The Hebrew word Torah means “instruction.” It is commonly translated into our Bibles by the English word “law.” The Torah is the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In those books Moses wrote the laws that God gave to instruct his people about how to live and worship.
Contrary to popular notions, the Old Testament Law (Torah) was not abolished by the Gospels. The early believers continued to practice the commandments of the Torah throughout the New Testament period and beyond.
The Torah was never given as a means for attaining salvation. Instead, the laws of the Torah are given to be upon our hearts. We are to show our love for God by keeping them (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). The Torah is profitable “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Yeshua warned us not to think that he had come to abolish the Torah (Matthew 5:17). He said that “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
This does not mean that we must keep the Torah in order to earn salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We do not keep the Torah in order to be saved, we keep it because we are saved. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in the Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
People often ask us how we can reconcile Messianic Judaism, Torah, and our emphasis on Jewishness with the writings of the Apostle Paul, particularly the book of Galatians. We believe that Paul has been profoundly misunderstood, and no book of the Bible is more misunderstood than the book of Galatians.
Paul was a faithful Jew who kept the Torah his entire life, even after becoming a believer. Contrary to popular opinion, he did not teach against the Law or Judaism, he taught against requiring Gentiles to become Jewish through “the works of the Law,” i.e. getting circumcised.
The Apostle Paul found himself in a long-term argument with other Jewish believers over the position of non-Jews in the kingdom of heaven. His opponents asserted that before a Gentile could be saved, he must first be circumcised (which in Paul’s day meant a conversion to Judaism) and keep the whole Torah of Moses (Acts 15:5).
Paul disagreed. In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul responded to his opponents’ teaching by forbidding the Galatian Gentiles from converting to become Jewish (i.e. circumcised). In the case of Gentiles with Jewish heritage, however, Paul did not hesitate to circumcise them because it did not imply a conversion. He personally oversaw Timothy’s circumcision. He encouraged Gentiles like Titus and the Galatians to remain uncircumcised because they were not Jewish.
When we read Paul outside of the context of that argument, we often misunderstand him completely. When we forget that he was arguing against requiring Gentiles to be circumcised in order to merit salvation, we assume that he was arguing against keeping Torah. But he was only arguing that becoming Jewish could not be regarded as prerequisites for salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
So long as we remember that Paul addressed his epistles primarily to Gentile believers, all the difficulties with reconciling Paul and the Torah are eliminated.
In one of his oft-misunderstood passages, the Apostle Paul speaks of a written document of condemnation that was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). This document is frequently misinterpreted as the Torah. Well-meaning brothers and sisters often triumphantly declare that Messiah nailed the Torah to the cross (God forbid). Translations like the NIV encourage this kind of interpretation by translating the nailed document as “the written code,” a term that seems to imply a law code, namely the Torah.
In Colossians 2:14, it is not the Torah that has been nailed to the cross. It is better understood as a written verdict of condemnation, or a legal note of debts:
Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of debt against us, which was hostile to us; he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)
The “certificate of debt” that has been taken out of the way and nailed to the cross is condemnation and guilt. Condemnation (i.e. death) is the ultimate curse of the Torah. It is this curse that Messiah took upon himself when he became “a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
People often misunderstand Romans 10:4 to mean that Christ ended the Torah. In the Epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul said, “Messiah is the end of the Torah,” (Romans 10:4), and in his epistle to the Galatians he wrote, “The Torah was put in charge to lead us to Messiah” (Galatians 3:24). In this sense, Messiah is the goal of the Torah. He is the destination at which the journey of Torah arrives. Is Messiah to be understood as the ending of the Torah then? No. He is the end, but not the ending. The Greek word used for “end” in Romans 10:4 implies that he is the goal of the Torah but not the termination of it. In fact, He Himself has said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah …” (Matthew 5:17).
In what sense is Yeshua the goal and “ending” of the Torah? He lived a perfectly righteous and sinless life. He perfectly lived out the Torah. Therefore, he is the end for which the Torah aimed.
FFOZ has a mixed staff of Jewish and Gentile believers. We believe that Jews are still the unique, chosen people of God. We reject the idea that Israel has been replaced by the church. For thousands of years, God has preserved the identity of the Jewish people. As Paul says, “What advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect!” (Romans 3:1-2) At First Fruits of Zion we teach the unity of Jew and Gentile in Messiah. We assert that Gentile believers are grafted into Israel as Paul says in Romans 11, forming “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) and that in Messiah, “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28). However, none of that diminishes the unique and precious distinction of ethnic/halachic Jewish identity.
While it is true that we teach equality in Messiah, we must also remember to preserve and cherish the unique place of ethnic Jews among us and be wary of doing anything that might displace their unique, historic connection with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Paul said “there is neither Jew nor Greek,” but he also said in the same verse, “there is neither male nor female.” Obviously he did not mean that we should obliterate the lines of distinction between genders. Neither then should we obliterate the lines of distinction between Jew and Gentile.
The Bible fully obligates Jews to keep the Torah. Acts 21:20-25 makes it clear that the apostles expected Jewish believers to remain steadfast in the Torah after coming to faith in Messiah. Therefore, at FFOZ, we encourage Jewish believers to demonstrate their Jewishness through faithful observance of God’s commandments.
The Torah was given to the Jewish people as a sacred covenant. Nevertheless, Gentiles are included in the Torah, and Gentile believers are obligated to keep many of the Torah's commandments.
The Torah assumes a basic level of ethical monotheism from Gentiles. For example, the story of Noah tells about God punishing Gentiles for robbery, violence, and sexual decadence, and in that story, God gives specific commandments to Noah and his sons about food, murder, and justice. Judaism refers to these laws as the seven laws of Noah:
Do not worship idols or other gods.
Do not blaspheme God's name.
Do not murder.
Do not commit sexual immorality.
Do not steal.
Do not eat things while they are still alive (i.e., meat with blood).
Establish courts of justice.
The apostles taught that, in addition to the basic laws of ethical monotheism, Gentile believers in Yeshua should also keep the commandments that applied to a stranger sojourning among Israel by keeping the Torah's prohibitions on ingesting blood, improperly slaughtered meat, things contaminated by contact with idolatry, and by adopting the Torah's definitions of sexual immorality and observing those prohibitions (See Acts 15; Leviticus 17-18). In addition to this, the apostles taught that Gentile believers in Yeshua should keep all the commandments of the Torah that pertain to loving one's fellow:
For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Torah." (Romans 13:9-10)
The apostles did not require Gentile believers to adopt the specific Torah practices unique to the Jewish people (such as circumcision, Sabbath, holy days, levitical rituals, etc.) but neither did they discourage Gentiles from participating along with them in the Sabbath, holy days, and Jewish life. When a Gentile becomes a believer, he receives a divine mandate to keep the laws that apply to him as a Gentile and a divine invitation to celebrate with the Jewish people the laws that apply to the Jewish people.
God commands his people regarding what they are to eat. He forbids them to eat certain animals (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14), blood and meat not properly bled (Leviticus 17:11-12; Deuteronomy 12:15-16; Acts 15:20), and food contaminated by idols (Exodus 34:15; Acts 15:19-20). These laws constitute the biblical dietary regulations.
For food to be regarded as “kosher” (proper) by traditional Jewish standards, meat and dairy must also be kept separate (Deuteronomy 14:21) and the meat must be slaughtered according to traditional methods under rabbinic supervision. The biblical food laws were never rescinded in the New Testament.
Yeshua is the Hebrew name of Jesus. The apostles testify that Yeshua of Nazareth is the promised Davidic Messiah, the Son of God, the “Word made flesh” (John 1:14), “in whom the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).