Continuing the discussion from How Jewish were the Apostles? — A Study on Acts 15:
This post— One Torah, Different Laws— in the Jewish Studies Blog by Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg is an interesting and helpful analysis of the relationship between the Gentiles and Israel in the early church.
I appreciate Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg's caution and humility in his initial comments about this “highly controversial topic”. I have been coming to a greater realization that my ideas are empty if I trample on people because of them. So, I find it is very helpful that Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg offers his thoughts as “a conversation and continual invitation to think about these important topics, presented only with great respect to all sides involved”.
It is helpful in our understanding of the early church to realize that Israel and the Jewish people at the time of Paul was not a religion as we know it today. Before the later invention of Christianity as a universal or Catholic belief system, “gods” and their associated practices and rituals were tribal or national in character— these practices were part of an ethnicity. A person who was not ethnically Israelite would view the Jewish people more as a separate ethnicity than as a belief system that they could believe in and join. Yet, these ethnic distinctions did not prevent some people from immigrating either physically or socially into the life of the people of Israel. Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg points to Ruth the Moabite and Naaman the Syrian as two Biblical examples of people joining with Israel— Ruth became Israelite, but Naaman retained his identity but worshipped the God of Israel. These represent “two ways” in which a foreigner could relate to the God of Israel.
One is the way of Ruth the Moabite, when she said: “Your people will be my people, your God my God”. The other is the way of Naaman the Aramean, who declared ... that he could worship Israel’s God among his own people. He committed to Israel’s God in a different way. In a sense he said: “Your God will be my God, but my people will still be my people”. Both ways were honored and accepted in Judaism at all times...
There continued to be proselytes — full converts who fully identified with Jewish ethnicity— during the Apostolic age. There were also people— God fearers— who were connected with the Jewish community but who did not abandon their birth identities to take on a Jewish identity. These people were equivalent to the stranger or sojourner among Israel that we read about in the Torah.
Paul and the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 were struggling to fit these people into categories that did not yet exist. They were, in fact, in the process of inventing these new categories— the idea of a religion. The solution that Paul and the Council arrived at was to extend the principle of the stranger (as used in the Torah) to believing God fearers who joined with the community of disciples of Jesus.
In the time of Apostle Saul Paul, this Jewish question about how the sojourners with Israel must live among Israelites, was naturally turned into another unanticipated question. How must the sojourners with Israel live in harmony with the rest of Israel, while also living in the confines of another nation (Roman Empire)?
The Torah has always had rules for the stranger that were distinct from the rules for the native Israelite. This was the foundational principle that Paul and the Council built on— there was one “Law” or Torah, but different rules for different people.
There has been some confusion over the meaning of the term judaizing. When properly understood in the context of the actual debate in Acts 15— circumcision and fully joining the ethnicity of Israel— judaizing means abandoning your native ethnicity and becoming ethnically Israelite. It was a kind of naturalization as we understand it today— where an immigrant takes on the citizenship and identity of a new country. Paul did not use the word judaizing as a label for Sabbath-keeping or other religious practices— it only referred to that naturalization process that some people were advocating.
We are not dealing here with such ideas as Sabbath observance or celebrating the Feasts of Israel. These are Jewish practices that were not considered by Paul as Judaizing in any way. In fact, these were assumed by the “Jerusalem Council” and Apostle Paul alike.
In other words, the Gentiles “turning to God” and joining with the disciples following Jesus were Sabbath-keepers attending the synagogue and continuing in that practice— neither Paul or the Council spoke against Gentile participation in those “Jewish” practices. (See Acts 15:21)
I found this One Torah, Different Laws blog post to be helpful; it has provided me with some mental structures that I can build on with the ideas that I developed earlier in my Acts 15 study.