Should Gentiles Keep Torah?

Ron Cantor —  August 12, 2013 — 5 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 solely through faith in Yeshua 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’ movement. 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.


The very first theological council was over 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 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 liturgical life—how they worshiped—they had to forsake certain pagan practices, such as the drinking blood or lying with temple prostitutes, 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.

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 liturgical) and that they were abominations by 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 liturgical 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)


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’s 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.


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” that 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)

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:

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!


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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  • Al Hoffman

    One unknowingly sees and hears damnable misuse of Scripture all of one’s life, and then to read carefully BrtH’d’Sha makes the realization of the stupid zeal misplaced in hatred. And knowing then, that such ill-deeds are those which shuts ears, and makes a sad head shaking anger.

  • elskid

    I agree with parts of this. Jews would agree that gentiles are not called to live like Jews. While much disputed, the concept of Noahide or Ger is gaining traction in my studies. I am not Jewish (well cant prove it anyway; I don’t believe Jesus so I am some sort of righteous gentile, a position under MUCH discussion and debate.)

    More and more I am seeing Israel as separate like you do. Their “calling” is to be the “light to the nations” as prophesied by Isa 49:6 – I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

    That must happen at some point or else it proves God to be a liar.

    “Salvation WILL come thru Israel” (whatever holy remnant God saves for that moment) or make Yehovah a liar.

    Yehovah says that ten gentiles WILL follow a Jew in Zechariah 8.
    “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”‘

    That, too, must happen or it will make God a liar.

    My disagreement is with the concept that the “new covenant” has been delivered.

    Jer 32:37 talks about bringing back Israel from dispersion. So does Ez 37. In fact in Ez37:19 God Himself tells us that AFTER the regathering, the “two sticks”, identified as the Houses of Israel and Judah will be reconstituted. They will also “dwell in the land” with David as King.

    Jer SAYS the “new covenant” will be delivered TO the House of Israel and Judah. Well they are not HERE yet.

    Also AFTER that covenant is delivered, Jer goes on to say that “no man will need to teach another about God, that ALL men “great and small” will know God.


    neither Israel nor the Houses of Israel and Judah are not back;


    does every man know God.


    is there a king over Israel…

    So I cannot accept that the new covenant is here.

    One other issue, in Ez 37:26, Yehovah tells us that He “will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them”

    Personally, I think this is a reference to the “new covenant” of Jer 31.
    Do you think we will see both a “new covenant” and an “eternal covenant”?
    If so what is the difference?

    Finally, all this is tangled up with the third temple, another reason I don’t think the “new covenant” is here. In Ez 43, Yehovah calls the third temple “the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever.”

    AND goes on to say… “I will dwell in their midst forever.”

    – Israel will be risen up from “dry bones”, regathered, cleansed and put back in the land.
    – Somehow the messiah will over see all this PLUS the building of the Temple.
    – There will be peace on earth, one of the hallmarks of the arrival of the messiah – — The nations will drop the worship of idols, play nice with each other

    and then we all slide into the “world to come”.
    (“we?” well… whomever THAT means)

  • Doug Kolata

    you are completely not understanding acts 15 it was not about biblical circumcism but pharasitical circumcism,, and works of law rather than works of THE law……..

  • Irisha

    The writer says and I quote:

    “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 liturgical) and that they were abominations by which God cast the Canaanites out of the Land. Jacob is merely saying, “Torah backs up this decision.””

    If prohibitions from Idolatry are NOT moral issues, would that mean former Gentiles could go back to eating blood, eating strangled animals and engage in sexual immorality right after they were finished liturgical services?

    Notice, that temple prostitution is not specified. Sexual immorality include many things – incest, bestiality, rape, adultery, pederasty – All of the acts pagans were known to engaged themselves in on the day to day basis.

    Eating blood was prohibited not because of the connection to liturgy, but because blood was given as means to atone for ones soul. Within it is Life.

    Yahudi looked upon Gentiles as unclean and because they were unclean they could not enter synagogues and participate in the service.

    Moreover, in Acts 13:42 we read

    “And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.”

    And It is apparent, Gentiles were in the synagogue when Paul preached to both a yahudi and goy and when Yahudi left, they bagged him to preach to them next Sabbath.

  • shelzahav

    Every time I turn on the tv I am reminded of all those people out there not keeping Torah. In these times, I don’t find it wise or within the realm of common sense to tell anyone it is ok to live outside of Torah, especially when we have a volume of scripture which shows how a Holy G-d has dealt with those in the past who have attempted to do so. Oh dah.