Paul at your Potluck

By Derek Leman:

What do you think — would Paul have eaten your shrimp cocktail?

Churches today would have a difficult time accepting Paul as a member. He made trips to Jerusalem for the festivals and holy days when he could (Acts 20:16). He observed the seven days of Unleavened Bread and Passover during his travels and mission work (Acts 20:6). He marked the seasons by the holy days such as “the Fast” [of Yom Kippur] (Acts 27:9). He made a Nazirite vow at least twice (Acts 18:18; 21:23). This involved making sacrifices, including a burnt offering, a peace offering, a grain offering, and [yes] a sin offering (Numb 6:1-21). He went to the Temple and made animal sacrifices (Acts 21:26, “purified himself” means through a blood offering). He kept all the commandments of Torah and even the traditions of the Jewish people above and beyond the written commandments (Acts 21:21 and 21:24).

If you had a church supper and put out the cocktail shrimp, Paul would pass it up. You might say to him, “But Paul, we are under grace.” He would raise his [Vulcan-like] eyebrow at you and inform you that your words are illogical, “The God of grace is the one who commands me.” He would not even eat your pot-roast, since the meat is not slaughtered in the kosher manner. You might feel he was really being difficult.

But Paul knows that the covenant made between Israel and God at Sinai is forever. “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel,” said God (Exod 31:13). The laws are to be kept “throughout all your generations” (Exod 12:42; 31:13; Lev 3:17; 22:3; 23:14, 21, 31; Numb 15:23; 35:29). Many commandments are “a statute forever” (Exod 12:14, 17; 27:21; 28:43; 29:9; 30:21; Lev 3:17; 10:9; 16:31, 34; 17:7; 23:14, 21, 31, 41; 24:3; Numb 15:15; 19:21). He knows that in the last days, the New Covenant will include keeping the Torah commandments: Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:27.

It is, in fact, Paul who says, “Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law,” and “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” and “to them belong the adoption, the Glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Rom 2:25; 3:4; 9:4). And though his letters are not written to Jewish audiences, he does say, “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision” (1 Cor 7:18) and “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (Gal 5:3).

Yeshua did not come to annul the Torah (Matt 5:17). Some commands of Torah were never required of Gentiles (Sabbath, food laws, circumcision) and this has led to confusion, as if the whole law does not apply to anyone. Yeshua did not annul the food laws or the Sabbath. He upheld them. God did not err in revealing the Torah to Israel. The first 80% of the Bible is not a mistake. Grace is in it from beginning to end. And Jewish followers of this Jewish Messiah definitely should seek to follow him as Jews, as those who stood at Sinai and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exod 19:8).

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  • Susan_G1

    If any one of us needs to keep the OT law, then what is the Good News of the Gospels?

    In Mark 2, the disciples pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath, much to the chagrin of the Pharisees, for it is indeed “unlawful”. Jesus rebuked them for not recognizing the spirit of the law. Though David sinned to eat the Bread of the Sabbath, Jesus points out that the Spirit of the Law was not Broken. The same is true of His disciples. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

    For whatever reason, the God of the OT chose a sacrificial system of reconciliation to Him. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice that ended our relationship to the ceremonial and Levitical law, and who replaced it with the Greatest Commandment. After His death, Paul tell us, now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

    It is fine if Messianic Jews want to keep traditions that are deeply meaningful for them, but keeping of OT laws is not required, not of the Gentiles nor of the Jews.

    Would Paul eat shrimp cocktail? I doubt it. But if he was hungry, and there wasn’t a Jewish deli nearby, he might have some pot roast.

  • I thought we had some Corinthian information about clean food. Did I imagine Chapter 8? Or, better yet, Chapter 9, verses 20-21?

    Since Paul flat-out said “I did what would fit in in any crowd” it seems the null hypothesis should be “Paul kept kosher among Jews but not among Gentiles.” If you want to demonstrate otherwise, how do you account for Galatians 2?

  • scotmcknight

    Micah, no need to be sarcastic.

  • Micah, I would not assume that “I became as one outside the Law” means Paul cut it up and sinned left and right to buddy up to sinners. Why would you assume it meant he ate unkosher food? The answer: because you made a prior decision that ethical commands matter and ritual symbolisms like food laws do not. Therefore, you are not really deriving “the food laws are obsolete” from 1 Cor 9:21 — you assumed it before interpreting the verse.

  • Susan_G1, your theology about the obsolescence of the Law ignores every bit of evidence I shared. You simply state what you believe about the Law without reference to Paul’s example in Acts. Do you think the Good News is “whoopee, now Jews can eat shrimp”? You said, “If anyone has to keep the OT Law, then what is the Good News?” How about: the King has come, the kingdom has dawned, resurrection is for real!

  • Robert Dunbar

    @Susan: I think we draw the wrong “lessons” from that. Jesus’ points, I humbly submit, were that he himself, as Son of God, is Lord of the Sabbath and co-equal with the Father and that the Sabbath is meant for life and restoration. This is neither “do what you like–it’s just another day” nor “follow the rules we give you, and follow them to the letter.” Not well put, but perhaps you see what I mean.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    Paul clarifies what he means in 1 Cor 8 and 9, but one needs to understand what the clarifications mean in cultural context. Gal is all about gentiles not needing to become Jews, discussions of the reverse are not really there.

  • Phil Miller

    Not this again…

    I’m not being sarcastic, but it certainly does seem that 1 Corinthians 8 & 9 go a long way in destroying this line of reasoning. I’m saying the say Paul would eat shrimp cocktail, but I don’t think he saw any added value in keeping the Torah. The Torah had fulfilled its purpose, and saw its consummation in Christ. It would be kind of like a new mother insisting on attending Lamaze classes after she had her baby. The class were meant to prepare the way for the baby. Going to them after the baby is born might not be bad, but it’s not necessary.

    Even Paul clearly says that he’s not under the law in 1 Corinthians 9:20:

    To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.

    There may be a missional purpose in his continued observance of the Torah, but I don’t believe Paul would feel any obligation as a command from God.

  • Phil Miller

    In the previous thread touching on these issues, I remember Derek essentially saying that he believed that ethnic Jews are still commanded to keep the Torah even if they are followers of Christ. It got me thinking… What about a Jewish person who isn’t currently Torah-observant (which isn’t very uncommon, really)? If that person becomes a Christian, are we really going to tell them that they are now required to observe Torah?

  • Derek—it’s good to push the conversation in this direction. Yet I think it goes just a bit too far. Were we discussing James the Just, I’d be lock-step with you even if the potluck you described above were outside the scriptural Eretz Israel. But I just cannot see Paul doing the same. Within the borders of the land, yes. But not outside; or, rather, not outside when eating with those compatriots who, like himself, believed they had the freedom to abstain or not. If they (fellow Jews outside the borders of the Promised Land) had scruples otherwise, then, in keeping with what he writes on the subject, I do think he would’ve passed up on the shrimp. Were he in the company of Gentiles only, then I don’t see him abstaining, at least in principle (he may have thought they were disgusting little sea roaches for all I know).

    By the way, great setting for the setup! Shrimp boils are indeed a microcosm of the issue . . .

  • I should add that perhaps Paul was a little more situationally ethical than what makes some of us comfortable.

  • I don’t pretend any one passage is (or should be) a slam-dunk for or against this argument, but surely Peter’s vision prior to meeting Cornelius (which was really about people, rather than food, I know. The actual imagery notwithstanding) is relevant here? At least as part of this discussion….

  • Adam

    I live in the midwest and view all seafood eaten here as suspect. Therefore, I’m with Paul and won’t touch the shrimp.

  • Fair enough. I actually meant it as friendly banter (Derek and I have interacted before and follow each other on twitter) but I can see that it doesn’t come across that way. Want me to edit it, or let it stand as an object lesson in how not to behave on polite blogs?

  • Lemon

    Paul, a devout Jewish, went to the House of Gentiles to preach the gospel. He still maintained his Jewish life style while Gentiles were told with few instructions: abstain from pollutions of idols…. from fornication…. and from strangled animals and from blood. Acts 15:20. Yes, I am pretty sure that the Gentiles were given other instructions. One exception I noticed – Paul would abstain from certain foods that new believers consider a sin because it was used in idol worship. 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, If what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” I think Paul would only consider the seasons, the souls and sins and the most important – Christ. Paul was being practical for Christ’s sake.

  • Galatians as a whole is about that, sure, but in Galatians 2 we have Paul criticizing Cephas/Peter for not eating with Gentiles who didn’t keep kosher. Peter was engaging in the very behavior that Derek is here claiming Paul would have followed.

    Maybe there are reasons to believe Paul would have seen a distinction between Peter’s actions and Derek’s ideal, but that should be the starting point of the conversation, or at least should be addressed.

    The question Derek posed was “Would Paul eat shrimp if he was a guest at my house.” I think Paul’s writings make clear that his answer would be “yes.” Derek thinks the answer is “no,” but he goes on to talk about grace and circumcision, instead of what Paul said about this very topic.

  • Now this is a line of argument that I can find convincing.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    The verses do not say that exactly.
    What they say is that Peter was not eating with gentiles.
    If I eat with someone who has food restrictions for any reason, I will assume their food restrictions. For example, I have eaten with a vegetarian in her house and I did not expect to eat meat at a common meal. But I was gracious and did eat with her and learned that veggies can be tasty all by themselves.
    So my working assumption is that the gentiles conformed to the Jewish food restrictions when eating together in common table fellowship. But Peter was declining to do even this, perhaps based on the false idea that doing so with gentiles was contaminating.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    Peter never ate any of the animals on the sheet in his vision, he said No 3 times which makes it deliberate.

  • JL Schafer

    As I understand it, Jewish dietary laws weren’t just about abstaining from certain foods; they also involved proper handling of dishes and utensils, ceremonial washing, etc. I tend to assume that, if Peter were to eat at the same table with Gentiles, he would inevitably be breaking some aspects of the law (as it was understood in the first century) even if he abstained from the specific foods that were most obviously nonkosher.

  • Phil Miller

    The whole concept of table fellowship in the New Testament goes well beyond the the specific foods being eaten. Sharing a meal with someone had many more implications for a Jewish person than it does for us. For one thing, the presence of unclean food on the table would likely mean the whole table itself was unclean. Also, in the ANE, and even today in many Middle Eastern countries, food would have been served in a common dish. It wasn’t as if someone could simply ask for a kosher meal. To share a meal with someone was to express solidarity with that person. That’s why it was a scandal when Jesus at with the wrong people.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    Here is a question, do you think Paul is repeating himself here? That is, what does the term “under the law” mean? I think it means those that think obeying the commandments put them right with God. Paul points out how this will never work, as we are imperfect; what puts us right with God is an active faith in believing God’s promises, this is how Abraham was declared righteous.

  • Michael Mercer

    Sorry, don’t buy it. You say Paul considered the Sinai Covenant eternal but I think Gal. 3 is pretty clear that it was a temporary guardian to guide Israel until the coming of Messiah. 1Cor 9 also sets Paul’s personal behavior in the context of Gospel witness. He went above and beyond so as not to offend either Jews or Gentiles when among them.

  • Michael Mercer


  • DonaldByronJohnson

    What Paul says is that the law/Torah is no longer a guardian leading one to Jesus. He does not say that Torah no longer exists and is nullified.

  • Phil Miller

    If it’s fulfilled it’s purpose, it’s kind of moot point to speak of in terms of being nullified. To say it’s nullified means it no longer has any value. No one is saying the Torah had no value (at least no one commenting here). It’s just that the value it had is no longer needed.

  • Michael Mercer

    Wrong. Paul’s argument is not personal but historical. It is about the Law’s role in salvation history, not its role in bringing individuals to Jesus. The Law’s role in God’s plan has been fulfilled.

  • Phil Miller

    “Under the law” means kind of what we think it means. It means that Paul no longer sees himself as being bound by the requirements of the Torah. The boundary-marking activities that the Torah prescribed aren’t the things that set him apart now. What sets him apart is Christ.

    I don’t believe that Paul or the Jews in general were legalists. I don’t think that they observed the Torah as an effort to make themselves right with God. I believe they observed the Torah as a response to God’s calling of them. As E.P. Sanders would put it, observing the Torah was a matter of “getting in and staying in” covenant. But the getting in and staying in was a response to something God had already done. But how one relates to God now that Christ has come goes beyond the boundary markers of the Torah.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    I see the term “under the law” like Paul using the term “no longer under a guardian”. Per Acts 21, Paul followed Torah, but not like he was under a guardian and Paul claims he is no longer under the law. So somehow these terms that might seem to contradict need to be figured out so they do not.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    You should integrate this with Paul statements in Acts 21 where he claims to have followed Torah.

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t really see a contradiction.

    In Acts 21, the issue was that Paul had gotten a reputation for not observing the Torah, and because of that Jewish Christians were upset. The way I see it, the fact that they were upset and Paul participated in the purification rites does not mean that Paul was simply concerned about observing the Torah for it’s own sake. I believe he was concerned about maintaining unity in the fledgling church. I also think that Paul himself was probably still working out what it was that God wanted. He had grown up a Jew, and it was all he knew, so I don’t imagine Torah observance was something he would throw out overnight.

    I think, though, that we are minimizing the instructions to Gentile converts here. The fact that Gentiles were not required to be circumcised to become Christians is not a little thing. The Torah instructed circumcision as the way one became a member of God’s family. Now, this group of crazy Jews is saying that’s no longer necessary. That act in and of itself is an act of non-observance of the Torah.

  • I notice many commenters are dogmatic about the Torah being abolished, even as a covenant between God and Jewish people. I see a lot of imprecision in the way people commenting here understand “Law” and the various ways Paul uses the term. Sometimes in Paul’s writing, being “under the law” can even mean “bound by the guilt of your own conscience” and have no reference at all to the Torah. Yet, with little regard for nuance, some of the commenters here follow a line that is neither true to Paul’s words, Paul’s example, nor to the scriptures which say Torah is an eternal covenant with Israel. Dogmatism does not suit anyone well. What can I tell you if you will not believe Paul himself, “it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom 2:13).

  • Chris Donato, what evidence do you have that Diaspora Jews (those outside the land of Israel) ignored the food laws? Phil Miller, impurity is not communicated by contact of the unclean food with the plate and from the plate to the table and from the table to the person.

  • Kari

    Or could it be that the Torah has multiple purposes, and only one of them was being addressed in the passage you refer to? Paul also said in 2 Timothy “ALL Scripture is G-d-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” Are all of those purposes no longer needed either?
    Messiah Himself said that the two greatest commandments were to love G-d and love others. That is precisely what Torah teaches. How can those purposes be “no longer needed?”

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    Actually, not being circumcised is what it means to be gentile and gentiles could be a part of God’s family. Every time the NT talks about fearing God it is referring to some who were gentile.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    There is a difference between what the Pharisees taught Scripture taught and what Scripture actually taught. The Pharisees taught things that added to Torah (fence around Torah) and Jesus discusses them in the gospels and points out that this is not a good idea in some cases.

  • To the Jesus-annulled-the-Law commenters, a thought to consider. God said to Israel concerning the Sabbath, “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel” (Exod 31:13). The same God said, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20) and “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58). You, as a group, believe God when he says such things in the New Testament, but not when he said them in the Old?

  • scotmcknight

    On this one I think you spinning in circles to avoid the obvious: told by God to eat those things.

  • Evernerd

    I agree. Paul used “under the law” where the term “legalism” did not exist in his day. He defines his meaning in Gal 5:4.

    Galatians 5:4(NASB)
    You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

  • None. Nor would I ever expect to. Nor would I drive a wedge between Jews who thought that Jesus was the messiah and those who didn’t by suggesting that the former “ignored food laws” (an untenable distinction, really, in the interim when nascent Christianity was still largely identified as a Jewish sect).

    But the question misses the principle behind the point: the new covenant Israelite in diaspora now had the freedom to practice Torah or not (even if that freedom to not practice would’ve seemed unthinkable at the time, depending on their situation, which is what lies at the heart of what St. Paul teaches on the subject, i.e., liberty). This is not abrogation or supercessionism, not least because, again, Torah observance (probably) still matters within the borders of the Promised Land (following Bockmuehl here).

    I think you know where this leads: a Torah-practicing Messianic Jew in Diaspora is the “weaker brother,” which, of course, is not a jibe but an exhortation to those who do not share in those scruples to maintain in love the unity of Christ’s church.

    It may have been that the apostle Paul consistently everywhere continued to practice Torah, not least for the practical reason of not being a stumbling block and unnecessarily jeopardizing his mission to the Gentiles, but this still doesn’t undermine or do away with his teachings regarding the liberty he and his compatriots in diaspora now had when it came to observance. If this doesn’t hold (if the old hasn’t in some sense “passed away” or met its goal), then I can’t see why we Gentiles are excluded from Torah observance.

  • Phil Miller

    “God-fearers” was a somewhat vague classification, but it was generally meant to refer to Gentiles who were sympathetic to Judaism in one way or another. The fact that the term exists at all shows that they were viewed not as full members of the covenant community.

  • Evernerd

    If they BarMitzvah, shouldn’t they be encouraged to keep their vow? Not to say they’re REQUIRED to do so for salvation, but rather as “the obedience of faith.” (Rom. 1:5)

  • Chris, since you started with the (apparently unquestionable) presupposition that Paul taught Jews outside the land of Israel the annulment of Torah, unsurprisingly you see “no need to keep Torah” in Paul’s writings. The thing is, you imported it into Paul and did not derive it either from a fair reading of his words and certainly not from his example. You attempt to solve this with the claim “Torah is kept in the land but not outside.” You have no evidence for this claim. It is your presupposition. My article was attempting to demolish this presupposition. Yet you have ignored every piece of evidence I presented in maintaining your dogmatism on this strange theology (“Jesus died so Jews could be freed from a few food restrictions and a day of rest”). I commend to you Mark Nanos’s The Mystery of Romans and his interpretation of the weaker and stronger in Romans 14. I am no Romans expert, but I believe other commentators have agreed with Nanos’s point: “stronger” is Paul’s rhetorical reprimand to those who are strong in faith (because they know Jesus) who are making it hard for the weak (Jews who lacked faith in Jesus) to believe.

  • Evernerd

    Peter interprets his own vision (Acts 10:28) as pertaining to gentile believers, not unclean foods. Moreover, he equates “eating” with going to them without objection (Acts 10;29) when he cites this interpretation as the reason he entertained Cornelius’ request.

    Acts 10:28-29
    And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. 29 That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me.”

    Moreover, Peter’s fellow Jews accept this line of reasoning upon hearing of his vision and the events which followed (Acts 11:18).

  • Michael:

    I’d like to make two simple points. #1, you are able to read “no longer under a pedagogue” (warden of a schoolchild) as “the Torah is abolished” because you disbelieve what God himself says about Torah repeatedly. But if you believed what God said about Torah, you would resist any reading in which Paul contradicts his own words, his own example, and God’s words.

    #2, when a child grows they no longer need the warden (pedagogue) but they still keep the manners and ways shown them in childhood. You are pushing Paul’s analogy too far and saying he means “we are no longer under the pedagogue and we know reject all he taught us.”

  • meant “we now reject”

  • I don’t agree, Scot. First, you really think God commanded him to eat creeping things (roaches, spiders, snakes, scorpions)? Second, analogies are common in the Bible and when the meaning is given, the analogy should not be pushed beyond the given meaning. Obviously the given meaning is “Gentiles are not unclean.” And they never were (in Torah) but were only thought so through the prejudices of some Jews of the time.

  • Micah, I keep many of the food laws myself and eat at the same table with those who do not. I have eaten with many vegetarians and gluten-free eaters and we somehow shared fellowship.

  • JL Schafer

    Phil, that’s exactly what I was getting at. I realize that the Pharisees put fences around the Torah, making the laws more stringent than the Scripture actually required. Jesus pointed that out on occasion. But the Jesus-solution was not to remove the extras that were added on to the law. His solution was to fulfill the requirements of the law in himself and uphold an ethic of acceptance and love.

  • Evernerd

    If one cannot accept there’s an analogy going on in Acts 10, one better be prepared to defend a literal interpretation of John 6:53-56.

  • Michael Mercer

    You are reading too much into the text. Verse 19: “Why then the law? it was added because of transgressions until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.” Verse 23: “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would come.” Verse 25: “…we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.” Verse 28: “…no longer Jew or Greek.”

    This is a cohesive argument directly against the continuation of the law as a covenant defining God’s people. If there is no longer Jew or Greek, why then would one still be subject to a covenant that defines a people as Jew vs. Non-Jew?

  • Michael Mercer

    One does not determine the meaning of a text by integrating it with another text in a different context. Understand the text first, then sort out the relationships.

  • Michael, you find your reading of the pedagogue text (Gal 3:23-25) very convincing. It is not so simple. The very translation you pasted in your comment is problematic. Meanwhile, in vs. 28, keep reading and quit being so un-nuanced. Vs. 28 says “no male and female.” I’ll admit Jews are not distinct from Gentiles when you show me a man who is pregnant.

  • Bottom line: the continuation of Torah observance among God’s people Israel ignores the telos for which Torah was given in the first place and which was “filled up” in the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and session (and eventual reappearing) of Jesus—to draw all people in covenant with the one, true God of Israel, regardless of their observance to the old law (miserably failing that time and again, as it turns out). To his compatriots “listening in,” as it were, in his letter to the Roman church(es), St. Paul wrote that “no one can ever be made right with God by doing Torah. Torah simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of Torah, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”

    Thanks be to God for his grace in inviting we who were formerly sinners, outside of his covenant, into covenant with him through the cross of Christ, thereby enabling us to actually fulfill Torah by writing it on our hearts by the power of his Spirit.

    Nevertheless, it’s interesting to posit that it may have been as you argue for the messianic Jew at first (because clearly the return from literal exile to the literal land is precipitated by faithfulness to the holiness code), but AD 70 would seem to have rendered it moot once and for all (the intervening historical contingency of Jerusalem’s destruction). And since a small sliver of land in the Syro-Palestinian Levant is no longer the actual Promised Land, but is now, rather, the entire earth, we’d all do well—Jew and Gentile alike—to practice the law of Christ (i.e., love God and love neighbor), making disciples as we go, and, yes, “hurry up” the return of our king. If this includes your keeping of the old law in totem (which I suspect is well-nigh impossible anyway without tweaking it in this modern age, but I’m certainly open to correction on that)—great, so long as it’s done with an eye on your liberty to do so or not, and, of course, without any hint of somehow being more acceptable to God for doing so.

  • Phil Miller

    That’s an interesting question, and one I’d largely leave up to that individual’s conscience. I probably would not encourage it, though.

    It goes to my other comments. The purpose of the Torah was to point towards Christ. If an observant comes to the place where the recognize Jesus as the Messiah, than we can rejoice that it is has done its work in their life. If for whatever reason the still feel they should observe the Torah, that’s fine. I would not say, however, they were walking in disobedience if they chose not to.

  • Evernerd

    In answer to Chris writing, “…I can’t see why we Gentiles are excluded from Torah observance,” Nanos also argues that Paul saw imposing Torah observance on gentile believers as a violation of the Shema (Dt 6:4). Gentiles taking on full torah observance would constitute full conversion. They would no longer BE gentiles. They would be proselytes…Jews. That would mean the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was ONLY the god of the Jews. Nanos asserts this is Paul’s point in Rom 3:29-31.

  • And who are the “doers of Torah” in this context that Paul is building up to and uses as an example of those who are in covenant with God? New covenant Gentiles, as described in Jer 31:33ff. Rom 2:14–15b says that “even Gentiles, who by heritage do not have Torah, show that they do indeed know Torah when they instinctively obey it . . . demonstrating that Torah is written in their hearts.”

    Paul’s fellow Jews too, can also be a part of this new covenant, he writes, whenever they trust that “true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of Torah; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit” (Rom 2:29). I realize what Paul is not saying to Jews here—leave off Torah—that must be read into the text. But let’s not miss the forest: what matters is circumcision of the heart, just as it always was intended to be but was always unattainable through the old covenant.

  • Phil Miller

    Sure, if we’re talking about the written word of the Torah, it does indeed serve all those purposes. The question of whether or not God expects Christians from Jewish backgrounds to be Torah observant is another question altogether.

    I agree with what Michael Mercer said below. Torah observance for the Jewish was what set them apart from their neighbors. It was the thing that marked them off as God’s covenant people. If the Apostle Paul can be as bold to say to the Corinthians that “circumcision is nothing”, it seems to me that what distinguishes us as Christ-followers is something altogether different.

  • An argument with which I agree, but which is inconsistent with the notion that Torah is still central to the covenantal equation, or else we slip into dual-covenantalism, no?

  • Michael Mercer

    Derek, forgive me, but you are not seriously interacting with Paul or me here. Furthermore I am not being unnuanced in Gal. 3:28 and think you are only avoiding dealing with the problems in your argument by resorting to mocking. The point is obviously not that there are no distinctions between the groups mentioned. For Paul to say so would be ludicrous, of course. What he is saying is that the boundaries that formerly kept various groups from being recognized as full members of the people of God have now been eliminated in Christ. When it comes to the Jew/Greek relationship that means law-observance vs. non-law observance.

    Paul’s big point (no matter which translation you use, by the way) is that the law was a temporary covenant, added to create boundaries for Israel until Messiah came to fulfill the promise given to Abraham — the most fundamental promise to which all people can now lay claim in Christ.

    Your position is so problematic in the light of a multitude of NT texts that I find it hard to believe you can seriously believe it. Jewish Christians are required to keep the law? Which laws? All of them? Are Jewish Christians forbidden from wearing cotton/polyester blend clothing? Should they promote stoning rebellious children and homosexuals? If a wife is suspected of adultery, should she go through trial by ordeal? And what “law” is there without temple, priesthood, and sacrifice? If a Jew does not keep the feasts by going up to Jerusalem, is he really obeying the law?

    This could go on and on — 613 commandments? Or have the law’s requirements been reduced to Sabbath, food laws, and circumcision now?

  • Evernerd

    I don’t know that I’d describe failure to uphold one’s vow as “disobedience,” but it could certainly be considered a impediment in one’s testimony. I think it’s for this reason that Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3).

    A bar mitzvah who testifies that Yeshua is the Messiah, but fails observe Torah himself, will not be believed by his fellow Jews. Jews ardently believe that, when Messiah comes, he’ll cause even the nations to walk in the ways of Torah.

  • Michael Mercer

    It is my view, and I think it was Paul’s, that Jews are now FREE to live as observant law-keeping people in Christ, to celebrate their Jewish heritage, and to live culturally as Jews. They are not REQUIRED to do so.

  • Evernerd


  • Phil Miller

    It would depend on the community the person came from. The number of Jews in the US who are actually completely Torah observant is relatively low. I think you’d find plenty of Bar Mitzvahs who are not Torah observant as it is already.

  • Kari

    Do you differentiate between the written word of Torah and the application of it? To hear the Torah is to obey the Torah. The first-century believers would have assumed that using the Torah in the manner described by Paul meant practicing it. If you do not do what it says, you haven’t heard it.

    It serves no purpose to pull out a small phrase like “circumcision is nothing” to prove that Paul was anti-Torah. He also said “What benefit is there of being a Jew? Great in every respect!!” Yet that doesn’t prove your point quite as well so you overlook it.

    There is always a context with Paul, and the “circumcision is nothing” phrase was in a specific one – namely, how the promises and blessings of G-d are passed to Gentiles through Yeshua and not through conversion to Judaism. It’s a rhetorical device, not a condemnation of circumcision. How could Paul condemn a command given by G-d?

    If you added the word “Gentile” to your last sentence, I could agree with you. But circumcision for the Jew was never in question. I dare you to prove otherwise.

  • Phil Miller

    Again, I’d have to go with what Michael brought up regarding Galatians 3:26-29.

    There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    We’re all Abraham’s seed through Christ. Whether a Jewish person gets circumcised or not – it doesn’t matter. But it isn’t the thing that sets them apart as God’s chosen people any longer.

    Btw, I’ve never said that Paul is anti-Torah. I believe Paul loved the Torah. But I believe he loved it after his conversion because it pointed to Christ.

  • Susan_G1

    I used concrete examples of Scripture to make my point, it’s not just my opinion. Somehow that got lost in your reading. I don’t think the Good News is, “whoopie, we can eat shrimp. I think the good news is that our yoke is lighter, and we are saved through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not just my opinion.

  • kenny Johnson

    This isn’t meant to be snarky and I’m a theological light-weight, but I’m wondering if you could address something I saw a couple people bring up. Does this mean the whole law should be followed, including stoning disobedient children, not wearing fabric of different blends, etc. If not, why?

  • Josh

    Justin Martyr might have had a problem with some of these things. See a comple of his chapters in Dialogue with Trypho.

  • Susan_G1

    he also denied Christ three times. Peter just didn’t understand yet what his vision meant.

  • jenny

    I am more puzzled on why Paul forbids women from talking in the church…

    1Corinthiand 14 :

    “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church”

    So, I can see Paul attending my potluck …..if he can only explain the above ….