Acts 15 and the non-Jews

I made a comment upon the 1st century churches advice to the non-JewishChristians as recorded in Acts 15, regarding what they should do in the light of the claims of the Judaizers of their time. The response that I received was a reminder that in the Millennium we will all keep the new moons, Sabbaths and festivals. Well, that might just be the case - and there is no problem if it is - but that is not the issue.

How does reference to the state of things in the Millennium, the other side of the return of Yeshua, and the Great Tribulation, have anything to do with the 1st century churches advise to the non-Jews of the Roman Empire?

In Acts 15 the believing Pharisees demanded that the church expect two things of the non-Jews:

(a) That they were circumcised
(b) That they were commanded to keep the law of Moses

The church leaders refused, on both points, and then laid down the stipulation upon the non-Jews that they should:

(a) Refrain from meat polluted by idols - self explanatory
(b) Refrain from sexual immorality - that is of all kinds
(c) Refrain from things that are strangled - where the blood is =
deliberately retained as a delicacy (ugh?)
(d) Refrain from blood - itself, most likely meaning not eating it =
(quite a yuk thing to do anyway)

I would have thought that was quite clear. You cannot make the latter list, equate to the former list. If you do attempt that, then it makes the whole meaning of the churches declaration a nonsense. Why on earth should they have given a list that agrees, while they are attempting to resist the demands of the Pharisees? Baffling.

Some would have us believe that the church was re-iterating the Noahide laws of Genesis 9. They might be right in that. But, they cannot then go on and make them synonymous with the law of Moses. Especially in the light of the fact that it is clear from Acts 15 that was not what the church was doing.

I think that some people are so determined to force people to take on board the shackles of Torah Observance, as it is expounded by the Rabbis of Judaism, since the destruction of the Temple, and that was simply an adaptation of the Pharisaic miss-application of the law, opposed by Yeshua in His earthly ministry, that they run the danger of being on the wrong side of the Acts 15 debate.

We must ask ourselves why do people do this? Is it because they just get over-enthusiastic and come out with any old nonsense that looks good? Is it because they cannot understand how they can mix with Jews and remain as Gentiles? (that is a kind of anti-Semitism) Or, Is it all very much more sinister, and these people are really seeded into the Hebraic Roots movement y the devil himself in an attempt to rob us of our liberty in Yeshua? Consider Galatians 2:4

I have no problem observing the Torah, as long as it is the Torah - found in the Tanach (Old Testament). Although, I see no need to keep laws that do not apply. Some of the rules in the Law only apply in certain contexts, others can only apply if certain conditions are in effect. Some of the rules in the Law are obviously superseded by other rules of a higher standing within the Law (I will explain myself if you so request me to do so). But, I do have problems with observing the Torah, if it is the Torah found in the teachings of the Rabbis since the Destruction of the Temple, that is if they add to, or subtract from the Torah found in the Tanach.

For example: The Law says that you should not profane the name of the Lord. One easy way of not profaning the name of the Lord, is never to mention it. But, how can you refer to the Lord (as if by name) if you do not ever use His name, for fear of profaning it? Simple, you invent (or find) another name for Him, which is not His name, but everyone understands that it is a substitute for His name. So instead of saying YHVH, you say ADONAI. But, some may say, ADONAI, by use has become a name for God in itself. So, what we do is just say - THE NAME. No not the name, but THE NAME. The Hebrew for THE NAME is HASHEM. So now we refer to God by using HASHEM, but it becomes like another name for God. Well what do you make of all that?.

Hang on! How can we differentiate between the different names for God when we write e-mails, and books etc, for the Bible does. There are words like Lord, God, Adonai, and Elohim and YHVH, without running the risk of profaning His name. Well it is dead simple. We devise a system that will stop us accidentally profaning his name. So we use L-rd, G-d, and Y--H etc. This is in spite of the fact that there is absolutely no evidence for the practice in the Scriptures. And we are supposed to be guided by the Word of God.

How about the question of what kinds of foods to serve together. Now the Scripture tells us that it is wrong to boil (or cook) a young animal in its mothers blood. Virtually all commentators, even the Jewish ones, tell us that the reason for this ruling in the Law, was that the Canaanites practiced a particularly vile religious rite, which involved doing just this, and it primarily involved all the wildest excesses of pagan idolatry. The Law of Moses condemned the practice as a kind of catch it all reference to any form of idolatry. Medicine, furthermore, tells us that it is not a good practice to cook an animal in its own mothers milk, so the Law may have also been encouraging the Jews not to eat unhealthy things. To ensure that you never run the risk of accidentally doing so, then a ruling was made (outside of Scripture) that forbade you to cook any animal in milk from an animal of the same kind.

How, you may ask do you know exactly what kind of animal the milk came from? You could accidentally cook a piece of beef with cows milk, thinking that it was goats milk and be guilty of breaking the rules. I think that it is unlikely that this kind question was originally asked in Moses, or Joshuas time, for people in that day were so close to the growing and rearing of their food that they would have known. It was probably a question that began to be asked as people migrated to the towns and cities and became more reliant on the market place as a way of obtaining their food. Thus such a development of the rules of application regarding the law are quite a bit later than the giving of the Law itself.

So another ruling forbade the cooking of any animal in any milk. This included chicken - who ever heard of chicken milk? I have never seen it sold in the super-market. But, what about the problem of a milk product such as butter or cheese coming into contact with meat, such as in a beef sandwich. How would we know whether the milk to make the butter or cheese did not come from the same animal as the mother of the animal where the slice of beef came from. So, out came a ruling that no dairy products whatsoever should even be served in the same meal as meat products. But what about a tiny crumb or portion of meat just accidentally being stuck to the plate and being served with a dairy roduct? So, do not even prepare meat and dairy in the same kitchen.
Even better, go to a different restaurant. AND by the way do not eat any meal containing diary products within a certain number of hours as a meal containing any meat products, for that could be the same as eating at the same time.

If the essence of the Torah is life and liberty - rather than Law - WHERE IS THE LIBERTY IN THAT?

I would suggest that the above is not the Law, but an example of how insecure people attempt to keep the Law by avoiding it. That - in essence - is Pharisaism!

Pharisaism takes the thinking out of Torah observance.

Yeshua had problems with the Torah - as expounded by the Pharisees of His time. Their interpretations and applications were different from the Torah that He had given to Moses 1500 years earlier. If Yeshua should have had problems with them, then what is so strange about the Christian, in whom Yeshua has taken up residence - in His Holy Spirit, also having the same problems?

Now if Yeshua - the One who wrote the Law, and came to fulfil the Law, rejected and opposed the false interpreters of His own Law, then why are people trying to force followers of Yeshua to accept things that He refused to accept.

And, if His own first followers - you know, the ones who sat at His own feet, and were there when He expounded the Law, the ones who were most likely to know the right way to do it, later on also rejected the demands of the Pharisees (Acts 15), how on earth can we justify doing so. If we do, we cannot claim to be continuing steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine - see Acts 2:42

Either we are followers of Yeshua, or we are not. It is as simple as that.

Have they ever wondered why the Messianic Jews of the period immediately after the Destruction of the Temple eventually decided to part company with Judaism? And you cannot blame the nasty Crusaders for this, for they did not exist yet! Also, there is no real evidence that Judaism actually threw the Christians out, but it is rather more likely that they decided to distance themselves from it, because they could no longer accept the direction in which it was going.

It probably had a lot to do with the claims amongst Judaisms late 1st Century and 2nd Century Rabbis, that someone other than (or - anyone other than) Yeshua was the Messiah. See this in the light the warnings of Yeshua in Matthew 24:4-5. It was the first thing that He warned His disciples about - false Messiahs. Like Simon Bar Kokba, proclaimed Messiah by Rabbi Akiva (in 135 CE). How could good Torah (the one the Yeshua gave to Moses) observant Jewish believers in Yeshua as the Messiah, put up with that nonsense?

But it also had a lot to do with the ideas that came out of Pharisaic Judaism, following the council of Jafna (in 85 CE), where not only did they come to terms with NEW Judaism - now minus the sacrificial system, by emphasising the synagogue system, they introduced some maledictions against the Yeshua and His followers, and they increased the stress placed upon Rabbinical interpretations of Torah observance.

If you look at the function of worship in the Old Testament, both before Sinai and after, you will realise that once you remove the sacrificial system the whole thing lacks serious meaning. The sacrifices in themselves were telling the people of a way to God. Remove the sacrificial system and you have a serious problem of conveying the real meaning. The sacrificial system played a major role in the religious experience of the people of the Old Testament period (and a good chunk of the New Testament period) - from Abel (Genesis 4:4) right through to Paul and the Jerusalem Church - about 55 CE (see Acts 21:15-27).

The Rabbis of the later quarter of the 1st century realised that. They re-organised Judaism to suit. It is a pity that in their reorganisations they evidently did not listen to the large number of Torah observant Messianic Jewish believers in Yeshua. If they had, they would have even seen that the removal of the sacrificial system had its real meaning in that it is no longer necessary - Yeshua had brought real meaning to the sacrificial system. If you remove the sacrificial system you are forced to conclude that the One that it all looked forward to has arrived.

Some Rabbis realised this and spent many years playing down the role that the sacrificial system in Old Testament history! They realised that you cannot say that God is in control of history, and there is meaning in everything that He does, or asks His people to do, and then see the complete removal of a central thing like the sacrificial system without acknowledging that what it looked forward to has taken place. So the attempted to re-write Old Testament history to some extent - fortunately they failed!

By the way, in the light of these conclusions, up until the Destruction of the Temple (in 70 CE), the Jewish Rabbis had explained that the period when the Temple was inactive, laying in ruins for about 70 to 80 years, during the Babylonian invasion time, was only temporary. For one group of exiled Jews, in Egypt, had another Temple on the upper Nile (probably where Jeremiah was taken during his enforced journey to Egypt) at Elephantine. The Jewish exiles also did some sacrifices in Babylon - so the sacrificial system was not completely terminated during that period. But, for some reason - they all acknowledged that the termination of the sacrificial system at the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE was permanent. Now that is a bit of a revelation.

However, Judaism as a structure and a system, robbed of the sacrificial system that looked forward to the Messiah, whom we acknowledge as Yeshua, decided to remove Yeshua as well. A parting of company with the followers of Yeshua, both Jews and non-Jews was inevitable.

Acts 15 appears in the light of our knowledge of such later events, to be a kind of prophetic precursor for the problems that were to be encountered in the years immediately ahead, some 30 to 35 years. It is therefore, most foolish for us to re-interpret Acts 15 to make it look like the Destruction of Temple did not eventually happen, the Council of Jafna was never convened, and the proclaiming of Simon Bar Kokba as Messiah was not a fact. The church of Acts 15 kept a distinctiveness about its faith in Yeshua, in the light of the Judaistic attempts of the Pharisees of the time. That distinctiveness is part of the model we have in the Scriptures - we tamper with them at our peril.

While the Christianity of the New Testament was evidently part and parcel of Judaism, by virtue of its Jewishness, and the close relationship that the believers retained with the Jews who had not accepted Yeshua as the Messiah. Their willingness to participate in Temple worship and sacrifices, along with the retention of the synagogue system, indicates that their was no real rift between the early believers and their essential Jewishness. However, to describe what we read of the church in the New Testament, particularly the book of Acts as Judaism, is to foolishly confuse the facts of the matter. First century Judaism was much more complex than that. We are able to identify numerous groups within 1st Century Judaism - The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the Zealots, the Essenes, the Hassidim, and of course the Nazarenes. Generally the book of Acts is only concerned with this last group.

Early Christianity (the Nazarenes) may have been retained within Judaism, at least for its first 35 years of existence, but Judaism and Christianity were not synonymous. That is what Acts 15 is all about, and it seems that to fail to realise that is a serious mistake, and a great travesty of the justice of truth.

A good question to ask is this:

If you were part of the Jerusalem church discussion of Acts 15 time, who would you most likely equate to?

(a) One of those who went to Antioch - Acts 15:1
(b) Paul - Acts 15:2
(c) Barnabas - Acts 15:2
(d) One of the Pharisees who believed - Acts 15:5
(d) Peter - Acts 15:10
(e) James - Acts 15:19
(f) A non-Jew - Acts 15:31

Whichever, of these you most closely fit, ask yourself the following two questions:

(i) Why do I come to that conclusion?
(ii) What would I lose the most if they church had agreed with the demands of the Pharisees?

Regards

Philip Nowland - Huntingdon
PNowland@netcomuk.co.uk