Are Gentiles Under The Law?

January 4, 2012 in Hebrew Understanding

Many words in Hebrew have overtones that do not exist in English. A Hebrew word often has a much wider range of meaning then its English or Greek, literal equivalents. Since our English gospels are derived from a Hebrew original, many of the English words do not mean what they appear to mean. With that in mind, let's examine this scripture.

Matthew 16:18-19 – And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever thou shall loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven.

The Hebrew word bind, during Jesus day, literally means to forbid. Also the Hebrew word loose during Jesus day ,means to permit. The Church leaders were constantly called upon by their community to interpret scriptural commands. Was such-and-such an action permitted? Was such-and-such a thing or person ritually clean? The Bible, for example, forbids working on Saturday. But it does not define "work". As a result, the Church leaders were called upon to declare what an individual was and was not permitted to do on the Sabbath. They "bound" (prohibited) certain activities and "loosed" (allowed) other activities.

Interestingly, the Church leaders defined work as any activity involving the production, creation, or transformation of an object. Work , therefore, is not necessarily an activity which causes physical or mental fatigue. Study for example is allowed on the Sabbath. One may spend the entire Sabbath opening and closing books until one drops with exhaustion and yet not violate the Sabbath. On the other hand, the mere striking of a match, just once, is a desecration of the Sabbath because it involves creation. Jesus(Yeshua) in the above verse(Matthew 16:18-19), is giving Peter the authority to make decisions regulating the life of the Church. He confers upon Peter symbols of authority, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Decisions or rulings Peter makes will have the authority of Heaven behind them.

His decisions will be upheld by God. What Peter forbade, Heaven would forbid. What Peter permitted, Heaven would permit. The movement Jesus created (The Church) was a new phenomena in Jewish history. Situations would soon arise which none of the Jews in this movement had ever had to face, situations about which the Bible gave no instructions, situations with which even the Church leaders or 12 disciples of Jesus, had not had to deal with. Decisions would have to be made, solutions found. Even more frightening, Jesus, their teacher(Master), would no longer be there to make decisions, to say what was permitted and what was forbidden. Peter and other leaders of the Church would now take his place. They were not, however, to be indecisive for fear they would make wrong decisions. God would be with them. he would endorse their decisions.

The Apostles, like the Church leaders, were called upon by their community, to interpret Scripture, settle disputes, and find answers in times of crisis. Sometimes they were compelled to deal with petty complaints: the complaints , for instance, of the Greek speaking Jews that their widows were not being treated fairly in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1-6) At other times, the Apostles were required to settle raging controversies, controversies which had the potential of causing irreparable division in the Church. One such controversy is described in Acts 15 – the controversy over whether to admit Gentiles into the Church without first circumcising them and without commanding them to keep the laws of Moses. The decision that was reached is a classic example of how the leaders of the early Church exercised their authority to "bind" and "loose".The Apostles and elders convened in Jerusalem to discuss the problem. There was much debate! Peter spoke

Acts 15:7-11 At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.

And then James spoke

Acts 15:13-21 When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written: Afterward I will return and restore the fallen house of David. I will rebuild its ruins and restore it, so that the rest of humanity might seek the Lord -including the Gentiles-all those I have called to be mine. The Lord has spoken – he who made these things known so long ago. And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”

Peter's attitude was probably crucial, since it was to him that Jesus originally gave the authority to make decisions affecting the Church. Peter "loosed". He ruled that the yoke of the commandments was too heavy for former Gentiles. They should not be required to keep the law of Moses. Peter released them from that obligation. James concurred. He too "loosed" by saying "It is my judgment that we should not cause difficulties for those Gentiles who turn to God". But James "bound" as well as "loosed". He ruled that it was necessary for Gentiles who became believers to distance themselves from idolatry and cult prostitutes, and to abstain from eating meat from which the blood had not been removed (such as the meat of animals that had been strangled rather than bled to death). James forbade or prohibited three things. Following there speeches, the rulings of Peter and James, were confirmed by the rest of the leadership, and later by the entire Church.

Acts 15:22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.

In conclusion the bible is clear that the Gentiles are not required to keep either the Sabbaths or the laws of Moses. The only laws us Gentiles are bound by are the ones spoken of by James(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). So who are we the Church of today to argue with a group that included James, Peter, and Paul, all in agreement?


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