Why Did the Apostles Keep Jewish Traditions and Laws?

Question:- Why did the Apostles and other Christian Jews keep the Jewish festivals, the Sabbath and other laws related to obligations like eating kosher food.  It seems like a double standard and has caused many problems and that is why for example the Hebraic Roots Movement has been so strong and outspoken around the world.

Answer:- The Jewish Christians (including the Apostles) continued to observe the feasts because it had been their tradition for many centuries. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that He had not come to abolish the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. The “Law” continued in effect for Israel as is evident by Paul’s statement in Gal. 2:10 “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them’.” Note the present tense. Paul could not make such a claim and quote this passage from the Law unless it still applied. In other words, Israel as a nation was and still is under the “curses” outlined in Deuteronomy 28-29, which includes exile from the land (and no Temple). However, when an Israelite embraces Christ and the New Covenant, then the Old Covenant becomes “obsolete” for him personally. In Christ, he is bound by the terms of the New Covenant.

Jesus did not make this very clear during His ministry, which was focused on who He was personally (“the Christ, the Son of God”), and issues related to the coming Kingdom. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) was not even sure at first whether the Gentiles needed to keep the Law, but it was settled by that council. You can see in Acts the great difficulty that the Jewish believers had in even accepting the idea that Gentiles did not need to keep the Law. The difficulty in their accepting that even Jews did not need to keep the Law but could eat unclean food or not keep the festivals. Look at Peter defending himself to the Jerusalem church (Acts 11) after he went to visit Cornelius (Acts 10).

Notice that they were outraged that Peter went into the home of a Gentile and ATE with them (Acts 11:3). Gentiles did not cook or serve kosher food. So they were accusing Peter of eating non-kosher (unclean) food. He did not deny it. Instead, he told them about the vision that he had of the sheet filled with unclean animals, and the voice from heaven telling him to “kill and eat.” After Peter told his story about what happened at Cornelius’ house, He ended with these words: “Who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17). It was with a great deal of reluctance that they accepted Peter’s explanation, including the fact that God Himself led Peter to go and eat with these Gentiles.

Yet, the reluctance to forgo the rituals by Jews, and the great external pressure by the Jews to continue to keep the traditions is also evident in the incident in Galatians 2, where Peter bowed to the peer pressure by some Jewish believers to not eat with the Gentile believers. This is not merely what table they sat together at. It concerns eating Gentile prepared food vs. food prepared by Jews keeping the kosher laws. Paul had to openly rebuke Peter concerning this. There is another incident recorded in Acts 21:17-30 which illustrates the great pressure that the Jewish Christians were under to continue in the traditions of the Law.

The bottom line is that a clean break with the Law of Moses would have assured that Jewish Christians would never have any hope of converting their fellow Jews, since they would be charged with founding a new religion, and even stoned or exiled for breaking the Law of Moses. What we see in Acts is a period where the question of abandoning the traditions of the Law was not even considered during the 40-year period until the destruction of Jerusalem. This slow transition was necessary so that the Gospel could saturate Jerusalem and Judea, and not be a stumbling block over such theological questions. But by AD 70, when the Romans destroyed the Temple, the priesthood, and the city of Jerusalem, it became obvious for Jewish believers that such observance was no longer possible, and thus not required under the New Covenant.

Paul was the one charged by Christ with laying the groundwork for New Testament theology concerning this question. And He did an excellent job of addressing it just before his death in his magnificent letter to the “Hebrews.” He wrote this only about 4 or 5 years before the destruction of Jerusalem. Right after Paul’s execution in AD 66, Peter wrote his 2nd letter to the Gentiles where he affirmed all of Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:14-18). This shows that just before the destruction of Jerusalem, Peter and Paul were completely unified, and that Paul’s special revelation (which largely concerns questions concerning the Law and its relation to the New Covenant) was fully endorsed by Peter, who was considered by the Jewish believers as the head Apostle.

Everything was not revealed to the Apostles immediately after Jesus’ resurrection, or on the Day of Pentecost. Remember, Jesus told them that He had much more to teach them, but they were not able to digest it yet. He would send the “spirit of Truth” which would remind them of his teaching and continue teaching them. This continuing education took place gradually all through the book of Acts and was not complete until the Apostles penned their last works such as 2 Timothy, Hebrews, and 2 Peter, and finally all of John’s books including Revelation.

Answer By Tim Warner © http://www.4windsfellowships.net

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