First, understand what “Torah” is. It is a Jewish book. In the purest sense, it is the first five books of the Bible. There are many terms that refer to this section of scripture, but Torah is the most common, or “law” in the English mind. “Torah”, however, does not mean “law”, but ‘teaching’. The thought behind it is “pointing the way”. We fix it in our western minds as a “legalistic” document, and that is not what it is. MAN makes it into a tool to wield over other men legalistically. But Yeshua reiterated “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (alluding to law), and chided the Pharisees for their legalistic, domineering approach to Torah; but, at the same time, telling us “Listen to the Pharisees, for they sit in Moses’ seat”. The Torah is the Mark of Perfection to which Sha’ul [Apostle Paul] tells us all to aspire!
Even Gentiles? YES! Let’s look to the scriptures where Gentiles first started coming to the Messiah and see what they were taught:
Here, Sha’ul (Paul) and Barnabas proclaim the Word of אלהים [Elohim] (the Torah under the light of Messiah) in the JEWISH SYNAGOGUES. Is this important? YES, because there were gentiles who worshiped יהוה with the Jews in the Jewish Synagogues. Many of them were already keeping “Torah”. In verse 16 of this chapter, look what Sha’ul says: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship אלהים ”…he explains a brief history of Israel and the Messianic line of David, then says “Brothers, children of Abraham and you אלהים – Fearing Gentiles…it is to us that this message of Salvation has been sent”. As they left the synagogue, the people invited them to speak again ON THE NEXT SABBATH (verse 42). And they did. Many of the Jews rejected their message, but some Jews and Gentiles received it, on the Sabbath, in the synagogue.
They went to another synagogue. They spoke to Jews and Gentiles, and many of both Jews and Gentiles believed.
Here, some of the Jews, who we learn in Galatians were false brothers, came down from Judea (not Jerusalem) and began to teach those in Antioch that they must be circumcised OR THEY CANNOT BE SAVED. Those last five words are VERY important to this discussion. They were teaching JUSTIFICATION (righteousness, legal acceptance by אלהים ) through obedience to a single command: circumcision. They were NOT teaching what Sha’ul and Barnaba taught. This became a point of contention, and there was the first “ecumenical” (worldwide) council of the Body of Messiah as a result, and it was to settle the matter of how to handle the new Gentile converts to Messianic Judaism. This took place in Jerusalem, where Ya’akov/Jacob (James) the brother of the Messiah Yeshua, was the leader of the Body of Messiah.
Peter explains the only sign of אלהים that is necessary for ANYONE to be justified in Messiah before אלהים and before the Body here on earth: the Ruakh HaKodesh (Holy Spirit)! NOT circumcision. Circumcision is the SIGN, the outward physical sign that one is a JEW. The question here became salvation, and some Pharisees who had accepted the Messiah demanded that all the Gentiles become Jews, and show it by observing the law of circumcision as the final sign they had ‘converted’ to Judaism. And their claim was that if they didn’t do this, they were not saved. This matter had to be settled quickly. Sha’ul spoke and explained the miracles that had been done among the Gentiles in the previous two chapters, and how sign of the Ruakh had been given to them, much like it had been given to Cornelius through Peter in Acts 10, the first Gentile conversion.
Ya’akov stands up and proclaims that it had been prophesied that the Tabernacle of David would be REBUILT, and he equated that to the Body of Messiah (the congregation) which included the Gentiles (Eph 4). The thing to understand is that declaring it the “Tabernacle of David” is his retention of the Jewishness of the faith of Messiah. Look at what he says after quoting THE OLD TESTAMENT: “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles WHO ARE TURNING TO אלהים ”, and then he lays a certain portion of Torah on them! “Abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, and from strangled meat (raw meat), and from blood”. These are portions of kosher law! These mitzvot are derived from Torah, and NOTHING ELSE. It is important to note that Gentiles were ALREADY worshiping Elohim through Messiah on Shabbat! Sabbath is the first of the festivals listed in Leviticus 23. Since it was known as a festival, it is likely that these Gentiles also observed the other festivals that were celebrated in the Synagogues; we’re told in Corinthians that they celebrated Passover; and in Corinthians and Ephesians, Sha’ul quotes some festival language to make some of his points.
Then, Ya’akov (James) makes a key statement: “for Moshe has been preached in EVERY city from the earliest times and is read IN THE SYNAGOGUE on EVERY SABBATH”.
This statement CLOSES his argument! What for? What’s the point? Do we overlook it? [yes] We shouldn’t! Ya’akov’s point in this is that the Gentiles would hear the Torah during worship, and the Ruakh HaKodesh would cause them to turn to the rest of the Torah, in His time; but he, Ya’akov (James), the leader of the Body, set down the MINIMUM requirements for their acceptance as SAVED, so that they could worship the Messiah IN THE SYNAGOGUE! The minimum outward sign of their conversion beyond the inward gift of the Ruakh was obedience to some of the basic laws of Torah. This is required to keep from offending the Jewish brothers at a common meal, and to keep from shaming the brethren and Messiah with lurid sexual behavior. Outward holiness is required in every congregation; but this was all that was required of Gentiles in order to continue in Synagogue worship. The key thing to understand is that Ya’akov was pointing out that Moshe [the law, known as the books of Moses] was already being preached, and would CONTINUE being preached. The Gentiles would be guided by the Ruakh into further obedience, without making it too difficult for them by dumping the whole Torah, on them, or other customs, especially circumcision as a sign of conversion.
Another key verse to look at in this matter is that they wrote the letter to the Gentile believers and stated “some went out from us WITHOUT OUR AUTHORIZATION…” Those who preached to the Gentiles that they weren’t SAVED unless they were circumcised were not sent by the leaders. They had taken it upon themselves to spread that message. In Galatians, Paul explained that Peter, John, and James had accepted him BASED ON HIS TESTIMONY ALONE, the Presence of the Ruakh they clearly saw, and gave him the “right hand of fellowship”. THAT is the foundation of accepting one as saved, and nothing else. THAT is the point of the first council at Jerusalem. They did NOT tell them not to keep the Torah: they told them the minimum portion of it to keep, and then explained to the Judaizers that Moshe/Torah was STILL being taught, giving the Gentiles space to learn it.
Don’t believe it? LOOK IN THE NEXT CHAPTER!
Sha’ul wanted to take young Timothy with him from Lystra on his next mission, but HE CIRCUMCISED HIM FIRST! He did this because of the Jews, meaning their comfort and concern was just as important as that of the Gentiles! Timothy was half Jewish on his paternal side, but the Jews who were in that area with SHA’UL (Gr. Name: Paul), who WAS A JEW TOO, wanted Timothy circumcised, but NOT for proof of salvation! Timothy didn’t balk, as they “spoke well of him”, likely meaning he was progressing in the faith. He was mature enough to be circumcised without placing his trust in THAT for salvation. Understand, though, that if Sha’ul were against circumcising the uncircumcised altogether, he would NOT have circumcised Timothy!
Sha’ul preached for three Sabbaths in the synagogue in Thessalonica. He preached from Scriptures (Old Testament, including Torah). It’s important to understand synagogue worship a bit. In the synagogue, we read from the Torah, and the Writings, and the Prophets on every Shabbat. Sha’ul was preaching from JEWISH scrolls kept only at the synagogue, as they were too expensive for most to have personal copies of them. The synagogue was the place where the scriptures were kept and studied DAILY (Acts 17:11) , and especially on Shabbat. The message of Ya’akov in chapter 15, therefore, is that Moshe would continue to be declared on the Sabbath, and the new Gentile converts would have plenty of time to learn to live their new life in Messiah.
Verse 11 shows Paul in another synagogue. Verse 17 shows him in yet another in Athens.
Next, he’s in Corinth, reasoning with Jews and gentiles in the synagogue on EVERY SHABBAT. Reasoning over what? What scriptures did he expound? What was he teaching them? He was teaching Messiah from the OLD TESTAMENT. At this point, the gospels we know, and the letters that came long after this, had not even been written! The gospel was preached from the Torah! (We challenge you to try and do that! Preach the Messiah WITHOUT your New Testament!) And Gentiles, who already feared יהוה) אלהים) were accepting the message, AS WERE SOME JEWS! NOT ALL JEWS REJECTED THE GOSPEL.
Look in verse 18
Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off because of a vow he had taken! Do you know what this is? It is a JEWISH CUSTOM straight out of the Torah, a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:2-21). Sha’ul was still honoring the Torah. If he were telling Gentiles to ABANDON the law, don’t you think he would have already abandoned it too?
This is NOT the only time AFTER his conversion that Sha’ul did this Nazarite vow, either.
Look in verse 20.
“You see, brother, how many Jews have believed, and ALL of them are ZEALOUS FOR THE TORAH. They have been informed [wrongly] that you teach all the JEWS who live among the Gentiles to TURN AWAY FROM MOSES [the Torah], telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.” The Jewish leaders instruct Sha’ul to take ANOTHER NAZARITE VOW with four men who were about to do so, in order to PROVE that HE WAS FAITHFUL TO THE TORAH [Verse 24]. Note that they did not question his loyalty to the Torah. Verse 26 tells us that not only did he shave his head, but he went the duration of the vow and made the sacrifice that went with the vow, in the temple! [verse 27]
When on trial, Sha’ul makes sure they understand he’s living by Torah: “I have fulfilled my duty to אלהים in all good conscience to this day”… “I did not realize he was the high priest; for it is written [where? EXODUS 22:28] “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people”.
So, if “Paul”, the apostle to the Gentiles [Acts 22:21] was living the law, was he teaching Gentiles to break it? NO! He continued to live it, and he taught it to the Gentiles. In Ephesus, he rented the hall of Tyranus to teach them what? The New Testament? NO! Not one scrap of it had been written yet! He taught them Torah! 1 Corinthians 11 tells us so! ( I’m quite sure his teachings in Corinth were consistent with what he taught at Ephesus ) In verses 1 and 2 he says “Follow me even as I follow Messiah, and keep the traditions that I delivered to you”. Doesn’t look like much in the English, but the Greek word here for traditions is “paradosis”, and refers only to JEWISH CUSTOMS. He states matter-of-factly that “You keep the feasts” to the Corinthians, and tells them they keep the Passover, and that Messiah is our Passover Lamb. These are NOT the words of someone who is “against” the Torah. And when he tells us that he taught the Corinthians to keep the traditions, he was speaking to GENTILES. We have multiple scriptural witnesses that they worshiped the יהוה אלהים of the JEWS through Messiah Yeshua, and they did so on Shabbat. Not one shred of evidence, biblical or otherwise, tells us they abandoned the law or Shabbat. What, then, ought Gentiles of today do? Follow the example of Sha’ul, who followed Messiah: both of them were Torah-keeping Jews.
See our section on “Holy” Living.
We have the Torah in our hearts, and we know, deep down, that when we sin it is the “law of אלהים ” that we are breaking. We worry and worry about breaking the “negative” commands, when we don’t put any effort whatever into the simple positive ones that are so easy to keep! So, we’ve no real power to adhere to the negative commands. This is the “law of sin” from which we are supposed to be free! Gentile believers are behooved of the Spirit to emulate the Messiah, who was THE Torah keeper, and emulate the Apostles. Acts 2 says that the early believers devoted themselves TO THE APOSTLES teachings; it is clear that they taught what we call the Old Testament. This is an unfortunate appellation. It is the Tanak (or Tanakh). Tanak is a three Hebrew letters acronym for Torah, Neviim, and K’tuvim, which is “Teachings, Prophets, and Writings”, which are the three major divisions of the Hebrew scriptures (writings are the psalms, proverbs, ecll, Solomon, Ruth, etc. poetic books). If we call it “Old”, it implies to us “dead”, “useless”, “inapplicable”, which are simply erroneous thoughts on the Word of the אלהים יהוה. Gentiles are required as much as Jews to “rightly divide the Word of Truth”; bear in mind, that when that phrase was written, the “Old Testament” was all that was available to understand! And that command went to Gentiles!
The law is NOT a curse: it contains curses, and if we obey the Messiah in faith, we are set free from the curse of the law. If you ‘throw it out’ and call it obsolete, you’re also set free from the blessings of it! These spiritual blessings free you from the law of sin, the impetus to disobey האלהים [The Elohim].
“For I delight in the Torah בְּתוֹרַת הָאֱלֹהִים [of Elohim] after the inward man [ Law]….” Romans 7:22