History confirms that Torah observance was normal among the believers in the first century, and it was not done on a part-time basis. 1 Cor 9.20 (“to the Jews I became like a Jew”) does not mean that Paul was a hypocrite, acting like a Jew with Jews and like a Gentile with Gentiles. Paul did not approve of that type of hypocrisy in others (Gal 2.11-14). Paul was in the company of Jews most of the time, and all this means is that he identified with whoever he was with. It would have been deceitful for Paul to give the impression he was Torah observant when he really wasn’t (Acts 21.24). Many could say, like Paul in Acts 23.1, that they live before the Lord in good conscience, but then he goes on to say that he was a Pharisee (“I am” in Acts 23.6). There was enough evidence to show that Paul’s claim of being a Pharisee was valid because his statement is never challenged (Acts 23.9). His enemies were allied against him and wanted to get rid of him, which makes this a vindication of Paul even more significant because they did not disagree with his statement that he was a Pharisee (Acts 24.14, 25.7-8; 2 Tim 1.3).
Paul goes on to say “our religion” not “their religion” in Acts 26.4-5, and through his actions in both words and deeds, Paul repeatedly led people to believe he was living according to the Torah (Acts 28.17). He taught the non-Jews to follow his life and his actions (Phil 3.17, 4.9; 1 Cor 4.16-17; 1 Thes 1.5-7; 1 Cor 11.1-2; 2 Thes 3.6-9). He set himself up as an example and he wanted others to be like him (Acts 26.8). By his own lifestyle and by his teaching the non-Jews to follow him, he was teaching them to follow the Torah.
Paul affirmed the whole Torah (1 Tim 1.8; Rom 2.13, 3.29-31, 7.12, 7.14, 7.22; 1 Cor 7.19). There never was a distinction between the “moral” and “ceremonial” law. Those terms are never used anywhere in Scripture. The whole Torah was one set of instructions. Paul used the Torah as a textbook for instructing all believers (Acts 17.11, 17.2-4; 1 Tim 4.13; 2 Tim 3.15-16; Rom 15.4). There was no “New Testament.” He did not teach that any part of the Torah was “done away with” (2 Tim 3.15-16; Acts 26.22-23). The New Testament contains examples where Paul instructed the non-Jews to follow specific laws in the Torah (Acts 15.23-29). He taught non-Jews to obey the elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15.29). The four standards mentioned in Acts 15.29 are not just four standards, but they have whole chapters in the Torah that went along with them. They were to learn these things while attending the synagogue where Moses (Torah) was taught (Acts 15.21).
The “yoke” Peter talks about in Acts 15 is not the Torah because the people were zealous for the Torah (Acts 21.20). The Torah was a delight (Psa 119). The Torah maintained unity on the congregations (“kehilat”). Paul used the festival of Passover to teach important spiritual concepts (1 Cor 5.6-8). In 2 Cor 6.16 through 7.1 they had to have learned what contaminates the body and spirit and how to purify themselves, and that can be found only in the Torah. Paul taught the non-Jews that they were united with Jewish believers as fellow citizens of the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2.11-19, 3.6; Col 3.11-12). Paul uses Jer 11.16 as a metaphor of the olive tree to explain how the non-Jews were grafted in (Rom 11.17-18,24). People who believe the Torah is only for Jews have failed to realize that Paul said that believers cannot separate from the Jews without pruning themselves from the olive tree (Rom 10.12; Gal 3.28-29). The Thessalonians used the Jewish synagogue as a model (1 Thes 2.14). In the New Covenant, God writes the Torah on the heart (Jer 31.33 and quoted in Heb 8.6-13). Circumcision of the heart is found in the Tanak and is an idiom for being “born again” (Deut 30.6, 10.16; Jer 4.4, 9.26; Ezek 44.7-9). Jews are not superior to non-Jews by pedigree, knowledge or circumcision.
Yeshua taught that the Torah would not be changed until the earth had passed away (Matt 5.17-19). Yeshua did not give his talmidim (disciples) a separate curriculum for non-Jews (Matt 28.19-20). Paul does not specifically exempt the non-Jews from the Torah, but they were to obey what applied to them. Paul, nor any writer of the Gospels and Epistles, comes out and says that believers were not to follow the Torah. Instead of a clear word from the Lord, most teachers just assume that the Torah has been done away with, and that assumption is used as a foundation for their interpretations of the Gospels and Epistles. It does say we are not “under the Law” but that means we are not under a system of works righteousness based on the Torah (Greek “upo nomou”). It also means we are not “under arrest” like we were before we became believers because we have been set free from the condemnation found in the Torah for being sinners. So, before we became believers, the Torah held us “under arrest and indictment.” That is what is being referred to here. This is part of the dual nature of the Torah. When we lay aside preconceived assumptions and re-examine those passages in the context of Paul’s Torah observant life, the evidence is clear that he was not only a Torah observant Jewish man, but he was a Pharisee from the School of Hillel. He also taught the Torah as it applied to his people.
Let’s look at some passages to see what Paul was really saying. If you are led of the Spirit, you are not under the law simply means that you are no longer “under arrest” or “indictment” or the penalty of the Torah (death). Being led by the Spirit is closely linked with the Torah (Ezek 36.26-27). He also said not to let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a festival, new moon or Sabbath (Col 2.16-17). Those causing trouble there were those teaching “deceptive philosophies” and “human traditions” according to the elementary principles of the world, in contrast to the the Sabbath, festivals and dietary laws. They had come out of all those man-made traditions and so they were not to let anyone judge them for following the truth in the Torah, given by God. If the false messiah is called the “man of lawlessness” which means “without the Torah” how can people think they can be without the Torah?
He also says in Gal 5.2 that if you allow yourselves to be circumcised, Messiah is of no value to you. This relates to the 18 Edicts of the School of Shammai that said a non-Jew must be ritually circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15.1) Paul said that the Galatians or any non-Jew did not heave to obey this man-made rule because a person cannot do anything to gain merit with God. Salvation comes by the grace of God, through faith, not by anything a person can or can’t do. Circumcision is of great value in (Rom 3.1-2) and he is talking about the Abrahamic circumcision found in the Torah, Gen 17.
Rom 10.4 says that “Messiah is the end of the law” and that is a terrible translation. The word “end” should be “goal” or “target” of the Law, or instruction, which is what Torah means. It also means guidance and teaching. So, the Messiah is the target/goal of what the teaching is all about (Psa 40.7; John 5.39-47), and that makes a world of difference. Paul himself believed everything that agreed with the Torah and the prophets (Acts 24.14). Translators chose to translate the word in the Greek “telos” as “end” because it gave the reader the impression that the Torah was done away with and is no longer a reliable thing to follow or “guide” us. That idea agree’s with the religious traditions of Replacement Theology Christian translators, but it disagrees with passages in the Torah and the Prophets, and also what Paul believed and followed himself, as we have seen. By choosing “end” the translators have not only made Paul contradict himself and what he believed, but they have also led people to think that that Torah has been abolished, even though Yeshua explicitly said otherwise.
Peter warned that in his day, Paul’s writings were hard to understand and were already being distorted (2 Pet 3.15-18). Since people have been twisting the meaning of Paul’s writings, how can we tell whether a passage has been misinterpreted? We can use the same test the Berean’s used in Acts 17.10-11. Paul’s true teachings will still agree with the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings, or the Tanak.
In Part 1 of our next study, we will begin to look at the real Paul and then see what some in Judaism and Christianity say about him.