Hebrew Roots Heresies

hebrew-rootsBecause of the many heresies of modern Christianity today, many believers have fled from the apostate denominations only to find themselves ensnared in Hebrew Roots heresies. What is the Hebrew Roots movement? According to House of David Fellowship:

Hebrew Roots is a movement emerging around the world that advocates returning to the understanding of the Scriptures, perspectives, and beliefs of first-century faith. We are removed from Protestant Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, and Messianic Judaism because of core belief differences.

Indeed it is good to be removed from Protestant Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism, and Messianic Judaism because of doctrinal differences. But what are those differences? In the movement’s favor, the Hebraic Roots movement avoids pagan traditions such as Christmas and emphasizes fruits, good works and obedience. However, their zeal for the Torah and allegiance to Moses has caused them to usurp the supreme authority of Yeshua Hamaschiach (Jesus Christ) in the New Covenant. Is the Torah the foundation of Christianity? Did Yeshua teach His followers to observe the Mosaic Law? Is it sinful to transgress the Law of Moses? Are Christians obligated to keep the Sabbath, observe the Jewish Feasts and eat a Kosher diet?

The primary heresy in the Hebrew Roots movement is that Christians must keep the Torah. One of the primary beliefs of Hebraic Roots, according to Our Father’s Festival, is “adherence/obedience to the Torah.” Likewise, in Foundational Truths for Torah Communities, Tim Hegg says “Our lives should be characterized by obedience to the Torah.” In A Reasonable Argument for Keeping the Torah, Glenn McWilliams says, “I would suggest to my Christian brothers that they re-think their position on the Torah and Yeshua and repent and join us in keeping the Torah.”

Sin is Transgression of the Law

This belief that Christians must keep the Torah often comes from a false interpretation or translation of 1 John 3:4: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” Hebrew Roots followers believe that sin is breaking the Torah. For instance, EliYah says, “In 1 John chapter 3, and verse 4, we can see very clearly that sin is the transgression of the Law.” Obviously the implication is that to live a righteous life requires keeping the Law of Moses. EliYah concludes:

[T]he expectation in Scripture is that we would not sin, and sin is the transgression of the Law. So, the real identity that we have is that we are Israel because it is no longer we who live. It is Messiah who lives in us. He is our identity now, and believe it or not, He was Jewish. . . .

Did Messiah keep the Law? Absolutely!

If their interpretation of 1 John 3:4 is incorrect, then their conclusion is also erroneous. However, the Law of Moses is not really what is in view in this verse. First of all, when the word “law” is used in the New Testament, it is a translation of the Greek word νόμος [no’-mos] which almost always refers to the Law of Moses in the 197 times it is used in the New Testament. On rare occasions this word νόμος is used to describe any law whatsoever, anything established, anything received by usage, a custom, a law, or a command (cf. Romans 7:2,3).

But in 1 John 3:4, an entirely different Greek word is used which never refers to the Law of Moses anywhere in the New Testament. In 1 John 3:4 (KJV) the Greek word ἀνομία [ä-no-mē’-ä] is translated “transgresseth the law” and “the transgression of the law.” The word actually means iniquity or unrighteousness. Out of the 16 times the word is used in the New Testament it is never translated with regard to the Law of Moses. In fact, 1 John 3:4 is the only one place in the entire New Testament where this word ἀνομία is translated to say something other than “iniquity” or “unrighteousness.” The NKJV has cleaned up this confusion by translating 1 John 3:4: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.”

In other words: sin is lawlessness, sin is iniquity, or sin is unrighteousness. In many cases breaking the Law of Moses would be sinful because the Torah contains many moral requirements which reflect the righteousness of God. But the definition of sin is not breaking of the Law of Moses. On the contrary, sin is defined as unrighteousness, iniquity, lawlessness, etc.

The Torah as the Foundation

250px-Moses-TabletsAccording to the Hebrew Roots movement, the Torah serves as the foundation to all subsequent interpretation of Scripture, particularly so that the New Testament does not conflict with Torah commandments. In Why Should We Study the Torah? the authors state:

The Tanakh and the entirety of the New Covenant Scriptures find their foundation, authority and significance through the words of Moses recorded in the Torah. . . . The Torah as a foundation first, then the remainder of the Tanakh, then the New Covenant Scriptures.

First of all, the Bible says the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The foundation is not the Torah! The Torah and Tanakh ought to be interpreted through the New Testament Scriptures, namely the doctrine of Christ and the apostles. Not the other way around. Hebraic Roots followers invariably side with Moses when it comes to the following formulas in the Sermon on the Mount:

  • “It has been said, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement’ [Deuteronomy 24:1-4]: But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • “Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, ‘You shall not forswear yourself, but shall perform unto the Lord your oaths’ [Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy 6:12; 23:23]: But I say unto you, Swear not at all.” (Matthew 5:33-34)
  • “You have heard that it has been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’ [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]: But I say unto you, that you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

The New Testament does distinguish between the Law given through Moses and the supreme revelation and authority given by Yeshua. Hebrew Roots “Christians” justify divorce and remarriage, swearing oaths, and resisting evildoers because the Torah teaches them to do so. But Yeshua forbids these things in the New Covenant. These are just a few of the major differences between Moses and Christ.

The entire epistle of Hebrews makes this strong point by making a difference between the Law of Moses and the law of Christ: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1,2). In the words of a hymn: “What more can He say than to you He hath said, You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?” It is not just the person and work of Christ, but His very words which have ultimate authority over any prophet before Him. Prophesying of Christ, Moses himself wrote:

“I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18,19)

But Yeshua was not merely a prophet. When Yeshua was transfigured on the Mount, Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. It says Yeshua’s “face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). “Suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’” (Matthew 17:5). Moses is identified with the Law and Elijah represented the prophets. Their appearance here represents the witness of the Law and the prophets. Again, God the Father commands us to hear the words of His Son above the words of the Law and the prophets. The Law and the prophets all pointed to and find their fulfillment in the words of Christ. Hebrew Roots make the same mistake as Peter who said, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. (Luke 9:33). The voice from the cloud said, “Hear Him!” as Moses and Elijah were parting from Yeshua. The New Covenant authority is vested in Christ. Thus, we are to obey Yeshua and the apostles when there is a conflict with the Torah, such as Yeshua’s antithesis teachings in Matthew 5.

The book of Hebrews continues to make a distinction between the Law of Moses and the things spoken by the Son of God. The first covenant was through Moses on earth, but the second is through Yeshua from heaven. We are exhorted as Christians to hear the heavenly voice of Christ much more than the Law of Moses. The epistle to the Hebrews tells us that rejection of the better Covenant is a greater offense to God than rejecting the Old Covenant (Hebrews 2:1-4; 10:28-29; 12:25-27). There is a supremacy to the words of the Son of God unlike that of any other prophet in times past. So much so that the person who insults the Spirit of grace will suffer a much worse punishment than the one who rejected the Moses’ Law and died without mercy.

The words of Christ are the very words of God. Yeshua said, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10). We shall not escape if we refuse Him who speaks from Heaven! The Sermon on the Mount is inspired and imposed upon Christians. The Law from Mount Sinai is also inspired, but it is not imposed. The problem with Hebrew Roots is that they view the Torah as equally authoritative as (or more authoritative than) the words of Christ.

Yeshua Fulfilled the Law

jesus-sermon-mountIt is believed by those in the Hebrew Roots movement that Yeshua the Messiah did not come to “do away” with the Mosaic Law. In the video Torah and the NT: Matthew 5:17 – How did Yeshua fulfill the Torah?, Eddie Chumney exegetes Matthew 5:17 as follows:

Yeshua was saying, “I have come to give you the correct interpretation of the Torah and how you are to follow the Torah.”

Yeshua said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). The antithesis is not between “destroy” and “keep” (as Hebrew Roots suggest), but between “destroy” and “fulfill.” Yeshua has not destroyed the Law, but He has not perpetuated the Law either. This is obvious from the teachings of Yeshua and the apostles in the New Testament. The Law is not rendered vain by Yeshua, but the Law’s predictions, types, shadows and intent are all fulfilled in Yeshua the Messiah.

Yeshua fulfilled the Law in a few different ways. First of all, He fulfilled the Law in the most natural sense by being the fulfillment of the the prophetic predictions. The prophets (Moses included) spoke prophetic oracles of God which Jesus fulfilled in His earthly ministry. The Law made prophetic predictions also, but in another way. The Law prophetically anticipated Christ and the New Covenant by means of types and shadows. A second way in which Yeshua fulfilled the Law was by inaugurating eternal spiritual realities which the rituals, events, and temporal characteristics of the Old Testament anticipated. A third way in which Yeshua fulfilled the Law of Moses was by amplifying the moral or ethical requirements of the Law (see Matthew 5).

Yeshua also said, “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17). When was the Law of Moses fulfilled? In the Olivet Discourse, Yeshua said,

Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. (Luke 21:21-22)

It is clear from the context of the previous statement that Yeshua was predicting the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple as the time when “all things which are written may be fulfilled.” Therefore, in 70 AD all things were fulfilled. When the Temple was destroyed by Rome in 70 AD, the Mosaic system was totally brought to an end, just as Yeshua predicted (see also my article The Olivet Discourse). Yeshua did not destroy the Mosaic Law, but He fulfilled it. The Lord also said, “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it” (Luke 16:16).

Directly following Yeshua’s statement about fulfilling the Law, He said:

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19,20)

“Christian” Torah-observers argue that “these commandments” spoken of by Christ are those commandments of the Law. For instance, EliYah says:

Notice here it says “these” commandments! What are “these” commandments?

The commandments found in the law and prophets!

But we have already seen above how the commandments of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount supersede Mosaic Law and demand a righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Yeshua blatantly introduced new commandments in contrast to what had already been written in the Law. “You have heard that it has been said,” is a repeated refrain in the Sermon on the Mount, generally referring to the Law of Moses. Then Yeshua introduced His sayings with, “But I say to you,” clearly contrasting what was said before by Moses. Furthermore, in His conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua again called attention to “these sayings of Mine.”

Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Sabbath, Feasts, and Kosher Diet

eddie-chumneyIt is argued that Yeshua kept all of these ceremonial commands of the Mosaic Law. But is this true? In Hebrew Roots 101, Eddie Chumney wrote:

What do we need to be learning, doing, understanding, in order to discern the 2nd coming? Need to be following Torah, The Sabbath, The New Moon, The Annual Holy Days, BECAUSE: those are the tools that tell us about Messiah’s coming.

Another Hebrew Roots teacher, EliYah affirms:

So, what we really need to do is, we need to forsake the Christian identity that we have in our modern culture today and receive an identity that is more like the Messiah Himself, who did keep Feast Days, who did keep the Sabbath day, who did eat clean foods only. That is all part of Him.

Ceremonial laws such as circumcision, animal sacrifices, ritual cleansing, priesthood, tabernacle/temple ordinances, dietary restrictions and Sabbath are no longer binding to the Christian because Yeshua is the reality and substance which these ordinances pointed toward. By definition, these shadows were not eternal. The foreshadowing of these observances are no longer needed because there is no more anticipation. Christ has come. Jewish feasts, new moons, and sabbaths are a shadow, not the substance or the very image. Yeshua not only fulfilled the Messianic prophecies but also fulfilled the rituals of Judaism which looked forward to Him in a similar way. Ceremonial laws were “symbolic for the present time” and “a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things” (cf. Hebrews 9:6-10). Paul said to the Colossians:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16,17)

Hebrew Roots use this passage as a proof text in the opposite fashion in which Paul intended. They believe Paul means to say, “Let no man judge you in keeping a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths.” But Paul is writing to Gentiles describing how the handwriting of requirements that was against us, i.e., the Law, has been wiped out, taken out of the way and nailed to the cross. He goes on to say, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.” In other words, the basis for not being judged in those things is because they have been wiped out, taken away and nailed to the cross as Paul just said. He diminishes their importance by saying they are a shadow, but not the substance. Paul also links feasts, new moons and sabbaths with dietary restrictions, thereby demonstrating their ceremonial nature.

Often, one of my children will call for me in the middle of the night. I will turn on a light in the hallway which leads to their room and come to them. From their perspective, they can see my shadow and know that I am coming very soon. Once I have arrived they do not relate to my shadow any longer. Likewise, when we have a conversation with a person, we should look them in the eyes and not stare at their shadow which is cast on the ground. The shadows of the Old Testament served their purpose to anticipate the Messiah. Ceremonial laws were not altogether arbitrary because God communicated and foreshadowed deeper realities in His Son. Yeshua fulfilled these ritualistic shadows of the Law with the greatness of His sacrifice.

Sabbath Observance

ten commandmentsLet’s consider exactly what Yeshua taught about the Sabbath and how He fulfilled the Sabbath. According to Christian Hebrew Roots, true Christians “observe/preach the Ten Commandments.” When Christ said,”If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), He was referring to His New Covenant commandments which He taught His disciples such as those found in the Sermon on the Mount, not the Ten Commandments of the Law of Moses. It is noteworthy that Yeshua reiterated nine of the Ten Commandments (and even raised the moral standards concerning them), but He never once commanded His followers to keep the Fourth Commandment of Sabbath observance.

Hebraic Roots teachers think Sabbath observance is obligatory for Christians. According to Torah Resource, the Sabbath is an “essential issue.” They point to the example of Yeshua who they say kept the Sabbath. Yet John affirms that Yeshua actually broke the Sabbath:

Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God (John 5:18)

That is John the Apostle speaking and not the Pharisees. Some Sabbath keepers argue that Yeshua was only accused of breaking the Sabbath, not that He actually broke the Sabbath. But the allegation is accompanied with “making himself equal with God” which was indeed true. Yeshua made Himself equal with God just like He broke the Sabbath. John did not record that he was accused of breaking the Sabbath or accused of making Himself equal with God. Yeshua very deliberately made Himself equal with God and very deliberately broke the Sabbath by “working” in the previous verses. John says this is the reason why they sought to kill Him–not only because He had broken the Sabbath, but also because He said God was His Father. Yeshua did both these things. To say otherwise does violence to the passage.

Sabbath was for rest (Exodus 20:8-11), not corporate worship or Temple worship. The Sabbath eventually evolved into the Jewish custom (like that of Paul) to attend the synagogue for corporate worship. But the Sabbath commandment was always for rest, not worship. Though the Sabbath observance eventually became corporate worship in the local synagogues, this was never commanded in the Law. The only command was to work six days and rest on the seventh. The legislation was based upon work, not worship. In other words, the difference between profaning the Sabbath and keeping it holy had to do with work or no work.

“Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings” (Leviticus 23:3, KJV; cf. Exodus 20:8-11).

Because work is not defined within commandments to observe the Sabbath, there was plenty of room for rabbinic interpretations and traditions to develop about was considered work and what was not considered work. Do no work. That’s it. But on the Sabbath day Yeshua said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17). There are some cases in which it could be reasonably argued whether or not somebody was doing work on the Sabbath or not, but Yeshua gets right to the point and says on the Sabbath day, “I work” (John 5:17, KJV). Both Yeshua and the Jews knew the commandment in the Law said, “Do no work.” If Yeshua really kept the Sabbath and wanted the Jews to believe He kept the Sabbath, then He wouldn’t have said that He does the one and only thing on Sabbath which the Sabbath forbids – work!

Yeshua said to the multitudes,

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:7,28)

“Heavy laden” is a reference to spiritual burden and “rest” is a spiritual rest in Christ. It is “a rest to your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Spiritual rest is what Yeshua is offering and must be alluding to the Sabbath day of physical rest prescribed in the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:11). In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament), the Greek word ἀναπαύω [ä-nä-pau-‘ō] for “rest” was often associated with Shabbat (Sabbath). Yeshua is referring to the true Sabbath rest, abstaining from your own work to do the work of God. That this is the meaning of the verse is based on the next two incidents in the proceeding chapter of Matthew’s Gospel which deal with the true meaning and use of the Sabbath.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”

But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)

The Pharisees accused Yeshua by accusing His disciples of doing that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath. Apparently, the Lord had no problem with the disciples doing this on the Sabbath day seeing that they were in His presence. Yeshua did not say that they weren’t breaking the Sabbath. If the disciples weren’t really breaking the Sabbath, Yeshua could have said so and that would have been the end of the argument, but He makes another defense by appealing to David who broke the Law because he was hungry. Based on Yeshua’s response alone, it is evident that the disciples were indeed breaking the Sabbath–doing that which was “not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”

Also, if it were merely a tradition of men being violated by the disciples, we would expect a similar argument from Yeshua as that found in Matthew 15:6: Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition,” but Yeshua uses a different argument here. He explained how David also broke the Law and yet remained blameless. He said, “Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him” (Matthew 12:3). It is evident by the parallel that the disciples were also breaking the Law like David did. Both David and the disciples were hungry and both broke the Law.

God permitted a more serious violation of ritual law on this occasion when David was fleeing from Saul and ate the shewbread which is only lawful for priests to eat (1 Samuel 21:3-6). This breaking of a ritual of God by David was equivalent to what the disciples of Jesus were doing. Much like David eating the shewbread meant for priests, the priests of the temple worked on the Sabbath days but were blameless (Matthew 12:5). Offering sacrifices for the atonement of sins had to be done every day, thus the priests could continue their work without desecrating the Sabbath or treating it as a common work day.

Yeshua anticipated the Pharisees to make an exception for the priests work in the Temple. Therefore, He said that He was greater than the Temple (Matthew 12:6). Not only did the Levites do work in the Temple on the Sabbath, but there work was increased on that day (Numbers 28:1-10). Yeshua Himself was greater than the Temple in terms of importance, significance and authority. If the Pharisees excused the priests for doing the ministry of God on the Sabbath day, then they should have excused Yeshua and His disciples as well for doing the Lord’s work on the Sabbath. If doing the work of the Temple superseded the ordinances of Sabbath, surely the ministry of the true sanctuary which the Lord pitched, and not man (Hebrews 8:2) supersedes the ordinances of Sabbath. Yeshua is greater than the earthly temple because He is the “living stone” (1 Peter 2:4) and “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

Yeshua appealed to His own authority over the Mosaic Law. The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:8), not just common days. Mark 2:27-28 adds an additional saying: And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Man was not made for the purpose of obeying the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for the purpose of man’s rest. The Sabbath does not exceed the importance of the Lord who made the Sabbath. Temple service made it lawful for the priests to do what was unlawful for others to do. The temple work must continue on the Sabbath days, so the work of Christ must continue on every day including the Sabbath. The Lordship of Yeshua abides every day because He is the Lord of every day. To live under the Lordship of Christ is just as important on the Sabbath as it is throughout the rest of the week. To modern Christians, Sunday worship should not stand out amongst the other days of the week because God’s commands and Lordship abide every day, not just Sunday.

And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him.

Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:10-12)

According to Rabbinic tradition, a physician could only tend to a sickness or injury on the Sabbath day if it was life-threatening. This man did not have a life-threatening condition so they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?” seeking to accuse Him and find fault with Him. He asks them a question in return to their question and thus put them in a greater dilemma. In Mark’s account,

Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. (Mark 3:4-5)

They give no answer because certainly it is never lawful to do evil, but to say that the good in healing this man was lawful on the Sabbath would force them to humble themselves. The principle of doing good on the Sabbath cuts through all human tradition and legalism. A Christian is to live a seamless lifestyle of good works. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Pulling a lamb out of a ditch is a good thing, even on the Sabbath. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

Of course they would rescue their livestock if it fell in a pit on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:11). Livestock has financial value, but of how much more worth is a man than a beast. Yeshua also healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath and “all his adversaries were ashamed” (Luke 13:17) because He said,

The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” (Luke 13:15,16)

In John’s Gospel, Yeshua pointed out that circumcision, another ceremonial law, actually took precedence over Sabbath observance. Yeshua said:

Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? (John 7:22,23)

Circumcision is clearly not binding upon the Christian. Paul said, “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. . . . For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:2,6). “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians 7:19). Thus, if circumcision–a ceremonial law which has been fulfilled and is no longer binding–was more important than Sabbath observance, how much more is Sabbath also ceremonially fulfilled and not obligatory.

The Sabbath accounts appear to be strategically positioned in the Synoptic Gospels. In Matthew, the dispute concerning the picking of grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) and the healing of the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14) immediately follow Yeshua’s invitation to those who labor and are heavy laden to come to him for rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-29). In Mark and Luke, the dispute concerning the picking of grain (Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5) and the healing of the man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11) immediately follow the parable of the new wineskins (Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-39). As Lord of the Sabbath, Yeshua saved, healed, delivered, and gave true rest to those in bondage, fulfilling the divine purposes for which the Sabbath foreshadowed in Christ.

Jewish Feasts

michael-roodThe Jewish Feasts of the Lord listed in Leviticus 23 are believed to be observed by Hebrew Roots Christians.Hebrew Roots teachers like Michael Rood have popularized the idea of Christians supposedly observing the Jewish Feasts. In reality, nobody is keeping these Feasts of the Lord because there no longer any Jewish Temple.

Prior to his conversion, Paul was steeped in Jewish law, yet he forcefully opposes the Judaizers in all of his epistles. To the Galatians, he said they were preaching “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6) and sought to “pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:7). He goes on:

But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain (Galatians 4:9-11).

Paul says the Galatians were returning to the weak and beggarly elements by embracing Old Covenant forms of worship, even though they had previously been pagans. In other words, they were brought out of their pagan festivals and celebrations when they became Christians, but now they are embracing Jewish festivals and Paul sees no difference. He is thereby equating Jewish legalism with paganism. In fact, Paul uses the same word στοιχεῖον [stoi-khā’-on] translated “elements” when talking about the “rudiments” of world with the Colossians:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments [στοιχεῖον] of the world, and not after Christ. . . . Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments [στοιχεῖον] of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances. (Colossians 2:8,20)

To be clear, celebrating the Jewish Feasts and observing the Sabbath are not unlawful for a Christian. But keeping these ceremonial days of the Mosaic Law are not obligatory for Christians because they are not morally binding. The problem is when observance of any day is declared to be a moral commandment of the New Covenant. Our attitude must resemble that of Paul the Apostle who contended for freedom of conscience on this issue. Keep in mind that prior to becoming one of the greatest apostles Paul was a zealous Pharisee that outperformed the most zealous Law and Sabbath keepers. Yet in his office as an Apostle of Christ, he leaves Sabbath observance to the individual choice of Christians. In his epistle to the Romans, it is obvious that Paul is exhorting a church made up of both Jews and Gentile Christians. The Jewish crowd obviously kept the Sabbath and Jewish feasts whereas the Gentile crowd did not. He says:

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. (Romans 14:5,6)

Paul links the observance of days with dietary restrictions which also are not morally binding. Rather than causing division, Paul gave liberty in this matter because it’s not based upon morality. Clearly, a Christian who esteems every day alike does not keep the Sabbath or Jewish Feasts and Paul gives allowance for this. If Paul wanted to bind mandatory Sabbath observance for Christians, this was the perfect place to do so. Therefore, the burden of proof lies upon those who would try to enforce Sabbath observance and keeping the Feasts.

Dietary Restrictions

Because the Hebraic Roots movement believes in obeying the Torah, they also believe Christians should abstain from unclean foods. Thus sites such as Torah Resource have articles with the following titles: Did God change His Mind about Food?Prohibited Foods for the Week of Unleavened Bread, and What Foods are Prohibited during Chag Hamatzot?

Consider the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament recorded in Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14:3-21. These passages state that cud-chewing animals with split hooves are clean, or can be eaten (Leviticus:11:3; Deuteronomy:14:6). These specifically include the cattle, sheep, goat, deer and gazelle families (Deuteronomy:14:4-5). Animals such as camels, rabbits and pigs are unclean, or unfit to eat (Leviticus:11:4-8). “Creeping things” as moles, mice and lizards are unclean (Leviticus:11:29-31), as well as four-footed animals with paws such as dogs, cats, bears, lions, tigers, etc.) as unclean (Leviticus:11:27). Salt and freshwater fish with fins and scales may be eaten (Leviticus:11:9-12), but water creatures without those characteristics (catfish, lobsters, crabs, shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, squid, octopi, etc.) are unclean. Birds and other flying creatures are also unclean such as carrion eaters and birds of prey as unclean, plus ostriches, storks, herons and bats (Leviticus:11:13-19). Insects, with the exception of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers, are listed as unclean (Leviticus:11:20-23).

But in the Gospel of Mark, we read the following from Yeshua Himself concerning clean and unclean foods:

There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:16-23)

The implication of Yeshua’s teaching is that all foods are clean. Since the original Greek does not have quotation marks or parentheses, it is difficult to determine whether or not the statement “thus purifying all foods” belongs to the Lord’s quote (as the NKJV translators have rendered it) or a parenthetical comment made by Mark. The NU-Text ends Christ’s quotation with “eliminated”, setting off the final clause as Mark’s comment that Yeshua has declared all foods clean. For example the New English Translation says:

He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) (Mark 7:18,19, NET)

Whether Mark’s Gospel made this clarification or not, the teaching of Yeshua certainly implies that all foods are clean. Obviously this statement would not apply to alcohol and drugs, but normal food and drink. He was probably addressing the stigma attached to certain foods from the Old Covenant ceremonial laws. Yeshua made a similar statement about all things being clean to the Pharisee who marveled that Yeshua did not wash before dinner.

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. (Luke 11:39-41)

Paul the Apostle said that commanding to abstain from certain foods was a sign of great apostasy. He wrote to Timothy,

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

Hebrew Roots advocates and Torah-observers suggest that “sanctified by the word of God” refers to the Old Testament word of God declaring some foods clean or unclean. They say, “The unclean animals are not sanctified in the word of Yahweh.” Their position may be summarized by an article called Clean and Unclean: Commandments for Today:

Those who believe and know the truth are those who understand that Elohim created certain animals (such as sheep and cattle) to be received with thanksgiving. It is the vegetarianism that is being spouted by the New Age movement and other eastern religions that is false doctrine. Those who believe and know the truth will understand that pork and shellfish aren’t even considered to be “food” to begin with and never were intended to be “food.” . . .

So first of all, verse 5 speaks of “every creature of Elohim.” . . . Typically, the animals who are not holy (and thus, not “of Elohim”) are scavengers and garbage cleaners of the earth.

The second characteristic states that nothing is to be refused if it is “received with thanksgiving.” The previous verse said there were foods which “Elohim created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” Therefore, in context it is obvious that those are receiving it with thanksgiving in verse 4 are those who “believe and know the truth.” Those who believe and know the truth are going to know which creatures of Yahweh are set apart as food and which ones are not. . . .

Leviticus 11 speaks specifically about which animals Yahweh are unholy and abominable, and which animals are set apart for holy use. The unclean animals are not sanctified in the word of Yahweh.

By defending the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Roots movement places itself among the signs and characteristics of great apostasy. Notice Paul did not say, “Some creatures of God are good and some are to be refused.” He said, “every creature of God is good.” Moreover, “nothing is to be refused.” Being “sanctified by the Word of God,” must then refer to the teachings of Christ which we have discussed above. This would agree with Paul’s unambiguous statement to the Romans that he knew and was convinced by the Lord Jesus that nothing was unclean of itself. Paul wrote:

I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. (Romans 14:14-20)

Once again, “There is nothing unclean of itself,” and “all things indeed are pure.” This agrees with “every creature of God is good” and “nothing is to be refused.” But it is evil for the man eating with offense and offending one’s own conscience. Ceremonial dietary restrictions of Mosaic Law are reduced to matters of conscience in the New Testament. We are not to eat food that offends our own conscience or eat food that grieves another’s conscience. This important principle remains true throughout the New Testament whether it be clean and unclean foods or foods offered to idols (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:27-31)

Ceremonial ordinances such as dietary restrictions and observances of days are not moral in nature. Therefore, they are continually linked together in the New Testament with reference to the law of liberty according to conscience. In both Romans 14:1-5 and Colossians 2:16-17, Paul couples dietary restrictions with observances of days

Christians Under the Law of Moses

moses_smashing_the_tables_of_the_lawFinally, the fundamental heresy within the Hebrew Roots movement is the teaching that Christians must observe the Law of Moses. According to Hebrew Roots, Torah laws are to be obeyed by both Jews and Gentiles. One of their explanations for this comes from Numbers 15:15-16. So says Eddie Chumney in his Hebrew Roots 101:

Were there separate commandments to follow for the non-physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to follow, different from the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? The answer is: NO.

To begin with, the Law was until a certain time and no longer. Since John the Baptist, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is preached. Though the Law was not destroyed, there was a certain finality and fulfillment to it with the coming of John the Baptist who prepared the way for Christ and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Jesus fulfilled the Law and ushered in a new program called the Kingdom of God. A primary distinction between the Old and New covenants was that Moses allowed divorce and remarriage whereas Yeshua abolished divorce and remarriage. Yeshua said:

The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Luke 16:16-18)

The fact that the Law of Moses began to expire when the gospel Kingdom of God was preached does not mean that the Law failed. The Law served its purpose as a tutor until Christ should come (more on this below with regard to Galatians chapter 3).

In Acts 15, Luke the historian documented the controversy in the early church of whether or not Gentile Christians should be obligated to observe the Mosaic Law. Paul the Apostle traveled to the Jerusalem Church to receive an official decision as to whether Gentile Christians needed to become proselytes to Judaism through circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses. This is probably one of the most straightforward passages of Scripture in regard to whether or not Christians are under the Law of Moses. Yet some say that this dispute was solely to do with circumcision as verse 1 states. However, verse 5 clearly states that the conflict was not only in regard to the observance of circumcision in order to be saved but also the keeping of the Law:

And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.

So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:1-5)

Notice, the controversy was whether or not Gentile Christians should be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. If there were ever an appropriate time in early apostolic history for the Law of Moses to be declared obligatory for Gentile Christians to be saved, it would have certainly been at this Jerusalem Council. But the apostles commanded no such thing.

The Hebrew Roots Movement would agree with most Christians that salvation is by grace, not by circumcision or keeping the Mosaic Law. But they would argue that Christians who are saved by grace are later required to keep Mosaic ordinances. This was actually the very issue addressed by the Jerusalem Council. So the Hebrew Roots movement must historically reconstruct the debate of the Jerusalem Council not be over whether or not Gentile Christians should be circumcised and keep the Law in general, but whether or not they need to keep the Law first, in order to be saved. Below is an example of EliYah creating a straw man Jerusalem Council in order to present the Hebrew Roots beliefs. He says “The Good News ‘of the circumcision’” was:

Okay, yeah, repent and accept Yahushua, but you are not done, yet. You can’t be received, yet. . . . the next step, in the Gospel according to the circumcision, was learn all the Torah and obey it. THEN you get circumcised, . . . And THEN, because you have learned the Torah and have been obedient to it, THEN you are actually a son of Abraham.

But the Gospel according to Hebrew Roots is that we are saved by grace through faith, apart from the works of the Law, but then we should keep the Law after we are saved. The Hebrew Roots movement must historically reconstruct the Jerusalem Council because it clearly goes against Christians keeping the Law. Read Acts 15:1-5 again. The debate was whether or not Gentiles should be circumcised and commanded to keep the Law of Moses. The Apostles like Peter, Paul and James already knew God had received Gentiles apart from the works of the Law. This was of no relevance to them. The issue was whether or not Gentiles, after being saved by grace through faith and repentance, should be circumcised and commanded to keep the Law of Moses. There was no debate among Paul and Peter whether these Gentiles were saved or not. It was taken for granted that God had saved Gentiles. The issue was whether or not they should now be commanded to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses.

The Apostle Peter was the first to speak at the Jerusalem Council and he testified how Gentiles believed the Gospel and their hearts were purified by faith. When Peter went to Cornelius the Gentile who believed in Christ, he concluded that God shows no partiality between Jew and Gentile but whoever fears God “and works righteousness is accepted by God” (Acts 10:24-35). Those circumcised and Law-keeping Jews with Peter were astonished when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles as He did them (Acts 10:36-48). Peter retells this testimony in the Jerusalem Council:

Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” (Acts 15:6-11)

Once again, the Gentiles that believed the Gospel are saved by grace through faith in the same manner as believing Jews who observed the Law. Notice Peter’s conclusion was questioning the sect of the Pharisees as to why they would want to command the Gentile Christians to keep the Law which he referred to as a “yoke” which they nor their fathers were able to bear. This is very similar to Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians who were being confronted with the same legalistic Judaizers: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). Are we to believe with the Hebrew Roots movement that Torah-observance is a yoke in order to get saved, but is not a yoke after you have been saved? Once again, their interpretation crumbles under the words of the Apostles. In contrast to the yoke of bondage, Yeshua said,

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

What was the final decree of the Jerusalem Council? Did the apostles command the Gentiles to keep the Torah? No they did not. The apostles decreed:

Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment—it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. (Acts 15:24-29)

The apostles gave “no such commandment.” This settles the matter as to whether or not Christians are under the Law of Moses or not.
The apostles whom Yeshua chose and gave authority in the Church to bind and loose on earth what has been bound and loosed in haven (Matthew 16:19) “gave no such commandment” that Gentile Christians were to keep the Law of Moses. If the Judaizers had prevailed at this council, the entire church would have been under the Law and the Hebraic heresy of Hebrew Roots.

However, Hebrew Roots alleges that Christians once saved must later hear and do the Law, not because it saves them but because they “desire to walk as Messiah did.” But in the Jerusalem Council circumcision was also mentioned right alongside the keeping of the Law. Circumcision and the observance of the Law cannot be separated in the Jerusalem Council. If Torah-observers are consistent, they must impose circumcision if they are going to impose the Law. But Paul said, “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:2,3). The doctrine of the Hebrew Roots movement is absolutely false.

Paul the Apostle used many analogies in order to speak about the Christian’s relationship to the Law. One of those analogies was based upon the relationship of marriage. In the following passage, Paul explains how we have been freed from the Law of Moses:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:1-6)

Death and remarriage symbolizes our relationship to the Law of Moses and Christ. The first husband represents the Law of Moses or the Old Covenant. A death had to occur in order to establish a legitimate new marriage covenant. Through Christ’s body, we have become dead to the Law. Only then can we be married to a second husband, even Yeshua, in the the New Covenant. According to Paul’s illustration, we have been delivered and freed from the Mosaic Law like a woman has been freed to marry a second husband upon the death of her first husband. Thus, the headship and legal claims of the Law of Moses have been severed like that of a deceased husband. In so many words, we are not obligated to keep the Old Testament Law but Christ is our new Head.

So those Christians who would seek to keep the Mosaic Law can be likened to a woman who is trying to please a dead husband. What if this woman lawfully married a second husband after the death of her former and wanted to keep the anniversary date of the previous marriage with her new husband? And celebrate her former husband’s birthday? And cook the former husband’s favorite foods even though the new husband disliked them? In the same way, a Christian is not bound to the 613 commandments of the Old Covenant Law. Instead they are to submit to and obey Jesus as their Head just like the woman should embrace the preferences of her new lawful husband. Are we to keep both covenants? The answer is no.

The Law of Moses failed in bringing the children of Israel to an obedient faith relationship with God. But under the New Covenant, the law of Christ is inscribed by God’s Spirit on the heart of every believer. Paul spoke of the glory of the New Covenant in 2 Corinthians 3, and provides many contrasts between the two covenants. I have compiled the chart below:

contrasting-the-covenants

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11:

But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.

In Exodus 34, Moses made new tablets and the covenant was renewed with Israel. In the same chapter, Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets and his face shone. Paul is definitely making reference to Exodus 34. The reference to the Old Covenant being “written and engraved on stones” refers to the tablets of the Ten Commandments. It is clear that Paul is talking about the Old Covenant itself because the Ten Commandments are referred to as the words of the covenant: “He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” (Exodus 34:28). The Ten Commandments and the Old Covenant cannot be separated. Moreover, Moses broke the tablets of stone when Israel broke the covenant, this signifying that the Ten Commandments on the stones were the words of the covenant itself (Exodus 32:19). Also, the tablets were to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 10:2), again linking the Ten Commandments on the stones to the Covenant itself. It is the Old Covenant Law, i.e. the Ten Commandments “written and engraved on stones” which was the “ministry of death” that was “passing away” as soon as it was given.

The Old Covenant was the “ministry of death.” With the giving of the Old Covenant, “three thousand men of the people fell that day” (Exodus 32:28). With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, “that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). In this way are the Apostles words to be understood when he says, “God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Though the Old Testament Law had glory or “was glorious,” it had “no glory” because it was “passing away.” But the glory of the New Testament is “much more glorious,” and “exceeds much more in glory” because it “excels” and “remains.” The Old Covenant was only a partial revelation of God whereas the New Testament was a complete revelation. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God told him that he could see His back, but not His face (Exodus 33:12-23). Compared to the New Covenant, Paul said, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Moses could not see the fulness of God’s glory or His face, but Christians have the knowledge of the glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Figuratively speaking, we look upon God’s face unveiled and are transformed from glory to glory in contrast to Moses who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not see what was passing. Paul explains:

Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech— unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:12-18)

The KJV renders verse 13 as follows: “And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” “Taken away” or “abolished” comes from the Greek word καταργέω [kä-tär-ge’-ō] and is used in the same sense when Paul says that Jesus has “abolished [καταργέω] death” (2 Timothy 1:10). It means to cause to cease, put an end to, do away with, annul, abolish. This abolishment is in reference to the Old Testament and its glory.

Paul again makes similar statements in Ephesians 2:14-16 concerning the relationship of the Law and the Christian.

For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:14-16)

Above Paul says that Jesus “abolished” the “Law of commandments” so that Gentiles could partake of the commonwealth of Israel. Gentiles are now permitted entrance into one body with Jews because the Old Covenant has been made obsolete through the cross.

Galatians Heresy

tzitzitThe entire epistle to the Galatians directly relates to this topic of accepting Jewish legalism. The Galatians were Gentile Christians who were being brought under the Law of Moses by Judaizers. Paul felt so strongly about this that he called this heresy another Gospel:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

Accursed are those who are perverting the Gospel of Christ with Jewish legalism. “Accursed” or ἀνάθεμα [ä-nä’-the-mä] in Greek speaks of the direst of woes, a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed, a person or thing doomed to destruction. The reference to angels preaching another gospel is often applied to Islam and Mormonism and rightly so. But let’s not forget the original context. Paul is saying that those who seek to bring Christians under observance to the Mosaic Law are preaching a “different gospel,” “another gospel,” and a perversion of the Gospel.

Stubborn people today try to explain away the forceful admonitions in Galatians in a number of ways. Some will argue that the context of Galatians has only to do with Gentile circumcision but not keeping the Mosaic Law. Others will explain away the epistle’s potency by saying the problem was not the observance of Jewish customs but seeking justification in the observance of them. There are many examples today of modern Judaizers twist the Scriptures of the epistle to the Galatians to mean the exact opposite of what it really says. For example, one Hebrew Roots website says, “Galatians proves that we should observe the Torah.” They continue:

In reality, there is not a single verse in the book of Galatians or anywhere in the scripture that would tell us that the law has been abolished. Rather, much to the contrary! The book of Galatians actually proves that while we are not saved by our observance of the Torah (The Hebrew word translated “Law” all throughout the scriptures), true believers will make a sincere effort to walk in its precepts.

On the contrary, we just read Scriptures above which said the Law was “abolished” (2 Corinthians 3:13, KJV). Peter the Apostle warned us that Paul’s writings were hard to understand and some untaught and unstable people would twist them to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:14-16). In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul is clearly appealing to “you who desire to be under the Law” (Galatians 4:21). This is the context of the entire epistle. Of course there was an emphasis on circumcision, but Paul was constantly contending with Judaizers not only over circumcision but also the whole Law of Moses being imposed upon Gentile Christians. He did not say, “you who desire to be under circumcision,” but “you who desire to be under the Law.” This is the other Gospel Paul is stirred against.

Some interpret Paul to mean that the problem of being justified by the Law refers to a person seeking to keep the commandments of Christ and “establish their own righteousness.” This is not the case. In fact, he rebuked them for not obeying the Gospel: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth” (Galatians 3:1). Paul’s concern about being under the Law is not in reference to obedience to Christ, but obedience to the Law of Moses which was sometimes at variance with obeying the Gospel.

The reason Paul “withstood [Peter] to his face” (Galatians 2:11) is because he was compelling Gentiles to live as the Jews. He rebuked Peter saying, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (Galatians 2:14) Paul withstood Peter simply because he compelled Gentiles to live as the Jews. It had not yet been decreed by the Jerusalem council that converted Gentiles were acceptable to God even though they were not circumcised and didn’t keep the Law of Moses. But Peter was aware that God accepted Gentiles because he had already seen his vision followed by the conversion of Cornelius’ household (Acts 10:1-48). It is not that Peter stopped observing Jewish customs himself, but he acted as though the Jewish customs actually mattered for Gentiles when he withdrew himself from Gentiles out of fear of James and other Jewish brethren.

For before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:12,13)

This is why Paul says, “they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). Peter’s sin was public which called for a public rebuke from Paul. The truth of the Gospel which Peter was not straightforward about is that Gentiles may be accepted by God apart from circumcision or obedience to the Law of Moses. Peter had already discovered this when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles after he preached in Cornelius’ home. At that time, Peter said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34,35). Once again, whoever “works righteousness” whether Jew or Gentile is accepted by God apart from circumcision and the works of the Mosaic Law. They are required to obey the Gospel, but obedience to the Gospel and obedience to the Law are two separate things. All Christians are required to keep Yeshua’s commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, but they are not required to keep the 613 commandments of the Mosaic Law. Peter was not ignorant of God’s acceptance of Gentiles through faith in Christ, so he was to be blamed for his hypocrisy and fear of man.

Those commandments of the Law of Moses were added because of the transgressions of Israel until the seed should come to whom the promise was made (Galatians 3:19). Now that Yeshua has come, we are no longer under the tutor of the Law (Galatians 3:24). There was no need of circumcision before Abraham, nor was there need of observing Sabbaths or feasts or sacrifices before Moses. Accordingly, once faith has come, there is no need of shadows anymore. Paul the Apostle wrote:

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.

Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:19-24).

This Law tutored successive generations of Israelites from Moses to Christ, and in each generation there were some graduates. Thus, the Mosaic Law was an addition to God’s plan of bringing forth a people who exhibited obedient faith. In other words, Abraham’s offspring were manifesting the bad fruit of unbelief, being disobedient. So the Law was put in place until Yeshua the seed of Abraham came. As the nation of Israel continually failed the tests of faith in the Wilderness, God gave the laws which came to be included in the Torah. A perfect example of this is Yeshua’s words to the Pharisees concerning divorce and remarriage: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8). Because of Israel’s transgressions of divorcing their wives, they received the laws of Moses to permit them to divorce (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4). After Yeshua came, there was no longer a need for a tutor, i.e., the Law of Moses.

Perhaps the strongest picture Paul gives about the two covenants is in Galatians 4:21-31:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.” Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

Cast out the bondwoman, i.e., the Old Covenant! Isaac’s birth was a type of the New Testament spiritual new birth since he was miraculously conceived by the promise of God to barren parents. But Isaac was born according to the flesh, that is naturally. Ethnic Jews are children of Abraham because they are physical descendants of his like Ishmael. John the Baptist told ethnic Jews, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Luke 3:8). Though ethnic Jews told Jesus, “Abraham is our father” (John 8:39), Jesus told them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. . . . You are of your father the devil” (John 8:39,44). But Christians (whether Jew or Gentile) are “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Paul develops this more in depth when he says in Romans:

But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.” (Romans 9:6-9)

It should be pointed out that there is much similarity in the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, though they are far from identical. Both Sarah and Hagar bore children with the same man Abraham. Surely Isaac and Ishmael had many similarities being sons of the same father. But similarity is not identity. Isaac and Ishmael are not the same individual, neither are Sarah and Hagar. My own brother Ethan and I have many similar features about our appearance and even our interests and preferences. For instance, we both have brown hair and eyes, bushy eyebrows and wear glasses. We both grew up in Colorado in the same house and did much of the same activities as children. We both practice similar work trades and prefer similar kinds of food. But nobody would argue that we are the same individual. We have different names and different lives. Similarity is not identity.

Both the Old and New covenants come from the same Father God whose morality never changes. There is therefore much similarity and overlap between the two covenants. But they are not the same covenants. Nor is the New Covenant a Renewed Covenant as Hebrew Roots teachers and sites argue like Hebraic Heritage Ministries International. In fact, the terms and conditions are very different. But the similarities should not cause us to merge the two into one. Another example, the speed limit on I-5 in Oregon is 65 miles per hour. If you continue driving on the I-5 into the state of Washington, the speed limit is also 65 miles per hour. Are they the same law? No they are not. Though they both command 65 miles per hour, one is an Oregon state law and the other a Washington state law. In the very same manner, the Old and New covenants have much overlap and similarity because they both legislate moral decrees from God the Father, but they are not the same laws or covenants. We will see later how they are different from one another.

When Paul says, “Cast out the bondwoman,” he is clearly referring not only to bondage which came with the Old Covenant, but the Old Covenant itself. He said the bondwoman and the free woman are the two covenants. When he says, “Cast out the bondwoman,” that is to say, “Cast out the Old Covenant (which is the Law of Moses).” Paul concludes saying, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

To review how Jesus and the Apostles referred to the Old Covenant, they said it was until John, obsolete, ready to vanish away, is passing away, and abolished. Furthermore, they said we have been freed and delivered from the Law which is a yoke of bondage to be cast out. The Law was again referred to as a yoke in one of the most pivotal passages on this topic.

Hebrew Roots teaches that having begun in the Spirit, they are made perfect by the flesh, i.e., observance to the Mosaic Law. Those who hold to the Hebraic heresy of the Judaizers must ultimately reckon with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

See Also:

Faith & Works — Harmonizing Paul & James

The Sabbath

The Olivet Discourse