The New Testament, Jews, and Torah

TefillinI got a question by email recently from a Jewish Christian who does not keep Torah and who has thus far believed that the New Testament and Christian theology indicate that when a Jew follows Christ, the Torah is no longer an obligation. I believe the inquirer is open and wants to hear other perspectives and revisit this issue.

There are Christians who need to revisit this issue in terms of their understanding of their Jewish friends whom they want to have the same faith they do. I hope more people will be haunted by the issue Mark Kinzer raised in Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: why should Christians ask Jews to say no to God in order to say yes to Jesus?

There are mainstream Jews who need to revisit this issue. Is it possible for a Jew to be Torah-faithful and follow Yeshua? Michael Wyschogrod certainly has said so in his books. He indicates that a Torah-faithful Jewish-Christianity (Messianic Judaism) is a reasonable position.

There are, sadly, people in Messianic synagogues where the leaders teach that Torah is an outmoded covenant. And they really need to revisit this issue.

I am including the bulk of my response to this inquirer below followed by some discussion questions. Let’s discuss it over the weekend.

Revisiting the New Testament About Jews and Torah
The first and most important thing about this: if you assume that Paul’s writing is intended to address the entire subject and is a sort of divine correction on what had been said earlier in the Bible, you will come out with a Law-Free position for Jews and non-Jews. But if you notice two things, you will question the orthodoxy of the Law-Free position:

(1) Paul was not Law-Free himself (Acts 21).

(2) Paul was the apostle to non-Jews and his epistles are to non-Jews. The underlying issue in many of them is the insistence by some that non-Jews must convert in order to follow the Jewish Messiah. Paul’s rhetoric is about God accepting non-Jews as they are without conversion. Pauline scholarship in general is now almost universally agreed on this. The old idea that Paul was opposing a works-salvation like Pelagius or like the church selling indulgences in Luther’s time is a misreading of Paul. Judaism was not like medieval Catholicism.

Further points:

(3) Acts 15 assumes that Jews do keep Torah in Yeshua and only debates non-Jews. It is hard to miss this one.

(4) Theologically, what are we saying about God if in one era he gives commandments and in the next era he says, “I gave something unfit for the highest expression of righteousness and now I rescind it”?

(5) The Torah claims to be a permanent covenant with Israel. What do we do about biblical authority if we say, “It doesn’t mean what it says”?

(6) Yeshua’s words in Matt 5:17-19 should not be explained away, as they have been in Christian commentary for millennia.

(7) The Law-Free statements in Paul are about a distortion of the gospel that Gentiles need conversion plus Yeshua, which is not true.

(8) There are thousands of other misunderstandings that have built up over the years. It takes time to reread the Bible is a unity and not as a discontinuity (“the NT overturns the OT”). For example, few note that the New Covenant (Jer 31:31ff) contains within it the commandments of the old (seen not only in Jer 31 but also in Ezek 36).

(9) Statements about the Age to Come in the prophets frequently contain reference to Israel and the nations keeping Torah.

Discussion Questions

If you believe in the ongoing necessity and beauty of Torah, think outside the box. What are the most compelling reasons people think the New Testament teaches otherwise?

If you do not believe in the ongoing necessity and beauty of Torah (for Jews), think outside the box. What are the most compelling reasons people think the New Testament teaches otherwise?

Which New Testament ideas, if you were honest, trouble you the most with regard to Torah?

Which of my arguments above appears strongest/weakest to you?

REMEMBER: The purpose of dialogue is not to win an argument or demonstrate your cleverness, but to learn and to share what may help others learn. Let’s discuss this with mutual respect.

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4 Responses to The New Testament, Jews, and Torah

  1. tnnonline says:

    I think the biggest part of the debate is how one interprets the clause hupo nomon, correctly translated “under law,” but only appearing in: Romans 6:14f; 1 Corinthians 9:20; Galatians 3:23; 4:4f, 21; 5:18.

    Places where English translations employ “under (law),” but where different language is used, include: Romans 2:12 3:9; 7:6, 14; Philippians 3:6; Hebrews 7:11; 9:15, 22 (all RSV/ESV).

    I think an excellent case can be made that being “under the Law” pertains to the condemnation of sin specified by the Torah, as opposed to be within the sphere of its jurisdiction. Those who are “under grace” have received forgiveness and salvation. (Of course, I need the time to compile my thoughts in an exegesis paper–including purchasing some rather expensive commentaries to properly engage with contemporary opinion!)

  2. yeze says:

    Just seen this – sorry Derek, it’s a bit late. I don’t follow Torah but it’s cool that there are some Messianic Jews who do. I don’t think there’s any NT reason NOT to follow Torah. But why should we? And who do we turn to to codify Torah for us? The Bible – fine, then we’re Karaites, but then how do we relate the rabbis? If the rabbis, okay, but why? Do we also follow what the Talmud says about Yeshua, or do we pick and choose?

    I agree it’s good to think outside the box though 🙂

  3. jallen76 says:

    I’m new to this blogging thing so please forgive me…and a lil’ late for this post. I argue w/ a baptist friend about the Law and grace.
    Grace…is a free ticket to some to act any way they want. “I’m saved by grace, not by works. So what I do doesn’t determine my salvation.” That’s what I hear all the time. Its true to a certain extent.
    Grace to me, is the fact that the Almighty chose you from the beginning of time (election) to be a Christian. He didn’t have to do this. Almost like winning the lottery…without playing. You don’t deserve it, but it happened. Undeserved favor.
    The Law…Paul explains this to a tee, I believe in Romans. He talks about trying to keep the law but always failing. He goes on to say, “Oh wretched man that I am…” Why? Because he was trying to keep the the law w/ an unconverted heart. In the old testament the Almighty says He would write the Law on the hearts. When one is converted, I believe it is in one’s nature (new nature) to do those things in the law. Before I was a christian, my nature was to do evil. It also says for christians (a commandment) “…to love the Lord w/ all your heart, mind, and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two, hang the law and prophets. So, to sum it up, me outwardly obeying something my heart is contrary to is wrong. Yeshua explained this when He says, “…if you even look on a woman to lust after her in your heart, you’ve done commited adultery.” The law starts on the inside.

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