Maybe it’s because we’re Messianic, or maybe it’s just a question that’s bound to be raised. In any case, the issue of the Torah (The Law, or the Mosaic Covenant) does seem to come up, especially as Jewish believers seek to live out their faith in Yeshua in a Jewish manner of lifestyle. After all, to some it would seem only natural that the way to demonstrate that Messianic faith is Jewish is by “keeping the Law.”
In many cases this can lead to some confusion as to our relationship to the Torah. Some teach that believers in Messiah Yeshua, especially Jewish believers, are still under the Torah’s authority for their fellowship, esteem and obedience. Others think that the Torah is totally irrelevant to the spiritual life and unworthy of serious study and application. What is the truth? We read in 2 Timothy 3:16,17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
When Paul the Apostle (called Rabbi Saul or Rav Shaul by some) wrote that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable” we have to remember that the full body of New Covenant Scriptures was not yet written. As the apostolic writings became available, they were recognized as Scripture as well, as in 2 Peter 3:15,16. But at the time of Paul’s writing he was primarily referring to the Tanakh—(Torah [Law], Neviim [Prophets] and Kituvim [Writings])—that is, the Older Covenant. Regardless of modern ideas about the relevance or irrelevance of the Tanakh, the New Covenant writers considered it to be both inspired and profitable—useful to their work and growth as a people of God.
We also read in Romans 7:12 & 14, “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good…we know that the Law is spiritual…”Therefore we are never to consider the Tanakh, (or the Torah as in this case) anything but holy and righteous, good and spiritual in our view of its teachings. We are to study the Tanakh thoroughly and learn its inspired truth, for if rightly understood, the Tanakh is spiritually profitable for our lives. Any congregation or church that is not doing so is leaving out two thirds of God’s Word!
How does New Covenant Faith relate to Torah?
In Romans 3:28, Paul first demonstrates that a person is saved by faith through God’s salvation in Messiah Yeshua, and not by any works of the Torah:“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Paul then seems to reinstate the relationship between faith and Law in verse 31 saying, “Do we then make void the Law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” Amazingly, Paul writes that rather than making the Law void (or nullified) through our faith, it is actually established or confirmed by our faith in Messiah! In light of other Scriptures this raises two immediate questions: How does our faith establish the Torah? Doesn’t Paul also teach that certain aspects of the Torah are nullified by New Covenant faith?
How does our faith establish Torah?
Paul wrote under the inspiration of Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) in 2 Timothy 3:16,17 that all Scripture, (meaning the Older Covenant since the New Covenant was not yet fully written at that time), is God inspired and profitable for our adequacy as sons and servants of God.
- Mature faith sees that the Torah reveals the holiness and righteousness of God (Lev. 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15).
- Mature faith recognizes that the Torah reveals the fallen nature of man (Deut. 28:1,15; 1 Tim. 1:10).
- Mature faith recognizes that the Torah reveals as praiseworthy those who lived by faith in God, not by their own righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Hebrews 11).
- Mature faith discerns that the Torah witnesses to and leads one to Messiah (Gen. 49:10; Jeremiah 31:31; Galatians 4:19-25).
The Torah is still and will always be profitable. God forbid that anyone should reject any inspired text, especially that which our faith establishes! But how exactly does our faith establish the Law? The Torah reveals our sins as “falling short” of God’s standard, and therefore reveals us as condemned sinners. For Torah states that we “are to be holy for the Lord our God is holy” (Leviticus 19:2, 1 Peter 1:16). By accepting Messiah’s forgiveness and atonement we in effect acknowledge the rightness of the Law, and its judgment of us. For example, if a condemned criminal accepts a pardon, he is then admitting to the guilt of his crimes, and the law which rightly put him under condemnation. If he refuses to admit his guilt, he is therefore not entitled to receive the free gift of the pardon in good conscience. By faith in Yeshua we have accepted God’s pardon and have thereby acknowledged our guilt and deserved condemnation (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:26), and we are accepting and confirming the Torah’s authority and validity to condemn us. Our faith therefore establishes the Law. If we were to deny the Law’s authority to condemn, we would be denying the necessity of Yeshua’s atonement to save and deliver us from our just condemnation under the Law.
Keep The Torah…Perfectly?
Orthodox, or traditional Jews have a reputation for Law keeping and Torah-oriented worship. In actuality, they observe the traditions of men, rather than the truth of God, the Scriptures (see Matthew 15:1-13). Orthodox Jews believe that keeping the traditions pleases God, even to the extent of forgiveness of sins and obtaining eternal life. For example, in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 118b, it says, “Whoever is careful with Sabbath observance will be forgiven all his sins, even idolatry.” In the rabbinical writing Tanna DeBei Eliyahu it says, “Whoever studies Torah Law every day is guaranteed to go to heaven.”
Though rabbinical writings declare such things, it just isn’t so. In fact, the Scriptures say otherwise, as is summed up in Deuteronomy 27:26, “‘Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Therefore being under the condemnation of the Law, we are to be drawn to Messiah for mercy and forgiveness (Galatians 3:24).
By not seeing the Scriptures for what they actually say, these same sincere people do not view themselves as hopeless and condemned sinners as the Torah declares we all are. Thus they do not see the need for a Savior, particularly Messiah Yeshua. Tragically they reject the only means of forgiveness God has provided. In so doing, despite their supposed devotion to the Torah, rather than establishing the Torah, their unbelief denies the very purpose of the Torah they are reputed to observe. We need to pray for our people who are supposedly following the Law, but in fact contradict it by not believing in Messiah Yeshua, God’s only way of salvation. To say we believe the Scriptures is one thing. But Yeshua very plainly said, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46, 47). Let me reiterate: if Orthodox Jews, or anyone for that matter, actually observed the Torah, they would realize their need for the atonement that only Messiah Yeshua has provided.
Are certain aspects of the Torah nullified in the New Covenant?
The Greek word that Paul uses in Romans 3:31 for “make void” or “nullify” is katargeo. The basic sense of this word is “to cause to be idle or useless.” The term always denotes a superior power coming in to supersede the power previously in effect—just as light nullifies or replaces darkness.
Torah’s authority is nullified
In Romans 7, Paul uses this same Greek word katargeo to describe how the authority of the marriage relationship is ended upon the death of a spouse:“For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband”(Romans 7:2). Here katargeo is translated released. Paul is showing that we were essentially “married” to the Law, and therefore under its jurisdiction and authority (Romans 7:1). He goes on to say that in Messiah we died to the Law that we might be joined, or spiritually married as it were, to Yeshua (Romans 7:4). Thus we are released from the Law’s authority, and are under the new jurisdiction and authority of our new Husband, Messiah! “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). The Law no longer has jurisdiction over our lives. We have liberty through our trust in and submission to Messiah. From this portion we see that faith in Messiah does not nullify the Law’s purpose, but that the Law’s authority over New Covenant believers has in fact been nullified, just as prison no longer has authority over those pardoned. We therefore can develop our first principle from this truth for those of mature faith:
Mature faith does not submit to the Law, but enjoys the liberty of faith in Messiah Yeshua.
This does not mean that we are “lawless”, but we are under the authority of the Messianic “Torah” of our new Husband, Messiah, and His New Covenant with us (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 9:20, 21).
Torah’s glory is nullified
In 2 Corinthians 3:4-14, we see Paul’s midrash (comments and teaching) on Exodus 34:29-35, where he again uses the word katargeo (2 Cor. 3:7,11,13,14). In this section Paul is saying that the Law came with a certain glory, or splendor; but he teaches that the glory that came by the Torah had certain limitations.
But if the ministry of death in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory (v.7,8).
The stones Paul refers to are the two stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments. Here Paul states that the glory Moses received in the Law–“in letters engraved on stones”– was “fading away” (katargeo). The New Covenant glory exceeds and surpasses the fading glory of the Law. Condemnation, the very result of our transgression of the Law, was demonstrated in the limited glory that could be derived by the Law.
For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory (2 Cor. 3:9-11).
The Holy Spirit through the New Covenant gives a glory far surpassing the glory of the Law. The Torah’s glory was to “fade away”—that is, be nullified—but the New Covenant’s glory is to remain, and is in fact, eternal. Thus, in light of the surpassing glory and honor that we have in the New Covenant, we are to be bold in our ministry, not like Moses who had to hide his fading glory, but we proclaim the truth openly “without veils.”
Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away (2 Cor. 3:12,13).
At first Moses wore the veil so as to not blind those around him from God’s glory (Exodus 34:29-35). After a period of time the purpose of the veil was to hide the fact that the glory Moses received when he received the Torah was fading away—a glory that began to fade as soon as he left the Lord’s presence.
But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Messiah(2 Cor. 3:14).
As that veil prevented our ancestors from seeing the fading glory, so also the hardness—a spiritual insensitivity—is like a veil over many of our people’s minds today. At the reading of Torah most still do not see that Messiah is the end, or the goal of the Law (Romans 10:4). I say many of our people’s minds, but not all—this hardness upon Israel is in part (Romans 11:25), even as a hardness is upon the Gentiles (Ephesians 4:18). In fact, just as Moses removed the veil when he stood before the Lord (Ex. 34:34), ‘the veil of hardness’ is actually removed (katargeo) by faith in Messiah Yeshua—the same Lord before whom Moses stood. In Messiah, the veil or hardness over our minds is removed by grace, and replaced with the greater and lasting glory of the New Covenant.
Please note that the one replaces the other. You cannot have both the glory of the Torah and the glory of the Spirit. People who are trying to gain honor, glory or self-esteem through obedience to Torah are not enjoying the greater glory of liberty, honor and confidence in Messiah. They soon find that the Law’s fading glory only reveals where they “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
If we look to Yeshua and receive the cleansing, acceptance in the Beloved, and His assurance of eternal salvation we can live openly, transparently, honestly—“without veils.” We receive this grace in which we stand through the Holy Spirit in view of the finished work of Messiah upon the cross, for He is“the Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:5,6; 1 John 2:1). In Messiah we have the certainty of His glory, even as we have the liberty in regards to the Law’s authority. We therefore can develop a second principle from this section:
Mature faith does not glory in the Law of Moses, but has confidence in Messiah’s New Covenant. Our “boast” is in Yeshua alone (see 1 Cor. 1:30, 31).
Torah’s hostility is nullified
As we think of what our faith has provided in Messiah and His New Covenant, we cannot overlook the final application of the word katargeo in Ephesians 2:14-16.
For He [Messiah] Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
Outside the Temple courts in Jerusalem was a partition, or dividing wall called the Soreg, which symbolized the enmity or hostility between Jews and heathen Gentiles. Beyond this barrier heathens were not permitted to approach the Temple area. In fact, the Soreg contained an inscription forbidding a Gentile from going any farther upon pain of death (Midd.2:3; Yoma 16a; Josephus, Antiq. VIII. 3,2; Wars, v. 5,2 ). In Acts 21:28, an uproar occurred when Paul was accused of taking Trophimus beyond the Soreg. The enmity symbolized in the Soreg existed to maintain the purity of God’s worship and testimony from any defiling pagan elements. The Law directed Israel to live in such a way that they would be separate in lifestyle and beliefs from the nations, and to have enmity toward the sinful practices of their paganism (see Lev. 26:30; Isa.44:10-18). Once Yeshua had died for and cleansed sins, the cause of the enmity was no longer there—it was abolished [katargeo] in His flesh. Thus the Soreg was no longer needed; for Jew and Gentile believers are made one family in Messiah!
From this section we see that the enmity produced by the Law is nullified in regards to believers. We therefore can establish our third principle:
Mature faith does not segregate or exclude other believers on the basis of the Law, but we have unity with all believers in Messiah.
There are no second class believers in Yeshua. If we have been accepted by grace, we are to accept one another graciously as well.
Three Principles of Mature Faith
To summarize, from these sections we see that though faith may not nullify the Law, the Law’s authority, glory and enmity over believers are in fact nullified. We see three principles from these truths for people of mature faith:
- Authority: Mature faith does not submit to the Law’s authority, but enjoys the liberty in our submission to Messiah. Not that we are “lawless,” but we are under the authority of the Messianic “Torah” of our new Husband’s Brit Chadasha (New Covenant) (see Jer. 31:31-34, Mt. 11:28,29; 1 Cor. 9:20,21). In this regard, we are further taught in Colossians 2:16,17, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Messiah.” You may enjoy the festival or not, the food laws or not, and no one is to judge you one way or another. Why? For all these issues are a foreshadowingof Messiah: they picture Him! Therefore, as these things point to Yeshua our Messiah, they are a meaningful testimony of Him.
- Glory: Mature faith does not glory in the Law, but has confidence in Messiah. Our boast is in Him alone: “‘Let him who boasts [glories] boast of this,that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD” (Jer. 9:24,25, 1 Cor.1:30, 31).
- Enmity: Mature faith does not segregate by the Law, but has unity with all believers in Messiah. We therefore accept one another as Yeshua has accepted each of us (Romans 15:7).
In Messiah: the Fulfillment of the Torah
Romans 3:31 does not teach that we are still under the Mosaic Torah, but rather by faith in Messiah we are freed from the Law, recognizing its authority and thereby establishing it. In the same way, Messiah’s teaching in Matthew 5:17-20 is to be understood: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Messiah does not destroy but fulfills the Mosaic Torah (Law). In so doing Yeshua provides us with the righteousness to which all the Torah pointed (Rom 10:4). His fulfillment of the Mosaic Torah does not bring an end to it—exactly the opposite! Our faith does not nullify the Law, but establishes it by recognizing its authority to condemn. Thus revealing our need for pardon, forgiveness, and mercy. Also, Messiah’s fulfillment of the Torah actually establishes the Torah as the standard for righteousness that He alone can provide (Rom. 3:31; Gal. 2:21). By His singular fulfillment He now grants to all who believe on Him that very righteousness that the Mosaic Torah demands. Therefore, anyone attempting to “lower the bar” of righteousness by annulling even the least of the commandments as Matthew 5:19 states, not only removes the standard that brings us to recognize our need for mercy but, also intimates that Yeshua’s death was unnecessary for our sin.
My greatness in heaven is determined by forever knowing Yeshua as the fulfiller not the nullifier of all the Torah. My righteousness can only surpass the Pharisees by my trusting in the One who fulfilled it all and deposited it to my account by faith (2 Cor 5:21). Thus, mature faith not only establishes the Law by trusting in Yeshua for salvation, but also enjoys the liberty, certainty, and unity provided graciously in Messiah Yeshua!
How then should we interept the Torah?
The question now arises, “How do we as Messianic believers interpret and apply the teachings of the Tanakh in general, and the Torah in particular?” This question was raised by first century Messianic believers as well, and the answer then is the same answer for today. Paul wrote to Timothy about this very matter: “But we know that the Torah is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that Torah is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:8-11).
In this portion Paul, a Jewish believer, is speaking to Timothy, another Jewish believer, about Torah. In Ephesus where Timothy was ministering for Messiah, there were false teachers that were teaching strange doctrines because of their misunderstanding of the Torah. Paul informed Timothy that false teachers misunderstood the purpose of the Torah, and therefore misapplied it. These false teachers focused attention on Torah, rather than Messiah. This led to them straying from the truth and eventually shipwrecking their faith!(1 Timothy 1:19,20). Such teaching was wrong then, and is still wrong today. Paul explains that Torah’s purpose as Law is not for the righteous, but for the wicked. In this portion when Paul uses the term ‘righteous’, he means those whom God has declared righteous in Messiah (see 2 Cor. 5:21). False teachers did not, and still do not understand the Torah’s purpose—to reveal to us our spiritual need for forgiveness found only in Yeshua (see Galatians 3:23-25). Paul clarifies this by reiterating to Timothy nine of the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20).
- 1st Thou shalt have no other gods before me—lawless and rebellious…
- 2nd Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, punishing the iniquity…of them that hate Me—ungodly and sinners…
- 3rd Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain—unholy and profane…
- 5th Honor thy father and thy mother—kill their fathers or mothers…
- 6th Thou shalt not kill—murderers…
- 7th Thou shalt not commit adultery—immoral men and homosexuals…
- 8th Thou shalt not steal—kidnappers (literally men stealers)…
- 9th Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor—liars and perjurers…
- 10th Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house…thy neighbor’s wife, etc.–covetousness is noted as anything else that is contrary to sound teaching.
Put On Your ‘Gospel Glasses’
Paul then states that this sound teaching is understood according to the glorious gospel. How do you recognize sound teaching? Notice the wordaccording. The standard for sound teaching is when it is according to the Good News of Messiah, the “glorious gospel of the blessed God.” For example, I need my glasses to see with, obviously. Without them I can see a page, but I can’t read what is written on it, nor know what it really says. Just as glasses bring into focus what is written on the page, the Gospel brings into focus the purpose of the Torah. These false teachers did not submit their teaching regarding Torah to the Gospel, therefore they misinterpreted the Torah. The New Covenant enables us to rightly understand, and to apply the Torah. Without the Good News, Torah shows us our sins, to then lead us to Messiah, who is the goal of the Torah (Romans 10:4). But in Messiah, and through the ‘Gospel glasses’, Torah is now “profitable” and edifying for your soul (2 Tim. 3:16). This is why Paul consistently states that for the believer Torah was written for our encouragement (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11).
What happened to The Sabbath?
Did you notice that in Paul’s listing of the Ten Commandments, Paul omits the fourth commandment–Remember the Sabbath day?
This is the one commandment not repeated in the New Covenant, because the deeper issue of Shabbat rest is revealed—the rest which is found only in Messiah Himself (Mt. 11:28; Heb. 4:1-11). Messianic believers meet on Shabbat, not out of obligation, but to enjoy our liberty in the Lord, and to glorify Him.
So, study the Scriptures, knowing as Yeshua said, it’s all about Him (John 5:39; Rom. 10:4; Heb.10:1). The entire Word of God (Acts 20:27) is His spiritual nourishment for you, to be enjoyed and employed. May He who inspired the Scriptures illuminate your mind to its truth, and empower you to live out that very truth—all to the glory of Yeshua our Messiah!
For more Messianic questions, we’ve got answers for you!