Posts Tagged ‘New Testament grace’

Many Christians today view God’s Laws as a negative thing. They say that “we are not under Law but under grace”. Many have not even bothered to study the Old Testament because they believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus, (Yeshua) did away with the Old Testament commands to observe God’s Kosher Laws and Holy Days and they quote Colossians 2: 16-17 as proof of this: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Messiah.”

But in spite of popular belief in many churches, the New Testament writings were not Gentile in nature, but were primarily written BY Jewish believers TO Jewish believers. Look at the whole chapter of Colossians 2: Paul (Sha’ul) is expressing his concern for the Colossians and he cautions them against false teachers among the Jews who were infecting the Colossian congregations with Gentile philosophies which were taking the focus off of Yeshua. (v8-12)

Sha’ul was reminding the Colossian believers of their life in Yeshua and not to let anyone judge them for their faithfulness towards God’s commands and Holy Days. Sha’ul wisely points out that these convocations were a “shadow” of things to come. In other words, every observance of God’s Holy Days is actually pointing to Yeshua Himself — the one who triumphed on our behalf! So Sha’ul exhorts the Colossians not to let these false teachers judge them–or worse, to persuade them to stop observing these things! They are to stand firm and CONTINUE the observance!

The Holy Days always pointed to Yeshua. And now that Yeshua has come, we should continue to keep God’s appointed times, but with greater understanding of Yeshua to whom they point to! So we are to keep the feasts not refrain from them!

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.“ (Matthew 5:17-19)

Some misinterpret the Bible verse above and teach that Yeshua accomplished everything when he was crucified and thereby fulfilled the Law. But let’s look at this passage and see what Yeshua would be saying if this were true and see if it would make any sense:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but I have come to fulfill them. Now that I have come to fulfill the Law and hence abolished the law, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law that I am ending. And since I have fulfilled the Law, anyone who ignores these commands and teaches others to do the same, will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

No one in their right mind could possibly say that this makes one iota of common sense or logic!

The Two Greatest Commandments
Loving God with all your heart, soul and might and loving your neighbor as yourself was quoted not only by Yeshua in the New Testament in Matthew 22:40, but is also found in the Old Testament. (See Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18) Yeshua was actually quoting the Old Testament scriptures as he quite frequently did because when Yeshua and the apostles walked the earth, THERE WAS NO NEW TESTAMENT!

Does ALL the Law hang on these two Commandments even if they were first quoted in the Old Testament? Deuteronomy 6:5 actually proves this stating that to love God with all your heart, soul and might is to keep every one of the Ten Commandments that had just been read 17 verses earlier!

The first four commandments relates to our relationship with God, while the last six commandments relates to our relationship with our neighbor. Yeshua did not destroy any of these ten magnificent rules of love or any other commandment of God.

If we love God with all our heart, soul and might, will we have other gods before Him, worship idols, take His name in vain, or deny God the quality time of praise and worship He desires from us on His Sabbath? No!

When Israel was given the Law at Mount Sinai, it was not just for the people of God, but it also applied to the mixed nation from Egypt. (See Exodus 12:37-38 and Num. 15:15-16)

So what has changed? Absolutely nothing!

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15)

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.” (James 2: 10-11)
Strong’s defines Law as “teaching” occurring 219 times in 213 verses. So what does the Law teach us? It teaches us that although the Law is good, we are sinful. But God, in His mercy and grace, delivers us through Yeshua our Messiah and Lord! (Rom 7:1-25)

There are many reasons why Christians should study TORAH, the first five books of the Bible, as well as the Talmud, a set of writings by Jewish rabbis collected two hundred years after Yeshua (Jesus) lived. You may ask, “Why would a Bible believing Christian care about the insights and comments from Jewish rabbis, scholars, and sages?” You may be worried that your Christian friends might think it strange if you began studying Jewish writings, or your Jewish friends might be offended if they learned you were studying “their stuff.”

There are four reasons why the study of TORAH and Talmud can be valuable for Bible believing Christians:

1. To Better Understand the Entire Bible

The Old Testament is divided into three groups:

• The Law—the five Books of Moses called TORAH

• The Prophets—the prophetic books, such as the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other prophets

• The Writings—the books of poetry, such as the Psalms and Ecclesiastes

The word TORAH comes from a root the word which is an ancient Hebrew archery term meaning to shoot an arrow straight to the mark. It also means to teach or bring instruction. So in a truly biblical sense, TORAH refers to instructions from a loving God on how to live a life that ‘hits the mark.’ To sin means to ‘miss the mark.’ However, TORAH is most frequently translated ‘The Law’ by Christians. A much better translation for ‘The Law’ is teaching. Perhaps many of the verses that contain the English word ‘law,’ should be thought of differently than the way we have traditionally interpreted its meaning. For example, look at these two verses:  “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD” (Ps. 119:1). “He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 28:9). In each of these passages, as in many others throughout the Bible, the word we read in English as ‘law’ is actually TORAH in Hebrew and refers to the full teaching found in the Books of Moses, rather than a select group of commands or commandments.

So, when Yeshua (Jesus) makes His statement in Matthew that He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, He is using Hebrew shorthand to say that He did not come to destroy or contradict any of the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, our first reason to study TORAH is to better understand the entire Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments.

2. To Better Understand Yeshua (Jesus) and His Disciples

Our second reason to study TORAH is to better understand Yeshua and His disciples. The Scripture which they studied and quoted was from the Old Testament. They referred to it as the Tanakh, an acrostic for TORAH—the Law, Nevaim—the Prophets, and Khetuvim—the Writings.

In both ancient and modern Judaism, the TORAH is seen as the most important and widely studied section of the Tanakh. For example, each of Yeshua’s answers to the devil when He was tempted in the wilderness (Luke 4:4) comes from TORAH in the book of Deuteronomy. (Compare Luke 4:4 to Deut. 8:3)

When the devil tempted Messiah he answered: “It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Luke 4:8). Yeshua was quoting from TORAH.  “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (Deut. 6:13).

At the time of Yeshua, the Sadducees accepted only TORAH as Scripture, a doctrine that set them apart from the Pharisees, who accepted the totality of the Tanakh. Jewish boys at the time of Yeshua were taught to memorize the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Typically, they memorized all, or at least large portions, of each of these books.

Obviously, by studying the Bible Yeshua studied, memorized, and quoted will help us to know Him on a deeper and more meaningful level. However, this same concept of studying the Old Testament is crucial for understanding the life and words of Yeshua, and also the rest of the New Testament as well. God used the Apostle Paul to write more pages of the New Testament writings than any other person. Here’s how Paul described himself and his background: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem], educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today” (Acts 22:3).

To best understand Paul’s writings, we need to understand his training, and the many references to the Old Testament and to Jewish learning that he makes throughout his writings. Paul is often thought of as one who speaks against the law, but look at these quotes from the book of Romans:

“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (3:31).

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, you shall not covet.” (7:7)

“So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (7:12)

“But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.” (7:16)

Can we really understand Paul’s epistles if we do not understand his context and what he means when he refers to the Law? Until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, most Jewish teaching and commentary was passed on orally. One teacher would disciple another, who in turn passed on the teachings through memorized and repeated conversation. However, in the years following the destruction of the Temple, centuries of teaching, debate, and discussion were written down in what today we call the Talmud, a word which comes from the Hebrew root lamad. Interestingly, it means both to teach and to learn. The Talmud then is much like a commentary of the TORAH.

Although the actual recording of the oral tradition happened over a period from roughly AD 100 to AD 500, the Talmud undoubtedly contains many of the teachings and discussions about the meaning of Scripture that were prevalent at the time of Yeshua. For example, two famous rabbis who lived in the century before Yeshua were Hillel and Shammai. The Talmud preserves some of the debates between the followers (or school) of Hillel and the school of Shammai. These debates were well known and the basis of regular discussion at the time of Yeshua. Generally, Hillel was more liberal and Shammai more conservative.

Yeshua held opinions that sometimes agreed with one and sometimes the other. For example, in Matthew chapter 19, when Yeshua is asked about divorce, his listeners were probably eager to see if He sided with the more liberal school of Hillel, who allowed divorce for any reason, or with the more conservative Shammai, who was very restrictive on the subject. Here Yeshua comes closer to the school of Shammai in His answer. Later, in Matthew chapter 22, Yeshua is asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He gives an answer almost identical to that recorded in the Talmud by Rabbi Hillel. Reading these debates and commentaries in the Talmud help us understand Yeshua’s words much closer to how His followers first heard them.

The New Testament is rife with references to this body of rabbinic teaching and debate. For example, “And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). Have you ever wondered what rock Paul was referring to? The Talmud says that from the time that Moses struck the rock at Horeb and brought forth water (Exod. 17:6) until the death of Miriam (Exod. 20:1), that water-giving rock “followed the Children of Israel through the desert and provided water for them each day” (Taanis, 9a and Bava Metizia, 86b). It seems clear that the Apostle Paul is referring to this story recorded in the Talmud. If we remain ignorant of the Talmud, we remain ignorant of many of the references and concepts mentioned in the New Testament.

If you give it a chance, you will be blessed to learn from the insights of these Jewish teachers, who deeply love the Word and seek to understand its most profound meaning. As you begin to study these resources, you’ll find that you will sometimes agree and sometimes disagree, but you will always be challenged to think more deeply about the Word of God, as you study to rightly interpret His instructions for living a life that hits the mark.

3. To Help Know What We Believe

Our third reason is simply to know what we believe in the whole Bible, the Old and the New Testaments. Many Christians proclaim the authority of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The two of the largest Protestant denominations regarding the authority of Scripture write in their Statement of Faith:

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” – Southern Baptist –

“WE BELIEVE…The Scriptures are inspired by God and declare His design and plan for mankind.” – Assembly of God –

Most books written on the Christian faith spend a large amount of time discussing the Genesis account of creation and its logical defense. Yet, for many of us, the first 39 books of our Bibles are seen as of little use. If we say that the Bible is the Word of God then let’s take some time to study the whole Bible. Not only will you be blessed, but you will begin to live the life of scriptural authority in a deeper way. You will enrich your understanding of Yeshua and His first followers, and you will drink deeply of the fountain of God’s revealed truth.

4. To Help Establish an Honest Dialogue with Jews

The fourth and final reason I encourage Christians to study Torah and Talmud is to prepare for a meaningful relationship and dialogue with our Jewish friends and neighbors. The misunderstandings and false assumptions we have about Judaism leaves us open to the lies and bigotry of anti-Semitism. It is hard to have a dialogue, let alone develop a meaningful friendship, with someone you know little about, and if most of what you know is based on misinformation. The Church owes a great debt to Judaism. Many of our practices from hymn-singing to public reading of the Bible, from baptism, to teaching our children about God, come to us from traditions that were first practiced in Judaism. (I’ll post more about this later) In addition, our Bible, our spiritual heritage, our Messiah Yeshua, the disciples and apostles were all Jewish. Nearly every one of the Apostle Paul’s letters were addressed to Jewish followers of Messiah. Isn’t it about time we begin to explore our roots and appreciate those who cultivated them?

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!”