Oy vey! There is so much confusion, misunderstanding and false teaching out there in the church world. For example, the mainstream church has taught (or brainwashed) its constituents into believing that according to Acts 15, Gentiles are free from all of the requirements of the Torah-law of Moses, except for the four things mentioned in Acts 15:20.
What this means is that I guess it’s now all right for Gentiles to murder, steal, lie, worship idols, violate the Sabbath and you don’t have to tithe either (oops, there goes the pastor’s salary, retirement and building fund down the drain, and denominations are a thing of the past, as well, with their financial base gone), as long as we do the four requirements stipulated by the apostles in Acts 15:20. That means we have to do kosher slaughter of clean animals and make sure we get the blood out of the meat. Oh, I just remembered, the church doesn’t even teach these basic things, much less practice them. Now I’m really confused…so what’s really going on here? Well, it’s a heart of man thing! Paul summed it up in Romans 8:7,
Because the carnal mind is enmity against Elohim: for it is not subject to the law of Elohim, neither indeed can be.
Jeremiah had something to say about this as well,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jer 17:9)
Human nature hasn’t changed much from the time these words were penned until now. To wit, someone just wrote the following in the comments section of this blog:
I heartily disagree. One need only look to what the Jewish apostles taught their goyim charges (from the Council at Jerusalem – Acts15, specifically verses 28 & 29));
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond these essential requirements: You must abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Not a word about the “Law”. Rather listen to what Jesus’ closest friend had to say, “Now then, why do you test God by placing on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?”
Evidently, some feel that they know more than the Holy Spirit, and Peter.
I responded as follows:
Yes, yes, yes, those of us who’ve been around the block a time or two over the past few decades have heard this argument more than a few times. It’s not that someone is claiming to know more than Peter or the Holy Spirit, as you suggest. Rather, it’s that someone is failing to understand the Acts 15 passage in its full context and has defaulted to believing the traditions of men by which the Word of Elohim has been made of non-effect. Please allow me to explain.
First, let me thank you for allowing me to address this sadly misunderstood passage of Scripture that has confused many people and led many folks, such as yourself, to come to a totally wrong and unscriptural conclusion. To take the position you are positing totally contradicts hundreds of other verses in both the OT and NT. Yeshua himself said that the scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). To say that Scripture contradicts itself is, honestly, to call the Bible a lie and the Author of it a liar. Hard words, but the truth. Sadly, this is the majority position of the mainstream church. YHVH Elohim will straighten out this mess in due time. Many Christian teachers who have taught this and who have led YHVH’s people astray will be proven to be false and will have to answer before Elohim’s throne of judgment for it.
I will post the counter argument to your position on my blog. Those who are not afraid of the truth can read the truth here:
Now here’s my commentary on Acts 15.
Acts 15:1–29, See notes at Matt 11:29. (Posted below)
Acts 15:1, Custom of Moses. This is based on Exodus 12:48 which requires all males to be circumcised before being allowed to partake of Passover. To be part of Israel, one had to become circumcised and observe the Passover and all Israel was required to do so (Exod 12:47). Foreigners were forbidden from keeping the Passover (Exod 12:43) until they were circumcised. From this, the Pharisees got the idea that circumcision is a prerequisite for salvation—or inclusion in spiritual family of redeemed Israel. As Paul points out in Romans chapter four, Abraham was justified by faith, not by the rite of circumcision. Therefore, the custom of circumcision as a prerequisite for inclusion within the nation of Israel (a metaphor for salvation) is unique to the law of Moses, and not to the over-arching and eternal principles of the Torah (as demonstrated by the fact that Abraham come into a relationship with YHVH 24 years before being circumcised) to which the law of Moses is subservient. This custom was necessary in order to protect the sanctity and integrity of the physical nation of Israel from foreign and pagan influences and was not prior to or subsequent to the physical nation of Israel intended to be a prerequisite for eternal salvation as Paul, again, makes clear in Romans chapter four.
Acts 15:10, Yoke on the neck. Many Christian commentators teach that Peter is making a reference to the Torah when he speaks of a yoke being put around the neck of the people of Israel meaning that Torah-observance was an impossibility. Yet, Moses told the Israelites that Torah-obedience wasn’t impossible (Deut 30:11–14), and that it would be a source of life to them (v. 19), and would be a source of wisdom and understanding for them, thus eliciting the curiosity of the surrounding nations (Deut 4:6–8). Were Moses and Peter at odds with each other thus violating the unity of Elohim’s Word (John 10:35)? Or was Peter referring to something else other than the Torah-law of Moses? At issue in the Acts 15 Jerusalem council was whether circumcision was a prerequisite for salvation (Acts 15:1). True, the Law of Moses required all male children to be circumcised on the eighth day (Lev 12:2–3), and all males to be circumcised in order for one to partake of Passover (Exod 12:43–49). This later requirement may be construed to mean that circumcision is a prerequisite for salvation, and evidently some of the Pharisees of that day held to this belief. However, in the Testimony of Yeshua, neither Yeshua nor the apostolic writers make salvation dependent on the rite of physical circumcision. This position is correct, since Abraham come into a spiritual relationship with YHVH some 24 years before he was circumcised, as Paul states in Romans chapter four. The emphasis in the Testimony of Yeshua, rather, is placed on circumcision of the heart, which is the higher spiritual principle—even as it was in Moses’ day (Deut 10:16; 30:6)—to which physical circumcision pointed.
When Peter speaks of a yoke that hindered the Gentiles from coming into the kingdom, to what is he referring? He is referring to the non-biblical concept circulating among some of the Jewish converts to Yeshua that circumcision was a prerequisite to justification leading to salvation, which is something it was never intended to be.
Many Christians today erroneously think that the yoke Peter was referring to was obedience to the basic requirements of the Torah. Rather, what he was referring to was the customs Moses established (which become known as the law of Moses), which exceed the basic requirements of the Torah. In this case, it was the custom the circumcision as a requirement for inclusion in the nation of Israel and is based on the Passover requirements found in Exod 12:43–49. Elsewhere, Paul makes no mention of the Gentiles needing to be circumcised to become part of Israel, but only a spiritual relationship with Yeshua is required (Eph 2:11–18).
The yoke that Peter is referring to, and as we’ve already noted, is the concept that a man can redeem himself from sin by his own good works including Torah-obedience. If this were true, then this would leave a sinner carrying the yoke of his own sin and the consequences of that sin, which is death—a yoke that no man can bear. For if we seek to be saved through works rather than through the faith in the Messiah, then his sacrifice to pay for our sins is of no benefit to us. This is the context of Peter’s statement in Acts 15:10, for in verse nine he mentions having one’s heart purified by faith (in Messiah’s death for our sins), and in verse 11 he talks about being saved “through the grace of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.” This is salvation by grace through faith in Yeshua, which is not based on works (of Torah-obedience). Paul refers to this same salvation “formula,” if you will, in Eph 2:8–9. Paul elsewhere reiterates Peter’s idea of a circumcision–works based formula for salvation being a yoke when in Gal 5:1–4 he refers to circumcision for salvation as “a yoke of bondage.”
Acts 15:20, We write to them. These were the four requirements that the apostles imposed on the new converts to Yeshua for coming into the congregation of the saints. This is how the process worked in that day: First the gospel was preached in the streets (outside the church). Second, the Gentiles accepted the gospel message, believed in Yeshua and were baptized. Third, they were invited into the fellowship of the believers. Fourth, they were discipled in the ways of biblical righteousness. As the saying goes, first you catch the fish, then you clean the fish. This process takes a while. That’s where verse 21 comes into play (see notes at v. 21).
This verse also lists the four requirements the apostles imposed on new converts before they could be admitted into the fellowship of believers. Some of these strictures were culturally specific to that era, such as not eating meat sacrificed to idols. The other three requirements are applicable today and are actually laws from the Torah-law of Moses. These are: abstaining from sexual immorality, and properly butchering meat, and not eating blood. These last two requirements were important elements of the biblical dietary laws as found in the Torah or law of Moses.
Curiously, and hypocritically, many in the mainstream church who use Acts 15 as “proof” that the Torah-law is no longer applicable to believers in Yeshua at the same time totally ignore the four requirements the apostles imposed on Gentiles in this verse. How many Christians actually follow the dietary requirements listed in this verse, which are from the Torah? How many sermons have you heard in the church about koshering your meat to get all the blood out of it before you eat it? So, if one believes that the apostles are freeing believers from the Torah, and all that Gentiles now have to do are these four requirements listed in this verse, then why aren’t Christians at least scrupulously obeying these minimal requirements?
Acts 15:21, Moses…synagogue…every Sabbath. Why did James make this statement? What is he really saying here? What is the relevance to the previous discussion of mentioning that Moses is preached in the synagogue every Sabbath? The inference is that the saints can learn all about the legal requirements of the Torah (the practical aspects of how to love Elohim and one’s neighbor [Mark 12:29–31; Rom 123:8–10], how to love Yeshua [John 14:15], how not to sin [1 John 3:4] and how to walk in righteousness [Ps 119:172], how to know Elohim [1 John 2:3–6]) by going to the synagogue each Sabbath. Why else mention this? If the law was done away with, then what is the relevance of this statement? There is none!
Acts 15:24, Keep the law. The issue here is not whether Torah-obedience is necessary for a redeemed believer, but rather whether circumcision and following the customs of Moses (as opposed to the eternal principles of the Torah) is a prerequisite for salvation.
Matthew 11:29, Take my yoke. This is an invitation to the marriage covenant with Yeshua; to become yoked to him in love, voluntarily through love, not compulsion or fear (see notes at Song 8:6). Here Yeshua is inviting his followers to take on themselves the yoke of the marriage covenant (the New, Renewed or Everlasting Covenant of Jer 31:31, 33 and Heb 8:8); that is, to accept him as their heavenly and everlasting spiritual Bridegroom. This is the yoke of the bondservant to which all the apostolic writers made reference when they called themselves the bond servant of Yeshua. Men have only two choices: Be a bond servant to Satan or to Yeshua. The former leads to judgment against sin which is death, while the latter leads to mercy and forgiveness, deliverance from death and sin through Yeshua resulting in eternal life. The marriage covenant or New/Renewed/Everlasting covenant isn’t one of compulsion (based on the fear of death), but is based on voluntary servitude and is a freewill choice. Love can’t exist under an atmosphere of compulsion, but only when there’s freewill choice. This freewill choice to take on oneself the yoke of Torah is evidenced in the decision of the apostles vis-à-vis the Gentiles inclusion into covenantal relationship with Yeshua and the rest of the believers in Acts 15. The Pharisee believers were compelling the Gentiles to follow the Torah as a prerequisite for salvation and inclusion into the community of believers (Acts 15:1). On the contrary, the apostles made it clear in their verdict that only certain minimum requirements be imposed on the Gentiles to be granted entrance into the community of believers. The Gentiles needed to be drawn into the Torah covenants, not by compulsion or fear, but through invitation and freewill choice based on love. The apostles go on to say in Acts 15:21 that on this basis, the Gentiles will learn to take on the yoke of Torah little-by-little out of love for Elohim and Yeshua their Bridegroom, and not out of fear and compulsion.