To properly understand the subject of this teaching, we need to go to Acts 10 and look at the story of Peter and the Roman centurion Cornelius. The synagogues at that time were full of what was called “the God-fearers” or in Hebrew “Yiray ha Shamayim” or “fearers of Heaven.” In Greek they were called “Phoubemenoi” or “Sebemenoi” (“worshipper”). In Acts 10.2 we learn that Cornelius “feared God” or was a “God-fearer” and in Greek the word “phoubemenos” is used. These non-Jewish God-fearers weren’t members of the synagogues, but they believed in the God of Israel and followed the Jewish halachah as far as they wanted to go and attended the synagogues.
Right before Yeshua was born, a man named Hillel was president (Nasi) of the Great Sanhedrin. The Vice-President (Av Beit Din) was a man named Shammai. These two men were the head of two very prominent schools, the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. These two were over the Sanhedrin, but the Sanhedrin was made up of mostly Sadducee’s, not Pharisee’s like Hillel and Shammai. A descendant of Hillel was usually the Nasi of the Sanhedrin. The two “houses” or “schools” called Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai were Pharisee’s, but not all Pharisee’s are the same. This is a crucial point when trying to understand the New Testament. There are classic arguments between the House of Hillel and Shammai. For instance, Hillel said you could heal on the Sabbath and carry a pallet, but the House of Shammai said no. So, obviously it was someone from Beit Shammai arguing with Yeshua after he healed the paralytic and Yeshua told him to carry his pallet and go home (John 5.1-47). But that doesn’t mean Yeshua was against all the Pharisee’s everywhere. They were engaging in some of the classic halachic arguments that are discussed in the Talmud and other Jewish writings between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai.
Beit Shammai passed what was called the 18 Edicts. These edicts restricted contact between Jews and non-Jews. We do not have a copy of these edicts because between 55 and 70 AD the Pharisee’s from Beit Hillel gained control of the Sanhedrin, but some are referenced in the Mishnah. The Sanhedrin ruled that these laws from Beit Shammai were not faithful to the Torah and were disregarded. However, they were in existence during the time of Yeshua and up to 55 AD to 70 AD, when the New Testament books were written. That means in Acts 10, these laws were being applied in Jewish life. Some edicts said that Jews could not go into the home of a non-Jew, do business with a non-Jew and even eat with a non-Jew, even if the non-Jew was a God-fearer and followed what commandments applied to him.
In Acts 10.23-28, the Ruach ha Kodesh has fallen on Cornelius and he is saved. But, he isn’t circumcised, which is another way of saying he isn’t Jewish. In Acts 11.1-3 believers accused Peter of going to uncircumcised men and even eating with them. Peter says to them that it was indeed “unlawful” (according to the 18 Edicts) to be associated with these non-Jews or to even visit them, but the Lord told him to go and has even shown him something different. The sheet and animals in Peter’s vision dealt with people and the 18 Edicts of the School of Shammai. In Acts 10.34-35 it says, “I most certainly know now that God is not one to show partiality but in every nation, the man who fears him (the God-fearers) and does what is right (walks in the Torah) is welcome to him.” James 2.17 says that “faith without works is dead.” The Hebrew word for “works” is “mitzva’ot” which is another name for the commandments. Faith and commandments are not separate, but they go hand in hand. However, we are not saved by works. God gives us faith, it is a free gift, and God gives us a way to walk (the commandments, the mitzva’ot).
Beit Shammai said that a God-fearer/non-Jew cannot be saved or enter the Kingdom of God unless they became a Jew through ritual circumcision. Beit Hillel said that non-Jews could enter the Kingdom of God (be saved) and become a righteous Gentile. Today, we have basically the same thing going on. People will say if you are a non-Jew you don’t need to keep the commandments, or that you should just keep the “moral” laws. The Torah was never divided up into moral or ritual laws. It was seen as one. But, that is how some get around it. We have returned right back to Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. But, the story of Cornelius changed all that. He entered the Kingdom of God and he wasn’t Jewish, but he followed the commandments as they applied to him and continued to do so, as did the Jewish believers.
Non-Jews began to be active in synagogues. People will quote Galatians 3.26-29 and say “See, there is no Jew or Greek anymore. All that has been done away with.” But it also says there is no male or female, and we know there is a difference. Did people stop being male or female when they became a believer? The answer is “No.” It is not saying that. It means a Jew is not higher than a non-Jew, a male is not higher than a female, a master is not higher than a slave in the Kingdom of God. They have the same status but different roles. In Acts 11.3 we read that Peter ate with Cornelius, and we know Peter ate kosher (10.14), so that means Cornelius did.
In Acts 21.20, we read about all the Jewish believers who kept the Torah, including kosher. Peter was there in Mark 7.1-23 and he never heard Yeshua say that “all foods are clean” because he continued to eat kosher. However, the statement “all foods are clean” can be looked at several ways. In the context of Mark 7, just because you don’t wash your hands in a ritual manner before you eat doesn’t make the food you eat unclean in a ritual manner. The other alternative to that statement is that Yeshua never said it, and it was added for clarification by a translator because it is written in many Bibles in parenthesis. It was added to give the impression that the kosher laws in the Scriptures were done away with.
The point is, believers with Yeshua and after Yeshua did not eat food that would have made them ritually unclean so that they would not be able to enter into or participate in Temple worship. The level of kosher for Jewish believers was the same for a non-Jewish believer or they could not have eaten together, go to the Temple, keep the festivals there and so on.
Another misunderstood Scripture is Eph 2.11-22, and we are going to look at what Paul is saying in light of the 18 Edicts. In the Temple there was a wall going around the inner courts called the Soreg. The word comes from the word “sarug” which means “a net.” This is because the Soreg had lattice work that looked like a net. The Soreg had some signs on it that warned non-Jews from going beyond that point, or they would be responsible for their own death. This admonition is based on Scripture. Paul was accused of bringing a non-Jew into the inner courts in Acts 21.28. These were false charges, but the wall being referred to in Eph 2.14 is not the Soreg. Some say “the law of commandments” in v 15 is the Torah, but that is not being referred to either, and we can disprove that over and over again. What Paul is referring to is the 18 Edicts of Beit Shammai and other unscriptural, man-made laws that separated the Jew from the non-Jew. Yeshua abolished in his flesh the enmity contained in the Law of commandments, in ordinances, or the 18 Edicts that separated Jew and non-Jew. That’s why it goes on to say he united the two (Jews and non-Jews) into one new man. His death abolished these differences.
These ordinances contained in the 18 Edicts went out in the Body of Believers long before they went out in the “Judaisms” at large. But eventually, the Jews threw them out. Just like in the United States, we threw out laws that were not “constitutional.” In Acts 15, we have this issue come up, and it is referenced again in Acts 21.25. The issue was whether a non-Jew needs to be circumcised (become a Jew) to be saved (Acts 15.1). It was determined in Acts 15 that they did not, however, there were minimal standards that they needed to do in order to have fellowship between the two groups.
In the conclusion, we will pick up in Acts 15 and discuss these minimal standards mentioned in Acts 15.20 and show how these relate to the Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Yeshua.