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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.