NOTE: This is the last installment in a four-part series on Jews, Gentiles, and the Torah.
Before we continue with this, I want to be very clear about one thing. God does not favor Jews over non-Jews. That is not the argument. In Messiah, we are one!
However, just as a firstborn son has unique responsibilities apart from the other brothers and sisters, Israel was God’s firstborn [Ex. 4:22-23]. In the words of apologist Dr. John Oakes, “There is a sense in which all nations are God’s ‘sons’, but because Israel was favored by God and chosen to be his special people, by the Jewish definition, Israel was God’s chosen, first-born son.” But God loves all nations—all his sons and daughters. Together, we are the One New Man of whom Paul speaks.
12. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LITURGICAL TORAH AND MORAL TORAH
An error of the One Law movement is their failure to recognize that in the Torah there are not only universal laws for life such as thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness, etc., but on the other hand, specific laws that were meant only for Israel to set them apart as a sign among the nations, such as the Sabbath.
The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. (Ex. 31:16-17)
There is a difference between keeping kosher or mixing wool and linen and committing murder, (Lev. 19:19) and dishonoring your parents. There is a difference between cutting the corners of your beard and hating your brother. The former are part of Israel’s unique calling (Ex. 19:5-6; Rom. 11:29) while the latter are universal to all nations. By refusing to allow Israel her calling, the One Law movement creates a new Replacement Theology.
Furthermore, in the passages where Paul says certain people will not inherit the kingdom, he never mentions any of the liturgical aspects of the Torah, but only moral.
For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Messiah and God. (Eph. 5:5) Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)
13. ONLY FOUR LAWS?
If indeed there is no separation between the liturgical/ceremonial and moral/universal laws, then we are left to conclude that in Acts 15, the apostles were actually telling the Gentiles that there is only one moral law—sexual purity—that they had to keep.
Lying, stealing, and rebellion were okay?
Let’s go deeper. It has been argued that the Gentiles would have run away if the full weight of the Torah had been placed upon them in their spiritual infancy; it was decided that they would learn little by little. However, the Jerusalem Council takes place in 49 CE. This is ten years after Peter’s revelation about Gentiles. Many of the people to whom James writes had already been believers for several years. In fact, the congregation in Antioch goes back to not long after the stoning of Stephen.
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19-21)
It is generally believed that Stephen was martyred in 34 CE, therefore the congregation in Antioch was birthed not long after that. Peter had his vision around 36 CE. That means there had been Gentile believers for more than a decade before the Jerusalem Council! My point: If they intended the Gentiles to learn Torah slowly, certainly a decade was enough time!
And if there is no separation between ceremonial and moral in the Torah, then for all this time the Gentile believers were not expected to do anything more than stay pure sexually? Of course, this is ridiculous. However, if we see Acts 15 as pertaining to How the Gentiles Were to Worship God and not about moral living—which was universal and clear—it suddenly makes sense.
14 . DON’T JUDGE REGARDING SABBATH DAYS
The One Law folks claim that Gentile believers were to gradually learn Torah (Sabbath, kosher laws, etc.). In addition to the point made above, we see that Paul tells the Colossians:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Messiah. (Col. 2:16-17)
Can you imagine Paul saying “Don’t judge anyone concerning thievery and adultery, those prohibitions were a shadow of things to come…”? Of course not. We see in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, that the same Paul does pass judgment on moral behavior when he instructs the leaders to throw out the adulterer.
So once again, Paul not only does not encourage Gentile believers to keep ceremonial Torah, he says don’t judge people regarding such things! This also clearly shows us, again, that Paul sees a distinction between commands to Israel regarding Sabbath and New Moon celebrations, and the moral code found in Torah.
15. GENTILE IS NOT A DIRTY WORD!
If all believers are now Israel, then why does Paul say to the Romans, “I am speaking to you Gentiles”? (Rom. 11:13) They were born again. He doesn’t call them New Jews or New Israelites or former pagans, but Gentiles. Gentile is not a bad word—it simply means nation. The meaning is the same in Hebrew (goy) and in Greek (ethni). Paul’s use of the word is often translated as pagan (as most people living in the nations were not believers), but you have to look at the context. Sometimes the word is used to refer to unbelievers, but it is also used, as you will see in the next point, to refer to believers from the nations. Here are other verses where born again people are still called Gentiles. (Acts 11:1, 18, 15:3, 19, 23, 21:19, Rom 3:29, 11:13, 15:9-12, 15:27, Gal. 2:12, Eph. 3:1)
In Galatians 2, Paul rebukes Peter for not being willing to eat with who? The former Gentiles, now new Israelites? No:
For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. (Gal. 2:12)
And lastly, to whom does James address the letter from the apostles in Acts 15? “To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.”
Personally, I prefer the word nations to Gentiles. Again, it has the same meaning, but when I hear the word nations, I see lots of flags and colors and diversity and culture. When I hear the word Gentiles, I simply envision non-Jews.
16. SALVATION DOES NOT ERASE ETHNICITY
When someone is born again they do not lose their ethnic identity and become Hebrew or Jewish. The revelation of Acts 15 (and Eph. 3) was that the nations could be grafted into the household of God and enjoy all the promises of God (like Jews) without converting to Judaism. Thus, when John sees saints in Heaven he sees the Gentiles as well as Jews—the nations!
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)
Just as replacement theology was born out of a jealousy and misunderstanding of God’s role for Israel nearly 2,000 years ago, this new replacement theology, whereby Israel is not done away with but the Gentile believers become Torah-observant (There are many strands in this movement—some who would actually say that they are now Jewish; others who don’t go that far.) or Hebraic, also comes from a lack of understanding of God’s calling on the nations and his love for every person, regardless of ethnic background.
Read the prophets. God doesn’t just give words to Israel, but to many different nations. If all those nations become Israel through conversion, then to whom is He prophesying?
17. NO ONE IS SAYING THERE ARE TWO LAWS
The One Law folks have talking points. One of those talking points is to challenge in this way: “God did not give Moses two separate laws—one for Jews and one for everyone else!” (An actual quote) Someone else asked, “Where did Yeshua clearly indicate two separate laws?” This is a bit ingenuous because nowhere in my first two blogs did I claim such a thing and neither do reputable theologians. It is like accusing a man of stealing and his defense is “I didn’t cheat.” Yeah, we know—that is not what you are being accused of.
This is simply a talking point. We agree there is only One Torah. But it is applied differently to different people. For instance, there are specific laws for women in that One Torah. There are specific laws for Levites in that One Torah. There are specific laws for agriculture that would not apply to a banker. And there are ceremonial laws and moral laws. Acts 15 is clear—Gentiles are not expected (though they are free to) to keep the liturgical laws.
18. WHAT IS LAWLESSNESS?
Another talking point from the One Law One People movement is to claim that the world is in lawlessness because Torah is not kept. A One Law advocate said in a comment, “The church has been teaching lawlessness for decades and more now.” By this, they refer to the ceremonial Torah (which they don’t believe in…Hmmm…). However, when the New Testament uses the word lawlessness, it seems to always be referring to moral living, not liturgy.
In Matthew 13, Yeshua refers to those who practice lawlessness as the sons of the devil, not misguided believers. In Romans 1, Paul lists the attributes of lawlessness:
“being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (Rom. 1:29-31)
Do you know what is not listed here? Eating unclean food, failure to separate wool from linen, cutting your beard, or breaking the Sabbath.
Paul shares a similar list with Timothy:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (1 Tim. 3:1-5)
Nothing here about the Sabbath or kosher laws either—just behavior.
Why? Because the ceremonial Torah was given to Israel alone to establish them as a unique identifiable people among the nations; as a sign and witness to them (Ex. 19:5-6).
19. COMMON SENSE LAWS
Virtually all of the moral laws are common sense laws. Romans teaches that some Gentiles, “do by nature things required by the law.” God has written in every man’s heart that murder, adultery, lying, stealing, etc. is wrong. But the ceremonial aspects of the law are not discernible by common sense.
While a child may intuitively know that it is wrong to hit his sister, he doesn’t intuitively understand that eating pork is wrong. If a child’s father yells at him harshly, that will affect him. He or she doesn’t need to be trained to be hurt by such behavior. But he or she would not be offended to find his father shaving his beard or breaking the Sabbath (Lev. 19:27). Through common sense, he would never conclude that his father should not “clip of the edges of [his] beard.”
For instance, the law states that police officers wear uniforms. This is not a moral law or a common-sense law. It is for the purpose of identification. Israel was given the ceremonial Torah also for purposes of identification (I am not saying Israel is the world’s policemen, but like policemen, Israel has a unique responsibility on earth!).
20. WHY DID GOD GET ANGRY WITH ISRAEL?
Someone may ask then, if the ceremonial Torah was not equivalent with the moral Torah, then why did God get so upset at Israel when they broke the ceremonial law? This is a very good question, to which there is a simple answer. Israel was God’s chosen nation to be a witness to and to intercede for (through their priesthood calling) the rest of the world. They were given unique identity markers for this, such as circumcision, kosher laws, and the Sabbath. When Israel failed to embrace the markers, they were in essence denying their destiny and would often end up worshiping idols and false gods. This provoked God’s anger.
It wasn’t that mixing wool and linen was immoral, but their failure to do so, was in essence, thumbing their noses at God Almighty. Just like Esau was called “godless” and “rejected” for selling his birthright. (Heb. 12:16-17)
What do you think? How do you see Acts 15? Use the comments section below to share.
*Originally published on Aug. 28, 2013