Relevance of Torah Today
Based on Torah Rediscovered by Ariel and D'vorah Berkowitz
First and foremost, the Torah is "God's teaching." This is the primary meaning of the Hebrew word Torah. The word does not mean "law". Torah refers to the first 5 books of scripture, commonly called the Pentateuch.
Torah is a document in which God has revealed Himself to mankind. In the Torah, one can learn much about sin, sacrifice, sanctification, salvation, and even about the Savior Himself-Yeshua!
To determine who, if any believer, should follow the Torah is a major undertaking. It is controversial and there are many viewpoints. Our goal is to understand the differing views on following Torah. It is up to the individual believer to decide which view to follow.
Imperative - We must understand that the purpose of Torah is not (nor ever was) gain justification before God.
Most Believers agree with the 10 commandments, but even if you do not, Scripture (ACTS 15) clearly lists 4 commands to be followed by gentiles:
ACTs 15:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
View 1: Torah Should Not Be Followed
There are well-meaning believers who suggest that the Torah is an antiquated document, that its precepts were for a particular people-the Israelites-and for a particular time frame, the age or dispensation of law. Therefore, they say, the Torah should no longer be followed.
Not for Salvation
This is based on assumptions about the nature and purposes of Torah. Obedience to the Torah of Moshe was never intended to provide or maintain salvation. It simply is not a salvation document. One can, through a proper understanding of the Torah, learn about entering a relationship with the Lord by His grace through faith. But God never gave the document to be obeyed for the purpose of granting salvation through its obedience.
Verses like Hebrews 8:7 ("For if the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.") Verse 13 continues this argument: "When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first one obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear."
At face value, the teaching of these verses would appear to be devastating to any who hold that the Torah should be followed in this day and age. However, closer examination may reveal a different conclusion.
First note the context: This passage is couched right in the middle of a section of Hebrews discussing the sacrificial/priestly system. Central to the covenant with Moshe was the system of atonement, which involved the use of sacrificial animals and a special class of workers called priests. The Book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers to show them that this one aspect of that covenant was in the process of changing. Its glaring message is that Yeshua of Nazareth, the Messiah, is the end or culmination of that particular system. His death was the final, once-for-all atonement for sin, through His blood, which He offered on the altar in the heavenly mishkan (the tabernacle).
A second observation concerns itself with the words, "But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." When the Book of Hebrews was written, there were Jewish priestly systems in operation. The best known of these was in Jerusalem, centered around the Second Temple, and maintained by the Sadducees. This sacrificial system was alive and well in the early first century CE and during the time when Hebrews was written.
Things changed drastically when Yeshua died. The gospels attest that upon His death, the veil separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies in the Second Temple was ripped in half (Matthew 27:51). This was an obvious indication from G-d that no matter what sacrifices were offered in the temple, they would be rendered redundant because the real sacrifice took place in the death of Yeshua.
However God did not destroy the temple. Its sacrifices continued for about another 40 years after Yeshua returned to heaven. It continued until the First Jewish Revolt (68-73 AD/CE), which indicates that this system was still in operation at the time the Jewish believers were reading the Book of Hebrews. It can be said, therefore, that because the vestiges of the older covenant were still functioning they were not finished. Instead, they were "becoming obsolete and growing old." But only the sacrificial system! In other words, this verse says very little about the whole of Torah, but much about the specific instructions in Torah concerning the sacrifices.
View 2 - Only Certain Parts of Torah Should Be Followed
Some would speak of Torah in terms of a threefold division: civil, ceremonial and ethical. The civil sections of the Torah are those dealing with governmental functions, such as the teachings concerning capital punishment and other jurisprudence functions. The ceremonial sections concern the sacrifices, the priesthood. The ethical laws are those which govern how a person lives his everyday life in relationship to his fellowman.
There is merit to this point of view. No matter how we understand certain passages in the Book of Hebrews, it is clear that the book singles out at least one separate category of Torah, the "ceremonial." In addition, there are also specific parts of the Torah which are applicable only to those who live in the land of Israel.
View 3 - All of Torah Is To Be Followed-But Not Necessarily by Physical Israel
Some theologians say that all of the Torah should be obeyed. But the ones who are to do it are the Church, which has theologically replaced Israel. Of course, in regard to the teachings concerning the sacrifices, they recognize that in Messiah these came to completion. However, they say, it is incumbent upon believers to follow the rest of Torah.
By suggesting that the Church has replaced Israel, adherents to this viewpoint have revealed their basic method of hermeneutics: spiritualization. They have given up the fundamental, literal interpretation of the Bible in lieu of a symbolic, spiritual or allegorical one. This viewpoint has characterized most of the Church since the middle of the second century, and continues to plague a good portion of it-even some of the believing, evangelical Church-to this very day.
Those who subscribe to this viewpoint are consistent: just as they transform literal physical Israel into the Church, so also do they spiritualize many of the specific teachings of the Torah. For example, we have yet to meet one who wears fringes according to Numbers 15. Moreover, we have not met one who faithfully keeps the Holy Day cycle of Leviticus 23. Somehow, these parts of Torah are spiritualized to mean something else and, therefore, not followed.
This method of interpretation is not consistent with the proper exegesis of the Scriptures. Specifically, Romans 11 makes a clear distinction between non-Jewish believers in Yeshua and physical Israel. It clearly asserts that there is still a future plan for physical Israel. Yes, there are allegories and spiritualization within the Bible, but the use of such figurative language must be governed by recognizing its proper place within the literal, grammatical, historical method of interpretation. Hence, through consistent use of a literal method of Scripture interpretation, we can easily lay to rest such theories as the replacement of Israel by the Church.
View 4 - Torah Is Applicable Today to Israel and All Who Are So Inclined
Torah is to be followed by believers-especially Jewish believers in Yeshua-in this day and age.
First and Foremost, the Remnant
Torah has a unique relationship to the physical nation of Israel. The Torah is Israel's national constitution, sacred marriage ketubah, and its solemn covenant with God. There is no indication in the Scriptures that this special relationship has ended. The establishment of the Brit Hadasha, like the addition of the other covenants, did not abrogate its predecessors; it only affirmed, strengthened, and complemented them. This is the thrust of Sha'ul's (Pauls) argument in Galatians 3, especially when he asks, "Is the Torah then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be!" (Galatians 3:21)
In Acts 21 when Sha'ul was confronted by the Jerusalem leadership over rumors he was “teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moshe, telling them not to circumcise their children, nor to walk according to the customs." (Acts 21:21). The elders asked Sha’ul to disprove the allegations by paying for four of their number who had taken the Nazirite vow as described in Numbers 6. Not only was he to pay their expenses, but also to go through a purification immersion along with them. Much to the shame of many a modern-day evangelical theologian, he did just as he was asked (verse 26).
What Sha'ul had done was to make a statement which should have been echoed throughout the centuries: "Torah is for today! Jewish believers should be taught and encouraged to follow the Torah of Moshe!" Many may not appreciate this conclusion, but the Greek in verse 20 tells us that there were tens of thousands of Messianic Jewish people in Jerusalem "who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Torah."
Four Centuries Later
Because of their trust in Yeshua, they suffered persecution at the hands of traditional Jews. But because of their adherence to the covenant of Sinai, they would also eventually suffer persecution from other believers in Yeshua. After what is generally referred to as the Second Jewish Revolt (the actual second revolt took place in Alexandria, Cyremaica and Cyprus) against Rome failed miserably in 135 CE, many Church leaders and preachers made a concentrated effort to rid the Church of any Jewish trappings. Needless to say, it was the Messianic Jewish observance of Torah that brought the persecution from fellow believers.
Non-Jewish person's relationship to the Torah - Divine Permission
Two qualifying statements:
1. The motivations of the individual in following the Torah. Plainly stated, no one, Jewish or non-Jewish, may earn, merit, or keep his eternal salvation by following the Torah.
2. In discussions of Non-Jewish person's relationship to the Torah, we have purposely avoided the words "must" and "should," as the use of these words tends to cloud the issues at hand no matter to whom we are referring.
The relationship of the non-Jewish person to the Torah is one of permission and encouragement.
Abraham was not a Jewish person. He lived several hundred years before one of his descendants, Moshe, would receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. Yet the Lord said of him, "Abraham heard My voice and guarded My commandments, My statutes, and My Torah." (Genesis 26:5) Actually, the Hebrew is even more emphatic: "Abraham heard My voice and guarded My protective guards, My commandments, My statutes, and My Torah."
How did Abraham do this before the Torah, the mitzvot, and the chukim were revealed to Moshe? How did he come to call upon the name of the Lord? How did he know, as his ancestor Noach knew, that to relate properly to the Lord required a blood sacrifice? Could it be that the Lord Himself somehow revealed to these non-Jewish men of God portions of His holy Torah, in the expectation that they would receive this teaching as His Word to them?
Furthermore, the Holy One provided Israel with the Torah. This body of writing contained provisions and instructions for relating properly to God, living peacefully with others, and finding prosperity in the Land. If Israel had made the Torah their national lifestyle in the way God intended, all nations of the earth would have discovered this life and flocked to Israel's God-the one true God.
Suppose, for a moment, that it had worked! Suppose some Gentile people groups had observed the wisdom of Israel's God as expressed through their living out of the Torah. And that, provoked to jealousy, they chose to embrace the God of Israel. What then? Would Israel have said to these non-Jews, "You may have our God, but not our Torah?" That would be ludicrous! The text in Genesis clearly implies that to accept Israel's God also meant to live by the revealed wisdom of His Torah.
The Prophets Made Provision for Gentiles
In the late 600s or early 700s BC/CE. When Isaiah, one of Israel's greatest prophets, wrote his book, he did so with the intention of admonishing Israel and Judah to forsake their sins and to live by the Covenant of the Torah.
Chapter 56 of Isaiah opens up with an encouragement to the remnant of Israel to continue following the Covenant of Torah. The prophet calls upon them to "maintain justice and do what is right" as well as to "keep the Shabbat." These are words which we might expect a prophet of Israel or Judah to speak to the Jewish people.
Notice, however, who Isaiah is addressing in verses 3 and 6. He speaks about "the foreigner"-but not just any foreigner. These are foreigners who have bound themselves to the Lord. In other words, the prophet has some important things to say to non-Jewish believers.
First, Isaiah tells these non-Israelites (non-Jewish believers) that the Lord Himself will make certain to include them with the remnant of His people among Israel. This is the thrust of 56:3.
Second, presumably because these Gentile believers share a portion with Israel, Isaiah reminds them that the Lord will grant them access to "My holy mountain" and that He will accept their offerings at the Temple, because "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." (In the Hebrew, the word translated "nations" is amim-literally, "peoples.") In other words, God was doing all He could to assure these non-Israelite believers that they were on equal footing with Israel, the people of the covenant. Yet He refers to them not as Israel, but as "foreigners!"
Third, notice how Isaiah describes the lifestyle of these Gentile believers. He characterizes them in verse 6 as people "who keep the Shabbat without desecrating it and who hold fast to My covenant." This is an utterly remarkable statement to make about believers not born physically into the nation of Israel. It implies that although they cannot be called "Jews" because of their birth, yet because of their relationship with the Lord they are entitled to follow Torah-and even encouraged in their observance! In addition, they are described as participants in "the covenant."
Finally, in verse 8, Isaiah prophesies about the generations to come. He looks beyond his present situation and says, "The Sovereign Lord declares-He who gathers the exiles of Israel: I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered." At the very least, the Lord was promising that many from among the nations would believe in Him, thereby becoming a part of "them"-Israel-which would include living by the Torah! When would this happen? The natural answer to this would be at the ingathering of the Gentiles described in the book of Acts.
Yeshua Propagates the Torah to the Nations
Just before He went back to His Father's throne, the Messiah gave careful instructions for his talmidim (disciples) to follow. He told them in Matthew 28:19-20: "As you are going, make disciples from all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Spirit of God."
This passage, often referred to as the "great commission" by many believers, contains several points frequently overlooked by sincere Bible teachers in the churches. The first is the nature of the material Yeshua's followers were to teach to the potential believers from the Gentiles. Yeshua refers to this material as "My commandments." The vast bulk of His teaching consisted of explicit Torah passages and Torah-based instruction. Moreover, since He was most likely speaking Hebrew to His Hebrew-speaking followers, He would have used the word "mitzvot," which we have translated "commandments." Mitzvot were part of the instructions of the Torah. In other words, it is not difficult to see that Yeshua would have been instructing His followers to teach the Torah (the teaching on God's righteousness) to those from among the Gentiles who would believe. This would have been perfectly consistent with the prophecy of Isaiah 56 which we have examined above.
Introducing the Gentile to the Torah
Acts 15 contains a record of how the Gentile believers were received by the early Jewish followers of Yeshua. There are several things we can learn from this passage about how Gentile believers may relate to the Torah.
The first point Acts 15 makes is to underscore the fact that no one may follow Torah in order to achieve justification. Concerning this salvation, the leaders confirmed that "God made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith" (verse 9). Having stated this truth, however, the chapter tells us that the Jewish leadership definitely had the Torah in the forefront of their minds. In verses 19-21, we see the leaders concluding that the new Gentile believers had a very definite relationship to the Torah.
It is at this point that many otherwise careful commentators fall into a trap. They assume that the Jewish leadership was requiring the Gentiles to follow something similar to the famous "Noachide Laws"-a set of rules developed by the rabbis for Gentiles to follow in order to be considered righteous. It is true that the four requirements recorded in Acts 15 are very similar to these Noahide Laws.
Many teachers feel that since the rabbis required Gentiles to adhere to the Noahide Laws, the Jewish leadership here is simply following suit, albeit on a somewhat limited basis. That may be true. However, there is a second, more probable explanation: the Jewish elders in Jerusalem were doing all they could to demonstrate grace, patience, and kindness to the Torah-illiterate Gentile believers. The Jewish believers had grown up with the Torah. But to the Gentiles the Torah was a strange book. Many had never even been exposed to it before Sha'ul and other faithful followers of Yeshua brought them the message of Messiah. The Jerusalem elders knew this. They also knew that the only existing body of teaching for believers, Jewish or Gentile, was the Torah. However, the elders could not demand that the Gentile believers follow the Torah with the same intensity that they did. Therefore, by delineating the four Torah-based instructions for table fellowship in Acts 15:19-20, the wise and loving elders were communicating to the Gentiles this message: "You are equal to us in the Body of Messiah. Our teachings are your teachings. But it will take you a while before you can understand the Holy Book, the Torah. Thus, for now, only learn what will best facilitate fellowship between you and your Jewish brothers and sisters. You will gradually learn more of what it means to walk with God as time goes by.
We find a confirmation of this interpretation in verse 21. After the elders wrote the teachings in verses 19-20, they made this rather cryptic statement to the Gentiles: "For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Shabbat." What is the meaning of this comment? It seems to make very little sense-unless we understand it as the elders' encouragement of the Gentile believers to continue in their study of the Torah. And since Torah instruction was available in the local synagogue of almost every city in the diaspora, this would not have presented a problem! In other words, the Jewish elders were telling the Gentile believers that if they wanted to grow in their understanding of the Torah, they could learn how to do so-in the synagogue.
Moreover, because most Gentile believers would have been worshipping in the synagogues, the Jerusalem leadership knew that these new believers would be hearing the Torah each week. In their wisdom, they knew the reality of Yeshua's teaching that "the sheep know My voice and follow Me." The Torah is the voice of Yeshua, and these young lambs would hear and follow.
Gentiles Grafted In
The relationship between Gentile and Jewish believers in Yeshua. We are referring to Romans 11:11-21. To be sure, this passage does not speak about the Torah. However, it does teach that Gentile believers have a significant relationship with Israel. It is only a matter of reasoning that, since Gentile believers are closely connected to Israel, then they must also have a close connection to the Torah-just as Deuteronomy 4 implies.
In Romans 11:11-21, Shaul provides one of the most exciting truths in the Brit Hadasha for Gentile believers. Elsewhere he had described unbelieving Gentiles as those who were "uncircumcised, foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope, far away" (Ephesians 2:11-13), and pagan idol-worshipers (I Corinthians 12:2). In contrast, because of what Messiah Yeshua did for these countless numbers of non-Jewish people, they have now been brought near and "grafted in" to Israel.
What then does it mean, in practical terms, for Gentiles to be "grafted in" to the olive tree of Israel? It does not mean that Gentile believers are now Jews. That is a matter of physical descent. Rather, it is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy: Gentiles can now benefit from the covenants, resulting in a living and active relationship with the Torah.
Remember what Ephesians 2:11-13 says:
Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth...you were separate from Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners and strangers to the covenants of the promise.... But now you have been brought near through the blood of Messiah.
An Inheritance with Israel
Ezekiel 47: Here the prophet looks far ahead of his own time, and even of our present age. He prophesies concerning the coming Messianic Age, when Yeshua will be seated on the throne of David in Jerusalem. This will also be the time, according to Ezekiel, when the final land inheritance is divided among the people of Israel.
However in verses 21-23 that there will be others desiring to live among the people of Israel. These are Gentile believers. The Lord at that time will instruct Israel with the following word regarding the distribution of the inheritance:
“You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes in Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance," declares the Sovereign Lord.”
What God is teaching here? He is instructing the Israelites regarding their relationship with those who have come to live among them. They are so grafted in that they are to be considered native-born Israelites, with full rights of inheritance. One thing this implies for our study is that if non-Jewish believers may be entitled a parcel of land among the people of Israel in the Messianic kingdom, surely they can be permitted to enjoy the blessings of the Torah among the people of Israel right now!
Evidence supports this thesis: that non-Jewish believers in Yeshua have a meaningful and significant relationship to the Torah of Moshe. Through this relationship, God Himself instructs His children to embrace the full revelation of His grace in their lives. That full revelation consists of the whole of Scripture, including the Torah.
No one has to follow Torah (it does not save you), but you may choose to follow Torah, out of Love & Adoration for Adonai.
Believing Israel in the first century was a mighty light to the nations. As a result, many from those nations came to faith and were "grafted in" to the holy community. May the holy community (all believers Jew & Gentile) of this present generation also become a light to the nations, bringing many into "the Way, the Truth and the Life"-Yeshua Himself!
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