The Big Debate: Should Christians follow Torah? Torah plainly states that there is one Torah for Israel and the Gentile who dwells with her - yet, many try to use Acts 15 as "proof" that Christians don't have to keep Torah. That is because they don't realize that Acts 15 is referring to man-made laws and not the Torah itself....
The "million dollar question" that has successfully split the Messianic movement today is: Are Gentiles required to keep Torah? And the answer is a resounding, "YES!"
God gave the Torah to His people Israel to tell them how to live their lives and how to relate to Him. Yeshua was Torah observant and neither He nor His disciples ever negated Torah in any way. Therefore, anyone who chooses to believe in Yeshua is obligated to follow Torah to the best of his abilities. It doesn't matter whether you are a Jew or Gentile; in order to please God, you must be Torah-observant.
Often, people try to use Acts 15 to show that Gentiles have a different calling from Jews. While this is true to a certain extent, the larger biblical picture demands that the Jewish People - Israel and anyone who chooses to attach themselves to Israel - remain a distinct people for the sake of the world. According to Messianic Jewish understanding, the destiny of the world depends on the ongoing vitality of the Jewish people because the Jewish people have always been and will always be a conduit of God's blessing to the entire world. Those who choose to be grafted in to the Olive Tree cannot go against God's original teachings.
The Tanach shows over and over that, in Biblical times, if a Gentile joined him or herself to Israel, they were required to give up their old, Pagan ways. You can be sure that the "strangers" who left Egypt to join Moses in the Exodus, didn't eat pork and shellfish or worship any idols!
Torah states that there is one Torah for Israel and the Gentile who dwells with her. God specifically said in Exodus 12: 49 "The same teaching is to apply equally to the citizen and to the foreigner living among you.". He even expounded on this principle by adding in Exodus 22: 21 "You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt". In other words: As believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we are one in God's eyes, and are therefore required to act accordingly.
Numbers 9: 14 'If an alien sojourns among you and observes the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its ordinance, so he shall do; you shall have one statute, both for the alien and for the native of the land.'"
Leviticus 17: 8 "Then you shall say to them, 'Any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, 9 and does not bring it to the doorway of the tent of meeting to offer it to the LORD, that man also shall be cut off from his people.
Deuteronomy 31: 12 "Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law.
Tim Hegg, author of "It is Often Said" writes:
Acts 15 is referring to man-made laws and not the Torah itself! The Jerusalem Council saw the need for Gentiles to submit to some of those laws. The Jewish community needed to be satisfied that the Gentiles were no longer idolators, and they they had forever turned their backs on this capital crime. In order to make such assurances, the apostles required the Gentile believers to take on the yoke and burden of man-made laws in the area of idolatry in order to give them a genuine, working relationship within the synagogue community. The Apostles knew that the Gentiles coming into the congregations would be learning the Torah more fully as they heard Moses each Sabbath (Acts 15:21).
The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was dealing with a specific issue; was it necessary for Gentiles to become proselytes and thus take on the full weight of the man-made laws of the Sages in order to be accepted within the Jewish community. The Council voiced a unified "no" to this question. Using "circumcision" as a shorthand designation for "the ritual of becoming a proselyte," the Council determined that the Gentiles would not need to be circumcised (i.e. become proselytes) in order to be received into the Torah community.
There was, however, the need to assure the Jewish community that those Gentiles who had confessed Jesus as Messiah had genuinely forsaken any form of idolatry. Since the Greek and Roman cultures were centered around idol worship with local pagan temples, it was important the Jewish community be able to receive the Gentile believers without any suspicion of remaining idolatry. The apostles, therefore, required the Gentiles to accept the extra-biblical, man-made laws regarding idolatry. These were:
While the written Torah surely prohibited any worship of the idols, the Sages had put a good number of fences in place to distance the people from contact with idolatry. These fences were extra-biblical, yet the apostles considered them essential in showing the clear break the Gentile believers had made with idolatry.
But since they were man-made and not directly from Scripture, they were part of the yoke of oral Torah, the burden that the Sages had laid upon the written Scriptures. While the apostles were unwilling to put the Gentiles under the full weight of the traditions - something not even the Jewish people had been able to bear - they did see the need to require the Gentiles to keep this rabbinic teaching. Only such a requirement could have fully satisfied the Jewish community that the Gentile believers had made a radical break from their former idol worship.