Thursday, April 25, 2013

Did the "G-d-Fearer" Practice the Fourfold Decree (Acts 15)?

So I took a nap today and when I woke up there were about a million comments.  Guess I won't be getting to all of them but I do want to address a comment that Gene made:

"OK, Acts 15 gives an nice clue about what fact of Gentiles coming to Messiah meant for the apostles and the Holy Spirit when it came to obligations vs those of Jewish believers. Doesn't appear that the requirements were all that different from the other "non-Yeshua" G-d-fearers of the time."  --Gene
In the Talmud (tractate Avodah Zarah) we see that the real concern behind prohibitions of socializing with non-Jews was preventing idolatry (Geneba says "With all the things against which they decreed the purpose was to safeguard against idolatry", Avodah Zarah 36b).  And what was the mechanism for idolatry?  Deuteronomy 7 indicates that if the Israelites got too friendly with non-Israelites that they would make friendships and eventually intermarry and then the CHILDREN would be led astray in idolatry.

So then wasn't Peter justified in not wanting to socialize with Cornelius, a man who would've been forced to engage in idolatry as part of his occupation?

"The centurion Cornelius, for example, described as a 'fearer of [G-d] who prays constantly and supports the poor, whether fictive or not, would have been understood by Luke's ancient audience to be a public pagan too, since as an officer he would have participated in his unit's military cultus," pg. 6 of Judaism, The Circumcision of Gentiles, and Apocalyptic Hope:  Another Look at Galatians 1 and 2  by Paula Fredriksen

But how then did first-century Jews allow non-Jews, who were widely known to be continuing in pagan practices, to visit synagogue?  Fredriksen says the following:

"Despite the Jewish horror of idolatry, Jews evidently made room in the synagogue for those Gentiles who, like Naaman, worshipped [Adonai] as a god among gods," (ibid) [emphasis added].
This is interesting because, on the one hand, Jews were prohibited by law from socializing with non-Jews:
"He said to them:  'You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile.  But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean," (Acts 10:28).
But, on the other hand, if a non-Jew wished to visit synagogue--even though he was a practicing pagan!--this was allowed.  And such non-Proselytes who continued in paganism yet loved the G-d of Israel (like Naaman), were deemed to fit into the anomalous category of "G-d-Fearer."

So did Peter experience this tension between wanting to include the non-Jewish Believers and also wanting to exclude them?  YES!  We see this when Peter got rebuked in Galatians 2 by Paul.  Peter was refusing to sit with the non-Jews and got soundly rebuked.  It appears that Peter's previous progress toward Inclusionism (e.g. allowing the non-Jews to be immersed, a practice which was prohibited by the non-Messianic Judaisms of first-century) had been totally reversed.  After certain men came without authorization from Ya'akov (in Jerusalem), Peter began to treat the non-Jewish Believers just like mere G-d-Fearers:  he included them in synagogue but excluded them from social events such as table-fellowship.

But, later at the Jerusalem Council, Peter makes up for his previous lapse.  He once again preaches the story of Cornelius, how the non-Jewish Believers have been purified (and in the process reached a status that the ancient G-d-Fearers couldn't attain).  To Peter, this meant that non-Jews should be fully included socially and that the Messianic Community had an OBLIGATION to immerse the non-Jews (something which was never done for G-d-Fearers).


And so we see that all the non-Jews were required to sever their socio-religious connections with home and family, become traitors to their pagan people and ancestral gods by following the fourfold decree.  They had to completely abstain from "pollutions" of idolatry connected with the pagan cultus.

NOTE:  the G-d-Fearers were defiled if we are to believe the Book of Daniel.  In the Septuagint it says, "And Daniel purposed in his heart, that he would not defile [alisgeo] himself with the king's table..." And this term for defilement, alisgeo, is found in noun form in James' phrase "ton alisgematon ton eidolon" (pollutions of idols).  Jews didn't care if G-d-Fearers defiled themselves.  They didn't command G-d-Fearers to abstain from idolatry.  But the Messianic Jews in Acts 15 were now commanding the non-Jews to maintain a level of purity that was much higher than that of a G-d-Fearer!  Why???  [see McKee's "Acts 15 For the Practical Messianic" for more about this]

James said it was because of what the Prophets had said, that the non-Jews were going to voluntarily be joining to Israel and learning the Torah of Moses.  Note that James makes a gezerah shavah and references the "prophets" plural.  We see that he references many Prophetic passages including Micah 4:2, Isaiah 2, etc, etc.

But how do we know that James felt that the non-Jews were coming to learn the Torah of Moses?

BECAUSE THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT JAMES SAYS IN ACTS 15:21.   Read it for yourself and see that the context here is not so-called Noahide Laws or so-called rules for G-d-Fearers.  James felt that these newcomers were being included so that they could immediately begin a process of sanctification, a process that according to the Prophets would involve learning Sinaitic Torah.

So is Gene correct in his comment at the top?  Well, I love Gene as a dear brother but I have to disagree with him.  The New Covenant elevates the status of non-Jews.  Does Ephesians 2 read as though Paul thinks that the New Covenant does nothing new for non-Jews?  Or does it read as though Paul believes the New Covenant has profoundly affected the status of non-Jews?  So let's close with that:

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

1 comment:

  1. Man, brothers, I feel high on the Holy Spirit right now! I love these discussions we're having. And many thanks to Gene for having the courage to come and discuss with us!

    It's so awesome to see what G-d is doing in our movement. I'm so encouraged to see great scholars appearing left and right (even the ones I don't fully agree with). We are living in the End Times! G-d is opening our eyes! Let's keep the discussion going and overcome our divisions!