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Do you just follow the Noahide laws; the written Mosaic Laws; or the Whole Law (written and oral laws) of Judaism? If you don’t fall into one of these groups, you are probably somewhere among those who reject God. Seriously, which one of these 3 groups should you belong to?
In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam only one commandment that is written in the Masoretic Text. Genesis 2:16-17 says, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” No other commandments were recorded concerning man’s behavior at that time of creation. That’s not to say that no other commandments were given to Adam and Eve later; we just don’t know exactly what they were based on this text.
Genesis 1:14 says, 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years…” The Hebrew word for seasons is moedim. This is the same word used for YHVH’s appointed times in Leviticus 23. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan in English by Etheridge for Genesis 1:14 translates moedim as “festival times.” Although these aren’t elaborated upon, it would seem that based on this verse, YHVH’s festivals originated during the time of creation.
The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan in English by Etheridge for Genesis 1:21 says that God created the clean and unclean: “ And the Lord created the great tanins, the lev-ya-than and his yoke-fellow which are prepared for the day of consolation, and every living animal which creepeth, and which the clear waters had swarmed forth after their kind; the kinds which are clean, and the kinds which are not clean; and every fowl which flieth with wings after their kinds, the clean and the unclean. And the Lord beheld that it was good.”
If God created creatures that were clean and unclean, He must have taught Adam and Eve which were which. Somebody knew because Noah eventually knew which animals were clean and which weren’t when it came time to load the ark. There must have been some unwritten laws regarding the clean and unclean. In addition, if diet weren’t important, the first written commandment would not have been about what they could and couldn’t eat.
The Noahide laws are laws that the Jews believe should supposedly apply to all humanity. The traditional list of the six laws that were said to be given to Adam in the Garden of Eden and the seventh found after the flood narrative (Genesis 9) are:
- Do not deny God (idolatry).
- Do not murder (also in Genesis 9:5-6).
- Do not steal.
- Do not engage in sexual immorality.
- Do not blaspheme.
- Do not eat of a live animal (do not eat animals with its blood still in it; Genesis 9:4).
- Establish courts and legal systems to ensure obedience of the law.
The Book of Jubilees 7:20-28 (~2nd century BCE) mentions certain ordinances, commandments, and judgments that Noah taught his sons:
- Observe righteousness
- Cover the shame of your flesh
- Bless your Creator
- Honor your father and mother
- Love your neighbor
- Guard yourselves from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity (these 3 were the cause of the flood)
Even here, these commandments are pretty vague; not much is defined or elaborated upon. The Genesis account and the Book of Jubilees indicate people were offering sacrifices, and at this point, there were no detailed procedures given. Cain offered a minchah and Abel offered a firstborn animal. They could have been sacrificing to YHVH in the same way pagans offered sacrifices to their gods but I don’t think so.
Let me point out that there is no mention of Sabbath observance in these two lists. YHVH rested on the first Sabbath which was the 7th day of the week (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:11). The Hebrew words for Sabbath (shabbat), seventh (sheviyiy), and rest (shavat) are related because they all share the same root: shin-bet-tav. Therefore, the Sabbath cannot be on any other day; it must be on the 7th day of the week as God originally commanded. Since the first Shabbat was at the end of the week of creation, this is when it was “created.” Since that’s the case, it should be part of the Noahide laws…but for some reason it’s not. I can only guess why.
The Sabbath is a sign between the children of Israel and YHVH, that they may know that YHVH is the one who sanctifies them (Exodus 31:13). YHVH would not have changed the Sabbath to a different day; man changed it without God’s consent. The 7th day Sabbath was not just for the past; it’s also for the future. Ezekiel has prophesied that all the people of the land will worship YHVH on the Sabbaths and New Moons at some point in the future (Ezekiel 46:3).
Since all of this is the case, it seems all descendants of Noah, both Jew and Gentile alike should be observing the 7th day Sabbath too. Should they be forbidden to do so? I don’t think so. Unfortunately, the Jews have been forbidding Gentiles from observing the Sabbath for centuries. They expect Gentiles to observe the Noahide laws instead; in addition, they’d prefer that Gentiles don’t convert to Judaism either.
Denying Sabbath observance is odd because Exodus 20:9 says, “but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger (ger) who is within your gates.”
A ger is translated as a sojourner, foreigner; someone who has left home due to certain circumstances and is temporarily dwelling in the land. The Greek text for this verse mentions both proselytes and strangers. If God expected even animals to observe the Sabbath, He certainly expected Gentiles who dwelled with His people to do so as well. Not only that, the Mosaic laws were given to a mixed multitude of people who went with the children of Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 12:37-38). Everyone was expected to observe the Sabbath.
Another Hebrew word for foreigner is nekhar; this person is what we’d normally think of as being an alien. It refers to someone from another nation, family, or tribe.
The phrase “one law” is used a few times in Scripture to refer to the observance of the Mosiac law by both the children of Israel and the ger or nekhar. Some people think these verses only apply to certain situations and not to the whole Mosaic law. Situations include:
- The descendant of a nekhar, or a ger who wants to participate in pesach (Passover). (The Passover law is a testimony (edut = testimony or sign of what God has done.).
- To participate, he and his males must be circumcised just like the children of Israel (Exodus 12:43, 49; Numbers 9:14).
- It would seem that if a ger wants to participate in any other festival or holy day, he must do so according to the requirements set forth in Scripture, that is, according to the written law.
- A ger who wants to offer sin and trespass offerings to YHVH.
- The ger and native born can both bring offerings and they both must do it in the prescribed manner.
- The laws that define sin and trespasses are contained in the Mosaic law, not just the Noahide laws.
- The definitions for sins and trespasses apply to both the ger and the children of Israel. How else would a Noahide know they have sinned or trespassed since more offenses are listed in the Mosaic covenant that in the Noahide list?
- For a ger to bring offerings to YHVH requires he be ritually clean; therefore, commandments related to ritual purity must apply to him as well. Otherwise, the Temple would become defiled.
The written Mosiac law must apply to both the ger and native-born. One law (torah = teaching or instruction), ordinance (chuqqah = laws not easily understood), and custom (mishpat = laws easily understood) applies to both ger and the children of Israel (Leviticus 8:7; Numbers 15:14-16, 29).
Let’s face it, when people from different cultures live in the same territory, it is difficult to have multiple sets of laws. Doing so causes disorder and can result in injustice. There can only be one set of laws for native-born and foreigners/sojourners.
YHVH promised Abraham that He would become the father of many nations and that his wife Sarah would be the mother of nations (goyim = peoples; nations; Gentiles; heathen). YHVH promised to establish His covenant with Abraham as well as his descendants, and to give him and his descendants all of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, and to be their God. (Genesis 17:4-8, 16). In Abraham’s seed would all the nations be blessed (Genesis 22:18). Since blessing comes from obedience to the Mosaic covenant, people must enter and observe that covenant, not just observe the Noahide laws. The alternative is cursing and death.
YHVH’s covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are linked because of the land. Uncircumcised males descended from Abraham were considered to have broken YHVH’s covenant; they were to be cut off from their people (Genesis 17:14). Being uncircumcised in the flesh and in the heart are connected to iniquity and unfaithfulness.
YHVH told His people that in the future if they broke His covenant and were to admit their guilt and that of their ancestors, He would remember the covenant with their ancestors and the land (Leviticus 26:40-45), and heal them and forgive them. According to Ezekiel 44:9, foreigners (descendants of a nekhar), including those of the children of Israel must be circumcised in the flesh and in the heart in order to enter YHVH’s sanctuary during the Messiah’s millennial reign. This demonstrates that the same laws from the past will apply in the future.
Acts 15 discusses how the Gentiles could be converted, or enter the covenant of Israel. This passage does not advocate they should become merely Noahide observers. The party of the circumcision from Judea (a sect of the Pharisees) were teaching the Gentiles (goyim) that they could not be converted (be saved, repent) unless they were circumcised according to the custom of Moses (Acts 15:3-5). Paul and Barnabas disagreed and believed the Gentiles were being converted without “becoming Jewish” via circumcision first. Circumcision is something that can come a little later in obedience to God’s commandments; it’s not the means of entering the covenant.
This dispute of how to enter the covenant was brought to the Jerusalem council who decided the Gentiles are saved in the same manner as the Jews. It was decided that the Gentiles who were turning to God should abstain from things polluted by idols, sexual immorality, things strangled, and blood; for Moses has been preached in every city and read in the synagogues every Sabbath (Acts 15:19-21). This last phrase/sentence indicates that these things were a starting point for entering the covenant; the rest or process of sanctification could be learned in the synagogue every Sabbath.
The list of things that Gentiles needed to do immediately were all connected to idolatry in one way or another. Idolatry must cease before worship of YHVH can begin. This is not debatable. These four things are not a complete list of the seven Noahide laws; to say that they are, or to use this as a reason for Gentiles to not embrace the written Torah is misleading.
In the Talmud, in Sanhedrin 105a, it says, “Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come.” The Jews regard Gentiles who only follow the Noahide laws as the righteous among the Gentiles. The question is, does YHVH consider them righteous and worthy of the olam haba (world to come)? How can they if they ignore many things including the sign of the covenant?
Oral law contains laws, statutes, and legal interpretations that are not found in the written Torah. The Jews say these were passed down orally from Mount Sinai until they were written down a few centuries after the destruction of the Temple which occurred in 70 CE. These oral laws are found in the Talmud which is composed of the Mishnah and Gemara.
As we’ve seen, prior to the Mosaic law, there appears to have been some kind of oral law; it seems these laws may have been the same and not different from the Mosiac law. YHVH gave Moses written laws at Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy 12:32 says, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” Saying that there was an additional oral law that existed since Mount Sinai is adding to the written Torah. Since the written law was eventually lost for a period of time (2Kings 22,8; 2Chronicles 34,15), how can we believe that an existing oral tradition was never lost or passed down?
The fact that the giving of the oral law is not even mentioned in the written law is my first consideration for not incorporating it into my life. Not all sects of Judaism recognize the divine origin of the oral law either; so I think it’s wise to view the oral law with caution. If you’ve ever tried to read the Talmud, you may have found it very frustrating. The rabbis who are quoted often do not agree with each other on many matters that are supposedly laws. This makes the idea of an oral law ridiculous and unbelievable, and/or difficult to accept.
Even though I feel this way about the oral law, I believe there is still value in the Talmud because we can learn what the Jews believe and practice today and to some extent, we can learn about various things including the debates of sages Hillel and Shamai, and other rabbis who lived during the last century BCE and the first several centuries CE.
I feel that we have two extremes here. The Noahide laws appear to be lacking the significant sign of the covenant (the 7th day Sabbath) among other things. The oral law appears to be excessive; often times conflicting with itself; and a burden that is impossible to keep.
I feel comfortable with the written Mosaic law; yet, I know that some of it applies to everyone, and other parts apply to only certain groups of people. Some of it can’t be observed because the temple no longer stands. Yeshua said this law would not pass away until heaven and earth passes away. In other words, it’s still valid. Those who teach people to observe this law will be considered great in the kingdom of God; those who teach otherwise will be least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19). Paul told us that this law was not abolished because of faith; he upheld the law (Romans 3:31). James told us to speak and do as those who will be judged by this law of liberty (James 2:12). If we love YHVH, we will obey His commandments (1 John 5:3).
We must understand that YHVH gave His people one set of laws for both Jew and Gentile. Obedience to God’s commandments brings life and blessing; disobedience leads to cursing and death. The saints are those who keep the commandments of God (those given at Mount Sinai and not just the Noahide laws) and the faith of Yeshua (Revelation 14:12).