It is common for those who are coming out of paganism but who for whatever reason do not wish to convert to Judaism to “settle” for being a “Noakhide”. That is, an adherent of a few laws, purported to be universally-applicable for anyone since the Flood who wants to be pious.
What are the Noakhide Laws? According to most sources, with slight variations, they are as follows:
1. Do not deny Elohim (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.
These appear to be consistent with the Torah, with the possible exception of number 6, which, though it is an expression of mercy and kindness, appears to be a misunderstanding of something YHWH actually did tell Noakh. We will come to that in a moment. But we must first ask, are these explicitly given to Noakh in Scripture?
Let’s look at what YHWH actually said to Noakh according to the Torah text and see if these all correlate:
And Elohim blessed Noakh and his sons. And He told them, "Be fruitful and multiply,
and replenish the earth.
"Of course, you must not eat flesh with its life—[that is,] its blood—[still in it].
"And I will surely demand satisfaction for the blood of your lives as well: at the hand of e
every animal will I require satisfaction, and at the hand of man. I will demand the life of
every man at the hand of every man's brother.
"Whoever sheds man's blood, his own blood shall also be shed by man--because He made
man in Elohim's image.” (Genesis 9:1-6)
It should be self-evident that it is cruel to cut a limb off a living animal to eat, but I suppose the verse could be understood that way. Maybe practices before the Flood were that far gone that such a command would be needed. However, the actual phrasing in Hebrew, “Do not eat meat with its life—its blood” shows that “life” here means “blood” in particular (for “the life of the flesh is in the blood”, per Lev. 17:11), so it is actually saying “remove the blood before eating any meat” (assumedly after slaughtering). There are numerous reasons to remove the blood, both in regard to health and not absorbing an animal soul into ourselves.
So based on explicit commands in Scripture, we can prove that Noakhide laws #2, #6 (in a modified form), and #7 are binding on all mankind, though the court only appears responsible to enforce law #2, not necessarily 6 other laws.
Dr. Stephen Pidgeon points out that the book of Yovelim (Jubilees), another ancient writing that was considered Scripture by many, also gives us a list of laws Noach gave to his sons, characterized as “all the judgments that he knew”:
“He exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honor father and mother, and love their neighbor, and guard their souls from fornication, uncleanness, and all iniquity (perversion).” (Jubilees 7:20)
So this might cover #1, #4, and #5. The same chapter also goes on to say, “There shall not be left any man that eats blood.” (7:29) So this covers #6 by the same interpretation Scripture gives. #3 and #7 do not seem to come from any ancient accounts of Noakh, though they are consistent with commands and practices of Moshe, and they would certainly bring a higher standard that would make life on earth safer for everyone if carried out properly.
So is there anything wrong with the Noakhide laws? Not if interpreted in the same way Scripture does. Some might think that giving Yeshua his rightful place above all other human beings (though still below YHWH, as he said), could be construed as idolatry because of (unfounded) association with historical misinterpretations from Constantine onward. Others would say that even using YHWH’s actual name, though, is blaspheming (#5). That we cannot accept, when He Himself says, “My people will know My name” (Isaiah 52:6), etc. So we must be cautious about whose interpretation of these “commands” we allow to be enforced.
But even if we grant that the other laws appear valid empirically for all human beings, what about those who were once part of Israel but left our covenant with YHWH, yet are now returning to it? Must they, too, be relegated to the category of Noakhides?
What does Torah itself say? That trumps every other consideration. Indeed it does speak to this very issue, for YHWH anticipated every question that would come up and provided an answer in advance:
“There shall be one Torah (instruction) for the native-born as well as the newcomer who is staying temporarily among you.” (Exodus 12:49) And again, “There must be one Torah and one procedure of deciding a court case for [both] you and the guest who is living among you.” (Numbers 15:16)
This strongly cautions us against having a double standard for Jews and non-Jews, especially those non-Jews who associate with Jews, and even more especially those who are realizing that they are from the lost Northern Kingdom tribes of Israel—because the Torah was not given only to Jews but to all of Israel, of which Jews are but one tribe, broadly speaking.
Instead of just saying it is not required for everyone else, some Jews actually forbid non-Jews from keeping the Sabbath! That is scandalous, especially since YHWH instituted the Sabbath at creation (Gen. 2:3), not at Mt. Sinai! If there is anything that arguably could apply to all humankind from the very beginning (not even just from Noakh’s day), it is the Sabbath! Seeing that this is ignored calls into question any other such artificial distinction that YHWH never said He made.
It has always been possible to join Israel, even if not born into it, simply through one’s faith, without needing to convert to a particular brand of Torah-keeping which has come to be known as “Judaism”. That term (based as it is on the name of the tribe of Judah) would suggest that one tribe’s customs and house-rules are binding on every other part of Israel.
But Torah discourages changing from one tribe to another. Only in cases where women marry someone from another tribe (Num. 26:33-27:7; 36:1-11) does it seem to be allowed (and only those who have brothers to maintain their father’s inheritance). Otherwise, land and properties are not to transfer from one tribe to another (Deut. 19:14)—and if we are Israel already through Messiah and many of us through ancestry as well, would not converting to Judaism mean changing tribes (not to mention its current insistence on abdicating Yeshua, the very one who brought us back into covenant with YHWH!)
So while the Noakhide laws are a good place to start, Torah says it is wrong to limit anyone who wants to follow YHWH from keeping other Torah commands that go beyond these basics. I hope I am wrong, but it is hard to imagine why anyone would create such a double standard unless they wanted a special advantage over others. (Sadly, even some Messianic believers maintain such a distinction, though not always as overtly.) “Brethren, this ought not to be so…” Israel is chosen to serve as an example to other nations, not a privileged elite for its own sake.
That is why to be simply a Noakhide is an inadequate description of our calling.