I recently gave my grandson a shirt that says, “I have more than four questions.” For those who celebrate the Passover, you will understand the humor in that statement. Acts chapter 15 follows the same course of thought. Are there really only four requirements for gentiles who put their faith in Yeshua or are their more than four?
The question began when some men came from the province of Judah to Antioch and began preaching that one can only be saved if they go through conversion through ritual circumcision and become legally Jewish. This ideology created some serious issues with Sha’ul and Barnabas and so they, along with others from Antioch, went to Jerusalem to discuss the issue with the Messianic leaders. They knew and understood the words of the prophets Isaiah and Micah that “out of Zion will go forth the Torah and the Word of Adonai from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3, Micah 4:2). So they trekked to the source of truth.
When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the Messianic community, including the emissaries (apostles) and the elders. The Council in Jerusalem was led by Jacob (James), the brother of Yeshua. Under his leadership, the Council based all of their decisions on the Torah, the revealed Word of God that they had at that time.
Sha’ul reported what Adonai had done through them in the diaspora, but there were some Jews still claiming that it was necessary to circumcise gentiles and direct them to observe the Torah. These particular Jews had put more faith in man-made traditions than Adonai’s divinely revealed Word.
Acts 15 says there was a lengthy debate; they really hashed it out. In first-century Jewish terminology, they had a midrash. According to MyJewishLearning.com a midrash is defined as an “interpretive act, seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by plumbing the meaning of the words of the Torah. Midrash responds to contemporary problems and [makes] connections between new Jewish realities and the unchanging biblical text.”
During the midrash, Kefa (Peter) stands up and gives his statement as a leader in the Council. He reminds his brothers in Yeshua that Adonai had chosen him to speak the message of repentance and redemption to the gentiles. He says that Adonai, who knows the heart, bore witness to them by giving the gentiles the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) just as He did to Jews who put their faith in Messiah. He made it clear that Adonai makes no distinction between Jews and gentiles, but cleanses all hearts by faith. It is through the love and kindness of Yeshua that both Jews and gentiles are delivered (Acts 15:7-11).
He correctly assesses the situation and says that the ‘yoke of rabbinical Judaism’ should not be put upon gentiles. In the first century, there was no confusion between the ‘yoke’ of man-made rules and the ‘yoke’ of Adonai’s divine revelation in Torah. This confusion grew out of apostasy, the falling away from the teachings of the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem.
To conclude the midrash, Jacob speaks the words of the prophet Amos. He states that they are in harmony with what is happening with the gentiles. It is the beginning of the rebuilding of the fallen tent of David and this hope and vision has been known for the ages.
After the midrash and the prophetic word of Amos, the Council of Jerusalem comes to a conclusion with ‘four requirements for gentiles to are turning to Adonai,’ the God of Israel.
“Therefore, my [Jacob’s) opinion is that we should not put obstacles in the way of the Goyim who are turning to God. Instead, we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20).
Each of these four requirements are found in Torah and are grounded in pagan worship. Each requirement instructed a gentile to turn away from pagan worship practices in order to faithfully turn to Adonai. Embracing these four requirements was not considered legalism nor were they the end-all of living for Adonai; these requirements set forth by the Council in Jerusalem would help a gentile began a sanctified, holy life as they joined the Messianic community.
Idolatry can be defined as worshiping other gods as well as mixing that worship together with
the worship of the God of Israel. Adonai forbids idolatry in the second commandment and outlines its specifics throughout Torah. Israel was often rebuked for their idolatrous practices and such spiritual adultery was was compared to being an unfaithful wife. It is because of their faithless idolatry that their marriage covenant was broken.
The worship of Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), Ishtar or Astarte, the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 7:18), the
sun god (Ezekiel 8:16), and cutting down trees and adorning them (Jeremiah 10) were all part of idolatrous and pagan worship practices. Idolatry also included eating ‘unclean’ animals which were sacrificed to pagan idols. Gentiles were required to refrain from the worship of pagan gods and eating ‘unclean’ meats sacrificed to them.
In Acts chapter 10, Kefa has a vision that revealed the message of Yeshua was to go to the gentiles, specifically, Cornelius. Cornelius was already known as a God-fearer, a ‘title’ given to those gentiles who feared the God of Israel and obeyed Torah commands without converting to Judaism. He would have been the first gentile to embrace the decision at the Council of Jerusalem before the decision was even made. He and his family rejoiced at being able to enter the Messianic community without converting to Judaism through ritual circumcision; they were immersed in the faith.
“Children, guard yourselves against false gods!” (1 John 5:21).
Sexual immorality defined pagan worship rituals. Women and men offered their bodily services to both women and men at pagan temples as part of worshiping the pantheon of gods. Torah outlines the specifics of sexual immorality from premarital sex, to adultery, to incest, to homosexuality, to sex with animals. Gentiles were required to refrain from these behaviors.
False gods from Molech to Astarte required child sacrifice, the murder of an innocent life, and combined with sexual immorality could also be considered idolatry (Deuteronomy 19:9-10). Adonai wants His people to be different from the nations around them, not assimilate into them. As gentiles join the Jews’ faith in Yeshua, they are to be ‘holy as He is holy’ and flee from sexual immorality (Leviticus 11:45).
“Run from sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the fornicator sins against his own body. Or don’t you know that your body is a temple for the Ruach HaKodesh who lives inside you, whom you received from God? The fact is, you don’t belong to yourselves; for you were bought at a price. So use your bodies to glorify God” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Gentiles were not to eat the meat of a strangled animal. This is a command that an animal, a ‘clean’ animal meant for consuming, must be killed in a way that minimizes its pain. Gentiles joining the Messianic community had to learn the way of Shechitah. When an animal is killed in this manner, it stops the blood flow to the brain ending all pain. It is done with a special knife that is so sharp that if it cut your finger, you would not feel it. Killing an animal in this way also helps drain its blood which leads into the fourth requirement.
No Consuming Blood
Adonai commanded His people not to drink blood. Gentiles were not to bring their pagan ways into the growing Messianic community. Many pagan rituals, especially the worship of Ba’al included drinking the blood of human sacrifice because they believed the life force of the blood would become part of them. All Satanic rituals, then and now, include drinking blood. According to the apocryphal book of Jubilees, the Nephilim ate the flesh and drank the blood of humans. Cannibals who consume human flesh call it ‘long pork’ because human flesh tastes like the flesh of swine; hence the command against eating pig. Gentiles were to emulate the Torah to be part of Adonai’s holy people.
“For the life of every creature — its blood is its life. Therefore I said to the people of Isra’el, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it will be cut off’” (Leviticus 17:14).
According to Acts 15:31, receiving these four ‘requirements’ brought joy to the believers at Antioch: “After reading it [the letter], the people were delighted by its encouragement.” According to Sha’ul in Romans chapters 7 and 8, the Torah is spiritual, holy, and good. The spiritual man receives Torah with joy; those in Antioch were obviously spiritual men and women. They understood these requirements would prove their faith in Yeshua and were willing to leave behind their pagan practices to worship the God of Israel according to His Word and His ways.
The Council’s Conclusion
The Council of Jerusalem concluded the four requirements with the following statement:
“For from the earliest times, Moshe has had in every city those who proclaim him, with his words being read in the synagogues every Shabbat” (Acts 15:21).
First-century followers of Yeshua, both Jew and gentile, met in synagogues (or homes) and heard Torah read to them on a weekly basis on the Sabbath. This is how the early Messianic gentile community grew in the faith revealed through Messiah Yeshua and Torah. This is how the early Messianic gentiles became sanctified and unified with the Jewish people and became one new man. This was the same view of Sha’ul who continued to believe everything written in the Torah and Prophets and called his walk ‘The Way’ (Acts 24:14).
First-century gentiles were excited to become children of Abraham by faith and leave pagan ways and even pagan families behind just like he did. Early gentile followers of Yeshua became like Ruth who said to Naomi: “Don’t press me to leave you and stop following you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die; and there I will be buried. May Adonai bring terrible curses on me, and worse ones as well, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:17-18).
Are there still only four requirements? Yes, and each of those requirements are rooted in Torah along with many more that have become hidden under the normalization of idolatry, sexual immorality, and eating ‘unclean’ meat honoring pagan gods and worship. The first-century Messianic community, Jews and gentiles, had a purity of heart because they understood the foundation of their faith and their worship of Adonai were in Torah, and they were willing, with joy, to turn back to the ways of the God of Israel.
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