Category Archives: Torah Observancy

The primacy of Y’shua for Hebrews

ExodusI was studying Hebrews the other day as I prepared for  “Thy Strong Word” on KFUO (a daily on-air bible study that I am a frequent guest on. . .  Sometimes referred to as “The Letter to the Hebrews,” Hebrews is more of a sermon with a short letter appended to the end.  I remember reading Hebrews for the first time shortly after coming to faith in Y’shua, thinking that this “letter” was particularly written for someone like me, a Jewish Christian.  When I read it then, though I knew that it was “anonymous,” I really  believed that it was written by Paul.  After all, in the English, it certainly sounds like Paul.

But, as I got “educated,” I studied Greek, I studied Eusebius, and I along with all the scholars, came to the conclusion that it probably wasn’t Paul, and while authorship was uncertain, I figured it was Barnabus (Paul’s scribe), though Luther posited Apollos.  Luther concluded though, “Who wrote it is unknown, and will probably not be known for a while, it makes no difference.”  He then goes on to speak highly of the theology of Hebrews, though including it among those books which are “antilegomena,” disputed texts that have limited doctrinal value.  Sadly, it does make a difference then, as the primary argument for Hebrews as being a disputed text is that it is anonymous.

I don’t think it was intended to be anonymous, and those for whom this sermon was intended would have known the preacher.  The short letter assumes that the recipients of the letter know who wrote it, and mentions Timothy, as Paul often does.  The main argument against Pauline authorship is the style of Greek used, but do we really believe that someone like Paul couldn’t have managed a more formal Greek?  Do you think that Paul may have preached this primarily for Jewish Christians, but also to those who have yet to believe?  I know that when I preach, and it is to my congregation, my style is much more colloquial than if we have visitors who do not yet know Jesus.  So, maybe I’m back to Pauline authorship.  Regardless, there is much to learn about evangelism to Jewish people from this wonderful sermon, namely the primacy of Jesus over the angels, over Moses, over the Sabbath, over the sacrifices, and over the culture that calls us back to unbelief, all realities still today.  Whoever wrote Hebrews, I am grateful for the encouragement to “have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus!”


Calendar Woes…

imagesThis month we find ourselves in an interesting conundrum as we note the holidays on the Jewish calendar.  Purim falls on Maundy Thursday and Passover falls on April 23, almost a month after Easter.  So, the conundrum was whether or not to celebrate Easter on March 27, or to celebrate Easter on May 1.

May 1?  Well, the Orthodox Christian Church celebrates Easter according to the Julian calendar, while the western Church celebrates Easter according to the Gregorian calendar.  The differences in these two calendars are similar to the challenges in the Jewish calendar (see February’s newsletter).  The Gregorian calendar was established in the 16th century as an effort to bring the calendar into alignment with the vernal equinox, so that Easter would be on the first full moon following the vernal equinox.  But that makes Easter earlier than the Orthodox Church’s celebration, which is calculated according to the Julian calendar, but also takes into account the adherence by the Orthodox to the early practices of the Christian Church, which, at the council of Nicea, 325 AD, required Easter to take place during the Jewish Passover.

Wow…truthfully, we never considered celebrating Easter in May, but it certainly would have been easier with our schedule.  We are, after all, part of the Western Church, and it would be awkward to deviate from the rest of the Church’s schedule.  And we are reminded by St. Paul to “let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).  We rejoice that in Christ, we have the freedom to celebrate these things or not, and to make adjustments, if needed.  Instead, as you probably know, we celebrated Purim during Purim Katan (again, see last month’s newsletter), and our Passover Seder is still on Palm Sunday, which is March 20.

Freedom in Christ…I understand that.  But if I had to adhere to the law, I would be confused about something I read today.  There is a new product on the market called the HotMat, “a new foldable hotplate designed to give observant Jewish consumers a safe, portable and rabbinically sanctioned method of heating up food on the Sabbath.”  Technology designed for keeping the law comfortably and safely!  How is it that so much time and effort is spent on being flexible about the law, and yet, our people are still so stubborn about Messiah?!

The challenge of all this is that our annual St. Patrick’s Day Outreach, Palm Sunday and our Passover Seder is all the same week.  Oy!  But, the upside is that April should be a quiet month (that never happens!).  Pray for the many people that we meet during this season, that they would consider Messiah Y’shua!


The New Messianic Jewish Agenda?

I am here at a conference in Atlanta.  It is a international gathering of Jewish Mission agencies called The Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism.  (I’m a little embarrassed, because we are a member agency, and I just learned what the name of the organization is!  I’m pretty sure our calendar calls it the Lausaunne Conference…oh well.)  For the sake of ease, we call ourselves the LCJE, and this is the 27th Annual North American Conference.

I find that the accepted method of presentation at most academic conferences is that the presenter will read his/her paper, and then take a few questions.  Usually, while the questions are interesting and often stimulate thought, I still think that it would be better if the presenters would provide the papers to the conference goers in advance, let us “read, study and inwardly digest” them, and then use the full hour for discussion.  What I do really appreciate about LCJE is that all of the papers are published to their website afterwards, so we do get the papers to study, albeit too late for interaction.  But that’s just my opinion…and someone once told me that opinions are like belly buttons…everybody has one.

But this year, one of the conference presenters (in fact a few of them), did not bring a paper, but just engaged the participants with his ideas.  Now, this presenter is a luminary in the Messianic Jewish community (at least to me).  I’ve known him (or of him) for many years, his ministry has greatly blessed mine, and I respect and love this man.  But that’s as far as it goes.  He’s passionate and provocative, and (again this is just my opinion) dead wrong.  Well, that’s perhaps too harsh, but he presented something I have trouble buying into.

His primary premise is that Torah was given to the Jews and therefore, it is only the Jews that are obligated to Torah.  This is not a new idea, and one in which I am in relative agreement with, as far as that goes.  The import of this for unbelieving ethnically non-Jewish people, i.e., Gentiles, is that they are not under the same obligation to Torah as the Jews.  OK, that part is easy.  But now it gets messy.

With this premise in mind, he presents what he calls the New Messianic Jewish Agenda.  I’m still a little hazy on why this is new, or why this is an agenda, but we’ll leave it at that.  The New Messianic Jewish Agenda asserts that since Gentiles are not under the obligation to Torah, they don’t sin against God by breaking Torah.  Their sin is somehow more generic, and therefore the repentance that they must undergo to receive forgiveness is also somehow generic.  But for Jews, the import is more specific.  Since Jews sin by breaking Torah, then their repentance must necessarily include keeping Torah.  He used the example of a husband who promises his wife to take out the trash but does not.  It is not sufficient to simply say “I’m sorry,” but must be accompanied by taking out the trash.  Therefore, Jews who repent and come to faith in Y’shua, and receive forgiveness of sins, must then be “Torah observant.”  (Interestingly enough, while he is making this assertion, he is wearing a yarmulke [not a commandment of Torah] and is sans tzitzi [the tassels on the corners of the garments commanded in Torah]).

Now the call to Torah observance for believing Jews is nothing new, and in fact, I spend much of my ministry working with Messianic Jews and Gentiles who put themselves under the unnecessary and impossible burden of trying to keep the 613 commandments that God gave to Moses.  And the call to Torah observance is nothing new for the LCJE.  We often get participants who insist on Torah observance for Jewish believers.  In fact, one year, we had a spirited discussion with a the leader of a Messianic congregation who insisted on Torah observance for himself and his congregation, even though he was not ethnically Jewish, nor were most of them.

Maybe I’m just lazy.  Certainly, having worn a kippa for much of my childhood, I miss wearing one now.  I still wear a mezuzah, and I wear a tallit in worship.  These are for me warm fuzzies and important cultural and religious symbols.  But I don’t equate them with being Torah observant.  Because therein lies the rub.  What is it to be Torah observant?

The presenter was asked this question twice, and twice he skillfully ducked the question.  But I think we make this issue harder than it should be.  I will go on record as saying that I believe that all believers, Jewish and non-Jewish should be Torah observant.  But let me answer the question posed above.

First of all, I reject (except for the sake of convenience and perhaps missiology) the distinctions made between Jewish and Gentile believers.  Sha’ul (St. Paul) says many times that there is no difference between Jew and Greek, he uses a tree metaphor (Romans 11) to describe those who are grafted in, and receive all the benefits of the natural branches.  So if Jewish believers should be Torah observant, then all believers should be Torah observant.  But being Torah observant is not a matter of keeping Kosher, keeping Sabbath, wearing tzitzi, or any of the other 613 commandment in Moses.  Frankly, I’m not certain that God ever expected nor anticipated that we would be able to.  (For an interesting discussion of this, to to and look at the paper by Seth Postell on the Old Testament’s Use of the Old Testament, and note his argument on the literary inclusio of Genesis 1 and Deuteronomy 34.)

So, I’ll wrap this up with a good Lutheran distinction, (because I know this is too long).  Torah, in the narrow sense is the first five books of Moses.  But in the wide sense, Torah is simply God’s instruction, which I will argue is the whole of Scripture.  To be Torah observant is to be a student and follower of the Word of God.  Jeremiah tells us that the new covenant is not like the Sinai covenant (Torah in the really narrow sense).  God releases Peter from kashrut, Y’shua says that Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath, and the writer to the Hebrews tells us that this covenant is “obsolete.”  (By the way, for another good presentation on the authorship of the Letter to the Hebrews, see David Allen’s presentation on  “A Hebrews View of Scripture.”)  To insist in Torah observance in the narrow sense is to diminish the work Y’shua did on the cross, paying for our sins, and freeing us to live as mature children of God.

And the best commentator on God’s Word that we have is God himself in the man Jesus.  He gave us instruction.  He said, when challenged to give a drash on the greatest commandment, that we are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And a second is like it.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.  This sums up the first table (the vertical) and the second table (the horizontal).  And at the intersection of these two commandments is Jesus, no longer hanging on the cross, but now living and through whom we are able to be Torah observant.