PART ONE: THE FIRST COVENANT
1 - What Is A Covenant?
2 - The Covenant with Israel
3 - The Holy Assembly
4 - The Torah
5 - The Sabbath Covenant
6 - The Feasts of the Lord
7 - Other Nations Enter the Covenant
8 - The Desecration of the Covenant
9 - The Promise of A New Covenant
PART TWO: THE NEW COVENANT
10 - The New Covenant
11 - The Holy Assembly
12 - The Torah
13 - The Sabbath Covenant
14 - The Feasts of the Lord
15 - Gentiles Enter the Covenant
16 - The Desecration of the Covenant
15 - Gentiles Enter the Covenant
In the first part of the book, we discussed the congregation and assembly of Israel in the First Covenant. In chapter nine we discussed how the words congregation and assembly have been carried into the New Testament as the synagogue and Church. What is Israel's relationship to the "church" in the New Covenant? How do the Gentiles fit into this "church"?
As discussed earlier, the word "church" is a translation of the Greek word "ekklesia" that means "assembly". This word is a translation of the Hebrew word "qahal" also meaning "assembly". I will be using the word assembly rather than church so that there will be no confusion that the assembly of the New Covenant is only a continuation of the assembly which began in Exodus.
Before we look at the Gentiles role in the assembly in the New Covenant, we need to see Israel's relationship to the assembly in the New Covenant. Many believe that Israel as a nation did not believe in Yeshua and that they crucified him. Because of this, God rejected Israel and removed them as his chosen people and in turn chose the Gentiles to build a new "assembly". This view is not supported in the scriptures.
Within Judaism of the first century, there were many different groups of Jews; there were Common Jews and the Ruling Jews. The rulers would include the Sadducees, Pharisees, Lawyers (Teachers of the Torah), Chief Priests and the temple officials. The Common Jew would then be those who were being led or taught by the rulers.
Within the group of rulers there were those who disagreed with the teachings of Yeshua and those who agreed. The Pharisees and lawyers (Teachers of the Torah) are always thought of as those who opposed Yeshua, but this was not always the case.
When Yeshua saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the Torah came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." (Matthew 8:18,19)
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Yeshua at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." (John 3:1,2)
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said... (Acts 15:5)
Later we will look at the role of some of these leaders and teachers in the arrest and conviction of Yeshua. But let us first look at the common Jews response to Yeshua and his teachings using the gospel of Matthew.
And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel." (Matthew 9:33)
Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. (Matthew 13:2)
When Yeshua heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Yeshua landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." Yeshua replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." "We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish, they answered." "Bring them here to me," he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:13-21)
In this last passage, notice the determination of the people to listen to Yeshua. Yeshua left in a boat and the crowds followed him on foot. They stayed with him to the evening and had no food with them and knew that food was no where near by as they had traveled a great distance from the towns. These people who were very determined, to hear the messages of Yeshua were five thousand men, not including the women and children.
Yeshua left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. Yeshua called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." His disciples answered, "Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?" "How many loaves do you have?" Yeshua asked. "Seven," they replied, "and a few small fish." He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children. (Matthew 15:29-38)
Here again we see the determination of the people. For three days, four thousand men, not including women and children followed him. They did not even have any food with them. Yeshua was afraid that they would collapse from a lack of food. This could not have just been a large crowd of people who were only curious; these people were willing to go hungry just to hear more of what Yeshua had to teach.
As Yeshua and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. (Matthew 20:29)
The disciples went and did as Yeshua had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Yeshua sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matthew 21:6-8)
Why were there so many people gathered in this area? Did they not have jobs to go to? Who were these people? These people were Jews! They were gathering for the Passover celebration. People from outlying areas flocked to the Temple to celebrate the feast that commemorated the deliverance from Egypt. All of these Torah keeping Jews were following Yeshua and witnessing his miracles. They knew of a coming Messiah and eagerly listened to every word he spoke. These people knew the scripture and would not be easily deceived.
Are these crowds of people who followed Yeshua throughout the land of Israel the same people who were yelling crucify him and mocking him at his trial? Let us look at the scriptures and see.
Yeshua' Last Supper with his disciples, his arrest, trial, execution and death on the cross all occurred on the day of Passover. The Passover day began at sundown and continued until sundown the following day. The Jewish Passover consisted of a religious service during a meal in the home that is headed by the father or Rabbi. After Yeshua and his disciples finished the Passover meal, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was here that a crowd came up to Yeshua (Luke 22:47) consisting of the Chief Priests, officers of the temple guards and the Elders (Luke 22:52). This crowd, comprised of the rulers arrested Yeshua. Yeshua is then taken to Pontius Pilate by the Chief Priests, Elders and the Teachers of the Torah for his trial (Luke 22:66,23:1). When Pilate asks "the crowd" what he should do with Yeshua, we can see that it was the rulers and not the common Jews who shouted "Crucify, Crucify" (John 19:6). When Pilate asked, "shall I crucify your King?" It was the Chief Priests who answered "We have no king but Caesar". Pilate then handed Yeshua over to the Chief Priests to be crucified (John 19:15-16).
All of this had taken place throughout the night and into the early morning hours. The general population of Jerusalem would not even be aware of all that had transpired. It was still early in the morning when Yeshua was being taken to the site of the crucifixion. By this time some of the common Jews began to realize what was happening. Since the Passover meal the previous evening would last late into the night, most of the people would still be sleeping at the time that Yeshua was being led to the cross. There is only one scripture reference of people witnessing Yeshua's march to the cross, Luke 23:27 says, "A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him." Yeshua was put on the cross at the third hour (Mark 15:25) which is nine o'clock in the morning.
It is the chief priests and their officials who through the night and early morning hours brought Yeshua to trial and the cross even before the majority of the people knew what happened. People were in their homes completely unaware of the events that had transpired through the night. It was not until Yeshua was on the road to the site of his crucifixion that some people began to realize what had happened to their teacher.
After realizing what had happened, the Common Jew mourned over Yeshua' crucifixion. After Yeshua rose from the dead he met with two people on the road to Emmaus who expressed their feelings about the death of Yeshua.
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Yeshua himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" "What things?" He asked. "About Yeshua of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. (Luke 24:13-21)
The sadness that was felt by these two individuals would probably be similar to most of the common Jews.
The question that we must ask then: Did God reject his people Israel because of the actions of the chief priests? Paul answers this question.
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he forknew. (Romans 11:1,2)
Even the First Covenant shows that God has not rejected his people.
I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, "You are my servant"; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. (Isaiah 41:9)
The book of Acts also supports the view that God had not rejected them for as we will see, thousands of Jews entered into the New Covenant which God promised to Israel in Jeremiah 31.
When the twelve Apostles began to teach the good news about Yeshua around Israel, thousands of Jews accepted and believed that Yeshua was indeed the promised Messiah and did rise from the dead. During the feast of Weeks (Pentecost), Peter preaches to a large crowd and says; "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say" (Acts 2:14). He then proceeds to explain the truth about Yeshua. At the end of his message we read,
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41)
As we continue through the book of Acts we see more and more Jews believing that Yeshua truly was the Messiah and that he rose from the dead.
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)
But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. (Acts 4:4)
Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. (Acts 5:14)
The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)
[The assembly] was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. (Acts 9:31)
All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:35)
Many people believed in the Lord. (Acts 9:42)
Up to this point all of the thousands who have accepted the Lord Yeshua were only Jews. I will clarify this in a moment, but first lets recognize that we are not speaking about a few Jews who believed but a very large number. In Acts 2 we saw 3,000 and in Acts 4 we see this grow to 5,000 men. Since women and children are not numbered, we could easily be talking about 20,000 to 30,000 Jews, men women and children, accepting Yeshua as the Lord.
So how do we know that all of these numbers are only Jews and not Gentiles?
Acts chapters 10 and 11 explain the process by which God used to begin bringing Gentiles into the assembly. Going back to the book of Genesis, one of the promises that God gave Abraham was that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:3). It was God's plan, from the beginning, to bless all the nations (Gentiles) through Abraham. The promise that said "through" Abraham, meaning his seed, all the nations will be blessed. The Jews, the descendants of Abraham, will be the vessel used by God to bring them into the assembly and into the covenant with him. In Acts 10 we see the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy.
We also need to understand the Jews attitude toward Gentiles up to this point. Peter explains the Jews view of association with Gentiles in Acts 10:28; "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him". No Jew could witness to a Gentile to bring him into the assembly because it was against their law. The Greek word here for law is not
"nomos" but the word "athemitos" meaning "against the law". This is not the Torah (nomos) law but the oral law or also called "the traditions of the elders". This concept came into Judaism from the belief that anyone who ate from the list of unclean animals listed in Leviticus 11, as the Gentiles do, was unclean. Since the Jews believed that Gentiles were unclean, they believed that they could not associate with them. It is with this issue that God teaches Peter his truth concerning clean and unclean foods.
Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four- footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter, Kill and eat." Surely not Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)
This vision is not removing the dietary commands of the Torah; it is to teach the Jews what is really meant by clean and unclean. If we go back to the command forbidding the eating of certain animals we see something very interesting.
You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud. There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. (Leviticus 11:3,4)
This command does not say that the animal in and of its self is unclean. It says that it is ceremonially unclean for one who is in the covenant with God to eat of it. In Acts 10, God is telling the Jews that the animals were created as clean animals. Therefore, if a Gentile eats of the "unclean" animals, he is not unclean because the animal is not "unclean" to him, only to those who are in the covenant with God. Peter confirms this when he said,
[Peter] said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. (Acts 10:28)
The issue in Acts 10 is not a change in the diet commands of the Torah, but a change in a Jews relationship with Gentiles. Because of the "tradition" that Jews could not associate with a Gentile, the Jews could not go to the Gentiles to teach them about the covenant with the one true God. So God uses this vision to teach Peter that their law of non-association was wrong. Now a Jew is free to enter a Gentiles home to teach. This is exactly what happens next.
While God was giving this vision to Peter, God told Cornelius, a Gentile, to send men to bring back Peter. If the men had come to Peter requesting him to go to a Gentiles house, Peter would have refused because of their law forbidding association with Gentiles. Peter learned that no man is unclean because of what he eats. So when the men came to take Peter to Cornelius, he "came without raising any objection" (Acts 10:29).
Peter proceeded to teach the good news about Yeshua Christ to Cornelius and the large gathering of people in his home and the Holy Spirit came upon all of them that heard the message and they began to speak in tongues. When this happened Peter and the other Jews who came with him "were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles" (Acts 10:45).
When Peter returned to Jerusalem the believing Jews "criticized him and said, 'You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.'" (Acts 11:2,3). Peter then explained the vision from God and his meeting with Cornelius and said; "So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us (the Jews), who believed in the Lord Yeshua Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (Acts 11:17). Then the believing Jews said, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18).
This event occurred approximately five to ten years after Yeshua ascended into heaven. Since the believing Jews were amazed that even the Gentiles were receiving the Holy Spirit, we are lead to believe that this was the first time that Gentiles had come into the assembly of believers.
In the First Covenant, God said,
"I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6)
Paul quotes this passage in Acts 13:47 and explains that it was God's plan that the Jews are to be the light to the Gentiles. Beginning with Acts 10, this light is now going out to the Gentiles. From this point on we see the assembly growing in great numbers with both Jews and Gentiles alike. A key point that we must recognize that in the book of Acts, it was the Jew who brought the gospel to the Gentiles and not the other way around as some are taught.
The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed. (Acts 11:21)
A great number of people were brought to the Lord. (Acts 11:24)
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. (Acts 14:1)
They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. (Acts 14:21)
So the assemblies were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (Acts 16:5)
Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:12)
[The believing Jews] said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the Torah". (Acts 21:20)
In this last passage we see that there were a very large number of Jews who believe and are also zealous for the Torah. The Greek word which is translated "thousands" in this passage is the Greek word "myrias" which means "thousands upon thousands" or a very large unidentifiable number.
In chapter two, we looked at the various names and titles of God's people in the First Covenant. In Chapter nine, we looked at the various names and titles of God's people in the New Covenant. We saw that they were the same. Israel was chosen by God in the First Covenant to be his people and provisions were made within the Torah to allow aliens (Gentiles) into the assembly. We have now seen that Israel is still God's chosen people and are still the assembly of Israel. Provisions have also been made to allow the Gentiles to enter the assembly in the New Covenant. The Old and New Covenants are not divided into Jew and Gentile covenants or Jew and Gentile Assemblies. Instead the Old and New Covenants are the continuing story of God's covenant with his people, Israel and those Gentiles who join with them.
Long ago God prophesied that the Gentiles would be entering the assembly with Israel in great numbers. This began with Abraham as I mentioned. God promised Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him. God's plan for the future included a time when the Gentile nations would enter into his covenant.
All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O LORD; they will bring glory to your name. (Psalms 86:9)
"Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you." Declares the LORD. "Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. (Zechariah 2:10,11)
"And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant - these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 56:6,7)
Even Yeshua recognized that the message of salvation to the nations of the earth would come through Israel, the Jews, as the light to the Gentiles.
For salvation is from the Jews. (John 4:22)
You who are Gentiles by birth....you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise... You have been brought near through the blood of Christ... Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household... (Eph 2:11-22)
Although Gentiles are not born in the line of Jacob (Israel) Gentiles who accept Christ become fellow citizens with Israel in God's Household.
[Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Yeshua, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. ... The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.... If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:14,16,29)
Let us look at a passage which shows how the people of Israel (the Jews) and the Gentiles are joined together as fellow citizens. A couple of phrases to be understood in the following passages are the natural and wild branches of the olive tree. Yeshua is the trunk, the natural branches are the Jews and the wild branches are the Gentiles.
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. (Rom 11:17-24)
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!
The people of God are like a tree. Yeshua is the trunk of the tree while his people are the branches coming out of the tree. In the Old Testament, God chose the nation of Israel as his people - the branches. Many times in the First Covenant, God said that if someone did not follow his commands they would be "cut off from his people". Those who had a disobedient heart and turned from God and did not follow his commands, were "cut off from his people", his branch was "cut off" from the trunk. When the Gentiles, the wild olive branches, are grafted into the trunk, they are part of the tree. All of the branches on the tree, the natural (Israel) and the wild (Gentiles), are one body in the household of God and all are descendants of Abraham.
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:12)
There is neither Jew not Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Yeshua. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28,29)
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. S it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:12,13)
At this point, I would like to look at one of the arguments to support the view that the Gentiles do not need to keep the Torah. We have looked at many passages where Paul is clearly supporting the keeping of the Torah. Many claimed that he is speaking to the Jews only and that as Jews they are required to continue in the Torah. If we want to say that Jews must keep the Torah but the Gentiles do not, then we are splitting the body of Christ into two groups. But the above passages say that there will be no difference between the Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, if the Jews must keep the Torah, then the Gentiles must also. This is also supported by the passage in the First Covenant, which we have looked at several times, that states that the same Torah for Israel will also be for the aliens (Gentiles).
In chapter 11 we discussed the validity of the Torah in the New Covenant. Now if we go back to chapter 4 there we looked at one of the everlasting ordinances within the Torah.
"The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the LORD: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you." (Numbers 15:15,16)
Now if the Torah is everlasting, and the command above is everlasting, then the Torah is not only for the Jew but also for the alien (non- Jew). Let us remember that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai to his people, and all who enter the covenant with God are his people no matter from what nation they were born to.
One passage that is often used to show that the Gentiles were not obligated to keep the Torah as the Jews were, is Acts 15. Let us look at this passage and see what it says.
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." ... Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. ...When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the assembly and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the [Torah] of Moses." (Acts 15:1-5)
There are two issues that some of the Jews were teaching to the new Gentiles entering into the covenant; The Gentiles have to be circumcised to be saved, and; They must also keep the Torah.
Peter addresses the assembly and addresses the first issue.
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Yeshua that we are saved, just as they are." (Acts 15:6-11)
In this passage, Peter is specifically addressing the issue of salvation. Peter explains that it is only by the grace of God that one can be saved and not by circumcision or the keeping of the Torah. Does this mean that circumcision and Torah are removed and no longer required to be kept? Let us first look at the issue of circumcision.
Paul addressed this problem in his letter to the Galatians.
Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole Torah. (Galatians 5:3)
Looking back at Chapter 3, we looked at the first covenant between God and Israel. In Genesis, chapter 17, we saw that if anyone wanted to enter the covenant with God, they had to take on the sign of the covenant, which is circumcision. Also, in the covenant is the condition God put on Israel. Israel was required to keep and obey all the commands of God.
Circumcision is not the sign of the new covenant. Anyone who says that you need to be circumcised are still living under the requirements of the first Covenant and under the first covenant you received Gods promises only if you kept the whole Torah. Under the New Covenant we receive God's promises because Yeshua kept the Torah for us. This does not mean that the Torah has been taken away, only curses of the covenant have been taken away by Yeshua' sacrifice.
Therefore, we can see that these Jews who are teaching that circumcision is required of the Gentiles for salvation, are teaching a bondage to the first covenant and its requirements for the blessings. Paul is teaching that our salvation is in the faith of Yeshua Christ and his sacrifice under the renewed covenant. Back in chapter 11 we also saw that the Torah was never for salvation but to point out sin so that we may know that we need salvation from God.
Going back to Acts 15, James then addresses the relationship between the Gentiles and the Torah.
"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. (Acts 15:19-20)
Is James saying that these four commands are all that the Gentiles are required to keep of the Torah? This cannot be a complete list for there are many commands that we know that the Gentiles must keep, such as; "You shall have no other god's before me" and "You shall honor your father and mother" and "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:3,12,13). If James was giving a complete list, why weren't these in the list? I believe that the Gentiles in Antioch (which is where this problem originally arose) were already taught and were keeping portions of the Torah, such as the Ten Commandments. I believe that the four commands listed above addressed specific problems in their particular assembly at Antioch.
Torah is meant to be an instruction guide to a healthy and godly lifestyle and not a burden. Each believer is responsible for keeping the Torah to the degree that God has called him to. For example, a man who has been raised from childhood in the commands of the Torah would be expected to have a greater understanding and level of obedience then a gentile who has never heard of the Torah before becoming saved. These four commands are a starting point for these new Gentile believers. Once they controlled these four commands, I believe that they would have moved on to more instruction. This is the freedom we have in the Torah.
The freedom in the Torah gives the Gentiles the chance to learn the Torah one step at a time and not become overburdened. Remember that Yeshua took away the curses of the Torah allowing for this freedom. Those who have been raised with a Torah lifestyle his entire life, such as Paul, is held to a higher accountability in the Torah. But a new believer, who has never heard of the Torah, will need to make certain changes in his lifestyle in order to meet the requirements of the Torah. The goal of course is to continue to learn the Torah and as learning increases so does obedience to the Torah. But this freedom is not a license to do evil.
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13)
In Acts 15, we have a group of new believers who are being instructed to keep a degree of the Torah (Acts 15:20). But this is not the end of their instruction for the next verse says.
For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.
The apostles knew that these new believers would be in the synagogues every Sabbath to hear Moses who is the teacher of the Torah, to continue their education in the Torah.
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Jeff A. Benner
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