Which Old Testament laws actually apply to non-Jews?



Do God’s laws apply to Gentiles, including foods that should not be eaten, i.e. pigs, fish without scales?


Valerie raises a broad topic but focuses on the ritually prohibited foods in the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) as listed in Leviticus 11 and  Deuteronomy 14.

For traditional Jews, kosher observance involves both obedience to God and identity with their people and heritage across thousands of years. However, Judaism does not call upon non-Jews (“Gentiles”) to do the same (more below on what behavior it does expect). In addition to the listings, biblical commandments against eating blood lead to kosher slaughtering methods and draining and salting of meats. Also, the biblical law against boiling a goat in mother’s milk was later extended to bar meals that mix meat and dairy products.

Christianity from the start did not apply these food laws to Gentiles, as shown in two key New Testament passages. It’s generally assumed that Jesus, as a faithful Jew, would have observed the common dietary practices. However, in the Gospel of Mark 7:14-19, Jesus teaches, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” Here Jesus is making a general point about the sinfulness of the human heart, but Mark adds an editorial comment on one way the earliest Christians understood his words: “Thus he declared all foods clean.”

Jesus’ implicit message turns explicit in the Book of Acts chapter 10, which depicts the Christian conversion of the Roman soldier Cornelius. This was one of the formative episodes in Christianity’s rapid expansion, underscored by the fact that it is repeated in chapter 11 and referred to obliquely in chapter 15. Cornelius was a “God-fearer,” one of many in the Roman Empire who were attracted to Judaism’s one God but did not formally convert.

An angel directs Cornelius to meet Peter, who simultaneously receives a trance vision in which heaven opens, “all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air” descend while a voice says “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” Peter declares he has never eaten any foods the Scriptures forbid as unclean. This occurs three times. Upon meeting Cornelius, Peter realizes “I should not call any man common or unclean” so he teaches the soldier and other Gentiles about Jesus and when they believe has them baptized as pioneer converts. After hearing about this, Peter’s fellow Jewish Christians “glorified God” and agree on outreach to Gentiles without mandating Jewish observances.

Turning to other laws, another major controversy in the founding era was whether Gentile men must observe the biblical commandment of circumcision when they convert to the one God of Judaism through Christian evangelism.

Continue reading "Which Old Testament laws actually apply to non-Jews?" by Richard Ostling.

Please respect our Commenting Policy