The typical non-Jew would imagine that Jews throughout history would have rejoiced whenever gentiles read the Old Testament in search of God's permanent moral and civil standards of righteousness. After all, this would tend to bridge the cultural and judicial gap between Jews and non-Jews. This, however, was precisely the problem in the minds of the rabbis for at least 1,700 years. The rabbis did not want this gap bridged; at most, they wanted external peace and quiet for Jews, meaning they wanted social order in the midst of gentile culture (see below, pp. 125-28).
social order within the gentile world is supposedly achieved through their adherence to the seven commandments specifically given to the heathen, meaning gentiles. Six of these laws were first given to Adam, according to Jewish law: the prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, and robbery, plus the command to establish courts of justice. A seventh law was also supposedly given to Noah: the prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal.2 Beyond this minimal list of seven laws, the gentiles - "Noahides" or "Noahites," the descendants of Noah*- are not supposed to go in their inquiry into the ethical requirements of Old Testament law, which belongs exclusively to the Jews.
In making this assertion, the medieval Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides was faithfully following the teaching of the Talmud. He was taking Rabbi Johanan at his word: "R. [Rabbi - G.N.]* said: A heathen who studies the Torah deserves death, for it is written, Moses commanded us a law for an inheritance; it is our inheritance, not theirs. "5 Resh Lakish (third century, A. D.) said that a gentile who observes the Sabbath deserves death.6 Why should God have forbidden the gentiles to study His law? The Talmud offers this answer:
R. Abbahu thereupon said: The Writ says, He stood and measured the earth; he beheld and drove asunder the nations, [which may be taken to imply that] God beheld the seven commandments which were accepted by all the descendants of Noah, but since they did not observe them, He rose up and declared them to be outside the protection of the civil law of Israel [with reference to damage done to cattle by cattle].7
Lest this position seem utterly outrageous to Christian readers, I need to point out that a similar view of the sufficiency of Noah's
4. When you see brackets inside a direct quotation from the Talmud, they appeared in the Soncino press edition. I will note any brackets of my own with my initials.
5. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 59a. I am using the Soncino Press edition.
6. Sanhedrin 59b,
7. Baba Komma 38a. Bracketed comments are by the editor.
covenant for non-Israelite civil law has been offered by Calvinist theologian John Murray and also by neo-dispensational theologians H. Wayne House and Thomas D. Ice. In fact, all three of them conclude that there is only one biblically required sanction in Noah's covenant, capital punishment for murder. This, they believe, is the only biblical law that God has required all men to obey throughout mankind's post-flood history.8 The Talmud at least adds an additional six laws that God specifically established through Adam and Noah that gentiles are supposed to honor throughout history.
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