Thursday, November 14, 2013

Are Jews and Gentiles Under the Torah of Moses?

On Paul Younan's Peshitta website's forum (, there are people from different religious backgrounds. Many of these people subscribe to the Hebrew Roots (HRM). This article details my opinon of this movement and does not reflect my opinion on its followers, most of whom I believe to be purchased by the blood of the Messiah and desire more than anything to do the will of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The HRM is a Judeo-Christian movement that has spread like wildfire in the last decade. Many of them believe that Jesus should only called "Yeshua" (which I'll deal with the in the Sacred Name section of this article), that Christians teach against God's Law, and to my knowledge, all believe that Gentiles and Jews are still required to obey the Torah of Moses. To me, this goes against what the teachings of the New Testament. Jesus and the Apostles spoke at length concerning the Law of Moses. Jesus states what He came to do with the Law in Matthew 5:17-18: "Do not think that I have come to loosen Torah or the Prophets. I have not come to loosen but to fulfill them through proper meaning. For truly I say to you that until heaven and earth pass away not one Yodh or one stroke will pass from Torah until everything happens."

Followers of the HRM frequently quote this as evidence that the Law did not end at Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, as they say that not everything was fulfilled. Jesus, however, is talking about the Torah only when saying that not the least bit of it would pass until everything is fulfilled. Torah has been fulfilled but not the Prophets. John 19:30 says, 'And when he had taken that vinegar Y'shua said, "Behold, it is finished!"' Not to mention also that the veil is stated to have been torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). These events tell us that when Jesus was crucified, the Torah served its purpose. Jesus, God in the flesh, had fulfilled the Torah's requirements of righteousness and served as the Lamb of God that was slain to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). No serious student of Scripture would ever claim that Jesus violated the Torah, as this would disqualify Him as the Messiah (Isaiah 42:21). Jesus revealed the true meaning of the Law, which was clouded by the traditions and disobedience of the religious institutions put in place by the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees (Mark 7:21; John 7:19).

The Apostles also taught that those who believed in Jesus were no longer under the Law. Acts 10:9-16 tells of this vision that Peter had: 'And on the next day while they [Cornelius's messengers] traveled on the road and drew near to the city, Shimon went up to the roof to pray in the sixth hour. And he hungered and desired to eat. And while they prepared for him, a stupor fell over him And he saw heaven being opened and a certain garment being held by four corners. And it resembled a great linen cloth. And it was descending from heaven to earth. And there were in it all creatures of four legs, and creeping things of the earth, and the birds of heaven. And a voice came to him that said, "Shimon! Rise up. Slaughter and eat!" And Shimon said, "(Elohim) forbid, my Master, because I have not ever eaten anything that is defiled and unclean!" And again a second time a voice came to him that (said), "That which Elohim has cleansed, you should not consider defiled" And this happened three times, and the garment was taken up to heaven.'

Through this vision, God was teaching Peter a lesson that the Gentiles being invited into the Kingdom of Heaven and were no longer defiled before God as a people. Many HRM affiliates will say that this vision cannot be used as proof, as it is a form of parable. But why would Jesus have used this example of all things if those foods which were considered ritually unclean by the Torah were not cleansed by YHWH just as the Gentiles had been (this point is echoed in Ephesians 2:15)? After this, Peter goes to preach to Cornelius and the Holy Spirit falls upon the Gentiles, after which Peter commands them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and they obey (Acts 10:34-48). Peter tells the Council of Jerusalem about this amazing event.

The Gentiles receiving salvation ended up causing heated debates concerning whether or not Gentiles are obligated to obey the Law of Moses. Acts 15:1-29 records the debate:

"But men from Jihud came down and taught the brethren, If you be not circumcised after the custom of the law, you cannot be saved. And there were great agitation and disputation for Paulos and Bar Naba with them; and it was that Paulos and Bar Naba, and others with them, went up to the apostles and presbyters who were in Urishlem on account of this question. And conducting, the church dismissed them; and they went through all Punika, and also among the Shomroyee, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they came to Urishlem, they were received by the church, and by the apostles, and by the presbyters. And they recounted to them how much Aloha had done with them; but (that) certain had arisen who had believed from the doctrine of the Pharishee, and said, It behoved you to circumcise them, and require them to keep the law of Musha. But the apostles and presbyters assembled to consider this doctrine. And when there had been much investigation, Shemun arose, and said to them,
   Men, brethren, you know that from the first days from my mouth did Aloha choose that the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And Aloha, who knoweth what is in the hearts, testified of them, and gave them the Spirit of Holiness, as to us. And nothing distinguished between us and them, because he had purified by faith their hearts. And now why tempt you Aloha, that you would lay a yoke upon the necks of the disciples, which nor our fathers nor we could bear? But by the grace of our Lord Jeshu Meshiha, we believe that we shall be saved, as they.
   And all the assembly were silent. And they listened to Paulos and Bar Naba, who related how Aloha had done by their hands signs and mighty works among the Gentiles. And after they were silent, Jakub arose, and said, Men, brethren, hear me: Shemun hath related to you how Aloha hath begun to elect from the Gentiles a people to his name. And with this accord the words of the prophets; as when it is written, After these I will return, and raise the dwelling of David which hath fallen; and I will build that which hath fallen from it, and will raise it up: that the residue of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles, on whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these. Known from eternity are the works of Aloha. On this account I say, that we should not molest those who from the Gentiles have been converted unto Aloha; but that we send to them, that they shall separate from the uncleanness of (idol) sacrifice, and from fornication, and from the strangled, and from blood. For Musha from former generations in all cities hath had preachers in the synagogues who on all shabaths read him. Then the apostles and presbyters, with all the church, elected men from them, and sent to Antiokia with Paulos and Bar Naba Jihuda, who was called Bar Shaba, and Shilo, men who were chief among the brethren. And they wrote an epistle by their hands, thus: The apostles and presbyters and brethren, to those who are in Antiokia and in Syria and in Cilicia, the brethren who are of the Gentiles; peace. It hath been heard by us, that men from us have gone forth and disturbed you with words, and have subverted your souls by saying, that you should be circumcised and observe the law, whom we have not commanded. On account of this we have deliberated, all being assembled, and have chosen men and sent them to you, with Paulos and Bar Naba, our beloved; men who have delivered their lives for the sake of the name of our Lord Jeshu Meshiha. And we have sent with them Jihuda and Shilo, that by word they may tell you the same things. For it hath been the will of the Spirit of Holiness, and also of us, not to lay upon you greater burden beyond these things which are constraining; that you abstain from that which hath been sacrificed (to idols), and from blood, and from that which is strangled, and from fornication; and while you keep yourselves from these, you will be well. Be confirmed in our Lord."

The HRM response to this is that the Apostles were saying that the Gentiles were not obligated to obey the Oral Torah of the Pharisees (which they claim is the "burden" spoken of by Peter), but this does not fit into the context at all, as the debate opened with the believing Pharisee followers contending that Gentiles must be circumcised. Also, James's decision is not saying that we can't eat these foods, but that we should avoid doing so in front of Jewish believers in order to not offend them. Romans 14:2-3, 13-23 says:

"For one man believes that he may eat every thing: and he that is weak eats herbs. And he that eats should not despise him that does not eat; and he that does not eat, should not judge him that eats, for Elohim has received him...From now forward, do not judge one another; but rather, you judge this that you do not erect a stumbling block for your brother. I know indeed, and am persuaded by Master YHWH (who is) Y'shua, that there is nothing which is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks any thing to be unclean, to him only it is defiled. But if you grieve your brother because of food, you walk not in love. On account of food, destroy not him for whom Mashiyach died. And do not let our good thing be matter of reproach. For the Kingdom of Elohim is not food and drink; but it is righteousness and peace and joy in the Ruach haKodesh. For he who is in these things a servant of Mashiyach, is pleasing to Elohim and approved before men. Let us strive after peace and after the edification of one another. And let us not, on account of food, destroy the work of Elohim. For everything is (indeed) pure; but it is evil to the man who eats with stumbling. It is proper that we neither eat flesh nor drink wine nor (do) any thing, whereby our brother is stumbled. You are one in whom there is faith; keep it to yourself before Elohim. Blessed is he who does not condemn himself in that thing which he allows. For he who eats and doubts, is condemned; because (he eats) not in faith. For everything which is not of faith, is sin."

Another thing that HRM followers don't understand is that the Law is a unit. A big chunk of Hebrews is about the change from the Levitical priesthood to the priesthood of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 7). In Hebrews 7:12, the author says, "But as a change hath been made in the priesthood, so is there also a change made in the law." This also tells us that the New Covenant is the Torah that we are now under: the Torah of Messiah (Romans 6:14; I Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2). James refers to the New Covenant as "the Law of Liberty" in James 1:25. John also refers to the New Covenant as the Law (I John 3:4). 

The Law includes things that do represent the nature of God (like the commands not to murder, steal, commit adultery, engage in homosexual behavior, etc) and these things are passed onto the New Covenant. In fact, every one of the ten commandments is repeated in the New Testament except for the command to keep the Sabbath. The fact that the Old and New Covenants have similarities does not mean that they are the same thing. English and the United States of America both have laws against murder, but this does not mean that the two countries operate under the same legal system. Also, there are some things that are not allowed in the Torah of Moses that are allowed in the Torah of Jesus Messiah (like eating food that was considered unclean under the Torah of Moses), just like in the world's legal systems. Here is an example: in the Islamic Republic of Iran, you are not allowed to have a mullet, while in the USA you are obviously allowed to have one. 

Are we commanded not to keep the Law? Never in any place of New Testament Scripture are we given a command like this. In fact, it seems very likely that the Jewish Apostles continued to observe the Law for cultural purposes (just like some Messianic Jews do today). Paul went to Jewish feasts (Acts 20:16) and even took what was possibly a Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18). Paul, who is often accused by non-believing Jewish people, said of the Torah in Romans 7:12, "As a result, Torah is Set Apart; and the Commandment Set Apart, and righteous, and good." 

If the Law was not intended to continue after the first coming of Jesus, then what was it's purpose? The theology of Paul the Apostle, which can be found in its purest form in his Epistles (which are inspired by God and do not contradict Old Testament theology concerning the Law), tells us very clearly what the purpose of the Torah was and is.

"And so it must be that, by the deeds of Torah no flesh is justified before him: for, by Torah, sin is known."-Romans 3:20

"And the entrance given to Torah was that sin might increase: and where sin increased, there grace abounded."-Romans 5:20

"For the end of the law is the Meshiha unto righteousness in all who believe in him."-Romans 10:4

"Torah was therefore a tutor for us, going towards the Mashiyach that we, by faith, might be made righteous."-Galatians 3:24

Here is what can be gathered from this verses:

1. Doing what is recorded in the Law will not get you in good standing with God. The Law is the tool that God uses to show us that we are sinful, therefore in need of a Savior.

2. The Law was made so that sin might be made known (sort of like how someone telling you to do something makes you want to do it more) and so that God can give you grace to resist sin.

3. Jesus Christ Himself met the standards of the Law and fulfilled it by meeting it's goal. We are only righteous in Him.

4. The Law was made to guide us to Christ our Savior.

The change in the Law was necessary for our salvation. As noted before, the Law cannot save anyone. Only faith in Christ can be accounted to us as righteousness. Galatians 3:10-29 illustrates this point beautifully.

"For those who are servants of Torah are still under a curse, for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not act on all that is written in this book of Torah." But that no man is made righteous by Torah before Elohim is evident, for it is written, "The righteous will live by faith." Thus Torah is not made by faith, but whosoever will do the things that are written in it, will live in it. But Mashiyach has redeemed us from the "curse of Torah," by becoming accursed for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree." That the blessing of Awraham might come to the Gentiles through Y'shua the Mashiyach; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. My brothers, I speak as a man. Even though it be man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no man can reject it or change anything in it. Now the promises were made to Awraham and to his seed as a covenant. He did not say seeds, as of many, but seed, as of one, that is Mashiyach. And this I say: that the covenant that was previously confirmed of Elohim in Mashiyach cannot be repudiated and (nor) the promise nullified by Torah which came four hundred and thirty years later. For if the inheritance is by Torah, then it would not be as the fulfillment of promise, but Elohim gave it to Awraham by a promise. Why then Torah? It was added because of apostasy, until the coming of the heir to whom the promise was made, and Torah was given by Messengers by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not represent one alone, but Elohim is one. Is the Torah we received against the promises of Elohim? Elohim forbid! For if Torah had been given, which was able to give life, then truly righteousness would have come as a result of Torah. But the Scripture has encircled all things and put them under sin, that the promise in the faith of Y'shua the Mashiyach might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, Torah was guarding us while we were confined from the faith about to be revealed. Torah was therefore a tutor for us, going towards the Mashiyach that we, by faith, might be made righteous. But since faith came, we are no longer under tutors. For you are all the children of Elohim by faith in Y'shua the Mashiyach. For those who have been immersed in Mashiyach have been clothed with Mashiyach. For there is neither Jew nor Aramean, nor slave nor free, nor male or female, but you are all one in Y'shua the Mashiyach. And if you are of the Mashiyach then you are seeds of Awraham and inheritors by the promise."

If Jesus did not fulfill the Law, then He failed in His mission to save humanity. He came to clothe us in His righteousness when we could not attain our own. Let's work out our own salvation and do the best we can to avoid sin, but always remember that Christ is our righteousness and that He will guide us by the Torah that He put into our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and show us the right from the wrong. While we are in Christ and not in sin or ourselves, we are not under the Law of Moses (which is holy, just and good). I'm thankful that there is no condemnation for them that are in Jesus Christ who do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Romans 8:1).

Scriptural quotations from:
Aramaic English New Testament by Andrew Gabriel Roth
Etheridge's Translation of the Peshitta by John Wesley Etheridge

Purchase Aramaic English New Testament here
Purchase Etheridge New Testament: Volume 1 (Matthew-John) here
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