I greet you once again in the Name of Jesus!
Does the Law of God have any place in the life of a Christian living under the Dispensation of Grace? If you will recall last time we looked at the three categories of laws that can be found in the Torah given to Moses on Mount Sinai. These three categories are as follows to reiterate:
- Moral Law – These are contained in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1 – 17)
- Civil Law – These are known as the judgments (Ex. 21:1 – 23:33)
- Ceremonial Law – These are known as the ordinances (Ex. 24:12 – 31:18)
Has the Law been abolished or “done away with” in Christ? The answer to this question really could be yes and no. It depends really on which category of Law one would be referring to. If we are talking about the Ceremonial Law, with its various sacrifices and offerings, then the answer is yes; the Ceremonial Law was definitely fulfilled in the once-for-all offering of the precious Lamb of God on Calvary’s Cross (See John 1:29; Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 28; 10:10; 1 Pet. 3:18). Also, many of the ceremonial laws had to do with purification rites for the Priests to minister in and the people to enter the Tabernacle, and later the Temple.
The laws regarding the purification of women during and after their menstrual cycle, that so many are fond of discussing today, dealt with purification for entering the Temple. Since there is no Temple standing in Jerusalem today, and consequently no active priesthood, those laws are irrelevant today.
What about the dietary laws outlined in Leviticus 11? Is a Christian forbidden to eat a pork chop, or enjoy some fried catfish? If we hold to the dietary laws as set forth in the Torah, then the answer is unquestionably yes. However, the question needs to be asked, are non-Jewish, Gentile believers held to the same standards and requirements as their Messianic Jewish brethren? In other words, are non-Jewish believers in Messiah bound to the Sinai Covenant? This matter was taken up, and as far as I am concerned answered, over nineteen-hundred years ago at the first Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15.
You may be familiar with this chapter. Dr. Luke records that, “certain men” had come down from Judea, from the Jerusalem Church, as self-appointed teachers who were telling the recently saved Gentile believers that, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” [Acts 15:1b] The scripture tells us that Paul and Barnabas debated with these self-appointed teachers to the point it was decided this matter should be taken to the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem to rule on.
Please understand, there was far more than circumcision, that is the cutting away of the male foreskin, involved here. In essence these men were telling these Gentile believers that unless they became in every way Jews, they could not be saved. Keep in mind that circumcision was the sign of the Covenant, indicating one was truly a Jew in Covenant with Yahweh Elohim, the God of Israel.
So in essence, these “Judaizers” were insisting that to truly be a follower of the Jewish Messiah, the goy, or Gentiles, had to fully identify with and become in every way Jewish. In other words, they needed to become proselytes to Judaism.
We see in verse 6 that the Apostles and elders met together to, “consider this matter.” After much dispute and argument among those gathered there, finally we see Peter standing to give his testimony concerning what the Lord had done in the household of Cornelius through his ministry. Cornelius and those of his household became the first Gentile converts to Christianity. Peter states here that God “acknowledged” (that is, gave testimony or witness concerning them) by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he had those gathered in the Temple Court on the Day of Pentecost. Peter goes on to say that God made, “no distinction between us and them”, and that He had purified their hearts by faith.
Peter next asks a question to the assembly gathered in Jerusalem that is important for us all to consider. He asks, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” [Acts 15:10]
First, the concept of to, “test God” is equivalent to making God mad. Secondly, what exactly is the “yoke” to which Peter refers here? There are several schools of thought on this. One says the “yoke” to which Peter refers is the oral Torah and Pharisaic traditions. Another says the “yoke” is the Law of Moses itself. What exactly is the “yoke”?
From a Hebraic or Jewish perspective or even an apostolic view, the Law (Torah) is not heavy or burdensome. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14). In the same chapter he said, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). Not only that, the Apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” “Burdensome” here is the Greek word, barus, and it literally means, “heavy in weight, or metaphorically burdensome, severe, stern, or weighty.” We need to remember that the Bible is an eastern or Jewish book. It was written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit by about 40 different Jewish men, over a period of about 1,500 years. So we need to understand that which Peter said in that light.
Remember the topic under discussion here was Gentiles and them coming to faith in Jesus, and what was required of them in doing so. After some discussion and debate concerning this issue at the first Jerusalem council, it was determined that no, the Gentile believers did not need to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved. How one is saved was the point under discussion, and here we see the answer. Gentiles, and Jews for that matter, do not need to bear the heavy yoke of trying to keep the righteous requirements of the Law in order to be saved. Does that mean that Gentile believers have nothing required or expected of them after they are saved? No it does not.
After Peter had shared the testimony of Cornelius’ household, and Paul and Barnabas had testified how the Holy Spirit had been working through them to the Gentiles, it was James’ turn to give a ruling in the manner. His decision begins in verse 13, however we will pick it up with verse 19,
“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.” [Acts 15:19, 20]
First, notice if you will the word, “trouble” in verse 19. It is the Greek, parenochleo, and literally means to annoy, or to harass further. So in essence, James is saying, we need to back off and stop annoying these Gentile believers. In verse 20 he sets forth some basic requirements for Gentile Christians. He says Gentile believers should, “… abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.” They were basically asked to do a few things out of courtesy for their Jewish brethren. Lets break this down a bit:
- Things polluted by idols – The reasons for this will come up in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Meats offered to idols were a matter of conscience for Jewish believers, to be avoided at all costs. It was not for Gentile believers, who bought meat in the public markets all of the time. Out of courtesy for their Jewish brethren however, the Gentile believers are asked to abstain from any meats knowingly first offered to idols.
- From sexual immorality – This is of course a moral requirement for all believers. The KJV has this, “fornication”, and it takes in all sexual sin of every variety. Basically any sexual activity outside the bounds of holy matrimony between one man and one woman are forbidden to believers, period.
- Things strangled – That is, animals not slaughtered in such a way that all of the blood flowed out. According to the oral Torah, an animal was to be killed by a single knife stroke across the throat. The animal dies humanely, and the blood drains out quickly.
- From blood – This could either refer to eating blood, that is eating meat not properly butchered, or metaphorically for murder.
There were no other requirements laid on the Gentile believers than these basic things. There was nothing said about observing the Sabbath, keeping dietary laws, observing the feast days, or anything else associated with the Sinai Covenant. Does this mean Gentile (Non-Jewish) believers can just live any way they want to? I don’t believe so. I just believe there are many things that are more a matter of conviction and conscience than commandment. While I don’t believe Gentile believers are required to keep the Sabbath, eat kosher, or observe the feast days, I do believe that we are invited to.
I believe that our knowledge of our Father can be greatly enhanced by at least getting a good working knowledge of the Old Testament, and learning to view the scriptures from a Hebraic perspective, which I certainly seek to do.
I had intended this time to get into the why of the Law. We didn’t quite get there. We will pick that up, Lord willing, next time.
Until next time,
Pastor Kevin E. Johnson