Tag Archives: Acts 15

Review of “The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses”

At the same time, believers sometimes assume that HaShem’s Torah applies only to Jews and not to Gentile disciples at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the fact that the apostles “loosed” the Gentiles from these sign commandments, for the most part they are bound to the rest of the Torah’s mitzvot. It should be emphasized that Gentiles in Messiah have a status in the people of God and a responsibility to the Torah that far exceeds that of the God-fearer of the ancient synagogue and that of the modern-day Noachide (Son of Noah). Through Yeshua, believing Gentiles are been (sic) grafted in to the people of God and become members of the commonwealth of Israel. While membership has its privileges, it also has its obligations.

-by Toby Janicki
“The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses”
Messiah Journal
Issue 109/Winter 2012, pg 45
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

Excuse me. What did you say?

A few days ago when I received the latest issue of Messiah Journal (MJ) in the mail, I commented that was looking forward to reading Toby’s article, but I wondered if what he was addressing was just a rehash of previous write ups on the same topic.

No, it’s not.

Toby does something I’ve never seen done before (not that somebody else couldn’t have written about this and I’m just not aware of it). He takes the four basic prohibitions outlined in the Acts 15 “Jerusalem Letter” and deconstructs them, expanding the specific details underlying the directives of James and the Council, and then tying them all back into the relevant portions of the traditional 613 commandments. Basically, Toby uses Acts 15 as the jumping off point to explain the nature and character of a non-Jewish disciple’s obligations (yes, I said “obligations”) to the Torah given at Sinai.

I did something similar over a year ago, but my jumping off point was Matthew 28:18-20, which is commonly referred to as “the Great Commission.”

To get the true flavor of what Toby is suggesting, let’s review the basics of “the letter:”

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. –Acts 15:28-29

As Toby points out, on the surface, it seems as if the Gentile disciples of Jesus had very few responsibilities to God, but this is deceiving. As he points out in the subsequent pages of his article, each of these prohibitions has an amazing depth all its own that isn’t apparent until you dig into it. This is, as Toby muses, probably why James also said “from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15:21). The Gentile disciples would need to attend the synagogues to learn and understand the many and subtle details involved in just complying with their responsibilities to these “simple” prohibitions.

I won’t go into those details because then, I’d have to recreate large portions of Toby’s article (and you’d be better off getting a copy of MJ 109 and reading the whole thing for yourself). However, Toby doesn’t limit himself to the “Jerusalem Letter.” He responds to some of the criticisms about Christians being limited to “the letter” by explaining some of the more obvious prohibitions against murder, theft, and coveting, which were not written down and were considered “Duh…obvious commandments” (quoting D. Thomas Lancaster from his book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians [pp 252-253]). These “Oh duh” commandments also include loving your neighbor, although I notice Toby did not cite the most apparent example found in the Master’s own teachings:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And 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. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” –Matthew 22:34-40

Beyond that, Toby digs further and presents some commandments that apply to the Gentile disciples that are not “Oh duh” and not found in Acts 15:

They can rather be derived from a careful reading of the Apostolic Writings in light of Jewish thought. One such set of mitzvot is the Gentile’s responsibility of honoring the Temple.

-Janicki, pg 53

What? The Temple? Most people don’t realize that during the Second Temple period, a non-Jew actually could bring an acceptable sacrifice to Herod’s Temple and expect that it would be received.

While Gentiles were not to bring certain offerings at certain times such as guilt..or sin..offerings, they were permitted and encouraged to bring burnt (olah) and peace (shelamin) offerings. The priest would attend to these offerings just as if an Israelite offered them up, and Gentiles were required to follow the same standard requirements for the sacrifices, e.g., their sacrifices were to be unblemished (Leviticus 22:21) and from an animal seven days or older (Leviticus 22:27).

-Janicki pg 54

Toby goes on to describe how the laws regarding ritual purity relate to the Gentile, as well as the application of set times for prayer (see my article The Prayer of Cornelius for additional details) and mealtime blessings.

Toby’s article does restrict certain of the mitzvot to the descendents of the Hebrews such as the mitzvah of circumcision (brit milah). I had a brief phone conversation with Boaz Michael (founder of FFOZ) yesterday, and he mentioned how the picture of circumcision in Paul’s letters seems like such an obvious demarcation line in terms of those who are fully under the Torah’s yoke, with Titus and Timothy cited as the clearest examples. Yet even in this, Toby said something very surprising:

Gentiles are specifically enjoined not to be circumcised for the ritual covenantal status. We can assume that, like Maimonidies, the apostles would have no problem with Gentiles voluntarily being circumcised for the sake of the mitzvah, but to do so complete with expectation of covenantal status as Jews would be to “seek circumcision” in the Pauline sense.

-Janicki pg 58

I must admit that a lot of this took me by surprise. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never seen the prohibitions in the Acts 15 letter expanded in terms of their scope and tied back into the Torah. I have seen the Seven Noahide Laws expanded into between 80 or 90 different sub-commandments, but traditional Judaism doesn’t generally connect these sub-commandments to the Torah of Sinai (even though they have many thematic and operational similarities). I have seen traditional Judaism confirm that, at least in the time of the Third Temple, that sacrifices of the Gentiles would be accepted, so that part wasn’t a stretch for me.

Has FFOZ changed it’s stance regarding Gentiles and the Torah? I’m not sure (I didn’t specifically query Toby before writing this review). On the one hand, it isn’t quite the same position as the viewpoint FFOZ has previously referred to as “Divine Invitation”. Being “invited” to take on board additional mitzvot beyond a Gentile’s obligation is voluntary and pretty much a “take it or leave it” approach. On the other hand, this article states that a significant portion of what we refer to as “Torah commandments” are obligations the Gentile disciples (Christians) must perform and to fail to do so constitutes a sin against God. It seems (and this is just a guess) that FFOZ is doing what I’m doing: continuing to explore and investigate God, the Bible, and a life of faith and allowing their understanding of each of these to evolve progressively.

Wow!

There are a couple of obvious concerns.

The first is that other Messianic Jewish organizations, such as the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) may take exception to the idea that Gentiles have a greater Torah obligation than previously advertised. UMJC and similar “Jewish-oriented” groups, tend to take a more definitive stance on Gentile vs. Jewish distinctiveness in worship of the Messiah, with advocates such as Tsvi Sadan proposing a complete separation between Messianic Jewish and Christian/Gentile worship of the Jewish Messiah. The content of Mark Kinzer’s book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, which has gained a “foundational” status in the modern Messianic Jewish movement, likely operates in less then perfect accord to many of the points in Toby’s article as well.

The other concern is how all this applies to the church. It’s one thing to say that the Gentile Christian is “allowed but not commanded” to pray at fixed times (as Cornelius did), keep a “sort of” Shabbat,” and refrain from sexual relations with their wives during their menstrual periods, and another thing entirely to say these are all obligations. Once FFOZ states that there are aspects of the Acts 15 directives and other portions of the New Testament that actually obligate the Gentile believers to specific parts of Torah obedience, then we come to the realization that a very large part of the Christian world is (unknowingly) disobeying God.

OK, maybe I’m overstating the point, but Toby’s article seems to open up that can of worms and it also takes the One Law vs. Messianic Judaism debate to a whole new level. I’ve been actively participating in that debate (again) on this blog for the past several days (and I have the headaches to prove it) and I must admit, Toby’s article tosses some of the arguments presented into a cocked hat, so to speak.

As far as the debate regarding Gentile Christians, the Acts 15 letter, and the refactoring of Christian obligations to the Law are concerned (traditional Christians reading this blog cannot fail to be intrigued and maybe dismayed at this point), Toby Janicki’s article “The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses” may have put us into a whole new ballgame (please forgive the mixed metaphors). I highly recommend that you buy a copy of Messiah Journal, issue 109 for this article alone. Toby’s article is nothing less than landmark.

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