Torah and “Legalism”
The “Torah-observant” part is what really gets me about Messianic Judaism, because I really want to learn more but I don’t want to be legalistic. What I have always heard is that people who follow the Torah are legalistic and that if you follow one law then you are under the whole Law.
The entire issue of “legalistic” stems from the erroneous teaching that “Jesus nailed the Law to the cross,” or some other way of saying that Yeshua abolished the Torah. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Consider this example of Yeshua’s teaching:
“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law [Torah] until all is accomplished.” (Matt 5:18, NASB)
“… whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot [commandments] and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:19, CJB)
Have heaven and earth passed away yet? If not, the
entire Torah — every commandment, every word, every letter, the smallest
part of every letter — is still in force and binding upon
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; ... He who has seen Me has seen the Father; ... Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, ... Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; ... If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:7-15 NASB)
If Yeshua is indeed HaSham, then it was Yeshua who gave the entire Torah to Moshe at Sinai and inscribed the “Ten Words” in the tablets of stone with His own finger. Yeshua’s statement in John 14:15 should then be interpreted to mean “If you love Me you will keep My Torah.”
According to an accurate interpretation of the
Scriptures, we are now, and have always been, “under the whole Torah
(Law)” — the Torah is
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works [obedience to Torah], which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph 2:10, NASB)
“For we are of
The only provisions of Torah which are not applicable to the Believer today are (1) those Mitzvot (commandments) that apply to the Temple and its sacrificial system (because there is no Temple at this time — they will be applicable when the next Temple is dedicated), (2) those Mitzvot that apply to the civil rule of law under a theocratic government (there is no theocratic government at this time — they will be applicable when King Messiah returns and physically reigns on earth), or (3) those Mitzvot which apply only within Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel — Believers who live in Eretz Israel are subject to these Mitzvot; those in the Diaspora outside of Eretz Israel are not). Additionally, not all Mitzvot apply equally to all; for example, some Mitzvot are gender-specific (men only or women only) and others apply to those who have servants and employees. See the list here.
When Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) wrote his letters, he originally wrote them (I believe) in Hebrew. They were then translated into Greek and Aramaic, and then into Latin, and finally into English. The problem he had (and that we have today) is that in Hebrew and Greek, there is no word for the English concept of “legalism.” And so he tried to explain his teaching using the only vocabulary that he had. When the letters were finally translated into English, the translators had already made up their minds that Torah had been “cancelled,” and that bias was incorporated into their translation. A careful re-reading of all of Rav Sha'ul's letters in their original Hebrew context will reveal that what he actually taught is that we are still subject to every single provision of Torah (with the exceptions as listed immediately above — all of which he carefully observed until his death), but we are not subject to the Rabbinical interpretation of Torah, the “Tradition of the Elders” (though Rav Sha'ul personally remained observant to the Traditions).
A careful reading of Rav Sha'ul’s biography in the book of Acts will reveal that he taught and practiced faithful obedience to the “least commandment” of Torah — including “the tradition of the elders.” In his defense before King Agrippa, he said,
“… I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.” (Acts 26:1-5)
Look at the last event of his life as recorded in Acts 28:
“After three days Sha'ul called a meeting of the local Jewish leaders. When they had gathered, he said to them: ‘Brothers, although I have done nothing against either our people or the traditions of our fathers, I was made a prisoner in Yerushalayim and handed over to the Romans. …’ They said to him, ‘We have not received any letters about you from Y'hudah, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you.’”
These people with whom he was speaking were the “local Jewish leaders” in Rome who were extremely familiar with the most minute detail of both the Torah and the Tradition of the Elders. Rav Sha'ul said that he has not offended in even the slightest provision of “the traditions of our fathers” and they agreed that nobody, not even the strictest of the Pharisees, “has reported or said anything bad about you.” If the Torah was no longer in effect for Rav Sha'ul, then he would not have kept the slightest provisions of even “traditions of our fathers” — it is simply inconceivable that he would have taught that Torah had been abolished and then continued to live under its strict application and interpretation.
Those who call obedience to God “legalism”, according
to Yeshua, “will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.” However,
we are obedient to Torah not in order to be saved, but
because we have already been saved and have been empowered
by Ruach HaKodesh to live according to
Shalom b' Mashiach,
This page was last revised Friday February 22, 2013 06:22 AM
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C., section 107, some material on this web site is provided without permission from the copyright owner, only for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research under the "fair use" provisions of federal copyright laws. These materials may not be distributed further, except for "fair use" non-profit educational purposes, without permission of the copyright owner.
*Ari Levitt is the shem kodesh of Messianic Pastor Dr. Rickard (Ari) Levitt-Sawyer. As the free expression of my religious beliefs, the content of this website is protected under the provisions of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Except where otherwise specifically indicated, the opinions expressed on this website are my own, are sometimes highly speculative in nature and subject to differing interpretations, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of any other organization or individual. If you disagree with my opinions, please CLICK HERE before contacting me.