Torah-Keeping in Messianic Judaism

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Do modern Messianic Jews “keep the law” as spelled out in the Torah?

Q. I’ve been trying to learn the underlying culture of Christianity. I realized just recently how much of my understanding of scripture was flawed because of my lack of understanding about Jewish (Hebrew?) heritage.

I’d be grateful for any links or information like “Messianic Judaism for dummies” or something along those lines.

One question for now...and I realize that it’s probably a big one so just an overview is fine: Do modern Messianic Jews “keep the law” as spelled out in the Torah?

I had seen a post that kind of alluded to that and I wondered.

Related to that, I was under the impression that Messiah was the final sacrifice necessary as described in Hebrews. (You know; how it contrast the year-after-year sacrifices of the priests with Jesus once-for-all sacrifice.)

I’m just trying to make sense of it and tie up loose threads in my mind...


A. To answer your question, I don’t know of a website that specifically offers “Messianic Judaism for Dummies” but I try to keep some basic information posted on this website. (If you do find a “Dummies”-level Messianic website, I would certainly appreciate hearing about it.) However, First Fruits of Zion offers an online foundational course for Messianic Judaism called HaYesod that you might find very helpful. I have taught the “classroom” version of this course a few times and I think it is excellent.

You asked an extremely broad question: “Do modern Messianic Jews ‘keep the law’ as spelled out in the Torah?” That question has both an extremely narrow answer and an extremely broad answer.

The “narrow” answer is “Yes, most do to the best of their ability.” But that answer requires a few terms to be defined:

• What does the term “Messianic Jew” include? Does it include only those of ethnic Jewish descent who have come to faith in Messiah, or does it include Non-Jewish members of Messianic Jewish congregations?

• What does it mean to “keep the Law” and what is included in “Torah”? Does that mean just the five books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy), the entire Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures, or so-called “Old Testament”), or the entire Bible (the Tanakh plus the Apostolic Scriptures, or so-called “New Testament”), or does it mean the Tanakh as interpreted by the Jewish sages in the Talmud, including the so-called “oral tradition”?

• Does “keep the Law” mean to earn one’s salvation through obedience to the 613 Positive and Negative Commandments compiled by Rambam in the Mishneh Torah?

There is no established “central authority” for Messianic Judaism, so there is nothing that could be categorized as a “general Messianic Jewish theology” ... there are probably at least as many different opinions as there are teachers within the Messianic Movement. (I am personally trying to develop a Systematic Messianic Theology, but it will be an effort probably consuming the rest of my lifetime.)

For those who come to faith in Messiah from Orthodox Judaism, I would assume that there is a greater tendency to follow Rabbinical interpretation of Torah and Talmud than there is for those who come to Messianic Judaism from other traditions. I don’t personally find fault with that, but I have a difficult enough time conforming to the Torah that is in the Scriptures without adding the additional Rabbinical guidelines.

For those who come to faith in Messiah from Conservative, Reform, or Reconstruction Judaism, I would assume that there is a tendency to continue in most of their own practices and traditions.

Among Non-Jewish Believers who are involved with the Messianic Jewish movement, the spectrum of involvement is extremely wide, and ranges from those who attend Messianic services from time to time out of mere curiosity to those who seek a “formal conversion” to Judaism.

Among the leadership of the two largest American Messianic groups, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, there has been considerable discussion of the pros and cons of establishing any kind of formal “conversion” process for those who would desire it.

One of the more prominent leaders of the MJAA is of the opinion that ethnic Jewish members of Messianic congregations should keep the entire Torah as much as possible, and should also follow the Rabbinic traditions as long as they do not contradict the written Torah (which they often do). He has stated (in my personal hearing) that he feels “Gentile” Believers in Messiah[1], whether members of Messianic Jewish congregations or not, are subject only to the Noahic Commandments:

These commandments, referred to as the Noahic or Noahide commandments, are inferred from Genesis Ch. 9, and are as follows: 1) to establish courts of justice; 2) not to commit blasphemy; 3) not to commit idolatry; 4) not to commit incest and adultery; 5) not to commit bloodshed; 6) not to commit robbery; and 7) not to eat flesh cut from a living animal. These commandments are fairly simple and straightforward, and most of them are recognized by most of the world as sound moral principles. (www.jewfaq.org/gentiles.htm#Noah)

I disagree with that leader’s understanding of what is expected of non-Jewish people who elect to become affiliated with the Land, the People, and the Torah of Israel. I believe the issue was settled by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 1. [Read more about that important decision HERE.]

I believe that if a person claims he/she wishes to live as Yeshua and His talmidim (disciples) lived, there is an inherent responsibility to understand and conform to that lifestyle. I also believe that God has only one standard of righteousness by which all people will be judged — the Torah that was given to all of God’s people at Sinai. Most people forget that when the Torah was given, the “mixed multitudes” (those non-Jewish people who accompanied Israel on the Exodus from Egypt) received and accepted the Torah the same as did those children of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob, and they were considered to be a part of the Commonwealth of Israel.

My own personal opinion is that it is the privilege of all Believers in Mashiach to rejoice in the assurance of their salvation and their freedom from “bondage” to Torah through the testimony of God’s Word which, however, clearly forbids the use of that liberty as an occasion to sin. Though free from “bondage” to legalism, every person is yet accountable to the standard of righteousness that God has defined in His Torah. No man has ever been, or will ever be, saved or counted as righteous through observance of or obedience to Torah, but only through faith in Him who is the Giver of Torah, plus nothing else.

By the term “legalism” I mean the futile effort to earn God’s favor by “being good” or by “doing good.”

If I were to offer a “general rule,” I would have to say that probably the majority of Messianic congregations take the position that all believers in the Messiah, whether Jew, non-Jew, or Gentile Christian, although “saved by Grace through Faith plus nothing else” have a responsibility to do their best to live by God’s standard of righteousness, to be a light to the world as Messiah commanded. This would include observing all of God’s appointed Feasts and Festivals, including the seventh-day Sabbath (Fourth Commandment), and abstaining from “forbidden” foods (the most predominant of which would be pork and shellfish).

I would also think that the majority of non-Jewish members of Messianic congregations take the position that they consider themselves blessed and fortunate to have been “grafted in” to Israel by Grace through faith, and are privileged to partake in the blessings, the covenants, the Torah, the people, the land, and the Messiah of Israel.

Of course, with no Temple and no Priesthood, it is not possible to observe the provisions of Torah that are specific to those two institutions, just as it is not possible to observe the commandments pertaining to living in the Land of Israel for those of us who do not live there.

You are absolutely correct in your understanding that the sacrifice of Messiah was the final, ultimate, and only efficacious  sacrifice for the sins of the people. However,  there are a number of  respected Bible scholars (myself included) who believe  that all of the sacrifices except the sin and trespass offerings will be a part of worship in the Millennial Temple. If you read very carefully the descriptions of the sacrifices besides the sin and trespass offerings in the Torah, you will be surprised (as I was) to learn that they are actually joyful “family barbeques” that are shared on the Temple grounds with the priesthood as an act of worship and thanks to God. The priests, with the assistance of the Levites, did the cooking and shared the feast with the people. See, for example, Deut. 12:5-7 and Deut. 14:24-26 (especially the part about acceptable beverages).

I hope you find these few comments helpful.

Shalom b'Mashiah,
Ari

____________

[1] I personally try to avoid using the term “Gentile” when referring to non-Jewish members of the Messianic Movement, and simply refer to them as “non-Jewish.” I generally use the term “Gentile” as it is used in the Scriptures to refer to non-Jewish people who do not associate themselves with the Land, the People, and the Torah of Israel. This would include most who consider themselves to be “Christians.” [RETURN]

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