From the book of Acts there is strong evidence that the apostle Paul continued to be Torah observant even after Gentiles were added to the body of Messiah. They called themselves "The Way," and were also referred to as Nazarenes.
Acts 24:5 (KJV)
For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:
However, most readers will still believe that Paul and the assemblies he began were not Torah observant. His writings have been interpreted from an anti-Torah position for so long that belief in a Torah observant community seems impossible.
Yet, it is in reviewing quotes and history from later periods that it is evidenced that "The Way" practiced their faith by Torah observance.
"To-day there still exists among the Jews in all the synagogues of the
East a heresy which is called that of the Minæans, and which is still
condemned by the Pharisees; [its followers] are ordinarily called
'Nasarenes'; they believe that Christ, the son of God, was born of the
Virgin Mary, and they hold him to be the one who suffered under Pontius
Pilate and ascended to heaven, and in whom we also believe. But while
they pretend to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither." (Jerome, Epistle 79 to Augustine, written in the fourth century). ("Minaean" comes from "minim" meaning "heretics.")
Notice that Jerome stated the Nazarenes were orthodox in their beliefs, but were heretics because they "tried" to be both Jewish and Christian. Also notice that the assemblies were located "in the East."
"We shall now especially consider heretics who... call themselves Nazarenes; they
are mainly Jews and nothing else. They make use not only of the New Testament, but they
also use in a way the Old Testament of the Jews; for they do not forbid the books of the
Law, the Prophets, and the Writings... so that they are approved of by the Jews, from whom
the Nazarenes do not differ in anything, and they profess all the dogmas pertaining to the
prescriptions of the Law and to the customs of the Jews, except they believe in
[Messiah]... They preach that there is but one [Elohim], and his son [Yahshua the
Messiah]. But they are very learned in the Hebrew language; for they, like the Jews, read
the whole Law, then the Prophets...They differ from the Jews because they believe in
Messiah, and from the Christians in that they are to this day bound to the Jewish rites,
such as circumcision, the Sabbath, and other ceremonies." (Epiphanius; Panarion 29;
translated from the Greek; written in the fourth century).
Notice from this quote that the Nazarenes and the Christians appear to be two different groups.
Read the following quote from Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, regarding the observance of Passover among the assemblies of Asia Minor:
"We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia
also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of
the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged
virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and
now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito,
the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in
Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the
dead ? All these observed the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of
my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always
observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore,
brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with
the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy
Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than
I have said ' We ought to obey God rather than man'...I could mention
the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose
names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And
they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing
that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my
life by the Lord Jesus" (Eusebius. The History of
the Church, Book V, Chapter XXIV, Verses 2-7 . Translated by A.
Cushman McGiffert. Digireads.com Publishing, Stilwell (KS), 2005, p.
Clearly, at some point in time, the body of Messiah split into two separate groups, that of "The Way" and that of the Christians (those who today are not Torah observant).
"They (Nazarenes) are characterized essentially by their tenacious
attachment to Jewish observances. If they became heretics in the eyes
of the (Catholic) Mother Church, it is simply because they remained
fixed on outmoded positions. They well represent, (even) though
Epiphanius is energetically refusing to admit it, the very direct
descendants of that primitive community, of which our author
(Epiphanius) knows that it was designated by the Jews, by the same name,
of ‘Nazarenes’.” [First Century expert Marcel Simon,
Judéo-christianisme, pp 47-48.]
Without a doubt "The Way" was the church of the first century. They were Torah observant. Doesn't it seem right, then, that today, the true followers of Yeshua should also be Torah observant? How would you answer the question, "Do you belong to "The Way?" Perhaps Christianity needs to seriously rethink the Scriptures and return to truly being "The Way."
How did it become so different? Stay tuned for some historical insights in part 3.