What are the Noahide laws, and are they biblical?Question: "What are the Noahide laws, and are they biblical?"
Answer: The Noahide laws are seven ancient laws that many people view as the basis of civilized society. They govern morality and represent the “bare minimum” of what God expects of humanity. They are called the “Noahide” laws because they are thought to have been given in their fullness to Noah after the flood. They are also called the Noachian laws, the Seven Laws of Noah, or the Seven Commands for Noah’s Sons (in Hebrew, Sheva Mitzvot B'nei Noach).
The idea of a formal set of laws given to all humanity (all the sons of Noah) comes from the Talmud and is therefore extra-biblical. Some scholars believe the Book of Jubilees contains a possible mention of the Noahide laws. But, again, the Book of Jubilees is not inspired Scripture. However, the basic seven Noahide laws are based in biblical principles.
Here are the Noahide laws:
1. Do not deny God (no idolatry).
2. Do not murder.
3. Do not steal.
4. Do not engage in sexual immorality.
5. Do not blaspheme.
6. Do not eat of a live animal (no eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive).
7. Establish courts and legal systems to ensure obedience of these laws.
According to Jewish tradition, the first six of these seven laws were given to Adam in the Garden of Eden (the sixth law, to not eat live animals, was extraneous, since Adam did not eat any animals). When God established His covenant with Noah, He added the seventh (and the sixth became applicable). Each of the seven Noahide laws is seen as a summary of more detailed laws, about 211 total.
According to Judaism, a Gentile does not have to follow the Mosaic Law; however, all Gentiles are obliged to follow the Noahide laws. The laws given to Noah’s children are universally binding. A non-Jew who abides by the Noahide laws is considered a “righteous Gentile,” according to Judaism, and will earn a reward in the afterlife, if his obedience is coupled with a knowledge that the laws come from God. A “righteous Gentile” might also be called a “Hasidic Gentile” or simply a “Noahide.”
Nowhere does the Bible record what laws God may have given Adam, other than the command to fill and subdue the earth and the prohibition against eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 1:28; 2:17). After Noah and his family exited the ark, God gave the following three commands to him: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1); “You must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it” (verse 4); and “Whoever sheds human blood, / by humans shall their blood be shed; / for in the image of God / has God made mankind” (verse 6). After that, God repeats His command to “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it” (verse 7). Other than Noah being told not to eat raw meat, there is no hint of the traditional Noahide laws in these passages.
The only other place in Scripture where a Noahide law might be mentioned is Acts 15:29. The context of this passage is the Jerusalem Council, which met to address the issue of the Gentiles’ place in the early church. Specifically, the question before the council was, “Must Gentiles be circumcised according to Mosaic Law in order to be saved?” (see Acts 15:1). The apostles in Jerusalem answered with a resounding “no.” We are not saved by keeping the Law (see Galatians 2:16). However, to promote peace within the early church, the council advised Gentile believers to avoid four things, including the eating of “blood” (verse 29). None of the other three instructions correspond to any of the Noahide laws.
As an ancient moral code, the Noahide laws have been a major influence in many cultures. In fact, in 1991, both houses of Congress passed a bill, signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, that declared the Noahide laws to be “the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization” and the “ethical values and principles . . . upon which our great Nation was founded” (H.J.RES.104.ENR).
Are the Noahide laws found in the Bible? No, not as a definitive list, and they are certainly not associated with either Noah or Adam. Are the Noahide laws congruent with biblical teaching? The basic seven laws are congruent with Old Testament revelation. The Talmud calls for capital punishment for Gentiles who violate the Noahide laws, and this has led to some debate as to whether or not Christians (who worship Jesus Christ) are guilty of violating the first Noahide law and therefore deserving of the death penalty. The modern consensus is that Trinitarianism is acceptable among Gentiles. In any case, it is important to note that we are not saved by rule-keeping; God requires faith in His Son (John 3:18).
Recommended Resource: What Do Jews Believe?: The Spiritual Foundations of Judaism by David Ariel
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