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As we know the Christianity has strong Jewish roots. Jesus, or as some like to spell His name Yeshua, was a Jew. The twelve disciples were Jews. Most of the first believers of salvation in Jesus were Jews. Paul was a Jew. Also the whole Christian doctrine is based on the Jewish Holy Scriptures, which Christian world calls the Old Testament. Even the salvation by faith is founded in the words of a Jewish prophet Malachi in the Old Testament.
Jews have also very distinct characteristics in their daily life, which mainly are related to the reality of their covenant with God through Moses described in the 5 books of Moses, or as their Hebrew name is, in the Torah. Christian world usually refers these as the Law. Nowadays some of the most notable parts of this are not eating pork and some other foods, keeping the Sabbath meaning to rest from labor on Saturdays and circumcising all boys.
As mentioned the big part of the early Church being Jews was following the Torah and therefore we can easily rise a question that should the Gentile believers do the same. Or, if we try to be more practical with this, can a Christian eat pork or work on Saturdays and should Christian circumcise their sons? There are also many other customs described in the Torah, but by concentrating on these big questions we do find the answer for the others too.
Furthermore as a background to understand this issue deeper, let us quickly observe the covenants God has made with man in the whole Bible. We can altogether find seven different covenants in the Bible, from which three are made with the nation of Israel and are unconditional, one is with the nation of Israel and the people joining it and is conditional, three are made with the whole human race. These covenants are with short descriptions:
- Edenic Covenant / Adamic Covenant (Genesis 1:26-30; 2:16-17, 3:15-19)
- Made with the whole human race.
- Gives man a responsibility towards and authority over the creation and forbids eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
- After the Fall proclaims the curse because of it and also promises for remission of it.
- Noahic Covenant (Genesis 8:21 - 9:17)
- Made with the whole human race.
- Promises that the earth and all living will not be destroyed by flood evermore and the rainbow is the mark of this covenant.
- All living creatures are given as food for humans, with the requirement of draining the blood away from the flesh.
- Shedding of human blood is promised to be avenged.
- Authority over the creation is renewed.
- Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, 6-7; 13:14-17, 15; 17:1-14; 22:15-18)
- Made with the nation of Israel containing also a promise for the whole human race.
- Personal promises to Abraham: his name will be great, he will have numerous physical descendants, and he will be a father of nations.
- Promises to the nation of Israel containing the physical boundaries of the Promised Land.
- Promises to the whole human race: ones who bless Abraham will be blessed and all nations will be blessed through the seed of Abraham (Messiah).
- Circumcision is set as a mark of this covenant for Abraham and his descendants.
- Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:1-10)
- Made with the nation of Israel.
- Reinstates the physical reality of the Promised Land.
- Proclaims that the nation of Israel will be scattered around the world because of disobedience, but promises also that they will be restored back to the Promised Land and will obey God perfectly and they will prosper.
- Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 20 - Deuteronomy 34)
- Made with the nation of Israel, but does condemn the whole humanity.
- Conditional covenant. Promises blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience.
- Consist over 600 rules to be obeyed from all areas of life.
- Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:8-16)
- Made with the nation of Israel and especially with king David and his descendants.
- Amplifies the seed idea found in the Abrahamic covenant. Promised that David's kingdom will never pass away and his physical line will last forever. This promise is about Messiah.
- New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
- Initially made with the nation of Israel but is ultimately covering the whole human race.
- Promises forgiveness of sin and universal knowledge of the Lord.
- Jesus established the new covenant through His blood and all humans can join this covenant by faith.
- This is not a renewed covenant, because the Hebrew word order can only be translated as a new covenant.
What are then the covenants that apply to Christians?
Easily we can say that Christians are involved in Adamic and Noahic covenants and they enjoy the benefits of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants through, the seed of Abraham and the descendant of David, Jesus, and of course the new covenant is the main point of the whole Christian faith. Palestinian covenant is clearly for the Israelites, but the question we are dealing with is about the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant. Do Christians need to fulfill the covenantal rules described in them?
It is also important to understand the Torah can't be divided into pieces, but it needs to fulfill in whole (James 2:10). We can't pick parts of it to be followed and leave others, because it really is a question of a covenant with God. As seen before through Moses and others God entered into covenant with the Israelites and the rules of this covenant for the Israelites were described in the Torah. In order to keep this covenant they had to fulfill them completely. Failing on one rule of the covenant meant breaking the whole covenant.
Also we must understand the Torah is not just the Ten Commandments, but it consists altogether 613 commandments. There are 248 positive commandments, which means that they tell what should be done, and there are 365 negative commandments, which tell what should not to be done. If Christians are included in the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant then they must follow them all the way, but the question is are they included?
Abolition of the Law
Let's start with the Mosaic covenant. Paul as a Jew and as a learned man knows a lot of this covenant and he makes this statement:
â€Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.â€
– Ephesians 2:15
We know that Jesus said that not even one jot or one tittle would disappear from the law as long as heaven and earth are (Matt. 5:18), so Paul must not mean that the law is destroyed. He actually means that the binding nature of the law or the Torah is taken away through Jesus, as he describes in the other passages:
â€Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.â€
– Romans 7:4
â€For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.â€
– Romans 10:4
The end can also be translated from the Greek as the goal, but it doesn't change the idea of this sentence. Usually a goal of some matter is the end of that matter also. If my goal is to reach Heaven then my end will be Heaven as I reach my goal. Now when Jesus is brought to stage about 2000 years ago has the law reached its goal thus Jesus being the end of the law. We can read it also differently from here through the Words of Jesus:
â€Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.â€
– Matthew 5:17
Besides all prophetic requirements for the messiah Jesus completely fulfilled the law also. As through pure Adam failing to follow God's rules brought death and judgments over whole human race can through another pure man, Jesus, succeeding to follow the God's rules bring liberation from death and judgments. If the demands of the rules of Torah are all fulfilled in Christ, why should Christians that are in Christ fulfill them again? Didn't Jesus finish it completely? Just a thought.
Early church says it this way:
â€Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.â€
– Acts 15:19-21
And this is restated:
â€Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: â€¦ For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.â€
– Acts 14:24-29
Clearly these two passages don't leave a space of debating that are the gentiles involved in the Mosaic covenant and do they need to keep the Torah. The leaders of the early church with the authority of the Holy Spirit proclaim that there are only three things that gentiles need to follow: don't eat flesh with blood in it or blood, don't take a part in idol worship through eating the meat offered to idols and abstain from fornication. They even say that when these things are done you do well!
They are not saying that let us begin from these and you will learn more in the synagogues and then you will be doing even more well as some think they are saying. That would be even very unthoughtful to expect gentiles to learn the Torah in synagogues because Christians were almost everywhere especially thrown out from the synagogues. Instead the leaders of the early church understood the revelation of the new covenant and realized that the gentiles are called into that covenant and not the old ones.
Why then Jesus says that the law will not disappear?
The Torah is eternal and is good, but we must understand what occupation it has. God never intended the Torah to be the way of salvation or the way to righteous living for all human kind. I do believe that the Torah is the way of righteousness, but it is that only for the perfect man - Jesus. Jesus was proclaimed righteous because He was blameless according to the Torah and God. Now the righteousness is given through faith:
â€Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no differenceâ€
– Romans 3:22
â€To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.â€
– Romans 3:26
â€For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)â€
– Romans 5:17
Righteous means pleasing to God and being so our God pleasing lifestyle is not through following the Torah but through faith in Jesus. Our actions outside the faith will not add anything to this. Now Paul gives the real occupation of the Torah:
â€Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.â€
– Galatians 3:24
God intended the Torah to be a schoolmaster for all men to bring all men unto Christ! When you have reached the final test of any school you will be given a certificate of some sort stating that you have learned enough from that school. You don't then need to go back to that school trying to earn something you already have. Likewise as you have been through the condemnation of the Torah found the sweet Savior of your soul, you don't need go back to the ways of Torah, but to live with Jesus!
In this role the Torah is valid all through the eternity and not any part of it will disappear. It even needs to be taught and proclaimed so that all men and women could see the way of salvation in Jesus.
Renewed or new covenant
Some then argue that when Jesus set the new covenant he actually just renewed the old covenants, but as we already said this is misunderstanding of the Hebrew. It is true that the Hebrew word in the Jeremiah 31:31-34 that is translated as a new is really close to the word to renew. Only difference actually is the vowels and as originally the Hebrew words in Bible had only consonants and the vowels were added later by the masoretes, one can start to think that there might be a loophole to understand it as a renewed covenant.
But this is not possible! The word to renew is a verb and the word new is an adjective and the Hebrew word order is Verb-Noun-Adjective. In order the word to mean renew it must be before the word covenant in Hebrew, but it is not. The word is found in the place of an adjective and thus it can only be translated new. Exact name is in Hebrew in transliterated from B'riyt Chadashah, where the 'B'riyt' means the covenant and 'Chadashah' means new.
The covenant in the blood of Jesus is completely new covenant and not a renewal of any old covenants. It doesn't mean that it gives people right to live as they please, but it does mean that the Torah is not included as rules in that covenant. In this covenant men and women follow God in the Spirit following Jesus. As we follow Jesus we do see that He also gave commandments to follow, which are summed up here:
â€And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.â€
– 1. John 3:23
Also in the Sermon on the Mount and also some other parts in the Gospels we can find the moral base of the new covenant, which actually goes even deeper than the Torah. Our righteousness is more than righteous actions it is actually being righteous and thus doing good to others, which actually is the thing promised in Jeremiah!
What about the pork, the circumcision and the Sabbath?
Let us tackle the big questions now!
First of all the Noahic covenant gave all living creatures as food to Noah and his descendants. (Genesis 8:21 - 9:17) They only needed to avoid eating flesh with blood. (By the way all living creatures did contain pork!) Then later Mosaic covenant denied eating pork and some other foods. (Leviticus 11:7) As we dealt already the binding nature of the Mosaic covenant for the Gentiles, we can say that Gentiles are allowed to eat pork in the new covenant.
Paul says it this way:
â€Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sakeâ€
– 1. Corinthians 10:25
This is said to people in Corinth and believe me they could find pork in the shambles. Corinth was one of the great cities of that time where people came from all directions to sell and buy goods. It was not a Jewish city but a Gentile or even Pagan city and therefore they didn't have problem on selling pork as food.
Jesus touches this a little bit this way:
â€Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.â€
– Matthew 15:11
Here Jesus doesn't clearly say that pork is eatable, but He does say that food is no able to defile a man. With the knowledge we have now we can say that Jesus might even had pork in His mind saying this.
Actually if we study this even deeper we would see that there is no restrictions in the new covenant on eating pork! You might commit sin eating too much of pork and thus digesting too much of unhealthy fat causing all sorts of problems and thus not honoring your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, but otherwise eating pork is not a sin for the Gentile believers!
Actually circumcision came through Abrahamic covenant as a mark for this covenant. So how does this apply to the new covenant? Paul again has a word to say:
â€Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love .â€¦ And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.â€
– Gal. 5: 1-11
â€Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.â€
– 1. Corinthians 7:18-19
â€Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.â€
– Colossians 2:8-12
These passages are quite easy to understand! By them we can say that surely the new covenant doesn't include circumcision because all believers are already circumcised with the circumcision of Christ, which is spiritual circumcision. If Gentile believers don't need to be circumcised why on earth should they circumcise their sons! So nobody is needed to be physically circumcised in the new covenant.
Now this one goes all the way back to the creation where God actually rested for one day after the six days. Then afterwards in the Mosaic covenant keeping the Sabbath is set as the sign of that covenant. (Exodus 31:13-17) We have already dealt in depth the question of the Mosaic covenant and the Gentile believers and there is no need to go back to those arguments for this one, but the reality of it being a thing that God did does give it more weight on it and also we must see what Jesus says about the Sabbath.
Jesus actually addresses the topic of the Sabbath some situations. Here are a few of them:
â€And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the Sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the Sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.â€
– Mark 2:23-26
â€And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.â€
– Matt. 12:10-13
In the both situations Jesus or the disciples are doing something that is contradicting the religious views of the Sabbath. The spectators viewed that Jesus or the disciples were doing work in these situations that was against the Torah, but Jesus pointed out that they their view of the Sabbath was incorrect. The original meaning of the Sabbath was to provide humans a time of rest and recreation not to quiet everything down for one day.
As Gentile Christians don't need to follow the Torah and therefore don't need to follow the law of Sabbath, are Christians though need of understanding the Sabbath rest more deeply. There are at least two dimensions in the Sabbath for the Christians
- Literal dimension
- Spiritual dimension
All men and women are created according to the image of God. If then God rested for one day of seven, there might be some kind of need of rest in us too. Actually if we fail to rest from working at least one day a week, we are going suffer a burn out sooner or later! In that way the Sabbath is given for us and we need to use it to keep our bodies functional until the end of this life on earth. However we can't point from the Bible that in the new covenant the official day of rest is Saturday or Sunday! Paul even states that some keep count on days and others don't, but both do it for God. (Romans 14:5-7) Definitely everybody, even Gentile believers, need at least one weekly day off, but it doesn't need to be the same day for everybody.
Hebrews chapter 4 tells us deep things about the Sabbath and the rest for the people of God. In all the simplicity it states that the real Sabbath rest for the people of God is in the finished work of the Cross. There ends all our striving! Jesus has already finished the work and we can enter to His rest by faith and receive a real rest to our souls. This rest is the same everyday and it is worth striving for that means seeking His face in faith. (Hebrews 4:11)
We can see that the keeping the Sabbath as a law doesn't touch the Gentile believers, but the principle of the rest does touch them and is good to keep!
Now with all this study we can come to this statement, that the Gentile believers don't need to follow the Torah they need to follow Jesus in the newness of the Spirit. The Gentile believers have died with Christ and resurrected also with Him. Therefore they are dead to law and to sin, but alive to God. All glory to God for His marvelous salvation in Jesus Christ!