Torah Observant Gentiles

So, there I was.  Minding my own business.  Not doing any harm.  Just checking my email.  And this note appeared —

Dear Sir, 
 
I have just read your article in response to an e-mail you received from someone who, like me, is Torah observant. Having read your responses it seems to me that you don't truly understand what Torah observance is. For example you cite keeping all 613 laws, picking up sticks on Shabbat and driving a car, etc. 
 
As a Torah observant person I can say that I don't keep all 613 commandments any more than any other human being ever has or was expected to. Most were for the priests, some were just for men and some just for women. Some were only in effect as long as the Temple stood and, indeed, it would be a violation to keep those now that there is no Temple. 
 
With regards to Shabbat and your implying that to keep it "properly" would entail not driving a car, picking up sticks, and so on. Might I remind you of HaShem's guidelines to keeping Shabbat? What you're implying are man-made or Rabbinical laws, which is what Paul disputed.

A Torah observant person who we would later find out is a Gentile.    A person who was willing to bend the Sabbath rules to make them more do-able.  Someone who claimed that Paul was only disputing man-made or Rabbinical laws. My curiosity was piqued.

So, being the inquisitive sort of person I am, I wrote back.

Thanks for writing.  Since you stated that I don't "truly understand what Torah observance is," would you mind enlightening me?  Don't just tell me where you think I am wrong, tell me what about Torah observance is right. 
 
I'd appreciate it. 
 
In Him, 
 
Jim Mc.

It took about a day for the response to hit.

Dear Sir,
 
 Thank you for making time to respond to my email and your subsequent attempt to engage me. 
 
 You asked me to explain what Torah observant means, but I think we both know that this is a "trick" question. To be honest, I got the distinct impression that this question often precedes the majority of your interactions with those who are, or claim to be, Torah observant. Much like anti-missionaries or Christians that go out "witnessing" to people on the street. I get the feeling that you are "setting me up" by asking this. You probably have further pre-thought of questions to ask that are "activated" by certain phrases or statements made by those with whom you engage, all in a bid to bring them to a point where they either find themselves out of their depth or inclined to acquiesce to your beliefs. If I am at fault then I sincerely apologize.
 
 With that said, perhaps because I am a curious soul and somewhat given to healthy debate, I will attempt to answer your question in my own way. (We'll see of what I say triggers any of those scripted responses I sort of expect...she says with a wink.)
 
 Torah Observance means different things to different people, or so I have discovered, hence there doesn't seem to be a right or wrong answer from what I can tell. This is why I said at the outset that it is a bit of a "trick" question. After-all, what Torah observance means to many non-Jewish believers in Yeshua is not what it means to Jewish people who do not believe Yeshua is the Messiah. Therefore, with that in mind, I shall answer your question by telling you what it means to me, or rather, how I interpret it.
 
 I know that there are 613 commandments. The majority were for the priests. Some were only for men and others were only for women. Some are only applicable if the Temple is in existence and operational. Therefore, those 613 commandments are drastically reduced. Those that could be called the "forever" commands are the ones I take into account. Examples would be the seventh day Sabbath and the Feasts.
 
 Naturally, as a believer in Yeshua, I know that my salvation does not rest in Torah or Torah observance. Instead, I view Torah as God's blueprint that shows me how to live a moral, set apart (holy) life. It makes me more aware of my sins, of what Yeshua did for me, and of God's love. As one website puts it: Torah is God's Divine Instructions in Righteousness. He said it would never be abolished until everything that must happen has happened and that hasn't happened yet! Yeshua said He didn't come to abolish it. We are told that those who love God keep His commandments. There are hundreds of examples from both the Tanach and the NT that prove that His commandments still stand. 
 
 Rabbinical law is another matter altogether and clearly you employed it when responding to another person by mentioning certain activities allegedly taboo for Sabbath. This is a common mistake or tactic that is employed. Sabbath was created for man, not man for Sabbath, as Yeshua said. I am not bound by rabbinical law.
 
 As a Gentile, I am grafted onto the original olive tree. I do not stand alone. As part of the olive tree I should do as they do. Those who join with Israel are to do as Israel does as we are told in Numbers. There is to be no difference. Yeshua did not abolish His Father's Divine Instructions in Righteousness. As Yeshua said in Lk. 16:17 "...and it is EASIER for heaven and earth to pass away than for Torah to pass away." To me, that really sums it up, but as I already said, there are countless verses telling us that Torah observance is still expected from any who claim to love God. And therein lies the explanation for why I choose to honor the seventh day Sabbath, keep the Feasts, and so on, or rather, why I choose to be Torah observant. I can find no Scriptural grounds for not being so.
 
 Of course, you're in the business of teaching people whereas I am not. I daresay I could answer your question better than I have here. Nevertheless, you asked and I have answered. 
 
 In Him...

Okay.  A tad defensive at first for someone who started this conversation, but fair enough.  I did reply.  And that’s the balance of this post.

There are so many things I hoped to unravel in this exchange that I decided to share it with all of you, in the hope that it will increase our understanding of why the New Covenant church is not under the Law of Moses.

(I won’t format it like the above emails.  I’ll just post my response.)

Hello St—-,

Nope.  Not a trick question. As you stated, “Torah Observance means different things to different people.”  I just wondered what it meant to you since you were so convinced that I did not understand it.

I think I do understand.  We just disagree.  Let me explain.

I don’t expect to convince you, but at least you cannot say no one ever told you.  🙂

First off, what is Torah?  The law of Moses constitutes a covenant between God and national Israel.  Pay attention to these passages:

Deut. 29:1 – “These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb.”

And what were those words of the covenant?

Deut. 29:29 – “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”

Here’s the first really important thing to understand. “All the words of this law” constitute the covenant between God and Israel.  It cannot be divided up or partitioned in order to make it more do-able.  It stands as a single unit, as a covenant, with national Israel.

Jeremiah agrees, calling the law “the words of the covenant” (Jeremiah 11:6-8)  And the LORD said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I solemnly warned your fathers in the day that I brought them up from the land of Egypt, even to this day, warning persistently, saying, ‘Listen to My voice.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart; therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.’”

According to Jeremiah, the reason that God punished Israel was because they did not keep “all the words of this covenant.”  The law includes a curse for not performing it perfectly and perpetually.

Meanwhile, what about the Ten Commandments?

Exodus 34:28 — “So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” 

Deuteronomy 9:9 — “When I went up to the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD had made with you, then I remained on the mountain forty days and nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water.”

Hebrews 9:3-4 — “Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant;

So, what am I attempting to establish?  That God formed the law (the whole law) and the Ten Commandments as the basis for a covenant between Himself and Israel.  No Gentile nations were included.  It was distinctly and uniquely Israel’s covenant.  Which, by the way, they did not keep and underwent the curses that are included in the covenant.

So, how do I know that the law cannot be divided? Because James tells us that even if someone keeps the whole law, but misses it in one point, he’s guilty of the whole thing.  “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

And I will be quick to point out that nowhere in the Bible are certain commands referred to as “forever commands.”  It’s the Law, in sum total, or it’s nothing.

That’s the Torah.  A covenant with Israel, with an attendant curse, which was never given to Gentiles.  It stands as a complete unit.  It cannot be divided up. And to miss it in any one place is be guilty of everything contained in it.

So, what about the Church?  What about Christians, both Jew and Gentile?  Are they under the covenant of Moses?  Are they called to be observant of the rules and laws in Israel’s Covenant?

No. In fact, Paul argues that, since the law failed to justify anyone (Gal. 2:6, 3:11, 5:4) and ended in a curse, Gentiles should not be bound by that law.  After all, it didn’t help the people with whom it was originally made, so why would people who were never part of that covenant observe it as if their partial observance will somehow help them?

Galatians 4:21 – “Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?”  The KJV says, “do you not hear the law?

Do you not understand what it’s really saying?

Galatians 2:19 – “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.”

Dying to the law is how you live to God.  Not by keeping it.

Romans 4:14-15 — “For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.” 

Salvation is by faith, not by Torah.  The Law brings God’s wrath.

Colossians 2:13-14 – “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

The “decrees that were against us, which was hostile to us” was Torah.  The law.  Christ became a curse for us (paying off the debt owed to us – the curse of the law) and then He removed the law as a means of approaching God, nailing it to His tree.

And then He resurrected, establishing a “New Covenant.”  It replaced the Old Covenant.  It did not ratify it.  It did not rubber-stamp it.  It superseded and did away with the Old.

Jeremiah 31:31-32 (Hebrews 8:8-9) – “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.

In order for a covenant to be qualitatively new, it had to be replacing what was old. And it was not like what went before it.  No mingling the two.

Hebrews 8:13 – When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

If God intended for something to “disappear,” I wonder what would drive a person to try and sustain it.  Isn’t that human reason that stands against the clear will and intention of God?

When was this New Covenant established?

Luke 22:20 – And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”

1Corinthians 11:25 – In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

The New Covenant in Christ’s blood (in contradistinction to the Old Covenant in the blood of bulls and goats) was established when His blood was spilled on Calvary.  And, in establishing the New Covenant, He did away with the Old.

In fact, Paul was so sure of this fact that he said that if someone reverted to the Old, he was fallen from grace and Christ would be of no help to him.

Galatians 5:4 – You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

The Old and New stood in opposition to each other.  The New Covenant utterly saved and justified everyone who was a part of it.  The Old Covenant cursed and did not justify anyone.  The difference is startling.  And the notion that you can mix the two is utterly untenable, according to the New Testament authors.

I could go on.  I could go on and on and on.  I’m a preacher, it’s my job. 🙂

But, these warnings are enough to convince me that, since I was never part of the Old Covenant to begin with, once I’ve been covered by the blood of the New Covenant, there is no reason to go back to the thing that could not save.  I am trusting in Christ implicitly for what He has accomplished, which is the salvation of all His people.  He is my righteousness and my justification.  I cannot add to that.

And I do not submit myself to Torah, because it is weak, it is replaced by the New, and it is a sure pathway to wrath.

That’s the essence of our disagreement.

And, let me say again, the Bible never divides the law into categories.  There aren’t parts of the law that are now acceptable and parts that have faded away.  The whole of the law is done away with in finished work of Jesus Christ.

I hope you realize that being Torah observant is tantamount to saying that Christ’s finished work was not enough to save you.  You have to add something more.  And the ‘more’ you are attempting to add is from a covenant that you were never part of in the first place.  It’s not even logical.

As for your reference to Luke 16:17, I would respond by quoting the parallel passage from Matthew 5:17-18 — “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”  And then He accomplished it.  He fulfilled it.  (John 19:28)  That’s why it was nailed to His cross.  That’s why Paul could speak of the freedom we have in Christ.

And whom the Lord sets free, is free indeed. (John 8:36)

As for your reasons for keeping the seventh day Sabbath, the Feasts, and so on, I will answer as Paul did in Colossians 2:16-17 — “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”

Christ is enough for me.

My hope and prayer for you is also from the pen of the apostle Paul.  He instructed in Galatians 5:1 – “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”

Yours for His sake,

Jim Mc.

Now, I just hope she listens.

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8 thoughts on “Torah Observant Gentiles”

  1. Just as the Mosaic Law was with Israel, so is the New Covenant — “Behold, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Judah, and the house of Israel.”

    None of the features of the New Covenant can be found operating, anywhere. No one is acting like God’s laws are written on their hearts. Nowhere can it be said of any populations, “no one needs to say to another, ‘Know the Lord!’ for all from the least to the greatest know Him.

    However, one of the teachings of the New Testament, is that now Gentiles are partakers with Israel, of the promises. Currently, we are seeing in part how marvelous the full-throated fulfillment of the New Covenant WILL be, when it finally comes to pass.

  2. The Law given at mount Sinai WAS MEANT TO BRING ABOUT A HEALTHY NATION FOR OTHER NATIONS TO NOTICE . tHE LAW 10 COMMANDMENTS WERE SPECIFICALLY GIVEN TO THE NATION OF ISRAEL . Observing those law would bring about a righteuos behaviour . Since given by God they must surely be good laws . For anyone to disregards what God desired of His people is to throw the baby out of the window . Through the new covenant with the understanding of faith and the holy spirit all laws given by God are derived from one spring . Love God and thy neighbour based on being saved by grace and not merited on any obedience to any law . The sabbath command was meant till Christ becomes the sabbath .

  3. Hey there,

    The original sender said that they understood that Torah observance didn’t save. Their view seems to be that following as many of the rules as we can, however, must be a good thing since they were rules that God gave once upon a time.

    With that in mind, could you address why Torah observance might be bad? Or is it? I.E. what harm can it do to keep kosher and not work on Saturday?

    My own initial thought would be that – just like any system of rules – it would tend toward legalism, but that isn’t anything specific to Torah-keepers. But there must be more to it than that. Jesus’ specific NT commands are summarized in love God, love neighbor (as self), and love fellow Christians (as God does). Is there any way in which also being Torah-observant would impinge upon those?

    ciao
    – m.

    1. Hi Mike (or the more mysterious “m”),

      You’re asked a good question. As I wrote in the next post, I agree with Paul that Jews/Israelites who want to keep some part of their ancient tradition (like sabbath-keeping) in order to show their love for God is fair game. But, Gentiles who were never part of that initial covenant should not think that any bit of law-keeping will justify them or improve their standing before God. As you said, it not only “tends toward legalism,” it is legalism in its most dangerous form. If I care about this correspondent, I will warn them (as Paul did) that this behavior is tantamount to falling from grace.

      Thanks for writing.

      “j”

  4. Hi Jim, sorry I am just writing in in a random spot. I wasn’t sure where else to post this. Thank you for your teaching. I feed on it often. I particularly wanted to thank you for your Roman’s Israelology series. Reformed teaching has a lot to offer, and I appreciate so much of it. As I interacted more and more with Reformed material, it is insisted that we are now “true Israel.” I simply didn’t see this in the Bible, and just wondered how people so smart in so many other areas could be wrong on this. I went to many reformed pages and said please convince of this using Scripture and I will accept it. All I got was a bunch of assumptuous theology papers, and verses out of context. I went to Moody so I was taught the historical grammatcal hermeneutic. It makes perfect sense to me. I don’t see why anyone would depart from that, and impose a system on Scripture that forces us to change it to mean something other than it says. I was at somewhat of a crossroads, as I realized how much other theology will shift depending on what hermeneutic one accepts, and what one accepts about Israel and the church; issues such as; the believers relation to the law, end times, God’s faithfulness etc. Anyways, your Romans Israelology greatly blessed me and really helped me to work through those issues. I feel much more confident navigating through reformed material, and really understanding the why of why I hold to what I do as far as Israel and the church. Thank you Jim. Andy Dressler

    1. I hear ya’ Andy. But, as we stick with what Scripture actually says, these matters of theological debate clear up quickly. I appreciate the feedback and encouraging words. Thanks. Jim

  5. Jim
    I dated a woman this past summer who was Torah Observant. I didn’t know this at first. When I showed her the Scriptures that show we are no longer under the Law, I was called ignorant and following man. Well we obviously were not equally yoked.
    Her argument was exactly the same as the woman who wrote you.
    I have to believe that those who are Torah Observant are UnSaved
    Thank You
    God Bless
    Sal

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