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Is the Mosaic law, also known as the Torah, for the Old Testament Jews only, or does it apply to Christians today?

Most Christians (including myself) would say the Torah does not apply to Christians today. Most Christians are also inconsistent with this claim in that they promote portions of the Torah, such as the Ten Commandments and prohibitions on tattoos. Seventh Day Adventists, and similar denominations, have even returned to strict observances of worship on Saturday (the Sabbath) only. Clearly, there is some confusion within the Church about the present application of the Torah.

There is a growing movement within the Church, primarily from the Messianic Jewish camp, to return to Torah observance. They are quick to point out some logical and Scriptural inconsistencies regarding mainstream Christianity. The question is, are they consistent in their interpretation of the Bible?

I would say they are not. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. Over the course of the next several posts, I intend to refute the arguments in favor of Torah observance with Scripture and plain reason.

It would be very easy for me to argue against the lunatic fringe of the fringe groups, such as the teachings of Michael Rood. Instead, I will argue against the teaching’s presented by Aaron Eby in his book, Boundary Stones. Mr. Eby’s arguments in favor of Torah observance are lucid, thought out, and sound plausible if they are not thoroughly scrutinized.

Mr. Eby is part of the Torah observant Messianic ministry First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ). According to the Boundary Stones forward, written by FFOZ founder Michael Boaz:

Aaron Eby is of Jewish descent, is raising a Jewish family, and is a disciple of Jesus. He lives with his wife and four young children in Hudson, Wisconsin, where he attends a Messianic congregation. He grew up in a Pentecostal church but now expresses his faith in Jesus through the practice of a traditional Jewish lifestyle. He is a teacher of Biblical Hebrew, the principal translator of several resources, and the author of several books and articles for First Fruits of Zion. Among those contributions is a series of articles titled “Boundary Stones,” originally published in First Fruits of Zion’s periodical messiah magazine. The chapters of this book are a cllection of Eby’s articles.

Boundary Stones is essentially a series of popular apologetic arguments in favor of Torah observance. Mr. Eby has clearly studied the Scriptures and is zealous for Torah observance. I do not believe his zeal is according to knowledge of the truth. Torah observance, in practice, replaces the solid foundation of the believer in Jesus Christ alone, and replaces it with the shifting sands of works. By the grace of God and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, I intend to destroy his arguments. I hope to discourage anyone from considering Torah observance (in whole or in part), and to change the hearts and minds of Torah observant Messianic Jews. I also want to clear up any confusion in the minds of Christians concerning the Torah.

So let’s start at the beginning–chapter 1: “Salvation Is by Grace.” I wholeheartedly agree! Salvation is by grace alone, accessed through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Mr. Eby affirms this in the beginning, but then strays from faith to Torah observance. Each of Mr. Eby’s points are neatly summarized following each chapter as “Boundary Stones.” The Boundary Stone of “Salvation Is by Grace” states:

Keeping the Law in order to merit or maintain salvation is outside the boundaries of biblical faith. Even before Messiah came, people received forgiveness for sin and the gift of grace through faith. Heroes of the faith like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David were saved by grace, not by keeping the Law. God did not give his people the Law as a way for them to earn salvation. Instead, the Law was meant to be a guide for the life of faith. People kept the Law because they were faithful to God; they loved him and desired to obey his commandments.

I agree with this boundary stone up to the last two sentences, “Instead, the Law was meant to be a guide for the life of faith… ” Up until that line, Mr. Eby’s teaching agrees with the message of the Bible and orthodox Christian doctrine. I have to agree with some of Mr. Eby’s statements in chapter 1:

However, we know that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are receiving their eternal reward. Our master and teacher, Jesus, states, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).

Romans chapter 4 explains that God’s grace comes by faith alone and cannot be earned. Paul supports this claim by quoting from Genesis 15:6, which says that Abraham “believed the LORD, and [God] counted it to [Abraham] as righteousness.”

At this point in history Jesus hadn’t died for the world’s sins, had he? Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Is it possible that Abraham came to the Father through some other means? Absolutely not! If he had, then the words of our own Messiah would be a lie, and he is not a liar. Thus Abraham must have been made righteous and reconciled to God through Jesus.

In Temple times, people didn’t offer sacrifices before sinning; they offered it after they sinned. Sacrifices applied retroactively. In the same way, Jesus’ sacrifice did not apply only to the future, but, in a timeless way, it was the means by which the Lord granted grace to those in the past. Hebrews 4:3 affirms the timelessness of Messiah’s sacrifice: “His works were finished from the foundation of the world.”

Salvation by grace through faith has abundant support in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. But where did Mr. Eby get the idea that the Torah was to be eternally observed as a guide for the life of faith? The closest Scriptural justification I can find for that view is in the King James translation of Galatians 3:24–

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

When the passage is read in context, it becomes obvious that Paul is actually arguing against observing the Torah. In particular, the Apostle was addressing a group of Pharisees who had become Christians but had not rejected the Torah. They were known as the Circumcision Party and are often referred to in popular preaching as Judaizers. They taught that salvation was not through Christ alone, but that Christians also had to follow the Torah. While the Circumcision Party was similar to FFOZ, and like-minded Messianic groups, in that they were Torah observant, clearly Mr. Eby and FFOZ differ from the Judaizers in that they hold to the orthodox doctrine of salvation by grace apart from the Torah. However, it is clear from reading Galatians chapter 3 that there were shades of opinion regarding Torah observance in Paul’s time. Just like Aaron Eby and FFOZ today, some believers recognized salvation by grace, but were still persuaded to observe the Torah. Paul rebuked them:

Galatians 3:1-6 ESV

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Like the Apostle, I would ask those who preach Torah observance, “Who bewitched you?” In particular, I would ask Aaron Eby, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Although Mr. Eby correctly recognizes salvation is by grace through faith, he mistakenly believes that observing the Torah will make him a better follower of Jesus.

Paul continues–

Galatians 3:10-12 ESV

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

Rather than serving as a guide for the life of faith, Paul teaches that faith and Torah observance are opposed to one another. The law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

Paul tells us exactly what the purpose of the law was. As it turns out, it was never intended to be a guide for the life of faith. It was never intended to be kept for all eternity. It was something God added because of sin. It was not a guide for faith, but was intended to protect us until the coming faith would be revealed.

Galatians 3:19-20 ESV

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

The Torah was something God added because of sin. That is why Paul calls the law a curse in verse 10. The Torah was never intended to be observed once the promised Offspring came. The Offspring is Christ (Galatians 3:16, which we skipped over for the sake of clarity and continuity). In verse 13, Paul said that Christ redeemed us from this curse, this law.

Galatians 3:21-22 ESV

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

What are these promises that Paul refers to? The promises made to Abraham and his Offspring (Galatians 3:16)–the blessing of all nations through Abraham and his Offspring, justification through faith (Galatians 3:7-9), and the Spirit of God received by faith (Galatians 3:14). The law is not contrary to God’s promises, but it is not the way the promises are received either. The law was a prophetic shadow of the reality of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:1-18). Once Jesus came as a fulfillment of the promises foreshadowed in the Torah, there was no longer any need for it, and the Old Testament shadow of the Torah was done away with in order to establish the New Testament reality of Christ. Until Jesus came, the Torah held us prisoner.

Galatians 3:23-26 ESV

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Now we see the full context of Galatians 3:24. The Torah, rather than serving simply as a teacher, was more like a guard at a juvenile detention center. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary describes the Greek paidagogos this way:

…in Gal. 3:24, 25, KJV, “schoolmaster” (RV, “tutor”), but here the idea of instruction is absent. “In this and allied words the idea is that of training, discipline, not of impartation of knowledge. The paidagogos was not the instructor of the child; he excercised a general supervision over him and was responsible for his moral and physical well-being. Thus understood, paidagogos is appropriately used with ‘kept in ward’ and ‘shut up,’ whereas to understand it as equivalent to ‘teacher’ introduces an idea entirely foreign to the passage, an throws the Apostle’s argument into confusion.”*

*From Notes on Galatians, by Hogg and Vine pp. 163

In its proper context, Paul is not saying that the Torah taught anyone the life of faith. It merely kept juvenile, lawless humanity in bondage until Christ came. Now that Jesus has been revealed, there is no longer any need to live within the confines of the juvenile detention center, or under the authority of the Guardian Torah. Prior to Christ, the Torah imprisoned us for our own good. Now that Christ is manifested we can live in freedom!

The Torah was only intended to be the temporary law of the land in the Israelite theocracy. It was only a shadow, but the reality is Jesus Christ. Once Christ came, the law of Moses was abolished. The law was only given to the Jewish people for a short period of time, but the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus has been given for all nations, and for all time. Why would anyone follow the shadow of Jesus when they can follow Him instead? Why would anyone subject themselves to imprisonment when they could be free?