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.