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Hebrew Roots

Like all movements, the Hebrew Roots Movement has its factions, levels, and variants. But it would not be called a movement without having some unifying principles among the various groups. Today I will take a look at those unifying principles, and warn of an inherent danger. I will focus on the mild side and ignore the obviously un-Christian ones that deny essentials of the faith such as the Trinity and salvation by faith in Jesus alone.

Let’s begin with some good points made at This Article:

The Hebraic Roots or Jewish Roots movement refers to various organizations with a common emphasis on recovering the original Jewishness of Christianity. This recovery comes through studying the Bible in its Jewish context, observing the Torah, keeping the Sabbath and festivals, avoiding the paganism of Christianity, affirming the existence of original Hebrew language gospels and, in some cases, denigrating the Greek text of the New Testament. Writers such as Roy Blizzard, David Bivin, Brad Young and Robert Lindsay have given much impetus to this movement.

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Hebraic Roots teachers call upon believers to study Hebrew and learn about Jewish culture, which most of us can appreciate. More often than not, however, they call Gentiles to a Torah-observant and/or festival observant lifestyle as a means of drawing closer to Jesus and being conformed to His image. The implication is, if you really want to please God, if you really want to be holy, here are the rules. Even though most do not believe these observances are necessary for one’s salvation, there is often an implication that this is the higher way. Scripture warns against such things.

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Believers who wish to learn more about the Jewish roots of Christianity do well. Learning about the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform a black and white understanding of Scripture into living color. A deeper understanding of first century Judaism can also help people better understand Y’shua and His contemporaries.

The line is between studying the Old Testament for insight into Hebrew thinking, customs, language, etc. in order to help us better understand the New Testament, and going back under Torah. Appreciation is one thing, but legalistic performance is quite another. And there is much in the way of a false or romanticized view of Christianity’s early years being promoted by this movement.

What danger does this pose for Christians today?

Dwight Pryor, a leading voice for evangelicals in the Jewish Roots movement, warns that some believers are forsaking Jesus and Christianity because of their growing fondness for Judaism and its teachings. They are crossing a line from appreciation to adulation of their Jewish roots. It almost seems as though these lapsing Christians believe that a special insight into their roots somehow elevates their status—as though there is an inherent superiority in being Jewish.

These people have forgotten that God loves every nation, and that all cultures have unique contributions to make to the Body of Messiah. Gentiles who say, We are no longer Gentiles, regardless of our background are confused and on the road to spiritual trouble. Adherents of the so-called Two House Theory constitute one group that has fallen into this kind of error.

The Two House Theory basically states that it is not the Gentiles who are the wild branches in the illustration of the olive tree (Rom. 11), but the lost tribes of Israel, the Northern Kingdom. In almost, but not every, instance where Gentiles are understood to be the subject, the 10 tribes of Israel are inserted instead. Yet at the same time, they also want to insist that Gentile Christians are absorbed into the natural branches instead of the Tree (they say that the natural are one and the same with the trunk, so to be grafted into one is to be grafted into the other). So depending on whether it suits them, they pick whichever symbolism works for their interpretation.

I wrote earlier about why we Christians are not under the Law (article) so there is no need to repeat that. But we should also remember that it is utterly impossible for the Mosaic Law to be observed without a Temple and a Priesthood of Levi. These are required components; all the Festivals cannot be properly observed without them. The response of course is to just allegorize; we can make substitutions at will and pretend we’re still observing Torah. But somehow I don’t think God would buy that.

The apostle Paul had a few things to say about observance of the law too, especially in his letter to the Galatians. To read his letters, especially considering them all together, is to be impressed with the forceful opposition he made to anything that would rob the cross of its power and Jesus of his glory. Hebrew Roots proponents would say that the law Paul refers to is not Torah, yet we would reply that this same Paul described Gentiles as those without the law (Rom. 2:14). Of course Gentiles had civil laws; it was only the Torah they did not have.

The letter to the Hebrews stresses the fact that with a change of priesthood comes a change of law (7:12), and Jesus is the High Priest of a new order, that of Melchizedek. He was not from the tribe of Levi at all and therefore not qualified to serve as a priest under Torah. There is just no way around this fact; there is no way to claim Torah can be kept without Temple or Priesthood, so there is no way to practice Judaism honestly and Biblically.

Many will try to hold up examples found in Acts to prove the requirement of keeping Torah. This ignores the transitional nature of that period, and that the Temple and Levitical Priesthood were still active. Paul explained why he sometimes continued to observe parts of it; he did not want to put any unnecessary stumbling blocks in front of anyone. Yet he also made it unmistakeably clear that the Law was annulled and no one is obligated to keep it; in fact, he publicly rebuked Peter for lapsing back under Torah (Gal. 2:14). And again, now that there is no Temple or Priesthood to go with it, Judaism cannot be practiced.

You could say that this Hebrew Roots Movement is the evil twin of Replacement Theology. The latter claims that Israel was absorbed into the church, while the former claims the opposite. But when all scripture is considered in context, there is no way to escape the conclusion that the Law and the Promise are two mutually exclusive elements, that Torah was a custodian that brought us to the time for the Savior to come (Gal. 3:24), and that the Assembly is a mystery unknown to the Old Testament (1 Cor. 2), yet also that God is not finished with the nation of Israel, per the prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, and John in the Revelation.

Study Hebrew roots, but don’t go back to the Law. Understand context, but don’t trade our freedom in Christ for that which was unable to save and whose purpose was to symbolize what we now have. We died to the Law; let’s not act like we didn’t.

ADDED: another good article

6 Comments

Greg Anderson

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why people want to yoke themselves up to a religious belief system. Is it because they need group approval with those of like mind? Is it because they cannot or will not think critically for themselves?

If the whole Bible can be collapsed into a singularity of one verse, I would say that verse is Micah 6:8. Oh I know there are those who will quickly retort saying it’s not quite that simple, and my reply will be "Oh really?", "It’s not?" "Pray tell then, what else do I gotta do to be approved?"

They will be more than happy to fill me in on what’s required.

Paula Fether

People I’ve talked to who are into this movement give the impression that it adds a more spiritual dimension to their lives. Some go so far as to claim the NT scriptures cannot be properly understood without re-interpreting pretty much everything through "Hebrew thought".

But this "more spiritual" argument is exactly what a lot of other groups say: the emergents, the cults, the non-Christian religions. They all seem to think the NT is dry and boring if we take it as it is, in context, and that Greek is somehow inadequate or anti-spiritual.

Of course I beg to differ, as I’m sure you do too. The Spirit is not confined by language or culture, but can be quenched by those who refuse to allow Him to work. When people say the NT is dry or unspiritual, they are really telling me it isn’t saying what they want to hear.

They want boxes to check off; they want a "king" as did ancient Israel who wasn’t satisfied with letting the priests tell them what God said. They want religious performance like all the other religions. And this is really the issue with every aspect of "churchianity" too.

People want experiences, whether through rituals or occult meditations. Those things appeal to the senses, to the flesh. It’s quite ironic that these fleshly stimulants are supposed to bring them a "spiritual experience." And of course others are only interested in controlling others’ behavior; the spiritual has nothing to do with it for them.

It’s supposed to be **walking** in the Spirit, not running; it takes time, because it’s the development of a relationship. Then, only then, do we get that genuine spiritual experience from God.

Paula Fether

Found a great article on this at Christian Thinktank.

Wendy

Hi Paula,

I, too, have seen that article at Christian Thinktank. I think I’m still chewing! =o)

You may be interested in visiting http://joyfullygrowingingrace.wordpress.com/2008/08/08/about-law-keepers-an-overview/. It’s a basic overview of the Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name Movements from a New Covenant perspective.

My blog is basically a "where the rubber meets the road" account of my experience with "Law Keepers" and my research into their belief system(s).

Where people you have talked with in this movement talk of an "additional spiritual dimension" to their lives, those I’ve conversed with see Law Keeping as a way to honor and obey God and show their love for Him. Others say simply it’s because they are commanded by scripture to do so. Still others are drawn to Law keeping by an appeal to their pride.

There are countless ins and outs to the HRM/SNM . . . I try to hit the high points at JGIG, to give people a general idea of what the movements are about along with scriptural refutation of them.

You said, "Many will try to hold up examples found in Acts to prove the requirement of keeping Torah. This ignores the transitional nature of that period, and that the Temple and Levitical Priesthood were still active. Paul explained why he sometimes continued to observe parts of it; he did not want to put any unnecessary stumbling blocks in front of anyone. Yet he also made it unmistakeably clear that the Law was annulled and no one is obligated to keep it; in fact, he publicly rebuked Peter for lapsing back under Torah (Gal. 2:14). And again, now that there is no Temple or Priesthood to go with it, Judaism cannot be practiced."

Good stuff!

Free in Christ, Wendy at JGIG

Paula Fether

Thanks Wendy! I’ll check out your blog today.

More Judaic Than Thou | Words of a Fether

[...] Christians, most of whom were never Jewish, to immerse themselves into Judaism. I wrote about the Hebrew Roots Movement three years ago, so you might want to read that for background on [...]

The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. However, it was not written by good men, because good men would not tell lies by saying ‘Thus saith the Lord’; it was not written by bad men because they would not write about doing good duty, while condemning sin, and themselves to hell; thus, it must be written by divine inspiration. ~ Charles Wesley, McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict , 1990:178.

Christians are not distinct from the rest of men in country or language or customs. For neither do they dwell anywhere in special cities of their own nor do they use a different language, nor practice a conspicuous manner of life… But dwelling as they do in Hellenic and in barbaric cities, as each man's lot is, and following the customs of the country in dress and food and the rest of life, the manner of conduct which they display is wonderful and confessedly beyond belief. They inhabit their own fatherland, but as sojourners; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is to them a fatherland and every fatherland a foreign country… They live on the earth but their citizenship is in heaven.~ The Epistle to Diognetus, near the end of the second century.

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