Musings on the Noahide Laws, Part 1

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:
1. Idolatry
2. Blasphemy
3. Eating blood
4. Murder
5. Theft
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 . . .

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Gentiles, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Musings on the Noahide Laws, Part 1

  1. Shalom Bayit says:

    I dont know what others are going to say, but I encourage people to follow that link that was previously posted to R Schwartz. The requirements for Noachites there are pretty rigorous and actually there is more observance there than is practiced by Jews in most of MJ. If all of us could start there IMHO we would do well. \

    Unfortunately people with “itching ears” wanting to be “rabbis” have been making up their own standards. At least as a starting point, look at what living Jewish authrorities have to say on this subject.

    Thats my view on this matter and about all I can contribute.

  2. GracieRuth says:

    Pretty much everything from Oral Torah was written down in the Common Era, some earlier, some later. Acts 15 is in itself evidence that the Noachide commandments for gentiles were established at the time of the Apostles.

  3. michael says:

    I put my post in the wrong place sorry!
    Derek,
    I’ve read more of your postings and have a greater understanding of your view and it is refreashing. The whole thing of acts 15 seems to me to be; “what G-d calls delivered, is G-ds job to do, and not ours lest we (:10) put G-d to the test.
    I must say i do see room for both interpretations, because who can say “I know what james was thinking for sure!”. Could I take you thought further to say?… 15:21 james saying, “yeah, I agree with peter the yoke is too hard to bear, even our forfathers couldn’t bear it, besides they’ve been hearing from ‘ones proclaiming moses’ from former generations, till now in the synagogues, they’ve had enough ostrasizing.
    I can also see the possibility of James and peter in agreement, that they should do something about this “removing of obstacles”, and that the same “removing of obsticles” should be done in favor of Jewish people and, “we should tell them something as not to rock the boat. Keep doing what your doing. However, what ‘bible’ should these gentiles read ? What identity should they find in the Torah? I must confess I find it dissapointing, in that, if I accept your ‘balencing of the force” non jewish believers will not be enjoying ALL the beauties of torah observance.
    I wonder if it is possible for you to be ,(like so many of the ‘one law’ folks), giving too much creed to what the rabbis say.
    I wanna say your on to something calling out “hypocricy and wanna be jews”, but the holy One has given a tree of life, in exchange for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and Yeshua IS Torah (the memra). Israel is not an ethnic identity the debates over paternal or maternal descenion speak for themselves. His Identity was Jacob.

    I Quote from mark D. nanos in “THe mystery of romans”:ch4 p166 …in the Jewish communitie(s), for even though the Christian “righteous gentiles” did not become Jews and thus were not part of Israel, they were part of the promises of God to restore Israel (15:16) and gather in the nations as equals…..Never the less the councel’s decision was that G-d had shown gentiles to be equals in view of their equal reciept of the holy spirit through faith in Christ Jesus(15:8-11,19) in fulfillment of the eschatological promises that were expected to follow from the restoration of Israel(15:13) James regaurds the gentile salvation by grace through faitha witness that Israel has been restored and thus G-d is now “taking from among the gentiles a people for His name”

    I’m really tired and have to get up, early, but if anyones still reading I would aldo throw out there that the 7 noahide Commandments outlined in the mishnah are dated aprox 150 years later. Also the exclusion of things from the councesls letter, like “Keep the sabbath” could point to the fact that they were already keeping shabbat.

    another “Also”: The word used for “jewish preaching” kerusso could suggest Jewish preaching to gentiles rather than the regular reading and exposition of the law for jews.

    Also the comment someone made about, Deu 14:21 Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God. This is a real stretch as the term “stranger in the gate” does not excusively aply to the “god fearer or righteous gentile” This could in fact be a way to make money off the unrighteous ones!?

    The apostolic writings as a whole point to the fact the age has dawned.

    My Question to your conscience (not your rebbe) does a gentile have to be to be an Israelyte/Jew to osberve the Torah?

  4. michael says:

    I guess i failed to include (in my tired state) that like paul i tend to side with ” not all Israel are like these Israel” Seeing A national ethnic Israel and a remnant restored Israel.

  5. Marc says:

    Hi Derek and all. I just finished a study pertaining to this. Here are my notes.

    You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to the alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to the LORD your God.

    So there appears to be contradictions in the scriptures. So what do you do when there appears to be a contradiction? We have to come up with an answer.

    The sages solved this problem by pointing out the term stranger(ger) and alien has different meanings in different contexts. A multy purpose word.

    When it says ‘not even the stranger cannot eat of it’ it must mean the type of Gentile who has taken on Judaism, converted or the like.

    When it says ‘a stranger can eat of this’ it must mean a Gentile not keeping Torah.

    Now a question is shouldn’t the stranger be forbidden unslaughtered meat whether he’s practicing the dietary laws given to Israel or not? Even if this gentile isn’t a Torah keeper, shouldn’t he still be encouraged not to eat unslaughtered meat on the basis of the commandment that was given to Noah and to the children of Noah(you shall not eat meat with it’s blood)?

    Again a contradition.

    But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood

    The above seems to say that the minimum standard for gentiles, not covenant members(those not practicing Judaism) is to not to eat meat with blood still in it. Gentiles can’t eat unslaughtered meat.

    On the other hand Deut 14:21 says You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to the alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to the LORD your God. That you can give meat like that to the stranger and he may eat it. So this is another contradiction.

    One says don’t give it to him and the other says give it to him he’ll eat it.

    So obviously the stranger and alien in Deut 14:21 are NOT holy people of God because they can eat it so it’s not a holiness issue for them. If they were covenant members they couldn’t eat it as per the Torah.

    So Deut 14:21 contradicts the minumum standards for Gentiles in Genesis 9 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood

    A contradiction so what are we going to do?

    The sages came up with a slightly different meaning in Genesis 9:3-4.
    3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.
    4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood

    The sages says the Hebrew really is: ‘you shall not eat flesh with it’s soul still in it’s blood’. Meaning ‘you shall not eat something still alive’. Every moving things are food for the sons of Noah just as long it’s not moving, as long as it’s dead.

    This means that a Gentile outside of the covenant of Israel can eat anything as long as it’s dead.

    So you can give anything to a non covenant member as long as it’s dead.

    So the minimum is don’t eat things that are still alive.

    So the question is are you or are you not a covenant member of Israel?

    Judaism teaches that the laws of Noah apply to Gentiles(non Jews) to the exclusion of the rest of the Torah. Judaism teaches that the rest of Torah is not applicable to Gentiles.

    And there are some in Judaism that say to just keep the laws of Noah the Gentile will be welcomed into the World to Come.

    So the question is are you or are you not a covenant member of Israel?

    Marc

  6. Stephen says:

    B”H:

    I am pleased to see the beginnings of a treatment of the Noachide Laws here. About a year ago, I began to rediscover the Jewishness of the Scriptures and adopt a more Jewish perspective in my theology and practice. The concept of these Laws was initially influential in the development of my new understanding. Since that time I have reevaluated the Noachide position and come to see them as good laws, but I question their role and authority when put up along side Acts 15 and the model offered us by the Pre-70 C.E. Church. This whole question of the Noachide Laws, Torah observance by non-Jews, the place of gentiles in a Messianic congregation, etc. has been figuring more prominently in my life because I have been coming to identify myself increasingly with the Messianic Jewish tradition. With that in mind, I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on the subject.

    Shalom,
    Stephen Hilgendorf

  7. pumapal says:

    Thank you for the insightful topics. I have been reading this blog for a while and thought I would try to offer something for a change.

    I am a bit new to this and quite possibly in over my head somewhat, but please bear with me.

    you mentioned that “The concept of the Noahide Laws first appeared in the Tosefta, writings of the sages written down around 275 C.E.”

    I have been interested in this topic for a few years and have done a small bit of reading. two things I have found on the topic are:

    from the book of Jubilees:
    And in the twenty-eighth jubilee Noah began to enjoin upon his sons’ sons the ordinances and commandments, and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame 5 of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honour father and mother, and love their neighbour, and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity. 21. For owing to these three things 6 came the flood upon the earth, namely, owing to the fornication wherein the Watchers against the law of their ordinances went a whoring after the daughters of men, and took themselves wives of all which they chose: 7 and they made the beginning of uncleanness.

    http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/jub/jub21.htm

    from the babylonian talmud: sanhedrin 56:
    The sons of Noah were given seven precepts. viz., [prohibition of] idolatry, adultery, murder, robbery, flesh cut from a living animal, emasculation and forbidden mixtures. R. Judah said: Adam was prohibited idolatry only, for it is written, And the Lord God commanded Adam.24 R. Judah b. Bathyra maintained: He was forbidden blasphemy too. Some add social laws. With whom does the following statement of Rab Judah in the name of Rab agree: viz., [God said to Adam,] I am God, do not curse Me; I am God, do not exchange Me for another; I am God, let My fear be upon you?25 — This agrees with the last mentioned [who adds social laws to the list].

    http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_56.html

    don’t these predate 275 CE?

    thanks

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