In the ongoing debate over what is required of the Gentile who converts to being a follower of Jesus or Yeshua, as his contemporaries called him, I pulled my head out of the verse-against-verse joust that generally occurs in these dialogues to take a big-picture view.
I concluded Paul was the first “seeker-friendly” evangelist! Think of it, Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles. He is introducing them to Yeshua, a Jew, as the Son of God, who died for their sins that they might be forgiven and become sons of a god about whom they have no clue! We can’t imagine the context of the debauched state of the average idol-worshipping pagan that the Apostle encountered. Would most unbelievers the Apostle met even consider they’re in sin? How do you convince them they need to hear about another god? Where do you start?
It’s no wonder the dos and don’ts of Torah do not figure dominantly in Paul’s letters. He is looking for an entry-level approach. Starting with Torah would not be seeker friendly. That’s why the Jerusalem Council in its wisdom made and prescribed only a distillation of basic Torah requirements (Acts 15:20-21). This passage reminds us that once a Gentile believes in Yeshua he will start going to Temple, hearing Torah read and begin learning about his new God relationship. The Gentile is not saved by keeping Torah, so why complicate the message? Remember the only “bibles” available were the Torah scrolls. These were very limited in distribution. How could Paul do otherwise than to teach broad concepts of Torah such as “love God, love your neighbor.”
The Apostle does not hesitate for a moment, however, to make a stand for Torah when he finds a violation. First Corinthians is an excellent example. This letter seems to underline my premise that Paul did not as a rule give Torah instructions to new believers, former Gentiles, but taught as the situation required. In Chapter 4, Paul brings to the Corinthians the principle of sexual purity from Leviticus 18. I seriously doubt these former Gentile idol worshipers had any understanding that a man having sex with his father’s wife (whether she was his mother or not) was sin. Further, Paul gives the Leviticus 18 prescription for how you deal with such a sinner: “For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.” What seems an obvious definition of sin today was quite likely not considered sin at all by other than a Torah-keeping people. It’s interesting that Paul not only defines both the sin and consequence by Torah, he further tells the church to turn the sinner over to satan for destruction of his flesh.
If you read Paul’s epistles in this light, you realize he is not writing to Torah-keeping Jews but former, idol-worshiping Gentiles. Paul patiently offers Torah principles to which the new believer can relate. In time he will see the application of Torah as he hears it read in Temple on Sabbath.
Paul never sets forth, other than obliquely, a cataloging of the numerous provisions of Torah, although he himself does observe and keep Torah as is recorded many times. Should Paul be faulted for this lack of itemizing? What we don’t have record of is how many letters Paul wrote that weren’t preserved. Maybe he wrote about rules of faith in more letters that didn’t survive. We also must remember he had his disciples calling upon and instructing the churches. He did tell Timothy to study to show himself approved. What was available for him to study? Right, only Torah, including the prophets. Notice how often Paul quotes from Isaiah. He must have loved that prophet.
For approximately fifteen hundred years, Torah had been identified with a unique people. The seeker-friendly apostle must bring the new Gentile convert into acceptance of this ancient exposition of God. How better than with the olive tree metaphor of Romans. The Gentile is grafted into the root stock of this chosen people. The Gentile convert through Paul’s teaching is told he has a new identity, bought with the Jewish blood of Yeshua and fulfilling the covenant God made with Abraham. The former Gentile identity is superseded by the divine identify of the one new man. He is made new by the shed blood of Yeshua. Although grafted into the root stock of Abraham he, along with his Hebrew brother who is likewise grafted in through Yeshua’s blood, is each a new man, yet the same. This one new man is a new creation distinguished from the broken-off branches of both the wild and natural olive tree because of the blood of Yeshua. Abraham believed God’s promises, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Hebrews 11:39 (nkjv) tells us “…all these (including Abraham), having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.” The one new man believes and is washed by the blood to righteousness receiving the promise.
Paul’s wisdom in presenting the good news of Yeshua to the pagan has depth and insight. Yet Paul leaves little doubt by what standard sin is established. He lets the new convert learn in community the full definition. Further, he wants the new Gentile believer to recognize something profound has occurred, he is a new man, the fulfillment of an ancient covenant between God and his chosen people.
Seeker friendly? Yes! Effective? Very!