Do Gentiles have to obey the Law?

The Bible says God requires his chosen people, the Jews, to obey the laws he gave them. But what about people who aren’t Jewish? Do Gentiles need to obey God’s laws too?


When the kingdom of Israel was overthrown, the Israelites were deported to Assyria. Then people from other nations came to live in their land. But God didn’t like how those foreigners didn’t do what he required. So he started sending in lions to kill them. Then the king of Assyria had to send an Israelite priest back there to teach the new inhabitants what God required them to do.

Ezra praised God for giving the king of Persia the idea to severely punish (sometimes with death) anyone in his kingdom (not just Jews) who didn’t obey God’s Law.

Paul required Timothy, who had a Gentile father, to be circumcised before he could go anywhere with him. Paul said Jesus wanted him to call all the Gentiles to obedience. He said God judges and punishes everyone the same way, regardless of whether they’re Jews or Gentiles. And the way he judges them upholds the Law, rather than nullifying it. Paul told his Gentile followers to put someone to death for breaking one of the Jewish sex laws. He did not think it was okay for Gentile Christians to do whatever they wanted.


God’s Law itself says Jews can give Gentiles things to eat that would be forbidden for the Jews themselves to eat.

The apostles declared that Gentile Christians should not be required to keep the law of Moses, which even the Jews had been unable to fully obey. They rejected the idea that people could only be saved if they were circumcised. They said anyone could be saved by the grace of God.

Paul took this further and said that all believers, no matter if they were Jews or Gentiles, could be saved by grace and by faith apart from the Law. He said no one can be justified or saved by keeping the Law, since everyone inevitably sins. Paul didn’t think Gentiles should be forced to follow Jewish customs. And he didn’t require his Gentile companions to be circumcised.

Paul said anyone who relied on the Law was cursed, and could not be justified before God. He taught his Gentile followers that they were not under the law, because Jesus had set aside the Law and set them free from that curse. Paul’s followers tried to follow the law anyway, which he thought was foolish. He said there would have been no point in Jesus dying if following the Law was what people needed to do to be saved.

According to Paul, even if the Gentiles were under the Law, it would kill them, and then dying would release them from the Law. If Paul’s claims are true, it’s impossible for anyone to remain under the Law!

Maybe? Sometimes?

The Law says you have to obey it whether you’re a native-born Israelite or a foreigner living among the Israelites. The same laws apply to both. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to obey it if you’re a Gentile living outside of Israel…

Jesus told his followers to teach their converts in all nations to obey everything Jesus had commanded. But what had Jesus commanded concerning the Jewish Law? Sometimes he told people to obey the Law, and sometimes he told people not to obey the Law…

Peter had a dream that God repeatedly told him to break his Law. The other Jewish Christians decided that meant that the Gentiles had been “granted repentance that leads to life“. I have no idea what being “granted repentance” is supposed to mean. I would think the use of the word “repentance” implies that they’re expected to start doing what God wants. But if God was trying to say he wanted people to obey the Law, why would he do it by telling someone not to obey the Law?

Even when the apostles decided Gentiles didn’t need to obey all God’s laws, they told the Gentile Christians they did need to follow a few of God’s laws.

Paul says Gentiles don’t have the Law, but they are naturally inclined to follow the Law anyway (at least sometimes). He says Gentiles are able to achieve righteousness without even trying, while Jews aren’t able to be righteous no matter how much they pursue the works of the Law, because that’s not the real path to righteousness. So apparently it’s good that the Gentiles don’t try to follow the law… But isn’t he also saying it’s good that the Gentiles do in fact follow the Law?

Do Gentiles need to follow the Law? Well, Paul says nobody needs to be circumcised; they just need to obey the Law. Never mind the fact that circumcision is part of the Law. He says Christians aren’t under the Law. But he says that doesn’t mean it’s okay for them to sin, because they are “slaves to righteousness“. I’m not sure how that’s different from being under the Law.

Paul tells his Gentile followers that they are free, but that they shouldn’t use their freedom to do whatever they want. If they’re really “free”, why is he telling them they can’t do things? He says Christians should obey the command to love their neighbors as themselves, because then they will be fulfilling the entire Law. Why do they need to fulfill the law if they’re “free” and no longer under the law?

Paul also says there are no Gentiles, which would make the question of what Gentiles should do moot.

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