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 asÂ 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 http://www.gci.org/acts/decree1 http://www.gci.org/acts/decree2 ). 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)Â 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.