I just watched a brief video by Marc Turnage at the Jerusalem Perspective website called Character Sketch: Cornelius the Centurion. It’s about 5 minutes, 25 seconds long, so when I started watching the presentation, I knew it wasn’t going to reach much depth.
That’s too bad, because I really wanted to hear something new about Cornelius that would help me in my current investigation as to the status of a Gentile who directly worships and relates to God without necessarily being part of a Jewish communal setting (or a traditional Christian venue, for that matter).
In other words, was Cornelius and his Gentile household chopped liver, even after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45), or did (does) God consider the Gentiles as having some sort of value in their (our) own right?
Before someone complains that I’m being too “whiney” again, I’ll say straight out that I think a Gentile can have a direct relationship with the God of Israel through faith in and by the merit of Rav Yeshua and his symbolic, atoning sacrifice. Moreover, I think even before Cornelius had his vision which resulted in him sending messengers to the Apostle Peter (Acts 10:3-8), I think God had regard for the Gentile Cornelius. In fact, the wording of verses 1 and 2 as well as the angel’s message from verses 3 onward tell us so.
Cornelius was devoted to God as expressed through his prayers and acts of tzedakah (charity) to the Jewish people, and God responded kindly and valued Cornelius. God was about to do Cornelius and his household a big favor. He was about to have Peter deliver the good news of Rav Yeshua to them.
According to Turnage, in the late second temple period in Roman-occupied Judea and in the diaspora, from a Jewish point of view, there were three types of people:
- Jewish, either by birth or conversion
- Pagan Gentiles wholly divorced from God
- God-fearing or God-worshiping Gentiles who viewed God from the perspective of Abraham and Isaac (but not Jacob)
These God-fearers existed on the fringes of Jewish community, attending synagogue, hearing the Torah read, rejecting (according to Turnage) the pagan Greek and Roman gods, and swearing devotion only to Hashem, God of Israel. However, this was not as far as they could go in approaching God. They were just missing one last piece of the puzzle.
Turnage compares the vision of Cornelius to Peter’s where Peter does an amazing thing. He says “no” to God. Specifically, he tells God he won’t obey the directive to kill and eat unclean or non-kosher animals.
Turnage states what is obvious to me; that the vision was never about food but rather about people, specifically non-Jewish people. This was God’s lesson to Peter that God Himself did not consider the Gentiles unclean or common. He also states this is obvious proof that Peter never saw the death and resurrection of Jesus as somehow ending his status as a Jew and his relationship with the Torah mitzvot. Again, that seems entirely obvious to me but is something of a revelation coming from a more traditional Christian.
God backed this up in the aforementioned Acts 10:45 by showing Peter and his Jewish companions that even the Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, something that was thought only to be available to the Jewish people by covenant promise (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36) up until that moment.
Peter was forced to realize that Gentiles were not common or unclean, that they (we) were indeed, through God’s grace and mercy, and by the merit of Rav Yeshua, also able to access the covenant blessings of God, even though we were not named participants in the New Covenant.
During the legal proceeding to formally establish the status of Gentiles in Jewish community we see in Acts 15, Peter testified to his experience with Cornelius as proof that the Gentiles were not common and unclean, and that God accepted them (us) to the degree that they (we) also can receive the Spirit of God upon hearing the good news of redemption brought about by Rav Yeshua. We who were far off have been brought near or at least nearer (Ephesians 2:13).
Turnage was clear that none of this meant that the Gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua, even after receiving the Spirit, were required to observe the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews. We lack the sign of circumcision (for males) that would be required for conversion to a proselyte and that would obligate us to the mitzvot. Cornelius was not circumcised, neither was his household (interestingly enough, unlike the non-Hebrews in Abraham’s household (Genesis 17:27).
In this case, it wasn’t necessary, since God’s plan for worldwide redemption required that both Israel and the rest of the nations of the world were all to be redeemed while maintaining their own national and ethnic identities.
Turnage rightly states that the challenge of the “first century church” (his language, not mine) was not convincing people to believe in Jesus, it wasn’t a theological challenge, but rather, an ethnic and sociological dilemma. How would it be possible to mix both Jews and Gentiles, two groups that are difficult to put together, into Jewish community and covenant life?
Paul was always attempting to solve that puzzle as we read in his many epistles including Romans and Ephesians, but also in 1 Corinthians 7, according to Turnage:
Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
–1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (NASB)
Since Turnage uses circumcision as the dividing line between Jews and even the believing Gentiles, and since that dividing line includes obligation to the mitzvot for the Jews but not for even the believing Gentiles (remember, Cornelius received the Spirit and was not previously or subsequently circumcised), then, based on the brief record we have of the life of the Centurion, we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav have no obligation to the mitzvot either.
I know I’ve said this about a billion times before, but since I’m re-examining my relationship with God as a Gentile, and I just viewed Turnage’s video, I thought I’d mention it again.
We have no information about how Cornelius’s life changed after Acts 10. Perhaps in many ways, it didn’t change much at all, at least from a day-to-day lived experience. He probably still prayed continuously. He probably still did great works of charity for the Jewish people. But additionally, he also probably thanked Hashem for the good news of Messiah, the indwelling of the Spirit, the promise of the resurrection, and a place in the world to come, which indeed, Cornelius lacked before the revelation of Moshiach.
For Turnage, the central focus of being a believer rests back in 1 Corinthians 7:17-20. Are you going to obey God or not?
The question of obedience is an interesting one because Turnage assumes quite casually that to obey God for a Gentile does not require observance of the mitzvot in the manner of the Jewish people.
Just as we are not required (our males) to be circumcised in order to have a life with God, because of not being circumcised, not converting to Judaism (because it’s not required of us), we also do not have to observe the mitzvot that indicate an individual is Jewish.
We don’t know what Cornelius did with his life after the revelation of Rav Yeshua. It would be easier if we did have some record to see how he changed from God-fearer to Messianic disciple.
But I didn’t write this missive to answer the “mystery of the Gentile mitzvot”. I wrote it to establish that through the example of the life of Cornelius, Gentiles are not considered common and unclean to God. Quite the opposite if God allows His Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We Gentiles have a relationship with God just the way we are.
Oh, I could embed the YouTube video of Turnage’s brief presentation directly into this blog post, but I don’t want to take web traffic away from the Jerusalem Perspective site. To view the video, you’ll have to click the link I provided above.
One more thing. I chose the “featured image” at the top of the page because finding something that looks interesting and somehow represents Jewish mystic visions isn’t all that easy.
5 thoughts on “Cornelius Is Not Common Or Unclean And Neither Are We”
As I just posted in ‘Should Non-Jews Study the Torah, the Answer is yes, but according to Sanhedrin 59a, we are to study Torah in order to keep the Noahide Laws, and after Acts 15 the additional requires in the Jerusalm Council Decree.
Yeshua told the Apostles to make Disciple of all nations, though, so I think there is the added requirement of attempting to keep Laws like the Sabbath and the Moedim as the Ruach haKodesh instructs one. In my case, The Holy Spirit asked me to consider keeping the Sabbaths, and then I read the piece in Isaiah that says how much G-d delights in Foreigners who take hold of the Covenant, and keep the Sabbaths.
Mind you,Isaiah does not say Gentiles are to come under the Covenant as an Israelite does, but to take hold of it, and keep the Sabbaths. This suits me, but I think it is a very personal thing between each Believer and G-d.
Isaiah 56:3-8 (KJV)
3 Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
8 The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
Hi James. I am very tardy in posting a comment but I am very glad to see you are back to your blog again. I have had a sort of routine for several years, especially since I retired (as much as you can actually have a routine) of reading about 4-5 blogs and websites daily that have a sort of Messianic Jewish worldview. When you and Derek Leman both quit your blogs at about the same time although for very different reasons, my routine was about cut in half. Although I have learned some things from Derek, I really missed your blog. As you worked and thought through some things with your faith, many times you helped me and gave me a different viewpoint on some things I was wrestling with. Anyway, welcome back.
For several reasons I was unable to attend the FFOZ Shavuot conference in Hudson, WI again this year. However, I recently received a DVD set of some of the sessions. Please excuse me if I am sharing some material you already have but I wanted to tell you some things that I found interesting from one session. The focus of this year’s conference was “The Vision (or Hashkafah in Hebrew)”. One session was on the original vision of Messianic Judaism, at least as it resurfaced as a movement in the 1800’s. I am going to give you some notes I made and, most important, some quotes from 3 men who were described as “luminaries” of this time period.
The first is from Isaac Lichtenstein (1825-1908):
His vision summarized: “Jewish believers practicing Judaism by keeping the Torah that applied to them. Gentile believers practicing Jewish Monotheism and the moral and ethical laws of the Torah that applied to them.”
The second is from Yechiel Tzvi Lichtenstein (1831-1912):
Implications for Gentile believers: “He saw the Acts 15 ruling as a halachic ruling that bound Gentiles to the laws and standards of Torah as it applied to a category of person called a stranger in Israel (ger toshav in Hebrew).
Ger Toshav: A stranger who dwells among Israel. He believed that the Apostles had bound gentile believers to the laws of the ger toshav that are found in the Torah.
He said: “The Torah placed only specific commandments upon the ger toshav and [the apostles decided that] in them also the new Gentile Christians should be obligated, for what the Torah has commanded should not be abolished.”
He believed that Messianic Judaism should look forward to the future kingdom and that it should look like the future kingdom.
He also said: “In the Messianic Era, the Torah of Moses will still be practiced, just as Ezekiel prophesied and as Malachi [3:22, (4:4] implies when he prophesies about the future: ‘Remember the Torah of my servant Moses, the statutes and laws that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.’ There is another proof [that the Torah will not be abolished] from the fact that the Apostles themselves obligated the Gentile Christians to keep the Torah’s commandments of the ger toshav (resident alien).”
The last quote is from Abram (Bram) Poljak (1900-1963):
“In order to understand us (in Messianic Judaism), it is necessary to begin from the starting point of Christianity. Where did Christianity begin? In the synagogue. Yeshua only preached in the Temple at Jerusalem and in the synagogues of Palestine. Christ in the synogogue — that is the messianic synagogue.”
“That which separates us [Messianic Jews] from [other] Jews and [Gentile] Christians is time. We are bearers of the future. Messianic Judaism is the faith of the future. It is the higher order into which Judaism and Christianity will both be absorbed…….In the Kingdom, both Israel and the church will be resurrected and be absorbed into a higher element, into Messianic Judaism. And so, both of them, the Jews and the Christians will become [Messianic] Jewish-Christians, discovering the faith of the future.”
As you work on determining if you have a place in Messianic Judaism I would like to offer my viewpoint for what it’s worth. I believe you do have a place. I have had basically the view described in the last paragraph of Poljak’s quote though he said it better than I could. I have thought for some time now that what the prophets describe sounds like Messianic Judaism and that description includes the nations (gentiles). I do believe that this is the faith of the future Messianic Kingdom and that we are, as Poljak said, bearers of the future even though it looks very messy right now.
We have a small Torah study group that meets on Erev Shabbat to welcome the sabbath and have a meal together; then we study Torah from a Messianic perspective on Saturday afternoon. Whenever I have become discouraged and unsure about what we are doing I frequently think back to an earlier time in the development of our group and some who now are really leading it since I’m not really able to for some physical reasons.
Much of what we have learned has come from FFOZ and several years ago we were struggling and confused with something in the Torah Club material. This was when Boaz Michael and his family were still living in Missouri about 100 miles from where we are located. I called FFOZ and asked them if it was possible to meet with one of the leaders there to discuss our concerns. Boaz graciously agreed to meet with us and for about 2 hours answered questions and gave us wisdom with whatever it was we were concerned about. I honestly don’t remember what it was.
But I do remember one thing he said in regards to Messianic Judaism. He commented that God was restoring something that hadn’t been seen in almost 2000 years and none of us know exactly what it looks like for Jews and Gentiles to worship the God of Israel together. So we are dependent upon the spirit of God to help us along the way and give us correction when we get off track.
And James, when I get discouraged or disillusioned I comfort myself with that thought that only God knows what this is supposed to look like. But being convinced that Messianic Judaism is the way our faith will be practiced in the Kingdom, we just do what we know to do and leave the rest to Him. I hope maybe this thought is some comfort or encouragement to you or to anyone else who might read this. And again, welcome back. I look forward to your future blogs. Blessings and shalom to you and your family.
James, something I forgot to put in my previous post is a link to one of the new blogs by FFOZ, this one by Boaz:
It seems they are going through growing pains in Israel too.
@Questor: Yes, as I indicated in the blog post, we are required to study Torah, but how it’s applied in the lives of Gentile believers is different than how it is applied to Jews. Exactly how that works has no one, agreed upon answer, so Gentiles build some flexibility into their individual praxis.
At some point, I’ll have to address Isaiah 56 as it applies to the non-Jew in the Messianic future (and possibly the present).
@Mel: I’m not receiving the materials you reference, but I’m more or less familiar with everything you quoted. Long story short, the Torah applies to the modern “Judaicly aware” non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua as if we were aliens residents in Israel.
It’s difficult to know exactly how the Messianic Era will look. My opinion is that it won’t be a complete replica of the late second temple period if, for no other reason, is that 2,000 years of Jewish and Christian history have happened. What will Yeshua do with the Talmud is a very good question to ask, especially since many Messianic Jews as well as Jews in other streams of Judaism, believe that Hashem granted the Sages with the authority to making binding interpretations of Torah, much as Yeshua said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-3.
Regarding the blog post in question, it certainly, if briefly, outlines the situation facing Messianic Jews in Israel, but that’s quite a different “kettle of fish” than being a “Judaicly aware” non-Jew in the diaspora, which has to be my emphasis at the present.
Nice to hear from you again, Mel.
There’s a lot to ponder and leads to look into in these.