Expositing Acts 15: The Defining Chapter

A reader sent an email with a few questions, including this one:

How do you address the word of Yaakov in Acts 15:19-21? To me, the implication is that these are the very basics…but as they learn about Moses (the Mosaic covenant), they would fall progressively into line with it.

Acts 15 is a formative chapter in our understanding of Jews, Gentiles, and the congregation of Messiah.

For a long time, the consensus of readers of Acts was that chapter 15 meant freedom from certain Torah observances for non-Jews in Messiah. Then a new reading developed, one which allowed 15:21 to become a reversal, a verse which turns the entire chapter on its head, subverting the logic of the whole chapter and giving a new reading: Gentiles in Yeshua need not keep the whole Torah until they have had time to learn it in synagogue!

Some well-meaning lovers of Torah have become so used to this reading, I contend that they have lost objectivity in reading the chapter. Let me suggest that having become so used to reading Acts 15 through the lens of this set of One Law spectacles, these readers have managed to undermine the scriptural basis and logic of the apostles.

In order to present what I consider to be a consistent reading of Acts 15, let me outline and expound on some highlights of the chapter. I will conclude with a few observations about the unity of its argument which I think are the death-knell of the “verse 21 reversal” maneuver.

Acts 15 in Outline

Vs.1 – In Antioch, some men (Pharisees) from Judea came with a teaching about how Gentiles are to be received: they must be circumcised (as proselytes, converted) or they cannot be saved.

Vss.2-4 – Paul and Barnabas debated and opposed this group, determined that the matter should be heard by Yaakov (James) and the Jerusalem community. At this point, the disagreement is framed by one issue: whether Gentiles need Jewish conversion to be saved.

Vss. 5-6 – Yeshua-followers from the Pharisees make their case that Gentiles must be circumcised (converted to Jewish status) and to observe the Torah of Moses. Now the issue has expanded to two concerns: (1) that Gentile need Jewish conversion to be saved and (2) that Gentiles need to keep the whole Torah. Issue (2) is preceded by a certain understanding, a Jewish interpretation of Torah which certainly arose in later rabbinic literature, but which may also have been extant at that time: that the righteous of the nations were not called to keep the whole Torah. The classic example became Noah, who had permission to eat all foods except blood, and upon whom there was no expectation of circumcision, a Temple for sacrifices, or of a Sabbath or calendar of holy days.

Vss. 7-11 – Peter’s testimony: God revealed to him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, God gave the Spirit to these Gentiles and thus affirmed them, God made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, why put the yoke of Torah on Gentiles when Israel has failed to follow Torah, we believe salvation is by God’s favor and not our worthiness. We should note for the issue we are considering that: (1) Peter said Torah was a yoke Israel could not keep and (2) Peter denied the idea of covenantal nomism, that Israel was saved because it was elected to receive Torah. What did Peter mean by (1)? He did not mean that it is impossible for a person to be diligent about dietary law and Sabbath. He meant that Torah’s demands go to the core of a person and no one but Yeshua could fully keep it. He meant that as a nation, Israel could not keep the outer demands, much less the core demands such as love and justice. The argument is essentially: it is the doers of Torah who are saved, not merely those who receive it.

EXCURSUS 1: How could Peter say God made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles when the chapter as a whole does make a distinction? This is not really a difficulty. Words mean what they mean in context and contexts usually have limits. Peter does not mean that God makes no distinction at all between Israel and the nations. This would be counter to the Torah and also to the rest of the ruling in Acts 15, in which it will be decided that Jews in Messiah have a different relationship to Torah than Gentiles. He means that in the most important terms (love, blessing, redemption, salvation, etc.), God makes no distinction. He never did. God was saving people before Israel existed (consider Noah). God always had in mind saving the nations and says so in Torah (especially Deut 32).

Vs. 12 – Paul and Barnabas’ testimony: Gentiles were receiving the gospel and God was doing signs among them. It is implied that Paul and Barnabas had not been converting Gentiles via circumcision and neither had they been teaching Gentiles to keep the whole Torah.

Vss. 13-18 – Yaakov (James) speaks and his word is taken as the judgment of the Jerusalem apostles. In vs. 14, his wording is carefully chosen. God has taken for himself from the Gentiles a people for his name. This language Yaakov will find in a scriptural precedent, Amos 9:11-12. Yaakov quotes from a version which is closer to the Septuagint. The citation as Yaakov uses it has the following connections to the situation being debated: (1) the tabernacle of David will be rebuilt, a promise Yaakov saw being fulfilled in the rise of the Yeshua movement in Israel, (2) that the rest of mankind would seek God, which Yaakov saw fulfilled in the preaching of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, and (3) that there would be Gentiles called by God’s name. Point (3) is the crux of Yaakov’s use of Amos 9. God calls Gentiles without making them become Jews.

Vss.19-21 – Yaakov makes a ruling (“it is my judgment”): (1) that we not trouble the Gentiles and (2) that we ask for careful observance of four issues. Yaakov gives a further reason for his ruling, in addition to the argument from Amos 9. The additional reason is that Moses has been and is being read since ancient times in the diaspora synagogues. The emphasis is on past and current reading of Moses, not future.

EXCURSUS 2: What is mean by “not trouble the Gentiles”? The issue being discussed concerns two things: (1) requiring conversion to Judaism and (2) requiring Gentiles in Messiah to keep the whole Torah. That Yaakov is ruling against (1) is clear. That he is ruling against (2) is also clear in the larger context because: (a) the understanding of Gentiles in general at the time is of people not bound to the whole Torah, (b) Yaakov must be seen to address both issues that have been raised and not only conversion, (c) the rest of the ruling does not include Torah observance for Gentiles, and (d) the rest of the ruling concerns universal ordinances and not Torah laws which distinguish Israel.

EXCURSUS 3: Why these four issues (idol meat, sexual immorality, strangled meat, consuming blood)? It should be agreed that the Noahide laws are not in evidence, that their formulation is later than the first century, so it is very unlikely that Yaakov is referring to this concept. It is likely that Yaakov has in mind Leviticus 17-19, which are about holiness in the camp and the land of Israel. These chapters emphasize the sanctity of blood, refraining from idolatry, and refraining from various forms of sexual immorality including incestuous relationships. In Leviticus, these are seen as Gentile evils which would contaminate Israelites by association. Gentiles in Messiah must not live like Canaanites and contaminate the movement. It should not be inferred that Yaakov saw only these issues as applying from Torah to Gentiles, but that these were the most urgent issues.

EXCURSUS 4: What was Yaakov’s point about Moses being preached from ancient times until now in diaspora synagogues? Here we are at a key issue in the debate about whether Gentiles in Messiah are required to keep all of Torah (including commandments of special holiness for Israelites such as circumcision, dietary restriction, Sabbath, fringes, and holy days). One theory is that Yaakov meant Gentiles can start with the four basic Torah laws and will learn the rest in the future by attending synagogue, at which point they will be liable for all of them. There are many deficiencies in this view, of which I will name a few: (a) Yaakov’s point concerns not the future, but the past and present, (b) even if Gentile ignorance was allowed for, this would not explain why Paul and Barnabas had not been teaching Torah to their congregations, (c) if the Gentiles eventually get circumcised and bound to Torah, then why argue with the Pharisees at all since they apparently were right about everything except requiring Torah for salvation, (d) why quote Amos 9:11-12 from the Septuagint if, in fact, God only accepts Gentiles as de-facto Jews, (e) evidence from the epistles is that diaspora Yeshua congregations did not meet in synagogues but separately, and (f) Acts 15 should be interpreted in harmony with Paul’s letters which speak repeatedly of a freedom from some aspects of Torah for Gentiles. So, what is Yaakov’s point, then? Yaakov likely means that the preaching of Moses from the past till now has not caused a mass movement of Gentiles to come to God. But the preaching of a gospel for Gentiles, one in which conversion is not expected, has started a mass movement. It is apparent that God’s hand is on the preaching of Paul and Barnabas which has neither required conversion or full Torah observance of Gentiles.

Vss. 22-35 – The Jerusalem council writes a letter to Antioch and the other congregations. It does not include Yaakov’s point about Moses in the synagogues. It would seem therefore that Acts 15:21 could not be considered the crux of the Jerusalem council since it is not even mentioned in the letter. The preaching of Paul and Barnabas is affirmed. Their freedom-from-Torah message is approved for Gentiles. The Pharisees who wanted to require conversion and Torah-observance is rejected. The letter causes rejoicing and the Gentile mission is further organized.

Summary and Implications

–Acts 15 assumes that Jewish people in Messiah are yoked to Torah, but not for salvation.

–Acts 15 rules that non-Jews in Messiah are not bound to the whole Torah.

–This does not mean that non-Jews in Messiah are free to ignore all of Torah — Torah must be interpreted to determine what is universal and what concerns the special holiness of Israel as a people.

–This interpretation assumes a certain way of reading the Torah and the Bible, and not assuming that the Bible covers every case specifically; the Torah is case law, not regulation of every instance (which would require a law code a thousand times as long as Torah).

–Acts 15 is the cornerstone of bilateral ecclesiology — that the congregation of Messiah is made up of two branches (the congregation of Israel and the multinational congregation of Messiah). You can read a layperson’s version of bilateral ecclesiology in my book Paul Didn’t Eat Pork (see it here) or an academic version in Mark Kinzer’s Postmissionary Messianic Judaism (see it here).

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Gentiles, Gospel, History, Mark Kinzer, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Expositing Acts 15: The Defining Chapter

  1. waltonbill says:

    Excellent explanation of this text. This is truly one of the best articles i have read on this subject. You may want to look into seeing if anyone would want to publish it. Your doing a great job.

  2. Thanks for creating this summary, Derek!

    It would be great if, in addition to listing your book and Mark Kinzer’s book, you (or some of your readers!) could also create something of an appendix listing other Biblical scholars whose interpretation of Acts 15 runs along these lines.

  3. ajmnewma says:

    An interesting take on Acts 15. I was particularly interested since I preached on Acts 15:1-5 at my church last Sunday. My stance was slightly different from yours, but perhaps that’s not entirely surprising given our different backgrounds.

    What I said can be found here:

    http://ajmnewma.livejournal.com/3006.html

    It was the first time I have ever preached, so if anyone reads it please go easy on me!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Derek – I have some questions:

    1. After reading through Acts 15 it appears that the issue is one of circumcision and not simply Torah observance. I have heard it taught that circumcision would require one to keep the Torah and the Oral law. what say you?

    2. Isn’t it normal that the Pharisees who came to Yeshua faith would want to convert Gentile believers in Yeshua to Judaism? Didn’t they have a reputation for being devoted missionaries?

    3. In verse 28 the council’s letter states that “it seemed good to the Ruach Hakodesh and to us not to lay any heavier burden on you than the following requirements: to abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication.” The question many of us have is, “is that it?” What about murder, theft, etc. Are these considered universal Torah commandments? And, how do you define universal torah commandments vs. Israel only torah commandments?

    4. Do you believe that a bilateral ecclesiology would have existed (the way it does today) if there had never been anti-semitism in the church?

  5. Rebecca:

    Good questions all.

    1. The issue in vs. 1 is circumcision (a.k.a., conversion). The issue in vss. 5-6 is clarified to include both conversion and Torah observance (but Torah observance is assumed with circumcision, as you say). Oral Law was not exactly an issue then. It’s complicated, but while there were communal traditions the rabbinic concept of Oral Law was not yet widespread or influential (the Pharisees had narrow and limited influence and the rabbis did not come to dominate the Jewish religion until the fifth century).

    2. Yes, the Pharisees who felt this way should not be condemned. It was a reasonable inference on their part and a legitimate issue to put to the scriptural test.

    3. I covered this in the summary, so you may want to go back and look. The apostles are not giving a thorough guide to applying Torah here. Much in Torah is universal in application and the clues are within Torah itself. They emphasize these four because of the theology of Leviticus 17-19, in which the concern is Israel losing holiness due to interaction with Gentile neighbors.

    4. Yes, bilateral ecclesiology is a function of God’s election of Israel as the Chosen People and his plan to reach the nations through Israel. Israel is always the priestly people and the nations are the lay tribes, as it were. Bilateral ecclesiology in no way diminishes the multinational church. It establishes the multinational church as the goal, from the beginning, of Israel’s election, and as the branches on the Israelite olive tree.

    Derek

  6. serenaeta says:

    I was pointed here by my husband as I’m preaching on 15:6-21 this week. Really interesting to get a deeper understanding of the Torah issues in question here. Many thanks.

  7. Derek,
    You make some good points in your article, but I was a little taken aback by your “freedom from Torah” comment. Thankfully, you made clear that you are not taking the position that Gentiles are free from all of Torah but rather one that is more like “freedom from some of Torah.” For instance, you say that the four stipulations likely were based on the commandments found in Leviticus 17-19. Therefore, at least these commandments were incumbent upon the Goyim.

    I think we share the same opinion in that the expectation for the Gentiles went further than these four. While they were not expected to keep all of Torah, surely more was expected of them as their faith matured. For instance, they didn’t appear to meet outside the auspices of the Jewish community. In such an environment, surely they would be expected to meet at synagogue on the Sabbath and biblical feast days and to refrain from eating non-kosher foods in congregational settings. They were also expected to open wide their hand to the poor brothers in their midst as evidenced by Paul’s appeal for the poor in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-27). Can we not also assume that they would be expected to pray daily, in effect serving Hashem with their hearts? Furthermore, the Didache is full of admonitions about keeping this commandment or keeping that commandment.

    What seems to lie at the heart of the controversy is the keeping of certain ceremonial commandments, such as the wearing of tzit-tzit, placing mezzuzot on the doorposts, laying tefillin during prayers, ritual immersion in the mikvah, and circumcision. Some might even place the observance of holy days and the eating of kosher foods in this category. You said earlier that we should not conclude that Yaakov was advocating only the four stipulations found in Acts 15. Rather, these were the most urgent matters, thus implying more might be expected. What I sense is that you are mentally grouping the commandments into the categories of moral and ceremonial, or to put it in Jewish terms, mishpatim and chukim. Is that a fair assessment? If so, are you advocating for Gentiles to keep the moral commandments (mishpatim) but not the ceremonial (chukim)?

    As the commandments that the mind can understand, one can easily argue that the mishpatim are much more universal for all believers. The chukim, on the other hand, seem to serve as identity markers. Yet even some of these seem to have been expected of the Goyim in a limited sense. While they may not have been expected to observe the Sabbath to the degree of their Jewish brethren, surely they joined with their congregations on this day. Can we not also assume they joined their Jewish comrades at the Passover Seder meal, even though they may not have purged out the leaven from their homes as required by Exodus 12? Is it unreasonable to assume that they joined the Apostle Paul in observing the Fast of Yom Kippur (Acts 27:9)? All of these are examples of the ceremonial ordinances that might easily have been, at least partially, observed by the non-Jewish believers in the first century.

    Anyway, take my comments as food for thought.

    -David Cook

  8. Dan Benzvi says:

    I am not so sure Lev. 17-19 can stand under scrutiny as “implicit Torah exegesis” as kinzer writes in his book. Kinzer relies here on Bauchman who developed this theory on the basis of Gzera shava. The common words he liks are הגר הגר בתוככם –“the alien who sojourns in your midst”). Bauchman connects the words also to Amos 9: בתוך (among you). But in Lev. 16:29 we find the same words apply to Yom Kippur, related to the commandment to “humble one’s soul.” הגר הגר בתוכם . Shouls we include Lev. 16:29 in the Gzera Shava exegesis?

  9. Dan Benzvi says:

    I am not so sure Lev. 17-19 can stand under scrutiny as “implicit Torah exegesis” as kinzer writes in his book. Kinzer relies here on Bauchman who developed this theory on the basis of Gzera shava. The common words he liks are הגר הגר בתוככם –“the alien who sojourns in your midst”). Bauchman connects the words also to Amos 9: בתוך (among you). But in Lev. 16:29 we find the same words apply to Yom Kippur, related to the commandment to “humble one’s soul.” הגר הגר בתוכם . Shouls we include Lev. 16:29 in the Gzera Shava exegesis?

  10. David Cook:

    I look forward to further dialogue with you about this (in case readers don’t know, David is a close friend and is in our synagogue family). My Paul book deals with the distinctions between Torah commands that apply universally and those which are identity markers for Israel.

    Derek

  11. Dan Benzvi:

    Your point is a good one. Although I’ve read Kinzer’s book at least twice (some parts more), I did not remember this specific point or rely on it for my connection.

    Rather, as a student (through books only) of Jacob Milgrom and his commentary on Leviticus, I am very attuned to the fact that Leviticus 17-27 is a holiness section (I don’t buy into the documentary hypothesis, but I think that holiness is the literary theme holding these chapters together). Chs. 17-19 concern especially holiness matters which Israelite contact with non-Israelites will bring to the fore.

    I rather thought of Yaakov (James) as being a good Torah theologian and knowing that this section of Leviticus dealt with Jewish-Gentile interaction. Seeing that Jews in Messiah were now going to be related to non-Jews through Messiah, these issues came to his mind as crucial.

    Derek Leman

    • Dan Benzvi says:

      Derek,

      I think there is a simpler understanding of James’ use of Amos 9. Amos prophesied that God would restore the Davidic dynasty (the “fallen Sukkah of David” (9:11). the proof for this taking place was that Israel would posses the nations “called by my name” (9:12). The ingathering of the Gentiles would attest that the throne of David had been restorted.

      For James, Yeshua’s resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God meant that the davidic dynasty has been restorted in the reigning messiah, and the Numbers of believing Gentiles added to Israel was the confirmation of Amos’ prophecy.

    • Dan Benzvi says:

      Derek,

      By “Multinational” do you like Kinzer mean “Multi-cultural?”
      “…the leadership of the Yeshua movement determined at an early stage that the ekklesia as an escathological extention of israel was to be essentially transitional reality in which the cutural particularities of different regions and ethnicities would be expressed with the broad framework of Israel’s messianic faith (Post missionary…P. 152).

      since kinzer makes it clear that Jews remain Jews by “observing those traditional Jewish practices that identify the Jewish people distinctcommunity,” it follows that htose believers who join Israel in the singular ekklesia must likewise retain their cultural particularities that would define their own nationality and origins. Of course Kinzer does not say it outright, but it is the obvious conclusion of his argument.

      So, if “Jewish tradition” (halacha) is that to which Jewish Yeshua believers are to conform, it affirms that gentiles convert to Judaism joins the Jewish people in a way that gentile Yeshua believers do not. How so? The Gentile convert, according to Jewish tradition, joins the jewish people as a jew and must therefore abandon his or her national culture and take on the cultural distinctive of Israel. the convert becomes a part of Israel in a way that the gentile Yeshua believer does not.

      in other words, in Kinzer;s bilateral ecclesiology, the rabbinic proselyte ritual gives an individual a different status and purpose within the ekklesia which faith in yeshua alone does not effect.

      Shouls gentile believers who do not seek to become proselytes retain their gentile culture by which their national identity is known? How about Paul commanding Gentile believers in Ephesus that they “walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk…?’

  12. Jeruz says:

    In verse 1, what is your understanding of Pharisees’s saying this? You stated vaguely that Gentiles must ‘convert/ritual conversion’ in order to be received… Received to what?

  13. Dan Benzvi:

    I agree with you this far: the idea that the ingathering of Gentiles is a sign of the repair of David’s fallen sukkah is part of what is going on and why Amos 9 is such a potent text for the Yeshua movement.

    I still say that the idea of Gentiles called by God’s name is also part of what is going on. Gentiles, as Gentiles, are called by God’s name. They do not need to convert (be circumcised).

    And these Gentiles are not added to Israel. In Paul’s thought, they are added to the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2) and as wild branches on Israel’s olive tree (Rom 11). The multinational church is distinct from Israel, the freely and irrevocably elect people of God.

    The reason Yaakov (James) does not “trouble” the Gentiles in Messiah with the full yoke of Torah is that Gentiles are “kosher” to God as Gentiles. The reason Peter says a yoke Israel has been unable to bear should not be put upon the Gentiles is that Torah’s role is not (for Israel or for anyone) to make them “kosher” to God.

    Derek Leman

  14. Jeruz:

    By “received” I meant, received into the congregation of Messiah. But these Pharisees said “saved”, which had eschatological (final destiny) ramifications (i.e., saved from death and judgment in order to inherit the kingdom).

    Derek Leman

  15. Derek,
    While the non-Jews are added to the Commonwealth of Isreal, I disagree that they are not a part of Israel. Yes, they are the elect of God, but not as a separate and distinct group having their own destiny and calling. Their destiny, that of what I call Greater Israel, is directly linked and bound to that of Israel Proper. We have one Father, One Messiah, One People. Zechariah 14:9 makes clear that the destiny of the world is to fall under the dominion of Israel with Hashem ruling as king over all nations.

    -David Cook

  16. Personally, I think we should erase the word “Church” from the English vocabulary. It’s connotation conveys anything but the idea of the Commonwealth of Israel.

    -David Cook

  17. Jeruz:

    You said, “What is the congregation of Messiah? Sounds like church talk to me.”

    First of all, I wouldn’t have a problem with “church talk.” Are you saying that discussions of the Bible amongst Christians (“church talk”) are inferior to discussions of the Bible amongst some other group (Jews? Hebraic Roots sectarians?)?

    Second of all, the terminology for the elect communities in the Bible includes Yeshua speaking of “my ekklesia,” my congregation or my church (Mt 16). Paul refers to the body of Messiah and to the ekklesia (congregation, church). I sometimes use the term congregation of Messiah to denote the larger body, not a local congregation, but the worldwide congregation that is timeless (people will often use Church with a capital C).

    Derek Leman

    • Jeruz says:

      The problem with this is that the Messiah is One body, He is not King of “the Church” and then also He is the King of Israel, meaning He is two bodies or entities, He only has one body Israel… He is the King of Israel. So when I asked you what you understood from the Pharisees, saying that Gentiles had to be ‘converted/ritual conversion’ to join the body, it needs to get more detailed, it is not simply gentiles joining Messiah, but joining Israel, this makes sense in context, followed by verse 5, concerning the understanding of ritual conversion. Would you agree or disagree?

  18. David Cook:

    First, about the word church. Yes, it is a word from middle English (kirk) and as a term it has been abused. But so have many other terms (Christ, Messiah, Christian, Messianic Jew). I sometimes use the word because it is the popular word and in English versions of the New Testament it is used. I prefer the words community and congregation myself. But I don’t see a need for an editorial policy to never use the word church.

    Second, about the question of whether Christians are part of Israel or not. Yes, you could specify Greater Israel. But I like Paul’s language in Ephesians 2 (Israel is distinct from the commonwealth of Israel). We are talking about the same realities and just trying to decide what language is more helpful and less confusing.

    Derek Leman

  19. Sorry, I meant to say “wish we could erase the word Church” not “should erase” it.

    David Cook

  20. Jeruz:

    You cannot take one fact from New Testament theology (the idea of One Body in this case) and fail to integrate the other facts. Yes, there is one body. But who is to say it is not a differentiated body with some distinctions?

    The oneness of the body is not threatened by the bilateral ecclesiology of the book of Acts as long as there is open table fellowship and a unity that thrives in distinction, rather than a uniformity forced upon us by Gentiles (Torah abrogation) or by Jews (Gentiles need Torah to be kosher).

    The husband and wife are the perfect illustration. A husband and wife are one and yet distinct.

    Derek Leman

  21. Dan Benzvi says:

    Derek,

    The husband and wife illustration can only work as a description of bilateral ecclesiology if the husband and wife reside in separate houses…

    See my comment # 13.

    • Dan, as I mentioned to you before, even it one compared Jews and Gentiles in a relationship as husband and wife, it would still not make much sense for a wife (Gentiles) to consider herself a “husband”, to behave like her husband, to dress like her husband, etc.

  22. Dan:

    The reason your comment is untrue is that I did not say the husband/wife relationship is a paradigm for bilateral ecclesiology. I said it was an illustration of distinction and unity coexisting.

    No verse says, “Jews and Gentiles should be together like husband and wife” and that was not my intention.

    I merely wanted to say that the body can be one and yet have two distinct parts.

    Derek

  23. Dan Benzvi says:

    Derek,

    The reason I mention Bilateral ecclesiology is because Kinzer also brings the same illustration of a husband and wife in his book (P. 170). I did not speak from a vacum.

    I would have still like you to respond to my comment # 13?

  24. Jeruz says:

    I disagree, the body is to be one, Jew and Gentile new man, not simply two, which is the error of “bilateral ecclesiology”. It is like saying that one can become a citizen of America, and not have to abide by the Laws of America, it just doesn’t work, not even in a sociology.

    Bilateral Ecclesiology assumes that because Gentiles were only given 4 directives by the Apostles, that there are two different religions, one for gentiles and one for Jews… this is a slap in the face to the Torah and Ephesians 2 and 3.

    • Jeruz, in America not everyone works the same exact profession – an attorney is not doing the job of a doctor, therefore one can’t say that both the attorney and the doctor have the same duties or even work in the same place. Certainly both of these professions have different responsibilities before the law, even if in some cases the duties may even overlap (as happens when attorneys chase ambulances:). We have one Body, but in the Body there are different parts that serve different functions – so it is for Jews and Gentiles.

      • Jeruz says:

        Gene,

        Apples and oranges bro, Cohenim have a different role than the rest of Israel, this is not what I am addressing, the issue is that as the status of a citizen, the rules follow as such… The sojourner does not get to join and do whatever they like, they are as the native born and must abide as a native born…

      • “The sojourner does not get to join and do whatever they like, they are as the native born and must abide as a native born…”

        See my comment about sojourners below.

        Also, who says Gentiles can do whatever they like? Acts 15 gave them specific guidelines (apart from the common sense stuff..e.g. murder, theft…) to follow, and other scriptures in NT also give MANY specific do’s and don’ts for Gentiles to follow.

  25. Jeruz:

    That is not really a cogent argument, but a statement of disagreement. The issue in this post is Acts 15. If my reading is wrong, feel free to show us where it is wrong.

    If you wish to discuss Eph 2 and 3, that is another conversation.

    I could counter your comment with one in kind: “I disagree, the body is to be one and yet there are distinctions laid out by Acts 15. The one new man of Ephesians is reflected in the unity of table fellowship agreed upon by the apostles in Acts 15. And your anti-Jerusalem-council, forced-conversion-of-Gentiles One Law theology is a slap in the face to the Torah (which makes distinction) and Judaism (which makes distinction) and Messianic Judaism (which rejects One Law) and Yaakov (who ruled against you) and Peter (who spoke out against you) and the normative rules of hermeneutics (which prove you wrong).”

    It’s not nice to talk this way is it?

    Derek Leman

  26. Jeruz says:

    First it is an assumption that Gentiles are not to follow Torah, just because the Apostles did not approve of ‘ritual conversion’ as means to enter covenant with God. The Pharisees brought up the issue, because it is evident, that when a Gentile is coming to the God of Israel, the Gentile is going to join God’s people, God’s community, all of which can be comprehended in the Torah. The standard that was followed in that day was ritual conversion, ritual conversion is not described in the Law of Moses, this is a mans rendition for joining God’s covenant people, the Apostles did not approve of this form of joining God’s covenant, and neither does the bible, unless you could show otherwise…

    Thus Peter’s response being that of how Jews and Gentiles are saved/converted, not by ritual, by heart, the ritual is a sign which only comes after, but it is not the means.

    “And your anti-Jerusalem-council, forced-conversion-of-Gentiles One Law theology is a slap in the face to the Torah”

    I never claimed gentiles should take on ritual conversion, in fact I am opposed to it, it is in complete contradiction of Acts 15, true conversion for Jew and Gentiles is not by ritual. Even the son’s of Israel went a good 40+ years in the wilderness without being circumcised. As I stated above.

    Ultimately it comes down to this, if Gentiles were being brought into covenant with the God of Israel, sojourners of Israel, is the Law that the sojourner is to be a native born no longer applicable? Gentiles do not get a free ticket to do whatever they want, they have to abide by the rules just like everyone else.

    • Jeruz – in what way do you qualify as a “sojourner” – do you LIVE among a [Messianic] Jewish majority? Do you live in the Land? Or, do you think that your belief in Yeshua, observance of Torah (as you interpret it), or even attendance of a messianic congregation somehow automatically qualifies you as being one?

  27. Jeruz says:

    “Jeruz – in what way do you qualify as a “sojourner” – do you LIVE among a [Messianic] Jewish majority? Do you live in the Land? Or, do you think that your belief in Yeshua, observance of Torah (as you interpret it), or even attendance of a messianic congregation somehow automatically qualifies you as being one?”

    Excellent question, what defines a sojourner is at the heart of all this interpretation, in fact, if sojourner who joins Israel is not defined by ritual conversion, bilateral ecclesiology falls on its face. So you tell me, what defines a sojourner?

  28. Jeruz:

    If you continue making comments like “it is an assumption that Gentiles are not to follow Torah” I will simply start deleting them. You are adding nothing to the conversation when you fail to interact with what I have said and simply assert the opposite. Read my article again if it did not settle into your mind that I offered evidence that Acts 15 is saying Gentiles do not keep all of Torah.

    If you wish to be a participant in the conversation, then converse. Don’t ignore what has been said and simply raise your voice to say the opposite. Give evidence.

    As for my claim that your view is anti-Jerusalem-council, forced-conversion-of-Gentiles”, I anticipated you would say you oppose conversion. But my point is exactly this: you require conversion of Gentiles in practice while denying it in name only!! You say Gentiles must take on the yoke of Torah. That is the position of the Pharisees and one that the apostles came against. So you fell right into my trap.

    Don’t mistake this reply to you as hostility. Consider it a challenge to either dialogue or stay out of the discussion. I think you are capable of more. Notice how Dan Benzvi is making exegetical arguments of merit and perhaps follow his example.

    Derek Leman

  29. Jeruz says:

    Gene Shlomovich :
    “The sojourner does not get to join and do whatever they like, they are as the native born and must abide as a native born…”
    See my comment about sojourners below.
    Also, who says Gentiles can do whatever they like? Acts 15 gave them specific guidelines (apart from the common sense stuff..e.g. murder, theft…) to follow, and other scriptures in NT also give MANY specific do’s and don’ts for Gentiles to follow.

    Agreed, but Acts 15 is used to prove that Gentiles are not to keep Torah… as I stated before, this is all defined by a sojourner, because a sojourner who joined covenant with the God of Israel was to keep Torah, as the native born.

  30. Jeruz:

    Gene has a very good reason for rejecting your sojourner argument. It is forced. Does the New Testament say that Gentiles in Messiah are sojourners? Do the sojourner passages of Torah refer to all foreigners or foreigners who live amongst the Israelites in the land of Israel?

    How can you reverse the plain meaning of Acts 15 with an analogy that is not even biblical?

    Derek Leman

    • Jeruz says:

      “Gene has a very good reason for rejecting your sojourner argument. It is forced. Does the New Testament say that Gentiles in Messiah are sojourners?”

      The unless the New Testament is not a continuation of the Tanach, I don’t understand why it would have to reiterate that?

      “Do the sojourner passages of Torah refer to all foreigners or foreigners who live amongst the Israelites in the land of Israel?”

      Of course, only those who live in the Land, as much of the Torah is only applicable in the Land.

      “How can you reverse the plain meaning of Acts 15 with an analogy that is not even biblical?”

      What plain meaning?

    • Dan Benzvi says:

      Derek,

      What about Paul’s Rom. 11 Metaphor? How can a Gentile be grafted in without sojourning?

      • “How can a Gentile be grafted in without sojourning?”

        Dan, being grafted in / getting citizenship in the Commonwealth of Israel doesn’t require one to be a sojourner who by definition lives IN Israel / among Israelites (sojourns). A Gentile can be grafted in while living say in Egypt or Ethiopia among their own people (and most Gentiles will surely live in their own lands, per prophets), without being a sojourner.

  31. Jeruz says:

    derek4messiah :
    Jeruz:
    If you continue making comments like “it is an assumption that Gentiles are not to follow Torah” I will simply start deleting them. You are adding nothing to the conversation when you fail to interact with what I have said and simply assert the opposite. Read my article again if it did not settle into your mind that I offered evidence that Acts 15 is saying Gentiles do not keep all of Torah.
    If you wish to be a participant in the conversation, then converse. Don’t ignore what has been said and simply raise your voice to say the opposite. Give evidence.

    Don’t mistake this reply to you as hostility. Consider it a challenge to either dialogue or stay out of the discussion. I think you are capable of more. Notice how Dan Benzvi is making exegetical arguments of merit and perhaps follow his example.
    Derek Leman

    Forgive me, I get passionate just like the rest of you guys…

    “As for my claim that your view is anti-Jerusalem-council, forced-conversion-of-Gentiles”, I anticipated you would say you oppose conversion. But my point is exactly this: you require conversion of Gentiles in practice while denying it in name only!! You say Gentiles must take on the yoke of Torah. That is the position of the Pharisees and one that the apostles came against. So you fell right into my trap.?

    No, and Yes, I do believe Gentiles convert, they do not have their own religion, as Paul says in:
    Eph 2:12
    remember that you[Gentiles] were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

    Gentiles as stated in Acts 15:3 Paul speaks of the conversion of Gentiles, the problem is that Paul’s understanding of conversion and the outcome of the Apostles is conversion by heart, not by the man made ritual… They did not oppose merely gentiles being circumcised(as a side note, I think gentiles should be circumcised), but being ritually converted was the topic… And they did not opposed Torah observance, because that would be illogical if they gave them 4 Torah commands, instead they opposed the yoke of Oral Torah for gentiles. This is seen in the yoke which is to hard to bear(Matthew 23-concerning the proselyte), surely this is not God’s commandments, as they are not burdensome(1 John 5:3).

  32. Jeruz:

    I’m responding to your insinuation that we should accept the premise “Gentiles who come to Messiah fit into the Torah category of sojourners.”

    I asked you if the New Testament asserted this anywhere. You responded by saying the New Testament is a continuation of the Hebrew Bible and the point is proven, allegedly, in the Hebrew BIble itself.

    But then you admit that in the Hebrew Bible a sojourner is one who lives in the land with the Israelite people.

    I don’t have to refute you. You refute yourself and don’t even know it.

    Now, the responsibility is on you to prove (or at least give evidence for) your point about sojourners or drop it.

    Derek Leman

  33. Jeruz says:

    derek4messiah :
    Jeruz:
    I’m responding to your insinuation that we should accept the premise “Gentiles who come to Messiah fit into the Torah category of sojourners.”
    I asked you if the New Testament asserted this anywhere. You responded by saying the New Testament is a continuation of the Hebrew Bible and the point is proven, allegedly, in the Hebrew BIble itself.
    But then you admit that in the Hebrew Bible a sojourner is one who lives in the land with the Israelite people.
    I don’t have to refute you. You refute yourself and don’t even know it.
    Now, the responsibility is on you to prove (or at least give evidence for) your point about sojourners or drop it.
    Derek Leman

    How does that refute my point? Can Israel keep Torah outside of the Land? Some of course, but much of Torah cannot be kept outside of the Land, for sojourner or native born… You are stating that because no sojourners are living among the nation of Israel that they do not need to keep Torah… then the same can be said of Israel living among the nations.

  34. Jeruz:

    Now I am responding to your comment, “What plain meaning?”

    I think you forgot something. I have a blog. I wrote a short essay on Acts 15. You are responding to that essay. Did you forget that?

    If you write a blog and I comment on it, I will remember that I am addressing your writing. I will refer to your writing. I will assume that my comments must interact with your writing.

    Commenting is not a right, but a privilege. In print media, respondents are chosen based on merit. Blogs, unfortunately, allow anyone to comment (unless I use comment moderation which I’d rather not do). So it would be good if you made your comments worthwhile since you automatically get to make them.

    Derek Leman

  35. Jeruz:

    Unless you produce something fruitful in the “Gentiles are sojourners” line of thought, I am going to stop responding to it. This discussion is about Acts 15.

    Derek Leman

  36. Dan:

    You asked if the Romans 11 metaphor of the Olive Tree shows that Gentiles in Messiah are sojourners. It is not your fault that I have allowed Jeruz to drag this discussion into peripherals, so I don’t blame you. While I think there is no basis for the idea that Gentiles in Messiah are sojourners, still it would not affect the meaning of Acts 15.

    If it were true that Gentiles in Messiah are sojourners, then the apostles would have taken this into account in Acts 15. So, if I were to grant you your point for the sake of argument, it does not change a single word of the ruling in Acts 15. Gentiles are not to be yoked to Torah.

    What we are discussing is what Acts 15 means.

    Derek Leman

    • Dan Benzvi says:

      Derek,

      If we are speaking of the term: GER,

      Don’t you think that the apostle took into account Ex. 22:21? Which proves among other evidence that the GER is more of sociological than a religious term.

  37. Jeruz:

    I am responding to a few things you said in comment #44.

    First, you said something about Paul’s idea of conversion is conversion of the heart, not a man-made ritual. You need to be clearer and more specific about what you mean. I can’t read minds. For one thing, all rituals are man-made. Even when God gives us a ritual (no leaven during Passover), man makes the specifics and parameters (what is leaven? what does removing it mean? how and when do I do this?). I encourage the Hebraic Roots / One Law folks like yourself to learn why Judaism has communal traditions (what you call Oral Tradition but which you give evidence of not understanding).

    Second, you say Acts 15 does not oppose required Torah-observance for Gentiles. Your evidence is that the four requirements listed come from Torah. Again, you should read the article. You keep failing to respond to what I wrote and you bring up issues already addressed. I said in the article that some of Torah is universal and some is special holiness (identity markers) for Israel. I did not say none of Torah applies to Gentiles.

    Third, you say what the apostles are arguing against in Acts 15 is requiring Oral Law for Gentiles. Again, I am going to tell you that you don’t know what Oral Law means. The rabbinic concept of Oral Torah was not around in the time of Acts for anyone except the rather small proto-rabbinic community. But Israel did have communal norms about how to keep Torah. Is this what you are saying the apostles argued Gentiles are free from? If so, how would these Karaite Gentiles know how to keep Passover, much less the rest of the Torah, without communal norms and traditions? And besides all that, you simply made up the Oral Torah connection as it is found nowhere in Acts 15.

    Derek Leman

  38. Jeruz says:

    “First, you said something about Paul’s idea of conversion is conversion of the heart, not a man-made ritual. You need to be clearer and more specific about what you mean. I can’t read minds. For one thing, all rituals are man-made. Even when God gives us a ritual (no leaven during Passover), man makes the specifics and parameters (what is leaven? what does removing it mean? how and when do I do this?). I encourage the Hebraic Roots / One Law folks like yourself to learn why Judaism has communal traditions (what you call Oral Tradition but which you give evidence of not understanding).

    Third, you say what the apostles are arguing against in Acts 15 is requiring Oral Law for Gentiles. Again, I am going to tell you that you don’t know what Oral Law means. The rabbinic concept of Oral Torah was not around in the time of Acts for anyone except the rather small proto-rabbinic community. But Israel did have communal norms about how to keep Torah. Is this what you are saying the apostles argued Gentiles are free from? If so, how would these Karaite Gentiles know how to keep Passover, much less the rest of the Torah, without communal norms and traditions? And besides all that, you simply made up the Oral Torah connection as it is found nowhere in Acts 15.”

    Bad assumption, I am not against halacha, even Yeshua kept much of the Halacha of the elders and it is evidenced that the Apostles did as well… I should have been more specific… But not all the Halacha was accepted by Yeshua, one example is His opposition in Mark 7, this obviously does not mean He thought this of all tradition. But this makes us have to consider tradition in the light that not all tradition or norms are correct, in fact, it shows that even though some were given as a means to carry out the Commandments of God, they invalidate them. This is exactly what I understand from Acts 15, a tradition, halacha, “ritual conversion” as a means to enter covenant with God, was opposed by the Jerusalem Council.

    Side note, Karaites are no different, they make up their own traditions.

    You said the rabbinic concept of Oral Torah was not around, I disagree, it was not codified, but much of the traditions found in the codified Oral Torah can be found in the time of Acts and the Gospels… Such as Acts 10, the unclean gentiles, Peter refers to as unlawful, which one? The written Torah or the norm of the day’s understanding and application of Torah? The norm of the day. Recorded later in the Talmud.

    “And besides all that, you simply made up the Oral Torah connection as it is found nowhere in Acts 15.”

    Acts 15 is not a lonely island, it has to be understood from the rest of the history that we are given… It is clear that Torah had a interpretation as we agreed upon in the day… we can easily call it Oral Torah… none the less we need traditions to carry out these things, but not all of them are good, as stated before some are actually harmful.

    I come to the conclusion from many verses in Acts 15, starting with verse 1. First of all, Torah never teaches physical circumcision to be converted/saved, never! So I have to analyze where this came from? I come to the conclusion that this was the norm of the day and still today in one form or another, Hatafat Dam Brit, Brit Milah, etc… Some say that ritual conversion did not come onto the scene until around the Maccabean Period, as a form of protection…

    Second moving right along to verse 5 keeping that in mind, we have to conclude that observing Torah does not mean simply without interpretation, but with the norm of the day… Then later on that it is called a burden, well God’s commandments are not considered a burden according to scripture, so I have to draw another conclusion, it must be referring specifically to some of the norms of the day, such as ritual conversion, slapping the Torah with a load of norms, similar described in Matthew 23.

    I can keep going, but I will stop here for now, I might just need to start my own blog… :P Then you can come and rant on mine like I am doing on yours!

  39. Dan Benzvi says:

    Gene Shlomovich :“How can a Gentile be grafted in without sojourning?”
    Dan, being grafted in / getting citizenship in the Commonwealth of Israel doesn’t require one to be a sojourner who by definition lives IN Israel / among Israelites (sojourns). A Gentile can be grafted in while living say in Egypt or Ethiopia among their own people (and most Gentiles will surely live in their own lands, per prophets), without being a sojourner.

    Gene,

    That’s raises the differences we have on the definition of a sojourner.

    But this is not for this discussion.

  40. tOP begin with the most obvious point first: Rabbi Sha’ul (the Emissary Paul) was a man driven above all by the conviction that the Messiah has one Body and one Bride, not two (cf. Eph. 2:15). He was even willing to risk Shimon Peter’s enmity by challenging him publicly when the latter withdrew from openly associating with the Gentile believers (Gal. 2:11-21)! How then can we imagine that Paul would preach a Gospel or consider victory a beit din (council) that upheld a “middle wall of separation” that excluded Gentiles from the very mitzvot that the Jewish people have always taken the most joy in?

    We have always called the Torah and the Sabbath our inheritance. If the grafted-in Gentiles are truly our fellowheirs (Eph. 3:6), should they not partake of this wonderful inheritance as well?

    But more than that, Rabbi Derek’s interpretation of the passage removes it from the context of the preceding chapters. If the purpose of the council was to separate the Gentile believers from the Torah, why did Jacob speak of the Sabbath and the Torah at all? What sparked the comment?

    The answer is given when we read chapters 13-15 as a unit: It was the Gentiles coming into the synagogues in incredible numbers to hear the Good News that caused the controversy in the first place!

    In Acts 13:44f, we learn that as a result of Paul’s teaching in Pisidian Antioch, “the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy . . .” Acts 14:1-4, we again see that it was by proclaiming the Good News in the synagogue (presumably again on the Sabbath) that many Gentiles came to believe in Yeshua, resulting in not just the synagogue, but the whole city being divided. The impression that the latter part of chapter 14 gives is that this was a repeated pattern throughout southern Galatia.

    It was the large numbers of Gentiles coming into the synagogues on the Sabbath that sparked the debate in the first place! And it is in that light that Jacob’s conclusion should be understood, i.e., “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who proclaim him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath,” and now the Gentiles are coming there in numbers greater than ever before—why would we want to do anything to stop that?

    Now if the debate was caused because of the mass numbers of Gentiles coming into the synagogues on the Sabbath to hear the Good News, how does it follow that the decision of the Acts 15 Beit Din was to say that the Sabbath was a sign for the Jewish people only?

    Shalom,
    Mike

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  45. boyscout says:

    Two assumptions that are wrong in the article.
    The first being that food includes the clean and unclean and that Noah ate them all.
    If one reads the Torah or the Old testament without the headings added by man, one should see there are two kinds of animals, one kind is clean and is allowed for food and the other is unclean and is detestable.
    Going back in time, Noah brought seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean onto the ark. Why only one pair of unclean if the unclean were good for sacrifice and for food? Would it be logical for him to eat an animal which is declared by God that it’s unclean?
    The second being that the Torah is a yoke. It’s a total contradiction to Psalms 1 and 119. The fact is, Torah becomes a yoke only when it’s wrongly interpreted or for those who love practicing lawlessness.

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