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).