While we continue our previous discussion on the subjects of Church History (and the related field of Historical Theology), it’s important to remember that there is much that we, the Body of Christ, can learn from our extensive history and we would be foolish to overlook the rich resource these subjects provide for us. And as one studies the history of the church, one will surely notice that conflict played a significant role in the formation of what we refer to as “orthodoxy.” Thus, when one surveys the history of the early church through the Book of Acts, one will note two conflicts, one more significant than the other.
The first is relatively minor in scope. We find that a dispute arose between two groups within the young growing Messianic Jewish movement. On one side where the “Hebrew Jews” and the other consisted of the “Hellenistic Jews.” One group was very “Jewish” while the other was more cultured in the sense of being very “Greek.” We find this historical event documented in Acts 6:1-6. The dispute was rather simplistic and the Apostles handled it quickly and effectively. So much so that we find that after this conflict, the “word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
However, the second conflict was much more serious and required an extensive amount of apostolic discussion, debate, and ultimately correction. The conflict was one that still raises its head within certain wings of the modern Messianic movement. Just how “Jewish” do Gentiles need to become in order to be “saved”? Paul’s letter to the Galatians and Luke’s Book of Acts are the two primary sources that help us understand both the cultural background that led up to this controversy and how the apostles dealt with the issue at hand. Let’s trace the backdrop of the problem and note the solutions that the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to give…
While Paul was going about his ministry of preaching the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, he began to encounter opposition in the form of men who stated that one had to be circumcised in order to be saved. This more or less destroyed the fruit of Paul’s labors! The Galatian Christians appear to have been most affected by this teaching, so Paul took up his sword in the form of his pen. Thus, the letter to the Galatians is a strong letter that is full of theological clarification regarding the doctrine of Justification. According to Paul, man is justified by faith and not by works of the law (cf. Gal. 2:16; 3:34)!
Shortly after Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he traveled to Jerusalem in order to meet with the other Apostles and Elders in what is known as the Jerusalem Council (cf. Acts 15:1-29). The Council’s primary purpose was to address whether or not one had to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses in order to be saved (cf. Acts 15:1, 5). After much debate (v. 7), Peter testified of the work that God was doing with Gentiles, no doubt recalling the powerful conversion of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10). Soon after Peter’s testimony and the previous debate between the Apostles and Elders, Barnabas and Paul shared the signs and wonders that had been characteristic of their preaching (cf. 1 Thess. 1:4-5). Finally, James stood up to make a point. James was one of Jesus’ brothers and had not been one of the original twelve disciples who later became apostles. Yet shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, James became a leading figure among the church in Jerusalem and among the other apostles. Thus, his statement held significant and convincing merit. After giving Peter’s testimony positive affirmation, James quotes Amos 9:11-12 as evidence for his judgment of the situation, which was…
“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
I have found that this passage is either overlooked or misunderstood, but rarely understood in light of its context and the rest of the Scriptures. There is good reason for the difficulty. The main question is in regards to the application of this passage in light of what Paul writes in texts such as Romans 14 and Peter’s dream in Acts 10 (i.e., God has made clean that which was once unclean). In fact, our congregation had a missionary who spoke last year who actually taught that it was a sin to eat blood sausage becaus eof this text! Others, especially in the United States, rarely show concern for what kind of foods they eat (e.g. McDonalds!). At any rate, there are many questions and problems that can arise. Messianic Jewish scholar Stern notes three possible interpretations of this passage:
“(1) The four prohibitions are a variant of the Noachide laws, presented in the Talmud as what God has required of all mankind since the days of Noah (i.e., before “jew” and “Gentile” were defined:
“Our rabbis taught, ‘The sons of Noah were given seven commandments: practicing justice and abstaining from blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, bloodshed, robbery and eating flesh torn from a live animal.’ Rabbi Chananyah ben-Gamli’el said, ‘ Also not to drink blood taken from a live animal.'” (Sanhedrin 56a).
There follows the scriptural basis for these laws in the form of a midrash on Genesis 2:16. Thus Judaism is not only a particularistic national religion specifying God’s requirements for Jews but also a universalistic religion that states what God demands of non-Jews as well. Possibly the Jerusalem Council based its prohibitions on this tradition, although its four requirements neither state nor imply anything about practicing justice or eschewing robbery. On the other hand, the Council may have specified only minimum requirements, with the exception that other moral attributes would be acquired later, possibly as a result of Gentiles’ attending synagogue services and learning there the Jewish moral traditions (v. 21&N)
(2) Some manuscriptus lack “from what is strangled.” If this is the correct reading, the three remaining prohibitions correspond to the three acts a Jew must die rather than commit:
“Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shim’on ben-Y’hotzadak, ‘By a majority vote it was decided in the upper chambers of the house of Nitza in Lud that in every law of the Torah, if a man is commanded, “Transgress, or you will be put to death,” he may transgress in order to save his life – with these exceptions: idolatry, fornication and murder.'” (Sanhedrin 74a)
In other words, Gentile believers must avoid idolatry, fornication and murder because they are such serious moral trangressions that a Jew would die ‘al kiddus-HaShem (7:59-60N) rather than commit them.
(3) The requirements were only secondarily ethical; they were primariliy practical social requirements for fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers. A Gentile who did not immediately observe all four prohibitions would so offend his Jewish brothers in the faith that a spirit of community would never be able to develop.” (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, 277-278).
I am convinced that neither (1) nor (2) are correct. I cannot square (1) with Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 or with the testimony of Peter in Acts 10. The second proposal (2) is also unconvincing because the phrase “from what is strangled” is only missing in the Western text. Therefore, it is a moot point.
The concept that the prohibitions are given for the sake of social issues and for the purpose of unity makes the most sense and is, in my estimation, the most convincing. However, I share this lightly as I believe each person should study and come to their own conclusion regarding this issue.
Furthermore, it is also interesting to note that Jews are not commanded to refrain from following the Mosiac Law! Acts 15 seems to support the concept of Jews living “Jewish” for the sake of their cultural identity and in the hopes of reaching other Jews with the Gospel of Yeshua (Jesus). As Stern also notes,
“if the third interpretation is correct, then these food laws were given only as practical guides to avoid disruption of the fellowship betwen believing Jews and Gentiles in the social context of the first century. Today, when Messianic Jews are a small minority in the Body of Messiah, a few if any of them take umbrage at Gentles’ eating habits, the issue is irrelevang, and there is no need for Gentile Christians to obey a command never intended as eternal. However, in Israel, Gentle believers may find it convenient to keep at least a semblance of kosher, simply to fit in with a pattern widespread in the Land, or to be able to invite tradition-keeping Jews to dinner; and there are not a few Gentile Christians who do so” (Ibid., 278-279).
In conclusion, we should note that the first major conflict brought about a great result for the sake of the Gospel. What we must realize is that at the very heart of this conflict was the subtle undermining of the nature of Justification and Salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Praise God for the wisdom and apostolic correction of the Jerusalem Council (and Paul’s letter to the Galatians)!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
YES! PEANUTS… I can understand Peanuts!! 😉
And… then there’s the REST of the post….. 🙁
This was interesting reading and definitely food for thought. I liked the #3 option, as well.
I have studied this subject quite a bit, because we came close to going “messianic” at one point. I still don’t really eat pork very often (except when really delicious ham is being served at church potlucks, etc.!).
In my reading on the subject, many authors suggest that the original dietary laws were designed, not just to make Jewish people “weird” to the surrounding cultures, but because God (the designer of the food-like substances) knew which things were healthy for them to eat and which were not. Anthropologists/archeologists discovered that the Egyptians (in the time of Moses) who had a diet not far different from ours (only minus McD’s and food-in-a-box) had all the same diseases as we do (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.). However, the Jewish people of that time period were extremely healthy and free from diseases like that.
Also, scientists have learned that the blood, fatty tissues, and certain other parts of the body that were forbidden for Jewish people to eat, are also where many of the sources of disease are carried. Simply by eliminating blood, fat, and those certain part of the body, the Jewish people were able to avoid disease.
In considering which animals were considered “clean” or “unclean”, the same thing was found. An animal that has hooves and chews the cud also has a four barrel stomach that processes out any “garbage” that might be eaten. They are also vegetarian animals (herbivores). Pigs, on the other hand, will pretty much eat anything, but they have no “processing system” to clean it up, so whatever they eat goes right into the meat, and then into us.
In today’s world, if a pig’s diet is carefully controlled to include only things that would be healthy for us, then the pork would be safe to eat. I thought it was interesting to read, several years back, that there is some city in Pennsylvania that actually has pigs that live in their garbage dumps and eat up the garbage. Maybe that was God’s original purpose for pigs??? (No offense to pig farmers, by the way.)
So, I have come to the conclusion that it is not a sin to eat “non-kosher” and God isn’t going to “smack” me for doing so, but on the other hand, it is probably in my own best interest (healthier for me) if I try to limit the foods that are considered “unclean” and eat more fruits, veggies and “clean” foods.
Luke, I also own Stern’s Jewish commentary! I’ve found it very helpful in my studies. I regularly use the Complete Jewish Bible too.
This was a great post and really painted the picture for me. I think I understand the situation better. Thanks. I have always wondered about the prohibitions in Acts 15 and how they worked with other verses that stated that God hade made dirty foods clean.
During the Black Plague (Black Death) during the 14th century which killed 75 million people also provided evidence of the positive site of the Law.
During the Black Plague, very few Jews died because they followed the dietary laws found in the Torah. This caused Gentiles to not only blame the plague on the Jews but to also persecute them (e.g., Roman Catholics).
Another sad example of the “church” persecuting the Jewish people.
i didn’t know about that. dude, this is pretty interesting. i guess i never really understood acts 15. this makes perfect sense now. i can also get paul’s point in gal.
i eat a lot of bacon, for the record. and i really like it.
back on task. luke, whats up with james doing all the talking. i thought catholics said peter was head honcho?
I have heard many people who try to use the account of Peter’s vision in Acts 10 as proof that it is OK to eat the meat of unclean animals. This argument, however, falls apart upon further examination of the passage. Acts 10:9-16 says the following:
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
Later, in verse 19, it says
“And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.”
The full interpretation of Peter’s vision is given at Cornelius’s house in verse 28:
“And he [Peter] said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”
In this passage, Peter describes people of other nations (Gentiles) the same way that he described animals in the vision! God showed Peter that he is not to call Gentiles whom God has made clean by the Blood of Yeshua as being common or unclean! The vision happening 3 times corresponds to the 3 men whom Cornelius sent to get Peter. Associating and not associating with gentiles at mealtimes was a problem that Peter was having in Galatians 2:12!
As far as the Law, many people in the church appear to think that Yeshua came to abolish the Law. The word “abolish” means “to do away with wholly,” to annul, “to make void, “to end, “to destroy,” and “to wipe out.” But Yeshua did not come to annul, end, destroy, or to wipe out the Law. He came to fulfill the Law. Mathew 5:17-19 says the following:
17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven(NIV).
We are not justified by the Law, but there are still consequences to sin, no matter how trivial a Law may seem. As Yeshua said in John 14:15; “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
You follow the whole Torah?
Not exactly. If I put my trust in my own righteousness and works, I’d be in trouble as well as a fool. I’d probably feel very tired and worn out from my own striving as well. That’s the benefit of being a servant of Yeshua: I can put on the righteousness of Yeshua rather than having to rely on my own righteousness and works. I don’t offer animal sacrifices or burnt offerings to God, since Yeshua fulfilled the requirements for these by becoming the ultimate sacrifice by dying on the cross. To offer animal sacrifices and burnt offerings to God would be like spitting in God’s face, saying that His Son’s sacrifice wasn’t good enough.
Well I certainly have some comments/observations/questions here!
I fail to see how the argument falls apart under examination. If anything, this text (and the others) provide the foundational principles that indicate that Gentiles are not required to follow the Mosaic Law. One can exegete Acts 10 all day long but still needs to deal with Acts 15, Rom.14, and 1 Cor. 8 and 10.
Therefore, one doesn’t need to use Acts 10 as proof at all. One can use other Pauline texts.
Agreed. Here’s where I think I join JHolmes confusion. When you asked whether you follow the Torah, especially after what you have just previously written, you write:
I guess I’m confused. Your initial post seemed to indicate that you believed Christians should follow the Mosiac Law, specifically in regards to the dietary commandments. You seemed to specify this by noting that Jesus did not come to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it, which I agree with. Yet when you were pressed as to whether you kept the Torah, you gave a very Protestant Gentile answer! 🙂 This confuses me.
Could you please clarify your position so I can perhaps ineract with it a bit more? Do you believe Gentiles who follow Yeshua are required by Scripture to keep the dietary regulations of the Torah? If so, how do you determine which to obey? How do you also determine which of the 613 Laws are to still applicable and which are deemed “cultural”?
I guess I’m just really confused by your posts! I hope you can explain them a bit better for us and I look forward to reading something when you get time!
That was the same confusion I had.
Related to our discussion, what do you mean, Luke, when you refer to Messianic Jews still following the Law?
At the book store I saw a true story about a guy who lived for a year following all of the Old Testament. It looked good. Have any of you read that one?
No, but it sounds interesting. What’s the name of it? I’d love to find out what happened!
As to Luke’s questions for HebrewScholar…I can’t speak for him, but my own perspective on it is that Christ paid for all our sins and therefore our own striving doesn’t get us one jot or tittle closer to heaven. However, in our gratitude to Abba Father and Jesus/Yshua, we can choose to obey Him…not because it will get us to heaven, but because we want to express our love to Him…and perhaps know Him better as well.
It just seems in some Christian circles that it is not okay to express love for Yahweh by choosing to obey the commandments He gave in the Old Testament, unless it’s the Big Ten (don’t kill, don’t steal, etc.). I personally find it somewhat humorous (not) that so many Christians seem to want to throw out the Old Testament entirely as “Jewish culturalism”, and yet to do so would mean we are throwing out the entire foundation of society (Marriage, parenting, family structure, objections to murder/stealing, etc.).
So…how do YOU pick and choose which parts of the Bible to observe? We all do it, you know. Since Jesus was the only one who ever kept the whole thing, obviously the rest of us are only choosing to obey the parts that we think are important. Some people just think it is important to observe the dietary laws or the feasts or whatever. What is more important (or at least in my humble opinion) is their motivation for doing so. Is it because they think God will be displeased (or less pleased) if they don’t? Or is it more out of the joy of associating with their Lord, the first of many brothers, and just wanting to do what they saw their big brother doing?
As for the Law, I believe that there is one Law for both Jews and Gentiles. Rather than dividing the Law into those which are still applicable today and those which are “cultural,” I divide them into those which have been fulfilled and therefore don’t really apply —basically those dealing with the issue of atonement for sins such as rules for sacrifices, offerings and the priesthood—from those that name sins such as adultery, theft, Lying, etc. Acts 15 does say the following:
“. . . 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.”
However, it also says
“[Paul speaking] 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. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? BUT WE BELIEVE THAT WE WILL BE SAVED THROUGH THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS, JUST AS THEY WILL.”
To say that there is a different set of Laws for the Jews than there is for Gentiles seems to say that there is Gentiles have an easier time getting to heaven than Jews because they don’t have as many Laws to follow. But it’s NOT by works that anyone is saved, “for by the Law shall no one be justified.” Justification has always been by grace through faith—even in the OT.
As far as whether I believe that Gentiles who follow Yeshua are required by Scripture to keep the dietary regulations of the Torah, I do not believe that they are required to do this for salvation, but they should still desire to follow it as much as possible out of love for God. Romans 14 is a passage that is very For those who eat , it says not to despise those who abstain, and to those who abstain, it says not to sit in judgment of the one who eats. It basically says to let God judge them rather than judging other people yourself.
In 1Corinthians 8 and 10, it talks abut eating food sacrificed to idols. A little information on how meat is sacrificed to idols helps in understanding this passage. There are two ways that meat is sacrificed to an idol. The first way is to lay a portion of the meet before an idol while the rest is eaten or sold in the marketplace. This is the case with the meat sold in the marketplace in 1Cor. The portion that was bought in the market was not sacrificed in any way. The other passage in 1Corinthians deals with the other way in which meat was sacrificed to idols, which involves actually eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. It says not to eat the food if they tell you it has been sacrificed to idols. It says not to give offence to Greeks, Jews, or the church. Eating food sacrificed to idols would give offence to all three of these groups: to Greeks because he acknowledges a different God in his prayer of thanks, to the church and to the Jews because he would be breaking the Law. I hope this isn’t too hard too read.
I just actually had a chance to read through this as I must have missed all of the responses.
There’s some great thoughts here. For me, it boils down to Old Covenant and New Covenant. Key question: what was renewed in the New Covenant from the Old?
That is how I believe we do the most justice to the intent of of Scripture and most consistently follow the Scriptures.
Asking how we “pick and choose” commandments is a good question (though at times unhelpful due to the intent of it).
My answer is that we “pick and choose” according to how the New Testament informs us. We “pick and choose” according to how Jesus and the apostles instruct us. We “pick and choose” in light of the revelation of the Scriptures. We “pick and choose” with our conscience open to how other Christians before us interacted with the text. We “pick and choose” as the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Scriptures.
For me, it’s really that simple. And I’m willing to explain how I come to those convictions as well…
David, isn’t Paul’s entire point in Galatians that if you keep one commandment you are required to keep them all?