Luke's Attitude to the Law Part 2 – Gentiles and the Sabbath

Dr. Dr. Bacchiocchi continues presenting the evidence for the continuity of Judaism and Christianity in the Gospel of Luke. This time, he notes the connection between Gentiles and the Sabbath.

Jerusalem Council

Some argue that the Jerusalem Council demonstrates that the Sabbath was never a requirement placed on Gentile believers. Those who hold to this position might say, “Because the Sabbath was not among the requirements that were given to the Gentiles at the Jerusalem Council found in Acts 15, the Sabbath was not a requirement for Gentile Christians.”

Gentiles Kept the Sabbath – Historical Perspective

Bacchiocchi argues against the idea that the Sabbath was not a requirement because it is not delineated in the council by first noting that the Bible says that the Gentiles under consideration at the Jerusalem Council were specifically the ones who had been instructed in Jewish faith (Acts 10:2; Acts 11:19-20; Acts 13:43,44; Acts 14:1). If these Gentiles were ignorant of the Old Testament laws then one could argue that the council’s failure to delineate the whole law demonstrates that Gentiles were not to keep the whole law just these four laws. However, because these Gentiles were knowledgeable of the whole law, the council could discuss the issue under consideration, namely, whether Gentiles must be circumcised to be a part of the community.

Philo, the Jewish historian, demonstrates that the Sabbath law in particular was widespread in the ancient world by saying: “There is not a single people to which the custom of Sabbath observance has not spread.”

Finally, the Romans kept the Sabbath in Rome as a civil festival before the Christian era. Bacchiocchi argues that the Jews influenced the Romans to adopt the seven-day week and the Romans made Saturday the first and most important day of week. Because of these three arguments, the assumption that the Gentile Christians did not keep the Sabbath because it was not legislated on them in the Jerusalem Council is probably false.

Did Gentiles Have to Keep the Sabbath?

However, the argument remains that the portion of the law that was “required” of the Gentile Believers was the four requirements that were the four ritual laws that the sojourner in Israel was expected to follow (Lev 17-18).

Bacchiocchi reminds us that we must keep in mind the principal issue of the meeting, as noted above. This issue was whether Gentile believers would have to receive circumcision to be members of the Jesus Movement. What we have here is not a full recitation of all the requirements placed on Gentile believers. This council’s decision did not constitute a break from the principle of law. The council’s decision was saying that Gentiles should be accepted into the community of believers as Gentiles and not as Jews. The fact that the council appealed to the Law of Moses (Acts 15:21) in the decision provides further proof that ending the law was not an issue.

Jacob Jarvell agrees and states:

The apostolic decree enjoins Gentiles to keep the law, and they keep that part of the law required for them to live together with Jews. It is not lawful to impose upon Gentiles more than Moses himself demanded. It is false to speak of the Gentiles as free from the law. The church, on the contrary, delivers the law to the Gentiles as Gentiles. Thus, Luke succeeds in showing complete adherence to the law as well as salvation of Gentiles as Gentiles.

Full Inclusion in Community

These Gentiles had the provision of the Law of Moses that applied to the Sojourner applied to them. However, these gentiles were accepted into full fellowship as members (Acts 15:14). Thus, these individuals were to be grafted into the community that holds fast to the covenant (Isaiah 56:5-7).

Moreover, inclusion in the community included Sabbath Keeping which we will see in the We final post in this series that will look at the evidence in the book of Luke of Gentile Sabbath observance.

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