Archive for the 'Noachide Laws' 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.