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Hebrew Roots

Are Christians obligated to live under the laws of Moses? For as long as the Body of Christ (a.k.a. church) has existed, some have insisted that Christians must practice the law of Moses as prescribed in the Old Testament. Though some of those may concede that such practice is how we show our love to God, others make it a salvation issue, or at least a fellowship issue. Those who do not agree are often looked upon as rebellious or ignoring half the Bible. But what does that very Bible say?

The Hebrew Roots Movement

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. We will take a look at those unifying principles, and warn of an inherent danger. Let’s begin with some good points made at an article no longer available online:

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.

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.

(Added: see this article on whether the Sabbath was commanded and observed for all mankind from the beginning of creation.)

The line we must not cross is between going back under Torah, and studying the Old Testament for insight into Hebrew thinking, customs, and language, in order to help us better understand the New Testament. Appreciation is one thing, but legalistic performance is quite another. 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 grafted into the natural branches instead of the Tree; their rationale is that the natural branches 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.

We must 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. It’s very unlikely that God would buy that.

Old Testament passages about the separation of Israel and the church

We see in 2 Kings 21:7 that God has chosen Jerusalem and the temple in it for himself. This verse is very clear; there is nothing in the context to justify taking it allegorically or symbolically. In Jer. 31:31-36 the New Covenant is with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah, not any Gentiles, and not with the Body of Christ which is neither. The passage identifies literal, physical Israel and Judah by their attributes: They broke God’s covenant with them specifically. Further, Only if these decrees vanish from my sight, declares the Lord, will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.

Now consider Dan. 12:1. Here, the angel Michael is identified as the one who protects Daniel’s people— not the Gentiles and not the Body of Christ. There will also be a time of distress like no other, which Jesus also referred to in Mat. 24:15— for Daniel’s people, Israel.

New Testament passages about the separation of Israel and the church

First we need to look at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. The purpose for the meeting is stated in Acts 15:5. Some claim that they were talking about the Talmud or oral traditions, but it explicitly states that the Gentiles must keep the law of Moses. After a lengthy discussion, Peter stood up and said that what the former Pharisees were trying to do was to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear. James then cited a prophecy in Amos about a time when God would return and rebuild David’s fallen tent, and for a purpose: that the rest of mankind— the Gentiles— would seek the Lord. Paul described this also in Rom. 11:25: Israel is partially hardened against God until the full number of Gentiles has come in, as covered in more detail in the chapter Did the church replace Israel?.

As shown in that study, God had not rejected his people Israel, which Paul identifies as physical and literal descendants of Abraham, specifically the tribe of Benjamin. The divine plan was to use Israel to make Gentiles want God, and then to use Gentiles to make Israel want God. His unfinished business with Israel will be addressed once the Body of Christ has all its members. That’s what Rom. 11 is teaching. No one is grafted into Israel, and Israel has not been replaced by either Gentiles or the Body of Christ. Rom. 11:25-32 mentions the patriarchs (plural), meaning much more than just Abraham. More importantly, God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable. These were literal and physical in the Old Testament, so there is no justification for making them figurative in the New.

The rest of the New Testament much more to say about observance of the law, especially in the letter to the Galatians. To read these letters, especially considering them all together, is to be impressed with the forceful opposition made to anything that would rob the cross of its power and Jesus of his glory. Hebrew Roots proponents would say that the law referenced is not Torah, yet we would reply that Gentiles are described 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, and Jesus is the High Priest of a new order, that being Melchizedek (Heb. 7:12-13). 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. The Apostle 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.

Finally, in 1 Cor. 10:32 we see it explicitly stated that mankind is divided into three— not two— groups: Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God (the Body of Christ). We are neither Jews nor Gentiles, yet we inherit the Promise to Abraham— not the law of Moses. In fact, the entire letter to the Hebrews is all about the temporal nature of the law of Moses. Heb. 8:13 says as well that the new covenant means the first one is old and obsolete. Gal. 3:19-29 clearly teaches that the purpose of the law of Moses was to serve as a temporary guide until Christ came.

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.


Besides the clear separation of Israel and the Body of Christ established to this point, we cannot brush aside the Millennial Kingdom passages as discussed here and here. They speak in very down-to-earth terms especially in the Old Testament: crops, herds, long but mortal life, generations, animals, etc. Once allegory or the presumption of non-literalism is invoked, all discussion is reduced to mere speculation or personal preference. So anyone attempting to put the burden of the law of Moses on Christians is in clear violation of the whole of scripture.

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. Above all, remember Gal. 5:14.

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