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Which Commandments do you choose to obey?

Torah Observance

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Which Commandments do you choose to obey?

by John J. Parsons

You can't have it both ways, chaverim. You will either agree to and inwardly "ratify" the terms of Sefer Habrit of Moses given at Sinai, or you will find exceptions, legal loopholes, and engage in sophistical reasoning in order to justify your inability to observe the clear terms of the Covenant mediated by Moses....

There is no Temple standing in Jerusalem.

Many of the commandments in the Torah pertain to ceremonial and sacrificial laws, as well as laws pertaining to the Aaronic priesthood (in fact, the book of Leviticus contains nearly half of all the commandments found in the Torah as ritual law).  However, since 70 A.D. there has been no Temple in Jerusalem wherein we might fulfill these various laws and ordinances. Of course, the Rabbinical traditions have reinterpreted the need for sacrifices and temple worship with synagogue prayers and rituals, but this at best allegorizes the commandments as they are explicitly given in the Torah.

There is no theocratic kingdom in Israel.

Many other laws in the Torah pertain to the existence of the theocratic kingdom of ancient Israel. However, since neither we nor Jews living in eretz Yisrael do not live under a theocracy, many of the social laws are impracticable in our day (for example, think of the law of putting to death a child for cursing his parents (Exodus 21:17) or of releasing a slave at the year of Jubilee (Deut 15:12)).

We cannot be justified by the Torah.

Even if it were possible to observe the ceremonial and social mitzvot given in the Torah (for example, if Israel were to rebuild the Temple and elect a descendant of David as king), it is clear that we cannot morally keep Torah by our own unaided best efforts (Romans 3:20; Hebrews 7:19). In fact, Torah reveals our sinfulness and thereby demonstrates our need for a Savior (Moshia') from the judgment of God (Matt. 1:21; Gal. 2:16; Gal. 3:10-3; Titus 3:5-6).

An implicit assumption of the Rabbinical traditions is that we can merit acceptance before God through the performance of various mitzvot. This optimistic view of human nature is contrary to the clear teaching of the Mashiach and the writers of the B'rit Chadashah, who clearly attest that mankind needs a Deliverer from the wrath of God.

We have a NEW (not renewed) Covenant.

The New Covenant is not merely the Sinai Covenant "renewed," but instead constitutes an entirely new way to be in relationship with God. The New Covenant sets us free from the terms of Sinai (by the death of the Testator, Hebrews 9:15) so that we might serve the LORD in a new and better way (see Jer. 31:33; Romans 7:1-6; Hebrews 8:6; Romans 9:31-32; Acts 13:39; see esp. Gal. 4:21-5:1). The entire book of Hebrews in the Brit Chadashah is devoted to this liberating and wonderful truth.

As Rav Sha'ul puts it, "The righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the works of the Torah" (Romans 3:21), and, as the book of Hebrews puts it, "We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the Tabernacle" (i.e., under the older Levitical system of worship, Hebrews 13:10).

We have a NEW Authority.

As talmidim of the Mashiach Yeshua, we are subject to His teaching (Torat Yeshua) as authoritative halakhah in our lives. Among other things, this implies that we must regard Rabbinic traditions that are contrary to Torat Yeshua as ultimately false and misleading.

To take just one example, the lighting of Shabbat candles is considered a (Rabbinical) mitzvah, yet this "commandment" derives authority only from within the Rabbinical traditions and not from the teachings of the Mashiach Himself. In fact, the basic thrust of the Rabbinical teachings is contrary to Torat Yeshua, since it denies the reality and substance of the Person and work of our beloved Mashiach.

And what did our Mashiach teach us about Torah? Did He focus on ritual and obligatary prayer? No, He said that the whole Torah is fulfilled by loving God with all our heart and by loving our neighbor as ourself. "On these two commandments," He said, "hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:35-40).

In other words, the love of God and others is the aim of Torah, and, as Rav Sha'ul wrote in Romans 13:10, "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (see also Gal. 5:14).

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10)

ha'ahava lo ta'aseh ra lare'a al-ken ha'ahavah hi
kiyum ha-Torah

Please do not interpret any of this as a defense of "antinomianism," or the idea that we are somehow made at liberty from the moral law of YHVH and can now do whatever we please. In no way! In fact, whereas the Torah is said to contain Taryag Mitzvot (613 commandments), it can be argued that the Brit Chadashah contains over 2,000 distinct commandments! All of the moral law given in Torah is clearly restated in the Brit Chadashah.

The Torah is holy and good and is faithful in its representation of the holy character of YHVH and His demands for righteousness in our lives.

The problem is not with Torah but with our inability to live out its demands in our lives. Under the terms of the Sinaitic covenant (Sefer HaBrit), we are conditionally accepted before YHVH based on our performance of the various mitzvot given in the Torah. But nowhere is given there eternal remedy for the problem of sin, or real deliverance from the shame of our own inner impulses to do evil, or power given from YHVH to live in newness of life. Nowhere is there found the promises of heaven and the gift of eternal life. These things come from the Lord Yeshua the Mashiach and are a result of His intercessory work on our behalf as the Kohen HaGadol after the order of Malkhi-Tzedek (Hebrews 5-7). It is by means of Yeshua's sacrificial death we are given eternal forgiveness of our sins; it is by means of Yeshua's intercessory Life that we are given the grace of God to become sanctified in the truth.

Well then, is the Sinai Covenant "bad," and something to be ignored? In no way. As I just mentioned, the stipulations given at Sinai are holy and just and good (Romans 7:12) and function as the perfect mirror for measuring ourselves in relation to God's righteous standard for our lives. Sinai reveals the Holy Character of God to us -- our true condition as those who have violated these standards and therefore live alienated from Him (Rom 3:20). No, the problem is not with the Sinai Covenant, but with our inability to fulfill its requirements by means of our own efforts at self-righteousness. (Again, implicit in the Rabbinic traditions is the assumption that an observant Jew can fulfill the requirements of the Torah by means of mitzvot, and can thereby earn right-standing before God).

God has made a New Covenant (B'rit Chadashah) with us on the basis of the finished sacrificial work of Yeshua, our great High Priest of the Better Covenant:

    But our High Priest has been given a ministry that is far superior to the ministry of those who serve under the old laws, for he is the one who guarantees for us a better covenant with God, based on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)

    For the law made nothing perfect, and now a better hope has taken its place.
    And that is how we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:19).

Since the aim of the various mitzvot given in the Sinaitic covenant is to impart to us the righteousness of God, Jesus' righteousness performed on our behalf meets our need, and, through His gracious intercession (Hebrews 7:25), we are enabled to please God:

    But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe. (Rom 3:21-2)

    For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
    (Romans 10:4)

    For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:21)

    I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Gal 2:21)

When we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and the fruit of the Holy Spirit is truly produced within us, we will not find ourselves walking contrary to the way of the Torah (Gal. 5:22-23), and the inward motivation of the Torah will be written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31-33).

In contradistinction to the fact that Rabbinic Judaism offers us no priest, no king, and no prophetic voice regarding our sinful condition, consider how Yeshua the Mashiach is the fulfillment of all these things.

Well then, should we be Torah observant?

Yes and no....

  • Yes! By the agency of the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) working in our hearts we can serve the LORD and fulfill the true aim (inner intent) of the Torah by means of accepting the gift of the righteousness of God (Romans 8:3-4). We can (and should) study the Torah of Moses and understand its underlying spirit, and we should ask the LORD to write the truth of the Torah upon our hearts according to His promise. We are expected, as followers of Yeshua the Jewish Messiah, to love the moral law and observe righteousness in our daily lives.

  • No! By the agency of human effort (striving to perform mitzvot as interpreted by the Rabbinical authorities) we will never become acceptable to God, but are condemned under the judgment of the Sinai Covenant and forced to bear the penalty for our sins (see Gal. 3:10; James 2:10). We cannot merit righteousness before YHVH by means of the mitzvot; we need mercy and grace and the love of God to be the foundation for all our lives.

The Torat Yeshua is the "law"of love: to love God and one's neighbor; to practice forgiveness and to live graciously in the sustenance of the LORD (John 15:12; 1 John 3:23).


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