Saturday 25th June 2022 26th Sivan 5782
PARASHAT SHELACH L’CHA FFOZ
Torah: Numbers 13:1-15:41; Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24; Gospel: Matthew 10:1-14
One Law and the Gentiles
The Torah says there is to be only one law for both Jews and aliens sojourning with the Jewish people. On the surface, this appears to be a simple statement, but when we dig deeper into biblical studies and interpretations, it becomes a complicated issue. Most Gentile Christians do not keep the Torah’s ritual laws: Sabbaths, festivals, dietary laws, and ritual symbols like wearing tassels, phylacteries, or putting up a mezuzah scroll on the doorpost. This does not mean that Gentile Christians are godless or even lawless. Jewish believers are certainly bound to keep the whole Torah, but Gentile believers have never felt bound to the Torah’s external signs in the way that Jews are. But does the Torah really make different laws for Jews and Gentiles? According to Numbers 15:15-16, there is to be only one law for both Jews and Gentiles:
As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD. There is to be one Torah and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you. (Numbers 15:15-16)
This seems simple enough. According to these verses, there is one law for both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, Gentile believers should keep the whole Torah. But wait. It’s not that clear. As always, context is critical for correct interpretation!
First of all, the context deals not with the application of Torah as a whole, but specifically with the sacrifices. In other words, if an alien wanted to offer a sacrifice in the Temple, he needed to follow the same Torah guidelines as the Israelite. The passage is not saying that all the laws of Torah apply equally to Jews and Gentiles. Second, by the time of the apostles, the word translated as “alien” (ger) was no longer understood as just a Gentile non-Jew. The Hebrew word had shifted its semantic value to refer specifically to a Gentile who had gone through a full, legal conversion to become Jewish, i.e., a proselyte. That conversion process included circumcision, immersion, and a sacrifice. That’s how the Greek version of the Torah (lxx) translates the word too. That’s probably how the apostles would have understood it. They would have interpreted Numbers 15:15-16 to read as follows:
As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for Jews and for the proselyte, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as a Jew is, so shall the proselyte be before the LORD. There is to be one Torah and one ordinance for Jews and for the proselyte who sojourns with you. (Numbers 15:15-16, my paraphrase)
That reading makes it clear that both Jews and proselytes to Judaism are obligated to the same laws of Torah, but it does not help clear up the question of Gentile believers who have not become legally Jewish through a conversion. One might suppose that the Gentile believers who were fellowshipping in the apostolic communities should fit into the category of “the alien who sojourns with you,” but when the apostles considered this question in Acts 15, they left the matter open.
They gave the Gentile believers four minimum standards for fellowship within the Jewish synagogue communities, but they did not issue a mandate clarifying Gentile obligation to the whole Torah. The same open posture of Acts 15 seems to be reflected in the Didache. The Didache is allegedly a collection of apostolic instructions for Gentile believers.10 When discussing the question of how much Torah a Gentile is obligated to keep, the Didache recommends keeping all of it, but leaves the matter up to an individual’s capacity:
If you are able to bear all the yoke of the Lord [i.e., Torah], you will be perfect; but if you are not able, do as much as you are able to do. (Didache 6:2)
The Didache agrees with Numbers 15:15-16. There is not supposed to be a different Torah for Gentile believers. The Gentile believers are not supposed to have a different type of worship or religion.
(my addition: There is only one Torah for God’s people (the Law of Messiah is the Torah of Moses is the Torah of HaShem. There cannot be different Laws. Yeshua perfectly kept and fulfilled the Torah and only He is worthy to be the perfect, sinless Lamb of God, slain from the foundations of the world. And, the standard or the measurement to detrmine sinless is set in the five books of Moses i.e. Torah. The Rabbi of Tarsus explained in Romans 7:7 that "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet").
The only question left open is to what extent the Gentile believer is obligated. Most of the laws of the Torah apply equally to Jewish and Gentile disciples of Yeshua. On the other hand, Gentile believers are not obligated to keep all of the ceremonial laws as the Jewish believers such as circumcision and other distinct markers of Jewish identity like the calendar, the holy days, the dietary laws, and so forth. Despite that, the Bible does not create alternative Gentile versions of these institutions. In the days of the apostles, the Gentile believers kept most of those mitzvot (commandments) along with the Jewish believers as part of their participation in their shared religion.
(my addition: And yet, there is distinctiveness within Torah. There are laws that apply onlly to the sacrifices; other, to the Levites. There are distinct laws for women, and for those who wish to participate in the Pesach seder. Prior to the destruction of the Temple, believers chiefly gathered in the Temple or Synagogues to worship God. Church as an institution, did not exist. And so, yes, there is one shared religion but it does not obliterate distinctiveness. And, in my opinion, non-Jews should tread lightly and sensitively upon the many markers that set the Jewish people apart from the nations. This seems to be a contentious issue among a specific segment of non-Jewish believers (Hebrew roots movement) but it ought not to be. We are 'one' spiritually speaking but there can be no argument that women are very different from men! We may disagree on specific interpretive issues, but it should never break fellowship. And, if this still does not satisfy you, the Apostolic writings clearly did NOT place gentiles under full obligation to the aspects of Torah that is particular to Jewish men i.e circumcision, tzitzit, mezuzot, Shabbat, chaggim, kashrut etc. To teach that all of Torah is obligatory upon gentiles believers is to exceed Apostolic authority. I offer this as my opinion)