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The first 400 years, a history of misconceptions of the Torah 


The first 400 years, a history of misconceptions of the Torah

From “Torah Rediscovered”

Ariel and D'vorah Berkowitz


Following the Torah is not a part of Salvation, other than showing the person that they have sinned.  Keeping the Torah is not required to maintain Salvation. 

The value of Torah is showing what G-d defines as sin, and directions on how to “be Holy as I am Holy”, living a righteous life, after salvation, by the power of the Ruach Ha’Kodesh (The Holy Breath or Spirit).

Many attempt to say Sha’ul’s (Paul’s) teachings superceeded Yeshua’s (Jesus’s), but can the servant superceed the Master, G-d Himself in the flesh?  To borrow from Sha’ul, G-d Forbid!


We will see historically how some attempted to discourage believers from following the Torah in two different ways:

1.      by suggesting that the Torah had been done away with

2.      by changing the mental (and verbal) concepts of Torah into a concept called "law."

By looking at Church history, we can learn much about what motivated some of the ancient Church leaders to discourage believers from following the Torah. Then, after having established the necessary historical foundation, we will examine some selected passages from the Brit Hadasha which are often used to teach against Torah observance.

A Bitter History Lesson

Turning back 1,800 years of history is difficult, but if we are to develop and teach a biblically accurate theology of the Torah, that is precisely what we must do.

Christian misunderstanding of the Torah is a complex issue. It stems from a gross misinterpretation of several biblical passages, mostly in the writings of Sha'ul of Tarsus (Paul). But this contemporary misinterpretation is bolstered by approximately 1,800 years of anti-Jewish rhetoric from some of the Church's so-called finest exegetes-the Church fathers.

"Why were we not taught about the Jewish believers? Why was so little mentioned about the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people? Why do these textbooks present such a rosy picture of the Church fathers, when some of them were among the most anti-Jewish people who have ever lived?"

We do not know the full answer to these questions. Perhaps, because there were so few Jewish believers, there was simply little or no interest in these subjects. But whatever the reason, the fact remains that seminary curricula not only omitted some of the most significant events in the lives of the early believers-the majority of whom were Jewish-but actually covered up the real stories behind many of the theological decisions of the Church fathers and councils. I am not saying there was a conscious effort to do so; I do not know if there was or not. But the fact remains that it was done.

As a result, many passages in the Brit Hadasha have been grossly misinterpreted, with an anti-Torah bias, throughout the centuries. Let us look at some of the history of the early Church in order to see how this occurred.

Acts 21: The Key

Our survey of ancient Church history must begin with a brief look at Acts 21.  There are two important aspects of this passage, which are crucial for our purposes here. The first is the chronology. The second is the hermeneutical principle, which the passage inadvertently establishes.

Many evangelical Bible teachers assert that we can obtain very little theology from the Book of Acts because, they say, it is a transitional book. And in many ways it is. Consider Luke's description of the outreach of Yeshua's followers as it shifted from a Jewish audience to one that was predominantly Gentile. One reason Acts was written was to show how the Church first acquired so many believers from a Gentile background.

If described in these or similar terms, we can accept the labeling of Acts as a transitional book. But many scholars go beyond the scope of history and assert a theological transition. In explaining why the focus of attention in Acts is on Sha'ul of Tarsus, evangelical mainstay Merrill C. Tenney says this:

Since Paul was the leader of the Gentile mission, he deserved primary attention, and the explanation of the transition from Jew to Gentile, from law to grace, and from Palestine to the empire did not call for a comprehensive survey of all that took place in the missionary growth of the Christian church. For Luke's purpose the presentation of this one phase was sufficient.33 (Italics mine)

The source for this quotation is the revised edition of Tenney's New Testament Survey, one of the standard textbooks in many Bible colleges for New Testament introduction or survey courses.

Notice how Tenney describes the transition in Acts. For him, and many others like him, it was not merely a transition from a predominantly Jewish body of Messiah to a predominantly Gentile one. Rather, it was also a transition "from law to grace." Acts 21 makes such a conclusion untenable. If there was such a theological transition intended by God, then we would expect to see fewer and fewer believers following the Torah. Instead, Acts 21 tells us that some thirty years after Yeshua sent His students around the world to tell others of His grace, there grew such a strong Jewish congregation in Jerusalem that it was noted "how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Torah" (verse 20).

Notice several details about this verse. First, the number of people involved. Most English translations read "thousands." However, the Greek text (myriads) should be translated "tens of thousands." It is extremely difficult to be precise on how large the city of Jerusalem was just before its fall in 70 CE. The estimates range from 80,000 to 400,000.34 No matter what the size, the text in Acts presents the fact that there were "many tens of thousands"-over 30,000-Jewish believers in Jerusalem at that time. This number constituted a significant percentage of the population.

In addition, this large number of Jewish believers were "all zealous for the Torah." If it's true that God actually designed a theological transition from "law to grace," then someone should have told these hordes of Messianic zealots! After all, thirty years is thirty years, a long enough time to show signs of such a transition. On the other hand, could it be they understood that the Torah was a written expression of God's grace, realized through acceptance of the Messiah Yeshua's sacrificial atonement?

Sha'ul's Golden Moment

So much for the chronological importance of this passage. What can it tell us about hermeneutics? Plenty!

By the time the events recorded in Acts 21 took place, Sha'ul's epistles to the Galatians and Romans were history, according to Tenney. It is precisely these two epistles which have been used by many a Bible scholar to "prove" that the Torah has been declared obsolete.

An accurate interpretation of Acts 21 should put an end to such thinking. To be sure, because Sha'ul had written Galatians and Romans by that time, his views regarding the Torah began to be misunderstood-so much so, that the leaders of the Jerusalem believers challenged him concerning his views (verses 17-26). It was rumored, they said, that he was "teaching all of the Jews among the Gentiles to forsake Moshe, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs" (verse 21). The elders then demanded that Sha'ul either acknowledge the truth of the charges against him, or prove them false.

Here was a golden theological opportunity for Sha'ul of Tarsus . His next move should have constituted the defining moment for the Church in regard to the proper attitude of the believer toward the Torah. However, while what Sha'ul chose to do was absolutely clear in the text and to all who witnessed his actions, it certainly was not heeded by the rest of the Church, to judge by the centuries of anti-Torah rhetoric that followed! For the record, let it be pointedly stated (as we did earlier in this book): Sha'ul chose to uphold the Torah of Moshe. He chose to follow it and to encourage-even teach-other believers in Yeshua to make it their lifestyle. Acts 21:23-26 makes this clear in no uncertain terms.

If Sha'ul-or any other teacher-is to be trusted and his teaching followed, then it goes without saying that the conduct of his life must live up to the moral and ethical standards of his teaching. Sha'ul would not say one thing while doing the opposite. He would not write in Galatians and Romans, or any other of his letters, instructions to abandon or disregard the Torah if he himself used it as the basis for his lifestyle-that would be unthinkable!

We see, therefore, that Acts 21 must become part of our hermeneutics. On the surface, Sha'ul's writings may seem to indicate that the Torah should be done away with or disregarded by believers; however, Acts 21 requires us to dismiss that interpretation as invalid. The principles of biblical hermeneutics dictate that we use our knowledge of Sha'ul's conduct in Acts 21 to help us interpret his writings.

The Mess that Followed

The events related in Acts 21 took place sometime in the early to mid-60's CE. From that time until after the Bar Kochba war-the Second Jewish Revolt, ending in 135 CE-many complicated events happened in both Church and Jewish history. Quite often, what happened to one affected the other. This was especially the case after the Second Jewish Revolt.

By the year 135 CE, the Church's population was predominantly Gentile, although a large and strong Jewish believing community still existed. By this time, however, there was a significant separation between the Church and the Synagogue. One principal reason for this was the unwillingness of many non-Jewish believers to suffer the wrath of imperial Rome that had come upon their nationalistic Messianic Jewish brethren.

Jewish believers had been fully willing to participate in the Bar Kochba rebellion (132-135 AD\CE) until Rabbi Akiva declared him to be the Messiah. At that point they could no longer fight alongside their Jewish countrymen. Yet to Rome they were still Jewish. Moreover, their sentiments were for their own homeland, as opposed to Rome . Thus, the Jewish believers suffered as much as the rest of the Jewish people after Bar Kochba's failed revolution. The non-Jewish element in the Church, however, saw no reason to identify with this Jewish nationalism. Hence, they sought various means to demonstrate to Rome that they were not a Jewish sect, as Rome had previously assumed them to be.

Historian Hugh Schonfield states the issue clearly:

The political crisis in Jewish affairs engendered among the Churches of the Empire a coldness and aloofness towards the Jewish Christians, which, after the Second Jewish Revolt in the reign of Hadrian, led to almost complete separation. The Roman Christians could not be expected to sympathize with the national aspirations of the Nazarenes. For them the destruction of Jerusalem and the cessation of the temple services meant the end of the law. It came to them as a happy release from the incubus of Judaism and left them free to develop a Christian philosophy of their own better suited to the Gentile temperament.35

From the Jewish Side

Meanwhile, there were other factors contributing to the separation between the Jewish and non-Jewish elements, both inside and outside of the Church. Rabbinic Judaism, in an attempt to define itself after the fall of the Temple in 70 AD\CE , also caused the believers in Yeshua to feel uncomfortable in their community. It was during this time that the famous "benediction" against the "minim," or heretics, became a fixture in many synagogues as they were praying the Amidah.  Again, the precise history of this is vague, but essentially the words against the heretics amounted to a curse pronounced against believers in Yeshua, particularly Jewish believers. Moreover, the non-Jewish believers also took offense at this, provoking further animosity between them.

A good example of how the non-Jewish element of the Church received such rabbinic practices is found in the writings of Justin Martyr, a Church leader who lived about 100-165 AD\CE . In his famous Dialogue with Trypho (a Jewish man), Dialogues 16 and 96, he writes:

"To the utmost of your power you dishonor and curse in your synagogues all those who believe in Christ....In your synagogues you curse too those who through them have become Christians, and the Gentiles put into effect your curse by killing all those who merely admit that they are Christians."

The Irreparable Rift

The Church's desire to convince Rome of their non-Jewishness was one thing. But the way they chose to do it has left a permanent black mark on the history of biblical interpretation and the relationship between Church and Synagogue ever since. Already quite anti-Jewish in their teachings, and fueled by a growing anti-Semitic sentiment as well as the flamboyant rhetoric of its leaders, the Church began in the mid-second century to issue a series of anti-Jewish laws, some of which are still esteemed today.

At the core of this preaching was a severe attack against the Torah and its teachings. In this example from the Epistle of Barnabas, dating from between 130-138 AD\CE , we see that there apparently were many believers who were sympathetic to Jewish people, perhaps even living Torah-centered lifestyles themselves. Against such, Barnabas (not to be confused with the Barnabas found in Acts, though the epistle would have us believe them to be one and the same) writes:

Take heed to yourselves and be not like some, piling up your sins and saying that the covenant is theirs as well as ours. It is ours, but they lost it completely just after Moses received it.... (Epistle 4:6-7)

Writing shortly after this epistle, Justin Martyr (quoted above) declares not only that the covenant no longer belongs to the Jewish people, but also that the signs of both the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants-circumcision and Shabbat respectively-have no further validity.

We, too, would observe your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in a word all your festivals, if we were not aware of the reason why they were imposed upon you, namely, because of your sins and your hardness of heart.   (Dialogue 18, 2)

Bacchiocchi concludes from such statements that the adoption of Sunday as the Christian day of worship went hand in hand with the anti-Jewish and anti-Torah teaching which had begun to proliferate: "What better way to evidence the Christians' distinction from the Jews than by adopting a different day of worship?" Moreover, by rejecting the Torah and replacing it with pagan ideas, such as venerating the day of the Sun, people like Martyr may also have been attempting to "make the Emperor aware that Christians were not Jewish rebels but obedient citizens...the Romans already at that time venerated the day of the Sun...and repeated reference to such a day could well represent a calculated effort to draw the Christians closer to the Roman customs than to those of the Jews."37

Thus, the anti-Torah attitudes of the early Church began as an effort both to make the Good News palatable to the pagans and to convince the imperial government of Rome that they were not Jews, thereby skirting any anti-Jewish enmity from the government. Once the door was opened for anti-Torah interpretation in a predominantly non-Jewish Church, it became increasingly difficult to shut. Many of the most well-known and respected Church leaders walked through that door, with their followers close behind.

A good example is John Chrysostom.  Church history teaches that this fiery fourth-century preacher was a gifted rhetorician-known, in fact, as "golden mouthed." Cairns describes Chrysostom as a person who "did not always possess tact, but he did have a courteous, affectionate, kindly nature." Then, after describing his theologically sound exegetical methods, Cairns tells us, "He taught that there must be no divorce of morals and religion; the cross and ethics must go hand in hand."38

These quotations are taken from Christianity Through the Centuries, a well-known textbook which has been standard issue in evangelical colleges for many years. Look, now, at a different side of Chrysostom, the side that most evangelicals either do not know or choose not to discuss. Edward Flannery provides several documented quotations of Chrysostom's attitudes toward the Jewish people in his highly respected work on Christian anti-Semitism, The Anguish of the Jews. Mixing his own transitions with Chrysostom's words, Flannery writes:

How can Christians dare "have the slightest converse" with the Jews, "most miserable of all who are rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits...ravenous murderers, destroyers, men possessed by the devil...." The Synagogue? It is the "domicile of the devil, as is also the soul of the Jews." Their religion is "a disease."

Because of all this and more, Chrysostom, the expert on ethics and morals, tells Christians:

He who can never love Christ enough will never have done fighting against them [the Jews] who hate Him. Flee, then, their assemblies, flee their houses, and far from venerating the synagogue because of the books it contains hold it in hatred and aversion for the same reason. I hate the synagogue precisely because it has the law and the Prophets....I hate the Jews because they outrage the law.42

At the core of this hatred, according to Flannery, are the accusations that the Jews are Christ killers whose law should have no part in the life of the Christian. Indeed, there are many other documented examples of the hatred of the early Church toward the Jewish people, and toward the writings of Moshe as a way of life. It is true that the Torah was used to illustrate many truths about the Messiah. But after centuries of anti-Jewish, anti-Torah, and even anti-Semitic teaching from the most influential leaders of the Church, no one would dare attempt to follow one of its precepts or teach others to do the same.

Multiply the years, the decades, and the centuries. Changing a time-honored tradition can be extremely difficult, especially when people we love and respect see little need for such a change. This is especially true as regards the interpretation of the passages in the Brit Hadasha which discuss the Torah. Unfortunately, we stand on centuries of anti-Torah tradition in the Church. One way to begin breaking that tradition is to examine how it became a tradition in the first place; thus the brief historical sketch above. You yourself can also begin to break destructive traditions and to establish new, honest and accurate interpretive traditions by dealing fairly and justly with God's Word.

Building Better Traditions-The Tradition of "Law"

There is another way to break a tradition of lies: we must begin to tell the truth. For our purposes, we will need to reexamine a few of the many passages in the Brit Hadasha which have been used to speak against the Torah. Rav Sha'ul of Tarsus (Paul) is often looked upon as the culprit-the one who forsook Torah and began a new way of thinking about it. Let us now survey a few examples of his letters.

In addition to the historical precedent as outlined above, at the core of the problems of the anti-Torah interpretation of the Brit Hadasha is the misunderstanding of the Greek word nomos. This word is quite often translated "law." However, "In the Septuagint nomos occurs about 430 times...the commonest equivalent is torah....It is important to note that torah does not mean 'law' in the modern sense of the term."43

From this we learn that even though the writers of the Brit Hadasha translated the Hebrew word torah with a Greek word, nomos, which could mean "law," the intended meaning behind that word was most often "torah," or in English, "teaching." But when prevailing theological tradition holds that the Torah is no longer valid as a way of life for the believer in Yeshua, the natural way of translating nomos is with its secular equivalent of "law." Thus, we have the linguistic concept of "law" born in the Brit Hadasha. However, "law" is not merely an erroneous way of translating the Hebrew concept of torah; it constitutes an erroneous theological idea all in itself. This idea could be termed "justification by works"-a system which requires us to do, or not do, certain things in order to be justified in His sight.

Performance-Based Acceptance

Sinful man has always had a tendency to take God's teachings and make laws out of them. He does this because, in his depraved state, he thinks that the only way to receive or retain God's acceptance is to earn it by meeting some standard of behavior. (Incidentally, this legalistic tendency is not restricted to God's Torah; it can be applied to any teaching on the subject of righteousness.) Thus, man has taken God's written expression of His heart and mind and perverted it into a list of rules which, obeyed to the letter, promise to win him the approval of the Almighty. Furthermore, he has added to this system of acceptable behavior a second list of rules which he himself has devised.

This system of performance-based acceptance is embraced by man as his "religion." Man-made religion seeks to reduce God's Word to a set of laws and regulations which require us to perform. It also attempts to rate our worth before God according to how well we perform. However, the Torah of God gives us the freedom to be the new creations He has made us to be-those who walk by faith, in an intimate relationship with our Father and with our Bridegroom.

Unfortunately, many in the Body have unwittingly fallen into the "law" tradition as well. Although aware of the grace of God, these believers nevertheless feel that God might not continue to love them, or save them, unless they obey some list of rules. This also is called law. Thus, the same fate has befallen these believers as the unbelievers: they have confused God's Torah with man-made, religious-looking laws.

Again, one reason for this confusion is the mistranslation of the word nomos in the Brit Hadasha. Instead of accurately rendering it as torah, the translators persisted in their centuries-old belief that the Torah of Moshe has little place, if any, in the life of Yeshua's followers. Hence, they have chosen the word "law" where torah would have been the accurate translation.

Problem Phrases-the Book of Galatians

Another factor contributing to the misinterpretation of Rav Sha'ul is the language he uses, especially in Romans and Galatians, in discussing the believer's relationship to the Torah. We have two specific phrases in mind: upo nomen ("under the law") and erga nomou ("works of the law"). When Sha'ul uses these terms, it is generally in a rather negative light.

Look, for example, at Romans 6:14, which reads, "For you are not under law but under grace [italics ours]." Here Sha'ul is stressing that the believer in Yeshua is dependent on Messiah for his salvation, which he can only receive through the grace of God. An example of the second phrase, "works of the law," is found in Galatians 2:16, "knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Yeshua the Messiah." Whatever "works of law" means, it is clearly being used in a negative sense, denoting something opposed to having faith in Yeshua for salvation. Indeed, Sha'ul rebuked the Galatians for trusting in works of law.

In these passages, Sha'ul was teaching against legalism-the attempt by people to earn, merit, or keep one's salvation through obedience to law. But there were no sufficient words to express "legalism." Instead he had to use certain phrases which, interpreted incorrectly, could easily lead one to believe that he was against the Torah.

C. E. B. Cranfield has shed much light on the meaning of these two Greek phrases, helping us to perceive what Sha'ul actually meant by them, as well as to understand more fully his true stand on the Torah. Because Cranfield's remarks are so instructive, we will quote him at length:

It will be well to bear in mind the fact (which, as far as we know, had not received attention before it was noted)...that the Greek language of Paul's day possessed no word-group corresponding to our "legalism," "legalist," and "legalistic." This means that he lacked a convenient terminology for expressing a vital distinction, and so was surely seriously hampered in the work of clarifying the Christian position with regard to the law. In view of this we should always, we think, be ready to reckon with the possibility that Pauline statements, which at first sight seem to disparage the law, are really directed not against the law itself but against that misunderstanding and misuse of it for which we now have a convenient terminology. In this very difficult terrain Paul was pioneering. If we make due allowance for these circumstances, we shall not be so easily baffled or misled by a certain impreciseness of statement which we shall sometimes encounter.44

We encounter the same dilemma in the Hebrew language. There are no Hebrew words which can easily convey the concepts of "legalism" or "legalist." Thus Sha'ul, whether using his Hebrew-oriented mind or his Greek language, was hindered in his attempts to explain that legalism was not what God intended. From our understanding of the true nature of the Torah and Rav Sha'ul's (Paul’s) theology, it is our opinion that he did an excellent job of overcoming this language barrier!

The next detrimental theological tradition we must bring to light is the long-standing misinterpretation of nomos/torah in the Book of Galatians. This is the book that says, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." (5:18) Moreover, such people have "fallen from grace." (5:4) In addition, "I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you." (5:2)

These rather harsh-sounding statements, among a host of others in this letter, have been used for centuries against any believer who desired to follow the Torah-especially in regard to circumcision, Shabbat observance, or any other non-moral issue. What are we to make of them?

All we need to know are two basic facts. The first is the hermeneutical principle established by Acts 21:20ff. If it appears that Sha'ul was teaching against the Torah in any way, that impression must give way to the truth of how he lived his life. If Acts 21 tells us that Sha'ul lived his life according to the Torah and encouraged others to do the same, then we will miss the boat if we interpret Galatians as coming from an anti-Torah viewpoint.

The second fact to bear in mind is the hermeneutical principle of context, especially the context of the whole book. To be specific, the context of the letter to the Galatians is that of justification by faith. Sha'ul was warning them not to make a "law" out of the Torah. By turning God's teaching and covenant into a list of legalistic laws, the Galatians were abandoning the principle of justification by faith and resorting to justification by works. They were using the Torah as a means of earning, meriting, or keeping the eternal salvation which they had received by grace through faith in the finished work of Yeshua.

Sha'ul provides several indications that this was the case with the Galatians. The first is in 2:16, "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but through faith in Messiah Yeshua, even we have believed in Messiah Yeshua, that we may be justified by faith in Messiah, and not by the works of the law; since by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." The issue on Sha'ul's mind was God's requirement for our justification.

Looking at the Greek of Galatians 2:16, we find that the definite article before the phrase "works of law" has been left out. It is not, as many English versions translate it, "works of the law." If the translator adds the definite article, it helps the reader to assume that "the law" is a reference to the Torah. In fact, however, it is not. "Works of law" is a phrase indicating a man-made system of works, of which performance-based acceptance is the core belief. Ergon nomou should be translated as "works of law."

Thus, Galatians 2:16 should read: "knowing that a man is not justified by works of law but through faith in Messiah Yeshua, even we have believed in Messiah Yeshua, that we may be justified by faith in Messiah, and not by works of law; since by works of law shall no flesh be justified."

Galatians 5:4 reads, "You have been severed from Messiah, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." Many use this verse to demonstrate that those who follow the Torah have fallen from the grace of God because they are obeying the "law" instead of Messiah-who, it is argued, set them free from the law. In defense of this position, they cite the context (verses 2-3): "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Messiah will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole law." They say, "If you do what the Torah says and circumcise your sons, you are no longer following Yeshua."

Our response? Sha'ul himself provides the key for the correct understanding of this passage in verse 4, in which he tells us that anyone who observes Torah while "seeking to be justified by law" runs into all kinds of problems.

Some of the Galatians thought that obeying the Torah (or any set of standards) would cause them to receive their spiritual heritage-justification before God. However, the moment one believes that obedience can secure righteousness, he has moved from the realm of grace into that of works. The blessings of God, he thinks, are attainable as a result of what he does.

Sha'ul, on the other hand, says that such a person has fallen from the principle of grace to the principle of "law." In effect, when one believes such an erroneous teaching, the atonement accomplished by Yeshua has no value for him, since he is relying on what he does instead of what Yeshua did for him.

The teachings of the Torah were never intended to be used for such a purpose. Eternal salvation is based on receiving the promises of God, which are given by grace to those who do not deserve them. The only acceptable response to this grace is to receive it by faith, rather than attempt to earn it by doing something. If we obey the Torah in order to enjoy the blessings of the grace of God received by faith, we are not "fallen from grace"; rather, we are embracing the grace of God for our lives. Put another way, if man tries to earn the blessings of God instead of appropriating Messiah's life, he has abandoned the principle of grace and fallen to the principle of "law." To live the Torah is to live our new creation life in Messiah: it is actually His life in us, a life of grace and truth. Thus the Torah is God's revelation to those born of Him, concerning how they are to act in line with the truth of the Good News. (Galatians 2:14)

Real biblical faith is the kind of trust in God that always results in a changed life. The Torah (as well as the Brit Hadasha) describes what that changed life looks like. It does not cause that changed life. That is the miraculous work of God, born of His grace.

We must leave Galatians now. Our point was to establish the fact that the statements in the letter which seem to teach against the Torah are not against it at all if one uses the Torah properly. There were some Galatians who were turning Torah into "law" by using it as a means of justification rather than as a way of life resulting from their justification. Let us turn now to the Book of Romans.

The theme for the letter of Sha'ul to the Romans is similar to that of Galatians, only more comprehensive. The main topic is justification, or righteousness (the same root is used for both in Hebrew and Greek). In Romans, the rabbi is seeking to expound fully on the whole theme of God's righteousness, showing many different aspects to it. As in Galatians, he also must deal with the concept of the Torah, for there were some in Rome as well who sought to be justified or made righteous by following the system of law that they thought was the Torah.

Since the themes are similar, the traditions of interpretation of the "law passages" are also similar. The Church has been comprised of mostly non-Jews throughout the centuries, most of whom have had little comprehension or appreciation for the Torah of Moshe. Therefore, they have taken little care to properly interpret the "law passages." There are two key passages in Romans which have been especially misunderstood by many exegetes, resulting in a gross anti-Torah sentiment among the people of God.

The first is in Romans 10:4: "For Messiah is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Many understand this verse to mean that Yeshua put an end to the Torah; that anyone who believes in Him no longer has any responsibility to follow the Torah, because Yeshua followed It for him.

A closer look at the Greek, however, reveals a different meaning. The Greek word translated "end" is the word "telos." This word actually stresses the "goal" or purpose for something. When used in this verse, we can say that Messiah is the "goal (telos) of the law."42 Or, as Stern translates it, "Messiah is the goal at which the Torah aims." In other words, in the context, Sha'ul is speaking of people seeking the righteousness of God. They should seek it as revealed in the Torah and most fully realized in the Messiah. Stern writes,

The goal at which the Torah aims is acknowledging and trusting in the Messiah, who offers on the ground of this trusting the very righteousness they are seeking. They would see that the righteousness which the Torah offers is offered through Him and only through Him.46

Thus, instead of teaching that through faith in Messiah the Torah is now done away with, this verse teaches that the Torah's goal is to point someone to the righteousness found through faith in Messiah. A sinner can only be made righteous through faith in the Messiah. However, as a new creation in Messiah after receiving Yeshua, he is now able to live the Torah lifestyle through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. In so doing, he is living out who he now is-the righteousness of God in Messiah. The Torah is the revealed righteousness of God. The Torah lifestyle is the living out of that righteousness. What is it that is written on the new creation heart and mind? The very Torah of God! (Jeremiah 31:33)

Finally, we will look at one of the passages most commonly used to demonstrate that the believer has no responsibility to follow the Torah: the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans. To be sure, this is a difficult passage to understand completely. But I think that we can interpret it accurately enough to confirm that it has nothing to do with eliminating a believer's responsibility to live the Torah, to live the righteousness of God that he has become as a new creation in Messiah.

The key questions that need to be asked about this passage are these: What has died? What has changed? Was it the Torah that died? Or was it something else? We ask these questions because the first half of the chapter speaks about a death, a separation, a change that occurred when Messiah came into our lives.

We know from reading Matthew 5:17ff that the Torah could not have died. It is God's eternal Word! Therefore, something else must have died. What has changed is our relationship to the Torah because of our changed relationship to sin. Before we knew Messiah's righteousness by faith, we attempted to use the Torah as a means of earning righteousness, something it was never intended to be. Only one outcome could have resulted from such an illegitimate usage, and that is condemnation-because such works-righteousness could never remove our sin.

When God brought us to faith in Messiah, however, everything changed. By faith, we transferred our trust from works we attempted to do ourselves to the finished work of Yeshua. Our new reality is that Messiah has atoned for our sin and made us new creations. In other words, we submitted to God's righteousness found in Yeshua instead of relying on man's righteousness through our own efforts.

Thus, our relationship to the Torah has changed. Before, because we were using it wrongly by attempting to earn our justification through following it, all the Torah could do was condemn us. Now, because we believe in Messiah and are trusting in God to justify us, the Torah has become something completely different. Just as its Author designed it to be, it is "holy, righteous, and good." (verse 12)

Our relationship to the Torah can change, according to Sha'ul, because the problem was not the Torah-it was sin. "Therefore, did that which is good [Torah] become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful." (Romans 7 13)

For years, many have been hearing a different interpretation of this crucial passage. Now we want a new voice to be heard. Listen to it one more time as a summary. This passage teaches that our real enemy was sin, not the Torah. Because we are new creations in Messiah, our entire relationship to sin has changed. Therefore, our entire relationship to the Torah has changed. Before Messiah, sin caused the Torah to be a book which, because I followed it in an attempt to earn righteousness, largely served to condemn me. But Messiah has shown me that I cannot earn righteousness. Rather, it is a gift from God to all who trust in the sacrificial atonement and subsequent resurrection of Messiah. Hence, after I trusted in Messiah, the Torah became for me what it was really meant to be all along: a holy, righteous, and good book.

Summing It All Up

The true Torah is our walk of faith. Faith is taking God at His Word regarding who He is and who we, His children, are-His bride and His people. The true Torah is for us a mirror, reflecting who we now are as ones who have been redeemed and made anew by the finished work of the Messiah.

Rav Sha'ul understood this completely, and carefully exposed the age-old legalistic tendency of men throughout his letters. Ya'akov adds to our understanding of the true Torah in his letter when he says, "Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22) Why? Because it is telling us who we are! How do we know that this is how Ya'akov understood the Torah? By his next statement in verse 23, "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was."

 Notice what this is saying! When we read the Word and then do not do just what it says, we have looked at our own face in the mirror and then gone away and "forgotten" what we look like. The Word of God is the mirror in which we see who we now are-what we look like. Because the work of Messiah is a finished work, all that is left for us to do is to rejoice in the finished work of Messiah-our new creation self-and then "behave consistently" (our walk of faith) with who we now are. The true Torah tells us, like a mirror, what we "look like." That is, what behavior would be consistent with who we now are-the righteousness of God in Messiah! (Romans 5:19)

Torah is God's teaching to men about righteousness-what it is and how it behaves. The true believer (anyone who is redeemed by the blood of the Lamb) does not do in order to become. He does because he is what God has made him-the righteousness of God in Messiah. Thus Ya'akov writes, "I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) The true Torah is the walk of faith-faith and rest in the finished work of Messiah. "This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says, 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.' " (Isaiah 30:15) Instead, "Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness." (Romans 10:3)

These words of Rav Sha'ul summarize perfectly why and how man has perverted the true Torah of God into a system of works by which he believes he can establish his own righteousness. Read the rabbi's words once again, and think about them carefully:

"Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness."

Ya'akov (James), fully comprehending this, declares, "I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) "The man who looks intently into the perfect Torah"-the what?-"the perfect Torah that gives freedom"-that gives what? Freedom! Freedom for what? Freedom to be who we now are!-"and continues to do this, not forgetting who he is but doing who he is-he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:25, our paraphrase)

There is a righteousness that is by the Torah (Romans 10:5). It is a righteousness that is ours in God (Romans 10:3), and it is by faith (Romans 10:6). This is the Good News of Romans 10:16. But not all the Israelites accepted the Good News. Instead they, and mankind throughout the ages, have developed the concept of "law." As we have seen, performance-based acceptance is a detrimental theological idea all in itself.

Building Better Traditions

"Thus says the Lord, 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls.' But you said, 'We will not walk in it!' " (Jeremiah 6:16) The true Torah is "a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace." (Proverbs 3:16-18)

When the words of life (true Torah) are changed into "law," they cease to be the words of life. Let us be very clear! Striving and toiling are the identifying marks of Satan's kingdom. Dwelling in delight and rest are the identifying marks of God's kingdom.

Blessings, BeShem Yeshua!
Cameron, Messianic Minister


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