Now we are going to talk about believers in Yeshua. In Acts 18.18, we learn that Paul had his haircut because he was coming out of a Nazarite Vow (Num 6.1-9). In Acts 21.15-26, we learn that Paul offered animal sacrifices in conjunction with coming out of this Nazarite Vow. To show he was a Torah observant believer, he paid for the offerings of four other Messianic believers who were coming out of a Nazarite Vow (21.23-26). The “elders” mentioned in these verses were not the Sanhedrin in those days, but they were the elders of the Messianic Community. They were the writers of the Gospels and Epistles in most cases.
We also see that there were “thousands” (myriads in Greek, and it equals at least 20,000) who believe in Yeshua and were zealous for the Torah. There was a rumor going around that Paul was teaching the Jews among the Gentiles to forsake Moses (Torah), telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs (halakah). In reality, he was teaching that non-Jews did not need to be circumcised according to the halakah set up by the 18 Edicts of the School of Shammai in 20 B.C, and he also disagreed with other oral traditions.
The “customs” were a part of Jewish Law, and there were five levels to Jewish Law. The first level was the written Torah itself. Then came something that was implied in the Torah. Third, there were laws found elsewhere in Scripture. Then came Rabbinic Decrees, and last came the customs. This was the lowest level, and communities had different customs. Paul was going to pay the expenses of four other Messianic believers who were coming out of a Nazarite Vow. in order to show anyone that there was nothing to the rumor about Paul, and that Paul himself walked “orderly, keeping the Torah.” All five levels are implied in this statement (21.24). This is 28 years after Yeshua was resurrected. We see here that believers in Yeshua continued to keep the Torah, and went to the Temple to offer animal sacrifices. This totally refutes what is being taught in churches today.
Acts 10 is set after a number of years after the resurrection and Peter has never eaten anything common or unclean. That means Peter kept the kosher laws after he became a believer. If Yeshua came to do away with the Torah (LAw), why is Peter, Paul and the Messianic community still following the Torah? Were they disobeying the Lord by continuing their Torah observance? Didn’t Yeshua tell them that after his death they were “free from the Law?” Yeshua had 40 days after his resurrection to tell Peter and the talmidim that. Why is Paul offering animal sacrifices in the Temple nearly 30 years after Yeshua? In addition, he was encouraged to do so by James the Nasi (President/spokesman) and the elders, some of whom wrote the Gospels and Epistles!
James says there were tens of thousands of believers who kept the Torah. Why didn’t the leaders of the Messianic Community, like the writers of the Gospels and Epistles (Peter, James John, etc) tell them they were “free from the Law?” Paul, like Yeshua, probably disagreed with some of the traditions in the oral law, in addition to the 18 Edicts of the School of Shammai. This was seen as “forsaking” the others by some people and embellished by Paul’s enemies, like in Acts 21.27-40. His enemies accused him of bringing a non-Jew into the Temple, which of course did not happen. Yeshua and Paul did not follow every oral law of the Jewish people. They took issue with some of it (Mark 7.1-23). Now, let’s talk about the so-called Oral Law.
There are hints in the Torah that there was no such thing as a divinely inspired Oral Law (Deut 4.2; Exo 24.2-12; Josh 1.8; Heb 9.19). Deut 17.14-20 says that a copy of the written law (Torah) was to be used, not an oral one (Deut 32.46-47, 17.9, 27.2-8, 28.58, 31.9-12, 24-26). Hezekiah found the written Torah, not an oral one. If there was an authoritative oral tradition in Josiah’s time, there is no indication of it. It was the written law that God used to work spiritual renewal (2 Chr 34.14-30; 2 Kings 22.8 to 23.3). Joshua 8.31-35 says, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua did not read before the assembly of Israel, with the women and the little ones and the stranger who was living among them” (v 35).
Ezra read the Torah in Neh 8.1-18. All that Moses commanded (words) was written on stones on Mount Ebal (Deut 27.3) Josh 23.6-8 says to “keep and do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses.” If there was an Oral Law, why didn’t the Lord tell Joshua to cling to that also in verse 8? The bottom line is this. We don’t need experts in the Oral Law to explain the written Torah. The written word is clear. Each generation was to follow the written Torah as God led them, not with established, fixed interpretations called the Oral Law (Deut 30.11-14, 31.9-13; Rom 10.6-8; Deut 4.1-2; Rev 22.18). That doesn’t mean that we cannot follow an oral law, but it cannot invalidate or go against a written command in the Scriptures. We are not to blindly follow rabbinic teachings, or follow them if they contradict the Scriptures, even for the sake of unity. We are not to pursue unity at the expense of truth. The oral law has some valuable information that we can use to help our understanding of the Scriptures, or to see how certain things were done in the Temple and elsewhere. All of that is good, but that doesn’t mean it has any authority over us as a divinely inspired law given by God.
Now, this would also apply to the non-Jews. They should follow the written Torah as it applies to non-Jews. Judaizing is not teaching the Torah to non-Jews. There are many today who say that if you teach that the Torah applies to a non-Jew, like the Sabbath, or anything Jewish for that matter, to a non-Jew, you are guilty of “Judaizing.” This is a total misunderstanding of what the biblical definition is. Judaizing is telling the non-Jews that they need to become Jews in order to be saved. That was the number one issue in the First Century, as seen in Acts 15.1-35 and the Book of Galatians. You cannot gain righteousness with God by doing anything. Righteousness comes by faith, and it is the gift of God. Once you are saved, then you follow the Torah as it applies to you, as a way of life. This pleases the Lord because we walk out the ways of God.
Rabbinic teaching will tell you that the Sanhedrin was established in the wilderness and it continued till the Fifth Century A.D. This cannot be proved and seems to be an attempt to show a legal continuity through the ages. That is not to say that there were no courts, judges and legal networks in place, but to “prove” that there was a Sanhedrin all that time is a stretch.
In Part 21, we will go back to the journey to Sinai after the crossing of the sea in the peshat level (literal, then bring out what this teaches us in the sowd (hidden) level.