Hebrew Roots Movement or Replacement Theology? How about C: None of the Above?
by Bob Siegel, bobsiegel.net
"His name wasn't Jesus. It was Yeshua! I am a follower of Yeshua and I obey him as a Jew, as God commanded me. I'm tired of the way Gentiles have paganized the church. In fact, I don't have much use for the word church either. Yeshua relates to a gathering, a synagogue of believers!"
"Oh yeah? Why do you claim to follow Jesus but act ashamed of the name Christian? It's time to make a choice: Either you're a Christian or you're not. And while you decide, keep in mind that God's covenant with Israel is over, a covenant she broke! I no longer expect to see Biblical prophecy fulfilled through Israel. I am a part of the true spiritual Israel, the church!"
Do these opposing statements sound familiar? Probably so. Nonsense usually is accompanied with a recognizable fragrance.
Both statements represent gross ignorance and misinformation slung from one camp to another.
The relationship between the church of Jesus Christ and the people of Israel (the Jews) has been a source of aggravated controversy and intense debate for the past two-thousand years.
People often puzzle over this strange phenomenon. Why should there be such tension between people? After all, Jesus was Himself Jewish. So were His disciples. In fact, the original church was made up of so many Jews that when Gentiles first expressed interest in Jesus, the apostles had quite an interesting time trying to figure out if Gentiles had to first become Jewish as a prerequisite for receiving the Messiah.
In time, less and less Jews and more and more Gentiles joined the church. In the years which characterized church history, Gentile Christians developed a very blemished record in their treatment of the Jews. Jews have been viewed as a cursed people, often designated "Christ killers." They have been banished, harassed, and murdered in the name of Christianity.
While not every Christian has been anti-Semitic, many have still taught erroneous things about the Jews, namely that God was through with them and that any prophecies or promised blessings about Israel were withdrawn and are awaiting fulfillment in the church instead.
Theological titles come and go, but the most familiar current heading for the idea of God's "switched blessings" is called Replacement Theology.
An aggressive response to Replacement Theology seeks to reeducate Christians about their Jewish origins. Today, many converted Jews claim they can be both Christian and Jewish at the same time. Some of them even drop the term "Christian" all the while holding on to their belief that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah of Israel. They call themselves "Messianic Jews" or sometimes "Completed Jews." Often they prefer to use the Hebrew name for Jesus (Yeshua) and the Hebrew name for Christ (Messiah or Meshiach).
Jews are not the only ones intrigued with this Jewish flavor of Christianity. Many Gentiles have become a part of this same revival, expressing appreciation for the "Hebrew roots" of their faith. Indeed, often times these Messianic gatherings have more Gentiles than Jews. This association has become somewhat informally known as The Hebrew Roots Movement.
The Hebrew Roots Movement is very eclectic. Not everyone who associates with that title believes the exact same things. Still, (with all due respect to those individuals who are exceptions) there are enough disturbing trends to see that at least a large part of The Hebrew Roots Movement has become as erroneous as the very Replacement Theology it protests.
Those who critique The Hebrew Roots Movement are often accused of being anti-Semitic. Usually, that's an unfair over reaction. On the other hand, much anti-Semitism still exists in the world and in the church, so the matter gets confusing.
In order to invoke some objectivity, let me say from the outset that I myself am a converted Jew. I accepted Jesus as my savior back in college as a result of a dynamic encounter with the Spirit of God. So genuine was this experience that when given the choice to deny Christ or be disowned by my parents, I chose to leave home. I was disinherited and ended up working my way through college under the blessing and protection of God.
Nobody will be able to call me an anti-Semite and yet I have serious problems with The Hebrew Roots Movement. Certainly I'm not the only Jewish-Christian to feel this way but I intend to be among the ones who make a loud noise.
It is high time to challenge both sides of this troublesome coin; Replacement Theology and the Hebrew Roots Movement. Neither side has much to do with the truth. Each sheds more heat than light on the relationship God desires between Jews and Gentiles. They are both unBiblical. Their theologies highlight certain selected Bible verses while ignoring others.
What accounts for so much disagreement from a community of believers, especially when they all make the same claims about honoring the Bible?
The problem is not with the Bible. The Bible is very clear. The problem is with human nature itself.
Much as we would all love to believe that whatever we hear in church is based upon a sound reading of Scripture, sadly that is not always the case. Human beings have an uncanny ability to filter and cherry pick facts, sometimes out of gullibility, sometimes out of a desire to believe what sounds pleasing rather than what is actually true.
Add to this the observation that Christians tend to follow the teachings of their pastor, especially when he speaks with charisma or has impressive credentials. But if they were to stop and think for a moment, they'd realize that pastors with differing views are equally matched with seminary degrees from alternative institutions along with some kind of license/ordination honor.
Great orators and credentialed speakers often teach contradictory views. For this reason, those who thirst for truth are sooner or later forced to do their own serious homework. They must look beneath strong personality and impressive resume'.
But what influences these strong personalities in the first place? Often times in church history, we have seen an individual get fascinated with one idea and then precede to examine the rest of Scripture through the lens of this same intriguing view, frequently ignoring any Scripture which apparently teaches anything different. John Calvin demonstrated this tendency with the sovereignty of God. On the other side of the fence, Jacob Arminius did something similar with the free will of man.These individuals were not alone. Many other examples could be sited.
It is not difficult for such passionate men to develop a following.
Not only do people "follow the pack" but as a general rule, human beings think, feel, and act in extremes. Typically, the popularity of one movement inspires an extreme reaction to the extreme, thus creating a newer movement. When theology is on opposite poles, the Bible (if read honestly and in context) is usually in the middle some place.
With this in mind, I am going to critique Replacement Theology and The Hebrew Roots Movement respectively. You will see how each movement proudly embraces certain passages of Scripture, conspicuously avoiding verses that would challenge their positions, or reinterpreting passages in ways that would make one's head spin.
Replacement Theology refers specifically to the idea of Israel being permanently substituted by the church. This school of thought believes that God is finished with Israel as a nation. RT's adherents do not look to current events in the Middle East for future fulfillments of prophecy. Some do not even believe in a literal Second Coming of Christ at all, partly because a plain reading of such prophecy involves a literal, physical deliverance of Israel from her enemies.
To justify this position, they make observations about the supernatural manner of Christ's return and compare it to similar language in the Old Testament that was fulfilled much differently than the way Christians expect Jesus to return.
I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one "like a son of man" with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand (Rev. 14:14).
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thess 4:17).
Replacement Theology sees these verses as ripe for reinterpretation. They spiritualize and allegorize this description of Messiah's return. Some see the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD as God's judgment upon Israel and perhaps Christ's true " second coming." If not the temple, they will point to some other moment of history to corroborate their viewpoint, but either way, the "clouds" are to be viewed only as symbols.
For illustrations, they find Old Testament passages which also talk about God coming in the clouds and show how they were not literally fulfilled, but rather, mere poetic expressions.
For example, while reminding Israel to walk with him, God says through the prophet Isaiah,
See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; his lips are full of wrath, and his tongue is a consuming fire (Isaiah 30:27)
Yes, the Bible does use expression and hyperbole but just as often God speaks plainly and literally. While reading Scripture it can be dangerous to assume that one size fits all when a word such as "clouds" comes up.
Keep in mind, we can also read about an event in the Bible where God honestly, literally did lead the Israelites through the wilderness as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21).
And allow me to make the obvious, obvious: In the case of Jesus, He was literally picked up into the air (Acts 1), followed by the appearance of two angels who told the disciples that Jesus would return just as He left. It's difficult to make hyperbole out of that one!
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven"(Acts 1:9-11).
Did Jesus depart in a cloud literally only to return figuratively?
But the stronger, more common justification for Replacement Theology reminds us that the promises to Israel were given under the Old Covenant and that today, God has instigated a New Covenant:
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, " declares the LORD (Jeremiah 31:31-32).
It is swiftly pointed out that this New Covenant (Testament) is no longer limited to Israel but applies to anybody who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. Indeed, Christians are now the "New Israel."
"No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code" (Romans 2:29).
As you can see, theology is seldom created in a vacuum. Usually there are Scriptures to support these ideas. Unfortunately when Scripture is taken out of context, it can be made to say anything.
As with many popular ideas, Replacement Theology is partly right and partly wrong. It is true that we are no longer under the Law of Moses. It is also true that certain promises given to Israel also apply to the church.
But it is not true, that God is finished with Israel.
Part of the confusion comes from a misunderstanding about God's agreements with Israel. He actually made two covenants, not one. Years before making a covenant with Moses, God made a covenant with Abraham.
The Mosaic Covenant was conditional. The Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional.
The Mosaic Covenant is no longer in operation. Replacement Theology is correct about that.
But the Abrahamic Covenant IS still in operation. When Replacement Theology ignores this pertinent fact, it is making a grave error.
The difference between these two covenants is like night and day:
The agreement God made with the Jews through Moses depended very much upon obedience to the law.
"See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse– the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known"(Deuteronomy 11:26-28).
On the other hand, the Abrahamic Covenant was set to be fulfilled regardless of Israel's actions. Because of Abraham's faith, his descendents are going to be blessed, period! No matter how often Israel disobeys God, in the end, when Christ returns, Israel will be delivered. Happily, at that time, the entire nation will finally repent. Meanwhile, they are being preserved despite their actions. Their ultimate repentance is a promise and a prediction, not a condition for Abraham's covenant.
"I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,because you have obeyed me" (Genesis 22: 17-18).
This time, the onus is not upon the obedience of the Jews but upon the obedience of Abraham.
Paul elaborates on this idea by saying to the Gentile Christians regarding the Jews:
"As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable" (Romans 11:28-29).
Those are very crucial words; "on account of the patriarchs." The patriarchs were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It is very important to fathom this key distinction of the Abrahamic Covenant. Unlike the Mosaic Covenant, the Jews will be ultimately delivered no matter what they do.
However, this deliverance is referring to the Jews as a people and as a nation, not as individuals. In order to be forgiven of sin, an individual Jew must still accept Jesus as savior like everybody else.
Peter said this quite clearly to his fellow Jews when they asked what they must do:
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:37-39).
Some Jews will accept Christ. Others will deny Him and be banished from heaven. But Israel as a nation will survive.
This concept can be likened to World War Two. America won the war with Germany and Japan and for this reason it was fair to describe the outcome by saying that "Americans survived" the war, meaning of course, that America as a nation came out victorious. Individual American soldiers still perished and were not around celebrating when hostilities ceased.
Likewise, the entire nation of Israel was delivered from Egypt but not every individual Hebrew entered the promised land. In fact, very few entered. Because of all the whining and complaining, God had them wander in the desert for 40 years. With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, the entire generation which left Egypt died out. Only their children entered the land of milk and honey. Even Moses, failed to enter the land. But we still say that Israel as a nation, was rescued by God from Egypt and took up residence in Canaan.
The unconditional deliverance of Israel is only part of the Abrahamic Covent. The other part is found when God says, "and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,because you have obeyed me" (Genesis 22:18).
Abraham's descendants will survive and through these people, the Messiah will come on the horizon. As a result, Gentiles will have a chance to imitate the faith of Abraham and partake of Israel's blessings.
Paul expounded upon this idea in Galatians even to the point of describing the Abrahamic Covenant as the New Covenant arriving ahead of its time as a kind of sneak preview:
" The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you" (Galatians 3:8).
In Romans, Paul offers a very helpful illustration. He compares Israel to a tree. The tree itself is going to be saved, but individual branches may be cut off if they do not grow properly. "Growth" is used as an allegory for obedience or disobedience.
After a natural branch (Jew) is removed, wild branches from other trees (the Gentiles) can be grafted in and actually become a part of this tree (Israel).
As if anticipating all of the misunderstanding that is about to happen over the years, Paul warns the Gentiles not to read too much into their status as "grafted in branches." He begins the discussion by reminding them that contrary to what some might think, God is not done with Israel.
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!" (Romans 11:1)
Although the tree itself is secure, God will treat disobedient branches the same, both Jewish and Gentile branches.
"If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree (Romans 11:17-24).
Even though Israel is being unconditionally spared, Israel as a nation will someday repent and accept her Messiah.
"I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins" (Romans 11:15-25).
This is not merely a New Testament idea. It was predicted many years before by the prophet Zechariah. When the Messiah returns, the Jews will notice His marks of crucifixion, realize that He had already come once before, and that they had rejected him. It will be quite the emotional moment:
"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son "(Zechariah 12:10).
No, God is not done with Israel.
"But aren't Jews under a curse for killing Christ? In fact, didn't they call that curse down upon themselves?"
No, the Jews are not under a curse. Neither are they the only nation responsible for the death of Jesus. The Romans are equally responsible. Actually, it can be argued that everybody is responsible. If not for your own personal sins, Jesus would not have needed to come and die. His death was not an accident. It's not like He and His disciples were planning a trip to Bermuda and the crucifixion ruined everything. Dying was His purpose in coming.
However, if we're talking historically, the Jews and the Romans together were certainly responsible for His death. Although initially it was only the Jewish leaders who hated Jesus and the larger Jewish population which liked him, the population was eventually stirred by the leaders to the point where they too turned on Jesus (Matt. 27:20).
At the time of Christ, Israel was a conquered people. They still had religious freedom but politically they were at the mercy of Rome.
Under Roman law, the Jewish Sanhedrin (a kind of puppet court made up of Pharisees and the priestly aristocracy) did not have the authority to kill Jesus. They would have if they could. Instead, they gave Him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate and he had Jesus killed, thus we were left with that tired, irrelevant debate over who killed Jesus, the Jews or the Romans. Actually it was a collaborative effort.
In any event both the Jews and the Romans are forgiven.
It's true that the Jewish crowd in front of Pilate tested fate with some terrible words:
All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" (Matt. 27:25)
However, this curse was neutralized by Jesus from the cross:
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
Those words applied to all who were responsible for Christ's death.
Think about it. If Jews were under a curse, then how do we explain the Holy Spirit's miraculous blessing of the early church made up Jews and led by the Jewish apostles?
Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:43-47)
Keep in mind that it was not merely the average Jewish populace that converted to Christianity. Many of the very leaders who were hostile to Jesus during his ministry also converted.
Acts 15 tells us that a number of Pharisees were part of the church.
Acts 6:7 says the same thing about Jewish priests:
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Jews who became Christians did not start turning on their own people. If anything, they now had even more love for their people.
I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit– I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen (Romans 9:1-5)
Paul added something to these words which we already looked at earlier but in summary, it might be a good idea to glance at them once again:
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! (Romans 11:1)
"OK. So God hasn't cursed Israel and Israel is still going to see some prophecy fulfilled. What's the big deal? Supposing some prophetic events are still on Israel's radar but Christians fail to recognize this? Is that really the end of the world? Is our view of prophecy a deal breaker as far as forgiveness of sin is concerned? Isn't the important thing that people get saved?"
Yes, Christians have been disagreeing on matters of theology and Bible interpretation for quite some time. So long as they at least understood the cross, Paul did not worry himself too much about differences of opinion. He said this very thing to the Corinthians when they were quarreling over matters of lessor importance.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Corinthians 2:2).
Admittedly, a person's salvation does not ride upon their opinion of Israel. But there is another problem. Sometimes a person's theology affects the way they treat Israel. This does not have to be the case and should not be the case. But often it is.
Paul tried to spare us this sad irony. His warning should be no small observation. Don't forget, this same Paul who was unconcerned about minor disagreement still wrote Romans 11, a serious caution to Gentiles. He went out of his way to express concerns about Jewish-Gentile relations.
A number of years ago, I spoke at Bethel Seminary in San Diego. The subject was not Judaism, but rather, a defense for the entire Bible, Old and New Testament. Generally, such talks are followed by long Q and A times. One of the seminarians raised his hand with an interesting question. He had taken many classes about the End Times, the fulfillment of Bible prophecy and the second coming of Christ. Although there is a wide range of viewpoint amongst Christians, several of the popular teachings associate Jesus' return with the nation of Israel. They insist that the Jewish return to the Promised Land in the Twentieth Century is a fulfillment of ancient Scriptural predictions and they believe a future battle (the Battle of Armageddon) will climax in Christ's rescuing of Israel from her enemies and ruling as king of the world, with Israel as his headquarters.
Anyway, let me share the seminarian's question: "As a Christian, I feel obligated to take Israel's side because of Bible prophecy, but when I follow the news I become concerned about Israeli abuses toward the persecuted Palestinians. What should I do about this?"
I appreciated the question and I offered a careful response: "I believe in Bible prophecy but I do not believe prophecy should be the primary reason for Christians to side with Israel. Let me offer you a better reason, a human rights reason. If we could correct the historical revision going on today, you would find yourself siding with Israel, regardless of Bible prophecy."
I am grateful that so many Evangelical Christians take the side of Israel but I get a little nervous when I hear Bible prophecy as the only reason. This is because the popularities of theologies tend to change. Often this change has less to do with what we read in the Bible and more to do with people following the latest trend.
As a matter of fact, I have seen Christians develop Middle East allegiance with opposite reasons and come down on opposite sides. Many who accept Replacement Theology (which is making a come back with Evangelicals) tend to feel that they must now take on the plight of the Palestinians and turn on Israel.
What on earth does one have to do with the other? Supposing Replacement Theology actually was Biblical? It isn't, but supposing it was? Why would that suddenly put modern Israel in the wrong and the terrorists threatening to destroy her in the right?
Whatever your view of prophecy, in fact whatever your view of the Bible itself, you must understand that very little of what we are hearing today about the Middle East is true. Contrary to popular opinion, Israel is not occupying somebody else's land. Neither are the Palestinians interested in a two state solution. They were offered their own state right from the start. They turned it down. What the Palestinian authorities want is the total annihilation of Israel. One does not have to believe in literal prophecy to understand this dangerous poison.
Time does not permit a detailed discussion of modern day Israel. For those interested, a long 12 part series of articles is available on my Website entitled: The Truth About Israel and Palestine.
My point right now is that bad theology sometimes morphs into bad politics or ignorance about important world events.
Hebrew Roots Movement
In their zeal to counter the blunders of Replacement Theology, The Hebrew Roots Movement at first comes across as a breath of fresh air.
They are correct when they point out that Christianity grew out of Judaism, when they speak against the shameful anti-Semitism which has permeated much of church history, and when they defend the idea that one can be both a Jew and a Christian at the same time. These may be obvious facts, but they are facts people often forget or ignore.
Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (or prophecy in the Tannach, as Orthodox Jews may want to call it.) It would be worth your while to take an expanded look at such prophecies, especially Daniel 9 (which gave a prophetic calendar of when the Messiah was to come) and Isaiah 53, which predicts that the Messiah will die for Israel's sins and rise from the dead.
When I first converted to Christianity back in college, my parents dragged me from one rabbi to another, each one trying to explain to me that one cannot be both a Jew and a Christian at the same time.
With every occasion, I put a question before the rabbi that he was not able to answer in any satisfactory way:
"Is being Jewish a religion or a race?"
If his answer was religion, I would ask why so so many Jewish atheists (including my own dad) were still considered Jewish by the Jewish community.
If his answer was race, then I would point out that one can be Jewish and believe anything, Buddha, Humanism, Martians, even Jesus. Your race is still your race. One remains a member of the same race regardless of personal beliefs. This would remain the case even if (hypothetically) Jesus were not the Messiah.
But as if happens, Jesus is the Messiah. Allow me to make the understatement of the century: Belief in the Jewish Messiah does not disqualify a person from calling himself Jewish.
Initially I enjoyed fellowshipping with other Jewish Believers. Although I was perfectly content to call myself a Christian, it did not matter to me if others preferred terms like "Completed Jew" or "Messianic Jew." To me it was the same cereal, just in a different box.
I felt no obligation to incorporate Jewish customs into my life such as the Sabbath, Passover, or Yom Kippur. Neither did I feel God calling me to attend a Messianic Synagogue rather than a Sunday morning church service.
But if my Jewish-Christian friends enjoyed celebrating the traditions of their heritage, I was totally fine with it. In those days, I was not chastised by anybody to follow suit. Hebrew tradition was described as a choice. The Gospel itself remained pure and unblemished. We were saved through the atonement of Jesus and nothing else.
The only problem in those days was some over zeal which became a bit arrogant. I was concerned when some of my Jewish-Christians brothers would say:
"As Jews we were already God's chosen people. And when one becomes a Christian he is also chosen by God, so, we are doubly chosen and doubly blessed!"
Cocky as it sounded, I still never heard any blatant heresy and for this reason I lost no sleep over the trek of fellow Hebrew-Christians.
But as the years passed I saw gradual and significant changes from "completed Jews."
No longer were the customs, dietary laws and holidays of Judaism mere tradition for them. Jewish-Christians were supposedly under an obligation to continue following the Law of Moses. With Gentiles, this was only an option. Then as time went on, that changed as well. I heard that Gentiles also were expected by God to obey the Law.
The evolution of a view point is a common human phenomenon. People, when excited about a course of action, are seldom satisfied. There is always a need for more, always a need to demand even greater forms of obedience.
It got worse. I started hearing that the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and that Greek ideas have substantially changed the original Jewish roots of Christianity. I heard from a few people that Jews are going to be saved whether they accept Christ or not. Some even went so far as to deny the Trinity, claiming such deification of Jesus was an invention of Emperor Constantine.
This is the kind of "scholarship" that inspired The DaVinci Code and it betrays tremendous ignorance about early church history.
Hebrew-Christians who fail to call fellow Jews to Christ or who deny the Trinity are in the minority so I will not focus on those issues at this juncture. In any event, I already quoted Peter telling his fellow Jews that they must accept Christ. And I defend the Trinity in other articles even pointing out how the Trinity can be found in the Old Testament!
As for the New Testament being written in Hebrew, that is true only with the Gospel of Matthew and even Matthew eventually put out a Greek version as evidenced by the fact that he sometimes stopped to explain to his readers what a certain Hebrew or Hebrew-Aramaic phrase meant.
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ""Eloi, Eloi," "lama" "sabachthani?""–which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).
The rest of the New Testament was written in Greek, which makes sense since it was aimed primarily at a Greek speaking audience. Greek was to the ancient world what English is today. It was the language of the court and the market place. One could travel to virtually any country and find people who spoke Greek. So naturally, it makes sense that the Gospel of Christ, which was meant to go out to the entire world, would be written in the most commonly understood language.
Had the New Testament been written in Hebrew, that would have been fine. It's just that this is not the way things happened to be.
But try explaining such history to people who proudly use the name Yeshua instead of Jesus as if some kind of Earth shattering importance is attached to the language we use while pronouncing His name.
On the website, Passion For Torah, we read the following:
"Why do we use Yeshua instead of Jesus? Most Messianic Jews and Hebrew Roots followers use the name Yeshua when referring to Jesus. The reason is because the name Jesus is not his true name, the one that an angel of the Lord told Joseph to name him (Matt 1:18). In English the name Jesus does not mean anything. It's just a name, an identifyer. However, in Hebrew, Yeshua means something, and that is "salvation."
A name is important only inasmuch as it points us to the correct person. As long as we have the one true God; as long as we understand that God the Word became God the Son to pay for our sins on the cross, why would God have a hernia if we pronounce the name as Jesus (English) or Iesus (Greek) instead of Yeshua? Over concern with this sort of thing reminds us of Jesus' observation that some people "strain out the gnat but swallow a camel" (Matt. 23:24).
This would be an example of finicky legalism even if the New Testament had been written in Hebrew.
Allow me to make the obvious, obvious once again: If the name Yeshua means salvation, then any language's translation of Yeshua means the same thing! So what does Jesus mean? Salvation!
As it happens, no ancient Hebrew manuscripts for the New Testament have ever been found. Even in Matthew's case, the only surviving early manuscripts are in Greek with a few in other languages. We know of the original Hebrew version because of a comment to that effect by the Second Century Church Father, Papias.
Far more concerning than discussion of the original language of the New Testament is the message of the New Testament.
The idea that Christians are still under the law is not only untrue, it is the very first heresy that Christians had to deal with. Even the apostles believed this for a while (which creates some of the confusion) but the Apostles straightened themselves out after the Jerusalem Council which we can read about in Acts 15.
"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood (Acts 15:19-20).
Later on, Paul came to the conclusion that the council had not gone far enough. Even meat that had been offered to idols was OK so long as the idol was not being worshipped (I Corinthians 8-10).
"But didn't Jesus tell us that He did not come to abolish the law?"
The statement in question can be found in the Sermon on the Mount. Here are Jesus' actual words:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" Matt 5:17-18).
As you can see, Jesus did indeed say that He did not come to abolish the Law. But that is not all He said. It is always important to read the context of Scripture. Jesus went on to add, "I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." He also said, "until everything is accomplished."
When did the Law become fulfilled? When was everything accomplished? These are the 50 million dollar questions. The Law became fulfilled when Jesus died on the cross. At that time, according to Matthew, the Temple curtain in front of the Holy of Holies was supernaturally ripped opened.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split Matt 27:51).
The way is now carved for us to go into God's presence without the High Priest and animal sacrifice once a year on Yom Kippur. In their place, Jesus became the ultimate High Priest and ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 4, 6, 9-10).
True, He talked about "not one jot or tittle of the law" being relaxed, but He also explained how long that situation would last: "Until all is accomplished." The "all being accomplished" are the events described above. That is why right before Jesus died, He said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). The statement about heaven and earth passing away was common language in that culture when giving an oath and is intended as a guarantee of the oath; not a chronology of the events to be accomplished.
People forget that even though we read about Jesus' ministry in a book we call the New Testament, the Old Testament (or Old Covenant, Old Agreement) was still in operation until He went to the cross and atoned for our sin. But before this seminal event, through out Jesus' lifetime, He did follow the Law of Moses and encouraged others to do the same.
Are we to follow the Law now after all that Jesus did for us on the cross? Of course not. We are in a relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit that goes beyond the Law.
The entire book of Galatians was written because Jewish-Christians in the First Century were making comments very much like those in today's Hebrew Roots Movement. In their case, the practice centered more around circumcision. Gentiles were being told to become Jewish and to begin by seeing to it that every male in their family became circumcised. Those who refused to do so were treated like second class citizens.
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (Galatians 2:11-14)
Paul wrote the Galatians several reminders of things he had evidently taught them while he was there in person.
First, he said that in the church there is "neither Jew nor Greek" (Galatians 3:28).
This was not a contradiction to Paul's understanding that certain prophecies would still be fulfilled for Israel. But church life was a different matter altogether. If, in our standing before Christ, no such distinction exists between Jew and Gentile, how would Paul feel about those who claim we are worshipping God more properly by having Jewish services?
"I have heard that verse explained. They say it's a salvation verse talking about our position in heaven and that it has nothing to do with the church."
Nothing to do with the church? It was written TO the church because of a problem IN the church. Jewish-Christians were feeling superior to Gentile Christians. To correct this vain falsehood, Paul tells us that in church there is neither Jew nor Greek. Yes, that will remain true when we get to heaven but it is also true now. The church is supposed to be a sample of heaven on Earth, an embassy of the Kingdom of God.
Now there is a place for having church services with ethnic flavor be they Jewish or some other nationality.
For the sake of testimony, Paul spoke at the level and in the language of the people he wanted to reach. As far as evangelism went, he approached Jews and Greeks very differently.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law (1 Corinthians 9:20).
In this vein, one might indeed reach their Jewish friends more easily with the Gospel by bringing them to some Saturday Messianic service rather than Sunday morning church. That can be a great place to start. But there is also the question of where we will end. Paul seemed to hold both a beginning and ending principle in balance: As far as outreach went, to the Jew he became as a Jew. As far as discipleship went, he wanted Jews to know that their Jewishness was no longer important. Instead, Christ and the fellowship He grants with all peoples is important. In church there is "neither Jew nor Greek."
But Paul also had other things to say to the Galatians. He wanted them to understand that they did not have the luxury of clinging to a few customs such as circumcision unless they were going to go back and obey the entire Law of Moses.
Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law (Galatians 5:3).
Nobody does that. Instead, they cherry pick the customs that are convenient to them. They may enjoy keeping Kosher or celebrating the Sabbath, but who, for example, makes animal sacrifices today? No Christian whom I ever met, although I'm sure there is always some nutcase somewhere who could do anything.
Whenever I meet Orthodox Jews, Jewish-Christians, or just plain legalistic Christians who claim we must follow the Law, I ask a very simple question.
"Do you conduct animal sacrifices ? That's a fairly large chunk of the Mosaic Law."
Almost every time, I hear the same reply: "We can't. The temple has been destroyed."
This argument may sound convenient but it immediately suffocates people in the quick sand it is made from. There was no temple from Moses to Solomon, yet God still commanded the sacrificial regulations.
"I have heard it said that the Law and the Gospel are one and the same and that the Gospel is just a broader expression of the law."
That is simply not true. Those who make such a claim justify their position only by doing verbal gymnastics with the very plain teaching of Scripture.
Never have Paul's words to the Galatians been more relevant. One would think he was writing to today's Hebrew Roots Movement:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing–if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? (Galatians 3:1-5).
Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Galatians 3:25).
The contrast between saving faith and Law could not possibly be made plainer.
The Law has been fulfilled. The New Covenant is here. As Jesus put it so well, let us not mix new wine with old wine skins (Matthew 9).
What did Jesus mean when He said the law has been fulfilled? To start with, instead of outward commands, God offers us a relationship with His Spirit who changes our hearts and makes us (hopefully) so loving that we no longer need commands such as "Don't Kill" or "Don't Steal" or "Don't Mess Around With Your Neighbor's Wife." If we are already loving, if we are already unselfish, if we are already treating people the way we want to be treated, those incentives will come naturally.
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. For this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 7:12).
Paul taught something very similar in Galatians. This is no surprise because they were a people who had forgotten how the Law had been fulfilled by the Gospel.
The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14).
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).
We call this a fulfillment of the Moral Law and it goes well with Jeremiah 31 through whom God said, "I will put my law within them. I will write it upon their hearts."
The other part of the law, Ritual Law, was fulfilled through Jesus' death on the cross. The animal sacrifices of old were a foreshadowing of what Jesus would later do for all people. The blood of lambs and bulls provided a picture of atonement so that people needing to be saved by Jesus could be saved before He even came.
But didn't Paul himself show that he was under the law by paying for the expenses of a vow?
The incident in question is found in Acts 21.
When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, 23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality." 26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them ( Acts 21:20-26).
We have already studied Paul's reason for doing these kinds of things.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law (1 Corinthians 9:20).
Paul knew that it was easier to straighten teeth with a brace then a hammer. He did not want Jews to reject the Gospel out of a misunderstanding that he was somehow against the Law of Moses simply because he understood that this Law was now fulfilled.
But while Paul bent over backward for testimony' sake he did not consider himself personally bound by the Law. "I myself am not under the law." There is no getting around those words. They are abundantly clear.
As I said earlier, nobody, including those in The Hebrew Roots Movement, are really returning to the entire Law. Instead, they tend to isolate customs such as Jewish holidays or observance of the Sabbath. Paul talked about this as well.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day (Colossians 2:16)
If a a Hebrew-Christian or any Christian finds it personally meaningful to observe the Sabbath or certain holidays, that is certainly an option. I have no quarrel with those traditions so long as that is all they are described as, traditions. The problem is that all too often they are not described as options. We hear sanctimonious lectures about how important these holy days are to God.
Mark Biltz, from El Shaddai Ministries, not only sees the ancient feasts as important, but believes God wants to use them to communicate facts about the Second Coming of Jesus:
"Some people say that the feasts of the Lord aren't important any more, that they are done away with in the New Testament. But God is the God of yesterday, today and forever. If you throw out the feast days you have thrown out one of your decoder rings."1
Biltz also sees our view of the Law as a barometer regarding anti-semitism:
"Where will you be standing on that final day? The test will be when you mention God's laws. When you say we should stand with the Jewish people,does an abnormal hatred spew from their mouths. Do they allow the traditions of men to override the eternal truths of God's Word?"2
I want to remind the reader that I myself am Jewish. I stand with the Jewish people! I still challenge the notion that we are under the Mosaic Law because there are a few Bible verses which contradict that teaching such as the entire New Testament!
Paul made it very clear that dietary laws and the celebration of certain days were only options:
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God (Romans 14:5-6).
If somebody wants to challenge Paul's words, they are challenging the authority of an apostle who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned half of the New Testament.
This same Paul said, regarding those who pass judgment about feast days etc.:
Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls.
That comes from Romans 14:4 which is right before the verse about "sacred days" which we just looked at.
But it is not enough that mandatory observance of Jewish holidays are being defended today. Sharp rebukes are also offered toward those who would dare to ignore the Old Testament customs and instead celebrate holidays like Christmas. We are reminded that December the 25th once commemorated other beliefs in Ancient Rome such as the Festival of Saturnalia and the sun itself.
On the website Last Trumpet, the following lament was offered regarding the "pagan" customs which Christians adhere to:
"They celebrate Christmas which is the pagan sun god holiday and the birth of the sun."3
Ironically, they are on the same side as atheists when the Christmas season rolls around.
We are used to atheists speaking against Christmas, not only during the month of December, but all year round. I remember one formal debate where my opponent went out of his way to mention that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, the Roman festival of Saturnalia, transformed into a Christian feast many years later after Emperor Constantine made Christianity an official religion of Rome. I guess, the idea was for me to be incredibly surprised and fall over on stage in the face of this "revelation."
Instead, I quietly, gently asked my opponent what holidays had to do with our discussion about the accuracy of the Bible. The Bible says nothing about Christmas one way or the other.
Now, that may have curtailed a debate rabbit trail, but how sad when we are forced into the same discussion with Christian leaders.
Allow me to pose a simple question: If Christianity is about converting souls or converting nations, what exactly is wrong with converting holidays?
Yes, sweet Virginia, it is true: Christmas was once Saturnalia. With all due respect to both atheists and my Hebrew-Christian friends, "So what?"
In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he addressed a similar concern, another pagan, religious practice being morphed into an alternative social function. This time, the situation was meat. In ancient Greece, leftover meat from animal sacrifices was placed on the open market. One honestly could not purchase meat or eat meat without knowing that the pound of protein had first been used in the worship of some Greek deity. Many Christians worshiped these very idols in their B.C. years. They were feeling guilty about enjoying such meat once again out of fear (understandable fear) that they were returning to idol worship, the very practice they had recently renounced. This caused a rift in the church.
Some said, "It's just meat. Chill out!"
Others found the edibility of animals to be sinful.
Paul was asked to comment on this situation and he gave two responses:
First, he reminded people that meat by itself was something neutral. If it had been used in the sacrifice of some fake god, so be it. As long as a Christian renounced his former religion and consumed the food for no reason other than the fact that he liked meat, no harm was being done.
On the other hand, Paul also warned the Corinthians never to encourage the violation of one's conscience. I.E. For the record, it was not a sin to eat meat. But if some people thought it was, why tempt your friends to do what they feel is a sin? On judgment day, God will judge their hearts and motives, not their knowledge about freedom versus legalism.
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"),yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?(1 Corinthians 8:4-10).
I will offer the same advise for my fellow Christians today. If you personally choose not to celebrate Christmas, I respect your choice. But before judging others who view this time of year as a beautiful, meaningful celebration of Christ, I urge you to take a second look at First Corinthians. Hey! That has kind of a ring: A Second Look at First Corinthians!
Actually, a second look at the entire New Testament seems to be in order.
The purpose of this article was to improve the relationship between Christians and Jews by challenging and correcting two false and opposite teachings about Christians and Jews. No, God is not done with Israel. But in our zeal to make this point, let us not go so far as to tell people they are still under the Law.
In closing, who could improve upon the words of the Jewish-Christian Simon Peter as he discusses with his fellow apostles whether or not Gentiles should be made the follow the Law?
After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are" (Acts 15:7-11).
Wow! Testing God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear! I guess that just about says it all.
1) Mark Biltz, Blood, Moons, pg 49, WND Books, 2014,
2) Ibid, pg 172
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE
New International Version NIV
Copyright (c) 1973, 1979, 1984 by International Bible Society
Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
All rights reserved.