What Was (and Is) The Original Faith?
People today are perplexed by the plurality of religious faiths in the world. They see a bewildering array of eastern religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Islam. Then there are the shamanistic tribal religions of the remote and primitive peoples. We know of ancient mystery religions of nations like Egypt, and religions that came into being by the work of modern day so called prophets and apostles.
In the West we are mostly concerned with Christianity and its cognate Judaism. Some are also becoming aware that Islam has a great deal in common with Christianity and Judaism, all having a common origin. In the US Christianity is dominant, so most people couch all their religious inquiry in terms of Christianity since that is what they know. They seem to think that all religions are just different versions of the Christian mind set. Their naivety often prevents the slightest understanding of other faiths. And Christianity itself is hopelessly divided into thousands of conflicting denominations, each touting its own particular interpretation of truth.
I realize that I am writing primarily to an audience from a Christian background, so I will address issues in this article primarily from that perspective, but I will try to address issues from the Judaic and Islamic perspectives as well. Most Christians believe that their faith superseded Judaism, but they are unaware that Muslims believe that Islam superseded both of them. What superseded what is not at issue in this article, however. My purpose in writing is to discover to my readers where all three faiths began.
Where did it all begin? So what really came first? What was before the prophet Mohammed began to hear what he believed was the voice of God and set about to bring his fellow Arab peoples out of centuries of polytheistic religious practices, to spread the faith of the one God and to conquer nations in the name of Allah?
What preceded the massive spread of the Roman sponsored faith called Christianity under the heavy hand of the Emperor Constantine. He greatly altered and paganized the primitive faith practiced by Jesus and his apostles in the first century, leaving a mongrel mix of Mithraistic pagan practices and beliefs dressed up in biblical language that persists to this day?
What preceded the work of Jesus and the apostles and their primitive group of followers? A movement that sprang from the Judaism of their day.
And what preceded the rabbinic Judaism that grew from the traditions of the first century Pharisees in the throes of the destruction of the Temple, making it impossible for the Jews to practice much of the elements of their religion that had persisted over a thousand years?
Indeed, what preceded the great covenant at Sinai when God singled out a particular ethnic group and gave them a unique responsibility - the preservation and perpetuation of Torah?
Let us put the question another way. Of what faith was Abraham and Isaac? What about Shem and Eber, who are said to have operated a house for study of the ways and knowledge of the creator? This was at a time when apostasy was first springing up under the influence of Nimrod, who sought to set himself "before" or "in the place of" God. The practice of idolatry seems to have been introduced by Nimrod justify his ambitions in the name of divine right and to distract the people from the knowledge of the creator, so that he could exercise political control over them. Few realize that control of the people has been the motive behind nearly every religion since that time.
What about Adam and Enoch and Noah? What were the principles of their faith? These men, though called righteous men, could not be called Christians because Jesus' ministry began centuries later. They could not even be called Jews or Isrealites because the nation of Israel did not exist at that time and the covenant at Sinai was yet centuries in the future. They long predated Mohammed and so they were not followers his teachings. Curiously, Muslims would say that those patriarchs, who were their ancestors as much as were the Jews, were indeed Muslims, because the word Islam means "to surrender to God". They view those earlier prophets as followers of the way of God. Mohammed merely continued that tradition and reintroduced the true faith in his time adding the new scriptural revelations (the Koran) given to him by God. Many of them will say that Abraham was the first Muslim. But names by which they might have been called are not the issue at hand. I do not wish to debate that point, because it is not germane to the issue I am discussing. What is important is the principles of their faith and the behavior they espoused. By the time you finish this article, I hope to make it clear just what was that original faith?
A question of covenants Years ago, when I was doing research for a commentary on the book of Genesis that I was writing, I came across an interesting passage in the ninth chapter of Genesis that I had read many times before, but never with the same focus that I had at that time. In order to fully explain that passage I had to understand it clearly myself. Noah had just come out of the ark and was making a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for the deliverance of his family. I had been focusing at length on the subject of sacrifices and their significance. On occasion, sacrifice accompanied the sealing of an agreement between two parties, such as the Laban - Jacob agreement in Genesis 31. The sacrifice was intended to invoke God as a witness to the transaction. In some cases one of the parties was God himself.
I was struck by the fact that here in Genesis 9 was a major covenant taking place accompanied by a sacrifice, but to my knowledge no one had paid the slightest attention to it since. The traditional religions are greatly concerned with the matter of covenants. Judaism is completely based on the covenant at Sinai along with prophecies predicting a time when there would be a new covenant written on the hearts of Israel. Christians appropriated the concept of a new covenant to themselves apparently forgetting that the new covenant was between God and Israel as well. But both beliefs seemed to completely ignore the covenant God made with Noah and his descendants. I kept this matter in the back of my mind for a long time.
Some others knew As it turned out there were those who were aware of this covenant and who were teaching about it. Some months later I read a short article in the Jerusalem Post. It was about a small but growing movement of non-Jews who were becoming interested in Torah. They had become disillusioned with traditional Christian teaching because of the pagan practices and beliefs that were imbedded in it and because of glaring inconsistencies in doctrine. The article centered of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Athens Tennessee, that had removed the designation Baptist from their name and started down the path to an independent study of the scriptures. Their study eventually prompted them to also remove the designation church from their name as well. They also tore down their steeple realizing that it too was a relic of ancient pagan phallic symbols. They came to be called simply The Emmanuel Congregation and later The Emmanuel Study Center.
Their studies taught them that they should embrace the covenant of Genesis 9 and the seven laws of Noah founded on that passage, as the foundation of their belief and practice. Here to my surprise was a group of people who were endeavoring to get back to the original faith.
They also realized that God had given a special assignment to the Jewish people to be a kingdom of priests among the nations (Ex. 19:5-6) and to preserve and uphold Torah to the nations. So it seemed sensible for these Noachides to begin to seek teaching from Jewish sources and to search out Jewish Rabbis who would be willing and able to teach them.
They had come to realize that the Torah dealt differently with Jews as opposed to non- Jews, and that even though many Jewish leaders they spoke with did not know how to deal with them, there were a some few rabbis who understood the matter and were willing to help them understand Torah. As it happened, sometime earlier the Lubavatcher Rebbe Schneerson had been predicting to his followers that the time would soon come when
Ten men out of all the languages of the nations (the gentiles) ... shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you (Zechariah 8:23).
So even though other segments of Judaism seemed not to be willing or able to help them, the Lubavatchers began to help them.
Further investigation I was intrigued by this story because it was then that I realized that I was not the only one who had noticed the importance of the covenant in Genesis 9. I began to search for information about this and other such groups of people. I began to request literature to explore the teachings of those groups and the notion of the seven laws of Noah. These folks commonly called themselves B'nai Noach, meaning the sons of Noah. This article is my attempt to explain of what I learned of the B'nai Noach movement.
Judaism is not known to be an evangelizing religion. It usually does not seek converts, though a non-Jew can convert if he is tenacious enough. This stance is largely a cautious one that has been adopted because of the persecution that Jews have often been subject to. They have chosen not to openly seek converts rather than risk the ire of the Christians. In fact they will often discourage conversion of non-Jews because they regard it as unnecessary. It may come as a surprise, but in the Jewish world view, it is not their goal to make the world Jewish. They see their faith as a calling specifically for Jews, not gentiles. The covenant at Sinai was made specifically with the nation of Israel and Israel alone. The ten commandments and the 613 commandments given at Sinai were intended specifically for them. They were never required of other nations. We often refer to the Jews as the chosen people, but not one person in a thousand can tell you what they were chosen to do. A Jew realizes that he was chosen to preserve and perpetuate Torah and to practice it in every aspect of his life, even down to minute details that remind him of the particulars of Torah. This is the nature of Judaism.
God has given the Jews the mindset that it is a great privilege to live in this manner for a divine purpose. They serve with joy. Frankly though, there are not many gentiles who would be inclined to choose that way of life. Not many would care to wear the kippah and the teffilin and to eat only kosher foods, and to cease all work on the seventh day and all the minutiae of Judaism. But a gentile may choose to convert to Judaism and take on all it's accoutrements if he wishes. Even if he chooses not to convert, it would be permissible to take on certain elements of that faith if one chooses as something beyond what is required of a gentile. But God never required that all the world live in this fashion. I once heard a Rabbi say that Jews need the gentiles to run the world while they study Torah. For example, in a modern world, someone needs to be working on Shabbat to keep the public utilities running, to provide emergency services, to provide police protection, etc. at the very least.
What we need is peace I once asked a Jewish friend what Judaism sees as the role of gentiles in the world. His reply was simply "to live in a peaceable manner with all his neighbors including the Jews". I said that I notice that Jews tend not to paint elaborate scenarios of the messianic age as Christian teachers tend to do. I then asked him to describe his expectations of the messianic age. His reply was quick and to the point. "Torah will go forth from Jerusalem and all men would live peaceably with their neighbor." That's it, pure and simple -PEACE. In contrast we live in a world where peace eludes us, personally, nationally, and globally.
It's ironic that modern Christianity, which claims to be the religion of the Prince of Peace, has evolved a doctrine that teaches the ultimate failure of peace for our planet. Christians expect to be raptured away at the time of the end, leaving the world to fester in it's problems and descend into oblivion.
Such teaching would not be recognized by Jesus and the apostles. It is not genuine New Testament teaching. It can be clearly shown that the followers of Jesus and the Apostles believed in a messianic kingdom to come to the earth in the future rather than the saints being wafted away to an idyllic existence in heaven. They believed in the same messianic vision that the prophets of the Bible had taught for centuries, a kingdom of peace and justice, centered in Jerusalem, a kingdom that will ultimately engulf the entire world. Of course, Judaism and the early church diverged on the issue of who was the messiah. That rift eventually became a chasm as the church drifted away from its original beliefs.
What, then, is the basis of peace? What is the code of conduct by which all men should live in order to have peace? The answer in the concept of Judaism is "the seven laws of Noah". That body of law. laid down just after the great flood, is the original code of morality and conduct which God required of all men. It is the very basis for any peaceful and orderly society. Only by following its principles can we have peace among all men. At the end of this article I will enumerate what are those seven laws of Noah for the benefit of those who do not know them, but I will have to leave a detailed explanation of them for a later article.
It may come as a surprise that, in the beginning, God never required that man worship Him, He never required that man pray to Him; He never required elaborate rituals or ceremonies. He never required keeping the sabbath, paying tithes or going to church. God did not require man to practice religion. But he did require that man treat Him with respect, and that all men live peaceable with one another and he gave specific instruction about how to accomplish it. Those two great principles ultimately became part of the Law of Sinai and later they were reiterated by Jesus as what he called the two great commandments. Those requirements are detailed further into what ultimately became known as the seven laws of Noah. So what does Judaism see as the role of the gentile? It is nothing more than to live by the seven broad Noachide principles and live in peace.
Fact finding To return to my story, I was sure that something very important had taken place in the ninth chapter of Genesis and I intended to understand what it was. The answer was some time in coming. And it is still coming. Over my years of independent study, I had learned that a great deal could be learned about biblical issues by consulting Jewish sources - commentaries, rabbinical works, and books by and for Jews. They seemed to have real and convincing answers to biblical questions when Christian scholars responses ranged anywhere from ignoring the question to simply blowing smoke. I realized that Christian scholars often simply ignored available exegesis from Jewish sources and consequently they remained in the dark on so many issues. I began to fill my personal library with as much of Jewish exegetical material as I could find. I undertook to learn to read Hebrew and I began to read the Bible in Hebrew. I even subscribed to the Jerusalem Post. In time I began to marvel at the growth of my understanding of the scriptures. And, of course, I gradually became aware of some very serious issues that separate Christian and Jewish teachings.
By chance I met a few individuals who called themselves Noachide. They had no association with the groups I previously spoke of. They had a loose association with a local Jewish congregation. Some had taken Noachide classes. Some were preparing in this way for eventual conversion to Judaism, though that was not necessarily the case. I learned that this kind of activity, a sort of Jewish outreach, is beginning to take place among some Jewish groups, especially among the orthodox. I found that a number of Noachide organizations were represented on the internet, some Jewish, some not. The basis of the teaching was always the seven laws of Noah. The presentation and the development of teaching varied considerably from group to group. Jewish groups stuck mainly to Torah and teachings of rabbinical authorities. Because Noachides usually came from Christian backgrounds, questions about christological issues would inevitably arise. Jewish teachers tactfully but firmly assert that traditional Christianity is a devolved form of ancient teaching that grew out the work of Yeshua the Nazarene as expanded by the apostles, especially Paul. The church eventually began to worship Jesus as God. Put simply that Christianity has made an idol out of Jesus.
The non-Jewish groups vary considerably. Though they recognize Jewish teaching, and they have long known that traditional Christian teaching is loaded with paganism in its practices and doctrines, there are those who are more cautious about totally rejecting New Testament teaching. Many feel the issue deserves more objective study. They are clearly re-evaluating what they have been taught all their lives. They are especially concerned with the status of Jesus and who he was. Frankly, there is not unanimous agreement among Noachides on this issue.
The issue of the textual integrity of the New Testament is also an important issue. There has always been a rigorous and careful process in place for the faithful preservation of the Jewish scriptures. By contrast no such process has ever existed for the New Testament. It can be shown that many insertions and changes have been made over the centuries by well meaning although biased copyists. Over half the text is in dispute. So some wonder how much they can depend on it to reflect the first century movement of Jesus and the apostles. Some have begun to see a different understanding of the New Testament than is common in Christianity, becoming aware of Noachide issues and even deeper Jewish and Kabalistic material that has long been there, though it has eluded the Christian community. There is no single consensus about these issues, but it is clear that everyone considers what is happening to be a learning experience. There is little or no effort in the movement to dogmatize or to unite to form a new organization. Indeed, they make it clear that they are not a new religion. One congregation that I visited does not pray or sing songs or anything that would be considered worship, presumably to avoid the impression of practicing a new religion. They simply open their meeting and introduce their speaker, who expounds some facet of Torah teaching. There follows a brief period of questions and answers. The atmosphere is friendly, informal and educational.
A new phenomenon - an old concept So the Noachide movement is a grass roots movement. I like to refer to it as an unorganized unreligion. Most of the groups are aware of each other. Some of the groups have a very loose sort of cooperation and association, but there is no central authority and no apparent desire for one.
It is a new phenomenon in modern times, though it seems to echo the situation in the first century, when a great many God fearers, non Jews, associated themselves with the Torah and the Temple. The New Testament accounts seem to reflect that what is often referred to as the beginning of the church in Christian circles, was in reality the sudden appearance of an earlier grass roots Noachide movement that was associated with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. This is a controversial issue. At some point that new movement drifted away from its first principles, allowing pagan influences to be introduced, until the fourth century, when the Roman emperor Constantine, adopted the fledgling church and totally corrupted it with the practices and teachings of Mithraism (sun worship) while still calling it by the name of Christianity. The primitive movement of Jesus and the apostles was changed forever. Whatever it was in the beginning has been replaced with a mongrel religion built around the personage of Jesus, appropriating pagan ritual and observances, while retaining biblical language in it's liturgy.
So what will become of this 20th century God-fearers movement only time will tell. There are those who believe there is prophetic significance to it. Most feel they are embarking on a new adventure in truth. There is much very exciting scriptural study and teaching taking place, and some very informative and educational literature being circulated. The depth of study into the issues is very impressive. I am satisfied that as the baggage of traditional Christianity is examined objectively, a great deal of new insight will emerge. Many feel this is destined to change the world.
I have for many years simply called myself an independent student of the Bible. I have not been a part of any religious organization for over twenty years, and I have come to like it that way. I value my spiritual independence very highly. I find that I am much more free to study the Bible objectively. I do not have to defend the doctrines of some organization by virtue of belonging to it. Belonging means that it owns you and you owe your loyalty to it. You obligate yourself to support it's teaching.
I am part participant and part observer. I have come to think of myself also as B'nai Noah because I believe in the concept and support it. It is not a matter of belonging to some man made organization. Though I speak highly of these groups and I feel good about what they are doing, I am not personally a part of any of them. It is partly because there is not much of this activity in the area where I live, but it is also partly because I value my autonomy as an independent student of the Bible. It is easy to become spiritually lazy as a part of a group, and allow the group to do your thinking for you. The churches are full of this kind of thing. Few church members question the doctrines of their denomination. They simply believe what their church teaches.
I find it is not a handicap that I do not often have an opportunity for fellowship. In our age, when communication is so easy and quick, I have access to virtually any information and teaching that I could get in person. I can read the comments of the great sages of Judaism in print, without having to be taught in person. I can read the Christian commentators objectively. I can even read Islamic literature or that of eastern religions without someone scrutinizing me. I am completely free to make value judgements about what I read. There is no pressure from any quarter, no one that approves or disapproves what I study and what I conclude. This is a level of academic freedom that I could never have as a part of any religious organization.
There are educational resources concerning such issues available in libraries and via the internet. Many B'nai Noach organizations are represented on the web. There is e-mail for quick and cheap communication with others when I wish to discuss scriptural teachings. Mostly, I find that by writing articles such as this one, and making them available for others, I gain a great deal of personal satisfaction. There is nothing like explaining something to someone else to crystallize understanding for oneself. By placing these articles on the web, they can be read and downloaded by any one who has an interest, but no one is pressured to read it or accept my views. No one answers to me and no one has to believe me. If I cannot write in a clear, compelling and logical manner then no one should pay me the slightest attention. If I cannot convince my readers that I have touched on the truth, then they should not believe what I say.
I realize that my level of independence is not for everyone. There are those who feel they need to be a part of a church or some such group. Everyone must follow his own heart and mind on that issue. Everyone has different needs.
So I have reported what I know about the B'nai Noach movement as objectively as I am able. I have shown you where the original faith started. I have also shown you a modern manifestation of it. It is in a state of flux and self realization. Hopefully it will remain that way rather than lock itself into a fixed set of doctrines that limit the learning of newer and more complete insights into Torah.
The Seven Laws Of Noah For those of you who are still wondering just what these seven laws of Noah are, I promised to briefly list them, according to my understanding. They are much like the ten commandments although they are not similarly enumerated in a single body. In fact, the ten commandments are an expansion of those principles for the nation of Israel.
1. Do not blaspheme God. This means not to speak evil of Him, nor to misappropriate His name, nor to quote Him when He has not spoken.
2. Do not practice idolatry. Do not worship anyone or anything other than the Creator, the God of Israel. Do not assign deity to any other being, human or otherwise. Do not use images or pictures as objects of worship.
3. Do not steal. This refers not only to property rights. It also incorporates kidnapping and slavery.
4. Do not practice sexual perversions, such as incest, bestiality, and adultery.
5. Do not murder.
6. Establish courts of justice to provide a forum to prosecute and execute murders, including any beast that becomes a mankiller, and to develop the rule of law in the various societies of man.
7. Do not eat the flesh of an animal with the blood in it. This primarily means not to tear a limb from a living animal to eat as would the beasts of the field, but rather to practice humane slaughter.
These seven laws were given by God to all mankind early on as the minimum standard for any orderly society. Society would break down without any one of these laws. Much of natural law comes from these principles. It would be difficult to argue against any of them. That this is a minimum standard for justice in the world. These principles are the foundation for justice for all mankind.
Resources A list of useful sources for B'nai Noach information:
www.noach.com/Emmanuel Emmanuel has an extensive catalogue of tapes J.David Davis, Dr. James Tabor and others including several Rabbis. Printed literature and books are also available.
Emmanuel P. O. Box 442 Athens, TN 37371-0442
www.vendyljones.org.il Vendyl Jones long career in persuit of B'nai Noah teachings predates most others. He began his research as a Baptist minister. He has an extensive library of taped material outlining many biblical issues including B'nai Noach implications in the New Testament. Mr. Jones is now deceased but has been heavily involved in archeological projects in Israel.
Vendyl Jones Research Institutes P.O. Box 120366 Arlington, TX 76012-0366
www.NoahideNations.com Many Noachides have gravitated to this organization for the purpose access of teaching and communications with other noahides. They offer online teaching and meeting opportunities.
The Temple Institute A very useful resource to Jewish and Naohide teaching. Organized around weeky Torah readings, Jewish Holy days and current events in Jerusalem, it povides a weath of infomation.
Light to the Nations www.lttn.org
www.freeyellow.com/members5/Hrubieszow/page9.htm A comprehensive listing of other B'nai Noach websites with links.
Other useful links:
The Jerusalem Post: www.jpost.co.il/com/
Bar Ilan University: www.biu.oc.il
(c) Copyright 1999 by Wayne Simpson Distributed by the Biblical Research Foundation 629 Lexington Road, Sapulpa, OK 74066
Reproduction and distribution is permissible provided this copyright notice remains intact in each copy.
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