March 7, 2008 at 3:00 pm 6 comments

There is a small, but passionate movement among the Christian church, that encourages a return to keeping the Jewish Torah.  They are calling non-Jewish believers to emphasize obedience to the law of Moses as a legitimate, even mandated lifestyle for a follower of Jesus. Essentially, these groups present themselves as following the Old Testament Law of Moses, living a life they believe resembles that of first-century followers of Jesus, one that is more in keeping with God’s will for today.  

Yesterday Linda and I spent a few hours listening to a man who is passionate about this lifestyle and who has generated a following among some of our friends. 

Before I give my personal opinion about this experience and its value and danger, here is a disclaimer.  I do not speak for any church or ministry, this blog is mine alone and its content is mine alone.   

I think it was Martin Luther who once observed that no sooner does someone fall off a horse on the right side, then they get back on and proceed to fall off on the left side. These Torah-observing groups, seem to me, are an over reaction to an American church that often views the Old Testament law in a negative way and in many instances encourages it’s members to be free from it.

It is the unfortunate case that in much of evangelical Christianity the Old Testament is hardly taught, rarely preached  and little understood by the average participant. When the Law is mentioned, it is most often portrayed as a burden we came out from under through the sacrifice of Jesus. But just because the church has often failed to mine the truth of the Old Testament is no reason to fall off the horse on the other side and make more of the Torah than a new covenant believer is called to. 

Before I attempt to give a personal view of this Torah-observant movement let me be clear: The Law in the Old Testament is spoken of as a gift from God, a guide to life, something to be cherished and enjoyed, as well as something to be obeyed under penalty of punishment for disobedience. Obedience is an integral part of maintaining a relationship with our Father. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 7 that the Law is good. The idea of obedience is continually highlighted, from the Sermon on the Mount to Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel (John 14:15) as well as in the epistles. Nine of the Ten Commandments are explicitly reinforced in the New Testament.  

The Law itself is not bad, in fact the principles of the Law, especially the Ten Commandments, have become the bedrock of Western civilization and of the Church itself—even in those churches that portray the Law negatively.  Having said that, the Christian Church has universally recognized that the Law of Moses is not meant to be kept as a body of law by Christians today. The Law of Moses was part of a covenant that God made with Israel at a particular time and in a particular place. With the coming of Christ, the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah has come into effect and we are no longer under the Old Covenant.  

Frankly, for the past two thousand years it has been impossible to observe all the commandments of the Law of Moses, because so many of them depend on the existence of a Temple, a priesthood, animal sacrifices and living as a theocratic nation within the Land of Israel. Even Orthodox Judaism recognizes this, and so when the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, Judaism was reconstructed as a religion without a Temple or a priesthood, a religion dependent on the authority and decisions of the rabbis. Reformed Judaism, a movement of the past 250 years, views the Law as antiquated and outdated, but useful as a reminder of their history, a symbol of the Jewish people and a source of ethics.   

It is, however, equally important to note that recognizing we are not intended to keep the Law of Moses today does not mean that Christians do not find merit in the Law. The specific commands of the Law of Moses each reflected something of the nature of God, and behind each commandment is a principle. Those principles, reflecting God Himself, are still important for Christians today.  

Obviously I do not know the agenda of groups represented by the one we heard yesterday.  I do not know their particular interests or intentions.  I do know that some of the followers of this particular strain of the Hebrew Roots movement are attempting in both visible and private ways to keep the Torah and to look and act as if they were Jewish rather than Gentile in heritage. It is impossible to keep all 613 laws of the Torah because we no longer have a Temple, a priesthood, or live as a theocracy in the Land of Israel. So these groups attempting to live the Torah end up being extremely selective in what laws they observe.  

Again, I do not know how these particular adherents are living their Torah observant lives but since they cannot keep all 613 laws it appears, to this casual observer, that most of their emphasis falls on attempting to keep the holy days, Sabbaths and festivals, learning Hebrew and wearing external trappings of the Jewish religion. 

What concerns me, again, as a casual observer of this movement, is the over emphasis on keeping the Torah, wearing the trappings of Jewish liturgical life, attempting to look Jewish and learning Hebrew as their distinctive as opposed to the vastly more important emphasis on faithfulness to our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

In fact it was clear to me, during the presentation we attended yesterday, that there is an implied, if not openly stated view that those who are Torah-observant, are fluent in Hebrew and are returning to an ancient agrarian lifestyle are being more obedient to God, or have a deeper spirituality, than other believers in Jesus.  

Perhaps they would argue that their obedience to the Torah is faithfulness to Christ, but there is a distinct imbalance in their approach. Inadvertently, perhaps, they have created a two-tier system of believers: the more spiritual ones who observe the Law and the less spiritual ones who do not.   

The emphasis on the Hebrew language as a tool for understanding the entirety of the Scriptures is disconserting as well.  Having been a poor, but hopeful student of Hebrew while a Seminary student, I have some working knowledge of the language and appreciate the simplicity and earthy nature of it.   

What troubled me most yesterday was the constant use of the phrase “the language your Bible was written in” suggesting that both testaments were written in Hebrew.  Most people are aware, and the volume of evidence is still on the reality that the Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew and the New Testament primarily in Greek.  Not only did our speaker yesterday infer that there was evidence that the New Testament was also written initially in Hebrew and then later poorly translated into Greek, he was also certain that the reason why the words of Jesus “are so hard to understand” was because of the poor quality of this translating process. 

If the Greek text is unreliable and has been corrupted by Greek thinking as our speaker articulately espouses, there is no longer a standard of truth. The whole of the Christian faith rises and falls on having a historically stable and reliable text. Once the New Testament is discredited for whatever reason, (and there really are no good reasons to discredit its veracity) you are in danger of being cast into the open sea of “whatever goes” and “carried about with every wind of doctrine.”  [Heb. 2:1].  

The New Covenant broadens and deepens the requirements of the Law of Moses: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). To stress obedience to the Law of Moses without stressing the fuller applications of the principles embodied in those laws is to miss the point of Galatians 3:24. Let me put it another way.  The Law was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came.  So now, through faith we are made right with God. 

I may have heard it all wrong yesterday but it seemed to me, and again I speak for myself here, that we were being taught that the real message of Jesus and the Apostles was lost due to the infiltration of Greek thinking into the translation from “Hebrew to Greek” and so to get an accurate understanding of the words of Jesus we must get back to the simplicity of the Hebrew language so as to recover the true meaning of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.   

Since there is no physical evidence whatsoever (that I can locate) of a Hebrew New Testament, what this speaker is suggesting is little different than the suggestion made by Joseph Smith that he really did have some tablets (taken back to heaven) that revealed the real truth of the Father’s intention for the church.   

I am not trying to be cute or mean spirited but all aberrations of the Gospel and all movements away from orthodoxy begin with a suggestion that the Scriptures we have in our hand are some how inaccurate, require some special knowledge to fully understand them, or are missing a vital piece of the puzzle that will unlock the true meaning. 

I have a tendency to be overly simplistic so I appreciate the speaker’s emphasis on the simplicity of the Hebrew language and the extraordinary beauty of the agricultural and biological pictures that permeate the Scriptures. Hebrew alone can give these subtle, but extremely valuable nuances of the Jewish culture to those of us who live in the 21st century.  My personal study of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament is enhanced greatly by my rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew and Hebrew life. 

However, the words of Jesus recorded by John are imperative to this discussion because they trump all other means by which we understand the Scriptures: …when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears and He will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.  (16:13-15) 

The simplistic nuances of a Hebrew translation of these words of Jesus would not change the truth of these English words.  Truth is the work of the Spirit and the Spirit is available to all who are in relationship with the Father, through Jesus.


Entry filed under: Authority, Belief, Christianity, Church, Culture, Faith, Holy Spirit, Institutional church, Jesus, Kingdom, Revelation, Supernatural, The Father, Thoughts.

Kingdom.01 It’s about the Kingdom, st_ _ _ Monday Morning Meanderings. Vol.35

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Willis  |  March 24, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    I like way you think so far. Looking forward to reading much more. God Bless

  • 2. Shelly  |  March 17, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Geg, Thanks for writing on this topic. I have some friends involved in this movement or whatever you want to call it. I’ve enjoyed attending the Mesianic church and I’ve learned much. But I’ve become more and concerned as they are moving from salvation though Jesus to the importance of the law anyway, this was a great post.

  • 3. Dennis  |  March 10, 2008 at 3:09 am

    In recent conversations with gentiles who are considering moving the direction you discussed I have talked about:
    1. If all Old Testament laws, etc. were types and shadows which are fulfilled in Christ, why does anyone want them? First the natural, then the spiritual. Why go back when we have the real thing, Jesus Christ.
    2. People are reticent enough about living a biblical lifestyle in a broken world. Why make the church even more of an isolate, eccentric (od bunch) unnessessarily?
    3. It is the typical cult concept of converting the already converted.
    4. Therefore it becomes a distraction from the Great commission to win lost souls.
    5. As you mentioned, there is the tendency, as with all legalism or works base belief systems, to be self righteous.
    Thanks for you observations. I will definately use them next chance I get.
    Your friend, Dennis

  • 4. mousewords  |  March 9, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    A very powerful and wise post.

    Whenever I hear the idea of observing elements of the Old Testament Law, it confuses me, because the New Testament is very clear on the subject of being “no longer under the supervision of the law.” As in Galatians 3 and 4, for example.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you when you say, “It is, however, equally important to note that recognizing we are not intended to keep the Law of Moses today does not mean that Christians do not find merit in the Law.” I find myself poring over the Old Testament and gleaning so much blessing from it. But it makes me all the more grateful for Christ’s sacrifice, so that I may live from the freedom of Grace.

  • 5. amanda  |  March 9, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    i can so understand the attraction to “going back to the law”. it is an oft misplaced attempt i think to try and right what we see wrong with the church, our town, our country, our situation, our (fill in the blank). i too can see some merit, at the least dropping some of the many trappings in our lives these days alone can be a blessing, but it’s hard enough to keep to the 10, much less 613!

    On a side note, i was sad to notice that about half way through, i couldn’t “hear” you. For so long one of the joys of reading your blog was how TRULY i could hear you speaking, as though you were right here in the room, speaking to me. i miss that. i think some of not “hearing” was a lot of white noise that i sometimes experience when i try and study anything to do with the word. i guess what is important is that what you write still resonates deeply within me.


  • 6. Pastor Duane  |  March 7, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree, although i was not there, i have looked breifly at their website. Isn’t it interesting how things come around in cycles. This appears to me from your attendance and comments, to sound an aweful lot like what Paul confronted Peter about, and the Book of Galatians addresses. “Are we so foolish having begun in the Spirit that we are now made perfect by works of the flesh”. Judasizers attempting to make Gentiles conform to Jewish standards to be accepted by God. Mind you i am a pastor of a Pentecostal church who as you ascribe that we by the Spirit take the law to a new level. And I believe that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and pharisee’s, thank God He gives me Jesus’. As the book of Hebrews points out as well the external traditions, feasts, festivals, priesthood, even temple itself were all foreshadows of the spiritual and eternal, and the JESUS IS BETTER than them all.
    I do believe it is important to understand them, but seek the Spirit for their deeper and spiritual meaning.
    As far as i know there is not an original Hebrew text of the NT either… and agree with you that it destorys the credibility of what we got. I see it as well as is an attempt to as well be modern day “gnositcs”. I just pray that the attention goes back to “Jesus the BETTER….”

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