Wednesday 18 February 2015

What does Acts 15 teach? Does it teach Torah Observance to Gentiles

Once again, this article is not disparraging Messianic Jews for wanting to keep Torah because they feel it honors the Messiah, hence Romans 14 and Colossians 2 I am not to act as their judge in that regard. As long as they don't seek to use it as a means of biblical justification, then I am ok with that.

However, what I DO take issue with, is having Gentiles being bound to the Mosaic Law and regardless of if the intention is noble such as again not using it to justify yourself before a holy God or forcing Gentiles under a yoke which Jesus never put them under. 

I was directed to a video by a ministry known as 119 Ministries. The video can be found here: (Video is now defunct).

The first points summed up is that Acts 15 itself has two positions proposed by Unbelievers and Believers. Let's look at the first section: 
"Acts 15:5 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”"

A claim is made that a third position is not being introduced, I may explain that there is such found later on but aside from that point, the video actually starts off pretty well, He is correct that there are to individuals, ones who advocate a legalistic perspective and those who advocate an obedient perspective, meaning you are saved by faith, but keep the law out of love an obedience rather than keep your salvation. So far, fine, but the claim that a third position is not being advocated is a stretch.

No one has been successful in keeping the law and that grace is needed to be sure, which the apologist acknowledges but unfortunately he claims that Peter advocates the second position, that the believers in Jesus, Gentiles included by inference, are to keep the Torah as a whole.

Although Peter doesn't oppose the second view above, does it really mean that he himself advocated that Gentiles themselves are obligated to observe the Laws of Moses from beginning to end? Not really. More over it makes the point that only some of the believers stood up and proclaimed what they proclaimed in Acts 15:5, it is not an indication that all the believers in Jesus held that Gentiles are to keep the Sabbath under the new covenant. Yes there are two views being disputed at the beginning of the passage, but that doesn't remove the idea that a third idea is being proclaimed. 

The apologist makes the point that the Gentiles were not born into God's ways, hence they are not going to understand it all from day 1, that they need to be taught how to walk in God's ways and that the paganism must be addressed and that rather than give the entire law right from the start from the Gentiles, the council had to deal with the weightier sins first, namely idolatry. There is no question that one cannot follow demons and God together, after all, two cannot walk the same road if they disagree.

However, you cannot use this as a pretext to force the Gentiles under the Mosaic Law, as the rest of the scripture makes plain a Gentile is not under the Mosaic Law, read the following article for more information:

The apologist isn't entirely incorrect, He does make the valid point that those who become believers will not know everything that is required of them, that there is a starting point and they move on from there, growing in the faith.

Another point made by the apologist is that it is NOT just the 4 things mentioned that are forbidden and that it cannot be used as a pretext for let's say to murder. Very true, Acts 15 itself doesn't address the subject of murder and murder is wrong anyway, it's carried over into the New Testament writings, people who don't repent of murder will not go to heaven.

Sadly, the apologist goes on to say that Acts 15:21 is unaddressed by the mainstream theological presentation because they don't know what to do with it and he himself gives his answer. His answer is James intended that it would be more than those 4 instructions in verse 20, but in fact 21 clarifies the instructions, basing it on the Greek word for for and says the verse relates back to what has already been stated in verse 20 and to expand on what has been said. In other words, James has more than just those 4 in mind.

However, The point of verse 21 is not to put Gentiles under the Mosaic law, James is just making the comment that the Mosaic Law was well known among the Gentile converts already in Judaism because they had been read in the synagogues, from generation to generation. He is not suggesting that the Gentile believers are to observe the Torah in it's entirety, no Gentile is told that in the New Testament. They are not idles in verse 21, but are in the video, misapplied.

It is true that in first century Judaism and before you had Gentiles who wanted to become part of the Jewish people and thus adhered to the Law. I shall comment on Matthew 5:17-20 to further illustrate a point later in this paper as to whether or not Gentiles are to observe the Torah in it's entirety.

Case and point, There is no ignoring the context of the debate on the part of Christians, the third point is right there and is carried over into the rest of the New Testament. The subject of Timothy will be looked at later.

Also, interesting point has been made on this subject by Grace Communion Interenational on Acts 15:21: which I recommend reading:

On Michael L Brown's line of fire page where he speaks on the Mosaic Law, There was a comment that I had noticed and thought it would be interesting to share from a user called Ray (Bold and italic emphasis mine):
"Here was the sentence of James:
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. (Acts 15:19-21)
There’s a lot we can learn from the law of Moses. We still are in need of it today. It’s good for reading. It helps us learn about ourselves, others, about God, about righteousness, justice, fairness, equity, the difference between one thing and another, goodness, and the severity of God.
We still need to remember these things even though the yoke of the law is not upon our necks.
It still makes for good reading.

He then goes onto the point that Jesus or Yeshua, tells us in Matthew 23 to observe and do what is taught in the seat of Moses, namely the law of Moses, and teach that to the others. In other words, they have to do more than remove their paganism, but be obedient to the Law of Moses. The removal of paganism being a priority and an immediate change with the obedience to the Law of Moses coming afterward and that the disciples learnt this from Moses seat.

The context of Matthew 23 is as follows:
"Matthew: 23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

Now let's address his points. Jesus is talking specifically to the disciples, namely the 12 and the crowds who have gathered around him. The Acts 15 council doesn't have that connection to those in Moses seat. The thrust of Jesus' point to the disciples is they are to submit to their leaders, listen to their teaching and carry it out, but not emulate how they live, because they are hypocrites and do not practice what they preach. His words in the context of the passage pertain to what was going on at that time. It is also a warning to us Christians against hypocrisy in general. There is nothing to suggest that the Acts 15 council is forcing Gentiles to keep the Mosaic Law based on the words of Matthew 23, it is not there even implicitly.

Yes it is true that the removal of paganism, sorcery and idolatry is the first step and that repentance is that step, but that doesn't automatically entail placing the Gentiles under the Mosaic Law. You don't overwhelm them to be sure and that we should not sin.

I have read Acts 15:21 as well as the context BEFORE this video and have NEVER concluded on the basis of that text that Mosaic obedience is required of Gentiles, it's simply not there.

There are individual texts he cites, but those shall be tackled in another paper if the Lord Wills but I will say, the charge that somehow Christians who do not keep the Mosaic Law are somehow Denying that the law is Perfect, Just, Good, Life, Truth, Light, Way, Freedom and Holy, is down right reprehensible, not to mention the apologist is guilty of eisegesis, what we are charged with. Christians who don't adhere to the Mosaic Law DO NOT deny that the Torah is good, we just make the point that while it is indeed the schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, We just simply point out to the New Testament as a whole to make the point that we need to determine biblically what applies to us today from the Mosaic Law. To echo the words of David Pawson:
"Christianity is rooted in Judaism, which it is rooted in the Old Testament as we are. But how much of of the former should be kept in the latter? How much of the Old Testament comes through to the New? How much of those 613 laws actually apply to us, that is one of the biggest questions we have got to face when you study the Old and the New Testament." David Pawson: Galatians Part 1 (Unlocking The Bible Series):

There is also no accusation from us the the disciples were guilty of adding or subtraction.

There is also another point made by Pawson in his book, Unlocking the Bible, which is composed of material adapted from his videos, This is what he says:
"What, then, are we to make of the law of Moses today, remembering that there are not just 10 laws but 613 in total? We may have a hunch that we are not tied to them all, but how many are we tied to? For example, some churches teacher their members to tithe. Others have strcit rules about the Sabbath, even if for them Sabbath is Sunday, not Saturday as observed by the Jews. Every Christian has to come to terms with this difficulty, it is complicated by the fact that Jesus said 'I have not come to destroy the Law but fulfill it.'" David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible pg 149.

I would suggest picking up the book, or watching his talk on Levitcus for more information.

Case and point, Acts 15 doesn't bolster the idea that Gentiles are under Mosaic Law,

Now to quickly go back to Matthew 5:17-20:
"Matthew 5:17 “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 For truly I tell you, 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 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly 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. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus is not disregarding the OT as a whole as irrelevant, he is making the point that it is pointing to him and he is not coming to remove the Law or the Prophets, as some would presume. He goes on to say that ALL must be accomplished, namely his mission of redemption, both his first coming and second and what he will do in those comings, like dealing with sin on the cross, thus paying the debt to God that we owe. He came to fulfill what was written and some of those ordinances have been fulfilled in him.

2nd Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21 were texts mentioned in the video, the other texts will be dealt with another time if the Lord Wills, but for now, these two shall suffice. Both were mentioned and in essence the point was and it's being paraphrased here, "Heaven and earth haven't passed away yet, therefore we are to keep the Mosaic Law". However that doesn't work, since Jesus isn't addressing the subject of Gentiles observing the Torah. Once again he is addressing his Jewish audience. The Law and the Prophets point to him and that he intended to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament and to keep the Law no man could keep.

Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying murder or adultery are allowed, nor am I saying Jesus' words are irrelevant to Christians, God forbid such blasphemy, my point is that Jesus himself does NOT tell the Gentiles to keep the Torah

A point that requires further comment is this, Fulfillment is NOT Abolishing something.

I have written in my paper "Observance of Torah demanded of Gentiles?" what commands apply to us and which don't. A command from the Law itself isn't abolished or done away with, rather Christ fulfills that aspect of the Law by his obedience. It is his fulfillment of the Mosaic Law that free Christians from it but I emphasis this, There are laws that apply and laws that don't, We are under the Law of Christ. The article also covers the vision of Peter.

Now moving on to Acts 16, The apologist brings up the point of Timothy being circumcised in Acts 16:1-4. He firstly says the council sends Paul and the others appointed to give the decrees made but first Paul stops and goes to Timothy to circumcise him and bring him along on his mission. The apologist then poses the question:
"If Acts 15 teaches the Law of God is abolised, which includes circumcision, then why would Paul circumcise Timothy before heading out on a trip that intends to deliver a decree that supposedly abolishes circumcision?"

Here's the answer, Timothy was circumcised was for 2 reasons:
1. Evangelistic accommodation
He could not get into the synagogue unless he had been circumcised. It was so he could go with Paul to the synagogue to deliver the Gospel to the Jews

2. Because he was Jewish
In light of the fact Timothy was raised in the ways of Judaism, it only seemed right that Paul would circumcise Timothy in keeping with the Jewish law.

That's why he was circumcised. There is nothing wrong with Jews themselves being circumcised, it's a sign that they were Jewish, but for a Gentile, it would mean coming under the Law. The decree isn't abolishing circumcision in and of itself, It just simply doesn't apply the Law of Circumcision to the Gentiles, nothing more, nothing less.

The apologist then goes to Galatians 2 claiming that Paul addressing a claim that Paul was against circumcision and he goes on to claim that it was the Legalistic group that was condemned and that the circumcision of the legalist was false but keeping God's commands in the faith is what counts, including circumcision.

However, Paul is not suggesting that circumcision is to be enacted on Gentile Christians at all, period.
"2 Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised,[a] just as Peter had been to the circumcised.[b] 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas[c] and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 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. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[d] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”"

The Judaizers were condemned by the letter for putting the Gentiles under the Mosaic Law, not for carrying out the decree of Acts 15, which again doesn't sanction putting the Gentiles under. It amazes me that the apologist would appeal to this context, considering Titus considered being circumcised, and yet was in the wrong for doing so. This isn't a Jewish individual getting circumcised as mentioned in Acts 15:5 where he or she is doing the Mosaic Law out of obedience to God, this is a Gentile who hasn't been put under the Mosaic Law and is LEAD ASTRAY by the group. The Jewish believers who are trying to circumcise Gentiles are in the wrong in the chapter, NOT in the right. Furthermore Paul highlights in the SAME Letter the Christians have a circumcision of the heart in Christ, not a circumcision of your foreskin.

"5 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!"

Paul isn't against circumcision in and of itself, He is opposing individuals who want to circumcise Gentile Converts, which Acts 15 relieves Gentiles from. This is a far cry from the point made by the apologist. Paul doesn't suggest that the Gentiles are to keep the Torah out of obedience. He calls for obedience to Christ yes, but not obedience to the Mosaic Law.

Finally, He goes to Acts 21 and gives us the exposition on the passage we need, namely Paul was falsely charged with abandoning the Torah and telling Jews to abandon the Torah, to which James tells Paul to prove that this is not the case by partaking of a Nazarite vow.

The apologist asks why the 4 requirements given to the Gentiles in Acts 15 cited and says that there is a difference between Jews and Greeks and understanding what that difference is, namely Jews being raised knowing the Lord of God and Greeks entering the faith not knowing the Laws of God, Thus in Acts 21 Paul refutes the claim by the individuals and that James says that Paul walks orderly, meaning that Paul does keep the Torah, the whole one. The apologist claims means that walking orderly means keeping the Law of God including circumcision. Here is another point:
"The original accusation to Paul in Acts 21 was only about the relationship with Paul and Jews but Acts 21 also makes a point in mentioning the same conclusion found in Acts 15, to inform them that the same instructions to keep the whole Law of God went out to the Gentiles as well as detailed in Acts 15"

I already covered Acts 15 previously so we needn't labor over that point again. Paul himself was Torah observant which I will not deny and he was falsely accused of telling Jews to abandon the Torah, however it doesn't follow at all to suggest that James is advocating that Gentiles are to keep the Torah, though he does say Paul is walking orderly for what he is doing.

The Gentiles walk orderly in Christ, but not because they are under the Mosaic Law, that is something they are relieved from as mentioned before.

Paul partaking of the offerings for the purpose of his testimony to the Messianics likewise would not of hindered his teaching against the Judaizers in Galatians, because they were trying to say in essence you were saved by the law, which Paul made clear was not the case.

Not to mention when speaking to the Corinthian church, Paul said this:

"1 Corinthians 9:19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."

In certain cases, Paul would have observed the practices of the Jews when reaching out to them, but with respect to the Gentiles, he did not observe these customs, but still retained holy living. It was for his testimony to certain groups that he took this approach.

This doesn't mean however that he was prepared to evil and sin just to clarify, since he exhorts the congregations to live holy lives in his letters, but that is NOT the same as telling Gentiles to observe the Torah, he and the apostles no where say such.

The Torah is lovely and all the things mentioned above by the apologist, but how does this prove Gentiles are under the Torah? It's simply not there.

Even Paul refers to the law as a school master that leads to Christ:
"23 Before the coming of this faith,[j] we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise."

Some could make the argument that Paul isn't saying that Gentiles are free from the Torah's demands, quite to the contrary, he doesnt say they are under it. The law is there for a  number of reasons, to show you how bad you are, and to point to the one who can save you, namely Christ. Even Christ says in the Gospels "search the scriptures for they bear witness of me." I know the apologist in the video states that he and his congregation (They don't state this in the video but actually make the point that Gentiles were to keep the Torah out of love for God) do not keep the Torah to hold onto salvation but because they love the Lord and that is admirable, but at the same time, they should NOT be forcing Torah Observance on Gentiles, otherwise there is a danger of following in the footsteps of the Judaizers, even if that isn't your intention.

To the Messianic Jews reading, specifically those who have come from Jewish backgrounds, if you keep the Torah because you love the Lord, wonderful, I really mean that. As long as you are not trying to merit salvation through the Law or put Gentiles under it, Fine, Each to his own with respect to disputable matters as in Romans 14 and in Colossians 2:16-17.

I am not to judge you for keeping Torah nor am I disparaging the Torah, Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

119 Ministries doesn't do that. As noble as their intentions regarding this matter maybe, This isn't to say they are in the right in propagating what they say.

Learning the Torah is vital for Christians, is not the entire Old Testament is vital to learn and NOT just the Torah. There is much to learn from it and to see how the Old Testament points to Jesus, not to mention it is a reminder to the church itself to stay faithful to God, lest one run the risk of being destroyed due to disobedience. However, this isn't to say that Christians are obligated to observe circumcision, ritual purity, the Jewish feasts, Jewish food laws etc. They are important for learning and growing in grace, but not required of us Gentiles to practice.

I also recommend others to read the following paper on these issues:

Thanks for reading.

Answering Judaism

PS. Anything else that may be added to this paper will be added in an addendum below.

Edit 2nd of September 2017: 
This is an addendum that was written later:

Sorry for not including this earlier.

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