How I Came To Abandon “Torah Keeping”

My journey as a believer has taken me through more than my share of denominations and movements. Five in all. They each had unique biblical insights and truths to offer, so each was a helpful step in my growth in understanding…until they no longer were. I typically moved on when the errors they taught became obvious and too overwhelming to put up with.

The particular phase I was in during in the early 2000’s goes by various names such as Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots, Two House and “Torah Keeping.” It involves keeping as much the 613 commandments in the Torah or five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) as one can. The mainstay of these commandments is the Sabbath and the biblical feasts of Leviticus 23 (popularly known mostly as the Jewish holidays) and avoiding unclean meats.

I’m glad I got into Torah keeping. Through it I came to understand a lot more of the Bible than I did before, especially in the area of Bible prophecy. Yet after a few years, diminishing returns set in and more errors came to light, just as I experienced in all other movements/denominations.

Most importantly, I found myself unable to accept that all the Torah were what that Jesus and others in the NT referred to as  the (universal) “commandments of God” (1Jo 5:2-3).

A few people have asked me lately how this came about. Here’s a brief summary:

1) I tried to practice it here in Costa Rica and saw not only was I unsure always on how to do it (calendar wars, Sabbath restriction debates, etc.), but even the ways I thought to try to keep the days God was not providing a way to do it. This seemed odd if I sincerely wanted to obey him and he wanted me to do it, that he was not blessing me with a way to do so.

Likewise, nobody else was really was “keeping Torah.” Instead of doing it all like Israel, they were all picking and choosing what parts God would hold them accountable to do. For example, I didn’t know anyone who went to Jerusalem for Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles as was required on all men. “Oh, well we can’t afford to do that, so God must wink at that one…”

2) I kept studying and seeing many verses that contradicted the Torah keeping premise. Timothy was circumcised not because “it was required on all” but to “please the Jews there.” Acts 15 was getting harder and harder to twist from its more plain reading (see ). Galatians was also hard to keep explaining away.

3) I finally learned about the rule of audience and saw how much Christian and Messianic exegesis depends on ignoring the specific audience spoken to and lifting it and making it universal. The audience of Torah was ancient Israel under Moses. You have to prove it is for someone else, not assume it is. (This audience point is a real bombshell because it destroys most of Christian doctrine based on NT passages to specific audiences, like the Great Commission given to the apostles.)

Once I stopped focusing on attempting to do something that was impossible for me to do, an interesting thing happened. While reading the Gospels, I began to notice what Jesus had been wanting for us all along. He never once told people to “keep Torah” (as Torah teachers claim) or defined the Torah as the “commandments of God” that are referenced in the NT (1Jo 5:2-3)  He instead told people to trust God and to love your neighbor as yourself as the universal commandments of God. By loving your neighbor because it’s God’s will, you are obeying and loving God. He said that living that way fulfilled the Torah and the Prophets (the entire Hebrew Bible) and gave you eternal life.

Hebrew Roots had failed to explain what Jesus wanted for us to do, just as all the other denominations I had been in did. It did not put the emphasis on “doing for others what you would want done for you,” as Jesus did (Mt 7:12).

These days I just seek to fulfill the will of God for all men as Jesus himself expressed it. To be sure, loving your neighbor is not as stimulating or interesting as Torah keeping is, so it’s not likely to catch on. It even seems too simple to be correct coming from a 613 commandment Torah-keeping view. But when you make loving God and your neighbor your focus, you find it’s not so easy as it simple. It’s even more challenging than Torah keeping was.

Confused by Hebrew Roots/Torah Keeping?

My Conversation with a Confused Torah Keeper

After Nehemia Gordon shared my Facebook status on his Facebook wall, one of his friends found me and said:

Hey Tim, I have questions, how do I get some of them to you? I have tried to ask Nehemia Gordon and I think he’s busy right now! Anyway, I see how good you are about writing back.

I’m always up for helping people out of their confusion if I can as it feels great to see the fog of confusion lift and peace arrive. It also helps me get clearer on my thoughts along the lines of the Socratic method (used by Socrates to teach his students through questions).

Her confusion was over Torah Keeping. As someone who went through the same questions and confusion she did, I am able to point out some things that are easy to miss and not taught by the Torah teachers.

If you want to see what I said to her, read the complete dialog here posted with permission (but name withheld) in the interest of helping others confused over Torah keeping (TK),walking as Jesus walked,” and “pagan holidays” like Christmas and Easter.

“Should I Keep Torah?”

Confused Torah Keeper: Long story short, I believe Jesus is the messiah, but have always had a deep interest in the truth of the Bible, how to follow Him in truth and it has taken me on a journey of finding out how much of what I had been taught wasn’t even “truth”. I started by finding out how Easter, Christmas, etc. were pagan holidays all of that. So I then was drawn to Hebraic root, messianic jew online congregations. Okay, now all of my family and friends then called me a jew because I felt that the feasts were something I should study and know about. The more serious I became about all things jewish, the backlash from friends, family, church members became pretty intense. Nehemia, blows my mind on his knowledge and now I have questions about do I follow Him in truth anymore? Do I follow the torah laws, does Jesus intend for us to? Then I was listening to truth2u radio and they talked about Hebrews 8 and how there is a new covenant. I guess the simple question is how do I tell people (and myself) that Jesus never came to do away with the old laws when so much of what Paul says messes that up and then there is Hebrews 8. Does any of that make sense? I do not have the support around me to help me work through some of these things and my spirit is taking a beating.

Tim: I started the same Torah journey back in 2000, so I appreciate your questions and where you are. I have learned so much through it and since then after realizing Torah keeping did not fit with the NT as you are seeing. I don’t regret Torah Keeping (TK) but once I saw that it did not produce the results/fruit Jesus talked about, I had to move on.

First, if you look at all the words of Jesus for what he directly told people to do, Jesus never told them to keep Torah while he instead told them other things, plenty of them. The only way to get that Jesus wanted us to do Torah is to point to the fact that he did it (ignoring why) and take some of his words out of context.

In Mt 19:17-19 when asked how to have eternal life, he specifically listed only five love your neighbor commandments and left off all the other five that come only through Torah revelation. People can learn to love their neighbor by being around people who teach them how to treat them. Plus governments have statutes around those five commandments too. But the five he left off and the rest of Torah only come through revelation that only Israel received. Plus they were about staying in the Promised Land, not about eternal life like the five love thy neighbor commands are.

Why Jesus did not list Sabbath and other commands bothered me when I was a TK. He went out of his way to not tell people to keep Torah stuff. Only the love stuff. Why, if TK was required? Well, now you know what I concluded and how I resolved that.

If TK is required, then 99% of humanity is damned because they never heard of it and if they did hear of it they see it as something given to Israel/Judah (and rightly so). But if love your neighbor is all that is required, then 100% of humanity living around people has the chance to figure this out. If God made us all, he would want us to not harm what he made. I think that’s why people universally admire the Mother Teresa’s, Ghandi’s, etc. Everyone knows what’s right.

CTK: I know He did it (because that was the way), that is my reason for wanting to also. Do you feel it’s important to keep the feasts, clean food eating, etc. in your walk?

Tim: Define “important.” As you can see above, if TK is in any way “important” where does that leave 99% of humanity who WE MUST REMEMBER never received Torah?

CTK: I guess, because I know these things I feel that “since I know better” I should follow how He walked.

“We Should Walk As He Walked…?”

Tim: ahh, that verse. Have you looked at it closely?

CTK: The more I study the less I know. I guess I haven’t looked close enough. Remind me where that verse is.

Tim: Read 1John 2:6 now in context and tell me if you had never heard a Torah Teacher tell you it means Torah, what is the context of that verse (verse 6)?

Verse 3 says keeping Jesus’ commands. Read Mt, Mk, Lk and Jn and you’ll never once see him say “Keep Torah” but he will tell people to love one another and explain what that looks like (Good Samaritan, separation of the Sheep and the Goats-“you did it unto me”)

TKs say verse 3 is Torah commands. But that does not fit. Keep reading and see how it talks about love in verse 5 and 10, before and after the verse on walking like Jesus (verse 6).

Jesus’ commandments are love thy neighbor in five points (Mt 19:18-19). By doing this for God, he says you inherit the kingdom. It’s simple, but not easy. That is the good news of the kingdom and why it requires repentance. We don’t naturally love each other. We’re naturally selfish. People who change that really stand out like the great servants I mentioned above. Torah does not produce that fruit. It was for Israel to be a great wise nation that inspired other nations. It was not about salvation.

And I have not even gotten into the fact that nobody can keep Torah today or since AD 70. It was an all or nothing contract with Israel. They were warned for neglecting points. Today people kid themselves when they say they are TK because they are just Torah Fans as Michael Rood says. That was the other thing I saw that made me realize I was just fooling myself about TK being required. How could God require or make important something that nobody can do today?

And when did he ever tell anyone, “It’s OK, just do the parts you can…”?

That’s the little inconvenient truth about TK that we all had to ignore in the movement. We could not even do what we said we did but we winked at it and said the best we could must be good enough.

Is any of what I concluded helping you? I bet you have tons of questions still. Feel free to ask others and just keep doing it until you’re sure. Just sharing why now I focus on Jesus’ actual words of instruction and not his actions (incl. dying on a cross, calling 12 apostles, turning over the money changers tables) or Torah teacher’s words.

CTK: I see what you are saying, and I agree. I guess this search for truth and taken me off track in trying to do His will. It is hard to love your neighbor. Your talk has helped me so much. It’s taken the edge of feeling ashamed that I’m not following right some how.

Tim: Phew! Good. Yes, shame and fear of missing something is a big driving force behind TK. When you can see for yourself that it’s really simple and you can’t possibly be missing it or everyone is missing it and we’re all damned, then you can have peace and confidence to step up and try to do that simple hard thing with God’s help (which he is very happy to give to those who take that pleasing step of faith to serve an invisible God by loving people for him)

CTK: I pray that God blesses you as you have blessed me in helping me see things a little clearer. The fence is not a good place to be, walking between two places.

Avoiding Pagan Holidays?

Tim: Thanks. I’m sure further questions will occur, so don’t hesitate….

CTK: Real quick, I still don’t to celebrate Easter and Christmas! Lol

Tim: oops, there we go…

Then don’t. If your conscience says don’t then don’t. But there is nothing sinful about keeping “pagan” holidays. Israel was told not to worship pagan idols but that is not what the days are today. They are confused dirty syncretism now, but that does not make them sin. Paul’s letters are good on this point. He never says a word about the “avoiding the pagan days” of his culture. He says you can eat food sacrificed to idols if it does not bother your conscience or the conscience of your brother. If they were as bad as TK or Michael Rood says, then it would be different.

CTK: Yep, it does bother me how these holidays were started. I have listened to Michael Rood, but wasn’t sure about his teaching.

Tim: Yes, they are false and I personally have no desire to keep them in my house ever since I knew they were shams. But if someone invited me to a Xmas party I would not be offended or tell them it’s pagan. I’d go if I felt like it without fear that I’m sinning or offending God. You can’t live your life without coming in contact with pagan words, ideas, inventions, traditions and philosophy.

CTK: My family is dead set on keeping them, they just know I’m not big on it. I have 3 grown children with 8 grandchildren and if I gave up on Christmas totally it would be world war three.

My heart is just not the same about it.

Tim: Yeah then I advise you keep the peace by putting aside your own disgust with the holiday’s origins. That’s love. (Love is not telling them it’s all pagan and making them feel ashamed. That’s what I did when I was young and naive in my teens and just figuring out the truth about Xmas. It’s a common mistake played out on Facebook every day.)

CTK: I’ll let you go, bless your heart. I’ll bug you some other day.


I was messaged this after this posting of our conversation. It was very helpful of her to explain which of the arguments presented above were the key to her freedom from worry that she should keep Torah.

CTK: It was good to reread that. … I’m just so glad you took the time to talk, I just hope people don’t judge on how “stupid” I might have sounded, so the anonymous part is awesome! The part about not being able to keep all of it, but trying to “wink”, is good enough, is I think, what really made me wake up and be like, there is the simple truth of it, and I was missing that in my quest to be loyal to Him. Again, thank you.

For Further Reading

To answer some follow-up questions to this post, see How I Came To Abandon Torah Keeping.

Update 2016

Three years later, my position has not changed, but in helping another person on Facebook new to the Torah keeping issue and questioning it all, I wrote the following that I think sums it up even better:

As you said, nobody keeps the whole law today because it’s impossible. Just realizing that, you’re ahead of the field who deceive themselves into thinking they are keeping Torah, which was an all-or-nothing proposition when delivered by Moses to ancient Israel. Yet many still pick and choose to keep Sabbath, feasts, kosher, etc. which all only exist in the Law. As such, feast-keeping IS indeed keeping the law–part of it.

People do this thinking that adoption of these rituals given to ancient Israel would please God today, too. Common reasons?: “Jesus kept them”, “They are eternal”, “They are coming back as prophecy says so why not start today?”, etc. Or they think Christianity has negligently failed to teach these things as evidenced by their invented pagan holiday focus instead. Notice, that among these reasons is not, “Jesus plainly taught us to keep the Law of Moses. Just read the Sermon on the Mount!” because he taught anything but law keeping in his words.

Either way, while this heart to find and do all God wills is great and pleases God, I have personally experienced and observed for three decades how these practices end up being yet another ditch or distraction from what Jesus actually taught and called “good fruit” in the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus taught is what God prefers we focus on developing, not what Moses taught ancient Israel to keep, yes?

Unfortunately, just as you rightly pointed out that Christianity does not teach us the truth on the days God once set apart and will set apart again and has introduced us to pagan feasts days (whether they are bad enough lies to reject or not is up to each person, as Greg said), Christianity also fails to teach and train us in how to be like Jesus by developing the good fruit he said to focus on. This fruit is the key determiner of how to choose who to let teach us and how to know if we are in the faith ourselves. Since leaving Torah keeping, my focus has been on understanding and developing this fruit which does bring you the fruits Jesus talked about, unlike how Law keeping did.

If it helps you to hear more about my journey out of Torah keeping, you can read about it in this post.

Hope this helps and blessings on your search for truth and to please Yehovah God.