Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Unpardonable Sin and Gifts of the Spirit

There's a lot of discussion about whether there is really an "unpardonable sin" in theological circles. According to Yeshua, there is:
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Ruach HaKodesh shall not be forgiven unto men. 32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Ruach HaKodesh, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Mat. 12:31-32)
So what does that mean? Could someone have accidentally blasphemed the Holy Spirit and lost their salvation as a result? Not quite; as always, context is key.

The unpardonable sin isn't simply not to recognize the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit or Breath of God, but to attribute a work of the Spirit to the Adversary. Remember, the Pharisees of whom Yeshua spoke weren't simply skeptically investigating the miracle, but claiming that the miracles, exorcisms, and healings that Yeshua did in the Spirit were done by HaSatan (aka Beelzebub). Specifically, they were making this charge of Him exorcising a man whose demon held him mute--and this miracle has Messianic significance.

The rabbis were not unfamiliar with exorcism. Their method was to command the demon in the Name of YHVH to give them its name; once they had the spirit's name, they were able to command it out with that name. (We see Yeshua using this method in the case of Legion; Luke 8:30ff.) However, in the case of a demon that kept its victim mute, they could not force it to give its name and therefore could not cast it out.

The amazing thing to them about Yeshua was not simply that He was casting out demons, but that He was doing so without involking the Name of YHVH, demonstrating that He had authority in and of Himself to command them. When He commanded out a demon of muteness, this was further proof that Yeshua is in fact the Messiah.

There were three miracles that had never been done before that the rabbis expected the Messiah to do: Cast out a mute spirit, heal a man born blind (cf. John 9), and cure an Israelite with leprosy (up to this point, only Namaan the Syrian had been cured of that disease). Thus, the Pharisees could not have helped but know Yeshua was the Messiah, and had to willfully close their eyes by accusing Him of being possessed by the Adversary!

That doesn't mean that we should believe that every miracle necessarily comes from God. One should be very careful when evaluating a miracle, and as Chuck Missler has pointed out, we evaluate the miracle by its message: Does it glorify God in Messiah Yeshua or not? Yeshua always glorified His Father and taught rightly from the Scriptures, so the Pharisees who accused Him of sorcery had no excuse.

I believe that warning against slandering the Ruach is is why Yeshua said, "And whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the sanhedrin; but whoever shall say, Fool! shall be liable to be thrown into the fire of hell" (Mat. 5:22).

"Fool," in Hebrew idiom, doesn't simply mean someone who is being foolish, but has the connotation of "unbeliever." For example, in Psa. 14:1, we read, "The fool has said in his heart, There is no God! They acted corruptly; they have done abominable works, there is none who does good."

Ergo, Yeshua is not simply warning against calling someone a "fool" in the modern sense because they are being foolish. He is warning against calling a brother--that is, a fellow believer--a heathen or unbeliever, thus blaspheming (slandering) the work of the Holy Spirit in his or her life.

I was asked on KHouse's forum the other day if this meant that being a cessationist--that is, one who believes that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit ended after the time of the Apostles--was blaspheming the Spirit and therefore not saved.

The answer is: Possibly, but not necessarily.

I've noticed a natural process which occurs in many theologians, both past and present. First they ask, "Why don't we see miracles today?" From there, it is no great step from thinking that God never does miracles today to concluding that He never did any miracles at all. And once one concludes such a thing, one can no longer put their trust in Christ, for how can one trust a "known lie"?

I'll give you Bishop Shelley Spong as an example; if you're not already familiar with him, you can find out about him easily enough.

The first question, of course, assumes that we don't; personally, I've seen several, and I believe that if someone investigates the matter with an open mind and without presupposition, they will have to conclude that we live in a supernatural world.

For example, there was a study done some years ago where doctors tracked the progress of two groups of patients: One that had people praying for them, and one that didn't (the patients themselves didn't know whether they were being prayed for or not, to keep the test blind). Those who were prayed for healed better and faster in a statistically notable way.

A person who sees the work of God but does not praise God for it falls into the Romans 1 trap:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools . . . Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves (vv. 21-22, 24).
Now note that skepticism because one has not seen evidence of miracles is not the unforgivable sin; seeing a true miracle and attributing it to the Adversary--i.e., to trickery--is. However, as one Berean rightly points out, "if anyone is worried about the unpardonable sin, they most likely haven't commited it."

Most cessationists are not willfully blind, but instead speak against gifts of the Spirit out of ignorance as a result of what they have been errantly taught. To commit the unpardonable sin, one would have had to have personally known a man whom they could see walked with God (i.e., lived out a Biblical morality), and whom they could see taught correctly from the Scriptures (with all due Berean dilligence), saw him being a light to the world and God changing lives through him, perhaps even saw that God worked miracles around him, but still called him demonically possessed because he spoke in tongues, for example.

But suppose a person who is taught cessationism his whole life encounters such a person, and struggles with his impulse to simply dismiss the man as a lunatic or a deceiver? He would still not have committed the unpardonable sin. The issue again is willful blindness, not struggling with contradicting paradigms.

However, a person who witnesses the intervention of God but does not give God the glory has willfully closed his eyes to the truth. To those who would close their eyes to the truth, God reserves the right to blind and harden so that they cannot repent (Mat. 13:10ff, Rom. 9:18 ).

Now, lest someone try to convince you that we must therefore believe every miracle, Yochanan (John) writes, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 Jn. 4:1). The Adversary can do miracles too, so how then are we to judge a miracle? By it's message: No miracle of God will point to anyone but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who became flesh for us in the person of the Messiah Yeshua. Nor will any miracle contradict the Scriptures; nor does doing a miracle give any man the authority to tell us not to follow what the Bible tells us to do:
All the things I command you, be careful to do it. You shall not add to it, nor take away from it.

If a prophet rises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder which he foretold to you occurs, saying, "Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us serve them," you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For YHVH your God is testing you to know whether you love YHVH your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after YHVH your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments, and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. And that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken to turn you away from YHVH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slaves, to thrust you out of the way in which YHVH your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put the evil away from the midst of you. (Deu. 12:32-13:5)
Does this give the Pharisees who called Yeshua a servant of Satan any excuse? Not at all, for none of them ever found Him to teach the Torah incorrectly, so they had no cause to believe that He was leading Israel astray. (This is one reason that I object to teaching that Yeshua came to do away with the Law, that is, the Torah. Not only did He Himself say that wasn't the case in Mat. 5:17-19, but we blaspheme--slander--Him to the Jews when we make that claim, based on the above passage.) Rather, their rejection of Him was born fully from their own prejudices and because they loved the praise of men, which He was taking away from them.

Dave Hunt has written some rather scathing pieces against the charismatic movement in his day. I don't think his problem is willful blindness, nor do I think he's committed the unpardonable sin. Rather, early in his walk, he ran into a group that was abusing the gifts of the Spirit (to the point where it's questionable which spirit was involved), did enough research to find other groups that were abusing the gifts, and decided based on his experience that Charismatics were not Biblical.

We struggle with this issue in my own congregation. We don't reject the gifts of the Spirit, but we've seen them abused quite often. Nevertheless, our Messianic rabbi started this congregation because of a vision God gave him, believes in annointing the sick with oil, and is very versed in spiritual warfare--so he's not rejecting all gifts of the Spirit by any means, nor committing the unpardonable sin. Indeed, he is appalled that the Southern Baptist Convention recently passed a resolution that no one who spoke in tongues was allowed to be a missionary for that denomination.

What he hates, and I agree with him 100%, is when people refuse to put their gifts under the authority of Scripture. Tongues, for example, are to be kept private unless God provides an interpreter (1 Co. 14:28 ). If one believes he or she has a prophecy, he or she should allow it to be judged (v. 29)--and certainly no prophet can by the Spirit of God testify against the least letter of the Word of God as we have seen. While we believe in demonization, not every problem in life is due to having demons that need casting out, and so on. We are trying very hard to have a balanced approach, to walk a tightrope between two extremes.

Cessationism started as a response to Catholicism. The Catholics were telling the Reformers, in essence, "The Holy Spirit, the angels, and the saints still do miracles for us. Are they doing miracles for you?" The Reformers overreacted by coming up with a doctrine to explain away the apparent lack of miracles rather than asking if there was something they lacked. (There's a reason God identifies the Reformation with Sardis in the Revelation.)

This filtered down through the centuries to those who treat the Reformers the way the Jews treat the Talmudic sages; most people believe in Cessationism not because they are willfully blind, but because they have trusted their teachers. They've not committed the unpardonable sin, though if they then turn around and without investigating the matter carefully teach others the same, they will be held accountable by God (this is why we are warned that not many should try to be teachers, Jas. 3:1)--not to the loss of their salvation, but I believe to the loss of some of their reward in the Olam Haba, the World to Come (cf. Mat. 5:19, 1 Co. 3:8ff), as well as to the loss of some of God's gifts in this world (the Olam Hazeh).

On the other hand, one is quite correct to question which spirit a person is operating under if he starts teaching against, or even ignoring, God's Word. Those who uncritically accept prophecy or who go seeking after signs and wonders in lieu of studying and keeping (i.e., applying) God's Word are in just as much trouble.

This is one of the many narrow roads that we must walk to follow Yeshua, neither wandering off into "Charismatic Chaos" on the one side, nor quenching God's Spirit on the other. We must also walk the narrow road between legalism and cheap grace, between justice and mercy, between loving the lost and becoming unequally yoked with them, and so on.

"Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings" (1 Th. 5:19-20), but "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 Jn. 4:1).


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Living a Symbolic Life

When Yeshua was asked what the greatest commandment was, He answered,
"The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, YHVH our God, YHVH is one. And you shall love YHVH your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment."
He is, of course, referring to the Sh'ma in Deu. 6, which continues:
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
What does it mean to bind God's words on our hands and as frontlets between our eyes? Today, many Orthodox Jews keep this command quite literally, wearing leather boxes known as phylacteries on their hands and foreheads which contain tiny scrolls with the Sh'ma written on them--indeed, this practice was common even in Yeshua's day (cf. Mat. 23:5). However, the exact meaning of this idiom is explained in the Scripture. In Exo. 13, God commands Israel to keep the Pesach (Passover) every year, and to use it as an opportunity to tell their children what YHVH did for them in freeing them from their bondage in Egypt. He continues:
And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that YHVH's law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath YHVH brought thee out of Egypt.
So what does it mean? The command is to do symbolic acts (a sign upon your hand) and to look upon symbols (a memorial between your eyes) that would continually remind you both of what God has done for you and of His commands. Wearing phylacteries in prayer is certainly one way to do this, but the command is not limited to such an action.

In most Christian churches, we sadly tend towards one of two extremes: We either confuse the symbolic act, whether it be communion or baptism, with the spiritual reality that they represent and start judging people's salvation on whether they've done said act in just the right way, or in the process of asserting (rightly) that salvation is by God's grace received by trusting Him in Yeshua that we do away with all but the bare bones of, well, communion and baptism.

As a Messianic, I'm discovering the joys of living a symbolic life, not for salvation, but to keep my Father's blessings and commands continually before me.

When we keep the Feastdays, we participate not only in the Exodus from Egypt, but in our Exodus from sin in the Messiah Yeshua. When we blow the shofar at Sabbath, we look forward to hearing the shofar of God which will herald the Second Coming of our Lord (1 Th. 4:16). When we fill the kiddush cup with wine to the point of overflowing for Havdalah (closing out the Sabbath), we remember the overflowing of God's graces.

This has carried over to my personal life as well. When I tie on my tzitzit (the fringes with the blue thread commanded in Num. 15:38) in the morning, it's preparing my self to walk in the way God has commanded me to. When I come home at night and take the time to set up and light the candles on my altar of prayer, fill my own kiddush cup, put on my talit, and bless each, it's making me slow down from our insane 21st century pace, relax, and focus my mind on our Father, who He is, and all He's blessed me with. When I build my life around God's appointed times, it keeps His calendar, His dates, and His plan of salvation--not just for the individual, but for the whole world--ever in my mind.

It's not about legalism, saying that if you don't do things the way I do you're not saved or not "as good a Christian." But there's a reason why God gave Israel so many little symbols and told them to build their lives around them. The things we do both reflect what is already in our heart and affect the direction that our heart goes. If we build our lives around the symbols of God, then our heart, soul, and might all love God together; if we build our lives around the symbols of the world, or no symbols at all, our might (action) and souls (psyche, spirit) wander astray of the new heart that God has given us.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Welcome to the B'rit Chadasha Pages!

What in the world is a B'rit Chadasha?

Glad you asked! B'rit Chadasha simply means "New Covenant" or "Renewed Covenant" in Hebrew.

So why don't you just say "New Covenant" then? What's with all the confusing Hebrew terms?

That's a fairly easy one to answer: I'm wierd.

I'm a Goy (Gentile) by birth. Nevertheless, I worship a very Jewish Messiah, Yeshua. You're probably more familiar with His Anglicized name, Jesus Christ. And that's fine if you call Him that: This isn't a blog by some "sacred-name" nut who thinks that if you don't pronounce God's Names exactly right that you're not saved (in which we'd all be hosed since nobody is quite certain how to properly pronounce the Tetragrammaton).

So why do I call the Lord Yeshua instead of Jesus, then? Simple:

It's what His disciples called Him.
It's what His brothers and sisters called Him.
It's what His mother called Him.
It's what His Father called Him.
Yeshua means "Salvation" in Hebrew. The longer form, Y'hoshua, means "Yah's Salvation." I like to preserve the meaning.

As I said, I'm a Gentile by birth, of English descent with possibly some Polish in there, and despite what some people may think, I'm not in the least shamed by it. I can actually trace my mother's ancestry to the Mayflower Pilgrims, and I'm rather proud of that. So why then would I "pretend to be Jewish" or "Judaize," as some have accused?

This isn't about pretending. I'm fully dedicated to living a Torah-observant lifestyle. I do not believe that I must be Torah-observant to be saved; rather, I strive to be Torah-observant because I am saved, and I want to be more like my Savior.

I'm dedicated to living a Jewish lifestyle because Yeshua and all the Scriptures are written from a Jewish cultural perspective, and I am fully convinced that they are best understood from within that cultural perspective rather than their transplanted Western culture. As Rabbi Sha'ul, aka the Apostle Paul, writes, "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:1-2).

This started off just as a simple little blog on Easyjournal. However, as the number of articles grows, I find that I need a more flexible blog. Hence the move here.

I strongly suggest that new readers check out the Introductory Articles, which explain why I don't believe that Yeshua did away with the Torah, why I don't believe anyone else has the authority to selectively pick-and-choose or change commands, and how I think Tradition (whether Church or Rabbinical) should be incorporated into a Biblical base.

Hopefully this page will serve as a bridge both to Christian brethren and Jewish readers, God willing.

Michael D. Bugg


I got asked a couple of questions the other day about the Sabbath, and I think they do a good job of illustrating the differences between following the Torah and keeping the Torah legalistically, i.e., after the manner instructed in the Talmud. The first had to do with my assertion that the Biblical Sabbath never changed from the seventh to the first day:

Would this make keeping the Sabbath on Sunday wrong or sinful?

Insofar as we define sin as "missing the mark" (the literal translation of both the Greek and Hebrew word), yes: It misses the mark of correct Biblical understanding.

Fortunately, it's not the unforgiveable sin, and we are saved by God's grace, received in trusting Yeshua the Messiah, not by keeping all of God's Appointed Times in just such-and-such a way. I don't generally make it an issue except with two groups of Christians:

1) Those who want to rag on me for supposedly following rabbinical traditions instead of the Bible--my point to them is that if they're going to follow church tradition where it does conflict with Scripture, they shouldn't hassel me about following Jewish traditions in instances where they don't.

2) Those claiming that their denominations traditions are the original apostolic church, e.g., Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. My point to them is that a) God rates obedience over lineage, and b) the Apostles were Torah-observant Jews (cf. Acts 21:20ff), not Roman Catholics.

To which she followed up by asking, Do you mind telling me how you keep it? That is, do you keep it more or less in the manner it was kept during the time of Jesus?

Oh, most certainly not!

Understand, at the time of Yeshua, the rabbis had added so many rules to define just what constituted "work" that they had literally turned not working into a heavy burden. It was so bad that when Yeshua miraculously healed people on the Sabbath, they accused Him of sinning!

I have no desire to return to that.

I strive to keep Sabbath after the simplicity taught by our Lord. I never do overtime on the Sabbath (thankfully, God has given me a job where I can control my hours), nor do I try to catch up on any of my chores around the house. Laundry can wait another day. :)

I go to synagogue, i.e. church. Since God has not granted that I live close by, that means about a 20-30 minute drive. That would definitely be frowned upon by the Orthodox, but in this case, I have to go by the Lord's take that "it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

Thus, when I preach in prison or teach the youth group on the Sabbath, even if it means being on the road for 30-90 minutes, I don't see myself violating God's command any more than a priest ministering in the Temple (Mat. 12:5) or a rabbi circumcising a child (John 7:22).

Other than that, I relax, I read, I visit with friends. I'll occassionally chat with friends on FR and elsewhere online, but I make it a general rule not to let debates carry over into the Sabbath; they too can wait another day.

Yeshua teaches us that, "The Sabbath came into being for man's sake, and not man for the sabbath's sake" (Mark 2:27). That is, the Sabbath, a day to set apart from the pace of the rest of the week, a day to sleep in, to relax, and to be with God and your family and friends, is a blessing, not a burdensome religious duty.


Authority and the Scriptures

In my previous post, I talked about the proper use of tradition vs. the authority of the Scripture. In the thread on FreeRepublic which spawned that post, I pointed out that the only person with the authority to change the Sabbath, which God literally set in stone by His own finger, was God Himself, and that He did not do so in the person of Messiah Yeshua. I got an interesting objection:

Recognizing as we both do there was a change in some form from old covenant to new covenant, yes, Jesus gave that authority to His apostles. "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19).

Not quite. Nevermind for a moment the fact that none of the Apostles made a pronouncement saying that there had been a change in the Sabbath—indeed, if you follow the thread, you see that after over a dozen challenges, the person in question has yet to provide a single verse of Scripture to support his view—even if they had, they wouldn’t have had the authority to do so.

"Binding and loosing" is a rabbinical term; it means to "forbid and permit"; that is, the right to make hallakah, rulings on how to apply the Torah (and by extension, the NT teachings) to people's lives. There's an interesting article in The Jewish Encyclopedia which actually discusses NT and post-NT use of the power as well as the rabbinical origins of the term.

However, the power of "binding and loosing" had it limits. No rabbi would claim that because of their authority they could undo any of the Torah's commands. Neither did any of the Apostles make such a claim--all through their epistles and the book of Acts, we see them expounding on the then-existant Scriptures; not once do we see them saying that they were put aside. Indeed, as I've pointed out before, Sha'ul took a voluntary Nazrite oath to demonstrate that he still kept the Torah and taught others to do the same.

What they did do was "loose" Gentiles from being forced to undergo circumcision and become fully Jewish (i.e. obeying not only all the commandments of the written Torah, but those of the Oral Torah, which I discussed in my previous entry, as well) in order to be saved and admitted into the Assembly of believers as full members. That's all.

Even prophesying and making pronouncements by the Spirit of God, the Apostles didn’t have the authority to change the Torah. Read Dt. 13:1-5:

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods' -which you have not known-'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.

No prophet or miracle-worker who tried "to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk"--i.e., to tell Israel not to keep the commands that God gave them in the Torah, was by definition from God. All of the prophets were inspired by the same Spirit that inhabited the Apostles (2 Pt. 1:21), yet God very carefully limited their authority: They were to prophesy under the authority of the Torah (Dt. 18:15ff), not apart from or in contradiction to it.

Likewise the Apostles could not prophesy against the Word of God by the Spirit of God. They do not have the authority to teach people to apostasize from Moses--indeed, Sha'ul rejected the charge (Ac. 21:20ff). What they did have was the authority to "bind and loose," to rightly interpret the application of the Torah and make traditions and laws within that framework, and that is what they did.

If our congress, fallen and corrupt as it is, must pay at least lip-service to making all laws Constitutional, how much more then would the Apostles, the Emissaries of God, filled with the Spirit of God, have made all their legislation carefully within the framework of their "Constitution," the Torah that God had given by His own hand and own lips and of which He said, "till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Torah till all is fulfilled"?

And again, did any of them expressly make the claim that they were above the Torah, that they and other Jews in the Messiah weren't supposed to follow it anymore? Again, look to Acts 21 for your answer.

So then, the only person who has the authority to put an end to any of the Torah is God Himself. Did He expressly do so in the person of Messiah Yeshua?

No, just the opposite (Mt. 5:17-19). To separate the Messiah's teachings from the Torah is practical Marcionism: It puts a divide between the Word of God, the Written Torah, and the Word of God, the Messiah, the Living Torah.


The Proper Use of Tradition Within the Scripture

One of the frequent objections to Messianic Judaism is the accusation that we follow the traditions of the Jewish rabbis—men who did not even know the Messiah and who were without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The charge is partially true; Messianics do use a lot of Jewish traditions in our worship, such as lighting the Sabbath candles, praying the Amidah, wearing the kippah (or yarmulke), and so on.

However, let us recognize that just because a particular tradition is not mentioned in Scripture, that does not automatically make it un-Scriptural. For example, the traditional hymns sung by most Christians on Sunday are not in the Scriptures, but we recognize them as valid expressions of worship, like the Amidah. Many churches traditionally require women to wear hats, or have a certain dress code. A church may celebrate the anniversary of its foundation with a pot-luck dinner. Ministers in certain denominations wear a particular set of robes. None of these are mandated in Scripture; there’s nothing unbiblical about them either, with a caveat that I’ll get to in a moment.

How then should a Messianic regard the Oral Torah, the body of rabbinical traditions which were enshrined in the Talmud and which most, if not all, Orthodox Jews regard as every bit as authoritative as the Written Torah. I had this discussion with an Orthodox Jew not too far back, and I surprised him by saying that I believed that at the least, at least some of the Oral Torah did go back to Sinai. How could I say this? I point to the Torah itself:

"If the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, then you may slaughter from your herd and from your flock which the LORD has given you, just as I have commanded you, and you may eat within your gates as much as your heart desires. Just as the gazelle and the deer are eaten, so you may eat them; the unclean and the clean alike may eat them. Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life; you may not eat the life with the meat. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it on the earth like water.
--Dt. 12:21-24

The above highlighted phrase, though not completely clear in the English translation, indicates that there was a particular way that God showed them to slaughter their meat. This method is not described in detail, but has been passed down orally for 3500 years--the animal is hung up by its legs and its throat cut so as to let the blood all drain out.

Too, God did give the judges (or rabbis) of Israel the right to make binding judgments based on the Torah in Dt. 17:8-13. Just as previous judgments by judges provide legal precedent in our society, these rulings provided the precedents that became the Oral Torah in Jewish society.

The problem is not that traditions of men have arisen. We are, after all, men, and any way we apply a specific commandment is going to be our 'tradition.' The problem is that classical Judaism assumes that the oral Torah (represented by the laws of the Talmud and subsequent codifications of those laws) is just as binding and authoritative as the Bible itself. The oral Torah is regarded as equal to the written Torah.

What are believers to do with oral Torah? Admittedly, the concept of an oral tradition does seem to make sense. Much of the oral Torah is ancient and some of the contextual implications it provides could well go back to the generation of Moses. Yet it is far beyond the realm of credibility to suggest that the body of the oral Torah's legislation is all derived directly from Moses . . . and therefore carries the weight of Scripture. On the contrary, the majority of the teachings of the oral Torah are inferences and extrapolations created by the Sages in their attempts to clarify and explain Torah. These elucidations and referred to in Judaism and the Gospels as the "Traditions of the Elders."

--Lancaster, D. Thomas, Restoration: Returning the Torah of God to the Disciples of Jesus, p. 138

Now, it's a common assumption that Yeshua argued against all of the oral traditions of the Jewish people. That's not true. Rather, He debated those traditions which directly or indirectly contradicted Scripture or which added to it to the point of making it a burden--both of which are forbidden by Dt. 4:2.

On the other hand, He did uphold many traditions, and even enshrined some as a part of NT worship. For example:

- As I've pointed out before, the use of wine as a part of the Seder dinner is not mentioned in Torah, but is an important part of the traditional Jewish observance of that feast. This carried over into the Christian Lord’s Supper even when the elements of the Seder that were in fact commanded by the Torah were set aside.

- The Torah commands that we bless God after a meal (Dt. 8:10). Yeshua upheld the oral tradition of blessing the food before the meal as well (cf. Lk. 24:30). Heck, most modern Christians do this one.

- Though not immediately obvious in the text, we see in Yeshua's travels that He made it a point to say within a Sabbath's day journey of Jerusalem on High Holy Days (i.e. in Bethany). This is reflected in Mt. 24:16, where He says, "But pray that your flight will not come in the winter, or on a Sabbath." The written Torah does not forbid travel on the Sabbath--oral Torah does.

- Baptism (Heb. mikva), while derived from the ceremonial washing for uncleanness discussed in the Torah (cf. Lev. 13-17, Num. 19), is nowhere directly commanded. But in Yeshua's time, it has become a traditional act symbolizing cleansing from sin and repentance as well as cleansing from ritual unseemliness. Yeshua Himself underwent a public mikva at the start of His ministry so as to "fulfill all righteousness" (Mk. 3:15)--despite the fact that such an act is nowhere commanded in the written Torah or the Tanakh. I don't have to explain that this tradition carried over into the Church.

So then, the issue for Yeshua (and by extension, His followers) was not jettisoning all tradition, but in getting rid of all tradition which conflicted with the written Scriptures. Thus Sha'ul was able to say, "Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers . . ." (Ac. 28:17). As I've pointed out before, he remained a Pharisee to the end of his days--which means he was either a hypocrite, or that he considered most of the traditions and teachings of the Pharisees to be right.

Strangely, some Orthodox Jews are rediscovering the Jewishness of Yeshua where Reform Christians continue to deny it. For example, Dr. Pinchas Lapide, an Orthodox scholar, writes:

Jesus was utterly true to the Torah, as I myself hope to be. I even suspect that Jesus was even more true to the Torah than I, an Orthodox Jew. . . Jesus never and nowhere broke the law of Moses, nor did he in any way provoke its infringement—it is entirely false to say that he did ... In this respect you must believe me, for I know my Talmud more or less ... This Jesus was as faithful to the law as I would hope to be. But I suspect that Jesus was more faithful to the law than I am—and I am an Orthodox Jew. . .

--from The Resurrection of Jesus

Now, in regards to Gentile believers, I certainly don't think that the oral Torah is authoritative for us, but I don't think that we should disparage it where it serves to illuminate rather than over-complicate the Scriptures. Thus, where I see the Messiah accepting an oral tradition and even investing it with new meaning, like immersion in water or wine at the Passover, I delight in discovering the original tradition and in the insight it brings to the NT--for example, clearing up once and for all the whole "sprinkling" vs. "immersion" issue.

Seeing which traditions Yeshua upheld and which He condemned also gives us marvelous insight into the proper interpretation and application of God's commandments. Moreover, seeing that both He and His Apostles respected both proper (i.e., Torah-based rather than perverting) traditions dismisses the idea that the rabbis had it all wrong.

So then, to sum up all of the above: I respect the Oral Torah, but I don't give it the same authority that I give the Written Torah or Living Torah. I believe that when Yeshua gave His Apostles the authority to bind and loose, He gave them the authority to, in effect, create the Church's own Oral Torah--within the limits that just as Jewish traditions must not be allowed to contradict the Written Torah, neither could any "binding or loosing" of the Church.

The fact that they didn't just immediately toss out all of the "traditions of our fathers," but were instead very careful in using that authority should be a guide to us as we do the same. Therefore, neither do I simply ignore the Jewish traditions regarding the Torah, especially those which can be traced to the time before Yeshua. If Yeshua and the Apostles treated them with respect except where they did contradict Torah, who am I to do otherwise?

Rather, I will respectfully follow a tradition within a congregation which meets the test of Dt. 4:6:

1) It may not add to God's commands. A tradition may be followed beyond the word of the Scripture provided that it is recognized as the tradition of a particular body and not as a binding commandment. Thus, a Messianic congregation contains a lot of Jewish tradition as the cultural flavor of their worship, while a Presbyterian church has its own traditional observances; neither may judge the other on the basis of those traditions.

2) It may not violate (subtract from) God's commands. Calling Sunday the Sabbath violates the Scriptures, and thus subtracts from God's commands. Saying that there is no more Sabbath does the same. By the same token, the Jewish tradition that charity and good works have replaced blood sacrifice as atonement for sin also violates the Scriptures.

That is, IMHO, the only proper way to apply tradition to Scripture.

To my Sunday brethren—and I do consider you brothers and sisters in the Lord, regardless of our doctrinal differences—who object to Messianic Judaism on the basis of its acquiescence to rabbinical tradition to the detriment of Scripture, let me pose a question to you:

Is it anywhere directly stated in the New Testament that the Sabbath has either been moved to Sunday or that it has been done away with?

If the answer is no, and you do not rest on the true Sabbath and set it aside as holy in obedience to the Fourth Commandment, then you have been following a tradition of men in contradiction to the Scripture. “But,” you answer, “we live under Grace, not under Law.” True, but nevertheless, the Torah remains as God’s eternal standard for behavior and worship (Mt. 5:17-19), telling us what sin is (Rom. 7:7), and how to be “holy, just, and good” (v. 12). Therefore, while no longer being under the curses the Torah pronounces against those who violate it, we should still seek to follow it so that we might become more like our Savior. And no, I’m not judging your salvation or your walk on this issue; I’m just trying to provoke some thought.

But moreover, those critics of the Messianic movement who plead grace over the issue of the Sabbath should likewise show grace to those with whom they disagree on other issues, just as I, who have often sinned both in ignorance and in willfulness, must show grace to everyone who does the same.


Why the New Covenant Doesn’t Do Away with the Torah, Pt. 1: The Covenant vs. the Torah

It's a common question: "Why are you into all this Jewish stuff? Don't you know that all that Old Covenant stuff passed away with the coming of the New?"

On the contrary, while the Old Covenant was indeed replaced by the New (or rather, is in the process of being replaced-complete replacement will not happen until all Israel is saved and within the New Covenant, to whom it was promised originally) the Torah itself is still God's Law. Let's start by looking at the exact promise of the New Covenant, given in Jeremiah 31 and quoted at length in Hebrews 8:
Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which covenant of Mine they broke, although I was a husband to them, says the LORD; but this shall be the covenant that I will cut with the house of Israel: After those days, says the LORD, I will put My Torah in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall no more teach each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, Know the LORD; for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more.
Point the first: There are not two, but eight major covenants in Scripture, and only one of them is specifically replaced by the New Covenant:
The Edenic Covenant (Gen. 2): Man given dominion over the earth and told to subdue it, be fruitful, and multiply. While one might make the case that Man broke this covenant by disobeying God (though not eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was never mentioned as a part of this covenant), this covenant most certainly was not made "in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt," and so is not in view as the "old" covenant.

The Adamic Covenant (Gen. 3): Curses for sinning handed out as well as the first promise of the Redeemer, from the "seed" of the woman, given. Again, this promise was not made in the desert when God brought Israel out of Egypt.

The Noahic Covenant (Gen. 9): God's promise never again to destroy all life by a flood, and a renewal of the command to be fruitful and multiply. In this covenant, God commands Man to carry out the death penalty for murder, and permits the eating of meat. Sealed by the sign of the rainbow. Again, this covenant had nothing to do with coming out of Egypt.

The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 15): God unilaterally promises to give the Promised Land to Abraham through his natural seed ("from your own body") who will number as the stars in the sky. Sealed by the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17), and renewed through Isaac and Jacob. Not subject to being broken by Israel's disobedience to the Torah (Gal. 3:17). This covenant did not come about when God led His people out of Egypt--just the opposite in fact, since this covenant prophesies the 400 years of oppression in Egypt.

The Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 24:1-8): The people of Israel, upon hearing God's commands, say as one, "All the words which the LORD has said, we will do"--in other words, to keep the Torah. Includes curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience (Dt. 28-29). This is the only covenant which came in conjunction with the liberation of Israel with Egypt. It is also the only covenant in which anyone but God promised to do anything. Therefore, it is the only one subject to being broken by the people of Israel. This covenant, and no other, is the subject of Hebrews 8.

The Levitical Covenant (Num. 25): As a reward for his zeal, God promises Phinehas that the Levitical priesthood belongs to him and his descendants forever. Reiterated in Jer. 33, which links it to the Davidic Covenant (see below). While it might be said that this promise is linked to the salvation of Israel from Egypt, it in fact took place nearly forty years later. Furthermore, Phinehas made no promises, so this covenant is not subject to being broken on his end.

The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7): God promises that David will never lack a man to sit on his throne; that is, the throne of Israel. Reiterated in Jer. 33 and numerous other Messianic prophecies, as well as to Maryam the mother of Yeshua (Lk. 1:32-33). Fulfilled in the Messiah. Again, has nothing to do with Egypt, and could not be broken if anyone had wanted to.
Point the second: Read carefully the terms of the New Covenant. Does it say that the Torah-the commandments, the feastdays, etc.-would be done away with? No. Instead it says, "I will put My Torah in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." Ezekiel promised the same in different terms:
And I will sprinkle clean waters on you, and you shall be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. (36:25-27)
So then, shall we say that God's promise to write the Torah on our hearts, to cause us to walk in His statutes and keep His judgments by the power of His Spirit means that His Torah, His statutes, and His judgments are done away with? From whence did this theology that if God writes His Torah in our hearts it ceases to be the Torah come from? Certainly not from the Bible!

As we saw in previous posts, since God Himself gave the Torah, only God Himself could change it--no prophet or even apostle has that authority. But what did Yeshua say about the Torah?
Do not think that I have come to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, till the heaven and the earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall in any way pass from the Torah until all is fulfilled. Therefore whoever shall break one of these commandments, the least, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven.
--Mt. 5:17-19
The last time I checked, the Heaven and the Earth were still here, so the Torah is still in effect. That's not to say that every commandment applies the same way to all people--the High Priest had to follow commandments that the common Levite did not, the Levite commands that the rest of Israel did not, and the circumcised Israeli had to keep commands that the alien living among them wasn't held responsible for--but that we cannot simply say the Torah is the "old" covenant and should no longer be followed.

Next: The Yoke of the Torah


Why the New Covenant Doesn’t Do Away with the Torah, Pt. 2: The Yoke of the Torah

In the previous entry, we saw that Yeshua didn't come to do away with the Torah. In fact, the New Covenant assumes that the Torah would continue--what else would God be writing on our hearts with His Spirit (Jer. 31:31-33, Heb. 8:8-13)? The "old" covenant that the New Covenant replaces is the Mosaic Covenant, in which all Israel promised to keep all of God's commands in their own power.

"But," one might object, "didn't the Apostles call the Torah a yoke too heavy to bear (Ac. 15:10)?" Not at all! First, let us consider what the Torah has to say about itself:
For this commandment which I command you today is not hidden from you, neither is it far off. It is not in Heaven, that you should say, “Who shall go up for us to Heaven, and bring it to us, so that we may hear it and do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who shall go over the sea for us to the region beyond the sea, and bring it to us, so that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it.
--Dt. 30:11-14
In other words, there is nothing about the Torah that is arduous or humanly impossible to keep—and in that lies our just condemnation under God’s Law. If keeping His commandments was impossible, then He wouldn’t hold us accountable for keeping them; but having given us a Torah that we could keep, our true rebellious nature is made manifest.

Yeshua Himself, though endorsing every last letter of the Torah and saying that those who taught against keeping the least command would be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven (note that the issue is teaching falsely, and that it clearly isn't a salvational issue), said, "Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke on you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30). He did not regard the Torah—properly interpreted and applied—to be a burden.

No, this heavy yoke must be something else; and by simply carefully studying the debates between Yeshua and the Pharisees, it's not hard to say what it was. Yeshua never once criticized a single commandment of the Torah, but vehemently opposed adding commandments to the Torah so as to make it a burden or pervert its meaning. For example, He condemned the Pharisees for judging others on how (or if) they ceremonially washed their hands, or for gleaning a bit of food on the Sabbath, or for allowing one to sidestep their oaths and their obligation to care for (honor) their parents by way of legal loopholes. It was the addition of literally thousands of extra-Torahic commands, too many for any other than a scholar to even keep track of, which made the Torah a burden—and it was that culture of legalism that the Apostles wished to protect the Gentile converts from, not the Torah itself.

I've been accused several times of being rabbinic. Nothing could be further from the truth. I like to get the rabbis' take on certain issues, just to have the additional perspective, but I don't feel bound by it. I respect the Jewish (extra-Biblical) traditions and even observe some, like the details of the Passover dinner or the praying of the Amidah (sans the 19th "Benediction"), but I am certainly not bound by them the way I am bound by God’s commandments in the Scripture, nor do I judge anyone on them. If I don't rest on the Sabbath in a rabbinically-correct way because I drive ten miles to teach the kids of our youth group, I nevertheless rest from my regular work and teach on the Sabbath as Yeshua and the Apostles did. Doing what God has commanded me to do out of love for Him is far more important than trying to be more (rabbinically) Jewish than a born Jew (cf. 1 Col. 7:19).

The truly sad thing is that most conservative churches do observe--and even quote from--about 90% of the Torah. Nobody here thinks it's alright to steal, for example, or commit adultery, or practice occultism, or cheat in business, etc. Yet take someone like myself, who finds it a delight to observe the Feastdays that God Himself ordained, and suddenly some people get offended.

Let me be clear about this: I am not trying to foster an attitude of legalism or to dictate to anyone, "You have to do this and that in just such a way to be saved." Heaven forbid! What I am trying to accomplish with the last several essays is to change a basic attitude: Instead of saying, "Oh, that's the Law! We're under Grace, so it doesn't apply anymore," I would that the Church as a whole would say, "We are under Grace, and having been shown so great a grace, let us both hear and carry out God's Teachings." (The word Torah, which comes from the word yarah, has more the connotation of "teaching" than "law.")

I'm also trying to get away from the artificial division Christianity as a whole tends to put on the Torah, saying, "Well, the moral law still applies, but the ceremonial law doesn't." That's simply not true, as we can see from the example of the Apostles. Nor are the ceremonial commandments more arduous to keep than the moral commandments--just the opposite! As I explained back in my High Holy Days posts, I have found great joy and blessing in observing God's appointed times.

But even more importantly, such a division creates a rather strange attitude: That the commands that tell us how to love our neighbor (the moral law) are more important than those which tell us how to love God. I'll be exploring this idea in the next essay.


Next: Loving ADONAI Your God

Why the New Covenant Doesn’t Do Away with the Torah, Pt. 3: Loving ADONAI your God

"That's Jewish! You're trying to earn your salvation! That's the Old Covenant, we're under the New! Those old rituals were just the carnal shadows of the things to come!"

It's an objection that rings down through the ages, but is it really true? Did the Messiah do away with all shadows in the ceremonial commands? Let us consider for a moment those commandments which every Christian would still consider binding:
Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"

Yeshua said to him," 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
--Mt. 22:35-40
Love then, first for God and then for our neighbor, is the core principle of the whole Torah. As Rabbi Hillel said, “The rest is commentary. Now go learn it.” That is, the Torah tells us how to love God and our fellow human being in practical terms. And how do we love our fellow man? "Thou shalt not steal, bear false witness, commit adultery, murder, or covet" while we should “honor your mother and father.” These commandments all give specifics on how to love our fellow man. So do the commandments to help our enemy if we see him stranded on the road, to take community responsibility for an unsolved murder, or to care for the widow, the orphan, or the alien in the land (or the visitor to our congregations, for that matter). I can't think of too many Christians who think of such things as "living in the shadowy world of the old covenant, with its carnal symbols."

How do we love God, then?
If you love Me, keep My commandments. (Jn. 14:21)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome. (2 Jn. 5:3)
The first four commandments of the Decalogue all deal with the love of God:
1) I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Many people think the first commandment is the injunction against other gods or idolatry. It isn't. The first command is to know who God is and what He has done for you.

2) You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make to yourselves any graven image . . . Knowing who God is, we shall not show Him hatred by worshiping anything made by our hands, whether Baal, Moloch, Zeus, our house, our car, our job, our favorite sport or hobby, our church, our orthodox theologies--nothing.

3) You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. For the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain. Here is a most misunderstood commandment. I don't think it has anything to do with cursing. The command is literally that we should not take God's Name, His reputation, upon ourselves for nothing. We must show who we are in our every deed.

4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. . . For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and sanctified it. The Sabbath is the first Feastday, the first appointed time, of the Lord. The Rabbis believed that it came once a week instead of once a year was not that it was common, but because it was that important. It was not to be a burden, but a gift from God to man--and not just Israel, but to the whole world. It prefigures the "Sabbath rest" of the seventh Millennium.
Let's summarize: We love God by keeping His Commandments: To know Him and know what He did for us, to not worship anything else, not to take His Name ("Christ-ians") upon ourselves for nothing, and to take the weekly Feastday that He gave us to rest as a gift.

What then of the other commandments? Let's take an “absurd” example that I don't think was ever mandatory for Gentiles under any covenant (which I can prove from the Torah, not just the NT): Kosher. What does eating only certain meats have to do with loving God or our fellow man?

When Noah took the animals onto the Ark, he was commanded to take seven of the clean ones. Obviously, the concept of clean and unclean goes back long before Sinai, but the question is why? The Antidiluvians were vegetarian; meat-eating wasn't allowed until after the Flood. So what possible difference did clean and unclean meat make to them?

The answer, I believe, is that they may not have eaten meat, but they did do sacrifice. Therefore, the distinction to Noah was not what was eatable or not, but what could be brought to the altar of the Lord or not. Therefore, by eating only kosher meats, Israel, the nation of priests, was eating only what was acceptable to offer to God. Or to put it another way, the kosher Messianic Jew is only bringing meat into the temple of his or her body that is acceptable to offer before the Lord in the Temple built by hands.

I didn't think of such things before I started keeping kosher. When I started keeping kosher, I did so only because that's what God did when He walked the earth. But by keeping a commandment that I did not understand in faith, a new insight was given to me.

What about celebrating Passover? How is that loving God? I'd think this one would be obvious: It's a celebration of God's deliverance of us from both Egypt and sin by His miraculous work and His willingness to make Himself our Passover Lamb, so that we might be spared by His blood from death. Just as we eat bread without leaven (which symbolizes sin, cf. 1 Cor. 5:6-8) for seven days, we are cleansed of all sin completely by Messiah Yeshua’s once-and-for-all sacrifice.

Firstfruits? Sha'ul himself explains this one when he calls Yeshua "the firstfruits of them that slept." And just as Yeshua, the firstfruits of the dead, was Resurrected and glorified, so we, the latter harvest, will be Resurrected in His likeness.

Pentecost? A memorial of when the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit or Holy Breath, first descended upon the "firstfruits" of all the Church in the upper room, assuring us that we latter fruits would receive the same Spirit.

What about Rosh Hashanah? It is a memorial in advance of the Second Coming, when Yeshua shall return on the clouds of the sky with a loud trumpet (shofar) blast to raise the dead and take us to be with Him.

Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement? A day to prayerfully consider our sins and repent of them, remembering that Yeshua is our High Priest in the heavenly Holy of Holies. Also prophetic of Israel's future reconciliation to the Messiah.

What about celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles? That's Yeshua's birthday, believe it or not, when He came to "tabernacle" among us, and the eighth day of Sukkot celebrates His circumcision, His admission into the community of Israel. This Feastday also celebrates the coming age, when the Messiah will rule bodily over the earth; it was so joyful, and so important, that it was often called simply the Feast. Will be compulsory to celebrate in the Millennium (Zec. 14:18-19).

What about wearing a tzitzit, or blue thread or tassel, on one's clothing? It's a reminder to follow God's commandments, not unlike the WWJD bracelets that were so popular a few years ago.

Sacrifice? A daily memorial of the price of sin and the fact that the Messiah paid that price for you and me. (Not that sacrifices are currently possible, but we know from Scripture that they will begin again.)

See, all of these "carnal shadows" many Christians speak against are all about continually reminding us of God's plan and God's commandments, celebrating what He has done and what He will do, and actively loving Him for them in our hearts, souls, and bodies. By keeping them physically—in the right Spirit, of course—I am loving God with all of my might. By meditating upon God's Word, I am loving Him with all my soul, or mind. But before all that, I had to receive a new heart, so I could love Him with all my heart and worship Him in Spirit and truth, for the natural heart "is deceitful above all things."

By keeping all of these "carnal shadows," I have seen dry theology turned into a living culture. Pure theology is noble, if directed properly, but when God presented Himself to Israel, did He give them theology, or did He give them commandments, celebrations, a culture? When Yeshua walked the earth, did He write the Institutes, or did He also give commandments, celebrations, and a culture--and moreover, did He not infuse all of those with new meaning?

God did not give theology because theology would keep proper worship of Him solely in the realm of the intellectual elite. Instead, He gave a culture so that everyone, from the most brilliant mind to the severely retarded, from the white-haired to little children, from the eclectic to the simple, could all know Him for who He is. He thus infused every element of their lives with meaning, from the keeping of the time to the clothes they wore to the food they ate.

That is Torah. And to keep it is to love God, and to learn, a little bit each day, how to be like Him.


Next: Torah in the New Testament

Why the New Covenant Doesn’t Do Away with the Torah, Pt. 4: Torah in the New Testament

In previous entries (see below) we saw that the Torah was not replaced in the New Covenant, but was written on our hearts by the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. We saw that Yeshua put His personal endorsement on every last letter and penstroke of the Torah, and we have seen that when it is not being added to and when it is understood that it is God's grace received by trusting His Messiah, the Torah is not a burden too heavy to bear. And we saw that the "Jewish," or ceremonial, parts of the Torah tell us how to love God, just as the "moral" commandments tell us how to love our fellow man.

What then about the Apostles? Didn't they say that keeping the Torah was putting one's self "under the Law" instead of under Grace?


What is sin? According to the Apostle Yochanan (John), "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness" (1 Jn. 3:4)--or to put it another way, since nomos nearly always means "Torah" in the NT: "Everyone who practices sin also practices Torah-lessness, for sin is Torah-lessness."

And again from Sha'ul: "What shall we say then? Is the Torah sin? [Ed. note: Some Christians seem to think so.] Let it not be said! But I did not know sin except through the law. For also I did not know lust except the law said, You shall not lust" (Rom. 7:7). The Torah tells us what is sin, so that we may avoid it. It also tells us what is good, that we may be more like God. Every Biblical Christian would agree with that in regards to not stealing or avoiding idolatry.

I'm not saying that one has to be Jewish to be saved or to grow in one’s Christian walk. God likes variety (see the second half of Rev. 7), and He loves you just as much as a Gentile. And I'm certainly not saying that Torah-keeping is a prerequisite for salvation; it's not. But neither should you preach against keeping God's commandments.

Moreover, in falsely teaching that Yeshua came to do away with the Torah, we have put a stumbling block between the Jewish people and their Messiah:

"Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods' -which you have not known-'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.
--Dt. 12:32-13:5

Now consider the perspective of an observant Jew: He hears of this Jesus fellow, who came with all these signs and wonders and prophecies, but who, according to the Christians, came to do away with the Torah and start a new religion based on worship of him rather than worship of the One God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Based on the information being given him by the vast majority of Christians, the Jew would be right to reject Jesus according to the Torah.

But Yeshua never did away with the Torah. What He did away with were the curses the Torah pronounces against those who do not keep it. Being thus freed from the curses, we can now follow the Torah out of love and a legitimate desire to be like God instead of out of fear of punishment. Having no fear, and having instead received the Spirit of Adoption, we don't have to add fences around the Torah lest we accidentally violate it--and it was those fences, all those additional laws and traditions, which would be codified centuries later in the Talmud, which were the "yoke too heavy to bear," the "heavy burdens" that the Pharisees tied up on others' shoulders and refused to help them carry.

Nor did Sha’ul, who told others to imitate him as he imitated the Messiah (1 Co. 11:1), ever say that the Torah was done away with. On the contrary:

For not the hearers of the Torah are just before God, but the doers of the Torah shall be justified. (Rom. 2:13)

Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the Torah, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the Torah? (Rom. 2:26-27)

Do we then make void the Torah through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish (i.e., uphold) the Torah. (Rom. 3:1)

Therefore the Torah is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. (Rom. 7:12)

For we know that the Torah is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. (Ro 7:14)

For I delight in the Torah of God according to the inward man. (Rom. 7:22)

For Christ is the end (telos, goal) of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4)

Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. (1 Co. 7:19)

Therefore the Torah was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:24)

But we know that the Torah is good if one uses it lawfully . . . (1 Ti. 1:8)

All Scripture (including the Torah) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Ti. 3:16-17)

Sha’ul was never opposed to the Torah, nor to keeping it. What he was opposed to was the misuse of the Torah, in Torah-keeping as an end unto itself, as if one could keep God’s Law well enough to earn the salvation that God has freely offered by His grace.

And if none of that makes sense to the reader, then I have one last argument: My Lord kept Torah, therefore I strive to keep Torah--not for salvation or rewards, but so I can be like Him. My Lord kept kosher, therefore I keep kosher. My Lord wore tzitzit (tassels with a blue thread) on His clothing, so so do I. My Lord celebrated the Feastdays, therefore I celebrate the feastdays. My Lord kept Sabbath on the seventh day, and so do I. My Lord observed Hanukkah (John 10:22), and so do I.

It's as simple as that.

Shalom, and Happy Hanukkah!
(And for my more conventional brethren, Merry Christmas!)