As we continue on our summer sermon series, 20 questions in 10 weeks, today’s question is a pretty big one that I think will help us think about some of the previous questions we’ve tackled that are directly linked to laws found in the Old Testament, specifically the questions about Same Gender Marriage and Sabbath.
Today’s question is, “Which Old Testament Laws do Christians have to follow?”
Before I get into the thick of things I think it is worth recommending everyone go home and read Luther’s explanation of the 10 commandments as found in his Small Catechism, because that’s not the direction I’m going today.
This question about Old Testament laws is one that was first dealt with by the early church at the Jerusalem Council, the record of which we find in both the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, as well as in the 2nd chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Let us pray
Both Acts and Galatians agree on why the first council of Jerusalem was called. It was about the question of circumcision.
Paul and Barnabas were serving a Gentile church in Antioch, Syria and came into conflict with Jewish Christians from Jerusalem who insisted they were preaching a false gospel, because these Jewish Christians believed to become Christian you need to become Jewish first. More specifically, they needed to accept the most physical of community boundary markers—circumcision.
If you’ve ever read anything by Paul, you’ll know very clearly his response to such requirements. Not only no, but hell no.
So Paul goes before the Apostles and they discuss his Christian mission to reach the gentile world, and come up with simple guidelines for Gentile Christians to follow—essentially they ask “Which Old Testament Laws do Gentile Christians have to follow?”
And that’s where Paul and the author of Acts, we’ll call him Luke, disagree.
Luke says the decision made at the Jerusalem Council was that Gentiles needed to follow four Old Testament Laws:
They must refrain from eating food offered to idols, as it is written in Exodus 34,
Meat that has been strangled or containing blood, as in Leviticus 17 and 3.
And they must be sexually chaste, as in Leviticus 18.
These are all laws found in the Torah said to apply not only to Jews, but also to gentiles living with Jews.
So, as Luke understands the Council’s decision, Gentile Christians are only to follow the Old Testament Laws which were put in place for Gentiles, and specifically put in place to make sure non-Jews don’t do offensive things in the presence of Jews.
In other words, if Jewish and Gentile Christians are in community together the Gentile Christians need to make sure they don’t do things which would break fellowship with their Jewish Christian brothers and sisters.
So that’s Luke’s account of what Paul and the Apostles decided. It is not however, Paul’s account of that decision.
Paul’s answer to the question, “Which Old Testament Laws do Gentile Christians have to follow?” is much simpler. It is “Remember the poor.” That’s it…
Okay, maybe that’s not it. The phrase “Remember the poor,” is actually rather complex once you start looking at the other places where Paul speaks in similar terms.
At face value of course this is an admonition to take care of the least of these,
to not turn away from the poisonous effects of poverty,
or forget that we are all beggars.
All themes we can find throughout the Old Testament and especially in the Prophets.
But, for Paul, the Poor doesn’t just mean the actual poor, but also the Church in Jerusalem, the saintly apostles.
In addition, to a basic economic understanding of “The Poor,”
he is also speaking of his ongoing “collection for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem,” as he calls it in his letter to the Romans.
He understands full fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians as involving money,
that the ethnic divisions of his time were most plainly bridged by economic interdependence,
a sharing of funds for the sake of the ministry.
Few things connect you to another person, like co-signing their lease/
Few things get your skin in the game, like green-backs riding on that game.
Yet, even that doesn’t fully get to where Paul is going with this collection. He sees the collection as a fulfillment of prophecy.
Remember, the reason the three gentile wise men show up bearing gifts for the Baby Jesus in Matthew, was to fulfill prophecies about the wealth of the gentiles flooding into Jerusalem…
so too, Paul believed the collection from the gentile churches was cut from the same clothe—it was an end-times act, it was a fulfillment of the scriptures.
So, again, to the question, “Which Old Testament Laws do Christians have to follow?” It would seem between Paul and Luke’s interpretations of the 1st council of Jerusalem,
we end up with rules that try to bridge relationships between Christians who are different from one another.
The basic rules for us, are rules that bind us one to another. They bind us economically to one another, but they also bind us to a modicum of decency and consideration for the sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
But, there is a bigger point to be made here. Faith is not about rules, but about trust in the one who meets us in Baptism.
Andrew James Forys (4eeees), there are many laws that bind you, many rules by which you will be judged.
There are rules about sex and Sabbath, money and mold, religious scruples and regard for parents, and you will probably be judged as wanting in at least some of those areas, but that doesn’t separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The amazing thing about our Lord is that he acts for us, even before we know how to act.
Our Lord promises life,
even when we are in death,
even as we are oppressed by Sin.
Jesus, through the water and the word, make us his siblings, binds us to the family of God our Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.