Torah and Tradition, Answering Criticism Pt. 2

I began yesterday answering the critical comments offered by Charles, a Pentecostal Christian who just can’t see why Torah and tradition should be emphasized in Messianic Judaism. Today, in Part 2, I will address four of the points on Charles’ list. Again, I am hoping to help Christian readers question cherished assumptions and Messianic Jewish readers to understand how we can make a case for our practice. I also hope that Jewish readers can appreciate that Jewish life and Messianic faith complement one another too well for it to be a coincidence.

Charles’ comment included twelve numbered critiques. Here are the first four:

I am interested in your comments. However from my own study, however feeble that may be, I have come to a few conclusions … [which of course may change as I study more]
1) Yes I follow a Jewish Messiah. However was God Jewish? [not trying to be funny or disrespectful here]
2) I AM a gentile, so I will follow the Jerusalem directive.
3) I find it hard to believe that God would give a partially-untrue vision to Peter [if the formerly-unclean foods were now clean, then why should I try to explain that in some other way?]
4) When I see things like ….”1 Timothy 1:9
We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,…”, it is hard to believe that trying to follow the whole Torah is the right thing to do.

By #1, I assume what Charles means is this: must we practice Judaism as if God himself is Jewish? Since I think this is the least important of Charles’ points, I will address it only briefly: no. God is neither male no female, and has no national identity. Yet, he did adopt the family of Jacob as his own special treasure, chose to incarnate as a Jewish man (whose humanity he retains), and has committed himself via covenant to the Jewish people and through Israel to the nations.

By #2, I assume that Charles means he follows the teaching of Acts 15, that Gentiles need not be circumcised, but to follow the directives established there. It is possible that Charles is unaware I agree with him on this point. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I am not part of the Hebrew roots movement, trying to turn Christians into Jews and to start a Torah revival in the church. I believe that the Jewish identity markers of Torah (Sabbath, diet, circumcision, fringes, etc.) are not commandments to non-Jews.

Point #3 finally gets us into interesting territory. Charles refers to Acts 10 and Peter’s vision. For those not familiar with the story here is a concise summary:
1. Peter saw something like a great sheet coming down and inside it were unclean animals.
2. God said eat. Peter said, “No way, I am faithful to Torah. I can’t do it.”
3. Note: You may remember Ezekiel had a similar conversation with God regarding dung.
4. God said to Peter, “Do not call unclean what I call clean.”
5. Peter immediately joined his Gentile friends where they ate a meal of suckling pig. KIDDING!
6. Peter was sent to see Cornelius a Gentile.

I want to help Christian readers question a few assumptions about the Acts 10 story.

Assumption #1: This was the first case of pigs in the blanket!
Reality #1: Vs. 12 says this is what Peter saw in the sheet:

In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.

Is anyone hungry after reading that? Do pigeons, sparrows, lizards, toads, and octopi stimulate your inner gourmet? Did you imagine that Peter saw bacon, ham, an Egg McMuffin, and easy-peel shrimp?

Assumption #2: This vision was about God repealing his dietary law from Leviticus.
Reality #2: This was a symbolic vision. Symbols, remember them? But, you say, if we take scriptures in a symbolic sense, we can make them mean anything. Not true if God tells us what they symbolize. Can you see anything in Acts 10 that was symbolized by the unclean food? Yep, Cornelius and Gentiles.

Assumption #3: It would be no big deal for God to change his laws in a drastic manner since they were earthly and unspiritual anyway.
Reality #3: Romans 7:14. And besides that, what sort of view of God does this weak view of the law suggest? Did God make a mistake with the whole law for Israel thing? Was God primitive and he grew more spiritual over time? Ridiculous and unworthy of the Holy One of Israel.

Finally, we get to Charles’ point #4, that 1 Timothy 1:9 suggests obeying Torah is not important. Let me repeat the verse for your convenience:

We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,…”, it is hard to believe that trying to follow the whole Torah is the right thing to do.

Faulty interpretation of 1 Timothy 1:9: The Torah of Israel was given so that the criminal element of society would be chastised, come to repentance, and find grace.

The problem with the faulty interpretation: have you ever read the Torah? Can you really believe this is what Paul meant? I mean, come on. Love God with all your heart. Is that a primitive command for the felons of society? Love your neighbor. Does that sound like prison preaching? The Lord God will circumcise your heart. Does that lack grace?

Correct interpretation of 1 Timothy 1:9: Paul is being highly rhetorical in attacking his opponents in Ephesus. These teachers, most likely Gentiles since they are said to know little about Torah, are setting themselves up as Torah teachers. They are making the mostly Gentile believers in Ephesus feel inadequate. They pretend to know Torah and want to instruct others. In their folly, they are using Torah for the wrong purpose. They are suggesting that some form of conversion to Judaism is necessary for salvation (a la Galatians). They are using Torah as a means of salvation, something it was not meant to do. Paul’s point is that Torah is for those who are Torah-less, to lead them to righteousness. He does not mean Torah is not also for the righteous, to grow in righteousness. Rather, he is attacking the misuse of Torah perpetrated by these teachers.

For those who think the Torah is primitive, outdated, and worldly (yes, this is a common Christian view) I encourage you: read and study Torah. Take the time. You may be surprised to find out that most of the teachings of the Bible have their seed in Torah, including grace. Paul used Torah in his teaching, even in 1 and 2 Timothy. He said it was profitable in 2 Timothy. He must not have meant what Charles implied he meant.

Next time, we’ll cover more of Charles’ comments, such as: Torah can be reduced to simply loving God and neighbor and the dietary law is a prescientific system no longer necessary.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Christian, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Replacement Theology, Supersessionism, Theology, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Torah and Tradition, Answering Criticism Pt. 2

  1. timglass says:

    “why Torah and tradition should be emphasized in Messianic Judaism.”

    Derek, I think it should be emphasized in all Christian traditions. When it is not, there is a sense of incompleteness, and Christ came to fulfill.

  2. Tim:

    Before I reply, I first need to ask what you mean.

    Do you mean that Christian should study and understand Genesis through Deuteronomy?

    Or do you mean that Christians should all circumcise their sons on the 8th day, eat a kosher diet, keep Shabbat, pray the Siddur, and separate milk and meat?

    If you mean the latter, then write a 500 word or less case for your point. I warn you, though, I will argue otherwise unless, by chance, you persuade me.

    Derek

  3. timglass says:

    I’m glad I meant the latter, I don’t think I have 500 words (so it would indeed be less)in my vocabulary. :)

    I meant the study and understanding of Genesis through Deuteronomy. I believe a great disservice in Christian teaching, is not truly understanding Judaism. Christianity was born out of Judaism, and Christ Himself was concealed in the Old Testament, to be revealed in the New. He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill, so I see the completeness of Judaism in the Church He established. Complete with the Torah,the Prophets,Wisdom and Historical Books.

    In many churches today,there is an over emphasis on New Testament teaching and an under emphasis on Old Testament teaching. When in reality, they are the same, yet there is no balance.

    I hope this makes sense.

  4. Juanita B says:

    In response to the 500 words or less. I agree with the latter as well.

    The Gentile believers in acts, who chose to embrace Yeshua. Were they not discipled by Jewish disciples, who followed a Jewish Messiah, who I believe followed and observed Torah I cannot seem to find anywhere in the Bible where it says that the sabbath, dietary laws, and the like are no longer to be followed if we are to be followers of Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. Why would we do anything different from what Yeshua did

  5. I do believe that all Believers should keep the Torah. I suppose I could condense the argument down to 500 words or less, and I will attempt to do so after I get back from this trip I’m about to leave on.

    But I ask, why 500 words or less? The Bible is HOW LONG? Why should it have to be that short? I wrote an entire book on the subject of Christians keeping Torah. Granted, much of it has to do with the HOW rather than the WHY, but still, the entire first section (about a quarter of the book) is about the WHY!

    What’s so special about 500 words?

  6. dishtvdeal says:

    “a Pentecostal Christian who just can’t see why Torah and tradition should be emphasized in Messianic Judaism.”

    Sorry. I guess I explained that wrong. I DO NOT see WHY THE TORAH should be emphasized in regular evangelical Christianity. Jesus the author of the Torah, should be emphasized in all Christendom. I certainly have no objection to anyone studying the Torah. Far from it. It would be a good thing to do. Isn’t it supposed to be part of our “Christian” Bible?

    #1 I totally believe that God has a special spot in his heart for Jewish people. There are hordes of promises to them and God usually does not change his mind. I say usually because there are references that indicate that he can and would … such as finding 10 just men in Sodom?

    “By #2, I assume that Charles means he follows the teaching of Acts 15, that Gentiles need not be circumcised, but to follow the directives established there. It is possible that Charles is unaware I agree with him on this point. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I am not part of the Hebrew roots movement, trying to turn Christians into Jews and to start a Torah revival in the church. I believe that the Jewish identity markers of Torah (Sabbath, diet, circumcision, fringes, etc.) are not commandments to non-Jews.”

    [so who are the progenitors of the Hebrew roots movement, Derek? I really would like to know because they are mixing some people in our church up very badly.]

    It is SO NICE to agree!

    “Reality #2: This was a symbolic vision. Symbols, remember them? But, you say, if we take scriptures in a symbolic sense, we can make them mean anything.”
    My point is this. Can you think of ANY PARABLE or example that God used or Jesus used which WAS WRONG when taken literally but right when taken as a symbol?

    Please tell me if you can. I cannot picture God saying I am going to tell you a little story about taking drugs, HOWEVER you must understand that you cannot take this literally! Really? As soon as we say something is symbolic and NOT LITERAL, we are interpreting. Unless of course, Jesus came and explained it after to his disciples.

    Would God be SO limited that He would have to take A WRONG EXAMPLE to explain another concept? Don’t you think the God of the universe is SO BRILLIANT, he can “kill two birds with one stone”? Why would he give an example about unclean being clean and then have to have a pastor interpret that you cannot take that literally? Sounds Catholic to me.

    “Assumption #3: It would be no big deal for God to change his laws in a drastic manner since they were earthly and unspiritual anyway.
    Reality #3: Romans 7:14. And besides that, what sort of view of God does this weak view of the law suggest? Did God make a mistake with the whole law for Israel thing? Was God primitive and he grew more spiritual over time? Ridiculous and unworthy of the Holy One of Israel”

    NO IT IS BECAUSE WE WERE PRIMITIVE IN OUR UNDERSTANDING.

    God does not change but he EXPANDS! Look at all the promises to Abraham and to each of his descendents. Are they all identical? Or did he EXPAND the meaning of them?

    Look at Jesus saying, “You have heard that it was said to the ancients, “You shall not kill” –and, “Whoever shall kill shall be liable to the judgment.” But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be liable to the judgment. And whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the sanhedrin; but whoever shall say, Fool! shall be liable to be thrown into the fire of hell.
    (Mat 5:21-22 MKJV)

    Jesus repeats “BUT I SAY TO YOU” OVER AND OVER AGAIN. I count 13 times in Mathew. Why? Was this something they knew before? Or was he EXPANDING THEIR UNDERSTANDING?

    Do we always grasp the full meaning of what is said to us? Derek answering my questions [NOT CRITICISMS] thinking I mean one thing when I mean another is proof that we do not.

    Do we always grasp the FULL MEANING of what God is or has said to us?

    If the Jews had perfect understanding of what God wanted from them, would Jesus have had to come and correct them? Would he have had to EXPAND their understanding?

    When we are children, we DO NOT understand the full importance of many things explained to us by our earthly fathers. When we get older and have our own children [with the help of our wives], we begin to understand what Daddy was telling us all those years ago.

    “When I was an infant, I spoke as an infant, I thought as an infant, I reasoned as an infant. But when I became a man, I did away with the things of an infant. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall fully know even as I also am fully known.”
    (1Co 13:11-12 MKJV)

    I ask again. Do we ALWAYS understand perfectly what God is saying to us?

    Or when he sees that we misunderstand, does he try to tell us in a way we do understand?

    “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways, says Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
    (Isa 55:8-9 MKJV)

    I sure wish you would change that word CRITICISM, DEREK! I take the word “CRITICISM” usually to be a negative and I am NOT being negative. I am trying to find answers to questions which I see some in our church and elsewhere are tripping on. Instead of his yoke is easy and his burden is light, they will need to strike those words OUT of their Bible and write in “YOUR YOKE IS HARD, AND YOUR BURDEN IS HARDER.”

    -Brother
    Charles

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