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Christianity and the First Covenant

We often get questions about different religions. The vast majority of them concern Christianty.

Responding to one such question, Michael Dallen writes:

. . . My mother, of blessed memory, always made a point of distinguishing between the religion of Jesus, which was Torah-based, and what became the religion about Jesus. She thought well of Jesus, Yeshu ben Yosef, as an individual, a real person, although she also thought that much that was said and written about him was assembled from different legends. She did not think of him as being any kind of god. She thought it possible, or even likely, that he had been providentially chosen, for reasons we can only guess at, to do what he did in life. On the other hand, she didn't think of him as being the Messiah (that is, the Davidic Messiah, the re-born king of Israel, the leading, last anointed one - meshiach or messiah means anointed; the kings of Israel were anointed with sweet olive oil) among all the remarkable individuals that HaShem might someday anoint to help redeem men. She thought, along with most Jews who know anything about this at all, that that's completely impossible. (This is, after all, something that Israel should know a bit about, because the concept of messiah comes out of Israel's Tradition).

In her view, and in mine, Jesus didn't "save" non-Jews from "the Burden of the Law" - that is to say, from the privilege and duty of keeping the Torah's 613 Commandments. The 613 are all the laws, statutes and ordinances of Sinai: the full Torah, in other words. According to the Torah itself, people who aren't Jewish aren't bound and never were never bound by the Torah in its totality. The full 613 do bind Israel, since they are meant to make and keep Israel a holy people, "a kingdom of priests," "a light unto the nations."

Further, as you say, this is all part of G'd's great plan to show other nations the Way to G'd - which is really the Way OF G'd. This Way or path is in the Torah: in fact, it's part of those 613 Commandments. The 613 Commandments and the wise and ancient Rabbinic ordinances that complement them are legally binding on the Jewish people. Jewish courts, Torah courts, have or have had (and one day will again have) the power to enforce them on individual Jewish people, with all the directed power of the state, police and courts.

Other people - Noahides (or No'achides), the vast majority of the human race - aren't bound that way. They are bound only by the Law of the First Covenant, the Rainbow Covenant - the Law that G'd gave to mankind's legendary common ancestors, and, through them, to all mankind, eternally. Israel is bound by this same great covenant, incidentally. G'd NEVER cancels, abrogates, or welshes on His covenants.  

The Law of the First Covenant, the Noahide Law, consists of seven broad commandments, which are actually headings, or categories, of Law and Guidance. These are the Seven Noahide Commandments, the Universal Law or Way. People - all people everywhere, eternally - are obligated to enforce the Universal Law's bare requirements: to avoid perverted gastronomy and cruelty to living beings; to avoid the perversions of theft and murder, and idolatry and sacrilege; to avoid sexual perversions, including incest, (male) homosexuality, adultery and bestiality; to renounce anarchy and lawlessness and the oppression of the weak by the powerful, by setting up a system of courts, police and laws to enforce the Universal Law, including every necessary law.

One soon finds that, the bare requirements of the Universal Law aside, G'd expects more of each of us than that we simply avoid committing felonies, or criminal violations of the basic Seven Commandments. He calls all of us, everyone - all human beings - to holiness. To achieve holiness, one must do the opposite of whatever the Universal Law forbids.

What does this mean? Instead of merely refraining from committing murder, for instance, one should act to save the life in danger (although one isn't legally bound to do so, even though a Jew, pursuant to Torah, is bound that way). Instead of merely refraining from thievery, one should give charity. Instead of merely refraining from idolatry, one should worship and serve G'd, HaShem; instead of merely refraining from profaning His holy Name, one should always be trying to honor it. And so forth.

One soon finds that the Law or Way of the First Covenant is surprisingly rich and deep, and that the Torah of Israel is the one and only way to fully explore this Universal Torah. That is, the Torah's universal moral Law applies to everyone; the Torah's universal moral laws are G'd's Universal Torah. So the Law, or Way, of the First Covenant, the Noahide or Universal Covenant, is for everyone, and the Torah - Israel's Torah - is how we get into it.

Everyone who aspires to more than merely avoiding committing felonies under G'd's Law (which are perversions that make people less than fully human while they dirty and corrupt the world) needs to study, and practice, what righteousness requires. Mankind's chief reference and source-text for that is the Torah. . .For more on this subject you really ought to get a copy of The Rainbow Covenant yourself.

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