Archive for the 'Apostolic Council' Category

A Scriptural Deduction of the Seven Noachide Laws

by Geert ter Horst

noahide-lawsIn Genesis chapter IX we see that G-d gives several commandments and instructions to Noach and his descendants. The conspicuous examples are the prohibition of “shedding blood” (murder) and eating “flesh with the life thereof”, (often interpreted as the consumption of blood).

Rabbinic Judaism teaches that these commandments and instructions can be summarized in seven rules, called the Seven Noachide Laws. These are considered to be the basic laws for all mankind, in particular the non-Jews. The deduction of these laws and their detailed implications from the scriptural text is viewed as a process guided by the Oral Torah. Acceptance of the Noachide Laws thus logically entails the acceptance of rabbinic authority. As explained by Clorfene and Rogalsky in: The Path of the Righteous Gentile,

The hurdle that must be cleared in preparing for observing the Seven Noachide Commandments is the acceptance of the idea that mankind’s way to the Father is through the Rabbis. Rebellion against the sanctity of rabbinic authority and tradition has been with us since those first days in the Wilderness of Sinai when the followers of Korah led a revolt against absolute rabbinic authority, as we learn in the Torah […] [1]

From this perspective it is impossible to obey the Noachide Laws without obeying their rabbinic interpretation. Obedience to G-d is defined as obedience to the Rabbis. The authors of The Path of the Righteous Gentile are aware of the fact that this creates a particular difficulty for non-Jews:

When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, the people all accepted the Written Torah willingly, but G-d had to lift the mountain over their heads and threaten to drop it on them to persuade them to accept the Oral Torah, that is, the rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. If the Jews had difficulty in accepting the Oral Torah as no less divine than the Scriptures themselves, how much more difficult must it be for the non-Jews. But accept the Rabbis they must, for the source of understanding the Seven Noachide Commandments is found in the Talmud and the later rabbinic teachings, and nowhere else. [2]

It doesn’t need much argument to demonstrate that the approach outlined by Clorfene & Rogalsky is unacceptable for Messianic Jews and their Gentile co-religionists. Messianics cannot uncritically and axiomatically believe in rabbinic authority without damaging their obedience to Yeshua and his Apostles. This is abundantly clear from the fact that Judaism views obervance of the Noachide Laws as the Gentile’s way of earning a place in the World to Come.

By observing G-d’s commandments, a person becomes connected with G-d’s infinite will and wisdom and therby elicits a godly light which shines onto his or her soul. This godly light is eternal, and in it the soul earns eternal reward. By observing the Seven Noachide Commandments, a Gentile fulfils of his creation and receives a share in the World to Come, the blessed spiritual world of the righteous. [3]

For Messianics it is non-negotiable that the way to the Father is essentially through Yeshua and that all other mediatorship can only be of value if it is subservient to and directed to the mediatorship of Yeshua. Messianics cannot but reject the idea that a place in the World to Come can be merited by the observance of the Noachide Laws. And however high a view Messianics may have of Jewish tradition and rabbinic authority, it is simply not possible for them that to affirm that the Oral Torah “has the same inviolability as the Holy Scriptures themselves for the Written Torah and the Oral Torah are two halves of one thing”. [4]

At this point, rabbinic theology goes off-track. By stating that Jews inherit a place in the World to Come by observing the 613 commandment of the Torah and Gentiles by observing the Seven Noachide Laws, this theology betrays its lack of insight in the depth of the problem caused by the entrance of sin. It simply doesn’t see the necessity of a renewal of human nature by being born again by water and the Holy Spirit, prior to any requirement of observance. [5]

From a messianic perspective the Naochide Laws are not meant to provide a way for the Gentile nations to enter the World to Come. They are regulations imposed on mankind for upholding a basic framework of justice in this world. They are thus bound to the order of this world and will remain relevant as long as this world will exist.

The number of these commandments is never given in Scripture, but the rabbinic arrangement of Seven Laws can be easily be detected by considering the context and practical implications of the explicit instructions given in Gen. 9:1-7. The following is an attempt to deduce the Seven Laws from these scriptural instructions.

If the Creator G-d reveals himself and gives laws and instructions, it is obvious that a person should not blaspheme this G-d or turn to other gods, particularly so after the terrible judgment of the flood. So the prohibitions of blasphemy and idolatry are reasonably included in the concept of the one true G-d revealing himself as Creator, Sovereign and Lawgiver.

Normal sexual relations are presupposed by the instruction to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 9:1), which is of course to be interpreted in its historical context of the situation after the flood. We should have in mind here that the corruption of marriage was one of the reasons why the flood came, according to Gen. ch. VI, and thus it should be taken for granted that Noach and his family knew that they had to keep the purity of marriage intact by abstaining from sexual promiscuity.

That a system of law enforcement should be set up is implied by the injunction that the blood of man and beast will be required by G-d, through the hand of man (Gen. 9:5-6). This requirement implies setting up a system of human government.

The interesing prohibition of eating the limb of a living animal may seem a bit peculiar at first, but it follows from the prohibition of consuming blood in Gen. 9:4 and the later Torah legislation for Israel, which permits the stranger to eat that which has died of itself (Dt. 14:21). That which has died of itself inevitably contains blood. This verse thus implies that the non-Israelite may consume blood — although this concession is perhaps limited to this particular case of eating an animal which has died of itself. [6] Because of this permission it is inferred that the prohibition of Gen. 9:4 cannot be a general prohibition of blood but is literally only about “flesh with the life thereof”, i.e. the limb of a living animal.

Finally, the prohibition of theft and robbery is logically contained in Gen 9:2, where the creatures are given into man’s power. This is not a permission for a power struggle of all against all in order to grasp as many possessions as is possible for each individual or family, for this would result in endless bloodshed. It would defy any peaceful system of government to permit man to simply take what is perceived to be already in another man’s possession. So the prohibition of theft is derived from man’s dominion of the lower earthly creatures in combination with the general idea of maintaining a system of law and justice.

The Seven Commandments of B’nei Noach are covered by this analysis. They are divided into six prohibitions and one positive commandment. The positive commandment of establishing a government is a kind of meta-commandment intended to make it possible to enforce and maintain the six prohibitions, which are: (1) blasphemy, (2) idolatry, (3) sexual promiscuity, (4) murder, (5) theft and robbery, (6) eating the limb of a living animal.

As to religious worship, blood sacrifice is permitted under the Noachide Covenant, but it is not strictly required. It is not possible to deduce its obligation, neither exegetically, nor by implication. While the prohibitions of blasphemy and idolatry are direct implications of the true G-d revealing Himself, a positive commandment of sacrificial worship cannot be derived in this manner.

It seems, however, that the majority opinion is that after the introduction of the Torah of Sinai, by which Israel was constituted the priestly nation, the Noachides are no longer permitted to sacrifice. The sacrificial service was now transferred to Israel on behalf of them. For the very reason of Israel’s election is to be a Priestly Kingdom on behalf of all mankind.
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[1] Clorfene & Rogalsky, p. 4. [Chaim Clorfene & Yakov Rogalsky, The Path of the Righteous Gentile. An Introduction to the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah, Targum Press — Southfield, Mich., Jerusalem 1987]

[2] Ibid, p. 5.

[3] Ibid, p. 4.

[4] Ibid, p. 128, n. 6.

[5] Cf. John 3:5.

[6] If this interpretation is correct, the interesting conclusion is that the prohibition against the consumption of blood in Acts ch. XV is not a repetition of a Noachide commandment but the imposition of the later Torah prohibition — and perhaps the requirement of Shechitah — of the Sinai Covenant on Gentile believers.

Roman Catholicism and the Jerusalem Council

The Church and the Apostolic Decree of Acts XV

by Geert ter Horst

 

For Christians today the principle of abstaining “from pollutions of idols”, the first precept of the Apostolic Council of Acts XV (15:20, 29) often sounds antiquated, because in our secular society institutionalized idolatry no longer seems to exist. But in important respects this situation is one of superficial appearance. On second thoughts, large sections of Christianity itself are contaminated by idolatry and superstitition, based on swerving from biblical truth. It may be hard to digest for us that idolatry is found in the people of G-d. There is nothing new in this, however, and it is a problem of all times. As Messianics we should acknowledge this sad state of affairs, and do our best to rectify it by our own walk of life and by thoughtfully and lovingly drawing our fellow believers’ attention to it.

Modern Messianic Judaism to a large extent finds its historical roots in diverse sections of evangelical Christianity. Naturally, therefore, Messianics have inherited many characterics of the mindset of evangelical Christians. Even if Torah observance has brought many changes to their ideas as well as in their practical walk of life, Messianics are often maintaining two typical features of evangelical Christians. These are: 1) An emphasis on the necessity of personal faith in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) for eternal salvation; and 2) A certain disregard for typical traditional denominational distinctions.

These two features are part of a biblical mindset which should be cherised as the right mean between the two dangers of, on the one hand, a denominational small-mindedness excluding true believers, and, on the other hand, an ecumenical latitudinarianism or liberalism compromising the core of the Gospel message.

The introduction of a positive orientation towards the Torah, however, has added some new biblical sensibilities to the messianic mindset. One of the more conspicuous of these is the heightened awareness of the evil nature of idolatry and sins associated with it. Although this awareness is part and parcel of Christianity in general — and of Protestantism in particular — in a messianic context it acquires new practical meaning. This is due, mainly, to the fact that the Apostolic Decree of the Jerusalem Council is given far greater weight and attention in messianic circles than in average Christianity. For non-trinitarian Messianics there is the important additional point that the doctrine of the Deity of Messiah is exposed as false in the light of Scripture.

In our days, when many Church traditions are crumbling and old denominational differences no longer paid attention to, evangelicals often face the question how to approach Catholics, especially Roman Catholics: Are they to be considered Christians? And what practical implications do we face in our intercourse with Catholics? Can we work and worship together with them? These questions are even more topical for Messianics than for evangelical Christians in general, given the vague taint of idolatry that surrounds Catholicism. For Messianics indications of idolatry are especially alarming, as I have said above, and for them the just mentioned questions amount to this critical and very fundamental issue: Are Roman Catholics Christians or are they idolaters? From a messianic viewpoint our answer to this question and its practical ramifications should to a great extent be based on the precepts of the Jerusalem Council in Acts ch. XV.

The first thing one should take into account when dealing with the world-wide phenomenon of the Roman Catholic Church is that the overwhelming majority of its members are only nominal Catholics. They don’t actively subscribe to their Church’s doctrinal teachings and far less do follow its practical religious and moral precepts. They are baptized members that in many cases want to have a Church wedding and a Church burial, but that apart from some attraction to these life-cycle rituals show no particular Christian religious interest. This state of affairs leads to low expectations about the number of Roman Catholics that can be considered Christians from a biblical point of view. Evangelical Christians — and there are good reasons to reckon Messianics as Evangelicals in this question — are often misled here by the impressive liturgical traditions of Catholicism, by its staunch hierarchical and authoritarian structure, and by its official orthodoxy regarding the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.

The two biblical verses that are the shortest and simplest expressions of the Gospel message found in the Bible are perhaps John 3:16 and Romans 10:9. John 3:16 says: “G-d so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life”. Romans 10:9 says: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Yeshua, and shalt believe in thine heart that G-d hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved”.

If, with these verses in mind, one asks Roman Catholics about their personal faith and trust in Yeshua one almost always gets evasive and non-committal answers, sometimes even clear denials of faith. Only very seldom one gets a positive affirmation of belief “in Christ”. One of the most often given positive answers is that they believe “in the Church”, without being able to specify what that means or implies. Cardinal John Henry Newman, the famous XIXth century Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism, elaborated on this faith “in the Church” in his Grammar of Assent. He defended the position that for the average Catholic it is enough to have “implicit faith”. By this he meant to say that the explicit affirmation of belief “in the Catholic Church” — which is a distinct article of faith in the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds — includes implicit assent to all the Church’s teachings and precepts. He says:

The difficulty is removed by the dogma of the Church’s infallibility, and of the consequent duty of “implicit faith” in her word. The “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” is an article of the Creed, and an article, which, inclusive of her infallibility, all men, high and low, can easily master and accept with a real and operative assent. It stands in the place of all abstruse propositions in a Catholic’s mind, for to believe in her word is virtually to believe in them all. Even what he cannot understand, at least he can believe to be true; and he believes it to be true because he believes in the Church. [1]

It can hardly be admitted, however, that such “implicit faith” qualifies as saving faith in the biblical sense. Biblical faith is trusting faithfulness in the G-d of Israel and his Anointed one, Yeshua. The implicit faith of Cardinal Newman isn’t the personal trust in G-d as found in Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and described by the words: “And he believed in HaShem; and He counted it unto him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). The biblical faith is an explicit faith in G-d and in the message that comes from G-d. An implicit faith based on reliance on the teachings of a religious body without the requirement of any explicit personal commitment to the person of the Saviour and the contents of the message is certainly not enough for salvation. In his epistle to the Romans the Apostle Paul says (10:13) that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. And he continues (10:14-15): “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”.

This construction of “implicit faith” finds its theological motivation in the impossibility of the average Christian to have an adequate theological knowledge of the mysteries of faith which he affirms in the Church’s Creed. How, for instance, is it said, could a simple Catholic ever have a true faith if this faith were dependent on his own personal theological knowledge? To correctly believe what is called the “mystery of the Holy Trinity” he would have to understand that in the One G-d there are two processions, three persons, four subsistent relations and five notions.

The problem with this motivation is, however, that it offers a solution for a difficulty that doesn’t exist from a biblical and evangelical viewpoint. The Bible doesn’t teach us the “mysteries” of Catholicism and doesn’t demand our “faith” in them. It demands returning to G-d in true repentance and amendment of life, trusting in Him and in the redemption He made available for us in the person and work of Messiah Yeshua, and walking a life of continual trusting faithfulness. As to doctrinal truth, part of this walk of faithfulness is of course to become acquainted with Holy Scripture and to accept its teachings.

By comparing the basic biblical attitude of faith, which is trusting faithfulness, and “faith” as understood by Catholicism, which is the affirmation of dogmatic Church doctrine, one becomes aware of a fundamental distortion of the nature of faith caused by Roman Church doctrine. Although this Church theoretically holds that faith without love is dead and that to be saved a person has to be in what is called “the state or condition of grace”, all this only points to the fact that the Catholic expects his salvation from the Church institution rather than from Jesus Christ personally. For, one may ask, what is this Catholic “state of grace”? It is being baptized in a valid manner and having subjected oneself to the authority of the Roman Church, especially in the domains of doctrine and morals, and practically in the manner of confessing and doing repentance. This practice consists in regular auricular confession of one’s sins to a Roman priest and doing the “acts of penance” imposed or recommended by him.

Essentially, thus, subjection to the Roman Church is what is presented here as the way of salvation. In fact this is not salvation in a biblical sense at all. One can state without exaggeration that — because of the enormous doctrinal errors found in Roman Catholic teaching — there is hardly any officially proclaimed dogma of the Church that has the mark of truth according to biblical standards. Many of the Church’s teachings are outrightly superstitious or idolatrous in nature from a biblical perspective. It is well-known that idolatry and superstition are among the worst sins mentioned in the Torah, and that idolatry was one of the main concerns of the Jerusalem Council of Acts XV. Idolatry and superstition are very grave sins, because they directly impair the relationship with the only true G-d. The endorsement of idolatry and superstition throughout history by the Roman Church is therefore one of  the most worrisome and troubling characteristics of this religious body. This Church has teachings and practices which cause its members to sin gravely by adhering to them and which actually endanger the salvific relationship of the true believer with his heavenly Father.

The idolatry committed by the Roman Church is nowhere clearer than in its main act of worship, the “Mass”. The Roman Catholic Mass pretends to be a representative repetition of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ under the species of bread and wine used for its version of “Holy Communion”. The Church teaches that the bread and wine used in the celebration are transsubstantiated by the “consecration formula” (“This is my body, …&c”; “This is the blood of the New Covenant…&c”). These elements are taught to become the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. While the outward appearance of the bread and wine remains intact, the real being or substance of it is changed in Christ’s body and blood. Since the body and blood of Christ do not exist apart from his soul the Church teaches that “the whole Christ” is contained in the Sacrament. The Roman Catholic dogma that Jesus Christ is G-d implies here that the transsubstantiated substances of bread and wine of the Roman Eucharist contain G-d Himself and thus are worthy of divine worship and adoration. A piece of bread is thus honored as if it were G-d Himself. [2]

One the abominable consequences of this doctrine of Transsubstantiation is the teaching that a person drinking the wine of the Eucharist doesn’t actually drink wine at all, but the literal substance of the blood of Christ. It may smell and taste like wine, but its essence is the human blood of Christ. Likewise, the person eating the bread of the Eucharist is literally eating the substance of Christ’s body.

From this it is evident that what happens in the Roman Mass is nothing less than an outright perversion of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as depicted in the Gospels and in Paul’s first Corinthian letter. On the one side what we have here is earthly products made by humans being elevated to the sphere of the divine and superstitiously and idolatrously worshipped as G-d. And on the other side we have those partaking of the “sacramental species” according to their own profession of faith literally eating human flesh and blood.

No long argument is needed to demonstrate that any consumption of human flesh and blood is totally contrary to biblical teaching. The Roman doctrine doesn’t only violate the kashrut laws of Judaism. It violates basic concepts of the Torah that are obligatory for all mankind. Human flesh and blood are prohibited food for all, even if one holds the position that Gentile Christians are only bound by the laws given to Noach. The meat permitted to Noachides in Gen. 9:3 is clearly the meat from animals, not from humans. From this it follows that the consumption of human blood is already excluded even apart from the explicit prohibition against blood in Gen. 9:4.

The Apostolic Council by its four prohibitions ordained that Gentiles could not be admitted to the fold of believers in Yeshua unless they separated themselves from paganism and idolatry. Therefore the new Gentile believers were summoned to abstain from “meats offered to idols” (Acts 15:29). Roman Catholicism publicly sins against this apostolic injunction by insisting that the bread of the Eucharist is the literal flesh of Jesus and by honouring it with divine worship. One of the characteristics of paganism in the days of the Apostles was the consumption of (sacrificial) blood. Therefore Gentiles had to abstain from it before they could be admitted as genuine believers. Roman Catholicism, however, publicly sins against this verdict of the Apostles by its teaching that the wine of the Eucharist is turned into the literal blood of Jesus by the consecration of the Roman priest. By biblical criteria the Roman Mass is thus exposed as a public act of idolatry.

This leads to the devastating conclusion that the Apostles wouldn’t have admitted Roman Catholics — had they existed in their days — to the Assembly of believers. I’m well aware of the fact that this conclusion is anachronistic, but yet it reveals the enormous deviations from apostolic teaching that have taken place in the later history of Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church, which adorns itself with the gift of infallibilty in its dogmatic and moral teachings, would never have been acknowledged by the same Apostles it so vehemently claims to follow as a legitimate community of believers.

It does not simply follow from this that in Catholicism there are no true believers in Yeshua at all. They are difficult to find, however, and without doubt they are a tiny minority in a sea of unbelief and superstition. But what does actually follow from this is that the average Catholic cannot be accepted as a true believer, and that Catholics who want to stay in the Roman Church cannot without relunctance be acknowledged by messianic congregations as fellow believers. It would be very problematic to admit Catholics in Messianic congregations without requiring them to sever their ties with a Church which by its own official act of worship commits a sin of idolatry. It would violate the prohibitions of the Apostolic Decree to have Catholics admitted to messianic congregations while remaining in practical communion with the Church of Rome.

How should Torah observant Messianics relate to Roman Catholics? While it is clear that Catholics are not outright pagans, in most cases they are only nominal Christians. Therefore I think we should follow the general guidelines of the Apostles for relating to unbelievers and approach Catholics as non-believers. We may eat with them, according to the permission of the Apostle (1 Cor. 11:27), but we should not participate in or attend their religious ceremonies, since these are tainted with idolatry and superstitition. Above all, we should bring them the true Gospel of Yeshua and try to open their hearts and minds for the Jewishness of the Messiah. We should try to use the elementary knowledge Catholics have of the biblical story to remind them that the true capital of the faith is Jerusalem, not Rome. It is a matter of life and death for them to get out of the paganized and anti-Jewish Christianity of the Roman Church, and be led to the King of the Jews. For when Messiah will return he’ll destroy the Roman Church and set up the Kingdom of Israel.

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[1] Newman, p. 150, at: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/grammar/chapter5-2.html  [J.H. Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Longmans, Green & Co. — London · New York · Bombay 1903]

[2] Many Protestant denominations agree with the Roman dogma of the Deity of Christ. The dangers of public idolatry is less great, however, in the Protestant liturgy, because in their official worship these Churches often follow the biblical pattern of praying to the Father “through Jesus Christ our Lord”. In practice they honour Jesus Christ more as the human mediator with G-d than as member of the “Holy Trinity”. They don’t subscribe to the doctrine of Transsubstantiation and thus don’t worship any visible material substance.