Torah in the Book of the ACTS of the Apostles: Chapters 6 – 10

Acts 6 – Stephen’s Trial

stephen trialAnd they [the Pharisees] stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon [Stephen], and caught him, and brought him to the council, And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Y’shua of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs [ethos: institutes; usages prescribed by law] which Moses delivered to us.  (Acts 6:12-14, NKJV)

Chapter 6 of the Book of Acts gives us a fairly detailed account of the court arraignment of Y’shua’s faithful disciple, Stephen, who was subsequently condemned and stoned to death. Please note that the testimony which condemned him was false – it was falsely testified that Stephen taught that Y’shua would change the customs [lawful institutes] which Moses delivered to us.

The accusations against Stephen were false because he and the other disciples were faithful adherents of Torah and taught others to practice True Torah, just as Y’shua had taught them.  Restated truthfully, the testimony should have been, ‘Stephen teaches that this Y’shua of Nazareth … shall not change the institutes which Moses delivered to us.

phariseesIt is important to understand that the Pharisees believed their ‘Oral Torah’, also called ‘the Traditions of the Fathers’, was the teaching of Moses – that it was ‘special knowledge’ entrusted only to ‘wise men’ and which was orally transmitted, but not written down, lest it get into the hands of the ‘unwise.’   Y’shua heartily disagreed, teaching that the “Oral Torah” was ‘doctrine and tradition’ that corrupted scripture. (Matt 16:6, etc.)  Obviously this was not well received by the Pharisees.

Y’shua was simply teaching what scripture had already made clear. Joshua (who was appointed by Moses to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land) made this record as the Israelites were entering the Land:

Every word of every command that Moses had ever given was read to the entire assembly of Israel, including the women and children and the foreigners who lived among them.  (Joshua 8:35, NLT)

Obviously, Joshua is referring to the written Torah, specifically the book of Deuteronomy.

YHVH made sure that all men had access to His Torah – not just some ‘wise guys’ – because He knows how power-hungry people will abuse ‘special knowledge.’

Stephen was very bold – he actually accused the religious leaders to their faces that they were the ones who were guilty of not obeying Torah!

[Stephen speaking] Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, you who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.  (Acts 7:52, NKJV)

Stoning of St. StephenWhat Stephen (and his Master Y’shua) taught was “Do not obey the traditions of men over the commands of YHVH.” Stephen gave a higher priority to YHVH’s scriptural commands than he did to the ‘Traditions of the Fathers.’  That is what got Stephen killed – the same reason for which his Master was killed.

Acts 10 – Peter’s Vision

Next we come to Acts 10, where we find the record of Peter’s vision in which he is instructed to ‘kill and eat’ unclean animals. Since this vision is often used to support the idea that the Torah instructions regarding clean and unclean food no longer apply, it is important that we take a closer look at this passage.

The event in question began when a Roman centurion named Cornelius had a vision of his own.  Cornelius was a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. (Acts 10:2)  God heard his prayers and told him in a vision how to contact Simon Peter, who would tell him what he oughtest to do. (Acts 10:6)   So Cornelius called for three of his servants (note the number), and sent them to get Simon Peter, who was living in the town of Joppa (modern Jaffa).

Just as Cornelius’s Gentile servants approached Peter’s house, Peter was given his vision:

CIS:DYCE.1515And [Peter] saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Master; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice [three times]: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. Acts 10:11-16

The three Gentile servants arrive, and the Holy Spirit instructs Peter to accompany them to their Gentile master’s home, which he obediently does. Peter ministers to the family and even eats with them, despite the strong Jewish tradition of avoiding any contact with Gentiles, a tradition to which Peter had previously adhered.

So what does this vision mean?

In worst-case scenarios, Christians are often taught that this vision confirms that we are no longer ‘limited’ by the Torah regulations which ‘restrict’ us to certain foods, but that now we can eat anything we wish, ‘appreciating all that God has created.’   At best, we are allowed to draw this inference on our own, without objection from our teachers (and many scripture readers do just that).

Yet just a few verses later, Peter himself clearly tells us that his vision had absolutely nothing to do with food, nor even with Torah instructions!

And he [Peter] said unto them [his Gentile hosts], Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing [according to the doctrine of the Pharisees] for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed [shown] me that I should not call any man common or unclean. … Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. Acts 10:28, 34-35

When Peter got home, he was criticized for having eaten with Gentiles, so he related the full account of his vision and experience to the Jewish believers, after which:

When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”   Acts 11:18 NLT

Even the Apostles had to be corrected!

oops1We are all learning at all times. Long after Y’shua’s resurrection, Peter was still trapped in the observance of a ‘tradition and doctrine of men’ that was contrary to the commands of YHVH. Here he is being taught to abandon the vicious ‘doctrine’ of Gentile-phobia.  [1]

What a shame it would be if we were to take a passage that is so incredibly important to the spiritual fate of Gentiles – YHVH’s explanation that Gentiles, too, have been granted repentance unto life – and turn it into an excuse to eat shrimp and pork.

Thankfully, our ancestors in the Faith did not do that, but instead they heeded the true message of what had been taught to Peter, and proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom to Gentiles as well as to Jews!

THE BOOK OF ACTSIntroduction * Chapters 1-5 * Chapters 6-10 * Chapters 11-12 * Chapter 13 (Part 1) * Chapter 13 (Part 2)Chapters 14-15 * Chapter 16 * Chapters 17-18 * Chapters 19-20Chapters 21-26 * Chapters 27-28

By John and Sue Wyatt, lambs.servant@gmail.com


© John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Lamb’s Servant Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


FOOTNOTES

[1]  This Gentile-phobic behavior was not commanded by YHVH in His Torah. YHVH simply told His people to avoid participating in any pagan religious activities.  He never told his people to avoid any and all contact with pagans. Rather, He instructed us to act as priests, showing the Gentiles what life is like under YHVH and inviting them to share that life.   As Y’shua taught us, we are to be ‘in the world, but not of it.’  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.  (Matt 5:16) That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; (Phil 2:15)  This agrees completely with the OT teaching regarding Messiah: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6b)

Peter’s behavior shows us that the apostles were human and had to learn, just like the rest of us. Years after Y’shua’s resurrection, they were still sorting out the genuine principles behind Torah as opposed to the traditions of men.  Peter’s vision was a turning point in their understanding with regard to the critical issue of interaction with Gentiles. They began to live by the OT principle of Lev 19:34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am YHVH your God.

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