For years I have been intrigued by “Torah Keeping Christians.” Sadly, until recently I never allowed myself to hear their arguments. The Torah Keepers I ran into had little intellectual integrity and was afraid I’d be to easily swayed, unable to separate the truth from their propaganda. Their attitudes were so clearly legalistic in nature I felt I had no choice but to dismiss them before they spoke a word. Many of them would say ridiculous things like, “if you don’t keep the feast days you are not a true believer”, or “if you use the name of Jesus Christ instead of Yeshua you are worshiping a false idol.” I had hoped that one day I could find a compassionate Torah keeper because frankly, I knew they had some compelling points. Until then however, I just had to wait.
I was quite taken back when my pastor had asked me if I was interested in participating in an intense study group of the Jewish foundations of Christianity. He assured me that this program was not rub by the same kind of people I had met years before. Naturally I was quite excited to begin study. While I have a long way to go through the class, I feel like quite a few doors have opened, my faith is becoming richer and simpler at the same time.
Let me just give you a few teasers of things I have learned. Christ himself said he came not to abolish the law (Torah) but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). He also said that those who love him would keep his commandments (John 14:15). If we look closely at the covenants God made with Noah, Abraham, with the Israelites at Sinai and with David we find they did not nullify previous covenants as they were given, but that each one built on top of the former. We know that Christ himself in order to be considered a spotless lamb, had to himself to keep the Sinai covenant, The feast days, Kosher laws etc. Those laws that Christ “broke” were not Old Testament law, but they were in fact part of the oral law and extra-biblical traditions. Even then Christ did not break all of those, just some of them. We also know that the scriptures proclaim we will all keep the Torah in the future and that at least some of the disciples continued to make sacrifices after Christ died and rose. The sacrifice was never meant to redeem anything, it was merely symbolic, even during the Old Testament.
A lot of what we consider our standard theology is based on assumption of what scripture says without the Jewish context. For example many Christians assume the scriptures tell us it is okay to eat pork based on two references. One, the dream of Peter in Acts 10. Here Peter is given a dream in which he is told to kill and eat unclean animals, and is told not to question if something is clean when God has told him that it was. No where in the chapter does Peter actually eat anything unclean and verse 28 clearly implies that Peter interpreted the dream not to be about food, but about people. The dream was telling him that gentiles are able to be saved as was evidenced in the rest of his meeting with Cornelius. This was an issue many in the early church struggled with because they understood Christ as Salvation only for the Jews.
Here is the other verse that is often used to defend the argument against Kosher laws.
Mark 17:18-19 "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")
The problem with this verse is the translation, the part in parenthesis is not in the original greek. If you read the verses in context Christ is not talking about eating an unclean meats, but about eating while being “ritually unclean” because some of the disciples did not wash their hands which was again oral law and tradition not part of the Sinai covenant. The words for unclean meats and ritually unclean are totally different. The Young’s Literal Translation also has a very different translation of verse 19 from that of the above version and gives it a new meaning.
I suppose that one could still argue that Paul’s argument about circumcision and the Judiazers could circumvent this situation. However there are still ways that you could interpret Paul’s arguments from a completely different perspective. Paul never attacks the Torah he only speaks of circumcision. You could also interpret what the Judiazers were saying was that you cannot be saved UNTIL you are circumcised and a Jew. In that case Paul was arguing that in fact these people certainly had already been called by Christ and were brethren and that they should not be “thrown into” observation of the Jewish law when they were still trying to understand and keep the basics as new converts.
I Still haven’t discovered how I feel about Torah Observance and this New Perspective on Paul, but I have certainly found it fascinating and worthy of further study. While I still understand the theological basis for Covenant Theology reasonable, I cannot say that I find a scriptural basis for it to be as reasonable. While I am leaning toward Torah Observance I am taking my time as it seems many who hop on right away without full understanding are actually hoping on a very dangerous Legalism train. For me I view torah observance sort of like I view baptism. Is it necessary for salvation, no. Does it put me in better standing with God, no. The Hayesod Program emphasizes that gentiles are not required to keep the Torah to be saved, but that we are invited to participate with the Jews.
I have since finished this program, and taken it a second time as I am preparing to help lead classes for our church down the road. There are many more amazing things that have been revealed through this program especially about the writings and person of Paul, and I loved it! I cannot recommend this study enough. It has turned a lot of my biblical perspective upsides down, it’s made my theology simpler and cleaner but deeper at that same time. If this topic interests you please look into First Fruits of Zion at ffoz.org. The study I did was called Hayesod. It isn’t something they allow you to do on your own, because sadly many people have taken their work and used it to suit their own purposes. (like the people I mention in the first paragraph of this blog) You need to get together and have a study group, but I cannot recommend this study series any more highly.