When sharing the gospel in Israel, we have to deal with the question of whether we “keep the commandments.” When religious Jews say, “commandments,” they mix together the biblical commandments and the added rabbinic commandments. If we say “No,” we have lost the authority of the scriptures. If we say “Yes,” they ask about which “halacha” (rabbinic laws) we keep.
Our answer to this question has to be an unequivocal “Yes,” but then we need to immediately explain that we have a different method of doing so. The first difference is that we accept biblical commandments as authoritative, but not rabbinic commandments. When I explained this on Israeli television, the interviewer readily understood our position. The discussion then opened up into many deeper issues. (He thought we were like the Karaites, an ancient sect of Judaism that receives scriptures as authoritative but not halacha.)
Biblical commandments, which were given several thousand years ago, cannot be fulfilled in a vacuum. The commandments were given as part of a four-fold set:
- The Angel of YHVH (who wrote the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai)
- The commandments themselves (with different levels of importance Matthew 23:23)
- The blood sacrifices (which provided forgiveness when laws were transgressed)
- The Holy Spirit (to guide and empower the people to fulfill the Law Numbers 11:25-29, Romans 8:2-4)
As Messianic Jews we have come to understand that the Angel of the Lord is often Yeshua, that the commandments of love and morality take priority over those of ritual symbolism, that the crucifixion of Yeshua has given the full meaning to the sacrifices, and that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell inside us. This perspective gives balance to applying the commandments in our daily life of faith.
In the New Covenant the law has been written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31); therefore our method of keeping commandments is internally motivated, with emphasis on the “heart” meaning of the commandments, and much flexibility concerning external details of ritual.
Rabbinic Judaism endeavors to keep the commandments, but has taken them out of context. The Torah itself remains the same. However, halachic laws replace the leading of the Holy Spirit, the rabbis replace the Messiah, and blood atonement is generally missing.
One of my sons was recently sharing the gospel with a religious Jew, and when asked whether we keep the commandments, he said, “Yes, but we have a different way of applying them.” He came home and reported, “Dad, this really worked to open a serious discussion on the true meaning of faith and the Messiah.”
The basis of all moral commandments is the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are found in three places in the Torah: Exodus 20, Leviticus 19, and Deuteronomy 5 – all in slightly different forms. The commandment that causes the most argument is the Sabbath. Rabbinic Judaism can be obsessive at times regarding Sabbath laws. For example, there is a disagreement as to whether it is allowable to tear toilet paper on the Sabbath – and therefore some groups use toilet paper “pre-separated” into small sections for the Sabbath.
[Once Joe Shulam was teaching on Talmud and came across a passage which indicated that the sin of the golden calf took place on the Shabbat. An elderly religious Jewish woman in attendance called out, “No that couldn’t be!” Joe asked her why. She replied, “They were Jews weren’t they?” In recounting this story, Joe and I laughed so hard we cried. I guess you have to be Jewish to “get” the joke. Her point was: adultery, idolatry, occult, and rebellion – that’s understandable; but breaking the Sabbath – God forbid!]
There are thousands of pages of rabbinic literature about Sabbath laws. Yeshua summarized His halacha in three simple rules:
Mark 2:27 – The Sabbath was made for man.
Yeshua returns to the original purpose of the Sabbath. It was designed to be a weekly release from the curse of the sin of Adam. It was to be a taste of the millennial kingdom to come. It was a time to rest from the things of this world and turn our hearts to the Lord.
Mark 2:28 – The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.
Yeshua refers to Himself as the final authority of how to keep the Sabbath. It was He in the form of the Angel/YHVH who wrote the Sabbath commandment in the first place. The rabbis say that it is impossible to keep commandments without supervision. Everyone needs a rabbi to instruct them on how to fulfill the details. If you have a rabbi’s instruction, then you will have no doubts of whether you have acted correctly. Yeshua is our rabbi, and we fulfill the Sabbath according to His instructions.
Mark 3:4 – It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
Yeshua reiterates that moral law overrides ritual law. He reminds us that correct interpretation of the law demands simple morality, logical discernment, and a healthy approach to human life.
I reject the position that traditional Jews keep the commandments and Messianic Jews do not. We do keep God’s commandments, but seek to do so by restoring their original meaning in the light of the New Covenant. Much of Christianity has dismissed the commandments of God by theological excuses; much of Judaism has distorted the commandments of God by ritual traditions.
Let us walk in the balance of salvation by grace and the obedience of faith under the lordship of Yeshua.