"Not Subject to the Law of God?"
Part 2. The Hebrew View of the Law/Torah and Salvation
We begin with what Christianity calls "the Law," but in Judaism is called the Torah -- the term given to the first five books of the Bible. This is also referred to by Christians as the "Pentateuch" (a Greek term). The term "Law," especially in the legal sense as the western mind understands it, is not an appropriate translation of the word "Torah." A correct translation of Torah is "instruction" or "revelation" -- as in "God's instruction," or "revelation from God." This is how the Torah is presented in Judaism.
The Torah is a revelation of the character of God as well as an insight of what is to come. The Torah is God's instruction on how those who place their trust in Him (Jew or gentile) are to live, so that "all will be well with them." (Deuteronomy 4:40) Verses such as Exodus 12:48-49, Leviticus 24:22 and Isaiah chapter 56, show that the Torah was not strictly for the Hebrews, but also for those Gentiles who wanted to be part of God's people. Although God chose to present His revelation through the Jewish people, it was not to be solely "their religion." They were to be a "light to the world," and bring this revelation to the Gentiles, as Yeshua reminded them in His sermon of Matthew chapter 5.
Though the Torah proper is the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), the term "Torah" can also include the rest of the Tenakh (commonly called the "Old Testament") and the books of the "New Testament," in that they are God's continued revelation/instruction. None of God's later revelation in the rest of the Tenakh (the Prophets & Writings) contradicts the Torah, and none of the "New Testament" contradicts the Torah, Prophets or Writings. God's word is one.
What Does the Tenakh say about the Torah, Forgiveness of Sin, and Salvation?
Unlike the movie, "Back to the Future," we will for the purpose of this study of the Torah, go "forward into the past." In the Gospel of John chapter 3, we have one of the foundational verses of "faith-based Christianity:"
"You must be born again."
Christians tout this as a preeminent "faith teaching of Jesus." Notice however, what the Messiah says to Nicodemus when the latter asks, "How can these things be?"
Yeshua replies to him: "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not know these things?"
Nicodemus is criticized by the Messiah, who says that as a "teacher of Israel," he should have known about being "born again." Now how would Nicodemus know about this if it was a new teaching of Yeshua?
The answer is that "being born again" is not an original teaching from Yeshua and the launching point for some new Christian faith. Being born again was and is fundamental to Torah-based Judaism, as the message of the Torah has always been to have faith in God for salvation and not "work your way."
This can be seen in the book of Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 10:16 -- "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiffnecked no longer."
The term "stiffnecked" is equivalent to not having faith. God called the generation in the wilderness stiffnecked because they failed to trust (have faith) in Him. (See Exodus 32:9; 33:3,5; 34:9, Deut. 9:6,13; 2 Chron. 30:8; Acts 7:51)
Hebrews 3:7-4:2, commenting on these same stiffnecked people, said they received the Gospel but failed as they did not "mix it with faith," and "went astray in their hearts."
Deuteronomy 30:6 -- "And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live."
Here the word "live" is used in a spiritual sense and is equivalent to salvation.
The epistles show that "circumcision of the heart" is the equivalent of "being born again":
Romans 2:29 -- "But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart ..."
Colossians 2:11 -- "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands ..."
God has always asked that we first recognize and trust in Him before trying to "do" anything for Him. To have faith/trust in Him is the "first commandment."
Exodus 20:2-3 & Deuteronomy 5:6-7 -- I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
Habakkuk 2:4 & Romans 1:17 -- "The righteous live by faith." (Paul quotes this "Old Testament" verse in Romans to make his point.)
Hebrews 11:6 -- "Without faith it is impossible to please Him." (This chapter then goes on to list those who "followed the Law," such as; Moses, David and Samuel)
Yeshua continues His discussion with Nicodemus, speaking of His ascending to heaven (John 3:12-13), thus linking the Torah, (as God spoke about it in Deuteronomy 30:11-14), with Himself (as Paul wrote in Romans 10:1-8). Yeshua concludes his discussion by pointing to the incident of the Children of Israel looking upon the bronze serpent and living (John 3:14) as a faith issue (Numbers 21:9) comparing that to faith in Himself.
God does not change. Salvation in Torah-based Judaism has always been by faith, both before Moses and after him, as well as before Yeshua and after Him. The Torah is God's revelation, as Yeshua is also God's revelation. Faith, Torah and Yeshua are inseparable. Salvation was always through faith, Messiah and Torah, as Yeshua is the lamb slain since the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3, 9:26; Rev. 13:8). Yeshua Himself said:
John 8:56 -- "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad."
Yeshua is the goal of the Torah (Romans 10:4, see the section below, "Making the Hebrew Connection: Torah and Messiah.") Yeshua is the Torah in the flesh -- the point of John 1:1.
The reason most people don't see this when they read the "Old Testament," is because their understanding of, "what the Scriptures say," is affected by hundreds of years of theology formed by previous generations studying and interpreting the Hebrew Bible in a Hellenized (non-Hebrew) way. This "mindset" is not an easy thing to shake off (especially in the USA) as it is reinforced daily by family, friends, sermons, books, Christian TV programs, Christian holidays -- the entire culture we live in.
How and why the Bible has come to be interpreted in this fashion is discussed further in this document.
A Tenakh Example: How Was King David Saved?
In Hebrews chapter 11 -- the "Faith Hall of Fame" as some have called it, we find three interesting names from the Tenakh -- Moses, David and Samuel. The book of Hebrews says they were saved by faith, even though they were well known for following the Torah.
In writing Psalm 119, David can't say enough about following the Torah. But, according to Christian theology, there is a dilemma with regard to what he writes.
David writes the following about himself:
Psalm 119:22 -- "Take away from me reproach and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies."
Psalm 119:51 -- "... yet have I not declined in my interest or turned aside from your Law."
Psalm 119:56 -- "I have kept your precepts ..."
Psalm 119:102 -- "I have not turned aside from your ordinances ..."
Psalm 119:121 -- "I have done justice and righteousness ..."
Is this the same David that committed adultery with Bathsheba and had Uriah murdered? Not to mention a number of other documented violations of the Torah. According to Christian theology, David is clearly a liar. How can he claim to have followed "the Law," when we all know how he broke it in some terrible ways? To add to the "confusion," God Himself calls David, "a man after His own heart." (1 Samuel 13:14)
So is David a liar? Perhaps God is making an "exception" for him?
There is a hint of the answer found in Psalm 119 itself:
Psalm 119:159 -- "Consider how I love your precepts; revive me and give life to me, O Lord, according to your loving kindness."
The term "loving kindness" is hesed in Hebrew, and is the equivalent of the word grace in the "New Testament." David knew he was saved by God's grace -- NOT by keeping all the commandments perfectly, but rather by what he says at the beginning of the verse; "Consider how I love your precepts ..."
An interesting question to ask is, "Why does God save us?" The typical reply might be, "So we won't go to hell." That may be true, but it's an incomplete answer. In fact, God saves us so that we can perform the commandments (mitzvot) of His Torah in this lifetime. Our performing God's mitzvot is part of His desire to return us back into a correct relationship, the purpose and intent of mankind, as first seen in the Garden of Eden (Gan Eden).
(Taking it a step further, one could ask, why did Yeshua say, "we would always have the poor?" (Matthew 26:11) Part of the answer is so that we would be able to perform the mitzvot of charity!) (9)
Psalm 119 shows David asking to be saved so that he could then follow God's Torah. God judged David on his faith AND desire to follow the Torah, NOT on his ability to keep every point of it. No one has ever been "saved" by their ability to keep Torah, nor has that ever been an option for salvation.
The idea that Torah-based Judaism taught that anyone was ever saved by works is false. Throughout the ages there have indeed been those in Judaism who have taught incorrectly. The behavior of specific individuals or groups does not change what Torah-based Judaism has always taught. Even the error of the Jewish leaders at the time of Yeshua does not make Christianity, or any other religion correct. (Let God be true but every man be a liar -- Romans 3:4.) The only thing that is "right," is what God Himself established.
Faith and desire to follow His Torah are inseparable according to God.
Why is this so?
Salvation "Under the Law"
Let us examine the aforementioned quote by Christian author, Norman Geisler:
While Moses set up the moral and social structures that guided the nation, the Law could not save anyone from the penalty of their sins, which is death. As Paul says, 'By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin' (Rom 3:20). The revelation which came through Jesus, though, was one in which the sins which the Law made known are forgiven, 'being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus' (v. 24). Christ's revelation builds on the foundation of Moses by solving the problem of which the Law made us aware.
Geisler's statement summarizes Christianity's view of the Torah, forgiveness of sin and salvation:
Scripture has something different to say on the subject however, with God Himself making it clear that forgiveness was attainable long before Yeshua's death and resurrection:
Isaiah 1:18 -- Come now and let us reason together says the Lord, Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
Strong's Concordance shows that there are more references to God forgiving sin in the book Leviticus, than in any other book in the Bible. Perhaps God wasn't serious all those times He told people that their sins were forgiven when they did what He told them to do, in faith?
An argument is made by some that the sacrifices in the "Old Testament" didn't really forgive sin, (even though the words of the Bible say they did). Rather, they merely provided a "covering" for people's sins. Unfortunately, there is nothing in Scripture that supports this idea, or indicates we should not believe what we read when God says their sins were forgiven. Attempts to prove otherwise always stem from pulling verses out of their context.
Hebrews 10:4 -- "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin."
The problem here is that this verse is in the specific context of the Yom Kippur sacrifice - not the daily sacrificial system in general. Christianity does not understand the difference between the two and completely misses the point of the letter of Hebrews. (See the section below, "Christianity's Difficulty With the Law," for more about Yom Kippur and the book of Hebrews.)
Another Christian teaching is that until "Jesus' victory at the cross," we were totally powerless against sin. If that is true, why did God tell Cain, the son of Adam, that he could win out over sin:
Genesis 4:7 -- "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it."
The fact that people could be considered righteous and blameless in God's sight, before Yeshua's death, is shown as early as Cain (above), through the Tenakh (i.e., David), right up to before Yeshua's birth, where in the "New Testament," Scripture says of the parents of "John the baptist":
Luke 1:6 -- "And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."
According to Christian doctrine, how could these people be considered righteous, "according to the Law," prior to "Jesus' work on the cross?"
Why did God Give the Torah at Mount Sinai?
If salvation was always attainable by faith from the time of Adam, and the Torah (God's word), was also always in existence (John 1:1), then why did God give the Torah (as we have it in the Bible) to Moses at Mount Sinai?
The short answer is; Out of mercy.
First, recall the days of Noah. Man had become so sinful that God, after first removing the righteous (Torah-observant) people, such as Enoch and Methuselah, spared Noah and seven others to repopulate the earth. However, before He did this, out of mercy, He gave man 120 years to repent. (Genesis 6:1-8) They failed and the flood came. Note that Noah knew what animals were unclean (Genesis 7:2), even though this was well before Moses received the Torah which contained those instructions. Therefore, we know that God's revelation of the Torah, in some way, was given to man from the beginning.
Skip ahead ten generations to Abraham's time. God makes Abraham a promise to inherit certain lands that are presently occupied by evil people. However, God tells him that the time for their destruction has not yet arrived, as they have not reached the fullness of their wickedness (Genesis 15:16). God, out of mercy, gave those people another 400 years to turn from sin back to Him -- which they did not do.
Finally, move forward to the arrival of the Yeshua the Messiah. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son ..." (John 3:16) We all know the rest of that verse. Again, God acts out of mercy. Man has continually strayed from God. Ignorance of God's will, His Torah, is no excuse. That is why God, in the Torah he gave Moses, prescribed sacrifices for sins done in ignorance of the Torah.
God, in His mercy, hasn't destroyed the earth every other generation since Noah, or continually struck individuals with lightning bolts -- though some may have deserved it. Yeshua has been involved here, acting as a propitiation (an advocate or buffer) between God and man -- not only for believers, but also for the rest of the world. (1 John 2:2) Scripture tells us that the Lord's salvation was done at the foundation of the world. The idea of the Messiah's work being "done" thousands of years before His earthly crucifixion and resurrection, may be hard for some to grasp, however God does not work within the concept of time as we relate to it.
To summarize; the Torah at Sinai was given out of mercy and for several related purposes:
The Torah was also given to show man how to live for God and with your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). The fact that we have faith in Yeshua does not void what the Torah says about HOW to do this. Christianity teaches that we don't have to follow the Torah, as Jesus nullified its specifics by summarizing everything in the two commandments that He gave in this Matthew verse. Instead of following God's revelation (the Torah), Christianity says we now have "liberty from the Law." We now follow something called "the law of love" or "law of Christ." Christianity says we are now "led by the Spirit" and no longer subject to "the Law."
Did God Give His People an "Impossible Task?"
As previously outlined, Christianity, in one form or another, teaches that God gave Moses and His people a list of commandments they were to obey perfectly in order to be saved, but as sinful humans, they could not keep these. Therefore, there was no way to "follow the Law" until Jesus arrived to usher in the "era of grace"-- 1300 years later.
According to this theology, God told His people to do something He knew they could not do, with the stipulation that if they failed, they were damned.
Is God a sadist? Of course not. Yeshua Himself said that even we, being evil, treat our children fairly, and that God treats us better than any of us treat our own. Yet some form of this perverse idea is taught throughout Christianity's denominations.
Examine what God Himself said when He gave the Torah:
Deuteronomy 30:11-14 -- "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it.' But the word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it."
God Himself makes it clear -- He told His people that the Law was not too hard for them to follow.
CONTINUE TO PART 3
Part 1 - The Christian View of "the Law"
Part 2 - The Hebrew View of the Law/Torah and Salvation
Part 3 - What does the "New Testament" Teach About the Torah and Salvation?
Part 4 - Christianity's Difficulty with "the Law"
Part 5 - The Confusing Christian view of the Believer's Relationship to Torah
Part 6 - How Did the Christian View of the Torah Originate?
Part 7 - Historical Reality Concerning What Yeshua and His Followers Believed
Part 8 - Clarifying the Believer's Relationship to Torah
Part 9 - Is This All Really That Big a Deal?
Part 10 - Concluding Thoughts & Footnotes
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