with God.

Orthodox Jewish manThe Jewish people continue to bear a greater level of responsibility in their obedience to God because of their unique covenant status, but God in His graciousness and mercy, granted access for the Gentile to the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection to come without requiring that we shoulder the same “burdening yoke” (though that yoke is also “perfect for restoring the soul”; see Psalm 19:7).

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I don’t think Acts 15 is the end of the story, and I believe that oral instruction must have accompanied “the letter” as it made its rounds (perhaps eventually being formalized in that document we have called the Didache).

Just in living my own life day-to-day, I find that I have my hands full simply “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with my God (Micah 6:8).” If we can master loving our neighbor as ourselves, as James the Just said, we “are doing well” (James 2:8). This is what James called “the royal law” and part of what the Master called “the greatest commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40). Since this “royal law” is linked to loving God, that brings us full circle back to the yoke of Heaven.

Maybe if you think you have completely mastered the yoke of Heaven, you, as a Gentile, feel you have merited also taking on the yoke of Torah. If you have mastered even that first yoke, then I envy you, for it seems that I and the believers I know have fallen short on some aspect or another in attempting to pull this “plow”.

If humility is about seeking a balance between the extremes of thinking too well of ourselves and thinking too poorly, where is that balancing point for the Gentile in Messiah? It may not be along the same path as the one God placed before the Jewish people.

One final note. As was said in the very first quote at the top of the page, a yoke not only links an animal to the plow but it links two animals to each other. If I say that the yoke of the commandments links Jewish people to God and to each other as Jews, I believe the yoke of Heaven links all of the faithful together, Jew and Gentile alike. So in this, I am not creating a barrier between Jewish and Gentile believers in Yeshua, rather, I am showing you by which yoke we are linked, for we are all yoked by Heaven.

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16 thoughts on “The Yoke We Must Bear”

  1. But there’s only one other yoke to consider: the commandments, that is, the Torah of Moses.

    No, this is not correct, there are a few other references to Yoke, we see Yeshua describe his Yoke as easy and his burden is light. We also see Yeshua describing the Pharisees in Matthew 23 as tying up heavy burdens and putting them on men’s shoulders.

    A heavy yoke, represents a form of bondage or oppression, we see examples of this in Lev 26:13, Isaiah 9:4, Isaiah 10:27.

    Very specifically in Lev 26:13 we read:

    I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

    God removes the burden and yoke of slavery, but to only put Israel back into slavery with the Law given at mount Sinai, a burden and yoke that they cannot bear, quite absurd.

    Given that understanding, it is unreasonable to believe that Acts 15, when speaking of a yoke and burden that the Jews cannot bear, has anything to do with God’s commandments. Or when Yeshua says his yoke is easy and burden is light, it is not in contradiction to God’s Laws.

    This changes the entire understanding of Acts 15. You may disagree, but at least others can do their homework and see another perspective.

  2. For me the key phrase is “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. If you are suggesting that the yoke to which Peter refers is the “man-made traditions” of the Pharisees, I don’t see Peter referencing “our fathers” or the ancestors as making a lot of sense. Citing “our fathers” brings up a lot, most, or all of Jewish/Israelite history and, in my opinion, better discusses Israel’s historic relationship with obedience to God. Torah is a delight but it’s also an awesome responsibility and failure to observe the conditions of the Sinai covenant has resulted in everything from plagues that have killed tens of thousands to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and exile to Babylon. Yes, it’s difficult to bear, but we don’t have to think of Torah obedience as either all good or all bad, as we westerners tend to do. Peter wasn’t speaking against the Law, he was describing how requiring the Gentiles to convert to Judaism and learn to keep the mitzvot would inhibit large numbers of potential Gentile novices from ever making the commitment to become disciples. Since Yeshua commanded the apostles to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20), presumably, the good news of Messiah was to be spread to all Gentiles everywhere so that they/we all could have the opportunity to partake of the blessings of the New Covenant.

    The ruling of the Council was that conversion and subsequent obligation to the mitzvot in the manner of the Jews wasn’t necessary.

    While Yeshua did say his yoke was light compared to say the Pharisees, in fact, the practice of Yeshua and his disciples most closely fit with the Pharisees in terms of belief in the resurrection and angelic beings, for example. What he opposed was two things: The first is the hypocrisy of the Pharisees where they would teach correctly but not follow their own teachings. The second was that they maintained a constant state of ritual purity and at least some of them attempted to apply that standard to some of Yeshua’s disciples (Mark 7:1-13 is a good example of this). The Pharisees did add excessive “fences” around the Torah which were indeed heavy burdens, but those burdens wouldn’t have extended that far back into Jewish history so that Peter would reference them as the yoke the present day (1st century) Jews and their ancestors had not been able to bear.

    Yes, of course we are going to disagree, which is fine, and I’ve never expected anyone to take me at face value. I certainly hope people reading this will “do their homework” and realize there are several different opinions involved.

  3. For me the key phrase is “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. If you are suggesting that the yoke to which Peter refers is the “man-made traditions” of the Pharisees, I don’t see Peter referencing “our fathers” or the ancestors as making a lot of sense.

    Since we can see there are other Yokes, since we know that the Pharisees were putting a burden on others and we know there was a “tradition of the elders” and since we know that in Acts 15:1 the reference is to these customs/traditions, it is a more logical step in connecting this reference, even the fathers, to the traditions that were burdensome, which would have been more than likely ancestral and not invented on that spot.

    The word πρεσβύτερος presbyteros for elders, is also found all through the Torah, concerning the elders of Israel, it implies ancestry. However we see it used negatively in Mark 7, as Yeshua distinguishes these as man made commandments from the commandments of God.

    Your understanding, pits the Torah’s yoke against Yeshua, and makes the Yoke of Torah, no different than the yoke of slavery. I find that unreasonable.

  4. Zion, my understanding pits Yeshua’s yoke against the Pharisees. How was Yeshua’s yoke different from theirs? Both were Torah-based but the Pharisees added many fences. You’re assuming that because of these fences, this is the yoke that Peter must have been talking about, but I disagree. In linear western thinking, something is either easy or hard, light or heavy, but that’s not how Yeshua and Peter thought as Jews. It is quite possible that Yeshua was describing his yoke as light and easy as compared to the Pharisees, but nevertheless, given the history of the Israelites having been exiled, with the Temple destroyed and such for disobedience, that it is also a burden, one that Israel accepted upon themselves at Sinai.

    The question for them in the Acts 15 legal proceeding, was whether or not to make conversion to Judaism and placing Jewish obligation to all the mitzvot on all of the Gentile disciples of Yeshua an absolute requirement. In an ideal sense, this would ultimately mean millions and millions of Gentiles would convert and join Israel, and requiring conversion would either mean many or most Gentiles would balk at such a set of requirements, which not having been raised with them, would probably be seen as a heavy burden. Or, if millions of Gentiles actually agreed to convert and subsequently Israel sinned, then the Apostles and their ruling would be responsible for condemning the formerly Gentile disciples to exile when, as it turns out, it wasn’t necessary.

  5. Where do you get that Exodus 20:1+2 is a Commandment? What commentary suggests that? Vs. 3 certainly is, however 1+2 are a statement of who is making these declarations. It is a well-used practice throughout the Bible to set up authority over what is to follow. (See many of the Pauline Epistles etc.)
    I also have to question statements like these, “Most Christians don’t realize this…” “The vast, vast majority of church-going Christians have a fairly good idea of what they think…” “So do the vast majority of religious Jews…”
    Where are you getting this information? What is the basis of such sweeping generalities? (Further, what purpose do they serve the seeker or the Body?)
    ‘”But somewhere in between is a group of Jews and Gentiles who are affiliated, to one degree or another, under the banner of “Messianic Judaism.”’
    It becomes clearer in light of this statement if I am reading it right, Tribalism. It suggests, here is a true path and it lies between “them,” it happens to be the one “we” are walking on, “Messianic Judaism.”
    If I have this wrong please explain what you intended to express. I tend to take Paul’s read on the subject here:
    12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Cor. 12:12+13 NRSV
    As for the Yoke, I personally take what Jesus said on the subject, 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 NRSV
    I do not see differing standards for Greek or Jew; accept to one’s personal accountability. One is responsible for what one is able to be responsible for, or chooses to take on as their own. If one chooses to follow Judaism, then one would expect the law and Mitzvahs to be their guide. If one accepts Jesus as Christ, than wouldn’t one be expected to abide by the Revelation of that commitment?
    Following Jesus teaching on this could be a good start:
    “36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40
    I believe The Holy Spirit and the law are that yoke, which Jesus clearly summed up in the Law of Love. What is true for one, may not be true for all. Paul teaches this repeatedly when early churches decided to get into discussions over dogma as opposed to keeping it real. Who cares what the other guy is doing? Are we treating folks in love? That is the question… If we can say “yes!” than we are truly yoked in Christ.

  6. Where do you get that Exodus 20:1+2 is a Commandment? What commentary suggests that? Vs. 3 certainly is, however 1+2 are a statement of who is making these declarations.

    The numbering conventions for the Ten Commandments vary depending on religious traditions. The Talmud, Catechism for the Catholic Church, and Reformed Christians all consider “I am the Lord thy God” to be the first commandment.

    I also have to question statements like these, “Most Christians don’t realize this…” “The vast, vast majority of church-going Christians have a fairly good idea of what they think…” “So do the vast majority of religious Jews…” Where are you getting this information? What is the basis of such sweeping generalities? (Further, what purpose do they serve the seeker or the Body?)

    In retrospect, it would have been better for me to say something like, “In my experience” or “to the best of my knowledge”. I apologize if my wording put you off. It wasn’t my intent to insult anyone and I was trying to set up my main point about how, within movements such as Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, there is a dispute as to whether both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah (Christ) are expected to observe the Torah commandments as acts of obedience to God.

    It becomes clearer in light of this statement if I am reading it right, Tribalism. It suggests, here is a true path and it lies between “them,” it happens to be the one “we” are walking on, “Messianic Judaism.”
    If I have this wrong please explain what you intended to express.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “tribalism” but hopefully my previous statement shed some light on why I wrote this. There are a small but growing class of Gentile Christian which has, in one way or another, affiliated with Jewish or Jewish-like religious worship groups believing that such as perspective provides a clearer understanding of scriptures since, after all, the majority of the (human) authors of the Bible were Jewish. Since I previously mentioned that some non-Jews such as “Zion” who has commented above, believe that both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah have the same obligation to the mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah, not for reasons of salvation since we are saved by God’s grace, but as obedience to God once saved, I wanted to take an opportunity to share my alternative interpretation that Gentiles are not subject to the conditions of the Sinai covenant.

    This will probably get turned into a discussion of the New Covenant and if later covenants cancel earlier covenants and that’s a very long debate. I wrote a five-part review of a really excellent sermon series on the New Covenant. If you want to get some idea of my opinions on the matter, start here with Part 1.

    We can be one body but have different body “parts” that have different roles and functions, so my opinion is that unity doesn’t automatically mean uniformity.

    The two greatest commandments you quoted don’t reduce the Torah to two commandments. In my opinion, they describe two basic categories of commandments (loving God and loving people) and all of the mitzvot in Torah fall into one or the other.

    This is all a matter of different perspectives on interpretation and as you may have realized, I represent a minority perspective that seeks to look at the Bible from outside the various Christian interpretive traditions and to see if a more Judaic viewpoint yields result that allows the New Testament and Old Testament to be better “integrated” with one another.

  7. James, you said:

    You’re assuming that because of these fences, this is the yoke that Peter must have been talking about, but I disagree.

    But you are assuming it is referring to the Torah, but which one makes more sense?

    In verse 1, we read of how the Pharisees made a claim:

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

    Now, in order for your argument to be true, that being, you claim: the yoke and burden that the Jews cannot bear, is in reference to the Law of Moses. If this is true, then verse 1 must also be true, but that is the problem, it is not true, not for gentiles and not for jews. The Torah teaches no such thing. So who does teach that, since the Moses does not?

    You are ignoring the context, assuming and guessing the the burden to be the Torah.

    The answer to verse 1 is found in 9-11, and the answer is that Jews and gentiles are saved the same way. Thus the burden is in reference to the context of verse 1, which is not the Torah.

  8. James, I really do think that Yeshua was making a definitive statement that was about His Yoke bringing in both Grace and the Ruach haKodesh to enable the keeping of the Torah by Jews, as well as Gentiles. Yeshua spoke in terms of the Kingdom, and the New Covenant, where the commandments would be written into us, and not cause the problems of constantly studying the traditions and sages to see if there was yet one more hair-splitting pilpul to add more fencing around the Torah. Even now, Believers have help from the Ruach to keep the portions of Torah that apply to them, and can look forward to when all is done, in the Kingdom to have the Torah in-built in us. I am a Gentile, and observant of Torah yet I do not feel the yoke chafing me.

    The Torah was not considered an extreme yoke or burden by the Israelites at Sinai, but a constitution and enactment of religious worship that would, as they learned it all, and practiced it, create the set apart nation that is Israel. The Israelites had customs and traditions to shed as well as to take on at Sinai. The Torah was given to mold that particular Chosen people into a nation that would be a light to all the nations. Still, the Israelites did not always follow Torah, and the Northern Kingdom was torn away from Judea by their chafing against the simplest enactments around the Torah. There was the yoke of Heaven, and the Yoke of Torah, and then the added Yoke of maintaining traditions to protect the exiles.

    The Israelite’s exile into Babylon caused many fences to be laid down, to protect the Torah keepers, and provide their instruction in a foreign land where Judaism was at most tolerated until after Daniel became valuable to the various Persian and Median Kings, and later Mordechai and Esther to Artazerxes. When the Israelites returned from Babylon, and rebuilt the Temple and Jerusalem, they had a good deal of new traditions and oral laws that had protected them from assimilation into Syria/Media/Persia, but still added a lot of extra rules and regulations to get in the average Jew’s way.

    Still, while a Tabernacle or Temple was available, the addition of yoke to yoke could be handled by your average Jew…they loved their G-d, and their people, and their nation, and when they transgressed, they could offer sacrifices. But then the Greeks came into Israel, and attempted to strip the Israelites of their traditions, customs and religion, and thus the Pharisees began to emerge, and to enact more and more protections for the people of Israel, that no law would be broken by any Jew reasonably resolved on obedience. But those Pharisaic rulings became, to a certain extent, yet another yoke, another fence upon fence of regulations that were not enjoined on all Jews by G-d. There was much vociferous debate for decades before Yeshua’s birth, and man’s traditions merely became more and more entrenched as the years passed.

    I believe the yoke Peter described in Acts (After Sinai, After Babylon, and after the invasion and forced Greecification of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes) is an accumulation of ever more complex fencing around Torah. I think that the Sages did their best to keep everyone within Judaism despite what was going on, but they never relaxed the rules and regulations of man’s traditions after they were back under their own rule. The Pharisees continued to build their fences around the already existing sets of fences of the Torah after Antiochus Epiphanes was no longer a threat. I sincerely believe that the yoke upon yoke regulation of what were fairly clear commandments in the Torah within the norms of long standing culture is what became very difficult for the average Jew to handle.

    All these rituals and prohibitions that were never in Torah, laid upon each other is what I think Peter was speaking to. Everyone at the Jerusalem Council seemed to know what Peter was saying, and they decreed for the Gentiles only a portion of basic Torah to keep the scads of Gentiles away from Idols, food that would prevent fellowship with Jews, and so forth.

    But there was also known among the Apostles the exact nature of Yeshua’s yoke…the full Torah for Jews, with Grace, and the Ruach to help the Jews keep Torah well, and Grace and the Ruach to teach and lead the Gentiles and to help them dig deep into Judaism’s ways. Peter and James established beginning steps for Gentiles to stay Gentiles, and yet love and obey YHVH, and to stay in fellowship with the Jews as they learned to add on Torah as the Ruach led them…never becoming part of Israel unless there was a great desire or need for it (personal devotion, and of course marriage of their children).

    Yeshua’s light yoke upon Jews and for the instruction of Gentiles to what Gentiles needed to do to be acceptable to G-d as Gentiles, saved in Yeshua, and guided by the Ruach haKodesh was not including all the yokes of men that were in place by the Priest, Scribes, and Pharisees for the Jews at the time of Yeshua’s advent. The Nazarene Jews were very zealous for the Torah, just probably not in every Pharisaic, Priestly or Scribal way.

    The yoke that Yeshua said was easy was indeed so compared to the legal regulations that sprouted up everywhere on just what one could and couldn’t do, when for the Jews and Gentiles both, Yeshua wanted His lighter Yoke to bind the people together in obedience and love, and the teachings in the Brit Chadashah are specifically directed toward fulfilling the Torah in loving obedience, and in loving community. Even when Yeshua criticized the Pharisees for their hypocrisy in avoiding the weightier matters of the law while pridefully nit-picking their tithed dill and cumin, (which were not ever included in the agricultural tithe), while eating up widow’s houses and not providing for their family’s under their legalities Yeshua did not forbid the Pharisees to do as they did, only his talmudim from acting as the Pharisees did. It wasn’t as if the Pharisee’s were able to lay down their regulations to the whole populace at the time…the Pharisees were not in control of Judaic Halachah until after AD70, and didn’t even get much of it documented until well into the 200’s AD.

    I see Yeshua not being against all that the Pharisee’s did so long as they chose to adopt yet more fences, and even manners, devotions and rituals that the Pharisees considered a part of their worship of G-d…it was that the Pharisees were wrong in forcing their rules of Torah keeping on the populace when it wasn’t necessary while they themselves were in the habit of going around Torah with their regulations and breaking the moral and ethical laws.

    Yeshua’s light and easy yoke was offering help through Grace and the power of the Ruach to keep the more ordinary and less ritualistic manner and customs of keeping Torah that was common at the time wherever Jews were in the 1st Century AD. Halachah until Judah haNasi compiled the Mishnah was not standardized to any one sect…whether Essene, Sadducee, Pharisee, or Nazarene. Even in the 200’s AD to the 500’s AD all of the Halachah were being constantly argued in Judea, and Babylon. The Pharisees gained and held power, and eventually Halachah was laid down for Diaspora Jews, but not every one agreed…ever, and still don’t today.

    Yeshua’s light yoke was the plain Torah, and the long term customs of the Judaic people, enabled by the Ruach haKodesh, and bolstered by the teachings of the Master to His Talmudim, with the knowledge of the righteousness of Yeshua always covering our sins as we repented. I do not feel that yoke as being heavy, even as I seek to learn ever more and more of Torah, and Jewish customs and traditions, and seeking to be ever more Torah Observant as the Ruach haKodesh leads me.

  9. Oh, my goodness gracious, this conversation has invoked all sorts of unnecessary complexities, and I’ve lost count of how many yokes (which is not funny — and not to be “yoked” about [:)]). At the time when Rav Yeshua used the phrase “my yoke is easy, and my burden light”, he was invoking the familiar concept of the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven”, which was nothing other than the Torah that was a general Jewish responsibility under the terms of the covenant. He was not referring to some other yoke, and he was referencing by it the Torah with a similar outlook to that of the Psalmist in Ps.19. He may have intended also to place the Pharisaic fences around Torah into their proper perspective as aids to Torah keeping rather than as additional legal burdens. This would have been consistent with his emphasis on approaching Torah with the proper attitudes. I’m quite certain that Kefa had the same view in Acts 15, where he distinguished Jewish responsibility from that of gentile disciples, in that gentiles were not legally responsible for all of Torah as were Jews under the covenant. He noted that this was beneficial for the gentiles, because even Jews who were acculturated to Torah-styled living had been unable to live up to its fullest demands (i.e., “bearing its yoke”) throughout the preceding centuries. The Council agreed with him that it would be an inappropriate burden upon gentiles because HaShem had given it only to Jews, even in “new covenant” form. There is only one yoke, which is the means by which one could be great in the kingdom of heaven. There are not two yokes, one pertaining to heaven and one pertaining to Torah. There is only one yoke, which is the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, which is the Jewish responsibility to guard and maintain and obey and study the Torah. Non-Jews are not expected to take this on as a yoke at all, though they also may adopt and study its principles in order to approach the greatness in the kingdom of heaven that is described in Mt.5:19.

  10. @Zion: The statement in Acts 15:1 was made by Jews who I think really believed, based on Jeremiah 31:31 that only Jews can be objects of the New Covenant. They thought (incorrectly, but I can see their point since it’s not obvious how Gentiles are involved in the New Covenant) that for the Gentiles to benefit from the blessings of the New Covenant including the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection in the age to come, that Gentiles had to convert to Judaism and cease being Gentiles. This naturally would have meant taking up the Torah mitzvot just like someone born Jewish.

    However, the mechanism for receiving the blessings of the New Covenant is faith (and this still involves a long discussion about the New Covenant, not being Jewish (although Jewish people are born into the covenants) and not Torah observance.

    Yes, Jews and Gentiles are saved (redeemed) the same way, through faith and God’s grace, not by being Jewish and not by Torah observance. So the Gentiles could become disciples of Yeshua and benefit from the New Covenant blessings without being required to convert to Judaism and take upon themselves the “burden” of the full yoke of Torah. Makes sense to me.

    Questor said:

    James, I really do think that Yeshua was making a definitive statement that was about His Yoke bringing in both Grace and the Ruach haKodesh to enable the keeping of the Torah by Jews, as well as Gentiles.

    The problem with that is that no one keeps any commandments perfectly in this life. The New Covenant promises about being perfect and knowing God are between God and the Jewish people and they will only be realized in the Messianic Age. What we’ve got now is a sort of downpayment on the full amount that will be delivered at a later time. As I mentioned to Zion above, the Gentiles were exempted from the majority of Torah obedience in this life and I really don’t know what life will be like for us in the age to come relative to the mitzvot.

    I’m reasonably convinced that Gentiles are not forbidden to take on more than we are obligated to, but I don’t think we’re commanded to perform the mitzvot in the manner of Jewish people.

    Believers have help from the Ruach to keep the portions of Torah that apply to them…

    Yes, that apply to us. Thing is, commandments are applied differently depending on whether you are Jewish or Gentile. Notice that we still don’t obey perfectly. Otherwise, no one would sin. We still do. This isn’t the Messianic Age yet. We have a portion of the Holy Spirit but in the future age, we will have such a filling of the Spirit that we will have an apprehension of God greater than the Prophets of old, all sins will be forgiven, and we will “know God.”

    I’m not saying that observing the mitzvot represents an “extreme yoke,” but as even a casual reading of the Bible demonstrates, the Israelites did periodically sin, violating the conditions of the Sinai covenant, and consequences resulted.

    I believe the yoke Peter described in Acts (After Sinai, After Babylon, and after the invasion and forced Greecification of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes) is an accumulation of ever more complex fencing around Torah.

    I’ve heard that many times before. The statement creates the impression that there’s a such a thing as observing the “Biblical commandments,” but there’s a problem. The written Torah doesn’t describe how to perform many of the mitzvot. That requires some level of interpretation. Either God have Moses an Oral Torah at Sinai that told him all these little details, or God gave Moses and the subsequent leaders of Israel the authority to make legal rulings about how to properly observe Torah. I wrote about all this recently.

    My personal opinion is that it’s impossible to observe all of the mitzvot relying on the Bible alone. Most One Law people I’ve met get around this by “filling in the gaps” with their personal or congregational preferences (how to eat “kosher,” for instance).

    PL said:

    At the time when Rav Yeshua used the phrase “my yoke is easy, and my burden light”, he was invoking the familiar concept of the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven”, which was nothing other than the Torah that was a general Jewish responsibility under the terms of the covenant. He was not referring to some other yoke, and he was referencing by it the Torah with a similar outlook to that of the Psalmist in Ps.19.

    Thanks for the clarification on Yeshua’s yoke, PL.

  11. James, you said:

    Yes, Jews and Gentiles are saved (redeemed) the same way, through faith and God’s grace, not by being Jewish and not by Torah observance. So the Gentiles could become disciples of Yeshua and benefit from the New Covenant blessings without being required to convert to Judaism and take upon themselves the “burden” of the full yoke of Torah. Makes sense to me.

    This will probably be my last post, since we are simply not going to agree and this will go round and round.

    Verse 1 is categorically wrong as you agree, both for Jews and Gentiles, it was a false doctrine and false proposition, that had nothing to do with Gentiles observing the Torah, but what Paul called a false Gospel, later referenced as the ‘false circumcision’. When we read in Gal 2:3 of Titus not being compelled, it was not because of simply “becoming a Jew” or getting some skin chopped off in obedience to commandments, it involved a false doctrine seen in Acts 15:1. This is why Peter responds the way he does, he could have easily said, gentiles do not need to keep the Torah, instead he responds with how Jews and gentiles are saved. Now some believe James answers the question concerning what gentiles should do, but he never says gentiles are not to keep the Torah either, instead he gives four prohibitions and directs gentiles to hear Moses on Shabbat, implying gentiles are to learn the Torah.

    In the Torah we read “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.”, yet you are saying it is. In fact, your interpretation is the exact opposite, it is too difficult for the Jewish people.

    The way you understand the context versus the way I understand the context, we come away with completely two different messages. You make a lot of assumptions concerning what you think was happening, but you are not able to tie it all together, many of your points contradict both the Torah and the Apostolic Writings.

    With that said, thanks for the discussion, be blessed. 😀

  12. There was some confusion back then about how people were redeemed by God. It seems, at that time, many Jews believed that only the Jews were redeemed (saved) by God. This isn’t hard to figure out since they were occupied by the Roman (Gentile) Empire and had a relatively recent and negative encounter with the Greeks. Halachah had built up to a point that it was thought even entering a Gentile’s home made a Jew unclean (see Acts 10).

    I believe that Peter emphasized how Jews and Gentiles were saved to explain that Gentiles didn’t need to convert to Judaism and keep the Torah because the salvational element was faith, not being ethnically Jewish (and thus a member of the Sinai covenant). This is also why Peter’s Acts 10 experience was such a shocker for him and the Jews accompanying him. When Peter say Cornelius and the other Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit as Gentiles, his own eyes were opened as to the mechanism of being reconciled with God, that God was impartial, that He made it possible, not just for the Jews under their covenantal relationship with God, but for all human beings to come to Him and receive the blessings of the New Covenant through an Abrahamic faith.

    Yes, we have two different perspectives on the same Biblical material and yes we could go round and round from now until the return of Messiah. That’s pretty much of given. Frankly, I think the way I understand things actually ties things together pretty well, but then I wouldn’t have my perspective if I believed otherwise.

    Thanks for stopping by. Glad that just because we disagree it doesn’t result in any hard feelings. Peace.

  13. James,
    This is indeed fun.
    I get that many believe this first statement is a commandment, I find it fascinating that it is accorded such status when the device is clearly used repeatedly to set the premise for what is to follow exclusively through the texts. Ramban explained Gedolos understanding that this is merely a statement of fact, so it is not simply “Christian” interpretations which see this in this light. This however is simply a distraction, though a fun one.

    In retrospect, it would have been better for me to say something like, “In my experience” or “to the best of my knowledge”.
    No offense taken. I am sensitive to “De-nomination” of the body. That is the essence my “Tribal” reference. Many want to resort to their “Tribe” as being “The Truth.” Many take the word and coopt it to support a mindset which too often is used to separate and denigrate others walk. This is to be found nowhere in Hashem’s teaching. “One Body” means just that. Why the dismembering?

    The keys to the kingdom have been given to humanity by Jesus… however instead of simply answering the door, too often many want to argue about how to line up, who should go in first, who should hold the door, how many lines we should form, who gets to cut in line, who has to go to the end, who gets the front door and who needs to go to the side door, etc. etc. etc. It is nonsense. The color of the door, the shape of the door, whether we have tickets, passes, or senior discounts, is stupefying as Jesus simply said, “20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” Revelation 3:20(NRSV) and the akin:

    “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8 NRSV

    As for the subject at hand, your question is an old one and settled ages ago by Paul:
    12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. Romans 2:12-16 (NRSV) In other words, follow the Word you have been received in your heart.

    I believe Jesus also was hassled by the Leaders of the time for eating on the Sabbath, Healing on the Sabbath, Working on the Sabbath. There is great discourse on terribly important matters like Circumcision. Dietary issues are also discussed… why are we still having this discussion? Paul said “I have become all things…” it was good enough for him.

    As far as attempting to reduce the law to two Commandments, I do not ascribe to that practice. All scripture is good for teaching and understanding. My personal motto is K.I.S.S. Will what I am thinking or doing advance the Kingdom or harm it? Does what I do conform to the law of Love? If I am studying the law to figure out what I do and don’t have to do… personally I feel I have missed the point. As Wesley put it so clearly, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

    I study and am inspired by all comers. Each opportunity is a chance to experience greater community an fullness in God.
    Some are more compelling to me than others, and that is as it should be.

    Follow your conviction and K.I.S.S.

  14. I’d like to offer one clarification that may be helpful, Rockey — In Hebrew, the 10 commandments are not called commandments at all, but they are described rather as ten statements, or even more precisely, as ten categorical statements. Hence you should not let the notion of “commandments” mislead you regarding the initial statement about HaShem.

    Let me add to that, the notion that “one body” still has many members having distinctive functions (e.g., feet, hands, ears, eyes) — all part of one body, but not interchangeable. And despite the ways in which there is no difference between Jews, gentiles, men, women, and slaves or freemen, such as in their value to HaShem their Creator and in their ability to approach Him as a Father, there are other ways in which all these distinctions remain with us. Men and women will never be interchangeable, because HaShem created them to be different. Jews and gentiles remain distinct, because HaShem set Jews apart from all other families of the earth to be given distinctive responsibilities defined in terms of promises, Torah, and covenant. Since the Torah that defines these remains valid and effective in all its smallest details as long as heaven and earth endure (Mt.5:18), these distinctions also must remain in this “one” or unified body of greater redeemed humanity. And the only way in which the distinction between slaves and freemen can be eliminated is by setting all men free, though even then the distinction remains in the definition of the terms. And the distinction presented in Acts 15 indicates that even the unified body of the overall ecclesia still must recognize two houses or segments that have different responsibilities vis-à-vis Torah (sometimes described as a “bilateral” ecclesia).

    Albert Einstein offered a response or corollary to the principle of Occam’s Razor or its trivialization in the “KISS” acronym: He said that all theories should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. In other words, it is possible to err by oversimplification or glossing over important distinctions thereby.

  15. Proclaim Liberty
    Good points all. Thank you.
    Thanks for greater clarification on the first lines of Exodus 20.
    Again, whether declaration, categorical statement or Commandment, I am not sure it makes a huge difference in the discussion of whether Greeks have to follow Torah if they follow Christ (or Jews for that matter).
    I get the distinction of Jew and Gentile as you point it out; the question is, as some do believe, one who follows Christ is by definition a Christian. If that is the case, do Jews need to continue to follow the law as they did prior to the acceptance of Jesus as Christ? (There will be plenty of Observant Jews still looking for Messiah if they don’t.) What if they were non-observant? What if they feel called to maintain the Jewish Laws and embrace being a Christian as well under the Messianic Jewish identity? What if they don’t? To me that is their business. I do not believe one should be compelled by anyone on how they get to God. I believe relationships are as different as the people having them; this goes for those with God as well. No one has the right to judge how another approaches God. We may share how we believe, or what works for us as Testimony. Th Lord tells us He looks at our hearts; Jesus is the advocate for those He knows, the rest is up to us.

    If one includes Buddhist teachings into their Christian walk (as I know many who do) and it provides a deeper walk in Love with Christ and the Community, I say good for them. Whether Catholic, Charismatic, Evangelical, or any other flavor, I do not believe God will condemn anyone for their sincere efforts to grow closer to the body of believers in love and service to Him, regardless of the name under which they serve Him. Nor do I believe that simply following the Law will serve the Lord in Truth either. As Paul put it a “clanging cymbal…” without love.

    Christ is constantly reconciling the Universe unto Himself; we are part of the process. Will we help unite the body to our best efforts, serve the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the prisoners and so touch the Body of Christ?

    The Grand Unification Theory you mentioned is a good metaphor… the theories can be oversimplified to where they don’t represent nature anymore. By the same token the law can be over applied until it losses touch with nature as well. As Christ is the Creator and sustainer of that very nature we should endeavor to keep things real, and IMO, KISS. Jesus spent inordinate amounts of time pointing out when the law became more important than the people it was meant to serve. I can’t recall Him ever pointing out the opposite. Can you?

  16. @PL “Oh, my goodness gracious, this conversation has invoked all sorts of unnecessary complexities, and I’ve lost count of how many yokes (which is not funny — and not to be “yoked” about [:)]).”

    If James had not started mentioning more than one yoke, I would not have carried the thought into more yokes! So, James is to blame for all my yoking. :-]

    Actually, PL, I meant what you said, but didn’t say it any where near as well as you did. One yoke, but without all the fences upon fences making that yoke dreadfully hard to carry. I am not excluding customs or traditions in carrying out Torah, either. I am stressing the fact that not all of the pronouncements in all the arguments on halachah within all the Judaic sects from the exile to Babylon up to the present can be considered within Yeshua’s yoke, much less Peter’s opinion about what his own, and his fathers’ generations were stumbling under.

    However, I am positive that the customs and traditions surrounding Torah obedience for Jews were well placed, and able to be born without great difficulty at least up until the exile to Babylon, and a sudden need to put up artificial separations between the world and the Jews, and to provide for no longer having a Temple to sacrifice in.

    Is there any way to discover the extent of the customs and traditions up until the first exile? It would be nice to know what was normative, say, for King David’s time, when all the tribes were in some agreement, so must have had a clear idea of what was necessary and what was not in observing Torah.

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