Tag Archives: jerusalem letter

First Impressions of the Didache

Didache CodexThe Didache represents the preserved oral tradition whereby mid-first-century house churches detailed the step-by-step transformation by which gentile converts were to be prepared for full active participation in their assemblies. As an oral tradition, the Didache encapsulated the lived practice by which non-Jews were initiated into the altered habits of perceiving, judging, and acting characteristic of one branch of the Jesus movement during the mid-first century.

-Aaron Milavec
from the Introduction, pg ix of his book
The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary

“Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”

So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.

Acts 15:24-31 (NASB)

I’ve often wondered about the instructions imparted to the non-Jewish disciples of the Master in the so-called “Jerusalem letter.” They’ve always seemed rather anemic to me. I mean, there certainly had to have been more to the training of new disciples who had no clue about the God of Israel, the Messiah, and the role of Gentile believers in a Jewish religious stream.

When I read that the Gentile response to the letter’s delivery in Antioch was that “they rejoiced because of its encouragement,” I ponder about what they found encouraging. Certainly the fact that the men and boys didn’t have to be circumcised would have been encouraging. Also, I imagine it was encouraging that they didn’t have to convert to Judaism and learn to perform the humongous list of instructions found in the Torah and accompanying commentary and halachah.

But a mere four essentials hardly seems an adequate substitute.

Of course, there is the mysterious Acts 15:21: “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” There is a minority opinion among some modern Gentile believers that it was the Council’s intention for the ancient Gentile believers to also be required to follow the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, in spite of Peter’s testimony that the Torah was “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.”

The issue at hand during the Acts 15 legal hearing was how to integrate the Gentiles into the Jewish religious stream of “The Way.” The supposition brought forth (Acts 15:1) was that Gentiles must convert to Judaism (be circumcised and obligated to the full yoke of Torah) in order to be justified before God. The Council’s ruling, after much testimony and due deliberation over scripture, was that Gentiles did not have to convert. It would have been silly to say they didn’t have to be circumcised and convert to Judaism, but in all other ways, they still had to act, relative to Torah, exactly like the Jewish disciples.

But if that is true and if the four essentials of the Jerusalem letter are far too sparse to constitute a functional set of behavioral requirements, where do we find more? How does the Acts 15:21 statement fit in?

I have a working theory (and it’s just a theory) that the Didache is the answer or part of the answer. My working theory is that a set of oral traditions accompanied the Jerusalem letter and perhaps even developed over time, evolving into a formal halachah for the Gentiles.

I can’t prove any of this of course, but I hope to present a compelling suggestion.

In the process of writing this blog post, I consulted my previous article on this topic, including the notes I took of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki’s article “The Didache: An Introduction,” published in Messiah Journal issue 113.

Most scholars generally agree that the Didache was written either in the location of Egypt, Syria, or Israel sometime between the late first to early second century. Some speculate it may have been written as early as 50 CE. This would mean that the Didache is actually older than the canonical Gospels and was written during the generation after the Master’s death.

-Janicki, pg 44

There is some speculation that the Didache was composed by the Apostles themselves or those close to the Council. The further back in time we place its origin, the more authoritative becomes its teachings to the Gentiles. Aaron Milavec, who wrote the commentary for my copy of the Didache, believes its origin to be sometime in the mid-first century. This would allow for the material to be initially orally transmitted, and then soon thereafter, codified and documented for “discipling” new Gentile adherents to “the Way.”

Milavec's DidacheMilavec’s opinion is that the Didache material was a sort of training guide used by mentors to bring up novice Gentile disciples. Milavec’s book presents the Greek and English versions of the text side-by-side. I can’t read the Greek, so I have to trust that the English translation is reasonably accurate. This is my first go-round with the Didache, so all I’ve got are first impressions.

For the most part, I experienced the Didache text (it’s rather brief) as a compilation of teachings gleaned from the Gospels and the Torah. This is interesting if the Didache were composed prior to the Gospels, especially the Gospel of Matthew upon which some say the Didache was founded, because it would mean that the oral traditions passing along the Master’s teachings were incorporated into the early formal training of Gentile believers.

Actually, I can only imagine that both Jewish and Gentile disciples in the Diaspora would benefit from training in the Master’s teachings, but of course, Torah would be known by the Jews and long-term Gentile God-fearers, but be a mystery for the Gentiles just coming out of paganism.

I also found this:

1:2 [A] On the one hand, then, the way of life is this:
[1] first: you will love the God who made you;
[2] second: [you will love] your neighbor as yourself.
[B] On the other hand [the way of life is this]:
as many [things] as you might wish not to happen to you, likewise, do not do to another.

-Milavec, pg 3

This section of the Didache leverages what we know as the Golden Rule as spoken by Jesus, but also the teachings of Hillel, a Jewish sage who lived a generation before the Master (I recently reviewed this material). So we see that older Rabbinic lessons were included to accompany the teachings of the Yeshua.

2:2: You will not murder,
you will not commit adultery,
you will not corrupt boys,
you will not have illicit sex,
you will not steal,
you will not practice magic,
you will not make potions,
you will not murder offspring by means of abortion,
(and) you will not kill [him/her] having been born,
you will not desire the things of [your] neighbor.

-ibid, pg 5

While not exactly direct quotes, this section seems very much taken from the Torah and thus links back to the instruction we find in Acts 15:21. This supports the verse that says the Gentile disciples were to learn the Law of Moses in the synagogue as it applies to them. Here, we see such application.

I’m not sure how to interpret the instruction not to kill children by abortion, since no direct reference to abortion appears in the Bible, and I’m unaware of such a practice in Biblical times (but then, I’m no history major). This is one time I wish I could consult the Greek to see what word is being translated as “abortion.”

I also don’t have any idea what “not corrupt boys” refers to, though it does come right before the instruction against illicit sex.

So, at first blush, the Didache’s instructions to the newly minted Gentile disciples provides a liberal dose of Gospel teachings and Torah teachings, with a smattering of other early Rabbinic lessons.

This is pretty much what I expected and the Didache doesn’t disappoint.

The text goes along presenting additional information from those sources along with what seem like quotes or adaptations from the Proverbs. Here’s an example:

3:5 My child, do not become false,
since falsehood is the path leading to theft;
nor a lover of money,
nor a seeker of glory,
for, from all these, thefts are begotten.

-ibid, pg 9

I’m not going to do a “copy and paste” of large blocks of the Didache into this “meditation,” but I found a few additional sections revealing.

6:2 For, on the one hand, if you are able to bear
the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect;
but if, on the other hand, you are not able,
that which you are able, do this.

-ibid, pg 19

King Priest TorahThe term “yoke” tends to be a reference to Torah in Biblical language. Since we know the Didache is a training manual for Gentile disciples of Yeshua, it seems as if the author is permitting any Gentile disciple to observe the entire body of Torah mitzvot if he or she is able, but if that person is not able, it is acceptable to do anything that they can observe.

I’m sure most other Christians would disagree with how I’m interpreting “yoke,” but to me, it certainly sounds like the mid-first century to mid-second century Gentile disciples in the Jewish Yeshua movement were permitted but not required to keep all or some portion of the Torah commandments, though if they were able to keep all of it, they would be “perfect.”

Just a thought.

7:2 and 7:3 address baptism and 7:2 specifies that flowing water should be used, recalling the mikvah, with a pattern of immersing the head three times, once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Spirit. There seems to be a number of options available. It is preferable to immerse in flowing water and preferable to immerse in cold water, but still water as well as warm water may be substituted if the former are unavailable. It seems mandatory though that the person to be immersed should fast one or two days prior to immersion.

9:1-9:5 mentions the eucharist which involves a cup of wine and broken loaf, and that only someone who has been baptized into the community of the Lord may drink and eat of it (there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection to Passover here).

Many of the blessings the Gentiles are instructed to recite bear great similarity to Jewish blessings for various occasions.

Blessing over wine from the Didache:

We give you thanks, our Father,
for the holy vine of your servant David
which you revealed to us through your servant Jesus.
To you [is] the glory forever.

The traditional modern Jewish blessing over wine:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

The Didache blessing over bread:

We give you thanks, our Father,
for the life and knowledge
which you revealed to us through your servant Jesus.
To you [is] the glory forever.

The traditional modern Jewish blessing over bread:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

I just want to point out that the Gentile disciples are being taught to pray to God (the Father) in the name of God’s “servant Jesus,” not to Jesus himself. Jesus never commanded his disciples to pray to him, only to the Father in his name, so that seems consistent with scripture, though not always with modern Christian practice.

Sections 10:1-7 seem to read like an early rendition of Grace After Meals and I can only believe that common Jewish blessings utilized at various points in a person’s day, life-cycle were used or adapted for the training of Gentile disciples, and thus included in the Didache.

This also interested me:

11:3 And concerning the apostle-prophets, in accordance with the decree of the good news, act thus…

This portion of the Didache instructs the Gentile disciples to expect apostles and/or prophets and describes the manner in which the disciples should treat such people. That means, apparently, that apostles still existed when the Didache was composed, which dates it in the mid to late first century, and that there were still actual prophets in the land.

The ProphetThe flip side to this teaching is that if the Didache was composed in the second century, or even later, then we have to accept the idea that apostles, however that term would have been defined given that the original apostles were all dead by then, and prophets, actual prophets of God, continued to exist, in spite of John MacArthur and Strange Fire. Of course, this is all speculation on my part, but fascinating nonetheless.

Speaking of MacArthur and the Holy Spirit:

11:7 [A] And every prophet speaking in Spirit
you should not put on trial and not judge;
for every sin will be forgiven
but this sin will not be forgiven.

-pg 29

The section goes on to describe true and false prophets and how not everyone who speaks in Spirit is a prophet, but these early instructions to new Gentile believers certainly tells them to expect prophets and even others who speak “in Spirit.” Again, depending on the timing of the authorship of the Didache, this has interesting implications for our world of faith today.

13:3 [A] So, every first fruits of the products of the wine vat and the threshing floor, both of cattle and sheep, [1] you will give the first fruits to the prophets; for they themselves are your high priests.
13:4 [2] (But) if you should not have a prophet, give [it] to the beggars.

-pg 33

The language seems to reference the Temple service and the sacrificial system, although the specifics require the “first fruits” of the Gentile disciples to either be given to prophets, if they are available, or beggars (the poor) if they are not. Again, this is very “Jewish” in language and concept, although I suppose Gentiles who were former idol worshipers were accustomed to making offerings in pagan temples.

Here’s a few more points I thought were important.

On page 17 of Milavec’s book, 5:1 and 5:2 lists “the Way of Death,” or that which is evil and “full of accursedness.” Among these “ways” are what you’d expect from Torah: murder, adultery, lust, illicit sexual acts, theft, and so on.

On page 19, 6:3 says the following:

(And) concerning eating, [1] bear that which you are able, [2] from the food, on the other hand, sacrificed to idols, very much keep away, for it is worship of dead gods.

The only definite instruction being given to new Gentile disciples about food is to avoid food sacrificed to idols. There is no direct commentary on whether or not the Gentile is commanded to “keep kosher,” though I don’t know what “bear that which you are able” is supposed to mean.

On page 21, 8:2 is a repetition of “the Lord’s Prayer,” (Matthew 6:9-13), and 8:3 states, “Three times within the day pray thus,” suggesting that Gentiles were also to observe the fixed times of prayer.

The last part of the actual Didache text speaks of the end times, but I won’t go into any of that because Milavec offers an interesting commentary on this topic, one that doesn’t entirely match up with the modern Christian view based on Revelation, but then, if Milavec is right, the Didache as an oral tradition (but not a written document) would have been used to train Gentile disciples years or even decades before John had his vision on the island of Patmos.

I can’t tell you what to believe. At this point, I’m not sure myself what to believe about the Didache. My Pastor said it was seriously considered for canonization, that is, being made part of our Bible as the inspired Word of God, but in the end, it didn’t make the cut. However, even my Pastor quotes from it, and my understanding is that the Didache is taken seriously as an early Christian text.

Talmud StudyIf it’s early enough, it could be considered the possible basis for the oral instructions that accompanied the Jerusalem letter, or if not, then a supplement that was developed by the apostles or those in authority to augment the original Acts 15 instructions.

If my personal theory is right (and it’s just a theory), we have in our grasp something tangible from the mid-first to mid-second century of the common era that tells us the first Gentile disciples had their own “Torah” as it were, that overlapped portions of the Jewish Torah but was in fact not identical; a set of separate behavioral expectations of the Gentile disciples of Jesus that only somewhat mirrored the Torah of Moses. This may be the bridge between the Acts 15 letter and the actual, lived experience of the earliest Gentile disciples of Jesus in the original Messianic Jewish religious stream.

We also see, as I noted above, that according to the Didache (if my little theory is correct), Gentile believers were permitted to take on board as much of the yoke of the Lord (Torah) as they could handle up to and including full observance, but Gentile Torah observance was not mandatory.

Certainly something to think about and discuss. I’ll write more when I get through Milavec’s commentaries.

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The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses Revisited

Apostle-Paul-PreachesAt 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 have been 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)

That’s how I started my previous review of Toby’s article eighteen months ago. I mentioned on Friday that I would be “re-reviewing” Toby’s write-up on non-Jewish obligation to the Torah. This is also something of a consequence of my review of Boaz Michael’s “Moses in Matthew” seminar (I didn’t attend the 2011 event, but I did listen to an audio recording on CD). Boaz very aptly presented the Bible, specifically the Gospel of Matthew, as a densely packed document that contains far more information than what a surface reading of the text would suggest.

That’s how I feel about the entire Bible including the Torah, and specifically that’s how I feel about this:

“Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”

Acts 15:24-29 (NASB)

This is generally known as the “Jerusalem Letter” which contains what we call “the Four Prohibitions:”

  1. Things Contaminated by Idols
  2. Sexual Immorality
  3. Things Strangled
  4. Blood

Seems like a pretty anemic list. I won’t go into the whole process of James and the Apostolic Council issuing the halakhic ruling regarding the admission of Gentiles in to the Jewish movement of “the Way.” I already covered that in some detail in my six-part series Return to Jerusalem. I do want to communicate why I think studying the Torah is as vital to Christians as it is to Jewish people.

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Acts 15:21 (NASB)

This is probably one of the most deeply misunderstood sentences in the entire Bible, especially by those in the Hebrew/Jewish Roots movement. Even I used to believe that this single string of words provided not only permission but the commandment for Gentile believers to learn and observe the Torah of Moses in a manner identical to the Jewish people (nevermind that even observant Jews don’t always agree with each other about how to observe the mitzvot).

Actually, the sentence doesn’t directly say that Gentiles must attend synagogue and learn Torah but it’s heavily implied. Here’s Toby’s explanation for this.

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.

-Janicki, pg 46

jews-and-gentilesActually, those Gentiles we call “God-fearers” were already attending the synagogue and were indeed learning Torah. We see an example of such a synagogue of born-Jews, righteous converts, and God-fearing Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch as recorded by Luke in Acts 13:16-52. However, as the Messianic gospel message continued to reverberate outward from Jerusalem and into the furthest corners of the diaspora, an increasing number of pagan Gentiles would hear the message and turn to the Messiah. These pagans, like the men and women we read about in Acts 14:8-18, would have no knowledge of Torah, Judaism, or ethical monotheism, and the message of the good news that makes so much sense to modern Christians (though most get only a truncated version) would likely be completely misunderstood without a basic knowledge of the teachings of Torah to provide context. New Gentile believers, having just recently been worshiping in pagan temples, would not only miss the meaning of the lessons of Jesus, but they would have no idea how to lead a Holy life or why they should even do so.

As far as the Four Prohibitions are concerned, many have suggested that these are just starting points for new Gentile believers, designed to facilitate “table fellowship” with Jews until the Gentiles learned the full extent of the mitzvot and how to become completely observant. Except that describes a Gentile on the fast track to converting to Judaism, not a God-fearer or (recently) former pagan transitioning into becoming a Gentile disciple of the Jewish Messiah.

The “unpacking” of the Four Prohibitions can be compared to the “unpacking” of what is known as the Seven Noahide Laws. These laws, as we understand them today, didn’t exist in Paul’s day (though it is debatable if some version or versions were being circulated even then) but they are derived from Genesis 9 and the covenant God made with Noah:

Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

“Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.

“As for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.”
Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Genesis 9:3-11 (NASB)

Only seven laws were extracted from the text but again, that number is deceptively small. The link I provided above from auburn.edu/ actually extracts a longer list of laws from each individual prohibition. A total of sixty-seven laws are presented at this particular source and I’ve heard of other sources that have created even longer lists based on the so-called “seven laws.”

The website AskNoah.org is dedicated to providing information and services to modern “Noahides” who worship alongside observant Jews in Orthodox synagogues.

noah-rainbowI don’t say all this to directly compare Noahides with non-Jewish disciples of Messiah. Far from it. I only bring this up to say that, just as the Seven Noahide Laws actually make up a much longer and more complex list of mitzvot, so too, do the Four Prohibitions of Acts 15. That’s Toby’s whole point. He wrote fifteen heavily footnoted pages in a magazine format to just scratch the surface of the meaning of the Jerusalem Letter and to unpack its contents so we could understand that who we are as Christians is so much more than a four bullet point list of “Torah” directives and tons and tons of “grace.”

In January of 2012, I was caught off guard by the article and started wondering if some change in philosophy had come over FFOZ. Boaz graciously commented on my original review to say that nothing had changed in their intent.

On the contrary, from the outset (Messiah Journal 101), we made it clear that the “invitation” and non-obligatory type of language applies only to the specific sign-commandments and markers of Jewish identity: “specifically to aspects of the Torah which comprise Jewish identity: circumcision, dietary standards, festivals, calendar, Sabbath, etc.”

Toby’s article simply continues the process of fleshing out and defining the apostolic position regarding Gentiles and Torah. The only new material here involves the logical application of Acts 15 which is where we have been pointing people all along. Toby already presented some of this material in HaYesod.

A lot of this was just starting to gel after I attended FFOZ’s 2012 Shavuot Conference in Hudson, Wisconsin and it’s been steadily percolating within me for the past fifteen months or so. I realize that just as Boaz said his ministry has progressively been “fleshing out and defining the apostolic position regarding Gentiles and Torah,” this type of steady progression is what I’ve been going through as well, within my thoughts, spiritual development, and self-study.

I’m not writing this to re-review the actual content of Toby’s article, but rather how I am receiving its meaning, comparing the person I was a year-and-a-half ago to who I am now. As I said nearly two weeks ago, I’m Not Who I Was. Hopefully, none of us are. Hopefully, we are all striving to move forward, to learn, to experience, to draw nearer to God by the study of His Word.

Bible scholarship is always moving forward. Like any other type of academic endeavour, research and investigation never stops. Theologians, linguists, historians, archaeologists, and other professionals in their fields continually produce new insights into our understanding of God’s Word and how it is to be applied in our lives. As believers, we have a responsibility to also continue to study, to learn, to strive for a more refined understanding of the available information as guided by the Holy Spirit.

Luke only gives us a summary of the Acts of the Apostles, so while the Bible may be sufficient, that doesn’t mean it’s exquisitely complete. We can’t simply read Acts 15 once and say we understand it. We can’t read our favorite interpretation of the meaning of Acts 15 a month ago, a year ago, or a decade ago, and say we are sticking with that understanding, ignoring newer information that might modify our comprehension in important ways. The original text is unchanging, but how we read and understand it isn’t.

Who am IWho are we in Christ? What was the original intent and impact of the letter sent out to the believing Gentiles by James and the Council of the Apostles? How does that affect our lives as Christians today? What is a Gentile believer’s obligation to Torah? What does “Torah” even mean in our modern lives?

I can’t definitively answer all of those questions for you, but if you start by downloading and reading Toby’s article and continuing to unpack and unfold the text and your understanding of it, I’m hoping and praying you’ll find out. I pray we all discover who we really are in the pages of God’s Word and then live out the lives God intends for us.

The Evidence of Acts 15

Apostle-Paul-PreachesWhen they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.

Acts 14:27-15:2 (NRSV)

Luke notes a sharp disagreement existed (verse 2), his otherwise respectful reference to the circumcision groups contrasts markedly with Paul’s trenchant comment about the Jewish Christians who were advocating the requirement of Gentile circumcision in Galatians 5:12: “I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!” This treatment is consistent with the desire by Luke not to hang the church’s “dirty laundry” before Roman officials.

-John W. Mauck
“Chapter 17, Acts 15:1-35: Circumcised Hearts”
Paul On Trial: The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity (Kindle Edition)

I previously mentioned Mauck’s book on my blog and I am continuing to read and enjoy his insights on Luke/Acts as a reflection of his belief that these books were written as a legal brief pursuant to Paul’s trial in Rome before the emperor (Acts 28). Mauck, an attorney and Bible scholar, suggests that Luke did not write his gospel or the book of Acts as theological instruction for the Jewish and Gentile disciple of Christ, but as a legal document for the secular Roman court. His book acts as “evidence” of his assertion to his readership and I must say, as a lay person, I’m certainly seeing how he arrives at his position.

Acts 15 is of special interest to me, since it is the pivotal chapter in Luke’s book regarding how Gentiles were to be formally entered into the Jewish religious movement of “the Way.” I previously spent a good deal of time writing on Acts 15, primarily from D. Thomas Lancaster’s viewpoint as expressed in Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles published by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). While Lancaster’s treatment of Acts 15 was dense with information and insight, I always welcome different viewpoints on this material, since I consider it so vital in understanding the purpose and drive of the Gentile Christian life today.

What follows is a summary of Mauck’s chapter on Acts 15 and what I can glean that is of relevance to both Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Messiah today.

(I haven’t abandoned my series on the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot Conference, but wanted to change my focus for a moment to keep my thoughts fresh and to continue to provide new and enlightening material to anyone who is reading my blog. I’ll continue my commentaries on the conference and its presenters tomorrow).

Scripture informs the argument and decision. Acts 15:17, a part of Jacob’s interpretation of the prophet Amos, is particularly important: “that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord. Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name.” It tells the Roman reader that the Hebrew prophets had foreseen that not all Jews would remain faithful to God, while Gentiles would become followers of Israel’s God without becoming Jews. The Messianics were not inventing a new faith, but following a plan of God unfolding from ancient times.

-Mauck, Chap. 17

As a legal brief written by Luke, Mauck believes that the intended audience of Acts is not only Gentile but non-believing. One of the most serious charges leveled against Paul was that he was promoting a new religion among Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Empire. Only Judaism was considered a legal religion outside of the Greek/Roman pantheon of “gods”. The creation and promotion of any other religious form would be considered “atheism” in the Roman courts. Luke then, must convince the court in Rome that Paul’s evangelism to Jews and Gentiles was the promotion of a pre-existing religion: Judaism, and that the Jewish expression of “the Way” was wholly consistent with the other normative Judaisms of the first century CE as evidenced, in part, by the Tanakh (Old Testament).

The-LetterBut as we’ve seen so far, while the plan to include Gentiles in the Jewish movement has been established from ancient times, it isn’t clear just how they (we) were to be involved. At the beginning of Acts 15, Jewish believers from the “circumcision party” assert that the only way for Gentiles to gain entry into any form of Judaism was to be circumcised (convert) and to follow the Torah as proselytes. Paul disagreed with this position and it became such a controversy that the matter was referred to James (Jacob) and the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem for a legal decree.

I’ll leave it to the reader to acquire Mauck’s book and review Chapter 17 in its entirety, but in addressing the “Jerusalem Letter,” which contains a summary of the Council’s final decision about the Gentiles, Mauck says this:

By carefully setting forth the controversy, summarizing the arguments of the disputants, recounting the decision-making procedure, and memorializing the decision and reasons for it, Acts 15:1-35 exemplifies how a legal brief addressing a theological subject should be written to a secular reader.

Instead of the far more extensive law of Moses which the Jewish Christians were following, the Gentiles who are now going to be included in the people of God have been given four laws to obey…

Dan Gruber 1. has shown how the Jerusalem Council never changed the requirements of Torah but rather took portions of Torah which applied to Gentiles living among the Jews and informed the Gentiles of those requirements.

It’s been rather frustrating for both ancient and modern Bible scholars that Luke didn’t record more of the “mechanics” of exactly how the “Apostolic Decree” was supposed to impart a life of holiness and inclusion upon the Gentile believers. On the surface, the four decrees seem especially anemic in addressing Gentile worship and devotion to God within a Jewish framework. However as Mauck points out:

The theological basis for this decision would be lost on a Roman official reading Luke’s brief except that Luke records Jacob’s pronouncement that his decision is based upon the teaching of Moses…if Luke were writing to Gentile or Jewish Messianics, it seems to me that a more comprehensive or edifying explanation for these rules would be forthcoming…

What has been lost to history and thus to us, are the instructions that were orally provided to the letter’s Gentile recipients by Barnabas, Paul, Judas, and Silas (Acts 15:22) which no doubt gave dimension and deeper meaning to the pen and paper content of the Council’s letter to the Gentiles in the diaspora.

However, Mauck appears convinced of an important point: that the Gentile believers were never intended to live a Jewish lifestyle and take on board the full “yoke of Torah” as were the Jews.

I know I’ve said that before in a number of different ways and I’m sure certain members of my audience are getting tired of hearing it, but when presented by an attorney as not theology but legal evidence to be submitted to a pagan court system, the nature and weight of the information changes. The differences in application of Torah to Jewish and Gentile participants in the Nazarene movement cease to be an argument of opposing theological opinions and become a series of established facts set before the Roman court, complete with documentation (assuming any copies of the letter could be acquired) and witnesses (Paul could testify on the events he witnessed as could other apostles and disciples if they could appear before the court).

In the next Chapter, Mauck nails home the point of differing Torah application to Jewish and Gentile disciples:

…that the church’s disruption of the social/religious status quo (allowing Gentiles to become full members of the faith without circumcision and observance of the Torah)…

He further states:

Gentiles could be included into the people of God by faith in him rather than by circumcision and observance of extensive ritual…

A fruit tree budding detailOf course, it is faith that attaches both Jew and Gentile to God through Messiah by the Spirit, not observance of Torah, but Mauck does repeatedly assert that upon turning to God through faith in Messiah, the Gentile was not required to become circumcised or to observe Torah in the manner of the Jews.

While I believe it’s important to continue to establish that it was never the intent of the Council of Apostles (nor of the Holy Spirit) that Gentile disciples were to have Torah applied to their lives in the same manner as the Jewish disciples of Jesus, it is equally important to drive home the point that, according to the evidence, God never intended for Jewish believers to ever cease observance of the Torah of Moses:

Also, the inclusion of Paul’s circumcision of Timothy…refutes charges that Paul and the Messianics were changing “customs handed down from Moses.” (Acts 21:21, see Acts 6:14)

In further support of this point (Mauck’s references to Jews turning to Jesus as Messiah while remaining Jewish and remaining “zealous for the Torah” are replete in this book and I won’t attempt to create a comprehensive list), Mauck notes in Chapter 21:

The meeting with Jacob and the elders (Acts 21:15-26) has essential forensic applications. First, the elders declare how thousands of “zealous for the law” Jews have believed. Luke wants Theophilus to know that the faith in Jesus remains Jewish completely.

I’ll stop here since I only intended to present the content of primarily a single chapter of this book rather than write a complete review. Nevertheless, I believe I have found another stone to support the structure that Gentile entry into the first century Jewish Messianic movement did not require that the Gentiles undergo circumcision and adhere to Torah observance in the manner of the Jews, nor did Jewish entry into “the Way” convert Jewish believers to “Christianity” as we understand it in the modern era, and force them to surrender their Jewish identities and Jewish Torah observance.

The modern Messianic Jewish movement is on a quest of discovery, re-establishing these facts, re-asserting the right of Jews to live as Jews, to observe the Torah of Moses, and to be devoted disciples of the Messiah, as concepts and behaviors that are completely acceptable and integrated within a Jewish lifestyle and worldview.

In doing so, Messianic Judaism, like the Apostolic Council in ancient days, does not require Gentile believers in Jesus to become circumcised and to observe the Torah in a manner identical to their Jewish counterparts. This is established by the Bible and specifically Acts 15 and related scriptures as both theology and legal evidence along with the support of the Holy Spirit of God.

The mystery isn’t in how Jewish believers are to live as disciples of the Messiah, but how we Christians are to understand the application of the Torah upon us, since the oral instructions accompanying the Council’s letter did not survive. However, if we are to believe that the Bible is sufficient for our needs (though not containing all of the information that exists and with the understanding that extra-Biblical data, such as history and archeology, can enhance Biblical understanding), then we must agree that what we have in our hands when we hold the Bible, is enough to tell us who we are and how we are to proceed forward, as Jews and Gentiles, in a life of discipleship as followers of our Master.

1. Dan Gruber, “Torah and the New Covenant” (Hanover, N.H.: Elijah Publishers, 1998), 26-7 and other references; see Bauckham, “James and the Church,” 459-62.

122 days.

Return to Jerusalem, Part 1

up_to_jerusalemPaul and Barnabas appeals to the ruling given by the pillars, James, Simon Peter, and John. The newcomers questioned the ruling and the circumstances around it. Did the apostles really mean that the Gentile believers should remain as Gentile believers indefinitely? Surely not! Surely they only intended a grace-period during which the Gentiles could learn Torah. The newcomers raised practical questions:

“Do the Gentile disciples need to keep the commandments of the Torah at all then? Are they free to do as they please? Did not our Master teach us that whoever breaks the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least? Is it not sufficient for a disciple to be like his teacher? If our Master kept the Torah, should not His disciples keep the same commandments?”

Paul argued, “The whole Torah is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:14). He said, “The deeds of the flesh are evident!” (Galatians 5:19). On the other hand, he argued resolutely that those commandments which he styled “works of the Law,” i.e., circumcision and Jewish identity-markers, should not be required from Gentile believers.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Yitro (“Jethro”) (pg 432)
Commentary on Acts 15:1-20

Paul and Barnabas seem to have a real problem here and so do we. It has been argued by some that the Jewish “newcomers” who Paul and Barnabas were debating in the Jewish community in Syrian Antioch were correct, at least in part, that the Gentile believers, both in ancient days and in the present, should do everything that Jesus did in living a lifestyle consistent with our Jewish Master as his Jewish disciples. After all, the short definition of a disciple is one who learns from his or her Master through imitation. If we’re not imitating the practices of our Master down to the last detail, how can we be said to be his disciples?

On the other hand, the Jewish people arguing with Paul and Barnabas on this point saw no other way for the Gentiles to be disciples and imitators of Jesus than to become circumcised (the males) and to become full converts to Judaism. In their way of thinking, having Gentiles who were disciples and fully under the “yoke of Torah” was an impossible thought. One was either a Jew or not. There was no middle ground.

Paul was arguing strenuously for Gentile inclusion as disciples without conversion to Judaism, but how was such a thing to be done? The questions brought forth by the “newcomers” are indeed valid. We don’t consider such questions today in most of the church and in some ways, that represents the tremendous “disconnect” between most 21st century Christians and the origins of our faith. We have become unconscious of the “Jewishness” of our very first teachers, the Apostles and the Jewish disciples of our Jewish Messiah. Most of us, when we read Acts 15, interpret the scripture the way we’ve been taught rather than reading what the Apostles were actually saying.

Also, Paul’s argument, as Lancaster presents it, offers another problem. How can you truly reduce the Torah down to a single commandment and how were the Gentiles to enact “loving their neighbors as themselves” without obeying all, or at least very significant portions of the mitzvot and halachah as they were understood in that day? Lancaster separates out the “works of the Law” or “Jewish identity markers” from the larger body of mitzvot, but is that understanding taken directly from scripture or a theological interpretation of the writer and FFOZ? If the Torah could be “reduced” to a single, basic commandment for the sake of the Gentiles, why wasn’t it reduced for the Jewish disciples as well?

ancient-rabbi-teachingTo answer all those questions, we must do what Paul and Barnabas did: take it to the council of Apostles in Jerusalem.

So they decreed that Polos and Bar-Nabba along with some others would go up to Yerushalayim to the shilichim and the elders concerning this question.

Ma’asei HaShlichim (Acts) 14:2
from an unpublished translation based on Delitzsch

Lancaster’s commentary provides a variety of details about Paul’s and Barnabas’ journey to Jerusalem and the preliminaries about how they were received that I’m not going to discuss, both because of the length and because I have no intention of recreating the full body of Torah Club commentary on Acts 15 here (You can read Vol. 6 of the Torah Club to get the full analysis).

However, Lancaster does present a very handy outline of the Acts 15 problem that I think we should review before getting into the details of the matter.

  • The Original Question: Must the Gentiles be circumcised (become Jewish) in order to be saved? (15:1)
  • The Charge: The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Torah of Moses (in order to be saved). (15:5)
  • The Rebuttal: 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 grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are. (15:10-11)
  • The Proof Text: Amos 9:11-12 (David’s Fallen Tabernacle). (15:16-18)
  • The Decision: It is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles… (15:19)
  • The Four Essential Prohibitions: But what we write to them that they abstain
    1. from things contaminated by idols
    2. from fornication
    3. from what is strangled
    4. from blood. (15:19-20)
  • The Explanation of the Decision: For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath. (15:21)

-ibid, pg 433

Luke compresses the arguments presented before James and the Jerusalem Apostles so that they appear very brief, but according to Lancaster, the discussion may have lasted for days, as argument and counter-argument was presented by one side and then the other. The arguments against Gentile inclusion without conversion, using the words of the Master himself, must have been compelling:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine. Do not go in the way of the Gentiles…but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

-ibid
see Matthew 7:6, 10:5, 15:24, 15:26

The argument, as we read it from a modern Christian perspective, is not without its irony. In today’s church, Jewish people (or anyone else) cannot be saved unless they totally surrender their “Jewishness” and convert to (Gentile) Christianity. The Jewish identity and everything else about what it is to be a Jew, including the Torah of Moses, must be totally excised from the Jewish convert to Christianity. Yet in this hearing before the Jerusalem council, it is being strongly argued that a Gentile (anyone who is not Jewish) cannot be a valid disciple and follower of our (Jewish) Lord Jesus Christ unless he or she totally gives up their pagan ways and their Gentile identity and converts to Judaism.

But then Peter spoke:

And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

Acts 15:7-9 (ESV)

Peter is, of course, referring to his encounter with the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his household:

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

Acts 10:44-16 (ESV)

Burning-Star-of-DavidTaken one way, Peter could be saying to the Council that the Holy Spirit destroyed any and all distinctions between the Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah, creating “one new man,” and indeed this is exactly what the vast majority of Christians believe today. However Lancaster, reverses this and says that Simon Peter’s argument hinges on the necessity of maintaining a clear distinction between Jews and Gentile believers. According to Lancaster, Peter was not speaking in overly general terms and was specifically describing eligibility for salvation rather than defining legal identity, nationality, or covenantal obligations. Paul seems to echo this in his most famous statement in his epistle to the Galatians.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

Applying Lancaster’s understanding of Peter’s statement to what Paul wrote, we then see that Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, men and women, though different in status, class, nationality, ethnicity, and gender, all have identical access to salvation through Jesus Christ. Discipleship under Messiah doesn’t blur or destroy distinctiveness, including the specifics of Jewish covenant distinctiveness, but it does destroy any barriers between all humans and the salvation of God.

Naturally, this is going to be a lengthy discussion and analysis and Lancaster’s commentary covers a lot of ground, so yes, this the first part of another multi-part series. We’ll pick up with Simon Peter and “the unbearable yoke of the Law” in Part 2 of “Return to Jerusalem” tomorrow.

Shepherd, Pens, and Flock, Part 1

ancient_beit_dinThe apostles, after some deliberation, dispensed four rulings. Their letter to these Gentiles who are coming to faith indicated that they must abstain:

  • from what has been sacrificed to idols
  • from blood
  • from what has been strangled
  • from sexual immorality

The text of the letter is found in Acts 15:23-29. (Re-statements of these rulings appear in Acts 15:20, 21:25. Also note that manuscript variants exist with different versions of this list.)

Numerous and varied interpretations exist as to the exact intent and purpose of these rulings. Regardless, it is unreasonable to think that these four laws constitute the complete list of obligations of a Gentile before God. They say nothing about stealing, oppression, justice, or honor for parents, for example. Furthermore, the laws are not specific enough to be practical. What, for example, constitutes “sexual immorality”? Where does one go to find that definition, if not the Torah?

Regardless of their exact meaning and purpose, we can see from these rulings that they are not an end, but a beginning of a Gentile’s journey into a life conformed to God’s will. Consider the rationale for these four prohibitions:

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues. (Acts 15:19-21)

What purpose does it serve to mention the fact that [the Torah of] Moses is read every Sabbath in the synagogues in conjunction with the list of obligations for Gentiles?

-Aaron Eby
“Divine Invitation”
Adapted from Messiah Journal #100
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

As my regular readers must realize by now, I’ve been writing “fast and furious” about the topics of halachah in the Messianic Jewish world and the application of the Torah commandments to Christianity. I feel as if I’m trying to think in two opposite directions simultaneously, and it’s giving me a headache. But it’s also fascinating me and as you can tell, I can’t put these topics down. It is or should be part of the continual dialog between the believing Jewish and Gentile communities, and provide a point where we can meet to compare our similarities and our differences; a place in the meadow where the sheep from the two sheep pens participate in the flock of the Good Shepherd (see John 10:1-18).

I’m not a real fan of the term “divine invitation,” mainly because I don’t think it can be derived from the Bible or even necessarily implied. I’d rather have the Christian’s role in relation to Judaism defined by a more substantial mission.

That doesn’t mean to say that I disagree with Aaron, but his article poses more questions than answers. He suggests that more of the Torah and the Prophets apply to the Gentile church than what is intimated in the “Jerusalem letter,” but he doesn’t define just how far we are to take it. I suppose the answers are contained elsewhere, but I’m not going to wait until I can discover their location in order to comment.

Aaron says correctly that Israel has always been intended to be a light to the nations (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, Isaiah 49:1-6). This “light” is to extend well beyond the first coming of the Messiah and project itself far into the Messianic Age (Micah 4:1-2, Isaiah 42:1-4). He even goes so far as to suggest that Messiah always meant the Torah to be the light for the Gentiles:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others [anthropon, literally “men, humans, mankind”], so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

praying-jewish-womanBut as I’ve previously said, just how was and is the Torah meant to be applied to the Jewish and Gentile populations of believers? As I’ve met Aaron and I know Boaz Michael as well as the philosophy of FFOZ. I know they don’t believe in a theology that does away with Jewish identity and fuses Jew and Gentile believers into a homogeneous mass of generic humanity, but how we Gentiles are to “do” Torah has never been clear, except as an effect of love of God and of humanity, which I have commented on and related to the new commandment of Messiah.

I did suggest to my Pastor not too long ago that if a Christian wanted to voluntarily choose to take on additional mitzvot as a personal conviction, it would not be such a bad thing. The fact that he lived in Israel for fifteen years meant, in his case, that he did observe such things as Shabbat and a form of kosher, because his environment supported it. Granted, the environment outside of Israel is less friendly to Jewish observance, particularly among Christians, but that doesn’t mean a Christian who is so led can’t perform some of the same “Torah” out of love and solidarity, especially in interfaith families such as mine.

But why can’t Gentile Christians simply mimic Jewish religious behavior down to the last detail? I mean, what’s the problem if, as Aaron says, the Torah is for the Gentiles, too?

Each human being possesses a unique combination of personality, talents, timing and circumstances – a specific role to play in this world. Our role is dependent on many factors – not only our innate talents, but also on the needs of the times.

The important thing is to discover your unique contribution – and fulfill it.

The Torah tells us that one day Moses saw an Egyptian taskmaster killing a Jew.

“And Moses looked all around, and when he saw that there was no man, he took action.” (Exodus 2:11-12)

Why does the Torah tell us “there was no man”? Because Moses was checking to see if someone else was available, someone better qualified to do the job. Because if you reach for leadership when it’s not necessary, then you’re doing it more out of your own desire than for the needs of the people. Only when Moses saw there was nobody else qualified, did he take action.

-Rabbi Noah Weinberg
“Way #26: Know Your Place”
from 48 Ways to Wisdom
Aish.com

If Gentile Christians were to observe the mitzvot in a manner completely like the Jewish people, then the most straightforward way to accomplish this would be for Jews to convert Gentiles to Judaism. While such a process didn’t exist in the days of Moses because Israel was organized around tribal identity, and after the Babylonian exile, around clan identity (see Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Westminster John Knox Press; 2006) it was completely available in the days of Jesus. But that didn’t happen in the New Testament as the application of Christ’s Matthew 28:19-20 command. We see this acted out by Peter in response to Cornelius and his household:

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:44-48 (ESV)

Notice what didn’t happen here. If it had been Peter’s intention to convert the Gentiles to Judaism, between Cornelius and his household receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptized in water, Peter should have arranged for Cornelius and the other men to be circumcised. He didn’t and in fact, we don’t see any of the new disciples of Christ from among the nations ever converting to Judaism (I believe Timothy was considered Jewish because of his Jewish mother and that’s why Paul circumcised him). Paul spent a great deal of effort in his letter to the Galatians specifically discouraging them from converting, and as I’ve said before, also citing Paul from Galatians, if you’re not a Jew or a righteous convert, you are not obligated to the full “yoke of Torah,” both as defined by the actual Books of Moses and the Prophets, and by accepted halachah.

the_shepherd1Rabbi Weinberg suggests that we are each created for a purpose as individuals and should pursue that purpose in order to fulfill God’s design for our lives. What if it’s true that God’s intent was and is to have a specific purpose for the Jews and another (and perhaps overlapping) specific purpose for the Gentile Christians?

Jesus opens all the doors and holds all the keys. He is the portal by which we Gentiles enter into any sort of covenant relationship with God at all, and he also fully reconciles and restores the Jewish nation to the Father as the fulfillment of all His covenants with and His promises to the Jewish people. Make no mistake, the Sinai covenant made between God and Israel didn’t vanish simply because Messiah came. It would be insane to suggest otherwise. Not only did Jesus live a lifestyle in obedience to Torah and not only did his teachings support Torah and the Temple, but his Jewish disciples were never seen to do otherwise, either. The history of the Messianic movement forward isn’t abundantly clear, but I don’t believe that next generation of Jews after Paul and Peter were any less Jewish even as they continued to worship Jesus as Messiah (we never see Paul, for example, telling Timothy that he doesn’t have to observe the mitzvot as a Jew).

But that’s a direction I’m saving for part 2 of this article. For now, although we don’t have an image we could define as crystal clear regarding just how far to apply Torah to Christians, we do know that it is well-applied in the weighty matters of the Law: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.