Why Christians Should Study TORAH Part 1

Posted: September 26, 2011 in Christian Living
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Many Christians today have rarely, (if ever) studied the TORAH, the first five books of the Old Testament. They are what I call, “New Testament Only Christians.” Many New Testament Only Christians have been led to believe that the Old Testament is merely a lot of boring stories about rules and regulations that no longer apply to us as Christians since we are now under grace and that observing TORAH is meant for Jews only. But the Old Testament contains a variety of information including history, the Ten Commandments, and instructions pertaining to finance, government, family, health, farming, dress, feasts, and worship.

It is important to note that the Messiah’s death as the Lamb of God had coincided exactly with the Feast of Passover. The significance of God’s Feasts in the Old Testament did not end there.  God also chose to commemorate the Feast of Pentecost by pouring out the Holy Spirit on that day. So this Feast that marked the beginning of the wheat harvest also coincided with the beginning of the harvest of souls under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Some of the other Feasts incorporate themes and imagery of events that are not yet completed; such as judgment and redemption.

We read in Acts 2:5-41 that Peter was speaking to the Jews from all over the region that had come to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Pentecost.  Now if Jesus had already done away with these feasts, this would have been a great time for Peter to explain to all these people that they no longer needed to waste their time and resources coming to Jerusalem for the feasts. But in his sermon Peter did not even allude to any such changes to the law. And when these people were convicted by the Holy Spirit and were baptized, there was no need for them to abandon TORAH. They simply accepted Jesus as the Messiah that had been foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. (Acts 2:41)

Many New Testament Only Christians need to remember that all of the apostles’ letters and writings that mention scripture are referring to TORAH and the prophetic writings in the Old Testament. Because when they were written there was no New Testament! All they had was the scrolls of the Old Testament writings: TORAH, the prophets, and the poetic writings. The Torah should not be confused with the Talmud which was written later.  The Talmud contains traditions, laws, and interpretations that were added by the Jewish rabbis. So, the Talmud is more like a commentary on TORAH.  Jesus spoke against some of those interpretations and called them the “traditions of men”. (Mark 7:8)

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46, 47)

These first Christians didn’t go off by themselves to worship away from the noise and bustle of the Jewish temple. But instead they continued to meet at the temple where the regular Jewish worship rituals and animal sacrifices were going on.

If the Christians were not living according to TORAH, why did they choose to meet in the very place where TORAH was still being taught and practiced? Actually, if the Christians had been breaking the Jewish religious laws they would not have been welcome in the temple courts, and they would not have enjoyed the favor of the other Jews who had come to the temple to worship. Even Peter and John went to the temple at the time of prayer–at three in the afternoon. (Acts 3:1)

Ananias, the man whom God used to restore Paul’s sight, is described as, “a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.” (Acts 22:12) The law that Paul mentions here was undoubtedly the Law of Moses because in Acts 22 Paul was defending himself before a crowd of Jews who would not have accepted any other law as valid. At that time all the Christians were Jews, and in Damascus the Christians met in the synagogues with the Jews. Ananias had the respect of both the Christian Jews and the non-Christian Jews. The description of Ananias as a “devout observer of the law” clearly confirms that the followers of Jesus had not yet abandoned the observance of Old Testament laws.

He (Peter) became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.  He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.  Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”  “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (Acts 10:10-16)

Even though the voice repeatedly tells him to kill and eat, Peter refuses and replies, “Surely not, Lord!  I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  This clearly shows that Peter had been faithfully obeying the Old Testament guidelines regarding unclean and clean (or kosher) foods. Peter’s vision is sometimes interpreted to mean that God was at this time doing away with the regulations in the Torah regarding clean and unclean foods.  But such an interpretation does not agree with Peter’s interpretation of the vision in verses 28 and 34. Peter’s interpretation of the vision did not relate to food at all.  It was about people. When Peter returns to Jerusalem later, it is evident that he had not started eating ‘unclean’ animals. I say unclean animals because those who follow Kosher do not consider unclean animals as food; any more than most of us would consider rats or skunks food.

Ever since the 4th century, western Christians have generally ignored the Jewish feasts.  However, considering the high regard that the apostles had for TORAH, it is more likely that the early Christians were observing the feasts mentioned throughout the New Testament writings.

The “Gentiles who bear my name” are different from the Gentiles who were pagan.  When Moses was reviewing God’s law with the Israelites, he explained what Gentiles themselves would recognize as evidence of bearing God’s name. “The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you.” (Deut. 28:9-10)  If Gentiles can recognize that keeping the commands of the Lord (as recorded by Moses) is evidence of bearing God’s name, then wouldn’t the “Gentiles who bear my name” also be keeping those same commands? That very thing was debated at The Council in Jerusalem. (Acts 15:4-20) James called on the authority of the Old Testament prophets to support what Peter had said and what James himself was about to recommend.

Although the elders in Jerusalem had the authority to interpret the laws, they didn’t presume to have the authority to change the Old Testament laws. Of the four requirements listed by James, two were directly from the Law of Moses and two were logical interpretations added by the Jewish rabbis to guard the TORAH. They all pertained specifically to Gentiles living in Israel: Leviticus 17:8-9, Leviticus 18:6-26, Leviticus 17:13, 15, and Leviticus 17:10. James knew that the Gentile converts were already being instructed to follow TORAH as they met with the Christian believers each Sabbath.

In Acts 21:21 we read that some had started rumors that the Apostle Paul was teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses and not to circumcise their children or live according to TORAH. I can relate so well to that. When I decided to observe TORAH there were many well-meaning Christians who mistakenly believed that I had denied the Messiah and was relying on the Law for my salvation. A few even made it their mission to re-convert me.

Judaism is not just a set of beliefs about God, man and the universe. Judaism is a way of life, filled with rules and practices that affect every aspect of life: What you do when you wake up in the morning, what you can and cannot eat, what you can and cannot wear, how to groom yourself, how to conduct business, who you can marry, how to observe the Feasts and Shabbat, and perhaps most important, how to treat God, other people, and animals. This set of rules and practices is known as halakhah. The word “halakhah” is usually translated as “Jewish Law,” although a more literal (and more appropriate) translation might be “the path that one walks.” The word is derived from the Hebrew root Hei-Lamed-Kaf, meaning to go, to walk or to travel.

Some criticize this as a legalistic aspect of traditional Judaism, saying that it reduces the religion to a set of rituals devoid of spirituality and point to Galatians 3:1-5 as proof that observing TORAH takes away from the grace provided to us by Jesus. The book of Acts contains no evidence that the apostles ever stopped observing TORAH. Instead it depicts Spirit-filled and grace-based Christians who continued to observe the Law of Moses, not legalistically in order earn salvation, but in order to honor God as they walked out the Christian life in the footsteps of their Lord Jesus.  It was sometime after the book of Acts was completed that Christians began to turn away from following the TORAH commands. But if we study deeper what the Apostle Paul was saying to the Galatians the passage would read like this:

You stupid Galatians! Who has put you under a spell? Before your very eyes Yeshua the Messiah was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the legalistic observance of TORAH commands, or by trusting what you heard and being faithful to it? Are you really that stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing–if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because of your legalistic observance of TORAH commands, or because you trust in what you heard and are faithful to it?

While there are certainly some who observe halakhah in this way; that is not the intention of halakhah. And it is not even the correct way to observe TORAH.  On the contrary, when properly observed, halakhah increases the spirituality in a person’s life, because it turns the most trivial, mundane acts, such as eating and getting dressed, into acts of religious significance. If you want to know how to increase your spirituality in your life keep kosher, observe God’s Sabbath and the Biblical Feasts, bless God after meals, and pray at least once or twice a day. These are all part of observing TORAH. When you do these things, you are constantly reminded of your relationship with God, and it becomes an integral part of your entire existence.

Are these laws sometimes inconvenient? Yes, of course. But if someone you care about — your parent, your child, your spouse — asked you to do something inconvenient or unpleasant, something you didn’t feel like doing, you would do it, wouldn’t you? It is a very shallow and meaningless kind of love if you aren’t willing to do something inconvenient for the one you love. How much more should we be willing to perform some occasionally inconvenient tasks that were set up by our Creator, who assigned those tasks to us for our own good?

In 712 BCE the 10 Northern Tribes were driven into exile and it changed the destiny of the Jewish people, (II Kings 17:6) and then in 586 BCE the temple was destroyed. (II Kings 25:8-11) The split of the kingdom of Israel occurred because people rejected God’s TORAH and halakhah. (1 Kings 11:31-35) The exiles in Babylon attempted to avoid the loss of all of Israel by restoring TORAH study. (Nehemiah Chapter 8 )

Today the reading of TORAH is the central act in Sabbath worship. The tradition of reading TORAH out loud dates back to the time of Moses, who would read TORAH publicly on Shabbat, festivals, and Rosh Chodesh. According to the Talmud, it was Ezra the Scribe who established the practice, which continues today.

God promises blessings if we obey TORAH. “If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:” (Deut. 28:1-2)

But also warns of curses associated with disobeying his commands. “However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:” (Deut. 28:15)

God further states in Deut. 30:11, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.” And in verse 14 he says, “No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” In verse 19 God says, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

God does not demand that we choose life; he pleads with us just as a loving father does with a rebellious child who is living a dangerous lifestyle, “Please – Choose life! Please – Choose to live!”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s