How Much Torah For Gentile Converts: Do The G-dfearers of Acts 15 Equate to Resident Aliens of Leviticus 17 & 18


“Then the whole group became silent and were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were describing in detail all the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, Jacob answered, “Brethren, listen to me. Simon has described how God first showed His concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for His Name. The words of the Prophets agree, as it is written:
‘After this I will return and rebuild the fallen tabernacle of David. I will rebuild its ruins and I will restore it,  so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord— namely all the Gentiles who are called by My name— says Adonai, who makes these things known from of old.’
Therefore, I judge not to trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God— but to write to them to abstain from the contamination of idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has had in every city those who proclaim him, since he is read in all the synagogues every Shabbat.” Acts 15:12-21 TLV

Painting by Rembrandt of Paul, one of the most...

Recently I purchased the Audiobook “God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel” by Toby Janicki of FFOZ. I have to say this is an excellent book for those wanting to understand a Gentiles obligation to Torah or lack thereof. I enjoy First Fruits of Zion’s course correction, they took criticism of the dangerous few of One Law for all and have sense done some scholarly work defining the Torah Distinctives showing the unique role the Torah has for different individuals. Gentiles, Israelis’, Kings, Priests, etcetera… all have distinct obligations in the Torah.

Defining the Gentiles obligation to Torah is an essential topic for the Messianic Gentile.

To start with before I get into discussing the topic I want to point out that there are different levels of Jewish Learning:

  • Beit Sefrei (the is the entry level where you study of Chumash and the basics),
  • Beit Talmud (next is Talmid Torah, the studying all of Torah including prophets) and
  • Beit Midrash (is a fully engaged disciple able to rightly divide what is pure and what is impure).

Keep these in mind as we engage in this discussion, as both Toby Janicky, Scot McKnight and myself discuss differing points relating to these classifications.

Here are some interesting points from the book and relates promotional Blogs regarding the topic of a Gentiles obligation to Torah as well as some points to discuss from Scot McKnight.

Toby Janicky states in one blog that early Messianic Gentiles are in fact “the first-century group of Gentiles who attended synagogue and practiced Torah without becoming legally Jewish; the Yir’ei haShem, the God-fearers of old.”

This is an interesting topic, and intriguing to me, as a Gentile convert to Messianic Judaism who recently found I have some Jewish genealogy. Whether one is called a Ger T’zedek, Ger Toshav or Yirei haShem, is interesting but I’m not so much into names as defining what applies to ad Goyim. Lets peek into the discussion as to what applies to Gentiles. Toby Janicki refers to a blog by Scot McKnight who makes some interesting point.

“Should Gentile converts to faith in Jesus be required to be circumcised in order to be full members of God’s People? After all, they reasoned, circumcision was an eternal commandment from the days of Abraham on. At the time Gentiles who half-converted to Judaism were called “Godfearers” (Yireh Elohim). Those who moved beyond the Godfearers were called “Converts” (Gerim), and to be a convert one had to experience the covenant blade,” says Scot McKnight.

The idea that there are two levels one of G-d-fearers and another level of becoming a full fledged Convert (or Proselyte) is what Scot McKnight states here, I would say there is three according to tradition. This seems to be the intent of James and Peter whereas Paul seems to focus exclusively on the G-d-fearers and Peter and James on the process from becoming a G-d-fearer. It seems to many have focused on the Ger Tzedek, the right-just Gentile and not so much on the Ger Toshav, or vice versa. The Covenant blade, ala Brit Milah is discussed in the Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7 in which Peter and James respond to Paul’s interpretation of the Jerusalem Council and Peter’s vision of Gentiles becoming ritually clean in Mashiach. There are actually three levels as I mentioned in the Jewish teaching method. At discussion here are the first two.

Within the confines of Apostolic Judaism it seemed that there was a new definition that followed a set process with a time frame of discipleship for Gentile Talmidim of which Peter and James referred to as the Doctrine of Reserve or the Mystery of Initiation which does echo the sentiments of Scot McKnight. This outlined a process by which a Gentile would go from being a G-d-fearer to being a complete Disciple of Judaism, a full convert to National Israel. This process could take up to 6 years for some according to Peter, in Volume 7 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. This process included the Covenat blade and ritual Mikveh. However this process wasn’t actually new it was simply carrying on the Pharisaic teaching method of Rav-Talmid-Shaliach, the only change was the initial requirements.

Becoming a G-d-fearer wasn’t meant to be the end. It was only an entry point. And if one wanted to study an Torah scroll or become a teaching elder he would have to go through the process of being being a convert including Brit Milah. This process was determined by whether one wanted to teach or be a student. A student who never sought to teach could stay as a G-d-fearer presumably indefinitely and there would be no condemnation or judgment for this life choice. However a Talmid who wanted to study Torah scrolls himself, teach or become a Shaliach of a Rav or Apostle had to be tried and tested to see if he was a worker of righteousness ready to study the scrolls in the same manner that Moshe sent out 70 Judges to administer Torah, and even Y’shua sent out 70 Shlichim in Luke 10 with Signs and Wonders.

Today if one wants to be a pentecostal pastor he must speak in tongues. It makes sense that a teacher of Torah, Jew or Gentile, be a full practitioner of what he teaches. Just as Paul had Timothy Circumcised. Nowadays it is not that simple, the process of Rav-Talmid-Shaliach has been lost to the ancient past for most “Christians” and is impractical to apply to the modern “Church.” However that was there process. And those called to participate in the restoration of this reality would freely fellowship with the Apostolic Fathers. Your in good company.

With the free distribution of information many have access to information without the right knowledge and unwise, learned and unlearned men misuse and abuse the information. Paul and James would vehemently object to this as dangerous and unwise. This opinion isn’t popular today, may not be practical or acceptable however this was the Apostolic reality.

“I’m inclined to think this is not [only] the best reading but the only reading that makes good sense. Acts 15:29 is connected to resident alien laws in Leviticus 17 and 18 … If this is the best interpretation, then Gentile converts — I would be in this class of people — are to follow these items not because they are concessions to Jewish scruples but because they are Torah for Gentiles.” Scott McKnight opines.

I agree with Scott McKnight that the Conversion of Gentiles was a two-stage process from G-d-fearer to a Convert as Talmidim (I would add the third step of Jewish eduction… going to become a Shaliach as a Teacher representing his Rabbi). The time frame and process being up to the Shaliach of a Apostle or Rabbi and the Talmid process and timeframe being based on desire and ability. Not all are chosen. “Many are called, few are chosen.”

“I too feel the apostles are laying out Torah for Gentiles. I do differ from McKnight when I lay out what I believe is the universally binding nature of Acts 15 upon Gentiles for all generations. I also point out that each of the four precepts is a categorical rule containing many more precepts. Contrary to what many think, the apostles did not remove the obligation of Torah observance from Gentiles but rather specified in Acts 15 and throughout the rest of the apostolic writings which precepts are binding upon non-Jewish believers.” Toby Janicki, FFOZ Blogs

I would insert that yes, the initial requirements were in essence lessened in the way in which a convert to Messiah was treated as opposed to how a convert to Judaism was treated. This may have been as Toby Janicki points out in hisbook as a response to the send that the Gentiles were responding in a sense to the Messianic Kingdom (or Tent of David) reality found in Messiah and there needing to be a distinction between one coming to the Messiah of Israel as a Gentile from a person who was simply converting to Judaism.

It does seem that Toby Janicki overlooked the point that the Jerusalem Council was only one part of a two part process according to McKnight. I would add a third phase to the process as is seen in Rabbinic training methods.

One coming to Messiah simply needed to act in Faith, turn from the pagan idols, adultery and unclean meats. While seeking to bear as much of Torah as possible, while remaining in the Synagogue and seeking to take on the whole Yoke of the torah of Messiah. This was a process then, to restore a reality like this now will be a process.

Everyone can agree that the Decalogue is applicable to all mankind, at least Christianity this is considered true. It is a basic foundation for Human Morality, among the Noachide Laws, we are to uphold the Ten Commandments, to set up courts of law and fear God. When Christian’s fight to have the Ten Commandments on a Court House wall but don’t keep a literal sabbath it seems a little humorous to me.

We are more than simple Noachide’s or G-d-fearers the discussion doesn’t end at G-d-fearer it ends at full fledged Conversion including Brit Milah and all of Torah. The process to conversion is a decision to become a full fledged participant with Israel or simply an heir of the blessings through Avraham without going further into the Covenants with Israel. The door of invitation with permission granted is open to the Gentile seeking full conversion not just simple association.

What is at risk here is a willful informed choice, there is no coercion, a disciple was given time, experience and learning. One, if he saw a pearl of great price would go find out the cost of that field and go and earn the wages to purchase  the field out right so that all that is in it including the pearl could be his. We are to count the cost.

“Just like Jews, Gentile believers were expected to take up the commandments of the Torah incumbent upon them and live a kingdom lifestyle full of ethical concerns, moral considerations, and ritual practices. In short, the Gentile believers practiced Judaism along with the Jewish believers, albeit as it applied to them as non-Jews. All of God’s people have a specific role within his kingdom, and we all have commandments that we are required to carry out in order to live a life of holiness in a manner worthy of our Master.” Toby Janicki, God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel, FFOZ

There is truth that their are distinctions in Torah. But more importantly there is more than one phase to discipleship and that is missing from our understanding corporately. Restoring the right view of a G-d-fearer is one, as being the initial steps a disciple takes. The restoration we need next is the process of Discipleship beyond that point, the great commission is to make disciples (talmidim) not just count how many decisions we can get in a day. The Mystery of Initiation (of the Doctrine of Reserve) is another reality we need to explore more fully.

According to Scot McKnight he states that Richard Bauckham in his chapter in  D. Rudolph Willitts Introduction to Messianic Judaism explores this notion. I have not read the book myself yet but upon reading that statement it may be a good idea to do so.

I do agree that restoring the G-d-fearer concept is crucial to being able to reengage our Christian friends in dialogue and help call them up higher. We have no better defined the entry point. The end point and the process to the end point needs better definition and support. I think if you asked any Christian what the starting point was there is pretty much consensus on the G-d-fearer concept.

As we seek to reengage the church, this is a good starter point on this we agree. Even in Judaism they believe that Christian’s are G-dfearing monotheist who have a part in the world to come. As this understanding is there it should lend an ability to share some basic shared tenets of faith in our talking points with Jews and Christians when engaging in inter-faith dialogue.

I do want to note I have a series of Articles detailing Peter, Barnabas and Clements disagreement of Paul’s interpretation of the Jerusalem Council’s intent and the meaning of Peter’s dream. Suffice to say that Peter and James agreed with Paul on the starting point but not the end point.

Peter and James would not have stopped anyone from freely being circumcised however there was a period of time one had to show themselves a worker of righteousness and if one wanted to read a Torah scroll for himself he was expected to be circumcised, go through a Mikveh specifically for each Torah scroll and enjoin a Covenant Meal of Bread and Salt. This was done before the Talmidim was introduced to a new scroll.

In the Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 7 we have a record of this scroll from Peter to James, along with James agreement and the writings of Barnabas. It is obvious Paul and his Gentile scribe Luke agreed, however Peter, James, Barnabas and Clements side of this discussion is lost to history because  anti-Jewish converts such as Marcion made a decided effort to remove any Gospels or Epistle’s which were Judeo-centric.

Tertulian an early second century disciple called Marcion a Heretic for many reasons there is an entire anti-Marcian polemic by Tertulian regarding Marcion. In the light of Marcion, Athenasius along with the Nicene Council continued this preference of Gentile focused texts.

Thus we have a one sided argument, a lopsided debate. In encourage you to study the works of Peter, Barnabas, James and Clement that didn’t make it into the Nicene Council’s cannon but where among the scrolls the early Synagogues of the Messianic faith had.

Look out for the article regarding the Doctrine of Reserve or the Mystery of Initiation in which I discuss Peter and James (Jacobs) response to Paul. Peter calls Paul hus enemy and completely amazed that Paul would misrepresent him while he was still alive. Also, look out for the other articles covering the topics of G-dfearers, and the Process from Salvation, Discipleship to Covert and/or Shaliach.

So, is the debate over what a Gentiles obligation to Torah over or has it just begun a new as we seek to reestablish lost truths?

Let the ancient witness of the Apostle’s has the last say but let’s look at and considered scrolls that have been intentionally ignored and consider there importance coming from Peter, Barnabas, James, Clement and Tertulian among others. As well as Paul. Let’s look at the whole picture not just one side of the debate.

In the context of the three modes of Jewish learning the Jerusalem Council only speaks to the Beit Sefrei level in the Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 7 in Peters later to James, and James response we find the next level to Beit Talmid is a process Peter calls the Mystery of Initiation or Doctrine of Reserve which is the lost Rav – Talmid – Shaliach process. Peter says as Moses handed the 70 scrolls to the elders we are to test if a worker is ready to study a scroll to study scrolls and thus teach them Peter said he would make some wait 6 years, and they had to be circumcised to receive a scroll for study, be immersed in a Mikveh, and then have a covenant meal of bread and salt.

Also we should remember that Gentiles are separate from the Covenants and need the Jewish Messiah to connect them to partake in the Covenants, while Jews are called to Covenant Fidelity. Paul’s message is to Gentiles not Jews. We can not take the Gentile Church message to Jews. As David Sterns says in Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospels that cultural evangelism to the Jews doesn’t work. They are the people of the bible and we should restore the Jewish context and not bring Gentile culture to the Jews.

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