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When Paul and Barnabas when down to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles about whether Gentiles ought to be compelled to be circumcised, the final word comes from James:

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.—Acts 15:19-21 (ESV)

Paul seems to have interpreted this as meaning that the Mosaic Laws were not binding. (See Galatians.)

However, this interesting article presents the hypothesis that the ruling of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 was never meant to replace the Torah but only to function as a guideline for acceptance of Gentiles into the community. It is then hypothesised further that the eventual learning of the Torah by Gentiles was the envisioned aim all along.

Does the text of Acts support this hypothesis?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

The OP quote from James in Acts is consistent with requiring the Gentiles to adhere to the seven commandments to bnei Noah, but not to "trouble" them with the other 606 commandments still required of the nation of Israel, at least not immediately as a prerequisite for learning the Torah. James's opinion might indicate that the Gentiles should then study the Torah and follow all of the commandments, which would be consistent with the view of Hillel the Elder in the story of the convert who wanted to learn the entire Torah while standing on one foot. But it could also be that James is in fact making no conclusive statement regarding the final requirement of the Gentiles to accept all 613 commandments of the Mosaic law but only stating the requirements for immediate acceptance. This delay of final decision could be consistent with the expectation of the Apostles that Jesus's return to settle these questions was imminent. I don't think that there is sufficient textual support from Acts 15 alone for the hypothesis in

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Not really, unless we imagine the decision of the Council is at odds not only with Paul's wishes, but also with what Peter stated during the course of the argument (describing the yoke of Torah as something that "neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear," Acts 15:10). According to Acts, Paul certainly seems to have thought the decision was a vindication of his gospel to the Gentiles; he immediately promulgates it not only in Antioch but also Galatia (Acts 15:30; 16:4; cf 16:6). (This is particularly significant, because in my view, the epistle to the Galatians was written at the end of ch 14, while Paul was in Antioch. I don't have time to defend that view at the moment, and it would probably take us too far afield, in any case.)

This is a bit of an aside, but I think it will help us understand the bigger picture: Even under the old covenant, the Hebrew Scriptures did not require Gentiles to adopt Torah in order to be "saved." Only those who wished to observe Passover and become united to Israel were required to do so. (Illustration: Naaman was allowed to serve Yahweh without circumcision, and Jonah's message of repentance to Nineveh likewise had no implications of entering into the Mosaic covenant.) The thing that makes things critical in the Christian Church is that all involved seem to recognize that there are eschatological promises intended to unite Jew and Gentile in Abraham. The conflict arises over how that is to be resolved; the ultimate answer that prevails is that Gentiles are to be received as Gentiles, not as former goyim who became Jews; and Jews may practice Torah only insofar as it does not restrict their unity with fellow Christ-believers among the Gentiles.

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No, certainly not. But the apostles weren't giving Gentiles a free pass, either. – Tim Gallant Jun 2 '13 at 20:38

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