Thursday, October 27, 2011

Four Necessary Things

It's been a long time since I've posted on this blog, so if you're reading this, I'll give you a heads up on the other projects I have going.

My general design experiments are posted (fairly regularly) at Dubya Designs 365
My newest project is designing my way through the 613 Commandments of the Torah.

I don't forsee this blog going away, since I'm using it as a companion to Design 613. At some point, I would like to centralize everything at the same place (perhaps Wordpress).  I haven't made a lot of progress toward that, so if and when I ever get there, I'll notify you here.

This post stems from an art commission I did for Word Live regarding circumcision and Acts 15. Here is a low resolution version followed by an explanation: (click to view full size)

The idea behind the creative brief for the project was that circumcision was marked off the list of requirements for Gentiles. This was based on the account from the beginning of Acts:15, where certain believers were teaching that unless Gentiles were circumcised, they couldn't be saved. The gist of the project was that grown Gentile converts everywhere found much joy and relief at the fact that they weren't required to be circumcised to remain a follower of Jesus. I tried to take it down a humorous, tongue-in-cheek route, while still giving an accurate representation.

In case you can't read it clearly, here are the requirements from the center square of the image:

1. IDOLATRY: Don't bow down to or reverence idols! For that matter, don't even think about them favorably. It's okay to despise them because they are abominable to God.
II. CONDUCT: Abstain from the filthy practices of pagans. Keep yourself pure and holy before God!
III. DIET: God gave instructions for the preparation and eating of food--Follow them! They will help you live a healthy, happy life and save you a lot of problems in the long run.
IV. CIRCUMCISION: This is a MUST! If you don’t do it, you can't possibly be saved! IMPORTANT!!!
V. FAITHFULNESS: Attend Synagogue services every week to learn more about growing in God’s Grace.

It seems to be commonly accepted in Christianity today (at least among the circles I have been in), that Acts 15 was written to "let Gentiles off the hook" as far as what God expects of them. The Jews have the Law (Torah), but all that God requires of the Gentiles is faith to be accepted in Messiah. It's unfortunate that most English translations of the Bible are worded in a way that supports this misconception. Here is a summary of how I have come to understand this passage from the Hebraic viewpoint of the 1st Century.

First, we need to understand that when we read the word "circumcusion" in the New Testament, it rarely ever simply refers to the act of removing the foreskin. By this time in history, it had become such a deeply embedded practice in Judaism (as per God's instructions in the Torah, which also connected it to the idea of circumcising one's heart to be faithful to Him), that it was used idiomatically to refer to the process of a Gentile converting to serving the one true God and embracing Judaism. Circumcising a grown man was pretty risky from a medical standpoint at that time in history, but it had become a part of Jewish custom that converts to Judaism were to undergo the process as part of their formal conversion.

Some sources I have read attribute this to a difference of opinion between two major Jewish rabbis named Hillel and Shammai, of which Hillel interpreted Torah more leniently and Shammai more rigidly. Here is an interesting summary of the relationship between these two men. Apparently, the viewpoint of Shammai, that every male convert to Judaism was required to be circumcised, became the accepted practice in Judaism, and the apostles and followers of Messiah, who now presided over the synagogue at Jerusalem (James the brother of Jesus) were reversing the opinion of Shammai in favor of a more accurate interpretation of what the Torah commanded (which coincidently was the opinon stated by Hillel in their disagreement.)

At any rate, English translations of Acts 15 coupled with the writings of Sha'ul (Paul) have really added unnecessary confusion to the subject. Sha'ul did not require adult converts to Judaism (following Messiah) to undergo circumcison, because it did not violate the commandments. The Torah commands the parents to circumcise the male child on the eighth day. The commandment is not geared toward the child. If someone has already lived many years past the eighth day, the command is not violated if a grown male convert remains uncircumcised. There is not an issue if the adult convert chooses to undergo circumcision to better identify with his Messiah; it does not invalidate his faithfulness (although English translations tend to insinuate that in the writings of Paul.). However, male children born to Gentile converts were to be circumcised on the eighth day as instructed by Torah, as the commandment was to the parents.

The issue in Acts 15 was whether Gentiles should continue to be required to go through the long process of formally converting to Judaism (which often took years, and culminated with a circumcision ritual). If so, this was problematic, since the Gentiles were coming in by the droves under the ministry of the apostles. In weighing out the issue, the beit deen (synagogue court), which ruled on such matters decided that the viewpoint supported by the Torah ("it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us"--idiomatic for "this is what the Tanakh [today known as the Old Testament] supports.") was to require four (more accurately five) things of Gentile converts. Here is that list as per the teaching of my rabbi, Robert Allon, who is a skilled linguist in Hebrew and Greek.

1. Abstain from the defilement of idols (from bowing their hearts and bodies to idols)

2. and unfaithfulness (don’t stop living according to the Torah)

3. and strangled* (don’t be overwhelmed by all this new stuff, you’ll learn it eventually)

4. and blood (live according to the laws of purity)

The fifth requirement that is pretty much ignored by most people who discuss this chapter is from the next verse (21) which says:
For Moishe (Moses) from ancient times has those in the cities who preach him, being read in the E-dah (syagogue) every Shabbat (Sabbath).
In other words, converts to Messiah were expected to keep the Sabbath (Friday evening at sundown to Saturday evening at sundown) and attend the synagogue (not church) to learn more about growing in grace. What was taught in the synagogues in the 1st Century? How to practically live out the Torah in your everyday life.

As the old advertisements for Virginia Slims cigarettes used to pronounce, "You've come a long way, baby!" Christianity has indeed come a long way from what was expected of those declaring their faith in Messiah in the 1st Century. Perhaps it's time we start heading back that direction.


1 comment:

  1. LOLOL Love it bro! Truly. And - -

    I think we are seeing a move 'heading us back' in the direction we need to go. Even so, most churches are still refusing to teach Torah, many simply ignore it, and the majority think any Messianic (Jew or Gentile)disciple of Yeshua is a crazy. has abandoned the Christian faith in order to live under the law (salvation by works alone), or simply joined in with some Jewish cult. /sigh/