“One Law” and the Fixation on Ritual Commandments

As I have discussed in previous posts, notably my review of D. T. Lancaster’s commentary on Galatians, First Fruits of Zion, a Messianic publishing house, has come under fire for embracing a position they call “Divine Invitation”.

FFOZ now teaches (and I agree) that Gentile believers are not obligated to every commandment of Torah that a Jew is obligated to. While the broad spectrum of commandments that deal with love of neighbor and heart-devotion to God are assumed to be binding on Gentile believers throughout the New Testament, the Apostles chose to subject them to only three “ritual” prohibitions, and all of them were dietary: food sacrificed to idols, blood, and meat from an improperly slaughtered animal.

Practically (and broadly) speaking, this exempts Gentile believers from the following categories of commandments: bris, tzitzit, tefillin, kashrut, Shabbat, mo’edim, and (if I am not mistaken) tohoros. As all of these commandments are tied to Jewish ethnic identity or to Temple worship (from which Gentiles are forbidden), they are widely assumed throughout the New Testament not to be binding on Gentiles (cf. Col. 2:16, 1 Cor. 7:17-24, Acts chs. 15 and 21).

The other side of the debate, “One Law”, puts forth the argument that because there is to be “one law” for the native and for the alien (Ex. 12:49, Lev. 24:22, etc.), Gentile believers are bound to the “ritual” commandments listed above. They reinterpret the writings of Paul and the other Apostles to conform to this view. Unfortunately these reinterpretations are very difficult to sustain and are not generally backed up by solid scholarship.

(If there is one thing NT scholars agree on it is that Gentile believers were not obligated to the Torah in the same way as Jews were. Though there are almost always some exceptions, I would go so far as to say that it this issue is not really even up for debate. The text is that clear.)

As most of the off-topic or confrontational comments I get on my blog are about this issue, I thought I’d share a few additional thoughts in my own defense.

First, the “One Law” group is mostly (though not universally) dismissive of Rabbinic interpretation. So a One Law proponent will (usually) say that the commandment to “bind them upon your arms and let them be totafos between your eyes” is not a commandment to literally bind something on your head and arm, whereas the Rabbinic sources (substantiated by the NT and archaeological evidence) indicate that in the time of Christ, observant Jews wore tefillin in observance of that commandment.

I see a serious problem with claiming on one hand that the Law is binding on Gentile converts, and on the other hand dismissing the traditional Jewish interpretation of the Law. From my point of view, this amounts to starting a new religion, and putting yourself in charge of it.

The idea that tefillin are not physical objects has no basis in either Testament. We can be sure that Yeshua and his opponents both wore tefillin. But many “One Law” proponents excuse themselves from that commandment based on their own interpretation of Deut. 6:8. At the same time, they lay requirements on other Gentile believers, also based on their own interpretation.

But when interpretation is divorced from history, community, and accountability, the result is chaotic. Hebrew Roots remains a fragmented movement in which “Torah Observance” means something different to everyone. How can anyone claim to be “Torah Observant” when he sets the height of the bar himself? The Torah was designed to bring a variegated community (Kohenim, regular Jews, Gentiles) together under a commonly understood set of values, not to be an individual manual for life, open to interpretation by anyone.

But this is not the biggest problem I see within the “One Law” movement. The biggest problem I see is the broad willingness of certain people to condemn other people for not adhering to their specific standard. Not only that, but many are willing to condemn people like me for not teaching that everyone should be held to their standard – and again, there is no monolithic standard, because with the jettisoning of both Christian and Rabbinic tradition, there is no precedent for interpretation.

On the other hand, “Divine Invitation” advocates would not condemn a Gentile believer taking on more than is required of him, in a way that is respectful to Jewish identity (remember, 1 Cor. 7:17-24), as long as they are not pushy about it. I personally do many things that are optional as I feel it helps me to identify with the Messiah.

But when I encounter those who want to bring everyone else under their umbrella, so to speak, and condemn everyone who is not keeping Shabbat or mo’edim or tzitzit, I can’t help but wonder if they have missed the point of the entire New Testament.

In fact I think the marginalization of the Apostolic Writings, which should be primary texts, is another serious issue in the Hebrew Roots movement. Rather than accept Paul’s instruction, many think they can come up with a better way by bringing out a novel interpretation of the Tanakh. Many Hebrew Roots enthusiasts have actually rejected Paul completely because they have discovered it is impossible to reconcile his writings with the “One Law” idea. Others have rejected the entire New Testament for the same reason.

I once witnessed Boaz Michael say to a group of several hundred Hebrew Roots proponents that they might consider shifting some of their emphasis from Torah to Messiah. There was a lot of grumbling at that statement, but his comment was insightful.

Here is why: When we are more concerned about ritual commandments like holidays and food laws than we are about the way we treat each other and the way our heart looks before God, we put ourselves in the shoes of the people for whom Jesus saved his harshest criticism.

When we become fixated on “Biblical kosher”, a recently invented standard with no historical precedent outside the Karaite movement, and that causes us to disfellowship our families because they eat pork, we have completely missed the boat. We have tossed a set very important commandments – “love thy neighbor”, “honor thy father and mother” – out the window, and taken on a commandment that the Apostles chose not to lay on us.

In essence, we commit a serious sin in order to take on something that is not explicitly required of us.

As Yeshua said, we ought to have done one without neglecting the other. We should be fixated on compassion, mercy, and dealing righteously, and after that begin looking at dietary laws and other similar issues. When we get the two turned around, our priorities go out of whack, and our actions show it.

The real kicker is, the only difference between “Divine Invitation” and “One Law” centers on these few “ritual” commandments. Everyone on both sides agrees that all Gentile believers are bound to the high moral standards of Torah. The only difference is that we acknowledge that the Apostles exempted the Gentiles from a few commandments that have to do with Jewish identity and Temple worship.

So all of the stone-throwing we are enduring from the “One Law” side is over nothing more than a few ritual commandments. The fixation on external, ritual commandments has caused thousands of Hebrew Roots enthusiasts to cast us off, as it were, for not being “Torah observant”.

If that doesn’t reflect an upside down set of priorities, I don’t know what does.

May the day come soon when we are all united in Messiah, and living with a focus on love, empathy, and mutual edification.

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18 Responses to “One Law” and the Fixation on Ritual Commandments

  1. Carl Kinbar says:

    Fine post, Jacob. A focus on ritual over ethics produces a caricature of the great commandments to love God and neighbor. You can’t have one without the other.

  2. Mike Miller says:

    I couldn’t have said it better. We just finished a study of the Pharisees. They came in, of course, for withering attacks from the class participants. But it dawned on me that most of the criticisms Messiah rightfully laid on them could also be laid on the messianic gentile movement.

    The second greatest commandment seems to be missing from most messianic gentile discourse.

  3. Tom says:

    Very good post Jacob. I love reading your thoughts.
    -when interpretation is divorced from history, community, and accountability, the result is chaotic-
    This quote from above particularly stood out to me.
    I remember Dr. Pryor saying that ‘Christians who have embraced the Torah should be the most gracious Christians of all’. I think of how the Torah offers us as Christians the opportunity to experience the presence of God in greater depth and to follow Jesus with greater clarity, yet it is so often forsaken to merely argue about how to keep a particular mitzvah? May God grant us repentance and renewal.

  4. Peter says:

    I appreciate the post. It’s good to hear different perspectives from my own. I’m one of those “One Law” types. : )

    The problem as I see it with Divine Invitation is that it rests on a faulty premise: one may enter a Torah-optional covenant with God. The New Covenant includes Torah and does not make it optional, not even for gentiles. It is strange that Acts 15 is used to make the case that gentile converts are only obligated to a handful of negative commandments (i.e. the four prohibitions). Isn’t the whole point of covenanting with God to observe the positive command to make Him our God? And what about the Ten Commandments? Are these optional as well?

    The truth is that Torah is given for instruction in righteousness–it is both foundational and perfect. The word Torah itself means “instruction” and “light.” So why wouldn’t gentiles be obligated to follow instructions in righteousness and to walk in the light? Are they condemned under this New Covenant to walk in darkness, in a perpetual twilight of neutrality, only having the responsibility for avoiding paganism and never having the pleasure of pursuing any of the positive commands? Never being able to reap the rewards that come with observing the perfect mitzvot?

    Proponents of the Divine Invitation doctrine rely heavily on a false interpretation of Acts 15, failing to take note that there was but a singular issue before the council (Acts 15:2 “So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” Note that “question” is singular and refers to the issue mentioned in Acts 15:1). The issue was whether circumcision was necessary for salvation. The issue was not about whether gentiles should follow Torah. A corollary issue was what sign of covenantal membership should be used instead of circumcision since it was evident to all by the Ruach that the circumcision requirement of Exodus 12:48 was no longer a barrier to covenantal membership and thus no longer a sign for that narrow purpose. The four prohibitions were the answer to this corollary issue.

    I’d write more but I’m sure if this comment will even be allowed on this site and I need to run anyway.

    • Jacob Fronczak says:

      Peter,

      I continue to be unsure if you mischaracterize my position purposefully or out of ignorance.

      The Apostolic Decree does not limit Gentiles to four negative commandments. No one on the Divine Invitation side is arguing that, at all. The idea that we are advocating that position is a straw man.

      Throughout your interpretation you show no awareness of the importance or even the existence of Jewish identity. Can I assume that you don’t think Jewish identity matters? Because from that standpoint, neither Acts 15, nor Acts 21, nor the books of Romans or Ephesians or Galatians – really anything Pauline at all – make any sense.

      Did you read any of the books or articles I suggested?

      Derek Leman also had a great blog about this subject recently. I recommend it.

      http://www.messianicjudaism.me/musings/2011/10/31/torah-fundamentals-1/

      • Peter says:

        “Jewish identity” gets a lot of emphasis in Messianic circles. But what about Israeli identity? There were (and are) more tribes than Judah. It shouldn’t hurt Jewish identity that there are others within Israel besides the Jews who are returning to Torah. I would venture that if that fact injures someone’s Jewish identity then his identity is inflated like the older brother’s inflated identity in the parable of the prodigal son. Messianic Jews seem to get angry at their returning brethren who are reclaiming Torah and enjoying the “fattened calf” so to speak. They should rejoice like their Father rejoices. After all, God placed that desire for Torah in their hearts.

        As to Divine Invitation… I think Paul refutes Divine Invitation rather well when he says that “They [gentile converts] show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them, ” (Romans 2:15).

        Notice that Paul doesn’t qualify Torah in any way when he says that it is a requirement for gentile converts.

        As to Variegated Ecclesiology (my apologies Rabbi Rudolph–you know I love you), Paul also refutes that rather well when he writes “So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?” (Rom 2:26).

        What more can you ask of Paul in refuting Variegated Ecclesiology? Paul argues that the converts are not only required to keep Torah but that they are to be regarded as circumcised.

        Considering these passages (and MANY others), it’s almost comical when you go to the UMJC website and read articles like “One Law Movements” in which the authors say “…there is not one word in the New Testament that explicitly encourages Gentiles to grow in keeping the whole Torah.” Again, Paul comes to the rescue of common sense and writes: “ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Just how explicit do they want Paul to be? It’s as though they want him to come right out and tell the gentile converts to follow a model of Torah-observance. Oh, wait. He did that: “Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:16-17). But it’s not like Paul commanded gentiles to follow provisions of Torah that ONLY Israel could follow, is it? Oh, wait. He did that too: “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival…” (1 Cor 5:7-8).

        Yeshua taught Torah and when He ascended the very last thing He said was “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19). Notice that Yeshua didn’t say “Only teach the gentiles some of what I have commanded you.” We know that Yeshua taught Torah (“Think not that I’ve come to abolish the Torah”) and since Yeshua wanted the disciples to teach ALL of His teachings we know that this includes Torah. It would be quite an oversight if the gospel left out Torah since the Torah testifies to Yeshua!

        I was born on Simchat Torah. I love the Torah. But how much more does Yeshua love the Torah and want ALL of His children to follow the Torah! Gentiles in ancient Israel under the Old Covenant followed the Torah and they were blessed by it; but how much more will they be blessed now that they have its requirements written in their hearts rather than simply in tablets of stone!

        Jacob, my brother, we’re all going to be dancing in the streets of Jerusalem one day and this whole argument will seem so trivial. In the day when Torah covers the earth like the waters of the sea, this whole discussion will be moot. In the beginning there was Torah and in the end there will be Torah. There’s no escaping it! : )

        • Jacob Fronczak says:

          So, “no”. You don’t think Jewish identity – being the physical offspring of those who inherit the covenants with God – matters.

          And “no”, you haven’t read any of the books or articles I recommended.

          The reason I keep bringing the discussion back to the same point is that you continue to refuse to consider the role of Jewish ethnic identity (or proselyte conversion). As long as you have this blind spot in your theology, your interpretations of key passages will be skewed. Jewish identity, proselyte conversion, and the role of the Gentile convert were the big issues the Apostles confronted in the early days of the movement.

          And the reason I keep recommending that you read something by Nanos, or Rudolph, or really anyone in academia who writes about this stuff, is that I don’t think you really understand the DI position. You discount out of hand the views of pretty much every single scholar who has studied the relevant texts.

          Consider this quote from Mark Nanos, The Irony of Galatians (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), p.88: “It cannot be proven, but is generally agreed among interpreters who may disagree about virtually everything else regarding what this letter [Galatians] meant or means, that the context of this language regarding circumcision is that which arises in terms of Jewish proselyte conversion.” By ruling that the Gentiles should not be circumcised, the Apostles were making a definitive statement of identity which carries halachic implications. So yes, it was about whether Gentiles should become Jewish and follow Torah and not about circumcision being removed as a covenant boundary marker (which would have been a clear violation of the very Torah we all hold dear). See Acts 15:5.

          BTW, Derek just wrote another great article on this subject.

          http://www.messianicjudaism.me/musings/2011/11/01/not-excited-about-the-people-of-zion/

          • Peter says:

            I’m not sure why you’re attacking me for not reading all of the same books as you. I don’t attack you for not going to lawschool (even though I think you would find it intellectually rewarding and helpful to the study of the Book of the Law).

            I realize that you prioritize your time in the manner you see fit. And you should know that I also prioritize my time in the manner I see fit. For example, I’m currently working out a time to meet with the same Rudolph you mentioned in your previous comment. We’re trying to coordinate our schedules to meet sometime this week. I’m looking forward to discussing his “Paul’s Rule in all the Churches” article with him in person.

            I would say that the majority of my free time is spent reading different viewpoints. For example, I’ve read hundreds of books by non-Messianic Jewish authors and have benefited greatly. How else am I going to learn about Taharat Hamishpochah? or Tzniut? or Kashrut? Shall I learn about these topics from Christians or Messianics? We both know that won’t happen.

            You’ve picked a very strange target indeed to accuse of being bigoted. At any rate, we should progress beyond the ad hominem attacks. I’ve always maintained that our focus should be on substantive discussion.

            Blessings,

            Peter

          • Jacob Fronczak says:

            Again you have failed to respond to the substance of my argument, while demanding that I engage in substantive argument.

          • Jacob Fronczak says:

            I feel like I should say something else here, as to why I tend to try to end arguments rather than engage in them. Years of arguing on message boards taught me not only that arguments are generally fruitless, but that they bring out the worst in me personally. I hope you and Dr. Rudolph have a great conversation; I am sure he is more personable than I am.

            It sounds like you are well read and I don’t mean to impugn your motives or your reasoning ability. But I stand by my assertion that there will be no substantive conversation between us on this topic unless it centers around the reality, the necessity, and the role of Jewish identity.

  5. Peter says:

    Jacob,

    To which argument have I failed to respond? If you’re talking about Jewish ethnic identity–I’m all for it. I just don’t emphasize it to the exclusion of Israeli identity (i.e. Covenantal status in the Israeli Covenant made at Sinai). They’re both good!

    : )

    • Jacob Fronczak says:

      I don’t see any distinction anywhere in the Bible between the Jewish people as defined in the Second Temple period and the people of Israel. Peter Tomson’s book If This Be From Heaven has an interesting discussion on the role of the terms Jew and Israelite throughout history. They are synonymous in meaning but were used in different contexts depending on whether one’s point of view was from outside or from inside the social matrix of the Jewish people.

      From what I have been able to tell, the differentiation between “Jew” and “Israel” is a recent innovation by the British Israelite movement and its offshoots, namely the Two House movement. To my knowledge it doesn’t have a historical basis.

  6. Vickilynn says:

    Shalom Jacob,

    I was perusing your blog today. Very interesting stuff.

    Regarding this particular blog post, I would like to ask you about this statement, which is not earth-shattering, life-changing nor does it have eternal significance, but I am curious about it nonetheless.

    You said ” When we become fixated on “Biblical kosher”, a recently invented standard with no historical precedent outside the Karaite movement, and that causes us to disfellowship our families because they eat pork, we have completely missed the boat. We have tossed a set very important commandments – “love thy neighbor”, “honor thy father and mother” – out the window, and taken on a commandment that the Apostles chose not to lay on us.”

    Actually, I agree with the big message, when we get all hung up on the dietary laws and judge others because they do not, we in fact, violate the Law as laid out in the Brit Chadasha.

    My question is your aside comments: …”a recently invented standard with no historical precedent outside the Karaite movement…”

    I don’t understand that at all. “Biblically Kosher” is simply following the dietary laws as given in the Tanakh. Historical. Simple. Clear. Clean vs unclean. The term “Biblical kosher” identifies with the adherence to the Scriptural dietary laws, rather than the rabbinical ones. Thus, in my understanding, “Biblical kosher” is actually the oldest and purest form of Scriptural dietary adherence, neither “new” or an “invented standard”, and not related specifically to Karaites, but simply following the Scriptures, which preceded the religious observances of later times and the inclusion of additional man-made laws.

    “Biblical kosher” supersedes religion, doctrine, sect and is between man and G-d and does not follow a set of rules other than what are found in Scripture. To me, this is the more desirable choice if one is seeking to follow Adonai’s dietary laws.

    If you don’t mind, would you please explain your comments to me? Perhaps I have misunderstood you.

    Thank you,
    ~~In Messiah Yeshua,
    Vickilynn
    Micah 6:8

    • Jacob Fronczak says:

      There are several issues with “Biblical Kosher.” I am looking forward to Aaron Eby’s forthcoming book on the subject which I am guessing will address many of these issues. I want to make clear at the outset that I put “Biblical Kosher” in quotation marks because it’s not Biblical. I only call it that because that is the terminology its adherents use.

      First, I have never met any “Biblical Kosher” enthusiast who meticulously removed the sciatic nerve from the flesh of the meat they ate (Gen 32:25-33). This procedure is so difficult and meticulous that Ashkenazi Jews don’t even bother to eat the back half of animals. (Sephardi Jews continue to study and practice the removal of the sciatic nerve). This is a dietary law that, in the “Biblical Kosher” paradigm, is generally ignored. At least, on the whole. Furthermore the Torah prohibits any ceramic dish which has touched the carcass of an unclean animal to be used. The dish must be broken. However all “Biblical Kosher” advocates I have met continue to eat out at non-certified-kosher restaurants at which all the dishes have certainly been used to serve pork. It is this lack of attention to detail that makes “Biblical Kosher” not really Biblical at all. It is an invented standard which ignores many of the dietary laws of the written Torah.

      Second, both the Tanakh and the Apostolic writings confirm the existence of a God-ordained Sanhedrin which has the power to enact halacha, including dietary laws (Matt. 23:1-3, Num. 11:16). So to adhere to an “older” dietary standard is not to adhere to a “purer” standard, or a “more Biblical” standard. The innovations of the Sanhedrin were considered by Jesus and the Apostles to be normative and binding for Jewish life. I have an article on this subject called “Partnering with God – Defining True Religion.”

  7. Vickilynn says:

    Shalom Jacob,

    Thank you for your reply and explaining your position. Unfortunately, I did not misunderstand you, you are judging Adonai’s children who do not follow the the Mosiac Law and the restrictions of men and calling their convictions for dietary adherence “non-Biblical”. Shame.

    Romans 14
    13Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14I know and am convinced in the L-rd Yeshua that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Messiah died. 16Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17for the kingdom of G-d is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18For he who in this way serves Messiah is acceptable to G-d and approved by men. 19So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20Do not tear down the work of G-d for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before G-d. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

    Yes, Biblically Kosher is indeed Biblical, as we (adherents of Biblical Kosher) follow the Scriptures as to clean and unclean foods, but we also follow the Scriptures in their purity by not insisting that the Law of Moses is binding for Believers in Yeshua.

    No man, and no man’s rules supersede G-d Almighty and His Word. None.

    Thank you for your time, I’ll be moving on now.
    ~~In Messiah Yeshua,
    Vickilynn
    Micah 6:8

    • Jacob Fronczak says:

      Should I call everyone’s convictions “Biblical” whether or not they reflect the Bible? Is that “judgment”? I think you are overstating your case here.

      Especially considering the fact that you did not address either of my points. I am not convinced that you read my response at all.

      • Peter says:

        That lady needs to leave the role of Torah explication to MEN.

        After listening to her, it’s easy to understand the principle underlying Paul’s admonition:

        “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.” 1 Cor 14:34.

        Paul’s not trying to be harsh; he’s just being real.

        I enjoyed your comments as always Jacob. Keep up the good work, brother.

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