Peter: Anti-Torah?

The idea has been mentioned by a Christian commenting to a recent post that Peter, in Acts 15:10-11 was affirming that Jewish obligation to the Torah of Moses had come to an end. The following is an attempt to test that hypothesis . . .
……………………………………………

The apostles hold an emergency session. How can the Yeshua-movement proceed? Non-Jews are responding to the call of Yeshua to the kingdom of God. Uncircumcised Romans and Greeks are in the congregations and following a Jewish Messiah. Shouldn’t these Gentiles convert (get circumcised and obey the Torah of Moses) in order to be followers of a Jewish Messiah? The idea seemed logical in Acts 15 and it was worthy of a meeting and of prayer.

Peter stands up to speak. God has dealt with him regarding non-Jews already (Acts 10-11). He defends the legitimacy of the uncircumcised followers of Yeshua. Then he says:

Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Yeshua, just as they will. (Acts 15:10-11).

What does Peter mean? Perhaps he meant something like the following:
1. We Jews are not so good at keeping Torah.
2. God, in Yeshua, came to show us that Torah is not the way, but grace is.
3. We Jews should abandon Torah, since grace is what really matters, and we should teach the Gentiles the same.

Anything like this above hypothesis faces some damning problems:
1. James and Paul were in agreement in Acts 21 that Torah and Jewish tradition were vital (Acts 21:21, 24).
2. The issue Peter was speaking to did not concern whether Jews should obey Torah, but whether Gentiles should.
3. The anti-Torah reading of Peter’s words goes beyond what is actually said.
4. No one in 2nd Temple Judaism was a Pelagian (thinking they were saved by their good works–this point has been thoroughly established and is the scholarly consensus).

Thus, I would suggest another reading of Peter’s statement, which keeps the focus on the question at hand, requirements for Gentiles:
1. We Jews have had difficulty keeping the boundary markers of Torah (Sabbath, dietary law, circumcision).
2. How could we get Romans to adopt a lifestyle that even Jews turn away from?
3. How could we win the world to Messiah if we must first get Gentiles to keep the boundary markers of Jewishness?
4. The boundary markers of Israel are not the main point, but the redeeming death of Yeshua.
5. So let’s not burden the Gentiles with a Jewish calling, but assume that following Messiah is sufficient for them.

About Derek Leman

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

12 Responses to Peter: Anti-Torah?

  1. siseleanor says:

    That’s how I read this. I would veer away from interpretations that could convey a sense of non-Jewishness for Gentile believers as being ‘good enough’ in the sense of well they could do better.

    Peter says, ‘God who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. I wouldn’t imagine there was any undertone there of the Gentile believers’ path being spiritually inadequate, or incomplete, or second rate. The whole of Paul’s writings as I read them convey a deep assurance and confidence that God will guide his Gentile followers, just as he will the Jewish believers with all the faithfulness and patience he has demonstrated with the Jewish people in the past centuries. This is an incredible statement if you stand in the shoes of a believing Jew, who has a deep appreciation and awe of the nature of God’s journey through history with the Jewish people. God is giving them not just the bare bones of knowing they are saved on the last day, but the whole latke. :0) (Apologies for technical theological terms there.)

  2. geoffrobinson says:

    “No one in 2nd Temple Judaism was a Pelagian (thinking they were saved by their good works–this point has been thoroughly established and is the scholarly consensus).”

    More later, but I need to address this point. This New Perspective on Paul consensus can be shown to be faulty in a number of ways.

    1) “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1

    The New Perspective simply overlooks this verse.

    2) Secondly, it doesn’t matter if they were Pelagian. They may have been technically Semi-Pelagian. So was Rome, who added works to faith thereby destroying the gospel.

    I know of no legalist or anti-nomian who says “I’m a legalist” or “I’m an anti-nomian.”

    3) The works-righteousness present in Second Temple Judaism has been shown (in response to this scholarly consensus) by D.A. Carson’s “Justification and Variegated Nomism” series (so I’ve been told, just being honest- I’m going by the numerous reviews and D.A. Carson’s lectures).

  3. Geoff:

    There will always be people who refuse to give up on traditional paradigms. The evidence for covenantal nomism as opposed to some proto-Pelagian view of the law is overwhelming. Perhaps I will have to do a series of posts about it sometime as comments are too small a space to make a case.

    Derek

  4. jonboze says:

    “1) “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1

    The New Perspective simply overlooks this verse.”

    Why circumcision specifically? Circumcision is the sign of Israel, and unless I am mistaking, there was (past tense) a school of Jewish thought who believed that gentile’s had no place in the world to come. So it’s still not about works saving you, but about whether or not a gentile can be saved without first becoming a Jew.

  5. judahgabriel says:

    I love it when certain Christians, God bless them, point me to Acts 15 and say,

    “See! Jesus did away with the dietary stuff, the feasts, the sabbath, all that. Now, here’s some pork, eat up.” ;)

    Why do I love it when they do this? Because Acts 15 actually tells new gentile believers in Messiah to follow some commandments from Torah. Additionally, it tells new gentile believers in Messiah to follow 3 dietary laws!

    To top it off, the bit from Acts ends with,

    “For Moses is preached in every synagogue every Sabbath.”

    Which I take to mean, “Hey, the Law of Moses is preached everywhere all the time, these new gentile believers will pick it up as they go along.”

    Whatever your interpretation, an intellectually honest person must concede that in Acts 15, all the apostles as well as Paul and Barnabas decided that:

    1. New gentile believers didn’t need to become circumcised to be “saved”.

    2. There are some laws from the Torah new gentile believers should keep right off the bat, 3 of which are dietary laws.

  6. Gilal says:

    Shalom my friend :)

  7. geoffrobinson says:

    “The evidence for covenantal nomism as opposed to some proto-Pelagian view of the law is overwhelming.”

    Again, the New Perspective doesn’t understand Reformational history correctly. You don’t need to be a rank Pelagian to compromise the gospel with works. They say “hey, Second Temple Judaism wasn’t as bad as Rome” and then go on to describe a Second Temple Judaism like Rome.

    Anyway, I’m underwhelmed by their case.

    “There will always be people who refuse to give up on traditional paradigms.”

    And there will be those who like the latest fad even if it is flawed.

  8. geoffrobinson says:

    Me: “1) “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1

    The New Perspective simply overlooks this verse.”

    jonboze: Why circumcision specifically? Circumcision is the sign of Israel, and unless I am mistaking, there was (past tense) a school of Jewish thought who believed that gentile’s had no place in the world to come. So it’s still not about works saving you, but about whether or not a gentile can be saved without first becoming a Jew.

    You are making good points, but…

    If it isn’t about works saving you, it is quite hard to understand a) Paul anathemtizing the folks in Galatia and saying this compromised the gospel b) his anticipated objection in Galatians 2 about if we aren’t justified by works does that make the Messiah a servant of sin.

    You can’t be justified without being a part of the covenant community. People were saying that you had to be circumcised to be part of the covenant community/be saved. This is why it affected justification. In other words, they were saying you had to do something (circumcision) in order to be saved. Which is why Paul contrasts that work with faith.

    I would take a listen to the following mp3:
    [audio src="http://links.christreformed.org/realaudio/A20080201-Wright.mp3" /]

  9. Geoff:

    You didn’t respond to Jon Boze’s point: the issue was not earning divine favor but taking a necessary step to join the people of God.

    That’s more comparable to baptismal regeneration (a minority Christian view) than Pelagianism.

    I’d hardly call two and a half decades of scholarship a fad. The scholars who don’t agree with the broad understanding of the New Perspective tend to be Calvinists. Calvinists are widely known to adhere to creedal formulations as opposed to doing ever fresh work in Biblical theology. I respect Calvinism, but I don’t agree with it.

    Those who would like to know more about the New Perspective on Paul might read this excellent article by Scot McKnight:

    http://www.vanguardchurch.com/mcknight_npp.pdf

    Derek

  10. Geoff:

    LOL, by the time I said you had not reacted to jonboze, you posted a reaction.

    Say, I’m guessing you are not related to Rich Robinson, since your blog says you are a Goy. Is the last name just a coincidence? I notice Rich is listed as a co-author on your blog. Though I rarely see Rich anymore, he and I are old friends.

    Derek

  11. geoffrobinson says:

    Yeah, a coincidence. But funny. He doesn’t co-author, but during NYC Behold Your God he would help edit my blog for grammar, spelling, typos, etc.

  12. geoffrobinson says:

    Oh, as to the New Perspective, I think they make valuable insights and helpful in putting the Jew/Gentile tensions in the forefront. But I think they are unsuccessful in overturning the traditional understanding of justification. And as I mentioned, they don’t seem to understand Reformational history.

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