“Are Christians the ‘Aliens Who Live in Your Midst’? Torah and the Origins of Christian Ethics in Acts

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Recent Jewish-Christian dialogue has uncovered that the early church's ethics were firmly rooted in Jewish halakhic thinking. This essay explores the topic through a study of the church's moral reasoning in Acts 10-15. We see the church readily employing distinctions that are now rarely invoked by Christian ethicists, such as between universal and particular moral law. These distinctions allowed the church to understand the ethical significance of the Torah not by imposing external categories on it (ceremonial versus moral) but through the Torah's own, internal distinctions. Thus, the church's understanding of the Torah can best be understood through the image of 'geirei toshav' (aliens who live in the midst of the people). This image could help Christian ethicists understand their relation to pluralistic contexts because it was precisely the increased pluralism of gentile inclusion that prompted the church in Acts. I briefly consider the implications for a concrete case: the Episcopal-Anglican Communion's debate about homosexuality, which employs the Acts 10-15 narrative.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-174
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the Society of Christian Ethics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2009


  • Bible
  • Ethics
  • Old Testament
  • Hebrew Bible
  • Judaism
  • Halacha
  • homosexuality
  • natural law
  • Acts


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