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We are commanded in the Bible to imitate Jesus, but does this mean that we are to be Torah observant? I would say no, but Aaron Eby would say yes. In the fifth chapter of Boundary Stones, “Discipleship Is Imitation,” Mr. Eby offers this Boundary Stone:

Keeping the Law is part of discipleship to Jesus, because Jesus was a Torah-observant Jew. As the ultimate prophet and king over Israel, Jesus taught the Law and observed every detail of the Law that applied to him. If he did not, he would not qualify as the Messiah. Jesus calls his followers to walk after him as his disciples. The responsibility of a disciple is to imitate his teacher. Therefore, disciples of Jesus would do well to follow his example.

As the proof-text for his view, Mr. Eby cites the words of Jesus Himself in Matthew 5:17-19. This is also the most common proof-text of Torah observant Messianic Jews. Jesus says:

Matthew 5:17-19 ESV

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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Mr. Eby explains:

Some who read this passage interpret the word fulfill to mean that these commandments have come to an end. However, this effectively means that same thing as “abolish,” rendering the passage self-contradictory. Perhaps all was accomplished at the crucifixion or at the resurrection. No, this cannot be true either, since heaven and earth have not yet passed away. Besides, there is more for Messiah to accomplish in his second coming.

This sounds like an iron-clad argument in favor of observing the Torah! If we argue against Torah observance, we will have to give a convincing answer for seemingly contradicting the teaching of our Lord. The fact of the matter is that Jesus was a Torah observant Jew. If we are to imitate Jesus, shouldn’t we observe the Torah too?

If we are to interpret Matthew 5:17-19 to mean that we are to be Torah observant, we will have to ignore the plain meaning of these Scriptures:

Mark 7:14-23

Luke 16:16

Acts 10:9-16

Acts 11:1-18

Acts 15:1-35

Romans 3:21-31

Romans 4:13-16

Romans 7:1-6

Romans 8:1-4

Romans 13:8-10

2 Corinthians 3:1-18

Galatians 2:11-21

Galatians 3:1-7

Galatians 3:10-29

Galatians 4:9-11

Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 5:1-14

Ephesians 2:8-22

Philippians 3:1-11

Colossians 2:6-23

Hebrews 7:11-22

Hebrews 8:1-13

Hebrews 9:1-15

Hebrews 10:1-18

The bulk of the New Testament says that the law of Moses was done away with. If we compare Scripture with Scripture (rather than forming an entire doctrine based on a single passage of the Bible) the Old Covenant was abolished to make way for the new. The Old Covenant law contained prophetic copies and shadows of Jesus Christ, but once Jesus Christ came, the need for copies and shadows was over.

To agree with Torah observant Messianics, we will have to ignore the fact that they do not keep the entire law of Moses, and therefore bring themselves under a curse. They would protest that they cannot keep certain aspects of the Torah because the Temple was destroyed and the Levitical priesthood was done away with. These are just excuses. There is no need for a temple; the Temple was not even built until the time of Solomon, about 500 years after Moses gave Israel the Torah. Until that time, the Levitical priests served God in the Tent (or Tabernacle) of Meeting. What prevents Messianic Jews from training Kohanim and erecting a new tabernacle? A group within Rabbinic Judaism is already making plans to build a third Temple and is currently training Levitical priests. 

However, even if they were to join their Rabbinic brethren by worshipping in a third Temple, there are plenty of other regulations of the Torah that they fail to keep, such as the proper rituals for cleansing after being defiled by disease, sexual contact, menstruation, or contact with the dead. They do not carry out justice as required by the law, including the stoning of disrespectful children, adulterers, idolaters, and murderers. Not only do they not carry out these portions of the Torah, from what I have seen they have no intention of doing so. They are condemned by their own peculiar interpretation of Matthew 5:19, and by their own Torah:

Deuteronomy 27:26

‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

The fact is, the majority of passages in the New Testament lead us to the same conclusion that the Apostles came to–Jesus Christ is the end of the law for all who believe. We might reasonably ask ourselves whether Jesus meant He did not come to abolish the Mosaic law when He used the phrase  the Law or the Prophets. We might also reasonably ask whether the least of these commandments was a reference to the Torah or to His own teachings that followed verse 19.

After looking at the instances in Scripture of the Law and the Prophets, my conclusion is that Jesus was not referring to the 613 mitzvot of Moses, but to all the Old Testament Scriptures. For example:

Matthew 22:34-40 ESV (emphasis mine)

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

If you replace  the Law and the Prophets with the Bible, or the Scriptures, or the Old Testament, the overall meaning of the text does not change. The same goes for the following passages:

Luke 16:16 ESV (emphasis mine)

The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.

John 1:45 ESV (emphasis mine)

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Romans 3:21 ESV (emphasis mine)

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—

The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5 begins to make much more sense, in light of the rest of the New Testament, when we see that Jesus did not come to abolish, but fulfill, the Old Testament. But what about Jesus’s teaching that whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19)? Does this refer to the Law and the Prophets, or something else?

Mr. Eby’s proof-text, Matthew 5:17-19, is within the context of Matthew chapters 5-7, more commonly known as The Sermon on the Mount. Prior to verses 17-19, Jesus preaches The Beatitudes and the role of the Church as salt and light. Beginning with verse 21, Jesus gives a series of commandments, ending in Matthew 7:14. Jesus’s commandments include:

Matthew 5:21-22 ESV

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:27-28 ESV

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:31-32 ESV

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:33-37 ESV

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Matthew 5:38-39 ESV

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:43-44 ESV

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 6:3-4 ESV

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:5-6 ESV

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18 ESV

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:19-20 ESV

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Matthew 6:25 ESV

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Matthew 7:1 ESV

Judge not, that you be not judged.

Matthew 7:7-8 ESV

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Matthew 7:12 ESV

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Could it be that when Jesus commanded us not to relax one of the least of these commandments, that He referred to the commandments He was about to give, rather than the Torah of Moses? He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets–the Old Testament Scripturesand in His teaching He taught us to fulfill them too, by treating others as we would wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12, see above). Jesus’s teachings on the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and Prophets were confirmed by the Apostle Paul, and the Lord’s brother, James. While His commands were clearly rooted in the Old Testament, this in no way implies that the Mosaic laws are binding on us. They were only copies and shadows that prophesied of the true reality, Jesus Christ. Once the reality came, the time of shadows was over.

We are not to relax the least of Jesus’s commandments. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith, not Moses. Imitation of Jesus does not require observance of the Torah, but His commands laid out in The Sermon on the Mount. However, if we are not careful, Jesus’s commandments can become a new legalism that will hold us captive, just like the Torah. If we live by His grace through faith, we will follow His commandments by accident. We will be able to more closely follow His commandments by walking by the Spirit, rather than trying to obey God’s Word in our flesh.