What are the primary differences theologically between Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and Christianity regarding the Torah?
This week we will begin to delve deeper into each on the categories we discussed at a high level last week. Before we begin, a brief disclaimer. We do not believe everyone has to believe exactly as we do to have a relationship with G-D, and for that relationship to result in that person spending eternity with G-D. We also believe strongly in the promise that Rabbi Sha'ul (Paul) stated that "all Israel will be saved." We do not want to be dogmatic about exactly what that means, as views differ. We also believe scripture clearly teaches that Jews, Christians and Messianic Jews will make up the Kingdom. As for our Sunday brothers and sisters, whether Protestant or Catholic, many truly love G-D and will inherit the Kingdom.
Theologically, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, and Christianity began on a common road that split into 3 separate paths. One of the key areas involved in this split was the role of Torah.
In traditional Jewish beliefs The Torah is core to Jewish life and thought. While that is still true, in many parts of Judaism, the Written Torah has become less important that the Oral Torah and teachings of the Sages and Rabbis. Thus some modern practices do not follow the Torah, but instead the teachings of the Rabbi's. An example, Biblically Jewishness is determined by the Father (Paternal descent), however the Rabbi's determined that ones Jewishness is determined by the mother (Maternal descent).
There is a famous story recorded in the Talmud concerning the authority of the Rabbi's. Rabbi Eliazar (a very famous Rabbi from right after the time of Messiah) was debating a certain point of Halacha (Jewish legal rulings) with a group of Rabbis. No matter how he tried, he was not able to get them to agree to his view. At this point he stated, 'if that carob Tree moves will you agree with my ruling?'. The tree then moved over many feet. The other Rabbis were not impressed, saying 'what does a Carob tree have to do with this ruling'. Rabbi Eliazar then said, 'if this stream flows backward will you agree?'. At that point the stream began to flow backward. The other Rabbis again stated, 'what does water have to do with this decision?'. That this point Rabbi Eliazar proclaimed, 'if a voice from Heaven (Bat Kol) tells you I am right, will you then agree?'. A booming voice from Heaven then proclaimed, 'Rabbi Eliazar is correct'. To this the other Rabbis exclaimed, 'even a voice from Heaven does not matter as the Holy One, Blessed be He, gave the right to make these decisions to the Rabbis'.
From the above story paraphrased from the Talmud, one can see that Rabbinic teaching has evolved to the point where the Rabbi's can interpret the Torah, based on what they believe is their authority, in ways that are binding and that do not agree with the p'shat (simple reading or meaning) expounding in Torah.
It was these type rulings, not the written Torah, that Yeshua disagreed with, often stating the oral traditions were contradicting the written Torah.
In traditional Christian beliefs concerning the role of Torah are best summed up by 2 positions: 1. The Torah has little relevance for today as "Jesus freed us from the Law" and it is painted as a huge burden, 2. Some denominations (Baptist being one) separate the Torah into distinct sections such as: Ceremonial Law, Moral Law and Civil Law and then state we are to follow the Moral law, but not the Civil or Ceremonial.
Let's look at these 2 approaches in a little more depth:
1. Free from the "burden of the Torah" - This view is expounded by most modern Christians, either consciously on sub-consciously. The view is based on Rabbi Sha'uls (Paul) statements about the "Law being nailed to the cross" amongst others. These arguments have serious flaws; some of which are:
* Sha'ul says the Torah is good and Holy, and that all scripture is good for doctrine. The B'rit Chadsha (New or Renewed Testament) was not completed when Paul and others commented about the importance of following the Scriptures.
* Yeshua said not one yod or tittle of the Torah would pass away.
* Yochanan (John) says "sin is a violation of Torah" and that anyone who keeps violating Torah (sinning) does not know G-d.
It is sad, but true, that many who call Messianics "Legalistic" are themselves the ones who are Legalistic and as such are judging and bringing about judgment and condemnation on themselves. In a recent debate with Rabbi Micha'el, Pat Donahue from the Church of Christ had the audacity to say the we (Messianics) were not saved because we kept the Torah. That statement shows that He, and those in the Church of Christ who agree, are themselves judging others and thus bringing the judgement of G-d upon themselves. Pat believes that the Torah is completely done away with and that the "Law of Christ" only is what we are to follow. That supposition is totally inaccurate, even by Paul's words and totally violates both the words of The Messiah and His Emissary Yochanan (John 1 Chapter 3).
This can be further proven by the fact that Paul himself kept Torah after He became a believer (Acts 21 where Paul takes a Nazarite vow). Paul even calls himself a Pharisee.
Pat Donahue even made a statement that proved the point. Rabbi Micha'el asked if Beastiality was prohibited as it is not mentioned in the New Testament. Pat Donahue responded it was fornication. Then proceeded to quote that fornication was any immoral sexual practice defined in the Law. The only problem is the Law he was using to define Beastiality was the Torah, making our point that the Torah is still to be followed.
2. Following the Moral Law only. While this approach has much more validity than the above, it too has flaws. Many Commandments fit into more than one group. The commandment for Shabbat is as much a moral law as it is a ceremonial and civil law. Scripture also does not separate the Torah into sections. Many Ceremonial laws will be practiced in The Messiah's Kingdom, including sacrifice, the Feasts and the Levitical Priesthood. Additionally, many Civil Laws, while they cannot be followed literally today, still provide guidance. An example is the command to stone a witch. We today do not have the authority to stone witches under our current legal system (this included fortune tellers, etc.). We can however see that the behavior is prohibited by Adonai, and as such, we should not have any part in it, associate closely with those involved in witchcraft, or condone their behavior.
Messianic Jewish theology believes The Torah is the core of Jewish life and thought. As such it is central to living a life of obedience to G-D. While keeping Torah does not save us, it clearly shows us how to live a life pleasing to G-D.
The aspect of obedience to Torah is clearly defined by Adonai as having promises of Blessing attached. Thus by living out the Torah, Adonai has promised to protect us and keep us from harm and provide for us. This protective aspect is very important. Many of society's ills would be cured immediately by keeping of Torah.
Imagine: no abortion, no murder, no poverty, no sexually transmitted diseases, no unwed mothers, no prostitution, no stealing, no illegal drugs, etc.
To the charges of Legalism, we are not saved by keeping Torah, and neither was Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, The prophets, or any other follower of Adonai. We do not tell our Sunday Brothers they must keep Shabbat to be saved.
Pat Donahue made the statement in the debate mentioned above, if you keep Shabbat you must also keep New Moons, Passover, Yom Kippur and Succoth. To this our reply is; this is a problem, please make us worship Adonai more on His Appointed Times (Moedim)!
No, Messianic Jews should never be Legalistic, why, because we are free, free to live the Torah by the power of Adonai living in us.
Next week we will address in detail the other Theological differences.
Shalom - Rabbi Gavri'el