Sunday, August 5, 2012
First Fruits of Zion and the False Teaching Known as "Divine Invitation"
FIRST FRUITS OF ZION AND THE FALSE TEACHING KNOWN AS "DIVINE INVITATION" by Roland (that's my nom de guerre)
Are gentiles (along with Jews) Israel? Are they obligated to follow Torah? FFOZ answers with a resounding "No." They explain their position in a paper called "Divine Invitation: An Apostolic Call to Torah."
As we've seen recently, they've gone militant with their message, comparing gentiles who follow Torah (thus rebelling against Rabbinic Jewish "authority") to the followers of Korach who rebelled against Moses.
But what if FFOZ's position is wrong? What if it amounts to calling unclean that which G-d has called clean? What if excluding gentiles from the "people called by His name" is tantamount to "putting God to the test" (i.e. provoking G-d)?
So I propose a look at FFOZ's paper so that we can evaluate the merits for and against the Divine Invitation position and then, as always, we can discuss. I look forward to discussing this topic with you all!
WHAT IS DIVINE INVITATION?
Divine Invitation teaches that gentiles are only obligated to follow the Noahide laws but are invited to follow a very limited set of Torah commands.
WHAT IS THE EXEGETICAL CASE FOR DIVINE INVITATION?
TEXT GROUP "A": FOR THE PROPOSITION THAT GENTILES ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO FOLLOW TORAH
As you'll read in their paper, FFOZ relies heavily upon a single verse: Galatians 5:3. They argue that the meaning of the verse is "obvious" and "irrefutably simple." They interpret this verse as Paul discouraging gentiles from circumcision on the basis that circumcision obligates one to follow all of the Torah. In other words, they argue that Paul teaches that it is ritual circumcision which initiates one into the covenant.
If this is Paul's argument then, reductio ad absurdem, Paul thinks that Torah is a dreadful burden. But what if that "yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1) does not refer to proper circumcision but rather the idea of works-based justification contained in the false doctrine that only ritual circumcision can initiate one into the covenant (Acts 15:1)? It seems to me that it is more likely that Paul is criticizing works-based justification rather than Torah because (1) Paul is pro-Torah, not anti-Torah and (2) the context of Galatians 5 indicates that Paul is combating works-based justification: "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." Indeed, if Paul thought that circumcision rendered Christ of no effect then Paul's circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16) would've rendered Christ of no effect to Timothy.
This is the other key passage that FFOZ uses to prove Divine Invitation. FFOZ argues that the "unbearable yoke" in Peter's speech is a reference to Torah:
"The inescapable conclusion, then, is that the yoke which neither the apostles nor their forefathers had been able to bear is indeed “the law of Moses.”
FFOZ concludes from this that the Torah is an unbearable burden.
If Peter was arguing that the Torah was an unbearable yoke then his argument becomes as follows:
(1) the law is an unbearable burden;
(2) it's wrong to attempt an unbearable burden;
(3) it's wrong to follow the law;
(4) therefore, the gentiles are wrong to follow the law
Thus, reductio ad absurdum, FFOZ's view would have Peter arguing that is is wrong to follow G-d's Torah. This view is untenable because (1) Peter was for the Law; (2) the Law says it is not an unbearable burden; (3) Peter's critique of the Law would also apply to Jewish Torah observance.
It's more likely that Peter was arguing against works-based justification just like Paul in Galatians 5. This is implied by Peter having to argue FOR grace-based justification in 15:11, "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." Through basic issue analysis one can reasonably extrapolate that Peter was attacking the proposition of works-based justification.
But does this fit with the context? If we examine the legal context of the issue, covenantal initiation, we see that there were definitely two antithetical views in Acts 15. The Antiochian delegates position was that the Holy Spirit via a spiritual baptism initiates gentiles into the covenant making them a "people for his name." The Pharisaic position was that these gentiles had not been saved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that they had not been saved at all because they had not been initiated by ritual circumcision. The Pharisaic position thus negates grace by advocating for the work of circumcision. So the idea that Peter was attacking works-based justification fits very nicely with the context.
FFOZ says that the fourfold apostolic decree was derived from the laws of Noah and from the purity code of Leviticus 17-18:
"Those four essentials may have been derived from the laws given to Noah and the laws found in Leviticus 17–18."
It is unlikely that the fourfold decree derives from the Noahide "laws" for several reasons:
"The Noahic precepts as the source....there are difficulties in this view. The similarities between the prohibitions and the Noahic precepts are not as close as they may seem at first glance. For example Genesis 9 has only one clear correspondence to the prohibitions (eating meat with blood in it). The only other command relates to murder, and while [aima] can be used as a metonymy for murder, the earlier examination of this term has shown that this meaning is unlikely. It is also problematic that [pniktos] does not occur in the Noahic precepts. Furthermore why were between six and thirty precepts narrowed down by James to four. Suggesting that the Noahic precepts provide the source of the prohibitions is also problematic historically. As Wedderburn has noted, there is no evidence that the Noahic precepts were in use in the first century. Witherington concurs when he writes, 'It would be anachronistic to bring the latter rabbinic concept of seven Noahic commandments, binding on all descendants of Noah, into our discussion.' Contextually the Noahic view seems difficult to sustain. For one thing, very little in the immediate context would bring Noah to the reader's mind. The first mention of the prohibitions in Acts 15:20 makes reference to Moses, not Noah." pg. 10 of "A Reexamination of the Prohibitions in Acts 15" by Charles H. Savelle
Also, there is a political science reason why the fourfold decree would not represent the only commandments for gentiles. To put it succinctly, there is no intimacy in negative commandments. And rights and duties are correlative. The fourfold decree in Acts 15 is negatively framed. Thus, if it represents the only duties/rights that gentiles have then gentiles have no right to experience the intimacy of the positive commandments found in Torah. Novak explains this dynamic in his book Natural Law in Judaism:
"As even our cursory presentation of the Noahide laws above indicates, six are negative and only one positive. Moreover, the positive one, namely, the requirement to establish a judicial system, is actually for the sake of the the adjudication of cases involving the other six, negative precepts." pg 154 of Natural Law in Judaism by David Novak
"But only in revelation do humans learn the truth from the One who is the source of that worth, which is that these humans are loved by this God. And through positive commandments that give the covenant concrete content, humans are enabled to respond to that love as their desired end." pg. 172 of Natural Law in Judaism by David Novak.
FFOZ's other alternative explanation for the source of the fourfold decree is that it comes from Leviticus 17-18. However, this hurts their argument that gentiles are like G-d-fearers as opposed to proselytes because the verses they're referencing in Leviticus 17-18 translate the Hebrew word "ger" as "proselyte."
Thus, neither explanation offered by FFOZ makes any sense.
It makes more sense to think of the Decree as the starting point (i.e. renunciation of idolatry) on the basis that the rest would be learned in synagogue: "For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath" (Acts 15:21).
1 CORINTHIANS 7:19
In this verse, Paul writes "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters." FFOZ says that this should not be read as attributing the same commandments to both Jews and gentiles. Rather, they argue that the word here for "commandments" is typically used by Paul to refer to individual commandments.
In this verse, "commandments of God" refers to the entire Torah and thus Paul appears to be advocating that the gentiles follow the entire Torah. Consider the following regarding this expression:
“The phrase ‘the commandments of God’ is frequently used in the Jewish and Jewish Christian literature of Paul’s time to refer to keeping the law of Moses. Late in the second century B.C., for example, the grandson of the jewish scholar Ben Sira translated his grandfather’s summary of the law this way: ‘Guard yourself in every act, for this also is the keeping of the commandments [teresis entolon]‘ (Sirach 32:23). Similarly, Matthew translates Jesus’ reply to the rich young man’s question about how to obtain eternal life as “keep the commandments” (tereson tas entolas), a clear reference to the law of Moses, as Jesus’ list of commandments and summary of the first table of the law from Leviticus 19:18 demonstrate (Mt. 1917-19). Moreover, the Septuagint’s translation of Ezra 9:4 uses the phrase ‘commands of God’ as a synonym for the law of Moses. The phrase Paul has chosen to refer to God’s commandments, therefore is one that in his cultural context clearly referred to the Mosaic law.” pg. 82 of David Rudolph's A Jew to the Jews. Quoted from Frank Thielman.
Thus, FFOZ attempts to negate not only the plain reading of the verse but also the lexicological evidence that the phrase "the commandments of God" refers to the entire Torat Moshe.
FFOZ'S ARGUMENT FROM IGNORANCE:
The final point that FFOZ makes, which they seem to feel is a rather strong point, is that they say that the apostolic writings are silent on gentile Torah observance and that this therefore proves that gentiles are not supposed to follow Torah.
"If the apostles intended for the Gentiles to eventually learn the Jewish particulars of Torah (such as circumcision, Sabbath, festivals, and Levitical dietary laws) and practice them, they never stated that expectation."
"The complete absence of instructions to Gentiles about the rudiments of Sabbaths, festivals, and dietary laws is a glaring omission which can best be explained by its obvious implication: The apostles did not regard those matters as legally obligatory to the Gentiles."
This argument is a type of logical fallacy known as argumentum ad ignorantiam (i.e. argument from ignorance). This fallacy is best captured by the following example: "Nobody has ever seen God; therefore God does not exist." This is a classic non-sequitur. The conclusion does not follow the premise.
However, the apostolic writings DO have a lot to say about gentiles and Torah observance.
But that will have to wait until later because I have to run. I have to watch my daughter while my wife is attending a friend's wedding.
TO BE CONTINUED...
But please feel free to discuss FFOZ's position. Does anyone have a different take? Is there evidence for or against their position that needs to be discussed?
Posted by Peter at 11:12 AM