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Paul Tells Us Christians Don't Need to Keep the Torah? Or Does He?

There is a rumor that the Apostle Paul was not an observant Jew. It is also said that he spoke against the Law and called upon Jewish believers to abandon the customs of Moses. This rumor originated in the first century and is still with us over 1900 years later.

The New Testament tells a different story............

What Most Christians Believe

Most Christians have been brought up with the notion that God dealt with Israel in the past through the Law, but for the last two thousand years, a new system called grace has been in place. They argue that Saul, the observant Jew, changed his name to Paul and taught us about grace, instead of keeping the Law.

They teach that the Law of Moses is no longer valid as the authoritative source for godly living. In fact, they go further and say that the keeping of commandments given by Moses and his customs are contrary to grace and are an offense to God. They quote the Apostle Paul.

The Question of Paul

But what if it can be proven that Paul never spoke for abolishing the Law and was in fact a very observant Jew, even when serving as the Apostle to the Gentiles? What if our church fathers simply exploited a rumor against him for their own reasons? It is a fact in orthodox Christianity that keeping the Law of Moses is scorned and disregarded. These same leaders advocate that keeping the commandments is falling from grace and worse yet, legalism. They believe that any attempt to keep particular commandments is an affront to the sacrifice of Jesus. They believe and teach that the Law of Moses is not for believers of Jesus today.

When did the Law Go Away?

For the sake of discussion, let's say that Church leaders are correct in their conclusions. When exactly did the Law go away and this grace come into effect? You will get different answers from churchmen including the death on the cross, the resurrection, and the giving of the Holy Spirit. There may be consensus out there somewhere, but it is pretty vague. Suffice it to say that most agree that the New Testament was in effect by the day of Pentecost and the Law was no longer valid for New Covenant believers. However, the written New Testament, in particular Paul's letters, was not written for approximately 30 years after all said events. During this time, the temple was still standing with Paul and other believing Jews going to worship God there. If the Law is no more, then why were they so observant? The book of Acts is filled with evidence showing their observance.

And when they heard it [Paul's testimony of the Gentiles coming to faith] they began glorifying God; and they said to him, You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law;
Acts 21:20

Believing Jews were Observant

The book of Acts says that the number of believing Jews was tens of thousands and that they were all zealous for the Law. On several occasions, Paul asserted his Hebrew heritage and his Torah background. Paul was a Torah trained disciple of Gamaliel, a devout Pharisee. He was very knowledgeable in the Scriptures and was being groomed to be a religious leader in Jerusalem. Up until Paul came on the scene, the leadership of the Nazarene movement, the belief of Yeshua as Messiah, and His resurrection seems to have been common everyday folks. There were some exceptions. Some priests were believers and we know of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. When Paul came on the scene as a believer, his testimony was very significant. He was a highly respected scholar and devout man of the Law. This may have been the reason for the vicious rumors against him. His testimony was that powerful.

Again, according to church fathers, Paul turned from the Torah to Christ and opposed keeping the Law. They advocate that he wrote his epistles guiding us with the Spirit of God toward grace, the replacement for the Law; however, his own statements betray and are opposite of this conclusion. So, where was Paul in all this and what does his observance or non-observance have to do with us?

Questions for Us

Is it possible that we, the modern peoples who are trusting our teachers, have been misled as to the very nature and substance of our faith? Is it possible that the preacher you are being instructed by is himself misinformed as to the covenant we now have with God? Is it possible that there are many things that we have wrong about God and His purposes? I'm sure that you have heard the expression, We have met the enemy and it is us! Consider the life of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. What if we have been misled about Paul and Paul actually advocated the proper use of the Law, not its abolishment?

The Rumor Against Paul

The latter half of the book of Acts details much of Paul's ministry as a believer. When he began to preach among the Gentiles, many Gentiles came to faith. Some of the Jewish leaders began to argue that these Gentiles needed to become proselytes, they needed to be circumcised, keep all the commandments, and recognize their leadership from Jerusalem. Even some of the Pharisees who had become believers subscribed to this thought and began arguing that the Gentile believers weren't really saved because they weren't circumcised. There was a meeting in Jerusalem with James, Peter, Paul and those arguing these points. The results of the meeting were clear. Gentiles get saved the same way we Jews are saved by faith. No one gets saved by keeping the Law. A letter was dispatched with further instruction on the matter to the Gentile believers. Everything was fine until the rumor rose up that Paul was not only telling the Gentile believers that they didn't need circumcision, but that he was telling Jewish believers not to circumcise their sons. Listen to the complaint against Paul when he returned to Jerusalem and to meet with James again.

and they have been told about you [Paul], that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
Acts 21:21

Trying to Stop the Rumor

This rumor was false, but to this day church leaders say this is what Paul was teaching. In the meeting with James, it is clear that James does not believe the rumor. In fact, James offers specific counsel to Paul on how to dismiss the rumor, how to prove that it is not right.

What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses in order that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law.
Acts 21:22-24

Paul was asked to pay the expenses of four other Messianic Jews who were under the Nazarite vow, a specific part of the Law. By participating in this temple service of seven days and paying their expenses, all the Jews would see that Paul was observant and obedient to the teaching of Moses, that he kept the Law.

Was Paul Deceiving Us?

Wait a minute! Why is Paul trying to convince believing Jews that he too keeps the Law? I thought he was the guy who told us not to keep the Law in the New Testament.

As hard as it may seem, there are Christian teachers to this day who claim that Paul and James were conspiring to deceive the believing Jews. They claim that Paul was avoiding the controversy by going along with this deception and keeping peace among the brethren. Furthermore, they insinuate that the Messianic Jews of the first century were misinformed about the New Covenant faith and were still practicing old ways that were done away by the cross. However, the New Testament speaks strongly not only of the number of those Messianic Jews, but also of their observance.

There were many Jewish believers and they were very observant, having repented of their sins. If Paul was telling Jewish parents not to circumcise their sons amongst the nations, then he clearly was departing from the teaching Moses. This was a very serious rumor. However, the book of Acts written by Luke, a companion of Paul's, clearly presents the rumor as false. James' counsel on how to answer the rumor is sound and reasonable. Further, it would be a clear demonstration to the Jewish believers that Paul was as observant as they were. The complaint against Paul was false. Paul was proving that it was false.

Paul willingly went to the temple service and participated just as James counseled him. It was there that Paul was arrested in the temple after the seven day procedure. If the complaint was true, if Paul was in fact trying to teach us that keeping the Law was wrong, then why would he try to deceive his own brethren and risk arrest by his enemies? Paul was not trying to deceive the believing Jews in Jerusalem; he was proving the fact that he was an observant Jew just like the tens of thousands who believed and were zealous for the Law?

How the Rumor Began

How did this conflict begin? What caused this rumor? Rumors begin in strange ways and this one against Paul probably originated with those Pharisees against Paul. The rumor was fueled by the suspicions of those former believers persecuted by Paul. Whatever the reasons were, the first discussion was among believing Jews.

And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.
Acts 15:1-2

Paul knew that this argument was not about spiritual truth. It was an attempt on the part of certain men in Judea to control the new Gentile believers. By making them subject to their rulings and definitions, all Gentile believers would be subject to them. Paul speaks of this motivation when answering the Galatians.

For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh.
Galatians 6:13

The Jerusalem Council

The first meeting in Jerusalem involved Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James, and men from Judea (believing Pharisees) concerning the doctrine of salvation. Like many others who have followed, these men were wrestling with the argument that salvation is based on Yeshua plus something else. In their day, the argument was Yeshua and circumcision. Today, the argument is Yeshua and something else. As they met, Paul made a defense for Gentiles who were saved without circumcision by bringing Titus. The argument began to shift and the believing Pharisees expanded their requirement to include all of the teaching of Moses, not limited to just circumcision.

But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.
Acts 15:5

Peter finally weighed in on the argument recounting his own experience of seeing a vision and then preaching to the first Gentile believers.

And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.
Acts 15:7-11

Peter's argument was clear and based upon experience. If God gave the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles without circumcision or keeping the Law, then salvation is only based on faith. Peter then argues that we Jews are saved the same way, by faith. Circumcision and the Law are not required for salvation. Does that mean the Law is done away with? No.

Jerusalem Council Conclusion

At that point, James, who was overseeing the matter, made his ruling. James quotes from the prophets and confirms that God's plan of salvation is to be extended to the Gentile nations, that God is calling other peoples to be His people. Paul's ministry to the Gentiles was confirmed by both the Scripture and the testimony of Peter. James concludes the matter by giving the following instruction.

Therefore it is my [James] judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.
Acts 15:19-20

There are two aspects to James' instruction. One, the issue of salvation is clear; it does not require circumcision and it is God's plan to save Gentiles. The second instruction is direct and specific. With regard to the Law of Moses, apart from salvation, these Gentiles are to keep a particular part of the Law. They are called essentials. The letter to the Gentiles that follows addresses the very center portion of the teaching, which is called the  heart of the Law.  Leviticus 17 and 18 define meat sacrificed to idols, abstaining from unclean foods, and abstaining from all sexual perversion.

This portion of the Law tells Jewish people not to associate with nor have fellowship with such individuals who would do these things. If the believing Gentiles were to have fellowship with believing Jews, then these things must be observed by the Gentiles. To solidify this teaching, James makes reference to all of the teaching of Moses and refers believers, Jews and Gentiles, to the Torah. The fact is the whole teaching of Moses and the Prophets is profitable to every man of God (Jew or Gentile).

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.
Acts 15:21

Torah vs. Law

Why would James refer us to the teaching of the Torah to understand his instruction? To this day, most Gentile Christians have no idea what these three commandments are about. Furthermore, when Gentile Christian teachers study this area, they avoid sharing anything about it because the church is in direct conflict with its instruction. Quite simply, James said that Gentile Christians were to observe several specific commandments on methods of worship, foods we eat, and sexual behaviors just as taught by the Torah. Paul agreed with this instruction and carried it to the Gentiles.

The Torah is the teaching that Yeshua came to fill full of meaning. It is the Torah that the believers of Yeshua were zealous about. The Torah is more than just the Law of Moses. Yes, it contains the commandments, but it also tells us about our fathers, the covenants, and the character of our God. It tells who God is, His Name, and His promises to all of us. It is the basis of our faith in Yeshua, God's Son, and His great work of Salvation. Paul never spoke against the Torah; he quoted it and taught from its examples.

Paul's Enemies

But Paul's enemies twisted this issue. While Paul taught that Jews were to continue circumcising their sons, he told the Gentiles not to do so. It was bound to happen. Somewhere along the line the story was changed to say that Paul was also telling Jews that they should not circumcise their sons either. From the moment of Paul's arrest in the temple, the rumor was enlarged to include speaking against the Jewish people, the entire Torah, the temple, and everything sacred.

Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man [Paul] who preaches to all men everywhere against our people, and the Law, and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.
Acts 21:28

The first charges against Paul in Jerusalem were extremely inflated, all this from a rumor.

For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him.
Acts 24:5-6

Dealing with the Accusations

The accusations against Paul are false and without basis. Paul didn't take Gentiles into the temple; they were believing Jews. Paul was not stirring up riots, he was preaching the Gospel. In other cities, non-believing Jews caused some riots and attempted to have Paul arrested, but here in Jerusalem, none of that had happened. Paul's accusers were trying to bring any charge they could against him. Listen to Paul's answer at the moment of his arrest in the temple.

I [Paul] am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today.
Acts 22:3

This is the Christian Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, proclaiming that he is an observant Jew just like those in the temple.

Paul had to be moved from Jerusalem to Caesarea when the Roman Tribune learned of an assassination plot against Paul. Paul's accusers didn't want to prove Paul wrong, they wanted to kill him. At his trial before Festus, the Roman governor, Paul repeats the same defense.

And neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they [Paul's accusers] find me [Paul] carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me. But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.
Acts 24:12-16

According to Paul's defense, he stated that his belief in Yeshua and Yeshua's resurrection was not in conflict with his belief in the God of his fathers nor the Law and the Prophets. He said he was blameless before God and men. He said that he had not offended God's Law nor man's law. The book of Hebrews says that anyone setting aside the Law of Moses is guilty of death (Hebrews 10:28). Paul said he was blameless; therefore, Paul had not set aside the Law of Moses.

while Paul said in his own defense, I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.
Acts 25:8

Was Paul's Defense the Truth?

Is Paul telling the truth here? Remember, these statements are being made on the record in a legal proceeding, subject to perjury. Is Paul lying to protect himself? If you take the Gentile point of view, Festus agreed that there was no evidence against him, that the charges were false.

Finally Paul was brought before King Herod. Herod was the Jewish King, as permitted by the Romans, and able to understand the nuances of the religious argument. Paul's testimony again proclaims his agreement with the Law of Moses and the Prophets.

And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.
Acts 26:6-7,22-23

If Paul was truly opposed to the Law of Moses and proclaiming that Yeshua was a replacement, then why didn't he say it? If Paul was teaching that we should not hold to Moses any longer, that the grace of God had replaced the Law, why didn't he give that testimony? Two choices remain. Either Paul was a liar, deceiving his brethren and he was lying at his trial; or, what he said was true. If he is speaking the truth, then every preacher since quoting Paul has misrepresented him in advocating Paul's opposition to the Torah, Moses and the Prophets.

Paul's Background

If we look deeper into the background of Paul, we find a man who had no trouble acting on his deepest beliefs. Prior to his faith in Yeshua, he participated in the effort to discredit, arrest, and punish believing Jews. His own testimony explains his role in Stephen's death.

And when the blood of Thy witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the cloaks of those who were slaying him.
Acts 22:20

Paul was very familiar with the trial of Stephen, the first martyr, and the charges he faced. Paul is the source of testimony for Luke to write about the story in Acts 6. The accusation against Stephen was similar to Paul's own rumor and accusations. It was false.

Then they [Paul and his friends] secretly induced men to say, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.  And they [Paul and his friends] stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council. And they put forward false witnesses who said,  This man incessantly speaks against this holy place, and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.
Acts 6:11-14

Stephen had not spoken against the temple and the Law. He had not said that Yeshua would destroy the temple and do away with the customs of Moses. These were lies and trumped up charges in an effort to do harm to Stephen, and Paul is part of it.

Clearly, Paul as a believer is telling the truth, even admitting his own misdeeds. Paul is clearly separating himself from his past of accusing Stephen of speaking against the temple and the customs of Moses. Any man today who makes a similar statement against Moses is speaking a lie as defined by the New Testament and the Apostle Paul. Quite simply, if you believe that Yeshua came to do away with the temple service and the Law of Moses, then you are believing the word of false witnesses. Paul was one of them and calls himself a false witness in this matter.

What about the Galatians?

Let's say Paul is being truthful and that he is an observant Jew, but what about Paul's instruction in the book of Galatians? Doesn't it say they were not to keep the Law? Doesn't it say that keeping the commandments causes you to fall from grace? Yes, it does. But, let's be clear about the facts. Whatever Paul is saying, he is not speaking against the Torah. He is not speaking against the Jewish people, Jerusalem, or the temple. He is not speaking against the teaching. He is speaking against something else.

Remember the Jerusalem Council meeting, when believing Jews were trying to compel the Gentiles to be circumcised? Now in Galatia, some Gentiles are trying to compel the Gentiles to be circumcised. They, too, have told everyone that you must do it to be saved. They are presenting a new Gospel. This is no different from Acts 15 where they debated the merits of salvation and it being separate from circumcision and the Law. The Galatians started believing that they should keep the Law of Moses for salvation. They believed that their faith was not counted for righteousness; they believed that righteousness came from keeping commandments. Paul recounts those days in Jerusalem and how they resisted. He clearly says that the motivation of the advocates was not to seek truth or understand the great work of salvation. It was an effort to subject the new Gentile believers to Jewish thinking in Jerusalem.

But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Galatians 2:3-5

The Galatian Conclusion

This Galatian conclusion is exactly the same as from the meeting in Jerusalem. Paul argued that righteousness does not come from keeping commandments; it comes from believing the promises of God. In particular, he advocates the promise of God concerning His Son. This is called having faith in God. Paul repeats the story of Abraham and how his faith in a son to come was counted for righteousness. Nothing, including all the works of the Law, can do what Yeshua has done for us.

nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.
Galatians 2:16

Old Lies are Hard to Overcome

Paul's words are in agreement with Peter's words in Jerusalem. But old lies are hard to overcome. Paul confronted the Galatians with the same question posed by them in Jerusalem. Did the Holy Spirit come from keeping circumcision or keeping all the Law?

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Galatians 3:2-3

This lesson had been learned much earlier. Did Cornelius, the first Gentile believer, after receiving the Holy Spirit go on to circumcision or keeping the Law to gain his salvation? The obvious answer is No. The book of Galatians is not a new teaching about disregarding the Law or doing away with the Mosaic Covenant. It is consistent with the teaching of Peter, James, and the results of the Jerusalem Council meeting. Paul goes on to say that this behavior, additional requirements beyond Yeshua, proves a lack of faith in Yeshua's sacrifice.

Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
Galatians 5:2-4

It was Paul's testimony that no one is justified (saved) by keeping the Law. Paul was not trying to justify himself by keeping the Law.

Why was Paul Observant?

Then why is Paul an observant Jew? Why does Paul continue to keep the commandments? The answer is simple. Paul was an observant Jew because he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his might, and with all his strength and … he loved his neighbor as himself. The Law (Torah) is summed up in these commandments. These are the same words of Yeshua. First, we are saved by faith, and then we obey His commandments because we love Him. Keeping commandments for salvation disqualifies your faith in the promises of salvation. Keeping commandments after salvation, however, enables you to know God and thus perfect your faith. The Apostle John says it this way.

The one who says, I have come to know Him, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
I John 2:4-6

The Law of Moses was not done away with by Yeshua. It is not the teaching of the Apostles to do away with the Law. This controversy has more to do with rumors than with facts. Paul loved the Torah, the living Word of God, Yeshua the Messiah. To say otherwise is to prefer rumor and falsehood rather than the truth.

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