Email Exchange On Law Applicable Today
Wheeler M. email May 26, 2010:
I have recently found your site and am reading through it with great interest. If I may, I'd like to ask a question. In your view that the law of Moses is still binding for the Christian, does this include the ceremonial law? The food laws? Many thanks in advance for your consideration of these questions.
Is Law Binding Today?
Based upon Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus is saying the Law will continue until heaven and earth pass away. Jesus likewise says in Luke that the Law and Prophets were "proclaimed until John," and now the "kingdom of God" is proclaimed. (Luke 16:16.) Then Jesus explains this does not mean the Law has passed away or fallen away. In the next verse, Jesus says that it is easier for "heaven and earth to pass away" than for one small dot which forms a letter, like the dot in our letter i (called in Hebrew a "tittle") to "fall" from the Law. Jesus necessarily means that even though we preach the kingdom of God, it is based upon centuries of foundation of preaching of the Law and prophets, from which not a single provision will pass away while the heavens and earth still stand.
What Laws Apply to Gentiles?
A very narrow set of commands apply to Gentiles living in the tribes of Israel, and by spiritual analogy, it is the same for Gentiles in whom the kingdom of God lives today.
The principle of reading the Law by a Gentile is simple: if the Law says it applies to a foreigner/sojourner, it applies to Gentiles. A sojourner was an uncircumcised member of the nations. Otherwise, it applies only to Israelites, e.g., circumcision in Lev. 12:1-3 applies only to "sons of Israel."
Sometimes a command only to "sons of Israel" extends the same duty to Gentiles in an exception which thereby broadens the duty to also be upon Gentiles in the gates ("sojourners"). For example, on circumcision, while the Law was only upon "sons of Israel" (Lev. 12:1-3), it had two exceptions where a sojourner (Gentile) living in community in Israel had to be circumcised.
First, if a sojourner (Gentile) wishes to participate in the Passover feast at someone's home -- which is voluntary, then the Gentile must be circumcised. (Exodus 12:48.) Also later, Ezekiel added prophetically that a Gentile who wished to enter the Temple had to be circumcised. Ezekiel 44:9.
Hence, figuring out the duty of a Gentile living in the kingdom under the Law is fairly easy and obvious to determine.
Below, I provide you encyclopedia summaries of the laws in the Torah that apply to Gentiles. As you will come to realize, many people exaggerate what applies, apparently from self-interest, or to appear more 'strict,' etc. But the Law is the Law. We must put aside the filters of our own and read it as it reads -- neither adding to it or subtracting from it.
Gentiles Promised Tribal Inheritance without Circumcision
Before we get into the laws applicable to Gentiles, it is important to know the prophet Ezekiel made clear that if a sojourner lived in the kingdom of Israel, they became a co-inheritor within the tribe they chose to dwell. Yet, they remained in the legal category of sojourners, and were never "sons of Israel" thereafter. There was no requirement of circumcision, yet they were entitled to an "inheritance" in the kingdom equal to a son of Israel, meaning the land they lived on could pass to their children. By analogy to us Gentiles today, we jointly share in the kingdom of God by a similar principle. Here is the passage in Ezekiel:
21 So shall ye divide this land unto you according to the tribes of Israel. 22 And it shall come to pass, that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you and to the strangers that sojourn among you, who shall beget children among you; and they shall be unto you as the home-born among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. 23 And it shall come to pass, that in what tribe the stranger sojourneth, there shall ye give him his inheritance, saith the Lord Jehovah [sic: Yahweh]. Ezek 47:21-23 ASV.
What About the One Law Verse: Its Meaning
A Gentile can voluntarily comply with a Law only applicable to "sons of Israel" such as the command to be circumcised. But if the Gentile attempts to do so, then he / she must comply with that particular Law's prescriptions. In that sense, and only in that sense, is there one Law applicable to Sons of Israel and sojourners (gentiles).
This is evident in Numbers 15:13-15 which says if a "stranger" or one "living permanently" with Sons of Israel "wishes to offer a food offering...he shall do as you do." After saying this, it says "For there is one statute for you and the stranger who sojourns with you...."
Here, the sojourner had the right not to comply with the offering statute at all. However, once the duty was assumed to offer a food offering, then the sojourner must do so in the same manner as the "son of Israel." Hence, unless a law binds a sojourner, i.e., it is directed at the sojourner, it is optional. But once assumed, the Gentile must comply with its terms.
The sojourner-directed laws represent a very small set of commands -- largely the 10 commandments - which applies to Gentiles. (More can be found between Lev. 17-26 known as the Code of Righteousness.) See heading below: LAW FOR SOJOURNERS.
Luther in Antinomian Theses and Bonhoeffer in Cost of Discipleship reduced it more-or-less simply to the 10 commandments. However, I think that is too narrow. Many of Jesus' moral statements were paraphrases of the Lev. 17-26 section. Tyndale is consistent with how I interpret the scope of the Law on Gentiles. Hence, when Jesus said the "greatest" in the kingdom teach the Law (in Matt. 5:17-19), He meant largely these provisions.
As a result, none of the ceremonial laws or clean-unclean laws apply to foreigners/sojourners unless expressly stated to apply to foreigners/sojourners, of which are few. (I keep the food laws as health laws, and not laws of right/wrong. Jesus said the food that goes in you does not make you a sinner. Hence "clean" "unclean" in the Law signified a health issue, not a moral one. Eating idol meat was in Deuteronomy / Exodus -- in different texts from food laws of "clean / unclean" (health) -- and eating idol meat was a moral wrong. Not much concern today about that.)
Also, in my opinion, any of the temple laws are in suspense due to the destruction of the temple.
I also believe Jesus' sacrifice as God's Lamb fulills satisfactorily the blood to be shed as an atonement sacrifice. This does not mean the Law of atonement is done away with. Very much the opposite is true. Instead, we must call on Jesus' sacrifice as our atonement today. When doing so, we are calling on a Law that only appears in the Mosaic Law. It did not exist in the Abrahamic Covenant. Thus, under the Mosaic Law, we Gentiles always have had a right to call on the Atonement principle. (See Numbers 22:18 discussed below.)
The only difference today is we recognize that Isaiah 53 prophesied that a servant-man would come as God's lamb and pay that atonement price. Thus no bulls, goats or lambs would be needed any more even if the Temple still stood. Instead, the blood of God's lamb is our atonement. Hence, the rule of atonement still applies to favor Gentiles if they so wish to appropriate it. It was a privilege for Gentiles under the Law to do so, yet, under Numbers 22:18, the Gentile who sought atonement had to satisfy the same conditions for atonement that sons of Israel had to satisfy -- repentance and works worthy of repentance. See below.
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James Gave Us Starter Rules, Trusting Weekly Readings from the Law to Fill In Our Knowledge
The bishop of Jerusalem, James, in Acts 15 gave us the starter 4 rules from the Law given Moses to follow as Gentiles. For example, James told us not to eat meat with blood in it. This is in the Noahide Commands and the Mosaic Torah Law. Yet, Christians routinely violate this command by eating meat without the three-pressings out of blood to render meat clean of blood. It now turns out that science shows it is the heme iron in meat that renders it toxic to humans. The heme iron activates oxidative damage that can explain the statistical correlation between cancer, heart disease, etc. and eating meat. See our article Eating Meat with the Blood In It.
James in Acts 15 in his decision on the four rules then implies we Gentiles will progress in obedience to the Torah as we attend on Sabbath the synagogue where a portion of the Law is read weekly. For James adds in Acts 15:21 "For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
I interpret this in context to mean that James intended not to burden Gentiles with a long list of commands right at the beginning. James offered a time to learn them by weekly Sabbath readings of the Law. Our conscience would improve as time went on...God knowing whether we seek to obey or not during that time of growing.
However, some read the decision by James - the bishop of Jerusalem and not an apostle -- as saying Gentiles need obey only four laws from the Law. If true, this makes Jesus' endorsement of the ten commandments and principles found in Leviticus' Code of Righteousness as legitimately cast aside by a non-apostle. That cannot be James' point. But this conclusion is wrong in context anyway - as James immediately follows mention of these four rules by saying "For the Law" has been "preached" in weekly sabbath from old times, implying that such practice will surely continue and the knowledge of the Law can gradually be learned.
Thus, God holds us accountable like a child who is growing in conscience. God affirms we can know nothing or little of the Law given Moses yet obey the same principles of God by conscience. For example, Jesus extolled Job ... a Gentile man 500 years prior to the Law. God said to Satan about this Gentile man that “there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and turneth away from evil: and he still holdeth fast his integrity....” (Job 2:3.)
Likewise Apostle Peter realizes in Cornelius, a Gentile, that those who "fear" God and “do righteousness” are “acceptable to God” whether Gentile or Jew. (Acts 10:35.) This must have been obedience to principles known without the Law as Cornelius was a Gentile.
But, as James indicated, God intends our conscience to grow, impelled by our Love of God and our regular reading from the Law and the Master's words.
Law for Sojourners Today
The Law given Noah to not eat meat with the blood in it (Genesis 9) is de facto universal on all mankind, whether Jew or Gentile. This command precedes the Law given Moses, and thus whatever one thinks about the Mosaic law, there is still this one command. Interestingly, all meats, including chicken and beef are sold today with the blood undrained fully. Only a Kosher market will sell fully drained meats. Is it any wonder that we are learning that a predominant cause of deadly health diseases, e.g., cancer, cardiac problems, etc., stem from eating animal meat -- which by default are sold with the blood in it. See our article Do Gentiles Have To Avoid Eating Meat with the Blood in It? But many think such laws can change? We know supposedly how to make meat safe, and we can leave the blood in the meat at no risk to our health. While breaking this law is breaking a law to protect our health, and does not mean we have broken a moral law that would render us a sinner, it is still a Law of God -- for our health, and we should not presume we know better than God.
For what does God say?
The Law of God given to Moses is perfect and unchanging. Ps. 19:7; James 1:25. It is "eternal for all generations" -- a statement repeated 11 times: Ex. 27:21; 30:21; Lev. 6:18; 7:36; 10:9; 17:7; 23:14, 21, 41; 24:3; Num. 10:8.
But Charles Ryrie, the famous Paulinist evangelical scholar, insists "the Law was never given to Gentiles, and was expressly done away for the Christian." (Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969) at 88, quoted in Mathison: 88.)
Charles Mathison, a Reformed Christian, correctly responds -- albeit from within his Reformed world-view -- that Ryrie errs:
But that claim cannot be substantiated Biblically. Throughout Scripture there is only one ultimate standard to which God holds not only the Jews but also the "stranger" among them (Lev. 24:22), "the nations" (Ps. 9:4-5), "the world" (id., vv. 7-8), that is the Gentiles....God is the universal king over "all the earth," and not only Israel. (Ps. 47: 2, 7-9)...In many passages, Scripture teaches that non-Israelites have the same moral standards as Israelites and are punished for breaking them (e.g., Lev. 18:24-27; 2 Kings 17:24-41; Ps. 119:118-19; Prov. 14:34; 16:12; 17:15; Isa. 10:1; 24:5-6; Dan. 4:24-25; Amos 1:3, 6,9,11,13; 2:1,4,6.) (Keith Mathison, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? (P&R Publishing: 1995) at 88.)
Mathison is correct that there is one Law, and the Gentile was subject to the commands therein, often referenced by the name 'strangers' or 'foreigners' or,'sojourner.'
As Blaine Robinson, M.A. explains in the Twelve Tribes of Israel (2010) a Gentile who was a citizen of Israel's community was known as a sojourner, and not an Israelite:
No Gentile was ever called an Israelite (cf. Acts 4:10; 9:15; Rom 11:25) .... Gentiles that “sojourned” with Israel were treated as citizens of the commonwealth, as long as they obeyed the laws of God. (See Ex 12:19, 43-49; 20:10; 23:12; Lev 16:29; 17:8-15; 18:26; 20:2; 22:10, 18-19; 24:16, 22; Num 9:14; 15:14-16, 26-30; 19:10; Deut 5:14; 16:11, 14; 31:12.) This status meant that they had the same justice rights as native-born Israelites. Gentiles could also share in the Passover meal as long as the males were circumcised (Ex 12:48).
How do we know when the Law extends to the sojourners?
Some misinterpret the following verse to believe there is no distinction, and thus all commands in the Torah apply to Gentiles as well who live in Israel:
There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you. (Numbers 15:16)
While it is true there is one Law (Torah) which is the same for an Israelite and Gentile -- that means the One BOOK of Torah. The Numbers verse does not mean every law in the Torah applies to both the Israelite and Gentile-sojourner in Israel.
We know that is a wrong reading because the Law differentiates frequently between each, thus evincing it is incorrect to interpret the "one Law" verse in Numbers as meaning the scope of the Law is identical. The most glaring difference is the law of circumcision which the Law says solely applies to "sons of Israel" (Lev. 12:1-3) but not to sojourners (Gentiles) unless they wish to participate in Passover. (Exodus 12:48.) (Later, Ezekiel also added that a Gentile who wished to enter the Temple had to be circumcised. Ezekiel 44:9.)
The excellent ministry First Fruits of Zion recently explained the Numbers passage is limited by context. After quoting Numbers 15:16, it explains:
This seems simple enough. According to these verses, there is one law for both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, Gentile believers should keep the whole Torah.
But wait. It’s not that clear.
First of all, the context deals not with the application of Torah as a whole, but specifically with the sacrifices. In other words, if an alien wanted to offer a sacrifice in the Temple he needed to follow the same Torah guidelines as the Israelite. [See Lev. 22:18.] The passage is not saying that all the laws of Torah apply equally to Jews and Gentiles. ("One Law and the Gentiles," The Weekly E-drash (First Fruits of Zion, June 10, 2014).
Thus, when we read Leviticus 22:18, we see that "sojourners" (Gentiles) are now added so that when they too bring offerings -- although not mandatory on them -- they must follow the same legal standards. Thus, those standards are introduced by this verse:
18 “Speak to Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel and say to them,When any one of the house of Israel or of the sojourners in Israel presents a burnt offering as his offering, for any of their vows or freewill offerings that they offer to the Lord, ... (Lev. 22:18, ESV.)
The scholar Jan Joosten reviewed the Holiness Code (Lev. 17-26), and found the sacrifices are not obligatory on the Gentiles in Israel -- the sojourners, but the Law provided if they wanted to participate, they had to abide by the same legal standard as applied to "sons of Israel" as their obligation. Jan Joosten explains in People and Land in the Holiness Code: An Exegetical Study of the Ideational Framework of the Law in Leviticus 17-26, Volume 67 (Brill 1996) at page 68:
Here [in Lev. 22:18], as in [Lev.] 17:8, the ger [sojourner / Gentile] is seen to bring sacrifices which could lead one to think of a proselyte. However, the priestly laws nowhere limit the bringing of sacrifices exclusively to the Israelites. [FN. Cf. the sacrifice brought by the foreigner in 22:25, and Numbers 15:14 where both gerim and 'whoever else is living among you' are permitted to bring sacrifices.] Also note that the present law does not require that the ger offer sacrifices to YHWH, but merely regulates for that eventuality. The picture which is emerging is of an alien residing among the Israelites in their land to whom the possibility of sacrificing at the Israelite shrine is open. Should he wish to bring sacrifice, then his sacrifice must meet all the usual requirements.
With that correct understanding, let's examine carefully what Laws in the one Law squarely apply to Gentiles. Whenever they apply equally, they are construed identically, as First Fruits of Zion makes clear.
Five Categories of Law Applicable to Gentiles
In my opinion, there are five types of Laws in the Original Testament that apply to sojourning Gentiles.
First, under the Law, certain commands were open-ended, applicable to all. I put the Ten Commandments here.
Second, some applied only to the sons of Israel, such as the circumcision command. See Lev. 12:1-3 ("sons of Israel"). Only if an uncircumcised Gentile wished to enter the Temple / sanctuary, he had to be circumcised. Ezek. 44:9. Or if he wished to share in the Passover meal. Ex. 12:48.
Third, some commands were extended to both Israel and sojourners equally (such as the moral commands between Leviticus 17 and 26 and others sprinkled elsewhere in Leviticus). Some of the food laws are within this category too, e.g., not to eat animals killed by other animals. Lev. 17:15.
Fourth, some commands applied equally only depending upon special circumstances (e.g., if a sojourner wanted to participate in Passover seder, they had to be circumcised (Ex. 12:48), or if the sojourner wanted an atonement for their sin, they were subject to the same conditions as an Israelite (Lev. 22:18 et seq.).)
Incidentally, since the temple has been destroyed, Jews cannot accomplish the legal technicalities for an offering for sin. Thus, neither could Gentiles if they wanted to do so. However, as believers that Isaiah 53 prophesied of a Messiah Servant, Jesus, who would atone for both Israelites and Gentiles, we would extend the principle of Lev. 22:18 to the moral conditions one must satisfy to acquire Jesus' atonement. We would say the conditions on atonement equally apply now to both Israelite and Gentile who accept Yahshua Jesus as Messiah (=Prince, King, Ruler). Jesus explained the conditional moral principles in Matt 5:22-26 (be reconciled / appease the one you offended before bringing your sacrifice to the altar.)
These moral conditions of atonement - which were simplified by John the Baptist and Jesus as "works worthy of repentance" -- were previously stated in Jer. 7:20-25; Mic. 6:6-8, Joel 2:13, Hos.14:1-2; and Mal. 1:10, 3:3-4. Cf. Isaiah 27:9. The prophets clarified atonement could not be used as some form of magic or divination of a power over God that would insist God somehow made an unconditional promise of atonement for those who had not turned from sin but who had invoked the legal right of atonement for sin. Jesus reconfirmed these prophetic clarifications on the moral conditions of the right to atonement in Matthew 5:22-26. This is discussed in detail in chapter one of my book Jesus' Words on Salvation.
Finally, some of the Law was extended solely to non-Israelite sojourners, e.g., eating animals that died naturally which Israelites were prohibited from eating. Deut. 14:21.
For more detailed information, see below: "Encyclopedia References to Law Applicable to Gentiles Under the Torah."
So What Laws Apply to Gentiles In The Torah?
The Ten Commandments appear open-ended and have universal application to Israel and Sojourners living in community with Israel. But others argue the Ten Commandments (Decalogue) are not open-ended, implied from Exodus 20:2 which says "I...brought you out of the Land of Egypt." This point is largely irrelevant. You can find specific mention of most of the Ten Commandments imposed on sojourners: blasphemy -- using God's name in vain / insultingly (Lev. 24:16; Num 15:30); murder (Lev. 24:17); Sabbath-breaking (Deut. 5:12-15; Lev. 25:6; Exo 23:12); adultery (Lev. 20:2, 10), etc.
Even if the Decalogue / Ten Commandments as a whole does not apply, Bonhoeffer says Jesus extended the Decalogue to all in the New Covenant when He spoke to the young rich man. (Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-26.) See Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship (1937) at 72-84.
And as explained above, we who invoke Jesus' atonement pursuant to Leviticus 22:18 et seq., must satisfy the same moral conditions that applied to Israelites: leave your gift at the altar, and go be reconciled to the one whom you offended - either God or man, or both. Jesus and John the Baptist also refered to this as "works worthy of repentance."
To find more commands applicable to Gentiles, I suggest one start by reading Leviticus 17 to the end of Leviticus 26-- known as the HOLINESS CODE. In doing so, highlight any command you think applies to sojourners or is open ended. I call this the MORAL SECTION of the Law. Jesus regularly quoted from this moral section in His sermons.
God Promises Salvation to Sojourners Who Obey Sabbath and The Law
In Isaiah 56:1-7, we read about the salvation terms for the "son of the stranger" (i.e., the non-Jew who joins with the Jews):
1Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
2Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.
3Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
4For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
6Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
7Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:1-7 KJV.)
This passage makes crystal clear that laying hold of the covenant and doing things pleasing to God, including taking our Sabbath rest, are the conditions of salvation for Gentiles.
The inclusion of Gentiles was in the Law itself.
Deuteronomy 32:43 - Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
And in the Prophets, Jeremiah 3:17 reads:
At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Yahweh; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of Yahweh, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart.
The Command To Rest The Land
What about the command to rest the land from sowing every seven years?
But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. (Lev. 25:4.)
The land was not to be sown from the last harvest of the 6th year of a cycle. The vines were not to be cut back to allow new growth. The land itself would still grow food / grapes, etc. The law continues, and specifically allows Israelites and "sojourners" to gather the natural growth of the field in year 7. The point was to stop making the land have to work to produce food.
Does this apply to a sojourner who owns land? The command is over the land, and not to whoever owns it. This would appear to be a principle applicable to Gentiles who own land. This principle turns out to be good husbandry of the land. It allows the nutrients to rebuild as the little worms work the soil. See "Crop Rotation," Wikipedia.
This command to rest the land, incidentally, is a moral one. Apparently with the Babylonian captivity in view, God prophesied in Leviticus that if the Israelites did not give the land rest, God would send them into captivity long enough to make up for the overdue rest which the Land deserved.
“I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it.” (Leviticus 26:33–35)
If the Babylonian captivity fulfilled this prophesied punishment, this means that the 50 years in Babylon made up for 50 cycles without any Sabbath annual rest.
If this implies it is a moral command, as I suggest due to the serious punishment attached to its violation, this would be a command that a Gentile follower of Jesus should follow if they own land that requires tilling to create new crops. Furthermore, now we scientifically know we should be glad to do so anyway.
What About Passover?
Passover dinner, which precedes the feast of unleavened bread, is optional for the Sojourner. However, if he "will keep it," then the Sojourner has to be circumcised. (Exo 12:48; Nu 9:14.)
Thus, Passover was an honor for a non-Jew sojourner to celebrate. If he chose to do so, he must be circumcised.
What About Tithing?
Tithing clearly does not apply to Gentiles, but only to sons of Israel. Gentiles, whether poor or not, were one of the several beneficiaries of the tithe paid by Sons of Israel, along with widows, orphans, and Levite priests. See our article on Whether Gentiles Are Subject to the Law of Tithing.
The Didache Instructions
The Didache of about 100 AD -- considered the oldest surviving manual of Christianity -- addressed what Law applied to Gentiles from the Torah. It claimed it was written by the 12 Apostles. Rather than make any careful distinction, as we did above, it said to do your best to keep all of it. The Temple was gone, so this may be a prudent general instruction, measured by historical Christianity. The ministry First Fruits of Zion explains this historical background in the article I previously quoted. It explains that it is likely that most Gentile Christians early on tried to keep as much of the Torah as possible:
The Didache is allegedly a collection of apostolic instructions for Gentile believers. When discussing the question of how much Torah a Gentile is obligated to keep, the Didache recommends keeping all of it, but leaves the matter up to an individual’s capacity:
If you are able to bear all the yoke of the Lord [i.e., Torah], you will be perfect; but if you are not able, do as much as you are able to do. (Didache 6:2)
The Didache agrees with Numbers 15:15–16. There is not supposed to be a different Torah for Gentile believers. The Gentile believers are not supposed to have a different type of worship or religion. There is only one Torah for God’s people. The only question left open is to what extent the Gentile believer is obligated. Most of the laws of the Torah apply equally to Jewish and Gentile disciples of Yeshua.
On the other hand, Gentile believers are not obligated to keep all of the ceremonial laws as the Jewish believers such as circumcision and other distinct markers of Jewish identity like the calendar, the holy days, the dietary laws, and so forth. Despite that, the Bible does not create alternative Gentile versions of these institutions.
In the days of the apostles, the Gentile believers kept most of those things along with the Jewish believers as part of their participation in their shared religion.
Thus, according to FFOZ the Law given Moses does not extend to Gentiles the duties to keep circumcision, the calendar, the holy days, the dietary laws, etc. As we saw above, it did extend Sabbath and some food prohibitions on Gentiles (which even James repeated in Acts), so this is an overstatement by FFOZ. Yet, perhaps it is wise to follow the rule of the Didache: keep as much of it as you can feasibly apply to your life. If you don't wear 4 cornered clothes, you don't need to wear philacteries, so don't worry about that command, for example.
What about Other Feast Days Than Passover?
A young man who is a Christian and keeps Sabbath has a You Tube video that reviews whether feast days are mandatory for a Christian to observe. He argues they no longer apply. I disagree as to Passover and possibly the Day of Atonement. He points out that Lev. 23:27 says the feast days are to be holy convocations to make an offering by fire. He contends that without sacrifices, they would cease to be feast days. He says Deut 16:2 says the passover is necessarily a sacrifice. However, I see it has a second function that continues -- a remembrance of God's provisions when Israel was in bondage in Egypt. He relies upon Paul to say that circumcision was abolished, and no longer necessary. (See 4:20 mark.) While I don't agree with his conclusion entirely, he may have a point about any holiday that is only about sacrifice, since they are suspended at the Temple.
Blessings of God After A Meal
There are certain laws that are wise to follow. For example, the Law apparently commands a blessing after one has eaten and is satisfied. See Deuteronomy 8:10.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.
It apparently is a safeguard against ungratefulness and idolatry. Cf. 8:12; 31:20. There is no command to bless God prior to a meal. But neither is there a prohibition from doing so.
What Of Levitical Interpretations of the Law?
The Levites had a special authority under the Law to provide binding interpretations of the Law (not to extend it or nullify it):
"And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment: And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall shew thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee: According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, [to] the right hand, nor [to] the left. And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel." Deuteronomy 17:9-12.
What do we do now that there are no more Levites to turn to? In my opinion, God took them away so our High Priest Jesus / Yahshua would be the one whose words interpreting the Law would be paramount. We would not sway to the left or right, but "listen to Him," as Yah spoke twice from heaven about Jesus / Yahshua -- once at His baptism and second at His transfiguration.
Encyclopedia References to Law Applicable to Gentiles Under Torah
"The Mosaic legislation was quite open to receive outsiders into the covenant community (hence the LXX rendering of ger proselytos). Certain rights were conceded to them, including sabbatical rest (Ex. 20:10; 23:12; Dt. 5:14), a fair trial (1:16), access to the cities of refuge (Nu. 35:15; Josh. 20:9), and participation in the Feasts of Booths and Weeks (Dt. 16:11, 14). Their sustenance was to be guaranteed by provision for gleaning (along with other needy groups, Lev. 19:10; 23:22), by the triennial tithe (Dt. 26:11f) and by the produce of the land during the Sabbatical Year (Lev. 25:6f). Indeed, the juxtaposition of ger with "native of the land" (e.g., Ex. 12:19, 48), "your countrymen" (lit "your brother"), "sons of Israel," and similar expressions clearly indicates that sojourners were to be treated for the most part just like ordinary Israelites. Their privileges and responsibilities thus included observing the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29), the Passover (Ex. 12:49; Nu. 9:14), Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:19); sacrificial procedures (Lev. 17:8; 22:18; Nu. 15:14–16); atonement for unintentional and defiant sin (15:26–31); purification rites after eating unclean meat (Lev. 17:15; Nu. 19:10), sacrifices to Molech (Lev. 20:2); blaspheming the name of the Lord (24:16), sexual and moral purity (18:26),lex talionis (24:20–22). Lev. 19:33f summarized the idealized position of the ger's [Heb. native born] position was so secure that his prosperity could conceivably exceed that of the native Israelites, and the latter could become servants for the former (Lev. 25:47–55). Covenantal infidelity would bring these conditions as a curse upon Israel (Dt. 28:43)..... Whereas Lev. 17:15 forbids the native and the ger to eat animals that have died a natural death, Dt. 14:21 suggests that such animals could be given to the ger or sold to foreigners for consumption.... At an early period Israel probably adhered to these ideals (Dt. 29:10f [MT 9f]; cf. also 31:12, which included the sojourners in the assembly of those gathered for instruction in the Torah and the fear of the Lord). The gerîm were also present at the covenant renewal ceremony conducted at Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (Josh. 8:33). ... Second-class treatment of sojourners may, however, be documented from later history. The gêrîm noted separately in David’s census (2 Ch. 2:17 [MT 16]) became the basis of Solomon’s work crews, some of which consisted entirely of sojourners (cf. 1 Ch. 22:2). Nevertheless, in Ezekiel’s vision of the restored community (47:22), the identification of the gêrîm with native Israelites is almost complete, even to receiving an inheritance of land in the midst of the tribe in which they resided. [ISBE (Editor Geoffrey Bromiley)(1995) Vol. 4 at 562, with some bracketed corrections.]
"Alien," Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible reads:
Foreigners or sojourners had certain rights but also certain limitations while in Israel. They could offer sacrifices (Lv 17:8; 22:18) but could not enter the sanctuary unless circumcised (Ez 44:9). They were allowed to participate in the three great Jewish festivals (Dt 16:11, 14) but could not eat the Passover meal unless circumcised (Ex 12:43, 48)....They were not to work on the sabbath and the Day of Atonement (Ex 20:10; 23:12; Lv 16:29; Dt 5:14) and could be stoned for reviling or blaspheming God’s name (Lv 24:16; Nm 15:30). Foreigners were forbidden to eat blood (Lv 17:10, 12) but could eat animals that had died a natural death (Dt 14:21). Israel’s code of sexual morality also applied to the foreigner (Lv 18:26). There were prohibitions against Israelite intermarriage with foreigners, but it was nevertheless a common occurrence (Gn 34:14; Ex 34:12, 16; Dt 7:3, 4; Jos 23:12). ...Civil rights were provided for foreigners by the Law of Moses (Ex 12:49; Lv 24:22), and they came under the same legal processes and penalties (Lv 20:2; 24:16, 22; Dt 1:16). They were to be treated politely (Ex 22:21; 23:9), loved as those under the love of God (Lv 19:34; Dt 10:18, 19), and treated generously if poor and receive the fruits of the harvest (Lv 19:10; 23:22; Dt 24:19–22). They could receive asylum in times of trouble (Nm 35:15; Jos 20:9). Foreign servants were to receive treatment equal to Hebrew servants (Dt 24:14). A foreigner could not take part in tribal deliberations or become a king (17:15). The prophet Ezekiel looked forward to the messianic age when the foreigner would share all the blessings of the land with God’s own people (Ez 47:22, 23) in Israel.
There are other commands applicable to "anyone" and I would say this word means they apply to both Israelites and Sojourning-Gentiles living in their community. For example, there is a command to return what you stole, whether entrusted to you or by robbery, plus pay 1/5 (20%) more. Leviticus 6:1-8 NIV. This begins saying "Yahweh told Moses, If anyone sins and is unfaithful to Yahweh by deceiving...." Then there are later additions to this principle to tie into it. In Numbers 5:8, it teaches if when you repent, and now you must restore the goods or items stolen, but there is no one any longer to whom to give, you give the restitution to Yahweh - implying you donate it to the Temple "alms" box for the poor. Since there is no longer any such box at most Christian churches, I would say you still must find a way to route this money to the poor.
Identifiable Moral Commands In A Mixed Context
Sometimes there are passages clearly directed to the Sons of Israel that contain commands that would seem to have a moral component having nothing to do with only the Sons of Israel. For example, Exodus 23 is a long list of commands, and clearly it is only to the Sons of Israel, as it describes what they are to do when they come into the land that has Gentiles which evidently is only a command to Israelites. Among the moral commands is one against taking bribes, and I would not construe its presence in this context as intended to limit it to Israelite judges:
"Do not accept a bribe [i.e., payment to allow a wrong to be done / ignored], for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent." (Exodus 23:8 NIV.)
So if I am a Gentile and serve as a Judge, can I as a Christian accept a bribe? The answer is clear that this command comes with an identifier of the rationale -- a universal rationale. It says a "bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent." Hence, this is a moral command, and not merely a command which could have a non-universal application just to Israelites. Hence, I would follow it, and obviously accept its moral imperative from Yahweh to me as a judge.
Email on July 20, 2012
D writes me:
You may recall I told you we were having a Bible Study in our home conducted by a Messianic Jew.... and at one time we had 20 people attending. Slowly, one by one, they stopped coming. In retrospect, I believe there was too much Jewish tradition that was not explained. At least, that was the case for me.
For example, wearing a shawl or a scull cap when praying. I understand all Jews follow this tradition. At present, I'm not sure, as a gentile, exactly what I should and should not be doing. One thing that turned me off regarding the Messianic movement was when I saw on the Internet a bunch of Jew wannabees wearing a scull cap along with a long beard. HOWEVER, I'm simply seeking truth. If I discover I need to be wearing certain things while praying, I will do so, to be obedient to our heavenly Father.
What is your understanding or belief regarding what you wear while praying? For example, at sundown on Friday night, while praying in the Sabbath.
I'm currently studying the feasts mentioned in the Torah. There seems to be a lot of blessings we are missing by not celebrating these dates. What are your thoughts on this subject? Have you written anything on this subject?
My Reply to D on July 21, 2012
To answer how to know what laws apply, I start first with Yashua's words - Yahweh appointed him in Deuteronomy 18 as "the prophet" -- the obedience to whose words would be "required." This is a universal principle for Jew and Gentile stated in the Law.
Next, I read the Law as having often distinct commands to Israel versus "sojourners" or "foreigners" (not Israelites) who lived in Israel. The latter are now known as Gentiles. If they live in community with Israel, some but not all commands applicable to Israel applies to the Gentiles by the strict reading of the Law itself. So Leviticus 12:1-3 says Israelites must be circumcised, but the Law has no blanket command to Gentiles to do so. It implicitly says they don't have to be circumcised in all cases to live in community with Israel because elsewhere it says if the Gentile (sojourner / foreigner) wishes to celebrate Passover (no compulsion to do so), they must be circumcised. Exodus 12:19. I believe these kind of distinctions in the Law are why James in Acts 15 did not impose circumcision on Gentiles who came to Christ -- apparently strictly reading Leviticus 12:1-3 which narrows its application to the "sons of Israel."
Thus, the issue about a prayer shawl must turn on the text of the command, if any, found in the Law, and then whether it also applies to Gentiles.
The Bible does not command wearing of a unique prayer shawl or tallit. Instead, it presumes that people wore a garment of some type to cover themselves and instructs them to add fringes (tzitzit) to the 4 corners of these (Numbers 15:38, Deuteronomy 22:12). These passages do not specify tying particular types or numbers of knots in the fringes. Nor do they specify a gender division between men and women, or between native Israelite/Hebrew people and those assimilated by them. The exact customs regarding the tying of the tzitzit and the format of the tallit are post-Biblical and rabbinical and can vary between various Jewish communities.
Hence, there is no command to pray with a shawl. (Paul taught a woman must have a head covering, but even Paul had no command that a man use a prayer shawl.)
Incidentally, the fringes command only applies if you are wearing a 4 cornered garment, but there is no command to wear a four cornered garment (like a poncho). Thus, it is largely anachronistic -- meaning clothing practices of today rarely involve where one puts on a four cornered poncho. It can happen. But I don't concern myself about it because I do not wear such clothes.
By the way, the command about not cutting one's beard in a certain way is not a command to have a beard. It is a command not in effect to have a Fu Manchu shaped beard. I have a page on that if you need it. It is in JWO. Hence, having a beard, even for a Jew, is not required.
Hence, a lot of traditions are just that ... traditions.... or hedges around the Law -- exaggerated readings to prevent any possible theoretical violation. Jesus / Yashua told us not to live with such excessive unnecessary burdens not in the Law itself.
Perhaps the people attending at your home faded away when non-Biblical traditions were being suggested while the true Law was being denied validity by the Pauline rabbi you mentioned.
I personally celebrate Passover because it was an option for a circumcised Gentile under the Law to do so (Exodus 12:19), and I love its meaning. I don't understand the other high holy days as applicable to Gentiles. Booths clearly is for Jews. The Day of Atonement critically depends upon the Temple, but I celebrate it anyway in a spiritualized sense.
The key is to not let Pauline thinking contaminate us where the "letter of the Law kills" and "incites" sin in us. See Roman's 7:7-11. That is blasphemy. Instead, the Law is good for us, frees us, settles us, guides us, comforts us, teaches us, and ultimately helps us admire and love God for His goodness and mercy.
That's my take on things....Shabbat Shalom D.
God Set Jews Apart As Light of Law to Gentiles
God chose the lineage of Jews / Israel to show off a people who were priests who kept God's covenant, and as God's treasure / riches, this would teach non-Israelites to see "you are called by the name of Yahweh" and fear the Israelites.
5 Now therefore, if you will truly obey My voice, by keeping My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.
6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation...
9 Yahweh will establish you as His Holy People unto Himself, as He promised you on oath, if you will keep the Laws of Yahweh your Father, and walk in all His ways.
10 Then all the people on the earth will see that you are called by the Name of Yahweh, and they will fear you.
I Peter 2:9—
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you would show forth the praises of Him Who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Email on Why Did James Appear To Give Gentiles A Short List of Commands? 11/26/2015
....I do have one more question though...one that has been causing me a great deal of confusion over the past month or so. Why in Acts 15 and Acts 21 does James and Peter say that all the Gentiles need to do is refrain from eating blood, things strangled, things sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality. Certainly there is more commands that we must follow as Gentiles. I am very confused by this..Can you you shed some light on this issue?
My Response on 11/26/2015
Yes, right after this in Acts 15 verse 21 James implied – due to the Greek present tense in verse 19 versus the import of verse 21 -- that the gentiles start with these few principles in vv 19-20, because they will continue to learn from the weekly readings – readings of the Law, as v 21 implies Here is the key passage – and the last verse is the key:
19 “Therefore my judgment is that we don’t trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God,20 but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood.21 For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:19-21.)
So James is not excepting anything from the law applicable to Gentiles. He is simply giving them a starter set of principles, and if they attend weekly readings from Moses, they will pick up the rest.
Does that help?