Tag Archives: noahide laws

Insights from the Author’s Introduction to The Divine Code

divine code
Cover for the Divine Code found at Amazon.com

Included in the Torah, God also repeated and gave to Moses the Seven Commandments for the Children of Noah, along with their explanations and their details.

All the Gentiles of the world were henceforth eternally commanded to accept upon themselves and to fulfill these seven Divine precepts, because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah, and He made known through Moses our teacher that the descendants of Noah had previously been commanded to do them.

-Rabbi Moshe Weiner
from the Author’s Introduction to
The Divine Code, Parts I-IV (Kindle Edition).

Just yesterday I mentioned buying this eBook online. Although I’ve only begun to read it, I found some interesting details I wanted to share.

According to Rabbi Weiner, who periodically references the Rambam, midrash states that on the first day of Adam’s creation, God gave him six of the seven Noahide Laws (although a number of them wouldn’t have made sense to the first man, because, for example, the prohibition against theft requires someone to steal from).

God again gave these laws, this time including the prohibition against eating a limb from a live animal, to Noah (see Genesis 9). However, both of these revelations were private ones, given by God to individuals. In other words, there were no witnesses.

R. Weiner explains that Gentiles were still obligated to obey the seven precepts, but that they yielded limited benefits.

However, when God gave the Torah to Moshe (Moses) at Mount Sinai (and I find it interesting that I’m writing this just days before the Festival of Shavuot), He gave, again according to midrash, both the written and oral Torahs to Moses with the entire nation of Israel standing as witnesses.

The seven Noahide laws were given as part of the Torah, and as part of the Torah, they can never be annulled, deleted, added to, or subtracted from:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

Rav Yeshua (Jesus) affirmed this by his own words (although mainstream Christianity doesn’t necessarily see it that way), which lends some credence to the Jewish idea that we non-Jews are obligated to observe and receive a heightened spiritual benefit from the seven Noahide laws and their detailed explanations as found in the oral Torah. But that assumes Moses really did receive an “oral Torah” at Sinai along with the full contents of the written Torah, and all of that information was passed down in an unbroken line to the present day.

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgement. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.

-Ethics of the Fathers 1:1

Of course if you’re not an Orthodox Jew, you might have a different opinion about all that, but let’s roll with it for the time being.

In his Author’s Introduction, R. Weiner goes on to say:

Jewish Sages and faithful Rabbinical authorities in every generation are commanded to explain the Torah to the rest of the Jewish people. They are also commanded to explain the Noahide commandments to the Gentiles, and to teach them how these seven mitzvot should be fulfilled.

The Rabbi continues his explanation stating that only “accepted Jewish Torah scholars” are authorized to explain the Noahide laws to the Gentiles and no other teachers or authorities should be considered valid.

That would tend to leave out any Christian Pastors or teachers, as well as Jewish teachers who are not accepted as authorities, such as some of those within the Messianic Jewish movement.

The non-profit organization Ask Noah International (ANI) has taken up the mantle of educating the Gentiles, but it’s not something universally embraced by Orthodox Judaism in general (or any other Judaism). I’ve even heard it said once (though I don’t recall the source), that Jews within Messianic Judaism are not obligated to teach the Gentile the ways of righteousness, and that their movement is primarily or exclusively for Jews who have come to faith in Rav Yeshua.

Yet from R. Weiner’s perspective, authorized Jewish Rabbis and scholars are obligated to teach the Gentiles the seven mitzvot and the exact meaning of each one, which is the point of the book I’m reading. From the time of Adam to the giving of the Torah, Gentile observance of the seven laws had some merit attached, but when these laws were given to Moses as part of the Torah along with the explanation for them in the oral Torah, an enhanced spirituality was given to the Gentile by their observance.

When the revelation went from private to public, Gentile obligation and the rewards for doing so, became permanent and eternal.

Of course, exactly how the Gentiles are to observe the mitzvot can only be learned from Jewish scholars who are fluent in the portions of the oral Torah which pertain to those mitzvot. Earlier in this book, it was explained that many or even most Rabbis lack that knowledge and experience, and one of the missions of ANI is to be a resource to them.

R. Weiner quotes Rambam from Laws of Kings 8:11 which states that any Gentile who is pious and carefully observes the seven mitzvot will merit a place in the world to come. He goes on to write:

This is so provided that one accepts them and observes them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moses our teacher…

In a sense, this makes Moses a teacher to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

Remember though, this is only from the author’s brief introduction to the book. I haven’t even started the first chapter yet.

There’s one thing to consider as we go forward. If the seven mitzvot incumbant upon the Gentiles are eternal because they were given to Moses at Sinai and the Torah is eternal, then can we somehow fold them into the Acts 15 ruling of James the Just and the (Messianic) Jerusalem Counsel which gave all Gentiles who are devoted to Rav Yeshua the legal status of “resident aliens” among Israel?

Return to Jerusalem, Part 5

apostles_james_acts15The majority of Jewish believers in 49 CE did not accept Paul’s gospel of Gentile inclusion. They challenged the Pauline message by telling the God-fearing Gentile believers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). They contended, “It is necessary to circumcise [the Gentile believers] and to direct them to observe the Torah of Moses” (Acts 15:5).

The Jewish believers calling for circumcision and conversion did not object to God-fearing Gentiles who wanted to learn about Judaism and Yeshua of Nazareth. God-fearers could be found in any Jewish community – not just among believers. Paul’s opponents objected to elevating the status of God-fearing disciples of Yeshua to that of co-heirs with Isarel and fraternity with the Jewish people. Rabbi [Yechiel Tzvi] Lichtenstein [Commentary on the New Testament: The Acts of the Apostles (Unpublished, Marshfield, MO: Vine of David, 2010), on Acts 15:7; originally published in Hebrew: Beiur LeSiphrei Brit HaChadashah (Leipzig: Professor G. Hahlman, 1897)] explains, “Paul and Barnabas said that the brothers among the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised and keep the [whole] Torah of Moses, but they were still full brothers in Israel and shared in their inheritance.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)
Torah Portion Mishpatim (“Judgments”) (pg 457)
Commentary on Acts 15:20-31

Continued from Part 4 of this series. Make sure you’ve read the previous parts  before proceeding here.

It’s hard to believe that any Christian, regardless of denomination or variant sect, could possibly object to such a bright promise as the one Lancaster interprets from the text of Acts 15, but as we’ve seen from some of the comments folks have made in previous parts of this series, such a promise is hotly contested. Traditional Christians tend to balk at the suggestion that the Jewish disciples of Christ never intended to “cancel” the Torah for Jews, and certain branches of the Hebrew Roots movement are dead set against the idea that all Christians everywhere aren’t fully obligated to the Torah mitzvot. It seems that full co-heir status with Israel in the Kingdom of Heaven and in all of the Messianic promises just isn’t enough.

But if Lancaster is correct and James and the Apostles never intended full Torah obligation on the Gentiles (unless some of them chose to convert to Judaism), then what does this mean?

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 (ESV)

The four prohibitions (v 20) aren’t always easy to pick out in inline text, so here they are in list form:

  1. abstain from the things polluted by idols
  2. from sexual immorality
  3. from what has been strangled
  4. from blood

But of all the prohibitions James could have applied to the Gentile God-fearing believers, why these four? What was so special about them? Was he imposing some version of the Seven Noahide Laws on the non-Jewish disciples?

These seven laws, developed centuries after the lifetime of James, Peter, and Paul, are based on what we find here:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you,[plural in Hebrew] be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”

God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Genesis 9:1-7, 17 (ESV)

While there may be some superficial similarities, it doesn’t seem reasonable to say that James’s four essential prohibitions were directly lifted from the covenant God made with all of humanity through Noah. Also, and this is important, if some version of the Noahide laws were already understood within late Second Temple Judaism, wouldn’t the Jews have already considered all Gentiles bound by these laws? Why would James bother to simply re-state them and how would it have made any sort of distinction between the Gentile disciples of Jesus and the rest of mankind?

Are these four laws of the apostolic decree the only commandments of the Torah enjoined upon the Gentile believers? No. Judaism already taught a minimum standard to which the Torah held all God-fearing Gentiles. The sages taught that certain commandments of the Torah apply universally to all human beings. If not, how could God have punished the Gentiles in the story of Noah? For what did He punish the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? Why did He drive out the Amorites and Canaanites in the days of Joshua? – As Paul says, “Sin is not imputed when there is no Torah” (Romans 5:13).

Based on this line of reasoning, the rabbis derived a list of seven universal commandments. The earliest version of the list appears in the Tosefta (see t.Avodah Zarah 8:4-6).

-Lancaster, pg 459

D.T. LancasterI know what you’re thinking. I (and Lancaster) am being anachronistic. How can the Noahide laws, which I’ve already said were codified many centuries after James, have been applied to humanity and understood as such by James and the Jerusalem Apostles?

Some critics argue that, since the rabbis formulated the list of seven laws subsequent to the days of the apostles, those laws are not relevant to the context of Acts 15. On the contrary, the apocryphal “Book of Jubilees” (c. 150 BCE) demonstrates that the theological concept behind the laws of Noah already existed well before the days of the apostles:

Noah began to command his grandsons with ordinances and commandments and all the judgments which he knew. And he bore witness to his sons that they might do justice and cover the shame of their flesh the one who created them and honor father and mother, each one love his neighbor and preserve themselves from fornication and pollution and all injustice … [And he said], “No man who eats blood or sheds the blood of man will remain upon the earth … You shall not be like one who eats [meat] with blood, but beware lest they should eat blood before you. Cover the blood … You shall not eat living flesh …” (Jubilees 7:20-32)

That is not to say that the apostles considered observance of the laws of Noah or the four laws of the apostolic decree as sufficient for attaining salvation. The laws of Noah offered Gentiles a baseline for ethical, moral conduct, but salvation came to the God-fearing Gentile believers “through the grace of the Master Yeshua.”

-Lancaster, pp 459-60

I know. Jubilees isn’t canonized Bible, but the plain history of the document tells us that the Jewish people were aware of an application of the laws of Noah over a century and a half before James made his pronouncement that Luke recorded in Acts 15. There was already a Jewish consciousness that God held humanity to a certain set of universally applied standards. And the apostolic decree thus was not a simple restatement of the universal laws of Noah. As we see, Lancaster doesn’t believe that obeying any combination of laws actually “saves” anyone, and the message of James confirms that for Jews and Gentiles, salvation is from the Jews through Jesus Christ.

In today’s “meditation,” I’ve defined the four prohibitions by what they aren’t (the Noahide laws) rather than what they are. So what are the four prohibitions for Gentiles in the apostolic decree and what are their implications for the Christians in ancient times and today? For the answer to that question and more, you’ll have to read the sixth and final part of this series. I had intended to write only five parts rather than six, but when I tried to include all of my material in a single blog post, it was well over 3,000 words long. I’d rather write shorter missives that are easier to read and digest.

See the conclusion of Return to Jerusalem in Part 6.