Christians and Biblical “Law”

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Jesus was Jewish and so were his disciples. He did not start a new religion, but his movement was consistent with being one of several sects of first-century Judaism. There were probably essentially very few non-Jewish followers of “The Way” (Jesus, Yeshua) for the first ten years or so after his death and resurrection.

Jesus was Jewish and so were his disciples. He did not start a new religion, but his movement was consistent with being one of several sects of first-century Judaism.

There were probably essentially very few non-Jewish followers of “The Way” (Jesus, Yeshua) for the first ten years or so after his death and resurrection. Paul was Jewish and never stopped being Jewish as evidenced by his willingness to pay the temple fee at the completion of the vows of some individuals as mentioned in Acts to show that he had not become apostate. However, he was a strong advocate for not forcing the non-Jews to convert to Judaism by being circumcised and observing all the kosher rules before being allowed to be accepted as a follower of Jesus. In fact, the matter was definitively decided by the Jerusalem Council when they ruled in favor of Paul and Barnabas (and against James) in that all that would be required of non-Jews who wished to follow Jesus was to observe the “Laws of Noah” which related to practices associated with immorality and idol worship.

While we non-Jews are not required to observe the biblical feasts, etc., we are certainly not forbidden to do so either. Not only do many non-Jewish followers of Jesus find the experiences very meaningful, it often illuminates scripture in a fresh new way and promotes a fuller understanding of biblical events and teaching. It is tragic that by making “Christianity” the official state religion and making “Jewish” practices illegal for Christians, Constantine essentially finalized a rift that had been developing between the followers of Jesus (both of Jewish and non-Jewish origin) and the Jewish people who had chosen not to follow Jesus since the first century.

One of the problems Christians have is with the biblical term usually translated in English as “law.” The same word in the Bible, however, is translated as instruction, precepts, etc., which evoke very different emotional responses. “Law” makes us think of something forced upon us and the penalty we may expect for violating it. On the other hand, “instruction” and “precepts” are much friendlier terms and evoke feelings of helpfulness and guidance as a loving parent instructs his or her child in proper behavior for the child’s benefit—yet it is the same Hebrew word.

What was making Paul so angry was that members of the James party were telling Paul’s converts to Jesus that they weren’t real followers of Jesus since they hadn’t been circumcised. That’s why he angrily lashed out and wished that they would “go castrate themselves.” While not exactly the same, we have seen people who become so enamored with “Jewish Roots” or “Hebrew Roots” (often, primarily with the externals) that they somehow feel that following these practices lifts them to a higher position with God. It’s almost like the Gnostics who believed that their “secret knowledge” gave them special favor with God. [Please don’t think I am referring to you in this matter—I suspect you yourself have encountered individuals like this.]

Paul was certainly not against celebrating the feasts as evidenced by the fact that he made a great effort to be back in Jerusalem in time for Passover. He just didn’t want the non-Jewish followers of Jesus to be forced to keep the feasts and other rules of Judaism, but neither did he forbid those who wished to do so.

While I do not believe non-Jewish Christians are required to observe Passover, I believe it will be an eye-opening experience if they do attend at least one Seder conducted by a follower of Jesus. One of the cornerstones of our faith was instituted by Jesus during the Passover meal—the memorial to himself—Communion or the Lord’s Supper. The events of the Bible, including the New Testament, did not happen in a vacuum. I believe that while the practice of Jewish feasts and customs is not required of non-Jewish followers of Jesus, an understanding of Jewish custom and practice will enhance the understanding and deepen the faith of any individual. And what serious follower of Jesus would oppose better understanding Jesus and his teachings?


Comments 8

  1. We Gentiles have a difficult time understanding that the Jew is the firstborn (Exodus 4:22) of YHVH and that He is instructing the nations through/with the Jewish people. As the story of God’s people begins there are rules for the Gentile (i.e., if he wishes to join Israel, he is welcomed as a native born — IF he participates in the Rules (Instructions/Teaching/Precepts) of YHVH “the King” and eventually “does as Israel does”). This is the reason Yeshua tore down the “wall of partition” Yeshua permitted the Gentile to join the Jew and receive the proper Instructions toward “living the law (i.e., the abundant life).” It is this idea that Paul is putting forth in Ephesians 2:12 “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without YHVH in the world.” Remember YHVH has never explictly made a Covenant with Gentiles. The New Covenant, that we Gentiles are so enamored with, was made with the Jewish people Jeremiah 31:31,37. One may wish to re-read this Covenant in Jeremiah or in Hebrews 8:8,12 to find exactly where Gentiles are specified. Thus, it would appear that at some point in the future Israel will have YHVH’s Rules/Commandments written upon their hearts and in their minds — then Israel will be like their Messiah —- not only will they no longer sin — they will not even think of sin. If the Gentile joins/is-grafted-into Israel he can become one with this “new” or “renewed” Israel which will be one with Yeshua who is one with the Father —- or the Gentile can decline the offer and continue to maintain the “wall of partition” — separation.”

  2. Well said Dr. Mullican.

    Metzer, your response is well argued and appreciated, and I too was in this camp; however, as a Jew I had to come to understand that YHWH’s diversity in the people of the nations is the Body of Messiah’s great strength, not its weakness.

    Like a marriage, when the husband walks according to his role and responsibility and the wife walks according to her role and responsibility, then the two–equally loved and blessed by God–become a great strength together as a “one, unified person.” The husband does not have to become a woman to appreciate all that his wife is and does and sees life through her eyes, but he does have to celebrate her strengths and diversity and honor her calling as a woman to see her as God does. So too, the wife does not need to become a man to experience all that God has blessed within him as a man. But, as she celebrates his strengths and respects his role and honors him, she gets to experience the greatness of God in him.

    The church is meant (Romans 11) to be a unified people of diversity, yet one in Messiah. The Scriptures divide this diversity into two categories: Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) [no disrespect is meant by this term in this email], and it always will. Not that this diversity is recognized when it comes to salvation and love and all that God has in-store through his blessings and inheritance, but that it is recognized through each one (Jew or non-Jew) doing his or her part in the greater calling of the Kingdom of God. For the believing Jew: to uphold the Torah with grace and mercy so that the Word of God will be a light unto the non-believing Gentiles. And, for the Gentiles: to walk with YHWH according to the work of Yeshua to help in the greater work of bringing jealousy to the non-believing Jew with an admiration of lifting up the God of heaven and sacrificing one’s gifts and finances with true and honorable tzedakah.

    Yes, the Shabbat and other factions of the Torah are for both Jew and non-Jew (And I would argue that Christians should remain biblically kosher); however, it’s not for the Jew to become gentile as so often was the case when a Jew became a believer prior to the more modern Messianic movement. And, it’s not for the gentile to become a Jew (outwardly of course–for all are made a true Jew through the circumcision of the flesh), but to remain non-Jewish and be as Cornelius in Acts 10 (A God-fearer respected by all the Jews).

    However, this does not change for the non-Jew who wishes to convert to becoming a Jew. They may do so, but what the Jerusalem council proved and showed was that non-Jews are welcomed into the commonwealth of Israel without having to become a circumcised, outwardly Jew.

    A good book that I would recommend is: “The God of Israel and Christian Theology,” by R. Kendall Soulen (Fortress Press, 1996). It’s a must read, in my opinion for all believers, and his conclusion is simply marvelous.

    Shalom and blessings,
    A. Ze’ev Bernal

    1. Question
      As a gentile I often wonder about the “everlasting” covenant that Israel has with God. Any comments to assist me? I am certain the NT promises more that I understand for the nation of Israel, despite its ongoing broad rejection of its Messiah.

      I have taken the fairly common view that the law (all 614) has been superseded by the “law that is written on our hearts” the standard for which is back to God-likeness (Genesis 1:26)also expressed as “the glory of God” ( Romans 3:23)

      None of this law can be achieved 100%, and that is precisely God’s message to me, I am only acceptable to God because of Jesus. Hallelujah!

      Thanks for enlightening me as a gentile of some of the implications of what God is saying through the history of His people

      1. Reg Munro,

        Rather than the “614” (actually 613) being superseded by the “law that is written on our hearts,” we should consider it superimposed upon our hearts instead. God’s covenants are eternal; however, it was not He who broke it, but the people. Therefore, a better, or better approach to being able to fulfill the covenant had to have God be the one with whom He cut the New Covenant. Thus, it took His blood through the Son to make this covenant better–not erasing the older–because, in essence, God made a covenant with Himself through the vicarious atonement of the Son.

        Therefore, the New or RE-newed covenant is one that can be accomplished because of the shedding of the Messiah’s body and the pouring out of His blood. The “Older” method was dependent upon the people doing their part; however, the “Newer” is dependent on the Father and the Son; therefore, no more atoning is required. So, we now have all the grace, power, authority, and strength through the Holy Spirit to accomplish, uphold, fulfill the New Covenant regardless of whether or not we are Jewish or non-Jewish.

        The caveat to this Newer Covenant, however, is this: we (Jew and non-Jew) are still required to produce fruit unto salvation. Having it on our hearts gives us more responsibility to care about the witness of God to the world. Therefore, we still have our part, but the beauty to this is that we have the Counselor to assist us beyond our own strength.

        Shalom,

        A.

        1. Adrian, I do not believe the specifics of the New Covenant have, at this time, been realized. The Covenant explained in Jeremiah is to Israel and Judah and will be written on their hearts and in their minds, on some future date. How we Gentiles decided we could circumvent Israel and receive the fruits of the “New” Covenant when we were not even mentioned in the original manuscript is quite interesting. Neither can I comprehend YHVH allowing such a thing to happen, when the execution of the Covenant is dependent upon YHVH alone.

          1. naue1938,

            I appreciate your answer; however, I guess I’m not understanding your premise. You use, “we gentiles,” when in-fact I’m a Jewish believer, with the New Covenant realized in me as with the hundreds of thousands of Jewish believers world-wide. Not to mention, there has always been Jewish believers in one capacity or another. Both the Old as well as the New Covenant have room for Gentiles, and there have always been the “mixed multitudes” included; not merely Judah and Israel.

            Furthermore, Yeshua himself made the act of the New Covenant evident during his time with his disciples during the Siudat Yeshua (The Lord’s Supper or communion), which in essence became active from that time on; especially, after the resurrection. The “some future date” isn’t a time in the future, but a time in the present-future, if you will, for those Jewish believers which are of the remnant of Israel.

            The circumventing of the covenant by gentiles is understandable; however, it’s not being circumvented when Jews and Gentiles worship together in unison within the promise of redemption and salvation under the blood-bought covenant for all peoples-first to the Jew and then to the gentile.

            In reality, the specifics of the covenant are being realized when a Jew has become circumcised in the heart through the faith in the Messiah, Yeshua and a non-Jew is realizing the specifics of the New Covenant when he too becomes circumcised in the heart with his faith in the Messiah–there is no distinction at this point, in regards to covenantal promises and eternal hope.

            I will give you this: the greater details of the covenant have not become realized as of yet, but those details are becoming brighter in the ever present; especially as the Jew does his part, and the Gentile does his part, both accomplishing their parts in Jesus.

            Shalom and blessings,
            A.

          2. Shalom Adrian, Thank you for the response. The “we Gentiles” was dirercted more toward myself. The original Covenant in Jeremiah does not speak of a mixed multitude but rather only of Judah and Israel. Thus, it would seem the portion of peoples who were once “gentiles” will have been fully grafted-in to the point of becoming “native born” by their faith AND actions (keeping Torah). Gentiles must become Israelites (not Jews) (Ephesians 2:12 & the story of Ruth). When YHVH places Torah in our minds and on our hearts — one will no longer sin nor even think a sinful thought (this will happen on some future date), The understanding of this event is happening now but the actual “change of heart” which will be wrought by YHVH alone is a future event.
            Rev. 14:12 “Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments (613) of God , and the faith of Jesus.”

  3. Your position is predicated on the assumption that the Law is an arbitrary set of rules. What if “YHVH echad” (Deut 6:4) means that the Lawgiver is one with His Law? What if the Law is a reflection of the Lawgiver and is Truth? What if it represents His worldview, precepts, and ways? What if it isn’t just an arbitrary set of rules given to Jews just to prove they couldn’t keep them ( the straw man misrepresentation of Paul’s statements)?

    I agree that there is no prerequisite for entering into the Messianic Covenant. But as one who has been graced with this great covenant, my life is no longer mine. I am obligated to become more like Yeshuah. How can I blatantly disregard YHWH’s Sabbaths, His precepts, ways, and worldview and still say that I love Him and desire to be like Him?

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  • Ken Mullican

    Ken Mullican

    Kenneth R. Mullican, Jr., was reared in Oklahoma and holds a B.S. in Zoology and an M.A. in Medical Microbiology, both from the University of Oklahoma. Ken and his wife Lenore reside in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ken attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary prior to his appointment…
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