Torah and Messiah Part 4

StarofDavid“Haven’t you read what God said to you?” Yeshua asks his critics (Matt 22:31). This question sums up nicely his view of the written Torah. He assumes its divine source and authority. In another place he asks “haven’t you read in the book of Moshe” the story of the burning bush (Mark 12:26). He does not deny human authorship parallel to the divine authorship.

In another place he quotes from the prophets and enjoins his critics to “go and learn what this means” (Matt 9:13). He implies that their way of interpreting Torah needs correction and that bringing other scriptures outside of Torah to bear on the matter will clear things up for them. Yeshua sees at least some degree of unity in the voices of scripture. At least we could say he believes a good teacher can correlate parts of the Bible in ways that reveal God’s desires for our attitudes and behavior.

But Yeshua also adds to the voice of Torah. He says, “truly I say to you” no less than seventy-two times in the Gospels. His teaching is Torah intensified, but not Torah annulled. And this should inform our view, in Messianic Judaism, of what role Torah plays in the life of a follower of Yeshua.

There is nothing in the teaching of Yeshua that should give his Jewish followers the idea that the commandments for Israel do not apply to them. But some Messianic Jews inherited from a Christian background the idea that Jesus or Paul annulled the Torah. A large part of this misunderstanding comes from a failure to grasp that Paul’s letters, unlike Yeshua’s teachings, were directed to non-Jews. And non-Jews were never commanded to keep Sabbath, food laws, circumcision, or laws such as the ritual fringes (tzitzit). Christian teachers mistook Paul’s assumptions about Gentiles as normative lifestyle for all Jesus-believers, even those who are Jewish.

The “Torah and Messiah” series is part of a book I will be releasing soon with Messianic Jewish Publishers, a guide for disciples of Yeshua. For updates on book projects, news, extras, and links to help you stay connected sign up here for the MJ Musings weekly email. To develop a new habit of reading the daily Torah portions along with the Gospels sign up here for the Daily D’var email.

When your non-Jewish Christian friend does not regard Sabbath as holy or shrimp as unclean, this is correct for him or her. It may seem difficult to grasp, but some holiness rules are arbitrary. A Nazirite (see Numbers 6) cannot eat raisins. It would be foolish to conclude that all people would be holier if they copied the Nazirite practice. A priest could not marry a divorcee. It is an error to think there is something unclean about marrying a divorced person. Someone who is fasting abstains from food. But if you think it is holier to do without food and take this overly literally, then you will die of starvation. Jewish identity markers of holiness, like observing the seventh day, are not identity markers for non-Jews. They are a sign between Israel and God of a unique relationship (see Exod 31:13). Furthermore, the Torah itself makes a distinction between Israelites, non-Israelites who live in the land of Israel, and non-Israelites from outside of Israel (see Exod 12:48; Deut 14:21).

Gentile relationship to the Torah is not the same as the Jewish relationship. Messianic Jews do not need to persuade Christian friends to “be more Jewish.” Yet Messianic Jews have a calling their Christian friends do not, to be faithful to the covenant from Sinai, which endures “for all your generations” (Lev 23:31).

If Messianic Jews assimilate, it matters. Three thousand years of remaining Jewish should not be brought to an end because people decide to follow the Torah-keeping, Temple-worshipping Jew, Yeshua. If we let our faith in Messiah annul the Torah covenant, we are acting as if Yeshua is at odds with the Father, as if Christianity replaces Judaism, as if God’s promises are null and void. By being a living witness to Torah’s eternality and God’s election of Israel, we are the people at the forefront of Messianic redemption. It is when Israel calls on Messiah that Yeshua will return. So Messianic Jews must be the people of Messiah, living the way he called us as a light among our Jewish people, showing the way to bring Messiah.

But what about Torah points us toward Yeshua? Can we perceive in the Torah things that set our feet on a path toward what we came to know in Yeshua? As we will see, this is not so much about prophecies and fulfillments. It is about certain directions God pointed in Torah and they turn out to be roads leading to and through Yeshua on the way to final redemption.

11 Comments

    1. Richard, I have written at length about this in my book, Yeshua Our Atonement (available on amazon). In short, Hebrews sees Torah continuing in the new covenant, but that much has been added in the new. It is life a software version 2.0 that contains all of the functionality of 1.0.

      1. I’ll look for your book. The changes in Torah in Hebrews are fairly explicit regarding the priesthood; functionality in that doesn’t continue.

        1. Richard, I don’t agree that this is what Hebrews meant. There is a debate about whether the book was written before the Temple destruction or after. In either case, zero reason to think the Levitical priesthood experienced a change in the 1st century (theoretically Temple could be rebuilt and priesthood would be the same).

          But there were two ways in which one could speak of a change in the priesthood — one in the days of David and Solomon and one in which Messiah’s priesthood comes into being as a separate representation.

          1. Heb. 1:11 says that the heavens and the earth will wear out like our old clothes. Heb. 8:13 says of the Old Covenant (Torah? right?) something like: And what is becoming worn out like old clothes and what is wearing out like this is ready to disappear. I realize this might be hard to hear, but Hebrews says that too.

        2. @Richard,

          You said: [ “Heb. 1:11 says that the heavens and the earth will wear out like our old clothes. Heb. 8:13 says of the Old Covenant (Torah? right?) something like: And what is becoming worn out like old clothes and what is wearing out like this is ready to disappear. I realize this might be hard to hear, but Hebrews says that too.” ]

          In saying that the heavens and earth will wear out the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 102:25-27. This is true and the heavens and earth are still here. What the author is doing is symbolizing the Old Covenant to this present age. Hebrews 9:9 “This is a symbol for this present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience.” The New Covenant therefore is likened to the World to Come, after the Messianic Era, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21:1). The common mistake which you are making is equating the old covenant with the Torah. Rather, the old covenant is the legal agreement between the people of Israel and Hashem at Mount Sinai. Think of it like a marriage. It was the “I dos”. What was flawed about the sinai covenant was not Hashem’s laws and commandments. Heaven forbid! What was flawed was the human nature of Israel (Hebrews 8:8 “But finding fault with them…”) Therefore the new covenant (made with the house of Israel) will cause them to walk in the ways of Torah, in the ways of the Holy One, blessed be He. Because He will put His Spirit within them (Ezekiel 36:27), and His laws into their minds and written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). So you see, covenant=agreement, old covenant and new covenant = same Torah, same laws. What is different is the human beings. Changed by faith in Yeshua through the Father, led by the Holy Spirit. This present age will surely pass away and we will be perfected in the World to Come.

          This is how the allegory of Hebrews was explained to me. The Temple can be likened to the present covenant and the new covenant. Inside the Temple the first room which is called the Holy Place is like the old covenant and this present age. The second room which is called the Holy of Holies is like the new covenant and the World to Come. The veil itself therefore can be likened to an in-between place, the Messianic Era which we are waiting for in Messiah’s return. Yeshua/Jesus is our mediator and High Priest that has already entered the Heavenly Holy of Holies on our behalf. So as followers of Yeshua, being baptized in His name and being endowed with a portion of the Holy Spirit, let us walk as if we have already entered into the Messianic Era and the World to Come as New Covenant members. May He come speedily and in our day.

  1. Derek,
    This article sets forth the simple relationship(s) among Jew, Gentile and God that for years I’ve sought and longed to see explained! Thank you for the clarity, which also brings peace.
    Bryan

  2. Maybe I am missing something but if we use your logic Derek, concerning the fourth commandment, wouldn’t
    that make murder optional for “non Jews”? There are many verses like Ecc 12:13 that appear to be talking about all mankind
    not just Jews. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.”KJV What are your thoughts?

    1. Jeremiah, I can only give a short answer now (off to Israel today and short on time). None of the Torah is directed to all people (not even the Ten Commandments). But this does not mean people have no idea what the will of God is just because there is no set of commandments and no covenant directly given to them. Another way to say it: zero of the Ten Commandments are given to non-Jews, but most of them are about things non-Jews also are bound to observe. Now, the question is, how do we know what things in Torah apply universally and what things are for Israel only? That is something we have to determine by studying each commandment on its own. What is its purpose? To whom might it apply? Why was it given? Many of the commandments no longer apply to anyone (permission to own slaves, to take war brides, to execute rebellious teenagers, etc.).

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