Q. I was talking to a Christian the other day about the Noahide Laws and was surprised that he had never heard of them before. He knew about the Mosaic Law and had been taught the standard Protestant doctrine that Christ had "done away" with that. I wonder if you could explain to us what the Noahide Law was, how it relates to the Mosaic Law, and what its relevance - if any - is to us today?
A. The Law given by Yahweh to Noah immediately after the Great Flood is believed by most to have been a precursor to the Law subsequently given to Moses as though this were some sort of "evolutionary process" or "Darwinian revelation". It may surprise most Christians to learn that not only is the Noahide (or Noahic) Law a self-contained code of divine commandments in and of itself but that it is still valid today. Before we examine this code it's important that we also understand that even in the patriarchal time before Moses, and all the way back to Adam, that there was also a Law or Torah.
Q. But this is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, is it?
A. This Patriarchal Torah is nowhere listed as the Mosaic Torah is - it is not laid out in the same way as the latter is in the Pentateuch [the five books of Moses]. But as you carefully read the Book of Genesis and observe the commandments that these patriarchs observed (for example, the Sabbath Law given at the Creation, which Moses merely reminded Israel of rather than reveal it for the first time), you will discover that not only were the Ten Commandments [Decalogue] in place and being observed but that there were laws concerning animal sacrifice too.
Q. Is the absence of a specific code in Genesis because this book was primarily about Israel and not the Patriarchs?
A. Genesis is a highly condensed history of a very long period of time. There are other books that amplify this important span of sacred history such as the Book of Jasher (mentioned in the Bible) (Josh.10:13; 2 Sam.1:18) and the Book of Adam and Eve. Many, if not most of these, are targums or pseudepigraphic expansions that are embellished versions of a bona fide core history. About all we can say for certain is that there were earlier histories but that they are either no longer in our Bible or never were in the first place.
Q. And what is your view of that?
A. The Bible does cite many books no longer a part of it, such of the writings of various prophets and seers (e.g. 2 Chr.9:29; 12:15), which would be nice to read some day. For now, though, we are limited to what we have got and must make do.
Q. Why, then, do you think this Patriarchal Code is not mentioned in Genesis?
A. I can only guess, but since Moses was the author or the Pentateuch, and since his mission and calling was to reveal Yahweh's Torah to Israel, his emphasis would naturally have been in writing the theocratic law of that nation. We find both the Patriarchal and Noahide Codes incorporated in the Mosaic Torah.
Q. So what you are saying is that the Ten Commandments, including some rules about animal sacrifice, were made known to Adam from the beginning and were observed by the Patriarchs?
A. And some other laws too. Abraham, for instance, we learn, observed the Law of Tithing, was himself subject to a High Priest (which meant there must have been a Priesthood Order), and participated in a sacred meal with Melchizedek that hints of the Lord's Supper which was given millennia later (Gen.14:18). The Patriarchs were not ignorant, lawless savages but highly cultivated persons in terms of their ethics and morals. They may be said to have been Torah-observant just like the Israelites though it is our contention at NCCG that they actually lived a much higher Torah free of the additions given to Israel because of their "hard- heartedness" (Mt.19:8; Mk.3:5)).
Q. So that it more closely resembled the New Covenant Torah we observe today?
A. In many respects, yes, though it is more complicated than that. As far as I know, the Patriarchs observed no festivals akin to those given to Israel which came to be celebrated in the light of later historical experience only. Circumcision was introduced before the Law of Moses, at least in Abraham's time, and was subsequently abolished in the New Covenant (Gen.17:10 cp. Gal.5:2). There was a simple system of animal sacrifice (e.g. Gen.31:54).
Q. As far back as Adam?
A. The Book of Adam & Eve says so, and the fact that our first parents were given animal skins to conceal their nakedness suggests, does it not, that animals had to be killed, and I am inclined to believe that they were not killed gratuitously simply to make clothes (Gen.3:21).
Q. You mean, the skins were from animals offered in sacrifice?
A. It is mere conjecture, but yes, that is my personal belief.
Q. I wonder if you could tell us what the Noahide Laws are as most people have never heard of them?
A. There are seven laws in all and they run as follows:
1. Thou shalt not engage in idol worship;
2. Thou shalt not blaspheme the Name of Yahweh;
3. Thou shalt not shed the blood of any innocent human being, nor foetus, nor ailing person who has a limited time to live;
4. Thou shalt not engage in bestiality [sex with animals], incestuous, adulterous or homosexual relations, nor commit acts of rape;
6. Thou shalt establish laws and courts of law to administer these laws, including the death penalty for those who kill, administered only if there is one testifying eye witness;
7. Thou shalt not be cruel to animals (specifically, tearing limbs from live animals).
Q. These sound very similar to the ruling made by the Council of Jerusalem in respect of new Gentile converts to the Gospel (Ac.15:19,28-29), don't they?
A. Yes, indeed, because these laws are the very minimum that are required of believers! These are also the laws which the Talmudic Jews believe all non-Jews must be taught and live (but rarely teach or evangelise for it), and they are the laws with former U.S. President George Bush claimed the USA was founded on and are the bedrock of all society [see Public Law 102-14, 102nd Congress].
Q. Remove these laws and the bedrock of civilisation collapses?
A. Yes, absolutely. I agree. And look how many of them are threatened today.
Q. There are even statutes against abortion and euthanasia!
A. The Noahide Laws are the minimum Torah. They are the laws of Yahweh given for all nations. And remember that Noah founded - or refounded - the nations of the world as we know them. Every nation in the world, whether they accept Yah'shua (Jesus) or not - or even Yahweh, for that matter - is bound by these laws. And the nations will be judged as to whether they administered them or not.
Q. But how would the nations know about them if they have never heard of them?
A. They are under a covenant entered into between Yahweh and Noah. It was unilaterally decreed by Yahweh. If President Bush is able to recognise them as being the bedrock of civilisation, as you say, what that means is that every single soul has the minimum capacity to receive revelation about these laws whether they believe God or not.
Q. You mean, know about them in their consciences?
A. Yes, everybody "knows" these things. To deny them is revelation not against an externally imposed religious teaching but a against living principle implanted in all human beings. To deny these laws means to deny self because they are integrated with self, however much one may be in denial. When a nation turns against all these Noahide Laws they may be said to have "ripened in iniquity" and are ready for destruction, just as the Canaanite nations were when Joshua entered their lands, for they rejected all of these laws.
The Gospel of John says that every man born into the world comes with a portion of the Light of Christ (Jn.1:9, KJV) which teaches the truth of these laws to the inner man as well as giving him the ability to recognise that Yahweh is the Creator and that Yah'shua (Jesus) is Lord and Saviour, and to choose Torah.
Q. You mean these laws are written on our hearts?
A. I wouldn't say that. To have something written on your heart means that you love that law and it is integrated with your whole being - your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour - in such a way that you no longer need to "impose" it on yourself. A better analogy is that it is built into us in a way that we can easily interact with it in our minds and our hearts.
Q. You say that the Noahide Laws are the minimum laws the nations have to obey. But doesn't Zechariah prophesy that the nations will come to Jerusalem to observe the annual feasts too (Zec.14:16-19)?
A. Yes, but that is later - post-Mosaic Law. In the Millennium the nations will all come under Theocratic Rule. I do not presently know the extent of that theocratic codex but it will definitely include the Noahide Laws, Israel's Festivals, and probably quite a few other laws too. At that time the nations will be required to observe more than the minimum.
Q. Will there be a two-tier set of laws during the Millennium, do you think?
A. Yes, I believe that. The Millennial world will consist of two categories of nation - (a) Israel, living the whole Torah; and (b) all the other nations, living a new "minimum" Torah.
Q. That is a new concept for me. I assumed that there would only be one universal law in the Millennium.
A. No, the Millennium is not the final state of man. At the end of it, the demonic hosts will be released again and those who have not voluntarily subjected themselves beyond the then "minimum" (whatever that is) will lack the proper spiritual covering and be subject to temptation that otherwise they would have been able to resist.
A. It is the will of Yahweh that we live the whole Torah - as Christ Himself said, there are different rewards in heaven, different categories of obedience and privilege based on the way we chose to live in Him. It was for this reason that He said that those who failed to observe the least of the commandments would be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven (Jn.14:2; Mt.5:19).
Q. And Paul said, did he not, that there were different kinds of resurrection?
A. Yes, four basic categories. A resurrection to damnation (Jn.5:29), and three heavenly resurrections which compare in their spiritual brightness and glory to the heavenly bodies we see - the star, the moon and the sun (1 Cor.15:40-42). And no doubt there are degrees within these. Paul talks about a "third heaven" (2 Cor.12:2) and the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which is quoted in the New Testament, speaks of seven.
You will have observed amongst Christians - and even within the Messianic assemblies - that people are all obeying to different degrees. That is our free choice, and on the basis of that free choice, we will one day be rewarded. It also follows that if we are disobedient in any area or Torah, large or small, that this gives Satan and his demonic angels rights to blind and harass. What is most pleasing to Yahweh is that we are obedient in all things, blameless and righteous, because in that way He can not only give us maximum protection down here but can shower blessings and rewards upon us in equal measure, both here and/or the eternities.
Q. So it is not true to say that there is one law - the Noahide Law - for Gentiles, and one law - the Torah - for the Jews?
A. No, this is a Talmudic distortion. All the nations are required to obey the Noahide Law and will be judged on that basis. Every individual is required to obey the Noahide Law and will be judged in that basis, no matter what he believes in. Every believer is required as a very minimum to observe the Noahide Law, just as the first Gentile converts were as a result of the decision of the Council of Jerusalem. BUT every believer should be striving to be obedient to the whole Torah! That which pleases Yahweh the most, and which gives us the greatest peace, joy, blessings, and sanctification, is when we are living all the commandments. I guarantee it! If you love Yahweh with all your might, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself, you will pretty quickly be observing all the ten Commandments; and once established in them - or even whilst you are becoming established in them - you will want to obey all the other mitzvot as well, to the very least of them! It is a natural unfolding for those who truly love the Most High.
Q. It's ironic that those who claim to have everything, even to walking in the very presence of Yahweh, seem to be obeying the least!
A. Absolutely, yes. They talk about "being saved" and "eternal security" and yet walk in disobedience. The Torah reveals whether we are sinning or not - that's its stated purpose in the New Testament. If you're still not obeying on the level of the Ten Commandments you're in serious trouble already if you claim to be a follower of the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus). Didn't He obey every commandment? Didn't He tell us to follow His example?
Q. It's pretty difficult to walk in Torah alone, don't you think?
A. Ah, now there's a very important observation, because you can't. Torah- observance is not only personal but corporate. Israel is a community which regularly assembles. And the closer they are to Yahweh the more they want to be together, because "togetherness" is the Messianic Way - not togetherness for togetherness' sake but together with Yahweh in His Ruach (Spirit). You can only live the first part of the "Golden Rule" (or "Royal Law" as Paul calls it - Jas.2:8), and the first Five Commandments, as a "solo Christian" - the rest requires people!
Q. And yet there are "people" and there are "people" ...
A. The degree of intimacy and fellowship we are able to enjoy is always based on the mutual degree of Torah-faithfulness. "Birds of a feather flock together" and churches form around the degree of obedience their founders and current leaders are willing to give to the Most High. Furthermore, you cannot live Torah as an "independent church" but only as a collection of assemblies. The New Testament Messianic Community was, and is, not only about individual congregations, but a fraternity of congregations under a single apostolic mantle.
This evening we shall be observing Sukkot - the Feast of Tabernacles. It is one of those feasts that requires congregations to gather together. In the Theocracy it will be at Jerusalem (which is why the nations will gather to Jerusalem in the prophecy of Zechariah you mentioned earlier). That is why a portion of the tithe is saved up for such journeys because this gathering is so important. Because the Theocracy is not presently in place, we must for now gather in other locations - but gathering is most definitely the operative word. And you can't possibly do that as a solo Christian.
I've brought along a letter sent to me by a lady from Arkansas - she is not a member of NCCG but regularly reads our sermons. This is what she wrote in response to the sermon I shall be giving tomorrow on the Sabbath about Sukkot:
"Thank you for the most joyous and spirit filled sermon that I could have ever hoped for just before leaving for the Feast. I am waiting for my son to fly back from Texas and come on up and pick me up. I just decided to check my e-mail and there is this great sermon. I am now so filled with excitement and with his Spirit that I want to run so fast and great all of our brothers and sisters that will be there.
"I just had not fully realized the impact of Passover and how important the faith is to be obedient. I have never missed a Passover in my walk with the Father but I just now finally realize why I think he prompted and helped me in getting there. Thank you so much for this sermon and the reminder of how great our Heavenly Father is and he loves us so much even though we may not fully understand his ways".
Now that is the true spirit of Torah. When you are full of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) neither tempest nor earthquake will keep you away from such a gathering as Sukkot. The whole spirit of the New Covenant in Christ is one of FAMILY. The whole Torah is about the Family of Yahweh. The more obedient we become, the closer too is our church family bond, and the more we long to be together with one another to worship Him. That corporate unity is so intimate that it is allegorically depicted in the Book of Revelation as being a single person, the Bride of Yah'shua (Jesus).
Q. So there's a kind of spectrum of "spiritual affinity", do you think? The more you are obedient, the more you become welded together with the Body of Christ?
A. Oh yes, and a hundred times 'yes'! Yah'shua's (Jesus') High Priestly Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was passionately filled with the desire that His disciples would dwell in echad unity (oneness) with one another, just as He was one with Yahweh His Father (Jn.17). This "bringing together", this "uniting", this "togetherness" is the heart and life of Torah. It is the Law of a Nation - a Covenant People - deeply in love spiritually with Yahweh through His Messiah and deeply in love spiritually with one another. So deep is this love they cannot bare to be away from one another! If you read the Book of Acts you will discover that this love between the disciples was so great that they gathered together every day! And it was by this love - love manifested in togetherness - that they became known. They worshipped, worked, and ate together as much as they could, and it was not long before they realised, under apostolic leadership, that the most desirable way to live was in a gathered community. The Jerusalem saints lived like that. They pooled all their belongings and placed it at the apostles' feet for distribution as the Ruach (Spirit) gave revelation.
Q. Do you think it is just a lack of obedience that keeps people apart?
A. No, but it is a major part of it. People are afraid because they maybe have had bad experiences in intimate contact with other people, especially in our cold and callous world where abuse is becoming the norm. The moving force to bring people into community must always start with love and purity. They must see that there is this love and that it is desirable. Then obedience will become more and more spontaneous for them. But at some point they do have to trust Yahweh's Torah and not see it as a millstone around their necks.
Q. May see Torah as a burden ...
A. It is a burden if you don't start with a love relationship with Yahweh and are unacquainted with grace. Yah'shua (Jesus) says that His cross - His burdens - are light, but that must always be understood to be a relative things. Most unbelievers would flee from the ministry of suffering we bear. And that is because you cannot bear it unless you have the Spirit of Christ within you. It is the revelation of His love and the presence of His Ruach (Spirit) that makes the cross light, because He is the one supporting it. There have been times in my life when I have been under the burden of crushing desperation and within seconds He has lifted it - not taken it away, but helped me bear it in such a way as though it seems He is bearing it all by Himself.
Q. What you are saying is that we not only need to come to Torah from the right direction - from love - but that we in a way have to be fed it in proportion to our ability to receive it?
A. That seems to be what the Council of Jerusalem decided. They realised that a whole way of life which their ancestors had been living for centuries couldn't suddenly be dumped on the formerly pagan Gentiles. Like little children who can only manage milk, the meat must come later (Heb.5:12-14). Of course, external habits can be developed which then become natural and desirable to them as they grow older ... or fall away from them if they have not discovered the law behind Torah. For Torah to have any meaning at all there must first be an encounter with the Almighty. And once this has been received, there must be a living encounter with people. Love must flow between the individual, his God, and those in the family of God like an electric circuit in a building. By interacting with believers and unbelievers, they soon see the loving nature behind the commandments - why adultery and theft is harmful and the bringer of sorrow. It is therefore perfectly right to begin with the simple things and let the details take care of themselves to some extent.
Q. What about alcohol? How do you teach children about that?
A. Firstly, by example. They have to see the blessedness of not having it in the home, and be taught of the destructive effects it has on society. As far as Torah is concerned, the alcohol ban is a priestly one. Under the Mosaic Covenant, alcohol was not permitted of those priests on duty in the temple. That is a type of our bodies - they being the temple of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) (1 Cor.6:19). Under the Old Covenant a Priest could drink alcohol off-duty, provided it was in moderation. But we live under a New and Better Covenant (Heb.7:22; 8:6) - we are all Priests in the making and our bodies are the temples of Yahweh. If we are living in the Ruach (Spirit) we should be living in that priestly office always, for we are a Royal Priesthood of Believers (1 Pet.2:9).
Q. Alcohol is not mentioned in the Ten Commandments ...
A. No, nor are many other things, but that is because they are categories of commandments. They are known as the ten debarim or "ten Words". Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself is called the (singular) Word (Jn.1:1) but we all know that the concept of Dabar (Word) is not simply a single unit in a sentence - dabar conveys a whole range of meanings depicted as one - it's another echad concept - one in many, and many in one. Some people translate dabar (or the Greek equivalent logos) as "reason" or "intent", the spoken as well as the unspoken. It contains a whole cluster of meanings, rather like a galaxy which is both a single entity as well as being composed of millions of other entities called stars. The dabar or "Word" could also be rendered Torah.
Q. "In the beginning was the Torah" ...?
A. Yes, absolutely. Torah contains the divine intent of Yahweh - it is His heart expressed in human deeds and a way of living. It is the way given to us to be the most happy one and the most closely identified with Him. It is the revelation of His heart by which our hearts become united with His.
Q. In the New Covenant Church of God (NCCG) people enter progressive and deeper covenants of obedience. Can you explain how this works for us?
A. There are three categories of covenants just as there are three categories of commandments. Our job is to first of all teach the people these things. Once they have a desire to live them, they are invited to enter into covenants with Yahweh to obey Him. These three categories correspond to (a) loving Yahweh and loving our fellow man - the "Golden Rule" or "Royal Way"; (b) Submitting to the rule of the Ten Commandments; and (c) Submitting to the rule of all the rest of the mitzvot (commandments). This is a matter of free will always.
Q. And presumably this Submissiveness to Yahweh's Torah is what qualifies them for Priesthood Orders?
A. Right. It is their personal consecration to Yahweh.
Q. Which categories of Torah apply to who?
A. Each Priesthood candidate is trained for a minimum of one year during which time he or she is taught the Torah in depth and enters covenants stepwise.
Q. Not all at once?
A. Oh no, for most that would be too much. We have both covenants of intention as well as covenants to actually commit to live aspects of Torah. Thus a catechumen or investigator covenants to make baptism his goal and consciously strives for it, and the members of the local assembly covenant to help him all they can. He knows that before he can be baptised he must have an understanding of the Apostles' Creed and therefore part of his covenant is to strive to this end. Only when he understands and believes it - which must be at his own pace - can he enter baptismal covenants which include a covenant to strive to be obedient to all the commandments ... again, a covenant of intent, because he will likely not know what they all are yet, or be able to understand them.
Q. Could you give me an example of a covenant to live a Torah principle?
A. Yes, take alcohol, for instance. Giving up alcohol is required of anyone wanting to become a full member. A person's baptismal covenant may include the intent to give up alcohol and smoking, for example, with the understanding that when he is ready for Chrism (Confirmation) that he must actually quit. Thus his Chrism Covenant will be a covenant of action.
Now this covenant to quit the action of drinking or smoking may not necessarily mean that he has overcome the craving to drink or smoke. This is an inner process which must be overcome spiritually before such a person can be considered ready for the ministry as, say, a Deacon or Deaconess.
Q. So there is a three-stage process ...
A. Yes. (a) Intention; (b) Physically quitting a bad habit; (c) Spiritually overcoming. Of course, sometimes the (c) can happen before (b), and that is most certainly preferable, but realistically this does not commonly happen. Bad habits - addictions - are overcome by a more complex process as a rule. [See Mark Graeser, The Eight Stages of Changing Wrong Behaviour, New Covenant Press, Arvika, 2001].
Q. This would apply to problems like unnatural sexual compulsions, gluttony, and other things too, I guess?
A. Yes, the whole gamut of human problems stemming from the Adamic nature and the inherited sins of our forefathers. And almost without exception it involves deliverance ministry ...
A. Yes. They are frequently, if not invariably, a part of the equation.
Q. So at what level is obedience to the Ten Commandments required?
A. That is a requirement of those aspiring to be Deacons and Deaconesses. The Ten Commandments are taught across the whole age range in NCCG, from children to youth. We expect all applicants to the Deaconate to be living the Ten Commandments as a matter of habit. If they have spiritual problems underlying their living of this, it is usually taken care of during their training as Sub-Deacons and Sub-Deaconesses and thereafter.
Q. And the Eldership?
A. To be an Elder you need to know the whole of Torah and to be living it at least as a matter of habit though with a good deal of spiritual overcoming.
Q. Don't spiritual issues crop up all the time making full obedience impossible?
A. Yes, ministry is given at every level of the Holy Order. People slip, known and unknown sinful attitudes surface, and so on. Repentance is a daily process, a part of the dynamic of discipleship. Nobody is presently perfect. Here the covenants of intent are seen to be so important. Where there is conscious recognition of sin and a striving to be a zadik - a righteous one - so Yahweh is at work. The problems begin when there is no more striving, which may even lead to the disastrous situation where parts of the Torah are rejected as being unliveable. When that happens you are on the slippery slope to atheism.
We must remember in saying these things that the pre-eminence must always be given to love. Without that, nothing else is impossible. Our new birth in Christ supplies us with that, and keeping that channel open is the first priority. Understanding that we are fallible and need one another's help (Gal.6:2) is central to the whole dynamic of Priesthood ministry - to ministers themselves no less than the unordained. Love itself is a ministry and all can give that in different ways, which is why everyone is called to be a priest. The Body of Christ is a mutually nurturing entity. If I cut my left arm, my right hand is soon bandaging me. Everyone is helping everyone else according to their giftedness.
Q. What is the goal of Torah?
A. The goal of Torah is perfection - human perfection, the fulfilling of our potential, so that we become like Christ. Through it we die and are reborn. Torah both condemns us and liberates us - the letter-part condemning, and the Spirit-part bringing us life, because it is the Word.
Q. Modern man seems to have great problems with concepts of Torah or Law. How do we help him overcome this fear?
A. He has to see it in action - he has to see its fruits. And he also has to learn to trust the Word of God even when it challenges his whole way of being. If we are to ever hope of breaking out of the liberal, anarchistic, spiritless and socialistic mode of thinking and being that we have inherited over this last century, we have got to raise up a new generation of children exposed to, comfortable with, and flourishing in New Covenant Torah. Unless the coming generation has this foundation, then our work at NCCG will ultimately fail, because you cannot have a gathering of people without proper theocracy. We have been brainwashed with anti-Torah sentiments at every quarter. Democracy has become our god, or in other words, the will of self. In fact, it's become a guise for Satanism, which is the worship of self. No longer do Western nations come with a message of love and obedience the God of the Bible but a message of "democracy". That's what people are fighting for these days. We, by contrast, have to come in the Name and strength of Yahweh as the boy David did before Goliath. And like the adult David, we must love His Torah and meditate on it day and night (Ps.119:97; Josh.1:8).
Torah is a living dynamic. Rooted in love and the anointing of the Ruach (Spirit), it becomes the path to personal and societal liberation. My prayer is that everyone will come to love Yahweh's Law and discover that every mark of it is rooted in love and the eternal principles of salvation. Amen. (Kadesh-biyqah, 20 September 2002)