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Should Gentiles Keep Torah?

Ron Cantor —  August 12, 2013 —  Comments

“Are you telling me that as a Gentile believer, I don’t have to keep the Sabbath or eat Kosher in order to be saved?” That was the question that a precious young believer asked me at the end of my message a few weeks ago. I taught all week at Blue Mountain Christian Retreat through my book Identity Theft, taking a hard look at the early communities of 1st century believers and how they lived.

This woman had been taught in a Messianic congregation—I don’t know where—that God calls Gentiles to keep the Torah, just as Jews. Before I go further, let me make two points:

1. I do believe that Jewish believers are called to live a Jewish life according to Scripture as a matter of calling (Romans 11:29).

2. It has no bearing whatsoever on our salvation, which is obtained through faith in Yeshua’s blood, alone.

Having said that, there are some congregations that teach that God’s perfect plan is that the Gentiles also keep the ceremonial aspects of Torah, however mainstream Messianic Judaism and Messianic Jewish leaders reject this. Those who do teach this are part of the ‘One Law’ or ‘One Torah’ movement, which teaches that all believers need to adhere to the ritual commands of Torah. While I do believe there is freedom for any believer to keep the entire Torah, it is not required. Let’s take a look at the word of God.

1. THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL

The very first theological council was about this very issue. In Acts 15, Messianic leaders that has been preaching the good news to the Gentiles gathered together. The issue at hand: Do Gentiles have to convert to Judaism in order to be saved?

After hearing impassioned testimony from Shimon Kefa (Peter), Jacob (James) ruled:

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath. (Acts 15:19-21)

Some have claimed that the last part “Moses… is read in the synagogues” meant that the Gentiles could grow in their Jewishness or understanding of Torah, over time. It is more likely that Jacob’s intention was to show that the four things that they were forbidden to do, were universally immoral ways to worship the one true God, and Torah would back that up.

First, it is important to understand that the four prohibitions addressed how the former pagans, now believers, could worship. Obviously they would adhere to other universal laws found in the Old Covenant (Thou shalt not lie, Thou shalt not steal, etc.), but in their worship style they had to forsake certain pagan practices, such as the drinking blood or lying with temple prostitutes (and even rape was encouraged in the Roman world during the feast of Saturnalia), as these were clearly universally immoral worship practices to both Jew and Gentile. The Torah, which was read weekly, would affirm this, hence v. 21.

And keep in mind, their was no New Testament to back up their claim! They are writing the New Testament. The only Biblical authority upon which they could rely was the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings—known as the Tanach. But Jacob only mentions Moses—meaning the Torah? Why not all the Old Covenant? Biblical scholar Richard Bauckham has argued that each of the four prohibitions can be found in Leviticus 18-19. He claims that these practices are moral issues even though the context is worship, and they were abominations for which God cast the Canaanites out of the land. Jacob is merely saying, “Torah backs up this decision.”

Furthermore, one would have to believe that if the apostles wanted the Gentiles to attend the synagogue every week to learn the rituals of the Torah, they would have included this instruction in the letter that they gave Paul to show the congregations. But they didn’t! (See Acts 15:23-29)

2. GOD HAS CALLED ISRAEL TO BE A SEPARATE NATION

Israel was chosen from among nations to be a light to the rest of the world (Ex. 19:5-6, Is. 42:6, Gen. 12:3). This calling is not voided by the New Covenant. Paul says referring to nature Israel, “God’s gifts and call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29) But nowhere does the New Covenant command Gentiles to live as Jews.

As the Jews embraced God’s Law, His anointing would attract the Gentiles.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations. (Ps. 67:1-2)

The One Law movement denies Israel her special role as revealed in Scripture. To be clear Israel is not better than other nations. Her unique calling was to be a blessing to the nations, not to be superior. And it was divine choice, not merit.

3. PAUL’S WORDS TO GENTILES

When Gentiles were being taught that they had to be circumcised in order to be saved, Paul blew a gasket! Paul, who taught us that it is “faith alone, through grace” by which we are saved (Eph. 2:8), could not have been clearer regarding the Gentiles being required to keep the law of Moses:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Yeshua the Messiah was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?   So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?(Gal. 3:1-3, 5)

And then

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”  (Gal. 3:10-11)

Now I understand that Paul was battling a heresy that was resolved in Acts 15—do the Gentiles need to convert to Judaism and be circumcised to be saved. But no where does he qualify his statements regarding Gentiles and the Torah. If Paul intended for Gentiles to keep the rituals of the Torah, he would have said, “Hey guys, while it isn’t a condition for salvation, I really want you to go to synagogue learn Torah.”

While it is clear that the new believing communities sprouting up in Gentile nations were aware of the Jewish roots of the faith (1 Cor. 5:7), where does Paul or any other New Testament writer encourage Gentile believers to live as Jews or embrace a Hebraic lifestyle? In the words of Dr. Daniel C. Juster, a pioneer in the Messianic movement and renown theologian:

It is most telling that in all the epistles to congregations there is not a single word commanding Gentiles to adopt the whole Torah, and no direct statement of hope that they will eventually adopt a fully Torah keeping life in the same way as the Jews. There is no word of such an exhortation or even mild encouragement throughout the whole book of Acts, which is written in part to show the relationship of Jewish-Gentile fellowship!

WHY THEN ARE JEWISH BELIEVERS COMMANDED TO KEEP THE TORAH

Good question. First of all, let me repeat it, no one will be saved through works of the law—Jew or Gentile. However Jews are called to live as Jews as a matter of eternal calling (not to obtain eternal salvation). I can eat a lobster tail today and it will not affect my salvation, but I would not be staying true to my calling as a Jew. In the Acts revival the new Jewish believers were portrayed as being “Zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20). And this was a good thing!

However, while Gentiles are certainly free to keep the Torah, it is not their calling. Gentile believers should not be made to feel guilty for not worshiping on Saturday or keeping kosher. They certainly can, but they are not compelled. Ronin Parry says it well: “Gentiles were granted the status of full membership of the end-time community of God’s people without having to convert to Judaism.

One of the greatest examples of this in the New Covenant can be seen in the lives of Titus and Timothy. After coming to faith Timothy, who was Jewish through his mother, was circumcised. Whereas Titus, a Greek, was not. “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised” (Gal. 2:3). In fact, Paul circumcises Timothy just before going on a journey to tell the Gentiles that they are not compelled to keep the whole Torah. “As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.” (Acts 16:4).

Imagine locking yourself in a room having never read the New Covenant. Then, without commentary from me or anyone else, you read the New Covenant. I am confident that you would come away with these two New Covenant truths:

1. Of course Jews who find the Jewish Messiah are still Jews.

2. Gentiles believers become one with Israel, but are not required to live as Jews.

Click here for Part 2

Photo Credit: Lawrie Cate

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In 2009 in a hotel room in Lagos, Nigeria I had a revelation. I was on my way home to Tel Aviv from a mass outreach campaign.  I had the rare privilege of being able to attend as an observer, Reinhard Bonnke’s team ministering in Mubi, Nigeria  I wasn’t even sure why I had gone, but I knew the Lord had led me on this journey. On the last day one of the local leaders invited me to return and hold a mass outreach campaign.  I was initially excited, but sitting in my hotel room, I had no peace.

Confused, I asked the Lord, “I have been praying about Africa for a year and now a great door has opened…why don’t I have peace?”  Immediately he put in my spirit, “Ron, if you come back here by yourself, you will be a blessing to Nigeria, but it won’t touch Israel.  However, if you come back with a team of Israelis and let them minister, it will not only bless Nigeria, but Israel as well.”

From that word we birthed The Isaiah 2 Initiative.  Isaiah speaks of the word going forth from Zion to the nations.  Maoz was involved from the very beginning.  We gathered a team of on-fire Israelis, and made two trips to Nigeria, reaching tens of thousands with the Gospel, and one trip to Ukraine, where several hundred Jews professed faith in Yeshua.

AMERICA TOO?

However, when Ari and Shira asked me to lead a team of Israelis to America, I didn’t initially see it as part of the Isaiah 2 Initiative.  I guess because I am a native of the U.S. and in light of the prosperity in America, I was blinded to the fact that God speaks of the gospel going forth from Israel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) —including America!

The Band from the Land, made up of worshippers from six different Israeli congregations, leading worship during Israel Night

The Band from the Land, made up of worshippers from six different Israeli congregations, leading worship during Israel Night

There is a special anointing on Israeli evangelists and worship teams when they go forth from Zion equipped with the message of Yeshua.  The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) has been holding the Messiah Conference for 40 years.  Last summer, we partnered with them to bring 40 Israelis to the conference.  The goals were clear:

•    Allow Israeli believers to meet Jewish believers from other nations.

•    Allow Messianic Jews and Christians from the U.S. to experience Israeli Messianic life through these young people.

•    Use this time to mentor young Israelis into leadership.  (We can already see fruit from this!!!)

So blessed was the MJAA leadership by our participation and the opportunity for American Messianic Jews and Christians to meet Israeli believers, that they invited us to return again this summer.

While we knew it would be a challenge to raise the funds, we felt this was part of our calling—not only to reach Israel, but the nations from Israel! And praise God—this year’s impact was even more powerful.

ISRAEL NIGHT

The third day of the conference was Israel Night, a night focused on what God is doing in the Holy Land.  Our worship team led in worship and then I shared a message called, The First Messianics.

The anointing was palpable, and I noticed the incredible spiritual energy in the auditorium.  As I blew the shofar at the end, I asked them to shout to the Lord, as in the days of Joshua.  As they did, The Holy Spirit fell and many were healed and set free.  Then, at least two thirds of the 1,300 people gathered came forward for prayer.

Many shared with our team members how the Lord touched them that evening.  You can watch the entire evening’s ministry including The Band from the Land here.

Shouting as in the Days of Joshua after Ron blew the shofar during Israel Night

Shouting as in the Days of Joshua after Ron blew the shofar during Israel Night

To be clear, this great move of God had little to do with me or our team, but God’s desire to highlight HIS work in Israel.  We were just so honored to be His vehicles!

Our worship team, The Band from the Land, was so well received that they were asked to minister again on Friday night—something that rarely happens.

As a bonus, we did our weekly podcast live from the Cultural Center.  We started with about five people and ended up, after 45 minutes, with a full house.  We took questions from the audience on life in Israel.  It was lots of fun!

Pray with us as we continue to take teams of young Israeli worship leaders and evangelists to carry God’s word from Zion to the nations—even America!

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Date: Sunday, July 21, 2013
Time: 8:30 AM and 11:00 AM
Event: Immanuel’s Church with Charles and Dottie Schmidt
Topic: Identity Theft
Sponsor: Immanuel’s Church
Venue: Immanuel’s Church
Location: 16819 New Hampshire Ave, Silver Spring, MD 20905
Public: Open to public
More Info: https://www.facebook.com/immanuelschurch 
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[note: I met Michel a year ago. Without telling his story, I was so bless to find out that my book, written primarily for Gentile believers, was the final straw that brought him to faith. I asked him to write his story. You will be blessed.]

y name is Michel Gutman. I’m 47, born and raised a Jew (both parents Jewish) in Great Neck, NY. My mother is Israeli, from Hod Hasharon in central Israel. She moved back to Israel 25 years ago after my parents split, and she currently resides in Tel Aviv. I spent every summer of my childhood at my grandparent’s house in Hod Hasharon, and I speak fluent Hebrew. There is one thing that I have always known – I was born a Jew, and I will die a Jew.

Because my mother is Israeli, I have always had dual citizenship – an American passport as well as an Israeli one. In 2009, I moved to Israel, where I lived for several months, before coming back to the US. The time just wasn’t right. I moved to Arkansas, but I believe I will eventually come back “home” to Israel. Continue Reading…

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Read Chapters one and two FREE of Ron’s book Identity Theft here.

 

 

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