Gentiles and the Top Ten

One nineteenth-century Jewish thinker has an explanation of the Jerusalem Council decree.

Moses with the Top Ten (Image © Bigstock)

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Theophilus Lucky (Chaim Yedidyah) was a nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewish believer of Orthodox background. He longed to proclaim the Messiah to his Jewish brothers.

He wrote a journal entitled Edut Le’Yisrael (Testimony to Israel), filled with lengthy in-depth articles and essays about Jewish holidays, Jewish practice, theology, etc., and how they related to faith in Messiah.

Lucky understood the crucial partnership that Jews and Gentiles have in hastening the Messiah’s return, and how they are intricately bound together in their common faith. In one of his essays, Lucky takes time to thoroughly inspect the apostolic ruling concerning believing Gentiles and he discusses at length his interpretation of the events and what this means for Gentile Christians—and now also for Messianic Gentiles—in our present day.

What Are the Obligations?

Lucky saw the prescriptions of the apostles at the Jerusalem Council and agreed with their ruling that Gentiles did not have full obligation to the Torah of Moses. He writes in the voice of the apostles:

We cannot worsen the conditions for the Gentiles who turn to God; we cannot burden them with the yoke of Torah. They can worship HaShem even if they are not circumcised. They will have the name of HaShem upon them, and they are our brothers, even if they belong to a different people.

Lucky also agreed with the ruling of the apostles and their prohibiting Gentiles from three things:

From the impurity of things sacrificed to foreign gods, from prostitution and sexual immorality, and from meat or poultry that is strangled or found in its blood. These three things they shall observe for the sake of their souls, for these three things will defile a person; they shall not transgress any of these.

Only Those Three?

While Lucky agrees that those are the three things that Gentile believers are bound to, he does not view these as the only things; rather, as additions to the core set of principles. He explains:

It is not true that they only chose these three. They added these three to the Ten Commandments, the words of the Sinai covenant. This is my opinion. They accepted the Ten Commandments and they summarized the rest of the words of the Torah of Moses with these three commands.

Thus, in Lucky’s view, these laws were not stand-alone commandments, nor were they merely additions to the seven Noachide laws. Rather, they were additions to the Ten Commandments. Therefore, he views the entirety of the Decalogue as incumbent upon brand new Gentile believers, and he recognizes that they would continue their theological and Jewish learning in the synagogues all throughout the known world.

Top Ten

It is perfectly credible to stipulate that these laws were additions to the Top Ten, the words that rabbinic tradition tells us were spoken simultaneously in seventy languages (representing all known nations of the earth in the time of Moses) so that all the Gentiles could hear and understand. Even from rabbinic teaching we can deduce that Gentiles are required to keep all ten.

If the Gentiles are obligated to all ten in their entirety, then this brings up the question of Shabbat. Is it not specifically stated to be a sign between HaShem and the children of Israel (Exodus 31:16)? In light of Lucky’s interpretation, should Gentiles observe the Sabbath in the same way as a Jew? Taking a closer look at the Ten Commandments as found in Exodus 20 may shed some light on this question.

The commandment specifically says to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). This fits with Lucky’s views and those of many other past and present Messianic Jewish thinkers. They say Gentiles are commanded to remember it. Not only that, but when Gentiles are living as sojourners among the Jewish people, the Jews must create and guard a restful space for the sojourners with them. As it says in verse 10:

The seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. (NASB)

A Joyful Decree

Some may think that the requirements for Gentiles are few, and may view this in a pejorative light. However, this is actually good news of an elevated status, and this is how Lucky interprets it. We must also look at how the first-century Gentiles interpreted the decree sent to them from the Jerusalem Council. Scripture tells us that when the Gentiles heard news of this decree, when they received the letter from the apostles conveying their love and consideration for the new Gentile disciples, “they were glad for its encouraging message” (Acts 15:31). Lucky continues his explanation of the Gentiles’ delight by saying:

The words of that letter were a comfort to them, for they saw that they were deemed worthy in HaShem’s eyes and in the eyes of the pious in Israel, even though they were not circumcised. They blessed HaShem.

I believe Lucky’s interpretation of Gentile rite to be substantiated. This does not preclude more observances within appropriate reason, but the Ten Commandments and the Apostolic prohibitions are the solid ground from which Gentile believers launch their spiritual journey without a heavy yoke. The disciples were not slighting the new Gentile believers by requiring seemingly so little, rather they were showing love and distinction within equality, accepting their new Greek, Roman, Syrian, and Ethiopian brothers into the Jewish monotheistic religion in their respective identities, without any caveats or hindrances.

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About the Author: Jordan Levy is a staff writer for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David where she also serves by translating from Hebrew, French, and Italian into English. She is dedicated to strengthening her community and providing linguistic and theological teaching. More articles by Jordan Levy

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