There is a concept in Jewish sources, a concept greatly magnified in later writings and emphasized today by Chabad (Lubavitch). It is the concept that non-Jews will relate to God through a much smaller body of law than the Torah. Instead of Torah, non-Jews are bound to the Noahide laws, according to various Jewish sources.
Noah preceded Abraham and there was not yet a covenant people of God. This is significant because God gave certain commands to Noah that are for all humankind:
1. Do not eat blood or meat with blood (9:4).
2. Do not murder (9:5-6).
3. Permitting all animals as food (9:2-3).
It is apparent from the commandments to Noah that the nations are not bound by the dietary law of Israel. All meats, even creeping things, are permitted to the nations. From this principle, the later rabbis derived the doctrine of the Noahide Laws. The concept of the Noahide Laws first appeared in the Tosefta, writings of the sages written down around 275 C.E.
The Noahide laws teach that Gentiles need not, in some cases must not, keep Torah commands. Gentiles will have a share in the World to Come, say some rabbis, only if they keep the Noahide laws. There is a lesser kind of convert, a Ger Toshav, who is define as a Gentile who keeps the Noahide laws. The Noahide laws are said to have been taught and part of Judaism since the days of Moses (but note that the evidence for this concept did not appear until 400 C.E.). The Noahide laws include seven basic prohibotions against:
3. Eating blood
6. Sexual promiscuity
7. Injustice (they should establish courts of justice)
Rabbi Harvey Falk, in his book Jesus the Pharisee, suggests that the Noahide laws were what Yeshua and the apostles came to teach. They accepted Judaism for Jews and sought to create a Gentile religion based on the Noahide laws. It is a very creative theory, but with extremely shaky evidence to back it up.
There are some things we can deduce from the actual commandments to Noah in Genesis 9, though the later concept of seven specific Noahide laws is a problematic concept whose authority I deem to be questionable. First, we can deduce that God did not restrict the animals which non-Jews are permitted to eat. This is confirmed in the Torah (Deut. 14:21). Second, we can deduce that God has laws for non-Jews, and even some that are not strictly rational, such as the commandment not to eat blood or meat with the blood in it. Yet, the idea that non-Jews have a share in the World to Come based upon obeying these laws is not founded in the teaching of the Bible. Further, the idea that Yeshua sought to establish the Noahide laws as a religion for Gentiles is not historically sound.
There are some things in the New Testament that seem similar to Noahide laws. In Acts 15, James urged that the non-Jews in the Yeshua movement would de diligent to observe four commands:
1. Abstain from the pollutions of idols and things sacrificed to idols.
2. Abstain from sexual promiscuity.
3. Refrain from eating meat strangled (with the blood in it).
4. Refrain from ingesting blood.
Note that the list from Acts 15 essentially covers three of the seven Noahide laws. Note also that there are other rationales for the Acts 15 list. Some would find here a practical legislation designed to immediately get non-Jews separated from pagan temple institutions, including idol-meat, meat not drained of blood, and temple prostitution. Others would see Leviticus 17 and 18 behind the commands to non-Jews in Acts 15, a standard of holiness in the congregations to avoid extreme pollution.
There are other possible parallels to the Noahide laws in the New Testament. Paul, in several lists of damnable deeds, includes things like: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and robbers (1 Cor. 6:9-10, see also Colossians 3:5-6 and Ephesians 5:5-6). This list has some similarity to the Noahide laws, but does not exactly match either. It is hard to see that Paul would get “the greedy” from the Noahide laws, nor “drunkards.”
What is the relationship of the Torah to non-Jews? Are the Noahide laws an accurate summary of all of God’s expectation of non-Jews? Do the Noahide laws seem to be part of the program of Paul or Yeshua?
Next time . . .