reading about Yeshua’s attitude toward the Law, there may be some
fact, reading the Bible strictly as it is written may be somewhat problematic, because by doing so, we are confronted with beliefs and
practices that seem to run contrary to many of the teachings of Christianity.
Many people believe that you should keep God’s laws because you
WANT to, not because you HAVE to.
This is why there are those who believe that Jesus (Yeshua) "did away" with
the law. Because if you HAVE to keep the law, THAT would be legalism, and
being "legalistic" is one of the worst "sins" a person could commit.
This baffling view of law leaves Christians with the “freedom” to
approach the laws of God like a buffet of arbitrary rules to pick through.
having a desire to be obedient is good, it does not negate obedience itself.
Why do people look at the law this way?
What IS the law, and how did Yeshua (Jesus) view the law?
If we try to live our lives according to the law,
is that being legalistic?
What SHOULD our
attitude about the law be?
There are those who say, “It’s impossible to keep the law.”
That’s why Jesus came; to keep the law so we wouldn’t have to.
Is that true? Is the law impossible to keep?
Why would God create laws that couldn’t be kept? What does God tell us about our ability to keep the law?
11 For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.
12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who shall go up to heaven for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?”
13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you shall say, “Who shall go across the sea for us, that we may hear it and do it?”
14 But the word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
15 See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil.
16 In that I command you this day to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that you may live and multiply: and the LORD your God shall bless you in the land where you go to possess it.
So, according to God, keeping his laws is well within our ability and, if we do so, our lives will go better. It should not be a “hard” thing to do. In fact, the law should be our most valued gift from God.
Jesus (Yeshua) teach that the law should be "done
away" ?Let’s take a look at Yeshua’s opinion of God’s law.
The Devil Made
Me Do it.
In Luke 4:1,
we see an interesting passage where HaSatan tempts Yeshua. Yeshua repels and
gains victory over the adversary through his knowledge of the Torah, using
it as an authority of truth. Let’s
look at this event and the words spoken by Yeshua and go back to the Torah
and see what the context of these scriptures are.
4:1 And Yeshua being full of the Holy Spirit returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
2 Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he ate nothing: and when they had ended, afterward he was hungry.
3 And the devil said to him, If you are the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.
4 And Yeshua answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
3 And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna,
which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that
he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every
word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.
in Luke 4:5
5 And the devil, taking him up to a high mountain, showed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
6 And the devil said to him, “All this power will I give you, and the glory of them: for that is delivered to me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.
7 If you therefore will worship me, all shall be yours”.
8 And Yeshua answered and said to him, Get behind me, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.
12 Then beware unless you forget the LORD, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
13 You shall fear the LORD your God, and serve him (only), and shall swear by his name.
9 And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here:
10 For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you:
11 And in their hands they shall bear you up, unless at any time you dash your foot against a stone.
12 And Yeshua answering said to him, It is said, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.
go back again to Deuteronomy.
16 You shall not tempt the LORD your God, as you tempted him in Massah.
17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he has commanded you.
back to Luke
13 And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.
14 And Yeshua returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.
scriptures that Yeshua was quoting, how would you assess his view about
Torah observance? Let’s look
at some of the basic teachings of Yeshua, and see what he had to say about
observant Jew of his day was not just something that he did in action and
word, it also is what he taught others to do.
At one time, when he was asked about how to obtain eternal life, his
response was completely different than the one you would expect most
Christians, today, to give.
16 ... Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 ... if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
It is interesting to hear the response by this young man
18 He said unto him, “Which?”
Now why would
this young man ask Yeshua which commandments he meant? Wasn’t he able to
keep all ten? Well, that wasn’t really the question being asked. He
wasn’t asking Yeshua which of the ten he should keep -- rather, which of
tradition, there are 613 commandments
in the Torah. Not all of
the commandments, however, carry the same "value". When asked in
Matthew 22 what the "greatest" commandment is he replies:
35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, You shall love the Lord your God with all thy heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
greatest commandment has to do with our relationship with God...
39 And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
... and the "second" or lesser commandments have to do with our relationship with our fellow man.
perceived that this man had a problem with generosity and
relationship with his fellow man, so he listed those commandments from the 10
that talked to that point.
18 ... Yeshua said, “You shall do no murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness.
19 Honor your father and your mother: and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
the last half of the Ten Commandments. The young man, assuming he was merely
reciting the Ten, says:
20 ...All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
stresses where the young man lacked in his
21 ...If you will be perfect, go and sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
Least of the Commandments
So we have
seen that Yeshua stressed the importance of
the Greater Commandments (love towards God), but also the Lesser
Commandments (love towards our fellow man); but what about the
Least of the Commandments (man’s relationship with his environment)?
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill *.
18 For verily I say to you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled *
* There are two different Greek words here translated as fulfill. The first one is: pleroo, which means to make replete, or to make full The second is: ginomai, which means to come to pass
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
So Yeshua did
not teach that one needed to just keep the greater and lesser commandments,
but even the least. The
commandment that is traditionally known as the “least of the
commandments” is found in Deuteronomy 22:6.
6 If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young, or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young.
7 You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you, and you may have a long life.
We see that
Yeshua was NOT telling us JUST to follow the “moral” laws, but, rather, he
was telling us to obey even the “least” of the laws (those whose purpose we
may not even understand)
Now if Yeshua
taught so favorably toward keeping the law (being Torah observant), why then
do so many people believe that he did away with the law?
Much of this misunderstanding comes from not fully understanding the
culture and context in which Yeshua was operating; but much more has to do
with just plain not reading the scriptures.
In many instances, Yeshua was not teaching against the keeping of the
law, but against the hypocrisy that existed in those who tried to USE the
law TO AVOID KEEPING IT.
What is Law?
But what do we actually mean by the word “law”? When we talk about the law, we could be referring to a number of things. We could mean: a specific commandment, “the ten” commandments, all of the 613 commandments, the first five books of the Bible, known as the “Torah”, or even extending beyond that to include the entire Tanach (Old Testament). In general terms, however, the word “law” comes from the Hebrew word “torah” which means “instruction”.
Much like a parent will give instructions to a child, God has given us His instructions. If we follow those instructions, our life goes better. If we do not follow them, our life does not go as well. God has not just given us a few instructions on a small sheet of paper; rather, he has given us an entire instruction manual. If we really want to know how to live our lives in the best possible way, all we have to do is read the manual.
The problem is: we generally do not pay much attention to instructions or directions until something isn’t working right. Then, and only then, do we take the time to read them; and, as soon as we are past whatever crisis we are in, we put the manual away until the next crisis.
What an amazing blessing we have. God’s instructions for our lives are readily available for any of us to read and apply. You would think that we would all jump at the chance of knowing what these instructions are, and follow them as close as we could. Yet we, like children in adolescence, do not even seem to recognize the value and preciousness of the “instructions” we have been given.
Rabbi Pinchas Winston, in the book
Bible Basics writes:
The commandments were given by God and are all in the Bible to teach mankind to achieve the ultimate satisfaction in life, through acquiring the character traits that are essential to living a fulfilling life.
instructions from God were part of His relationship with man from the beginning,
and they were presented to Israel (as a nation) after they were redeemed from
slavery in Egypt.
According to Jewish tradition God gave Moses the written Torah (Instructions) on
Mount Sinai. However, along with those written instructions God also gave Moses
In the first century a
Gentile once asked Shammai, “How many Torahs do you have?” “Two” he answered.
“One Oral and one Written, as it says:
"These are the
statutes and judgments and laws [Hebrew: “Torot” i.e. the plural of Torah],
which the LORD made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by
the hand of Moses" [Leviticus
The Gentile said, “I
believe you concerning the Written but not in regards to the Oral Law. Convert
me on condition that you teach me only the Written Law.” Shammai became
indignant and sent him away. The Gentile then went to Hillel, who accepted him
On the first day Hillel
taught the alphabet: Aleph, beth, gimmel, dalet, etc. On the second day Hillel
reversed the letters. The prospective convert disagreed and said: “Yesterday
you taught me a DIFFERENT sequence.” Hillel answered, “My son, you are relying
on me anyway so rely on me concerning the Oral Torah too.”
We would not know how to
pronounce the Hebrew Alphabet if not for the Oral tradition. Similarly in order
to understand certain laws we have to rely on oral tradition.
So in Judaism disregarding
or rejecting the oral law is like getting an instruction manual, cutting it in
half and throwing one half away. You simply wouldn't be able to understand
how everything should work.
The written Torah (the
first five books of the Bible) is part of the most well distributed text in
history and available to everyone, but the oral Torah was transmitted from
teacher to student generation after generation from the time of Moses. It
wasn't until the danger of losing the oral law became a distinct possibility,
that the oral instructions were written down.
In, the first century,
however, there was no Mishna to open up. The oral instructions were known in the
Jewish community, but unknown outside of it.
In Romans 3:1 Paul
asks the Question:
What advantage then
has the Jew?
He then answers:
Much in every way:
chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
Paul recognizes the
importance of the Oral Law, which God gave exclusively to the Jewish people.
believers viewed God’s word and His laws as an authority of goodness and
truth. It is through the
keeping of God’s laws that we find true freedom.
I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it is true.
When God lead
the children of Israel out “of bondage,” what did He do? He gave them
His laws. His laws
(instructions) are our source of freedom. Imagine a society without laws.
In a society in which everyone does whatever they want to do, will
you have more freedom or less freedom? Well, obviously we would have less
freedom. We would be constantly
on the lookout for bands of street marauders that would rob and loot and
cause destruction to property. And
why wouldn’t they? After all,
there are no laws. It is only
in a society that follows God’s laws that a person is able to find true
32 And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
17. Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.
As we have
seen, Yeshua was a very Torah Observant Jew of his day, as were his
Holmgren, Research Professor of Old Testament at a Chicago seminary, writes:
embraced the Torah of Moses; he came not to end it but to fulfill it (Matt.
5:17) – to carry its teachings forward.
Further, to those who came to him seeking eternal life, he held it up
as the essential teaching to be observed (Luke 10:25-28). Despite Jesus'
conflict with some interpreters of his day, both Jewish and Christian
scholars see him as one who honored and followed the Law. When Jesus
proclaims the coming rule of God, he speaks nowhere in detail about the
inner character of this rule. He does not need to because that has already
been described in the Old Testament and spoken of in Judaism."
So why is
there such a controversy over the observance of God’s law? There are many
truly sincere Christians who believe that Yeshua came to do
precisely what he said he did NOT come to do: to abolish or “do away”
with the law. (Matt.5:17) Why?
Much of that
answer lies in just seeing the attitude that we have about “the law”. When we look at the law through a different set of
“lenses,” our understanding of the law can change dramatically.
a look at one of the heroes of the Bible who had one of the best attitudes
about the law of God.
of God’s most beloved people that ever lived was King David.
Why was King David such a phenomenal figure in the
Was it because of his ability to keep the law?
No, we can read of numerous times where David failed to keep God’s
law. God loved David, not
because of his ability to KEEP the law, rather it was because he understood
the awesome value of God’s instructions for us.
Psalm 119 :מ):97)
97 O how I love your law! it is my meditation all the day.
98 You, through your commandments, have made me wiser than my enemies: for they are ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers: for your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the ancients, because I keep your precepts.
101 I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep your word.
102 I have not departed from your judgments: for you have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through your precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
God’s laws were in David’s mind and in his heart. Despite the sins and short-comings that King David may have had during his lifetime, he is held up as one of the greatest figures in the Bible. He is one of the people whom God loved most. Why? because he also loved God and his instructions.
Teach Your Children
don’t love our children only when we receive love first.
We love our children no matter what condition they may be in.
But when our children listen to our instructions, when they follow our words and carry out our wishes with respect and honor, as
parents, we are very pleased.
of the Shema, we mentioned earlier, stresses the importance of teaching our
6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart;
7 and you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you
sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you
lie down and when you rise up.
of the Rabbinical understandings of this verse is that the laws are
universal instructions that were in existence while we were yet unborn (when
you sit in your house); throughout
our entire lives (when you
walk by the way); upon our deaths (when
you lie down); and at the
resurrection (and when you
In other words, the law of God is consistent and never ends.
So why is it
that many Christians equate Torah Observance with legalism?
Some will say that legalism is the strict obedience to laws and
customs. Is that true? Is
someone who strictly obeys the law, who is careful to follow the law in its
fullness and to study its meaning and purpose being legalistic?
No. Most of the examples
of legalism in the Bible are
describing someone who, through loopholes and parsing of words,
nullifies the intent of the law.
When you, if
you are a parent, tell your child, “You need to pick up your room,” and
you come back an hour later and the room is still a mess and the response is
“Well, you didn’t say I had to pick it up NOW,” that is a legalistic
When does the
volume of laws in a society increase? When everyone obeys the law? No the
addition to law comes through disobedience; through finding loopholes in,
and ways around, keeping the law.
problems are created by adding more laws resulting in the creation of more
places to find loopholes and ways around the intent of the law.
Good examples of legalism are found in our modern legal system.
Politicians are also a good source of examples of legalism.
In his speech
to the country during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton made
some comments that are worth talking about.
my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information. I know
that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false
impression. I misled people."
In essence he
was saying that he was following the letter of the law.
You Can’t Legislate Morality
One thing to
always remember is that even though something may be legal, it is not
necessarily right. Paul makes this point in the book of 1 Corinthians where
1 Corinthians 6:12
All things may be legal to me , but not all things are
is a phrase that is often misused that says:
can’t legislate morality. Many people will try to use this phrase to mean that we can’t focus
on morality when it comes to the law. Nothing
can be further from the truth. That
is what law is all about.
define our morality as a society. The true meaning of the phrase, “you can’t legislate morality,”
is: even though you make something legal you are not necessarily making it
right or moral. A good example
of this is abortion.
morality of abortion does not change whether or not it is legal.
the morality of the law is to understand the law’s spirit. The spirit of the law is not negated through loopholes and
technicalities. The letter of
the law, however, can, at times, focus so narrowly on these factors that the
law’s intentions are lost.
Spirit of the Law
explore the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the
law. In Jewish terms
following the letter of the law would be keeping the law WITHOUT mitzvah.
Putting God on the Guest List,
a book concerning the Bar Mitzvah,
Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin writes:
us to sanctify life. They foster altruism and self-esteem, so critical to
the life of a young Jew. They can bring Jewish families closer to
the Jewish people, to all people, and to God. ...So powerful is gemilut
chasadim that performing acts of loving kindness is the closest that
humans can come to a genuine imitation of God [pp.65,67]
Yeshua points out the “letter of the law” attitude that many had during his day.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You
give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected
the more important
matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness.
should have practiced
the latter, without neglecting the former.
you see what he is saying and doing? He is showing the two aspects of the
law: the part that is written (the rule or the ordinance itself), and the
mitzvah (the justice mercy and faith).
“You should have practiced
the latter, without neglecting the former.” Far from saying that we should not be obedient to the law, he is
saying just the opposite. We
SHOULD practice the law, but we should also UNDERSTAND that the purpose of
the law is to have justice, mercy, and faith among us.
article written by the Jewish Organization,
We are told in the Torah Portion Re'eh, "Follow G*d your L*rd, fear Him, observe His commandments, hearken to His voice, serve Him and cleave to Him."
On the words "cleave to Him," Rashi explains: "Cleave to His ways, perform acts of loving kindness, bury the dead, visit the sick, just as G*d has done."
Rashi's comment must be understood: Since, according to Rashi, the verse means to tell us that we should cleave to G*d's ways and act as He does, why doesn't the verse explicitly state "cleave to His ways" rather than "cleave to Him?"
Moreover, since the command to cleave to G*d's
ways is stated as "cleave to Him," it is understandable that the ultimate unity with G*d is accomplished specifically through following G*d's example and performing acts of loving kindness.
In other words, the highest form of cleaving to G*d can only be accomplished through these latter actions, and not by performing the actions and commandments referred to earlier when the verse declared, "obey His commandments."
This, too, must be understood: All mitzvos bring about an attachment between man and G*d; what greater attachment is achieved by doing those things that fall under the heading of "cleaving to G*d"?
G*d commanded us to perform Mitzvos, and we perform them because we are so obligated. It therefore follows that the attachment achieved by performing mitzvos is one in which the performer is continuously aware of his own self; it is he who is becoming attached to G*d through his performance.
This is not so with regard to "cleaving to G*d." Although "cleaving to G*d" begins as the result of a command, the performance, completion, and totality of the command involves the total loss of any sense of self, for the person is wholly engulfed within Him – he cleaves to Him.
The difference between mitzvos in general and performing those actions that result in "cleaving to Him" is thus the difference between "attachment to G*d" and "cleaving to G*d":
This is a
good explanation of keeping not just the letter of the law (or being
legalistic), but also keeping the spirit of the law, where it becomes part
of your very being.
The New Covenant
what we are talking about when we talk of “the New Covenant” mentioned
in Hebrews 8 (quoted from Jeremiah 31)
"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that
time," declares the LORD. "I
will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I
will be their God, and they will be my people.
God’s laws written on somebody’s heart?
In the book of Matthew in the “sermon on the mount,” we see an
example of how Yeshua doesn’t “do away” with the law, rather he makes
the law EVEN STRONGER, condemning also the attitudes that lead to the
breaking of those laws.
You have heard that it was said by them of old time,
shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the
22 But I say unto you, that
is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the
judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, “Raca,” shall be in
danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, “You fool”, shall be in
danger of hell fire.
23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that
your brother has ought against you;
24 Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be
reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
25 Agree with your adversary quickly, whiles you are in the way with him;
lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge
deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison.
26 Verily I say unto you, you shall by no means come out thence, till you
have paid the uttermost farthing.
27 You have heard that it was said by them of old time,
shall not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looks on a woman
lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
Yeshua at no
point instructs his disciples to disregard or stop keeping the law; rather
he uses the law as his
and supports not only keeping the
of the law, but the
of the law as well. Yeshua
always taught obedience to the scriptures.
Another name for the scriptures is the “Word of God.”
John 17:17, Yeshua says:
Sanctify them through Your word: Your word is truth.
(Paul) also writes (concerning the scriptures)
2 Timothy 2:15
Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be
ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Keep in mind:
the New Testament had not been compiled and much of it had not even been
written at this point. So what
then was Sha’ul (Paul) telling Timothy to study?
Paul is confirming a long held Jewish perspective.
There was no greater pursuit than to study Torah (God’s
instructions). John also says
that the Word of God (the commandments) are a source of truth.
1 John 2:4
He that says I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the
truth is not in him.
5 But whoso keeps his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected:
hereby we know that we are in him.
6 He that says he abide in him ought himself also so walk, even as he
7 Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment
which you had from the beginning.
old commandment is the commandment which is the word which you have heard
from the beginning.
8 Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and
in you: because the darkest is past, and the true light now shines.
We see that
God’s laws are not an arbitrary harsh set of rules that only Jews have to
follow. Rather they are the
guiding instructions for all of us. If
we follow them, our lives will go better. If we ignore them, our lives do not go as well.
The more we are willing to follow God’s instructions, the better
our lives will be.
Keep in mind,
however, that we are talking about long-term benefit over short-term
gratification. Most of
the laws of God will not seem to be as beneficial in the short term. Is it
better to cheat on an exam and get an “A” or to not cheat and get a
“B” or “C”? Is it
better to steal from someone else so you can enjoy a
certain item, or to not have the enjoyment of that possession? Whenever we chose to disregard one of God’s laws, we
are choosing short-term gratification: whether it is cheating, stealing,
lying, sexual misconduct, disregarding
dietary restrictions, or not observing the Sabbath. We are
choosing short-term gratification over long-term benefit.
the laws of Moses for ancient Israel?
don’t have to follow them do they?
In a way,
that is true. God told the
nation of Israel that they were to be obedient to His laws, and they were to
be a light to the
other nations around them; BUT they were not to force others to be
observant. Many Christians and
Jews today, however, mistakenly interpret this to mean that Gentiles
SHOULDN’T follow God’s laws. They
feel that somehow it is WRONG for a Gentile to follow God’s instructions.
often look at the laws of God as something bad and burdensome,
while Jews often look at God’s laws
as only their exclusive possession which no one else should have
the right to observe. This is a
gross misunderstanding of God’s intentions.
God wants to
have the entire world turning to Him, with His laws written on their hearts:
first the Jew and then the Gentile.
God reject the Jewish people? Isn’t
that why Jesus came – to start a new religion? Doesn’t the New Testament condemn the Jews? Part of the biggest
misunderstanding we have in reading the New Testament comes when we try to
define the word “Jew”. What and who were the Jews of the New Testament?