Fourth Century Misconceptions
Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, in his monumental work Ecclesiastical History Book 1, Chapter 4, records something quite revealing about the mindset of fourth century Christianity.
“If any one should assert that all those who have enjoyed the testimony of righteousness, from Abraham himself back to the first man, were Christians in fact if not in name, he would not go beyond the truth… They did not care about circumcision of the body, neither do we. They did not care about observing Sabbaths, nor do we. They did not avoid certain kinds of food, neither did they regard the other distinctions which Moses first delivered to their posterity to be observed as symbols; nor do Christians of the present day do such things.”
Evidently, fourth century Christianity identified themselves with the righteous believers who lived prior to Abraham. The purpose of this article is to respond to Eusebius’ false assertion, and to prove that the righteous men and women who lived prior to Abraham did, in fact, keep the Torah!
That believers kept the Sabbath prior to Abraham is quite evident. First, it is shown in Genesis 1-2, that the pattern of the 7-day week was fully revealed. The first six days constituted days of work, and the final day- the Sabbath- was a day of rest. Then during the giving of the ten commandments, God revealed in Exodus 20:8, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Look at His wording very carefully- “remember”. God would not be commanding His people to “remember” to observe something they had never observed.
Clean and Unclean (Kosher)
Since the very beginning, God has held dietary standards for His people. The first recorded statement of concerning dietary expectation is found in Genesis 1:29, in which God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food.”
So here, in the beginning, dietary expectations were given. Among the plant-based food sources, the concept of clean and unclean was laid down, as God said in Genesis 2:16-17, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” This is the essence of kosher eating, or distinguishing between one substance as “good” for human consumption, and another substance as “not good”.
Another example of kosher eating prior to the Torah is found in the account of Noah. Often times, Genesis 9:3 is quoted in support of not keeping a kosher diet, “Every moving thing that lives will be food for you. As the green herb, I have given everything to you.” Before jumping to the conclusion that God is saying that “all foods are clean”, we need to back up to get the full context of what is going on.
It is later revealed later in Genesis 7:2, when God was commanding Noah to bring the animals upon the ark with him, “You shall take seven pairs of every clean animal with you, the male and his female. Of the animals that are not clean, take two, the male and his female.” After the flood, when Noah, his family, and all the animals departed from the ark in Genesis 8:20, it is recorded that, “Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”
Very clearly, Noah already understood the difference between clean and unclean- that certain animals were “good” for God in the form of offerings. It is certainly implied by the text that Noah understood also that certain animals were “good” for man in the form of food, and that certain food was “not good”; hence, Noah and his family understood when God said, “Every moving thing that lives will be food for you…” in Genesis 9:3 that He still maintained dietary expectations of what had already been determined as “clean” and “unclean”, or “good” and “not good.”
Sacrifices and Offerings
There are many recorded instances of sacrifices and offerings being made prior to the specifications given in the Torah at Sinai. The first mention of sacrifices and offerings is recorded in Genesis 4:3-5, “Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the ground. Abel also brought some of the firstborn of his flock and of its fat. The LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.” God had very specific prerequisites for what he expected in sacrifices and offerings made to Him.
This is not the only recorded instance of sacrifice or offerings being given prior to Sinai. See Genesis 8:20, “Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” And Genesis 31:54, “Jacob offered a sacrifice in the mountain…” And Genesis 35:14, “Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he spoke with Him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it.” And Genesis 46:1, “Israel traveled with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac.”
Given that God had already established a preference for one type of sacrifice over another, and He made these preferences known in Genesis 4, there is no reason to assume that the sacrifices and offerings being made by Noah, Isaac, and Jacob were any different than the types of sacrifices that were legislated at Sinai.
The Priesthood and the Tithe
When believers today think of the Biblical priesthood, they will most likely recall the Aaronic priesthood, based upon the service of the Levites in the Tabernacle. It was established and legislated in Exodus 28 and onward, yet not too much earlier than Exodus 28 there is mention of priests (plural), when God spoke to Moses from the mountain in Exodus 19:22, “Let the priests also, who come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth on them.”
If these priests were neither Aaronic or Levitical, then where did they come from? Significantly prior to Aaron (and the Levites), God had already established the priesthood of Melchizedek, of which it is written in Genesis 14:18-20, “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine: and he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him, and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Abram gave him a tenth of all.”
Contrary to those who wish to argue the appearance of Melchizedek in Genesis 14 to be some sort of preincarnate representation of the Messiah, the Book of Jasher confirms that the Melchizedek priesthood, just like the Aaronic priesthood, was held by a human man who had been appointed by God. The identity of Melchizedek is revealed in Jasher 16:11-12, “And Adonizedek (Melchizedek) king of Jerusalem, the same was Shem, went out with his men to meet Abram and his people, with bread and wine, and they remained together in the valley of Melech. And Adonizedek blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth from all that he had brought from the spoil of his enemies, for Adonizedek was a priest before God.” The identification of Shem as Melchizedek is further confirmed in Gemara Nedarim 32b, “The Holy One, blessed be He, intended to bring forth the priesthood from Shem, as it is written, ‘And he (Melchizedek) was the priest of the most high God.’ ”
The Melchizedek priesthood had been established since the very beginning. He author of Hebrews notes in Hebrews 7:3 that the Melchizedek priesthood was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life…” which I take to mean it had existed since the beginning, and will exist until the end. It, unlike the Aaronic priesthood, was not based upon genealogy, but upon individual righteousness; hence, it could be passed from Shem to Abraham, breaking the line of direct descendency, based on the merit of Abraham’s righteousness.
The Levirate Marriage
The details of the levirate marriage is covered in full detail in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them die, and have no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside to a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her to him as wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. It shall be, that the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed in the name of his brother who is dead, that his name not be blotted out of Israel.”
Yet this same concept was fully known and practiced prior to the Torah having been given at Sinai, in Genesis 38:6-10, “Judah took a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD. The LORD killed him. Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and raise up seed to your brother.’ Onan knew that the seed would not be his; and it happened, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest he should give seed to his brother. The thing which he did was evil in the sight of the LORD, and He killed him also.”
In instructing Onan to practice the levirate marriage, Judah very clearly understood what God expected- prior to the Torah being given at Sinai.
Here is one last bit of evidence that God’s standard, the Torah, was revealed prior to Sinai. Genesis 26:5, in which God said, “Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My requirements, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”
How could Abraham have kept God’s requirements, commandments, statutes, and laws if they had not first yet been revealed to him? Abraham lived prior to Sinai, yet he- by God’s own admission- kept the Torah! This thought is echoed in Mishnah Yoma 28b, “Our father Abraham kept the whole Torah.”
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