“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.