Paul’s Practice in the Book of Acts

Over at the Mount Olive Press website, I have posted in full chapter 4 of my book, Paul Didn’t Eat Pork, from 2005. While my theology has been progressing since that time, I would still affirm what I wrote in that chapter.

If you have the time or inclination to read the whole chapter, you can get it here.

Or buy the whole book from amazon (please). This title has had so little traffic on amazon, they list it as “email to find out when this product will become available.” You can see it here.

The upshot of the chapter can be described in the following bullet points:

–Paul kept the Law all his life and expected that other Jews would do the same.

–Paul’s attitude toward the traditions of the elders was respectful and he followed them (which is not to say that there was not room for variation and interpretational differences).

–The Nazirite vow Paul took and the sacrifices (including sin offerings) he brought at the Temple indicate the depth of Paul’s continuing commitment to Torah (and call for a reevaluation of Christian understandings of the sacrifices and how they relate to the cross of Yeshua).

–Yet Paul did not see his practice of Torah as normative for non-Jews in Messiah.

–Paul recognized the distinction between Israel and the nations and taught that non-Jews have a different relationship to Torah than Jews.

–Paul opposed the idea of works, which as the New Perspective on Paul has been saying, means he opposed the idea that Jews are in right relation to God by virtue of being the chosen nation and the recipients of Torah.

–Paul opposed the idea that non-Jews have to keep Torah like Jews and be circumcised to convert in order to be right with God.

–Paul affirmed that God accepted non-Jews as non-Jews and that Torah and the teaching of Messiah could be adapted to varying cultures.

Discussing the Issues
There are a number of things I’d like to call for open discussion about here.

First, for those who have been a part of these discussions for some time, Acts 15:21 is a well-known “workaround” for people persuaded that Paul and the apostles fully intended non-Jews to keep Torah, but only wanted to give them time to learn about Torah in synagogue. I have never agreed with this interpretation of Acts 15:21. What is your view?

Second, from your perspective (Christians, Messianic Jews, traditional Jews, non-Jewish Torah keepers, and people from many perspectives read this blog): what bullet points from above don’t seem right to you or raise questions for you? Does the idea that the apostles intended Jews in Messiah to keep Torah seem wrong to you? Why? Does the distinction between Israel and the nations in Messiah bother you? Why?

Please keep your comments brief. We know most of you could write a 2,000 word essay easily. But readers get the most benefit from discussions which are polite and concise. NOTE: Yesterday’s post about ethical discussion (also available now as a separate page with a tab atop the blog home page) should be a good guide for our discussion. Let’s keep it respectful and helpful.


About Derek Leman

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

11 Responses to Paul’s Practice in the Book of Acts

  1. peterygwendyta says:

    When I read Acts 15:21 it always brings to my mind The Noahide laws. Could it be that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 was simply putting forward the same view as the rest of the Jews that Gentiles were to keep these 7 laws. Most Jews I talk to this is the view they put forward.

    In one of your bullet points you mentioned that Paul opposed the idea of works. I wouldn’t totally agree with this. Paul does mention in a few places such as Galatians and Ephesians a list of sins which would loose a person their salvation. In other words we don’t need to work to be saved as Yeshua paid that price at Calvary but at the same time we can’t live anyway we like and that it is possible to loose our salvation if we continue in sin without repentance. I know my calvinist friends wouldn’t agree but this is the way I see it.

  2. Peter:

    Thanks for jumping in. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe the concept of Noahide laws was around at all in the time of the apostles. I think, rather, that the list in Acts 15 is based on Leviticus 18.

    Notice that I defined what I meant when I said Paul was against works. I think the historic definition of works in Christendom has been flawed. For Paul, the works of the Law refer to the idea that the Jewish people are right with God by virtue of having received the Torah (and that Gentiles must therefore convert to Judaism to be right with God).

    • Derek,

      A notable Hebraic-Christian scholar, David Bivin, also does not think there were Seven Noahide Laws in the first century. He sees that as a later expansion of the Three Noahide Laws, which are definitely found in first century in rabbinic writings (he’s written some articles about this where he lays out his thoughts and support). The three he lays out are: (1) No foreign worship, literally “abomination of idols”, (2) No sexual immorality, and (3) No murder “shedding of bloods”, which by the first century turned into “abstain from…bloods”.

      Also, I’m glad you’re writing on this topic, because what I would have considered to be the definitive volume on the subject (Paul the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young) was a HUGE disappointment and provided no answers.


  3. peterygwendyta says:


    What is the basis of your thinking that Acts 15 is based on Leviticus 18? I think I see where you are coming from but just wanted to make sure.

  4. It seems to follow the concerns of Lev 17-19, for example:

    1) the overriding concern in Lev 18 and Acts 15 is separation from pagan worship: “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you” (Lev 18:3)

    2) the first issue in Lev 18 is sexual immorality

    3) Lev 17 is about the sanctity of blood and avoiding ingesting it

    4) Lev 19 early on warns against idolatry

    5) Note that James does not include Lev 19:3, about revering parents and keeping Sabbath. I’d say Sabbath is omitted because it does not apply to non-Jews and revering parents because the concern in Acts 15 is pollution from involvement in pagan temples and the command to revere parents is in a different sphere.

  5. Here is a comment that came in by email. I will post it here anonymously and answer in the next comment:

    I read the link posted at Messianic Jewish Musings.

    Click to access pdep%20ch4%20excerpt.pdf

    Was wondering about three passages.
    How do we reconcile, in the context of the article, Deut. 14:21 with
    Lev. 17:15 and Lev. 24:22?

    Thanks in advance for the input.

  6. Here is my answer:

    Thanks for your question.

    Leviticus 24:22 (similar notes are given in Exodus 12 and Numbers 15) is commonly misunderstood as equating the alien and the Jew in the land. In actuality, these statements are saying that justice in the land shall be equal, but not that the commandments incumbent on aliens in the land and Jews are the same. Take, for example, Exodus 12:48, which forbids an alien to eat the Pesakh unless first circumcised (which amounts to converting). This differentiation occurs right in a passage which says there is to be one law. There is one law, yes, but differences in standing with regard to come commandments.

    Lev 17:15 does not address the fact that eating torn meat or meat found dead is an abomination for a Jew, but merely proscribed the needed cleansing rite. A stranger may eat the treifah, but must purify. If a Jew eats treifah, they must purify, but they have nonetheless sinned by doing what is forbidden, whereas the alien and even the sojourner do not sin by eating (Deut 14:21).

    Derek Leman

    • sunnyvj65 says:

      Just to point out, the four laws given to gentiles in Acts were actually in Ezekiel 33:25. These same laws were given to Israel. Shalom!

  7. peterygwendyta says:

    Does Acts 15:21 recomendation have anything to do with the Godfearers mentioned in the Gospels and Acts. What I am trying to say is what did Godfearers have to do in order to be called God fearers and is it the same as what the council of Jerusalem stated that Gentile believers should do as well?

    I understand what you are saying that the Noahide laws where not a concept in the 1st Century but I must admit I quite like the idea.

  8. From the reading I have done, the God-fearing Gentiles were a self-defined category whose practice was not regulated by the synagogue. In other words, they were Romans who chose to keep some Torah and to attend the synagogues. There was not a rule from the synagogues about who was or wasn’t a God-fearer (I am not certain of this, someone correct me).

    The people who responded first to Paul’s message were God-fearers who heard him in the synagogues.

    Acts 15:21 is a statement about Gentiles “having been” in the synagogue and not about them being in the synagogue in the future. I have a post that explains my interpretation. If you search “classic reprint,” on the right top of the blog home page, you will find that the third post which comes up is “Classic Reprint: Acts 15.”

    Derek Leman

  9. I am reading “Rediscovering Torah” and I found the explanation of temple worship & the end of animal sacrifices for believers (Jewish and non-Jewish alike) with the perfect sacrifice of Yeshua seems to be at odds with your reasoning – that believers in Yeshua did NOT necessarily stop sacrificial offerings of animals, and the purpose of animal/temple sacrifices was NOT to atone for sin and attain justification…

    The authors of “Rediscovering” describe the sacrificial system as the ONLY one that was “done away with” as the believers of that time went on to be with the Lord – it was obsolete anyway, and died out with them. They also describe the system was meant to cleanse the “stain of sin” on the believers’ lives?

    So, now I’m confused… Their line of reasoning is one I’m familiar with – the sacrifices ended with Yeshua’s crucifixion/death/resurrection from the dead… His blood was the last drop needed.

    So, why would sacrifices continue at the temple?

    Why will sacrifices resume with his return? (It’s my understanding that they will resume when Yeshua returns to reign… during the millennial reign, I think it’s called)…

    PS: I gained a LOT Of insight into Sha’uls life from reading your excerpt and when I can – definitely plan on purchasing the book.

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