No Greater Burden

When the Apostles are first wrestling with how to integrate believing Gentiles into God’s spiritual community, they make a radical break with historic Judaism, which requires us all to become Jewish in order to be right with God.  (Ac 15:1-2) The Apostles note that both nationality and culture have nothing to do with salvation. (Ac 15:11)

In addition, the Apostles recommend four things necessary for Gentiles to be welcome in synagogues (Ac 15:28-29), where they might hear Torah read and explained every Shabbat. (Ac 15:21) These four rules aren’t actually in Torah, so the Apostles aren’t identifying a subset of Mosaic Law pertinent to Gentiles; they’re providing helpful, extra-biblical guidelines which are easily derived from Torah.

They’re also sensitive to the fact that even these basic rules may pose an inconvenience, a burden of sorts for new believers embedded in pagan culture, affecting their ability to engage in society as they had before. These types of changes are often necessary, but must be proposed with sensitivity and a certain lenience, especially at first. The apostles start with no greater burden than the very basics, and have the Holy Spirit’s approval.

In handling this crisis, the Apostles say nothing like: “Gentiles don’t have to obey X and Y laws of Torah.” Such sentiment dishonors Christ’s command that His disciples teach all nations to observe all things He’s commanded them (Mt 28:19-20), ignores His teaching that even the least of Torah’s commands are obligatory (Mt 5:19), and denies its universal profitability. (2Ti 3:16-17)

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One thought on “No Greater Burden”

  1. For Acts 15 to support a disregard for any part of Torah, one must show that the four Apostolic guidelines for the gentiles are actually in Torah, which cannot be done.
    1. Eating food sacrificed to idols is not prohibited in Torah; Paul argues that it isn’t sinful (1Co 8:4-6), though it is certainly in keeping with the general spirit of Torah in certain cases.
    2. Eating strangled animals isn’t formally prohibited in Torah, though it is certainly consistent with the spirit of the command to not eat flesh with the blood remaining in it.
    3. There are types of fornication which are not specifically forbidden in Torah. For example, Paul does not reference a direct Torah command to discourage engaging with temple prostitutes, but grounds his appeal in the concept of an unequal yoke. (1Co 6:15) The apostles are applying the spirit of Torah to show that all sex outside of marriage is unhealthy and inappropriate.
    4. Ingesting blood of any kind is not specifically forbidden in Torah; what is forbidden is eating flesh saturated with blood. So, drinking blood, as in temple rituals common in apostolic times, would certainly be contrary to the spirit of Torah.

    These four guidelines are each derived from precepts in Torah and were very helpful in disentangling the gentiles from their pagan culture, a necessary step if they were to be welcome in the synagogues where they could hear Torah read and expounded weekly.

    What the Apostles compose is a type of oral Torah, if you will, similar to what the early Jewish Christians endured: Jewish Oral Torah, which was very extensive and burdensome. The Apostles did not want to create a new burden of rules and regulations for Gentiles, or even set a precedent for doing so, but they did feel that these four laws or guidelines were necessary and appropriate in their day, and they had the Holy Spirit’s witness to this.

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