Acts 15 is often used by Christians as a tool to show that the Torah was done away with or to prove that dispensationalism is true. But are there any truths to their claims? I believe as we take a closer look at Acts 15, we will see that such claims are scripturally bankrupt and only come from a misunderstanding of the scriptures. This will not be an exhausted explanation of Acts 15 but a pocket guide to understanding what is said in the chapter. My mission is to inform and inspire you to do the research yourself, doing this will strengthen your beliefs.
What’s Necessary to First Enter the Kingdom?
At the beginning of the chapter, we learn that certain men came from Judea and told the young believers they needed to be circumcised to be saved.
“And certain men came down from Yehuḏah (Judea) and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the practice of Mosheh, you are unable to be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
This is no different than the Preachers nowadays saying you must be baptized to be saved, or you need to be able to speak in tongues. Circumcision, baptisms, and speaking in tongues are all great things, but salvation is available to all so long they abide in the Messiah. According to the Talmud, no one may enter Israel unless they are first circumcised. This has never been the case but was added by men.
“When a convert enters the congregation of Israel, he is obligated to undergo circumcision first. If he had been circumcised while he was a gentile, it is necessary to extract the blood of the covenant on the day that he converts.” (Hilchot Issurei Bi'ah 13:1-4)
Talmud vs Torah
Next, we read what some of the Pharisees, who believed in Yeshua, had to say about what the new in faith should do.
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)
After this, a great debate took place between those who wanted the new in the faith to keep the Talmud and those who said they should keep the Torah.
“And the emissaries and elders came together to look into this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Kĕpha (Peter) rose up and said to them, “Men, brothers, you know that a good while ago Elohim chose among us, that by my mouth the nations should hear the word of the Good News and believe. “And Elohim, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Set-apart Spirit, as also to us, and made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by belief. Now then, why do you try Elohim by putting a yoke on the neck of the taught ones which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” But through the favor of the Master יהושע Messiah we trust to be saved, in the same way as they.” (Acts 15:6-11)
Upon reading this Christians will often say, “See, Peter said the Law was a yoke no one could bear.” Well, instead of relying on our own understanding, let's read how the Bible describes the Law.
“For this command which I am commanding you today, it is not too hard for you, nor is it far off. “It is not in the heavens, to say, ‘Who shall ascend into the heavens for us, and bring it to us, and cause us to hear it, so that we do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, to say, ‘Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, and cause us to hear it, so that we do it?’ ” “For the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart – to do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
“For this is the love for Elohim, that we guard His commands, and His commands are not heavy,” (1 John 5:3)
Furthermore, the Torah is described as liberating and a delight in other passages in the Bible. (Read my post “Torah, what is it?” for more information.) Even Yeshua, who only spoke the words of His Father, said that his yoke was light.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your beings “For My yoke is gentle and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)
What is this yoke that the Messiah talks about?
“If you love Me, you shall guard My commands.” (John 14:15)
As we can see this aligns perfectly with other scriptures, it's amazing how well the Bible comes together if you let it speak for itself. Not letting man doctrine, that unbearable yoke, get in the way of the truth, speaking of which let’s see what the Messiah had to say about man doctrines.
“Then יהושע spoke to the crowds and to His taught ones, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Mosheh (Moses). Therefore, whatever they say to you to guard, guard and do. But do not do according to their works, for they say, and do not do. “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but with their finger they do not wish to move them.” (Matthew 23: 1-4)
The Messiah said the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, which means they read the Torah out loud during Sabbath to the congregation. During this time, Yeshua tells his followers to obey all that they say. Why? Because keeping the Torah is how we show we love Elohim! He goes on to say, though, do not follow their ways. Do not follow their Talmud (Man doctrine), they preach the Torah but follow the Talmud. It is from man's doctrines that we get heavy burdens that no one can keep, not the instructions of YHWH.
James’s (Jacob’s) Ruling on the Matter
At the end of the meeting, James concluded the matter.
“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the nations who are turning to Elohim, but that we write to them to abstain from the defilements of idols, and from whoring, and from what is strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20)
Again, Christians will proclaim, “See we only have to keep these four things. The Law was done away with.” So you can go murder someone, commit adultery, practice witchcraft, forsake the wearing of Tzitzits, and worship other gods? That is just absurd! Not to mention that these four commandments come from the Torah.
Abstain from things polluted by idols:
“Guard what I command you today. See, I am driving out from before you the Amorite and the Kena‛anite (Canaanites) and the Ḥittite and the Perizzite and the Ḥiwwite and the Yeḇusite (Jebusites). “Guard yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. “But break down their slaughter-places, and smash their pillars, and cut down their Ashĕrim (Asherim) – for you do not bow yourselves to another mighty one, for יהוה, whose Name is jealous, is a jealous Ěl – lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they whore after their mighty ones, and slaughter to their mighty ones, and one of them invites you and you eat of his slaughterings, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters whore after their mighty ones, and make your sons whore after their mighty ones.” (Exodus 34:11-16)
Most of the commandments on sexual immorality can be found in chapter 18 of Leviticus. Abstaining from eating food that was strangled, and the eating of blood go hand in hand with each other. If an animal was strangled it would have been almost impossible to properly drain the animal of its blood. It would thicken and seep into the muscle and harden.
“An everlasting law throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you do not eat any fat or any blood.” (Leviticus 3:17)
Why these four though? During the time pagans would slaughter animals to idols, eat the meat of it, drink its blood, and then have relations with the temple prostitutes. All of these were done to worship a false god, so it makes sense that the council would make it a point for the new in the faith to stop worshiping idols. This can be summed up with this one commandment.
“you do not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, יהוה your Elohim am a jealous Ěl ...” (Exodus 20:5)
Start with a Few and Continue to Add
But what about the rest of the Torah? Well, as James said, they would learn during Sabbath when Moses is read.
“For from ancient generations Mosheh (Moses) has, in every city, those proclaiming him – being read in the congregations every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:21)
Those that are new in Messiah, cannot be expected to learn and follow the whole Torah in one day. It is a process and takes time to grow in the faith, just like infants, they need milk to grow strong and then they will be ready for solid food.
“as newborn babes, desire the unadulterated milk of the Word, in order that you grow by it, if indeed you have tasted that the Master is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)
We shouldn’t stop at keeping four commandments, we need to continue to grow, and in doing so, keep even more of the Torah. Those that are infants in the faith cannot be expected to adhere to the Torah like those of spiritual adulthood.
“And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as to spiritual ones but as to fleshly, as to babes in Messiah. I fed you with milk and not with solid food, for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is envy, and strife, and divisions among you, are you not fleshly and walking according to man?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2)
The author of Hebrews (Most likely Paul), tells us that we need to grow to the point of being teachers, skilled in the word of righteousness, and trained in distinguishing good from evil, which can only be known through Torah.
“For indeed, although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first elements of the Words of Elohim. And you have become such as need milk and not solid food. For everyone partaking of milk is inexperienced in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature whose senses have been trained by practice to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)
Grow into Spiritual Adults
In summary, being circumcised will not save you but is needed for obedience, the four commandments given to the new in faith was a starting point and focused on stopping the worship of idols, and the infants in Messiah would learn the Torah every Sabbath when Moses is read. Let Acts 15 serve as an excellent model for how we should raise newborns in the faith, with a little of the Torah every Sabbath. As the infants grow in the spirit, so too will they grow in obedience to YHWH.
I hoped this help shed some light and understand on Acts 15, I ask that you test all things, including this. And may the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) guide you into all truth.
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