and The Law: Is Torah Observance for Us Today?
By: Gary Hendrick
working at the office one day when my secretary said I had a phone call.
I picked up the phone and it was Lydia (not her real name), a Christian
friend who was active in the Messianic movement and helped moderate the
"Messianic Believers" forum on CompuServe.
a few moments of small talk, Lydia informed me that she had just returned
from spending several weeks with an Orthodox rabbi in Israel. She said
she was intrigued by his "Torah-observant", traditional Jewish
lifestyle. He had convinced her that the Oral Law (Talmud) was
just as binding as the Bible itself. She had decided to learn Hebrew and
adopt a similar lifestyle herself.
"Lydia, do you realize what you are saying? You are talking about
converting to Judaism. How can you do this?" I reminded her that
the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament was a warning to professing Jewish
believers about the danger of returning to the old, Levitical system once
they had been exposed to the glorious Gospel of Jesus the Messiah.
was undaunted. She said she had learned that her family was Jewish generations
before, so she was simply returning to her Jewish roots. I asked how she
know that she had Jewish ancestry. It turned out that Lydia's only proof
was a vague recollection of her grandmother lighting candles at certain
times of the year when she was a little girl.
explained her theory about how her mother's maiden name (Hall) had been
"corrupted" from its original Hebrew form (Hillel).Again I asked
if Lydia had any proof of this - birth certificates, court records, or
family documents of any kind - and she admitted that she had none. It
was only a theory.
ultimately repudiated the deity and Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ as "so
much pagan nonsense" and converted to Judaism. That last we heard
, she was attending an Orthodox synagogue in her hometown.
Lydia's story is not at all unusual. Dozens of groups have sprung up all
over the world calling themselves "Christian" or "Messianic"
and promoting varying degrees of Torah observance for believers. Categorizing
these groups is difficult, because they are so diverse in their beliefs;
however, when it comes to the observance of the Law, they generally fall
into one of the following categories (or somewhere in between)
One (basic Messianic Torah observance)- Recognizes the authority of
the Bible (Old and New Testaments) only. Encourages observance of
biblical feasts and seventh-day Sabbath, and possibly kashrut
(kosher laws), especially for Jewish believers (optional for non-Jewish
Two (moderate Messianic Torah observance)- Recognize the authority
of the Bible plus the Oral Law (Talmud). Requires observance of biblical
feast days, kashrut, and seventh-day Sabbath plus rabbinic
(non-biblical) Jewish traditions, but only for Jewish believers (optional
for non-Jewish believers)
Three (strict Messianic Torah observance) - Recognizes the authority
of the Written Law (Old Testament) plus the Oral Law. The New Testament
may or may not be authoritative. Requires observance of biblical feasts,
seventh-day Sabbaths, kashrut, and rabbinic traditions by
Jewish and Gentile believers. In some cases, Gentiles may be required
to "convert" as Bat or Bar Mitzvah (males being
circumcised) to join the Messianic congregation or "synagogue".
this third category seems to attract more Gentiles-like Lydia-then it
does Jews! Rabbi Joseph , our representative in Southern California, was
invited to speak on a Friday night at a Messianic synagogue several years
ago. He called me when he got back home and said it had been a unusually
experience- he said he was the only Jewish person there! Even the Messianic
"rabbi" was not Jewish!
said he had never seen anything quite like it- a whole house full of Gentiles
wearing yarmulkes, prayer shawls, and doing their best to recited Hebrew
blessings and prayers. Yet we are seeing this phenomenon more and more
all over the world.
it is a good thing that many Gentile Christians have a desire to get in
touch with the Jewish roots of their faith. In the second and third centuries,
the organized church was taken over by Gentiles and gradually purged of
any Jewish influence. As a result , what we see today in organized Christendom
bears little resemblance to the faith of those early followers of the
Carpenter from Galilee.
Christians are learning what happened. They are fed up with traditional,
Roman-influenced (Gentile) Christendom. They want to shed 2,000 years
of man-made traditions and (in many cases) unbiblical beliefs and get
back to more of a first-century, Messianic emphasis- like the early church.
This is something we encourage wholeheartedly.
is a danger here. Certain Judaizers are taking advantage of the Messianic
movement's recent phenomenal growth to carry out their own, legalistic
agenda. They are on a full-fledged crusade to bring Jewish and Gentile
believers under the Law of Moses. Their teachings contain elements of
truth which make them even more dangerous.
they see organized Christendom as a pagan, corrupted offshoot of early
Judaism (only partially true) and the Messianic movement (which they call
"Messianic Judaism") as a fourth major branch of Judaism (not
true at all), the other three branches being Orthodox, Conservative, and
Reform. They insist on strict Torah observance because they view Gentile
believers as proselytes who need to convert to their Messianic version
variation of this is so called B'nei Noach ("Sons of Noah")
movement, championed by Gentiles like Vendyl Jones, which does not insist
on adherence to the entire Mosaic code. Instead, they say Gentiles are
subject to HaSheva Mitzot B'nei Noach ("the Seven Laws of
the Sons of Noah") as enumerated in the Talmud (Sanhedrin
382-400). The rabbis call this ancient code "the Path of the Righteous
to the Talmud, a non-Jew who accepted the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah
in ancient Israel had the status of ger (lit., "stranger-settler").
He was not required to follow Jewish dietary laws, but could live in their
midst and offer sacrifices (Lev 17:8). The ger was allowed to
observe the Passover (Num 9:14) and enjoyed the full rights and privileges
of citizen ship in Israel (Yebamoth 312, commenting on Deut. 14:21)
Torah: Is it for Today?
about this idea that the Law is binding on believers today? Is it scriptural?
Well, it depends on how you define the term "Law". The Hebrew
word is Torah. The Greek New Testament (and in the Septuagint
translation of the Old Testament) , it's Nomos.
usage we equate the Torah, or the Law with the Pentateuch, or Five Books
of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). In Judaism,
however, Torah has taken on a much broader meaning. It can refer to: (1)
the Five Books of Moses, (2) all of the Tanakh (ie the equivalent
of our Old Testament), or (3) the entire body of rabbinic tradition, including
not only the Bible but also the "Oral Law" (the Talmud)
and other Jewish writings.
the rabbis talk about being "Torah observant" they mean more
than just living according to God's Word. To them, true Torah observance
means following not only the 613 basic mitzvot (commands) of
Judaism but also the traditions of the rabbis as expressed in the Talmud
and other traditional Jewish sources.
includes non-biblical customs and practices that originated in Babylon
or in medieval Europe-- like men wearing head coverings (kippot , or yarmulkes)
, for instance , a practice which was unknown in biblical times.*
is it really feasible for anyone to observe all of the Old Testament Law?
For example, take the 613 basic commandments of Judaism. Nearly half of
these commandments are related in one way or another to Temple worship
(the Temple and the Priest, Sacrifices, Vows, Ritual Purification, Donations
to the Temple, Festivals and so on)- Since there is no Tempe , it is not
possible to carry them out.
like the regulations for Sabbatical and Jubilee Years, are overlooked
for the most part today, just as they were in biblical times (Jer 34:13-22).
Do you think debts will be forgiven or property will revert to its original
owners in Israel (or anywhere else) during the upcoming Jubilee Year (Yovel)
in 1998? No way!
Exile lasted 70 years because Israel had not observed the Sabbatical Year
(Lev 25:1-7) since the days of the judges, 490 years. God sent His people
away and allowed the land to "rest" for seventy Sabbaths. You
might say He was collecting "back rent"!
stipulations of the Levitical Law, like the stoning of rebellious children
(Deut 21:19-21), are skipped over entirely in the 613 commandments.
observance means keeping the 613 Old Testament commandments , abiding
by the Levitical Law, or observing the non-biblical traditions of Judaism,
then the answer to our question is "no", these are not binding
on Messianic (New Testament) believers.
New Testament is Torah!
Law had two purposes. First, it was symbolic. Much of the Law, especially
the stipulations regulating offerings and sacrifices, Tabernacle (Mishkan)
worship, and even the design of the Tabernacle itself, consisted of types
and symbols that pointed prophetically to the coming Messiah. Second,
the Law was legislative. It gave ancient Israel a government and constitution
so she could survive in the ancient Middle East. God's priority was to
ensure their survival, even in the face of enormous adversity, because
it was through them that He would send the Messiah to bless the world.
purposes were fulfilled. The prophesied Messiah did come and accomplish
His mission of redemption. Every Messianic type and symbol of the Old
Testament found its fulfillment in Him. And Israel did survive, just as
God said she would.
is why Jesus said, "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth
pass, one jot or one tittle, shall in no wise pass from the law, till
all be fulfilled." (Matt 5:18) The Greek word translated "fulfilled"
comes from the verb ginomai, which literally means "to become"
or "to come into being". Our Lord was saying, literally, "Nothing
written in the Law will pass away until it happens." Most of it happened
when Jesus came the first time. The rest will happen when He comes the
second time. So He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.
Paul said, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to
every one that believeth" (Rom 10:4). This verse really agitates
the Judaizers because it says the Law had an "end". They try
to re-translated it and reinterpret it, but the implication is unavoidable.
The Greek word translated "end" is telos, which means
"the object , scope , or final cause; the end proposed and intended"
(Strong's Exhaustive Concordance). It's the same word used in classical
Greek to describe the end of a race. Jesus Christ ran the race, crossed
the Law's "finish line", and won.
"all righteousness" (Matt 3:15). He reached the goal for us.
There is nothing we can do to gain our own righteousness. When we believe
in the Messiah, God imputes His righteousness to us. (Rom 4:3-5; 2 Cor
are "Torah observant" in yet another sense. The New Testament
is our guidebook and it not only contains all the basic elements of God's
Law (the Ten Commandments), but acutely expands on them.
#1: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:3)
Testament: 1 Cor 6:9-10; 8:4-6; Rev 21:8
#2: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,..."(Ex
Testament: Acts 17:29; Rom 1:23; I Cor 6:9-10; I John 5:21; Rev 21:8
#3: "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain,..."
Testament: Matt 6:9; Luke 1:49; I Tim 6:1
#4: "Remember the sabbath day , to keep it holy" (Ex 20:8)
Testament: There is a Sabbath-Rest (in Yeshua) for the people of God (Heb
#5: "Honour thy father and thy mother..." (Ex 20:12)
Testament: Matt 15:3-6
#6: "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex 20:13)
Testament: Matt 5:21-22; Rom 13:9-10; Rev 21:8
#7: "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Ex 20:14)
Testament: Rom13:9-10; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Rev 21:8
#8: "Thou shalt not steal" (Ex 20:15)
Testament: Rom 13:9-10; I Cor 6:9-10; Eph 4:28
#9 "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neghbour"
Testament: Rom 13:9-10; Rev 21:8
#10: "Thou shalt not covet...." (Ex 20:17)
Testament: Rom 13:9-10; I Cor 6:9-10
sense, then, the New Covenant (Berith Chadashah) is just as much
"Torah" as the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is "the law
of Christ" or literally, "the Torah of the Messiah" (Gal
heresy to suggest that the Messiah has the authority to give us a new
Torah? No at all. After all, He is the one who gave the old one to Moses
in the first place! There are many references in traditional Jewish sources
to the Messiah changing certain aspects of Torah observance when He comes.
For example, Leviticus Rabbah 9:7 (on Leviticus 7:11-12) speaks of the
Temple sacrifices and prayers being discontinued when the Messiah comes.
Ecclesaistes Rabbah (On Ecclesiastes 11:8) says, "The Torah which
ones learns in this world 'is vanity' in comparison to the Torah of the
Messiah". The New Testament definitely agrees! It contrast the Old
and New Covenants showing the undisputed superiority of the New Covenant.
authority" in Heaven and earth belongs to Adonai Yeshua Hamashiach,
the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 28:18). Therefore, when His disciples reaped
and threshed grain on the Sabbath- in violation of the Mishnah (Shabbat
7:2) where 39 categories of m'lakhah (work) are forbidden on Shabbat -
Jesus could say He was the "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matt 12:8;
Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5). He gave them permission to pick and eat grain because
His authority exceeded that of the Oral Law. He was and is the Living
Torah, the Originator of the Sabbath and its Fulfillment!
of the Book of Hebrews says the very fact that the New Covenant (Jer 31)
is called "new" implies that the "Old" (Mosaic) Covenant
is now obsolete. In fact, this first-century writer of Hebrews says it
was growing old even then and was about to vanish away (Heb 8:13), a possible
prophetic reference to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Yeshua
is the mediator of a "better" covenant (v 6) one based on Abraham's
pre-Sinai relationship with God.
this mean the Old Testament is no longer profitable to us as New Testament
believers? Not at all. In fact, Paul was referring to the Old Testament
when he wrong, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and
is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction , for instruction
in righteousness. (2 Tim 3:16) The only Bible they had at that time was
the Old Testament.
it means the Old Testament is no longer an active covenant as it applies
to the New Testament believers. After all, we cannot be under both covenants
simultaneously, can we? If we are now under the New Covenant, then we
are no longer under the Old Covenant. But that does not mean we cannot
study and learn from the Old Testament. Indeed, God Himself never changes,
so we should not be surprised to find that the underlying principles of
the Old Covenant are carried into the New Covenant!
of it like this. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation
during the Civil War to free slaves in the South. Since slavery no longer
exists , however, the Emancipation Proclamation has no applicability today.
Yet historians continue to study this great document because it is based
on underlying principles of justice and freedom that are still valid a
century and a half later. Likewise, the Old Covenant has much to teach
us today, though it is no longer in force for believers as a legal covenant
if believers- and especially believing Jews- wish to observe Jewish festivals
and sabbaths as a means of commemorating the past, present, and future
work of the Messiah? Or what if Jews who come to the Messiah wish to remain
Torah observant as a testimony to their families and fellow Jews? The
New Testament allows individual believers the freedom and warns us against
judging each other, whether for observance or nonobservance (Rom 14:1-23).
Each of us must be "fully persuaded in his own mind" about such
Paul-who had been on the the Pharisees, perhaps the most observant party
in ancient Judaism-had so little patience with the Judaizers who sought
to impose Jewish practices and traditions on believers. He told predominantly
Gentile congregations (in Colossians 2:16 and Romans 14:14) that their
members should refuse to be judged by legalist for not keeping man-made
dietary laws ("meat" and "drink") , ritual purity
laws, or religious festivals (a "holy day" , "New moon"
or "sabbath"), whether Jewish or otherwise.
Judaizers are not a recent phenomenon. They were around 2,000 years ago,
too. In Acts 15, we read about a church council convening in Jerusalem
to deal with this problem. The fledgling Messianic community included
a party of Torah-observant, believing Jews who wanted Gentiles to submit
to the Mosaic Law to be saved (v1)
extensive deliberations among the Apostles and elders (v.v. 6-18), they
decided that the Gentiles would no be required to convert to Judaism and
be circumcised according to the Mosaic Law (v 19). Since the New Testament
Scriptures were still being written and would not be canonized for another
hundred years of so, they gave Gentile believers a distinct and equally
biblical set of guidelines to follow. They were to abstain from: (1) food
that had been sacrificed to idols, (2) the shedding of blood, or murder,
(3) meat taken from animals that had been strangled (i.e. without properly
draining the blood), and (4) sexual immorality.
points were carefully chosen to include practices that were common in
Roman society yet were particularly offensive to observant Jews. Many
pagans held banquets in the temples where they partook of food that had
been offered to idols. There was little respect for life in ancient Rome
and killing for sport in the coliseums was a popular pastime. Animal carcasses
were hung in the meat markets with the blood dripping from them. Immortality
and sexual perversion were rampant (Roman temples often employed prostitutes).
The ancient Jewish sages taught that there are three offenses a Jew must
die rather than commit: idolatry, fornication, and murder (Sanhedrin 74a.)
we look at this list and say, "It should have been obvious to them
that these things were wrong" This shows us how morally desensitized
and spiritually bankrupt Roman society had become. But the Jews know these
things were wrong. By imploring the Gentile converts to turn away from
these heathen vices, the Apostles and elders were laying the groundwork
for unity between Jews and Gentiles in the early church. The Jewish-Gentile
relationship remained relatively stable for a century or so before others
conflicts arose. (Unfortunately, by the time of Constantine and the Nicene
Council, in the fourth century, the organized , ecclesiastical church
had taken on a distinctively Roman character and purged itself of most
of its Jewish members)
the Judaizers do not give up easily. When interpreting Acts 15 , they
are quick to point out Verse 21: "For Moses of old time hath in every
city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath
day." They take this to mean that the four guidelines above were
given for the Gentiles to observe while they were converting to Judaism.
A Judaizer's paraphrase of Verses 20 and 21 might read something like
this: " All we have to do is give the Gentiles some basic guidelines
to get them started because they will learn how to adopt the Law of Moses
during the Sabbath services in the synagogues"
a thousand times no! May God forgive our Judaizing brethren for twisting
and perverting the Word of God! This interpretation of Verse 21 is impossible
because when they repeat the council's decision in Verse 29, they mention
nothing about Gentiles learning to adopt the Law of Moses.
meaning is suggested by context. Verse 21 explains why the four prohibition
in the pervious verse ("pollution of idols," immorality, "things
strangles," and "blood" or murder) were given. The Apostles
and elders were sensitive to the fact that there were synagogues in every
city where those four offenses , among others, were preached against regularly
in Sabbath services. These were four specific points where Jewish law
clashed with the surrounding pagan culture. It would be a bad testimony
indeed if Gentile converts were found engaging in any of these forbidden
are perilous times, beloved, and the Judaizers are on the move. They want
to pervert the Gospel of grace by mixing it with the Law and traditions
of men. Let us heed the admonition of the Apostle Paul to the Messianic
congregation in Galatia: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith
Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of
bondage" (Gal 5:1).
only head covering mentioned in the Bible are the mitznefet worn by the
Cohen Hagadol, or High Priest, and the migbaat worn by the ordinary cohen
in the Temple. No head covering was specified as regular attire for non-priest
in ancient Israel.
permission granted by Cindy Castillo (Secretary to Mr. Gary Hendrick)
© 1998 "The Believer and the Law" by Gary Hendrick.