Ralph Finley is a friend from the UMJC, a Messianic Jewish congregational network, to which we both belong. Ralph sent a few interesting arguments that I thought would be worth responding to in a post.
Note that there are two posts on the blog today. Please scroll down and read “Responding to Peter” also.
Ralph believes I have subtly missed the point of Acts 15 and that I am using it improperly to maintain Jewish distinction in the body of Messiah:
Although I do not hold to the interpretation of Acts 15 that states that Gentiles would go on to take on ALL of Torah over time as they are in the synagogue as some Hebrew roots groups hold, your rendering that it was about Jewish distinctives is reading into the text something that I think moves it away from the real emphasis, which deals with the guidelines for Gentile inclusion into the community of what was then a Jewish assembly. It was not about distinctives as some have sought to use this verse, it was about requirements for inclusion. –Ralph Finley.
1. For those a little unfamiliar with this issue, let me give you a crash course in Acts 15. Some followers of Yeshua felt that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and keep the Torah (esp. Sabbath and dietary law) in order to be accepted by God in Yeshua. The apostles met and decided that God accepts Gentiles as Gentiles. James only asked four things of the new Gentile followers of Yeshua. But he also said, “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15:21). Some in MJ and many in the Hebrew Roots movement take this to mean that Gentiles could start by observing James’ short list of four requirements, but over time they would have to go to synagogue and learn all 613 commandments and keep them.
2. Ralph does not subscribe to the view that James wanted Gentiles to go to synagogue, learn the Torah, and keep all of it.
3. Neither do I and here is why: (a) James does not mention the synagogue statement in his letter to the congregations, (b) James’ statement is about the past and not the present or future, and (c) if that is what James meant, then he would be reversing everything they had decided up to that point. Gentiles really would be Jews and there would be no distinction.
4. Ralph feels I have, nonetheless, improperly used Acts 15 as a proof-text of the idea that Gentiles are distinct from Jews in Messiah and are not required to keep parts of Torah that are just for Israel (circumcision, dietary law, Sabbath).
5. Ralph’s reason for calling me to task is that Acts 15 is about unity, not distinction. Acts 15 was about what Gentiles had to do to be included in the community, not about what makes Jews distinct.
6. My answer to Ralph: The entire discussion of Acts 15 assumes that Jews will continue to be Jews, even those in the community of Yeshua. The chapter makes no sense otherwise. Gentiles are not required to become Jews to be in the community of Yeshua. That is the underlying message of the entire chapter. If the apostles felt that Jews and Gentiles were now to be indistinct in the community, their answer would have looked very different. They did not say, “Torah is no longer God’s standard now that Yeshua made an atonement.” Instead, they said, “Gentiles, God accepts you as you are and you need not become a Jew. But we ask that you especially be careful about four particular issues that will affect our being together.”
7. Ralph, please respond and let me know if I have understood you correctly, if my answer persuades you even a teensy bit, and why or why not.