Were the Gentiles really given 4 laws to follow?
Many people who claim that we are still under the law today will point to acts chapter 15 as evidence for that claim. They will usually specifically use verses 20 and 29 as support.
Acts 15:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
Acts 15:29 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.
These are found in the law of Moses
They will say that the gentiles were given 4 of the laws to follow. Often they will claim that they were given as introductory laws to the law of Moses. The gentiles were “eased in” so to speak. Some will even claim that they are part of the law of Christ which they believe is the same law as the Law of Moses. Here, we will deal with these claims and show that the gentiles were NOT in fact told to keep 4 of the laws as introductory laws and that these 4 do not in anyway make up any part of the law of Christ.
So let’s start with some context.
There was a debate about whether or not a believing Gentile had to convert to Judaism, become a Jew. This would have been done through circumcision.
Acts 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
They were not arguing that circumcision itself saved, this is not what the Jews believed then or, in fact, do believe today, but rather that ONLY the Jews, God’s chosen people, could be saved. Gentiles could not be saved. In order to become a Jew and partake in the old covenant a person had become a Jew. In order to become a Jew they had to be circumcised. Without being circumcised then they could not become a Jew and thus they could not be saved. It’s also important to understand that many of the Jews, who are actually the Northern Kingdom of Israel, also believed that the southern Kingdom of Israel, could not be saved.
So there was a dispute about whether or not the gentiles had to become Jews.
Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to discuss this matter:
Acts 15:2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
Some of the pharisees, which believed in Jesus, said that it WAS needful for the gentiles to be circumcised AND to command them to keep the law of Moses.
Acts 15: 5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
A person could not keep the law of Moses unless he was circumcised and this is VERY important to remember when understanding this passage and what was being argued.
Now Peter stood up and argued that God had made there no difference between the Jews and the gentiles.
Acts 15: 7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
God is God of the Jews and Gentiles.
Romans 3:29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
Peter also argued WHY would they tempt God to put a yoke around the neck of the gentiles that neither the Jewish fathers nor the Jews then, could bear.
Acts 15:10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
Or in other words why should the Jews. who themselves have been unable to keep the law, make the gentiles try to keep it also.
Peter even then states that the Jews would be saved by grace through Jesus as the gentiles are.
Acts 15: 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
So Peter is actually arguing here that rather than the Gentiles being saved by becoming a Jew, the Jews could be saved by grace just as the Gentiles.
Then we have James speaking. He told the men to listen to him:
Acts 15: 13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:
James refers to the scriptures where it is written that God will again build up his tabernacle and importantly that the Gentiles, who call upon God’s name would seek after God.
Acts 15:15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
Now we have to notice that it is James who states that it is HIS sentence that they trouble not the gentiles that have turned to God. It is the sentence of James. James then further states that the gentiles should not be troubled with the law.
Acts 15:19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God
However JAMES continues that the gentiles should abstain from pollutions of Idols, fornication, things strangled and from blood.
Acts 15: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood
As we have already seen these 4 are all part of the law of Moses. BUT, there are some important things to notice here.
Firstly this is JAMES speaking. James states this. There is NO mention of this being a command from God or that gentiles were commanded to do so. There is no mention of this being the law of Christ, part of the law of Christ or the law of the new covenant, and in fact it isn’t. This isn’t a command or a law. They are recommendations that the Gentiles should follow. Paul will explain it, which we will see a little later.
So even if we say that the Gentiles were commanded to keep 4 parts of the law the Gentiles were very clearly NOT commanded to keep all the law.
We must bear in mind that it was also James himself that stated that if a person kept the WHOLE law but failed at one point then they were guilty of all.
James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
So keeping 4 of the laws would have been utterly useless as having not kept the other laws they would have been guilty of breaking the whole law. .
The gentiles were also very clearly NOT commanded to be circumcised. Remember without circumcision then a person was UNABLE to be part of the old covenant, was unable to be a Jew and therefore was unable to actually keep the law. They therefore would have been unable to keep these 4 laws even if they had been commanded to do so.
In verse 24 it is very clearly stated that the disciples gave NO command that the gentiles were to be circumcised OR keep the law.
Acts 15: 24 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:
The gentiles simply received NO command from the disciples to be circumcised or keep the law.
This is also reiterated in chapter 21, where the 4 “laws” are also reiterated.
Acts 21:25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication
There is simply NO mention of these being introductory laws to the whole law of Moses. It must also be noted that nowhere in the New Testament are the gentiles ever recorded as having later been instructed to keep the rest of the law of Moses, this is simply assumed based on the belief that they were. This is nothing more than circular reasoning and not supported by scripture. Also nowhere in the New Testament do we find the gentiles being circumcised or commanded to be, which as we know is a requirement in the law of Moses. No circumcision, no ability to keep the law.
So if a Gentile was not required to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses why were they given these 4 laws from the law of Moses?
Well as already stated they were not given them as laws, and as I also stated earlier Paul explains why.
This explanation can be found in 1 Corinthians 8. What we will see is that they were given so as not to hurt those that are weak in the faith.
1 Corinthians 8:1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
So here Paul starts by saying that regarding the things (food) offered to idols WE have knowledge, but that knowledge puffeth up (it makes a person arrogant) but Charity (Fellowship love) edifies.
Now Paul will explain what he means by knowledge. The knowledge that idols are NOTHING and that there is only one God. We know that there is nothing behind meat sacrificed to those gods (idols) because those idols are not real.
1 Corinthians 8:4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
BUT he explains that there are those who do NOT have this knowledge and there are those that are WEAK. They eat that meat sacrificed unto the idol as if it was a sacrifice unto a real idol.
1 Corinthians 8:7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
Paul explains that eating meat does not make us better or worse in the eyes of God. If we choose not to eat that meat sacrificed to idols then we are no better and if we choose to eat it, with the knowledge that in reality it means nothing, then we are no worse,
1 Corinthians 8:8 but meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
But here is the important part, the reason why the Gentiles were advised in the way that they were.
Paul states that we should be careful that the LIBERTY (this right) that we have, to eat meat sacrificed to idols with our knowledge, should NOT become a stumbling block to those that are weak. (and so this is where the charity part comes in.)
1 Corinthians 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
If someone sees you eating foods sacrificed to idols( you who have knowledge regarding the only true God and that sacrifice to idols means nothing) and therefore themselves eat that food but they being weak do not have that knowledge then they are in fact eating food that they believe is sacrificed to idols which would be against the law.
1 Corinthians 8:10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
Your knowledge would then cause the one who did not have that knowledge to break the law that they would believe they are under.
1 Corinthians 8:11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
So doing this would cause you to sin against that brethren and so sin against Christ.
1 Corinthians 8:12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
So Paul says that IF the eating of that meat causes him to offend his brother then he will NOT eat so that he will not offend his brother.
1 Corinthians 8:13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
There is no command NOT to eat the meat but rather simply do not do it if it causes an the offence to your brother. So for charities sake (the love of the brother) you should not eat, even though you can.
So the Gentiles were recommended not to partake against these 4 laws for fellowship reasons. Remember they were trying to evangelise the Jews who believed that they were still under the law. These 4 laws would have been very serious to the Jews and would most certainly have offended them had the Gentiles in their company did any of them and would have probably meant that the Gentiles would be unable to fellowship with the Jews and preach the gospel of Christ.
Paul later states in 1 Timothy 4 that EVERY creature is good and NOTHING is to be refused if it be received with thanksgiving and was sanctified through the word of God and prayer.
1 Timothy 4:4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
All food then was OK to eat as long as it was received with thanks and prayer.
Paul stated earlier in Corinthians that ALL things were lawful to him BUT that not all things were beneficial. He would not be ruled by any of those things.
1 Corinthians 6: 12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
So in context and true understanding the Gentiles were not given 4 laws of Moses as introductory laws to the full law but they were recommended by the disciples to abstain from those things that would cause an offence to the Jews they were trying to evangelise.
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