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Acts 15 and Rabbinic Authority

In earlier chapters we saw how Israel had a centralized government and an organized Levitical priesthood while it was still in the wilderness. This shows we can have an organized priesthood when we are outside of the land. Let us bear this in mind.

We also saw how Messiah the Prince came to take the spiritual campaign to restore fallen Adam into a new phase. The focus would no longer be on offering animal sacrifices in a temple, but on sending disciples into all nations to establish a global Melchizedekian priesthood. This worldwide Melchizedekian priesthood would call the lost and scattered children of Avraham and Israel out of every family and every clan. Then, generations later, a remnant of them would begin a slow return to their inheritance in Israel.

Further, we learned that the Levitical priesthood had no inheritance in the land. Likewise, Yeshua said that in order to be His disciple (i.e., a Melchizedekian priest), a man had to forsake all that he had. This was the price of serving Him and His people.

Luqa (Luke) 14:33
33 “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Although the priests were not to have any possessions, the ministry would still need funding in order to carry out the Great Commission, so the people sold their possessions (Acts 2 and 4), and gave the proceeds to the apostles.

Ma’asei (Acts) 4:32-35
32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Adon Yeshua. And great favor was upon them all.
34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold,
35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

If the apostles were not to have any inheritance, then why were the funds laid at the apostles’ feet? For any organization to be effective, its leadership must be able to direct how the funds are spent. This is true whether we are talking about government, a business, a Melchizedekian priesthood, or whatever.

For the Levitical priesthood to work, the high priest had to have control of the funds. If the people simply gave their tithes, gifts, and offerings to the first priest they met (or to the priest that helped them offer their sacrifices), the temple service would quickly break down. It would be similar to paying a waiter at the restaurant, and allowing him to take all the money home. The manager would have no funds to pay the cooks and the dishwashers, or pay the grocery bill. The restaurant would soon be forced to close.

Unless the people all gave their tithes to the high priest (or his designee), the high priest would have no funds to distribute to those who chopped wood, or baked the showbread. Everyone with supporting jobs would have to abandon their posts, and work as altar priests. They would have to be there to meet the pilgrims as they came up to Jerusalem. But if everyone was a priest, and no one drew water, chopped wood, or baked showbread, the temple service would come to a halt. This is roughly analogous to the situation in Messianic Israel today. There is no separated priesthood, no real accountability, and no order.

In Acts 6 we see both organization and order. In those days, a complaint arose against the Hebrews by the Hellenists because the Hellenic widows had not been well taken care of. The apostles’ response was to assign seven additional men to look after the widows. This was possible because the apostolic foundation had the power to direct how the funds were spent.

Ma’asei (Acts) 6:1-4
1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of Elohim and serve tables.
3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Set apart Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;
4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The reason Yahweh wants the apostolic foundation to have control of the funds is that, by definition, apostles and prophets hear Yahweh’s voice. It is only by hearing and obeying Yahweh’s voice, moment by moment, that they can know how Yahweh wants His funds spent.

The idea is that the evangelists, pastors, and teachers are supposed to realize that the apostles and prophets are hearing and obeying Yahweh’s voice. They are to seek them for direction and counsel. However, when the evangelists, pastors, and teachers don’t know what it is to hear Yahweh’s voice, they do not feel a need to seek out the apostles and prophets, or operate on the apostolic foundation. This causes instant disunity, as in the Messianic world today.

Some believers distrust the very idea of an apostolic foundation. This is perhaps attributable to the fact that there has been so much abuse of power by the church. They are perhaps like wives who have been through a bad marriage, and who now distrust marriage. However, just because one makes a wrong choice of spouse, does that make the institution of marriage bad? Or does it mean they just made a poor choice of mate?

While the Catholic Church has a foundation of apostles and prophets, it is not a foundation of true apostles and true prophets. Like the rabbis, the Catholic leadership does not follow Yahweh’s voice, but their own thoughts. This makes them blind guides, for as we saw earlier with Havvah (Eve) in the Garden of Eden, Satan’s primary tactic is to get us to follow our own thoughts, rather than listen for Yahweh’s voice. This is why we are told to take every thought into captivity to the obedience of the Messiah (and His Spirit).

Qorintim Bet (2 Corinthians) 10:3-6
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in Elohim for pulling down strongholds,
5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Elohim, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Messiah,
6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

Yahweh gave us brains, and He wants us to use them. However, we are first to abide in Yeshua, and then to think—and not the other way around. If at any time we forget to abide in Yeshua, then we will end up chasing after our own thoughts (and hence, we become Satan’s spiritual captives).

Hearing and obeying Yahweh’s voice is foundational to our faith. Those with the apostolic and prophetic gifts must listen continually for Yahweh’s voice. In fact, this is why they are entrusted with leadership. If listening to Yahweh’s words is not their top priority, then they are not living up to their office (and this is where both the rabbis and the church go wrong).

We know the offices of apostles and prophets are still for today, because Ephesians 4:13 tells us to organize according to the fivefold giftings until we all come to the unity of the faith.

Ephesim (Ephesians) 4:13
13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of Elohim, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah;

Further, Revelation 18:20 tells the apostles and prophets to rejoice over Babylon at her fall.

Hitgalut (Revelation) 18:20
20 “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you set apart apostles and prophets, for Elohim has avenged you on her!”

Since the fall of Babylon is still a future event, we know that there will be apostles and prophets in the future—so we know that the offices of apostles and prophets are still for today.

Since apostles and prophets are those who listen for Yahweh’s voice at all times, and since these offices are still for today, then those who are called to these offices must practice hearing and obeying His voice at all times. That is part of their job.

But what does all of this have to do with Acts 15?

Up through Acts 9, the Good News was being revealed to Jews only. However, in Acts 10, Yahweh showed Kepha (Peter) a vision of a great sheet descending from heaven, which was filled with unclean animals (which are symbolic of the gentiles).

Ma’asei (Acts) 10:9-16
9 The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Kepha went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour.
10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance
11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth.
12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.
13 And a voice came to him, “Rise, Kepha; kill and eat.”
14 But Kepha said, “Not so, Adon! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”
15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What Elohim has cleansed you must not call common.”
16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

The church teaches us that this vision means the clean food laws of Leviticus 11 no longer apply (and that we can now eat anything). However, Kepha tells us that it meant we should not call any man common or unclean. After Yeshua’s sacrifice, the Great Commission was to be shared with every family and every clan in all nations—so we were not to avoid witnessing to others.

Ma’asei (Acts) 10:28
28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But Elohim has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”

Kepha said it is “unlawful” for a Jewish man to keep company with, or go to, one of another nation. This is not found in the Torah of Moshe, but is instead a rabbinical ruling. That Kepha would repeat a rabbinical ruling says something about him. If we couple this with the fact that Shaul’s (Paul’s) ministry was to the gentiles, while Kepha’s ministry (up to this point) was to the circumcised (i.e., rabbinical Pharisees), it gives us an interesting picture of who Kepha truly was.

Kepha obeyed the Spirit’s command to go to Cornelius’ house, and six men of “the circumcision” (believing Pharisees) went with him. Kepha, then, was “hanging with the believing Pharisees.” Yet while he preached, the Spirit fell on everyone who heard—and “those of the circumcision who believed were astonished.”

Ma’asei (Acts) 10:44-45
44 While Kepha was still speaking these words, the Set-apart Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.
45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Kepha, because the gift of the Set-apart Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

Rabbinical Pharisees believe gentiles can only convert to Judaism by following a specific legal process. In the first century this was called the custom of Moshe (as opposed to the Torah of Moshe). Today this is called the Giur (gee-yure) process. In the Giur process, new converts must first take classes to learn the rabbinic interpretation of Torah law. Then, after they have been indoctrinated into the rabbinic teachings, they are allowed to become physically circumcised. In the rabbinic mind, if they have obeyed the rabbinic procedure, they are submitted to rabbinic authority, and they are therefore now in Yahweh’s favor (i.e., they are saved). This is why the circumcision was astonished when Yahweh poured out His Spirit on uncircumcised gentiles (like Cornelius and his house), who were not following the rabbinic traditions at all.

Men are very protective of their power and position, so when Kepha came back to Judea, the rabbinical circumcision contended with him there.

Ma’asei (Acts) 11:1-3
1 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received
the word of Elohim.
2 And when Kepha came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him,
3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”

Kepha explained the whole thing from the beginning, about how Elohim had shown him that he was not to call any man common or unclean, and how Yahweh had poured out the Spirit on Cornelius and his house. Then he asked them if they wanted him to try to stand up against what Elohim was doing.

Ma’asei (Acts) 11:15-18
15 “And as I began to speak, the Set-apart Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.
16 Then I remembered the word of the Master, how He said, ‘Yochanan indeed immersed with water, but you shall be immersed with the Set-apart Spirit.’
17 If therefore Elohim gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Adon Yeshua Messiah, who was I, that I could withstand Elohim?”
18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified Elohim, saying, “Then Elohim has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life!”

After these things, Yahweh poured out His Spirit on a great many Hellenized (Reform) believers in Antioch (who also were not obeying the rabbinic customs)—so the apostles sent Bar Naba (Barnabas) there.

Ma’asei (Acts) 11:19-25
19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.
20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Master Yeshua.
21 And the hand of Yahweh was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Master.
22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the ecclesia in Jerusalem, and they sent out Bar Naba to go as far as Antioch.
23 When he came and had seen the grace of Elohim, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with Yahweh.
24 For he was a good man, full of the Set-apart Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Master.
25 Then Bar Naba departed for Tarsus to seek Shaul.

It is amazing how stubborn and stiff necked men can be when their power and position is at stake. Even though Yahweh had clearly shown that He did not respect rabbinic authority in the case of Cornelius, the believing Pharisees still came to Antioch and told the Hellenized believers there that unless they followed the rabbinic Giur process, they could not be saved. In this passage the Giur process is called the custom of Moshe (as opposed to the Torah of Moshe). In verse 5 these rabbinic believers are called the “sect of the Pharisees who believed.” This is the same spiritual group as the rabbinical “circumcision who believed.”

Ma’asei (Acts) 15:1-2
1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the [rabbinic] custom of Moshe [i.e., Giur process], you cannot be saved.”
2 Therefore, when Shaul and Bar Naba had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Shaul and Bar Naba and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

It was a two or three week walk to go up from Antioch to Jerusalem, and we have to remember that in ancient times, road travel could be dangerous. There were often bandits and thieves—yet Shaul and Bar Naba seem to have felt that the prospect of doctrinal unity was worth the trip. It seems to have been important to them that all of the shepherds lead their sheep the right way. This may be because sheep follow their under-shepherds—and unless all of the under-shepherds lead the sheep in the same direction, the flock will soon be divided. (That is to say, Messiah’s body will be split.)

Ma’asei (Acts) 15:4-5
4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the ecclesia and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that Elohim had done with them.
5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Torah of Moshe.”

The order suggested by the rabbinical believers is the same as the order of the rabbinic Giur Process:

  1. Teach them the rabbinic interpretation of Torah
  2. Circumcise them according to rabbinic ritual
  3. Keep the rabbinic torah law

Earlier we saw that the rabbinical order arose from the Levitical order, whereas Yeshua’s priesthood was to be based on the Melchizedekian order. That being the case, it would not work to allow the rabbis to assert rabbinic (i.e., Levitical) authority inside the order of Melchizedek; yet the rabbis were tenacious, and would not give up their presumed authority easily. We should note here that these rabbinical Pharisees who believed are analogous to the rabbinic Messianic Jews of today. These are Jews who have accepted Yeshua as the Messiah, still believe in rabbinic authority, and believe the Talmud is authoritative. This is ironic, since Yeshua never had anything good to say either about the rabbinical order, or about their man-made traditions and teachings (Talmud).

After there had been “much dispute,” Kepha rose up to say that Yahweh had chosen him to deliver the Good News to the gentiles, and that he had not imposed rabbinic authority; therefore, why did the rabbis seek to put a rabbinic yoke on the necks of the new believers, when Yeshua had called them all out from under rabbinical authority? After all, they hoped to be saved by favor (grace) through faith themselves.

Ma’asei (Acts) 15:6-11
6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.
7 And when there had been much dispute, Kepha rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago Elohim chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Good News and believe.
8 So Elohim, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Set apart Spirit, just as He did to us,
9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
10 Now therefore, why do you test Elohim by putting a yoke [rabbinic tradition] on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
11 But we believe that through the favor of the Adon Yeshua Messiah we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

Then Shaul and Bar Naba related all of the miracles and wonders Elohim was doing among the gentiles (who were not submitted to rabbinic authority).

Ma’asei (Acts) 15:12
12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Bar Naba and Shaul declaring how many miracles and wonders Elohim had worked through them among the Gentiles.

Ya’akov (James) then said that he judged they should not “trouble” the returning gentiles by placing a yoke of rabbinic authority on them, but that they could enter the assemblies simply by abstaining from four things Yahweh says will get one “cut off” from the nation (idolatry, sexual immorality, strangled [or unclean] meats, and blood). Ya’akov judged that if the gentiles would simply abstain from these four things, then they could enter the assemblies, where they could hear the Torah of Moshe being read aloud. In that way, the returning Jews and Ephraimites would come into compliance with Yahweh’s word (as opposed to being indoctrinated in the rabbis’ legal traditions).

Ma’asei (Acts) 15:13-21
13 And after they had become silent, Ya’akov answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me:
14 Shimon has declared how Elohim at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name.
15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
16 ‘After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up;
17 So that the rest of mankind may seek Yahweh, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says Yahweh who does all these things.’
18 “Known to Elohim from eternity are all His works.
19 Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are [re]turning to Elohim,
20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
21 For Moshe has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

Notice Ya’akov’s use of the word judge in verse 19. In Hebrew this word refers to something that apostles and prophets normally do.

As we explain in Torah Government, a prophet is someone who hears Yahweh’s voice, and speaks what he hears Yahweh saying. This is also how the anointed judges of the Tanach (Old Testament) would render their judgments. They would hear the case, and then they would listen for Yahweh’s voice, so they could know what the judgment was. That way, the judgment was not their own private interpretation, but it was the word that Yahweh had spoken. Not surprisingly, this is also how Yeshua says He judged (by speaking what He heard from above, rather than speaking according to His own will).

Yochanan (John) 5:30
30 “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”

There are three main offices in Israel: the king (the army), the priest (the spiritual army), and the prophet (communication with Yahweh). Anointed judges had to be a combination of all three because they led the nation in times when there was no king. Apostles are basically Renewed Covenant (New Testament) judges because they also fulfill all three roles.

One difference between anointed judges and apostles is that while there was only one anointed judge at a time when Israel was inside the land, there had to be more than one apostle at any given time because the Melchizedekian order had to go into every nation on earth. Because it was to be a unified priesthood, there had to be order between the apostles. This order was established by submitting first to Yahweh’s Spirit, and then submitting one to another, and letting Yahweh’s Spirit decide who is to take what position. However, as a practical matter, someone had to take the lead position, and in those days it was Ya’akov.

Some scholars believe Ya’akov was chosen to lead the assembly because he was Yeshua’s half-brother. The only problem with this is that Yeshua had other half-brothers. Rather, what seems to make more sense is that Ya’akov was chosen to lead because he listened to the voice of the Spirit, and hence he showed wisdom. However, the key thing to notice here is that he said he judged, which in Hebrew means he believed he was speaking according to Yahweh’s voice.

Not only had Yeshua condemned rabbinic authority, but the apostolic foundation also overturned the rabbis’ assertions in Acts 15. The rabbis are an extension of the old Levitical order, and the Levitical order has no authority in the order of Melchizedek.

Different groups explain Acts 15 different ways, so let us be clear: Acts 15 determined that before the lost Jews and Ephraimites could join themselves to Yeshua’s body, and join the nation, they must first abstain from idolatry, sexual immorality, strangled (or unclean) meats, and blood. If they did not abstain from these things, they could not enter the assemblies, because it would be defiling the camp. (Note that leadership could still meet with them on the outside.)

It appears that the apostles were attempting to identify the proper means of allowing the lost and scattered tribesmen to come back to the nation, without defiling the assembly. However, since it was the Catholic Church that ultimately went on to establish the Melchizedekian order worldwide, let us turn now, and look at the overall trends shaping the Catholic Church, and her Protestant daughters. Along the way we will see some surprising things, including a number of ways Satan hopes to trip us all up, and steal our crowns.

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