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Yom Kippur – The Most Christian of God’s Moedim

Yom Kippur is the most Christian of God's appointed times

A guest post by Kay Behrens

As I was sitting in my Living Room ten days ago, honoring one of God’s Moedim, or Set Apart Days, I came to the realization that Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is the most “Christian” of God’s Holy Convocations. But, what do I mean by that?

Let’s look at God’s Set Apart Days, one by one. We can begin with Passover.

Passover ~ On Passover, God instructs us to do several things, besides our offerings. We are to cook the lamb, to remove leaven from our homes, to prepare the bitter herbs.

Unleavened Bread ~ Here we are to eat the meal, but most important of all, we are to tell our children the story of the Exodus. They are to be active participants of the evening.

First Fruits ~ Here we are to offer the first fruits of our harvest.

Shavuout ~ Fifty days after the early First Fruits, we are to have a Holy Convocation and to offer two loaves of leavened bread, a later first fruits.

Yom Teruah ~ The Day of Trumpets. On this day we are to blow the trumpets and shout for joy to the Lord.

Sukkot ~ Here we are to build and live in Booths for 7 days. We are to wave the four species. We are to remember our days in the desert.

But what of Yom Kippur? How are we to spend that day? Doing nothing.

And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among this people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your Sabbath.
Leviticus 23:30-32. 

But why do I say that this is this a “Christian” moedim? Well, let’s look at the Christian understanding of salvation, or atonement. Christians teach that we are not saved by works, but by grace and grace alone. They are taught that “works salvation” as taught in the Old Testament no longer applies and that we cannot save ourselves by our works but only by resting on the completed work of Messiah.

Have you ever spent 24 hours where you can do no work? It truly concentrates the mind. Add to that a fast from food and water and you definitely start paying attention. Get up and take a shower? Nope. Make your bed (probably not a problem for most millennials, but it sure bothers me); fill or empty the dishwasher? Later. Check the internet? Your phone? Your tablet? Not today. Squash that fly? Dust off that spider’s web? Wipe down the counter? Nope, nope, and nope. Read a book, send a note to a friend, start that craft project?  Can’t do.

Your day is to be completely about resting in the Lord. He is your salvation, your atonement, even your bread of life if you are fasting.

Ah, but you say that “Messiah died once for all and He sat down at the right hand of God and for us to keep the Old Testament feasts is to put Him back on the cross to suffer once again”. To this I would say that, yes, Messiah sacrificed once and then sat at the right hand of the Father, but we are not called to remember this once and only once. We are to be reminded yearly of His sacrifice. I liken this to a married couple who keep their vows daily, but once a year takes the time to recognize the special bond that they have. If they don’t take this time to lovingly recall their commitment they might begin to take it for granted. Likewise, if we don’t take the time to recall the sacrifice of our Messiah, we will begin to take it for granted.

So how shall we remember His sacrifice? Certainly by keeping the Passover, or by the remembrance of Good Friday and First Fruits, but Yom Kippur forces us to really remember the totality of His gift to us. On Yom Kippur, we are to completely separate ourselves from the world; we are to completely rely on His provision. We do not work, we do not eat, we do not rely on anyone or anything but our Messiah.

We cannot make the day of Yom Kippur any more holy by doing anything beyond “afflicting your souls” and having “a holy convocation”.

So I invite my dear Christian friends to consider next year keeping Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Try spending a day completely without works. Spend a day in your Living Room without swatting that fly, without squashing that spider, without doing anything. Spend it with the Scriptures that attest to our Lord who gave His life so that we may live. Who is the Bread of Life and the True Vine.

What Is Circumcision of the Heart?

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. Deuteronomy 10:16

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
Deuteronomy 10:16

Circumcise yourselves to YHWH; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.
Jeremiah 4:4

But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Romans 2:29

(Please read the whole chapter for each of those verses to understand the full context. Click on each reference to access the chapters at Bible Gateway.)

But Paul Said…

Paul is often misunderstood to be against physical circumcision in all cases, but the full context of his letters show that can’t be the case. Rather, he is against circumcision in a misguided conversion to Judaism or the performance of any other rite or commandment as a condition for the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation.

Salvation is solely by the grace of God extended to those who put their faith in him. Circumcision is something that a believing man can do later if he is led to it by the Holy Spirit or if there is some practical reason, so long as he doesn’t believe it will make him more saved. There is no general command in Scripture for a grown man to be circumcised unless he is wants to eat the Passover, which is impossible to do outside of Jerusalem. Anyone external pressure for a grown man to be circumcised comes solely from other men, not from God.

If you’re not a priest going to serve in the Temple (you’re not), if you’re not going to eat a Passover lamb this year (extremely unlikely), and if you’re not an 8-day old baby boy (wow! reading already!?) then there is no good reason to get circumcised.

Now, having dispensed of that inevitable barrier to communication, let me get the actual point of this article…

What Does It Mean to Circumcise One’s Heart?

In Deuteronomy 10, Moses told the Israelites that, although God owns all of heaven and earth, he chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all their descendants as special objects of his love and attention. Because God chose Israel above all other peoples, he wanted them to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts “and stop being stiff-necked”.

He went on to say that God is mighty and awesome, above all other gods, and above all the petty bribery that the gods of the nations demanded from them. Yet, despite his awesome power and the universal scope of his awareness, he gives special attention to orphans, widows, and landless above the special attention he already gives to Israel.

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:19

The essence of heart circumcision seems to be in the humility to accept the attentions of the Almighty and to serve those who have the least power of all.

Because of Adam’s sin, our world can be hard and compassionless. It’s tempting to see all impoverished or otherwise disadvantaged people as deserving their state–an attitude encouraged by some of the world’s largest religions–and therefore also deserving lesser treatment by society and even by law.

While it’s true that poverty is perpetuated by bad choices, Scripture also tells us that we are all sinners according to God’s standards and equally deserving of death. A circumcised heart perceives its own unworthiness, but gratefully accepts and returns God’s love in spite of that. It not only loves God, who is infinitely more deserving, but also loves the poor, homeless, and even the criminal.

God wants us, who have received undeserved mercy, to extend undeserved mercy in turn, a mercy which enables the recipient to stand back up and try again and again to make better choices.

Be Holy, Even As I Am Holy

God wants us to be holy (set apart for sacred purpose) just as he is holy. In Leviticus chapters 11, 19, and 20, this means keeping God’s commandments, especially in regards to avoiding the pagan practices of idolatry, necromancy, disrespecting parents, sexual immorality, and eating animals whose meat God finds detestable.

Peter reiterated this expectation of holiness through obedience:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14-16

It’s clearly a good thing to keep God’s commandments, and while outward obedience will bring circumcision of the flesh (at least for boys born into the faith), it cannot, by itself, bring circumcision of the heart.

The truth is exactly the opposite. A hard heart is like a hardened clay soil that breaks ploughs and starves seedlings. The Word sprouts quickly but withers away because it can’t put down roots. It is a haven for brambles and wild grass, but hostile to anything that can produce good fruit. Only a circumcised heart can accept the seed of God’s instructions and allow it to produce a harvest worthy of the land owner.

So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision [of the flesh] be regarded as circumcision [of the heart]? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
Romans 2:26-27

The Hearts of Your Children

There is another important aspect of heart circumcision that I want to bring to your attention.

The manner of circumcision of the flesh was not arbitrary. God chose the skin that would be cut removed in part because it symbolizes one of the core promises of his covenant with Abraham:

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you….This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
Genesis 17:7, 10-11

Abraham’s physical descendants all passed through the cut of his physical circumcision. All of his promised descendants inherit the covenant by which they were promised, but they are commanded to circumcise their sons in turn.

If you are a son of Abraham, then your sons must be circumcised on the eighth day. This doesn’t give them eternal salvation or forgive their sins, but it does make God’s promises to Abraham theirs to reject.

Circumcision of the heart follows the same pattern as circumcision of the flesh.

And YHWH your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Deuteronomy 30:6

Just as Moses told us to keep God’s commandments as we work to circumcise our hearts, he also told us to teach God’s commandments to our children.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Circumcision of the heart is a process that each person must take on for himself, but parents have a responsibility to set their children on the right path, to teach them to fear and love YHWH, to cherish his commandments, and to be kind to all people. In doing so, we enable them to inherit the New Covenant established in the blood of Yeshua.

How Does a Heart Become Circumcised?

Physical circumcision is relatively quick and painless. We circumcise our sons when they are eight days old, before they are old enough to remember the pain. Circumcision of the heart is a much longer and more painful process. It begins and ends with obedience, not for the sake of being righteous or special or staying out of trouble, but for the sake of the Law-Giver.

And now, Israel, what does YHWH your God require of you, but to fear YHWH your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
Deuteronomy 10:12

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
2 John 1:6

God wants our fearful devotion and our love. He wants to be the center of our thoughts, motives, and our entire lives. Such devotion requires the breaking of our pride, our independence, and even our very identity.

If a commandment is a burden, then it either hasn’t yet done its work on your heart, or you are keeping it for the wrong reason. A resentful or prideful obedience is not obedience at all. Refocus on the loving kindness of the Father who gave us the Law through Moses, of the Son who gave us his very life to enable our obedience without fear of condemnation, and of the Spirit who teaches us how to live, comforts us when we fail or are persecuted for our obedience, and guides us onto better paths.

As we learn to keep God’s commandments out of love for him, his Spirit works through our desire to obey to draw us closer to him. Through the keeping of commandments with a right heart, we are disciplined and pruned. The heart will become more right, and we will learn more perfect obedience, understanding that the heart of every commandment is love.

The secret to a circumcised heart, ready to receive God’s instructions, is in recognizing that we are no more deserving of his attention than anyone else, that nothing we could ever do could earn his affections, and yet God still loves us more than all the rest of creation. When we love him enough in return to submit to his commandments and when we see a reflection of his perfection and our own failures in the least of all people, we will be on the path.


For more information see this video from 119 Ministries…

Is the New Covenant in Force?

Is the New Covenant fully in force today? Since Jeremiah says it is only for Israel and Jews, what does it mean for Christians?

In that same ancient Internet forum that I have mentioned several times before, a Torah-keeping believer wrote, “Until the Law is written on our hearts, it is still needed. And, since Christians are NOT keeping the Law, it is obvious that it hasn’t been written there. Therefore, the New Covenant has not yet come, even though it has been promised and assured.”

Another forum-member, whom we will call Joe, ever the Christian example, responded,

The new covenant has come, you blithering idiot!

That’s entire ——– point of Jesus’s life ministry, death, and resurrection!

He brought the new covenant. He tore the veil in the temple. He saved us from sin and death. He rescued us.

Joe’s objection is a very common one and also very easy to answer. It’s not even entirely wrong. Jesus (aka Yeshua) did save us from sin. He rescued us from the condemnation that we justly deserved due to our lawlessness. But the New Covenant is more than that. The ubiquity of this confusion testifies to the widespread ignorance of Christians concerning scripture and their almost complete reliance on the doctrines of men rather than the actual words of God and the prophets.

What Is the New Covenant?

Here is the passage that most specifically promises the New Covenant:

Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares YHWH. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHWH: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know YHWH,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares YHWH. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Thus says YHWH, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— YHWH of hosts is his name: If this fixed order departs from before me, declares YHWH, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus says YHWH: If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares YHWH. Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when the city shall be rebuilt for YHWH from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to YHWH. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.
Jeremiah 31:31-40

These are the defining characteristics of the New Covenant:

  1. The covenant is with the houses of Israel and Judah.
  2. The Law will be written in the hearts of the Israelites and Jews.
  3. Israelites and Jews will not need to be taught about God because they will all know him intimately.
  4. The sins of Israelites and Jews will be completely forgiven.
  5. God will never completely reject the nation of Israel, including the Jews.
  6. Jerusalem will be restored and made sacred to God under a permanent peace.

These characteristics imply other things. Since all Jews will know God and since they were intended to be a nation of priests and a light to the rest of the world, those who would know God will go to the Jews as evidenced by Jeremiah 16:19 and Zechariah 8:23.

What Does the New Covenant Have to Do with Gentiles?

O YHWH, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.
Jeremiah 16:19

Thus says YHWH of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’
Zechariah 8:23

From the examples of Torah, from these prophecies, and from Paul’s writings, we can also extrapolate that the promises of the New Covenant and citizenship in Israel would be extended to gentiles. That doesn’t change the nature of the covenant, only its breadth. This is the great inheritance we have gained through the Messiah. We are now joint heirs with Israel in the New Covenant. We have forgiveness of sins just like the Jews do.

Guaranteed, but Not Yet Delivered

But has God’s Law been written on our hearts? Do we no longer have to teach each other about God? Is Jerusalem free from danger? Obviously to all but the most delusional, Jerusalem is under constant threat of war. We do not have God’s Law written on our hearts. We still have to teach each other about God. Paul wrote that this great inheritance of a perfect knowledge of God isn’t yet ours. I believe that process begins at the moment we decide to be faithful to Yeshua, but it is clearly not remotely complete.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:13-14

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
2 Corinthians 5:5

There are several steps in selling a house that are exactly analogous to the New Covenant. We have a signed contract, which is God’s promise of salvation. We have an earnest of the eventual fulfillment of the contract in the form of the Holy Spirit. But the terms of the contract haven’t been completed yet. Yeshua has paid the ultimate price for our salvation and restoration to the Father, but until we shed our mortal “tents”, we still walk by faith in the promise of our salvation and in imperfect knowledge of the Father. When we have the New Covenant in full, we will no longer have to walk by faith alone because we will see him face to face.

The Letter to the Hebrews (8:13), written many decades after Yeshua ascended to Heaven, speaks of the New Covenant as a developing thing, slowly outshining the Old Covenant, like the rising sun that makes the stars fade away. But at the time of the writing of that letter, the Old was still “becoming obsolete” and was only “ready to vanish away”. That which has been guaranteed and secured with an earnest payment has not yet been delivered. That which is still waxing, is not yet fully risen.

The New Covenant was certain and began to be established from the moment it was first prophesied in the Garden of Eden. It was sealed by blood at Yeshua’s crucifixion and a great token of its inevitability was given to us at Pentecost, but it is not yet fully in force as God promised it would be. Like so many things prophesied in Scripture, the New Covenant is “already, but not yet”.

Acts 15, revisited

Are Christians obligated to keep the Law of Moses?

People frequently point to Acts 15 and the Council of Jerusalem as an argument against Christians keeping Torah. “Peter, James, and the other Apostles said that gentile converts only need to keep these four rules, so we don’t need to keep the Law of Moses.” The obvious counter is that, if eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, eating animals that have been strangled, and consuming blood (Acts 15:20) is the full moral standard for Christians, then we are free to dishonor our parents, thumb our nose at traffic signs, lie, cheat, steal, and curse God. Yet nobody believes that!

Clearly the ruling of the Jerusalem Council is just a baseline for new converts in the context of the pagan Roman Empire, who already had a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Here’s another statement extracted from a conversation from a long time ago, in an Internet forum far, far away:

Jesus’ entire ministry on earth was centered around clarifying the law, and in many places he criticizes those who live by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law. an example is the “good samaritan parable”. The laws were given to the Jews in order to keep them ceremoniously clean and set aside for God. So when Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, his blood sacrifice has fulfilled the spirit of the law by making us clean before God and setting us aside for him. I believe as much is stated in John 1:1-14.

I do not believe that Acts 15 is suggesting that Christians can lie, steal, etc. etc., because such things were not included in the letter. Rather I believe that as Jesus said, the sum of the laws and the prophets, the spirit of them, is to love the Lord you God will all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.

-Mr. B.A.D.

I don’t think that Mr. B.A.D. is very far from the truth here. Yeshua did spend much of his time correcting misunderstandings of the Law. God did give the Torah to Israel to set them apart from other peoples. Yeshua’s life and sacrifice did fulfill the spirit of the Law. The sum of the Law and the Prophets is to love God and neighbor.

But this is an incomplete understanding. Let’s look at each of these points in more detail.

Yeshua criticized those who live by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law.

Mr. B.A.D. is talking about the Pharisees in particular, I think. Here are some of the specific complaints Yeshua had against them:

  1. They replaced the commandments of God with the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:9)
  2. They held others to a higher standard than that to which they held themselves. (Matthew 23:4)
  3. Their obedience was done mostly for show and not out of love for anyone but themselves. (Matthew 23:5-7)
  4. Their false teachings made it more difficult for anyone else to know the truth. (Matthew 23:13)
  5. They abused the poor and weak. (Matthew 23:14)
  6. They didn’t make disciples for God, but disciples for themselves. (Matthew 23:15)
  7. They had their priorities all wrong. (Matthew 23:16-22)
  8. They were scrupulous on the minutiae of the Law while they ignored the most important commandments. (Matthew 23:23-24)
  9. Their public behavior was at complete odds with their private behavior and with their hearts. (Matthew 23:25-31)

It seems to me that all of this can be summed up in a single word: hypocrisy. Their problem wasn’t that they were obsessed with the letter of the Law. Their problem was an obsessions with appearing to keep the Law. They were so concerned with this appearance that the Law itself wasn’t enough for them. “Love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t showy enough for the Pharisaical mind. They had to make up more and more rules to follow so that everyone could see how very righteous they were, but in adding to God’s Law they were breaking the very thing they pretended to keep. They were hypocrites from their white-washed facades to their rotted cores.

I think Mr B.A.D.’s main point here is entirely correct. A preoccupation with the letter of the Law to the detriment of the spirit of the Law will destroy you, because it will tend to lead you to less obedience in the end, rather than more. It is easy to get lost in the details and forget what is most important. The individual commandments are not the goal, but only individual stones in the road. The goal is Yeshua, and we would all do well to keep our focus on him rather than on precisely measuring our tithes of mint and cumin.

The laws were given to the Jews in order to keep them ceremonially clean, and set aside for God.

The Law was given for many reasons, one of which was to keep the Israelites separate from the pagan nations around them, but this separateness is really more of an effect of the Law than an intent. God gave Israel the Law to teach them to behave better than the Canaanites, not just differently. The specific commandments weren’t arbitrary. God didn’t randomly pick which animals would be clean and unclean, or which fabrics they could and couldn’t mix.

Israel is a holy nation because God chose them from among all other nations to be his special possession. Holiness means “set apart for divine purpose”. Since he made them holy by election, he also wanted them to be holy by behavior. The goal of behaving differently isn’t just to stand out. The Pharisees were great at standing out from the crowd, but terrible at obeying God’s Law. Rather, the goal of God’s rules about behaving differently than the pagans, was to make Israel more beautiful and pleasing to him.

Why should Israel not eat pigs? Because eating pigs is detestable to God. Why should Israel not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together? Because, whether we understand why or not, God hates it.

But that’s not the only reason God gave Israel the Law.

Paul wrote that the Law was also given to define sin for the whole world (Romans 3:19-20).

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:19-20

The whole world–not only the Jews–is accountable to God for their disobedience to the Law. As John wrote, sin is lawlessness, and he didn’t mean the laws of Rome or Babylon. He meant God’s Law. Sin is, by definition, breaking God’s Law. Now that we are saved from condemnation and our sins have been forgiven, are we supposed to forget what sin is and behave in whatever manner we feel is right? Of course not! God’s forgiveness of past sins is not a license to commit future sins.

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Romans 3:31

Now that we have been separated from the world, elevated to the status of a holy people along with the native-born Israelite, we demonstrate our gratefulness and maintain that separation by behaving differently than we behaved when we were still in sin. “Be holy, even as I am holy” in 1 Peter 1:16 is a quote from multiple passages in Leviticus. We have been made holy by divine action, and so God requires us to live accordingly by following the rules he gave for that purpose.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:14-18

So when Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, his blood sacrifice has fulfilled the spirit of the law by making us clean before God and setting us aside for him.

When Yeshua died on the cross he fulfilled the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself more certainly than most of us ever will, but that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of continuing to love our neighbors as ourselves. He took our sin upon him and shed his own blood to fulfill the Law’s requirement for the death of murderers, Sabbath breakers, and the sexually immoral. Yeshua’s blood atones for us and removes us from under the condemnation of the Law, but that is still not a license to ignore God’s standards of behavior. He didn’t die so that we can eat bacon cheeseburgers and sleep with whomever we choose. He died so that we can have eternal life despite our failings.

Acts 15 is not suggesting that Christians can lie, steal, etc etc because such things were not included in the letter.

I agree, and this is something that many people overlook when they read that passage. For the sake of theological argument they interpret James’ ruling as the definitive list of moral behavior for Christians, but then say that Christians also have to keep a long list of other rules. This demonstrates that they don’t even believe their own arguments. Very few people actually think the apostles were really giving new converts permission to steal so long as they didn’t drink blood. The only logical conclusion is that the apostles were giving a starting point and expected the converts to continue learning and improving their behavior from there. What curriculum did they expect these gentiles to use for furthering their education in morality and religion? Torah.

For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.
Acts 15:21

The controversy in Acts 15 was never about whether the Law applied to gentile believers in Yeshua–Romans 3:19 makes it clear that the Law applies to all people, believers or not–but about whether obedience to the Law was necessary for salvation. We are no longer “under the Law” because we have been set free from its power to condemn, but we are still accountable to God for keeping his commandments and maintaining his standard of acceptable behavior.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:1

Keeping the Law of Moses cannot remove the guilt of prior sins nor earn you eternal salvation, but if viewed properly, it can improve your life, your community, and your relationship with God. “Be holy, because I am holy,” God said, not because he wants us to be weird, but because he loves some behaviors and hates others. If we are the Bride of Christ, we should behave like it. What man wants his bride to wear filthy rags and smell like an outhouse?

How Do the Ten Commandments Relate to the Christian?

Should Christians keep the Ten Commandments?

A long-time Internet acquaintance asked a couple of questions in an open forum many years ago, and I reproduce her questions and my responses here…

1) How should Christians regard the ten commandments? (Not rhetorical; I really want to know.)

Paul told the Roman Christians that the Law defines sin. Without the written commandments, our ability to discern what is and is not sin is seriously hobbled. He specifically used one of the ten commandments to illustrate his point.

Romans 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

As Paul pointed out, it is impossible to sin by keeping the Law, aka Torah. (Of course, it is possible to sin by keeping one part of the Torah, while ignoring another part as the Pharisees did.) This is because sin is, by definition, the breaking of the Law, not the keeping of it (1 John 3:4).

You can think of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 as a summary of all of the rest of the Law (sometimes numbered at 613, by I think that count is dubious), and they are in turn are summarized by the Two Commandments that Yeshua quoted in Matthew 22 and Mark 12:

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 [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:35-40

Allow me to illustrate with a short table.

The TwoLove GodLove Neighbor
An example from the TenHave no other godsDo not covet
An example from the 613Do not worship YHWH in the same way the pagans worship their gods.Do not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain

Because we love God, we will have no other gods. If we have no other gods, we will worship him in the ways he wants to be worshiped and not the way those other gods want. Because we love our neighbor, we will not covet those things that belong to him. If we do not covet our neighbor’s possessions, we will not steal his crops.

Every Christian knows –or ought to know–that sin is a bad thing. If that’s a point of contention, then we have much deeper problems than whether or not the Law defines sin. And if the Law defines sin as Paul and John both said, then it logically follows that we ought to be studying and keeping the Law. Not because a single mistake will send us to hell, but because we owe it to God. How can anyone say he loves God and then ignore his commandments? Or do they really believe that Paul was lying when he said that all of the commandments are summed up in love?

2) As a relatively new convert, one thing that’s also confused me is how to answer people who ask why Christians include the Old Testament in the Christian Bible. I’ve encountered Jews who didn’t know that we include the Torah in the Christian Bible and study it in church. They were curious about this practice, but I wasn’t sure I had the correct explanation for them. Is it to establish the context for the New Testament?

One of the earliest major heresies that the Christian church had to deal with is called Marcionism. In some ways it was the opposite of the Judaizers that Paul dealt with through much of his ministry. Where the Judaizers added laws and traditions on top of God’s Law, the Marcionites threw out the entire Old Testament and much of the New as well. They taught that the God of the Hebrews was a malevolent deity who actually hated the Jews and gave them the Torah as a punishment. Jesus was a new God who overthrew YHWH and all of his oppressive laws. They kept Paul’s writings because it was easy to twist his words around to justify their lawlessness. These were the people that Peter warned so strongly against when he wrote,

2 Peter 3:16 …There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

This Marcionism is almost identical with the feel-good, no-rules Christianity of today. Marcion is alive and well in your home town and every place where Christians reject God’s word as outdated and superseded by a new gospel of “love” unfounded on any real principles or standards, but on feelings and that most deceitful of all voices: the heart.

What we call the Old Testament was the only set of scriptures the first century church had for many years. The apostles referred to them constantly throughout their letters. Yeshua preached from the Torah and the Prophets. Indeed much of the New Testament is completely incomprehensible without a solid foundation in the Old Testament.

The thing that baffles me is that most Christian churches really do understand this and yet they still ignore the Old Testament, especially the Torah, and so they keep falling for the same old lies. It’s truly a spiritual psychosis.

Should Christians keep the Ten Commandments? If they claim to follow the two greatest commandments, they absolutely should.

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (the short version)

I shared this with my subscribers in May of 2021, but now I’m making it available here for everyone.

Romans Is Pro-Torah

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is among the most pro-Torah books of the entire New Testament, but it is commonly taught as if it’s one of the most anti-Torah!

Many people understand Romans 14 to say that all of God’s instructions concerning clean and unclean meat and the weekly Sabbath are no longer relevant to the Christian. They say that those who still cling to such distinctions are “weak in faith” because they aren’t trusting in Yeshua’s death and resurrection to fulfill all of the requirements of the Law. They make a point, in direct contradiction to Paul’s instructions according to their own understanding, of berating any brother who disagrees, shaming them, and even banishing them from their fellowships.

This chapter is almost always taken as a complete literary unit that stands on its own without reference to the surrounding text, to the rest of Scripture, or to historical context. In that light (or lack of light), it’s easy to make any passage say something contrary to its intended meaning. But after reading thirteen chapters of Paul repeatedly tell his readers that keeping the Law is a good thing–avoid sin, uphold the Law, live righteously, obey the commandments, etc.–does it really make sense that he would suddenly switch tack and say the exact opposite?

Since Paul didn’t write anything in this letter about pork or rodents, but he did write about vegetarianism, it makes much more sense to assume he is addressing eating meat versus eating only vegetables. And since he made no mention of the Sabbath or any other of God’s appointed days, doesn’t it make more sense that “one person esteems one day as better than another” in the middle of a conversation about food is about which days of the week are best for fasting?

To many readers today, that seems like a silly argument–and it is!–but it was a serious controversy in the first century, and Christians were still debating it decades later when the Didache was written. Some religious groups fasted on one day of the week and some on another. This Christian fasted on Thursday so that people wouldn’t think he was part of that new cult from Persia, while that Christian fasted on Wednesday so people wouldn’t think he was a Jew. When you could be ostracized, beaten, or even killed for being associated with the wrong religion, your choice of a fasting day becomes a much bigger issue than it might seem in today’s America.

Did this ever come up as a possible explanation for Romans 14 at Wednesday night Bible study? Probably not.

Romans, Chapter by Chapter

In order to get a more accurate understanding of what Paul was trying to communicate, I have written this brief survey of the book, with short summaries of each chapter.

The next time you read Romans, refer back to this survey to keep each chapter in the context of the whole letter, and I hope it will aid you in understanding some difficult texts and in refuting the antinomian lies we have all inherited and even internalized to some extent.

Chapter 1 – The righteous live by faith, but the unrighteous ignore the Law of God and their own consciences in order to do what they please. By consistently behaving contrary to what they know to be right, they eventually destroy their ability to make that distinction at all and earn the enmity of God and the condemnation of his Law.

Chapter 2 – God is just to condemn those who behave wickedly and to rescue those who behave righteously regardless of their ethnic origins. It isn’t enough to say the right things, you must also do them. All those who obey God out of love and faith are living up to the name of Yehudah (meaning “praised”), whether they are born into Israel or not.

Chapter 3 – The Jews have a great advantage in that they have inherited the Scriptures, but everyone is accountable to God for his own sin, and everyone sins. Fortunately, we are not made right with God by the merit of our works, but by our faith in the redemption purchased by Yeshua (Jesus). We don’t obey God’s Law in order to earn salvation, but because we have faith in him.

Chapter 4 – The covenant of salvation was given to Abraham for his faith, not for his obedience. Circumcision is not a condition of the covenant, but a sign of it, and his heirs also receive the covenant without regard to their prior obedience. If the covenant depended on obedience, we would all be lost, and now we too can inherit Abraham’s covenant through our faith in God.

Chapter 5 – Yeshua’s death enabled our reconciliation with God. The world was condemned by the sin of one man and saved by the obedience of Yeshua. The Law magnifies our individual sins, but it also magnifies the grace of God which rescued us from death earned by sin to eternal life earned by his righteousness.

Chapter 6 – Through his death, Yeshua rescued us from the eternal death we deserved because of our sins. The only appropriate response is to repent from all sin and live according to God’s Law. If we go on living in sin, we will be enslaved again to it. He set us free from slavery to sin in order to become slaves of righteousness to God. We obey God’s Law in response to his free gift of eternal life.

Chapter 7 – Through the physical death of Messiah, we died spiritually to the condemnation of the Law. Through his resurrection, we are enabled to live and bear fruit in righteousness. The Law defines sin, but our old sinful natures gravitate to that which is opposed to God, turning the Law that was meant for life into death through our disobedience. The Law does not bring death, but our violation of the Law does. Even while we believe in God and long to obey him in our hearts, a part of us is always in rebellion, drawing us back into slavery to sin.

Chapter 8 – Yeshua released us from the condemnation we deserved, enabling the Spirit of God to live in us, manifesting in a mind focused on the Spirit and living righteously rather than on the flesh and living according to its sinful desires. The flesh constantly pulls us back, but we have been made children of God and only have to cry out to him. His Spirit helps us and intercedes for us, gradually transforming us to be more like Yeshua through our trials and conflicts. We may suffer all kinds of external trials, but none of these things can ever separate us from the Love of God.

Chapter 9 – God’s promises to Israel are certain, but not all who are descended from Israel are counted as Israel. Believing gentiles are counted by God as his people, and only a remnant of natural Israel will be saved. Those Israelites who tried to earn their salvation through the Law will lose it because they didn’t obey through faith.

Chapter 10 – Messiah is the goal of obedience to the Law for all who obey in faith. The Law promotes a better life, but it is only through faith and submission to Yeshua that we are truly saved. The natural descendants of Israel can’t appeal to ignorance because all of Scripture points to Yeshua.

Chapter 11 – God has not rejected natural Israel. He will always preserve a remnant of those who believe in him rather than in their own obedience. Some natural branches of the tree of Israel have been cut off and believing gentiles have been grafted in, but God can as easily cut off those gentiles again and graft the natural back in. The whole tree of Israel will be saved by this process of cutting out the bad and grafting in the good, but God’s promises to the descendants of Israel can never be revoked, and he will forgive those who repent. We have all sinned and God shows mercy to us all equally.

Chapter 12 – God showed mercy to forgive your sins, so don’t live as if you’re still part of the world. Don’t be proud in your salvation or in the spiritual gifts that God has given. We are all one body and we are all important to its health and function. Work for each other’s good. Live in harmony with everyone as much as possible with humility and without prejudice. Respond to animosity with kindness, forbearance, and honor.

Chapter 13 – Submit to whatever authorities are over you where you are and give them the respect and honor due their position. All of God’s Law can be summarized in the single commandment, love your neighbor as yourself. We are living in dark days, so live in the light, by living in obedience to God’s commandments and showing love to each other. Live like Yeshua lived rather than giving into the sinful desires of your flesh.

Chapter 14 – Welcome those whose faith is not as strong as yours and don’t berate them for their weaknesses. Don’t get caught up in worthless arguments over whether to eat meat or be a vegetarian and on what day to fast completely. Live according to your own consciences, not condemning each other for differences of opinion. Our lives are no longer our own, but we all live and die for the sake of God. None of us are perfect, and we will all answer for our own failings. Be considerate of each other’s opinions and don’t tempt or offend a brother contrary to his conscience. Food and drink are relatively minor issues in the Kingdom of God. It’s not a sin to eat meat or drink wine, but don’t do it if it creates a problem for a brother.

Chapter 15 – We should make allowances for the weaknesses of our brothers. We should learn from the example of Yeshua and from the Scriptures and may God help us to live in unity. Messiah became a servant for all, both Jew and Gentile. Overall, you’re doing well, even if you need some correction. I will visit you when I can after I go to Jerusalem but pray for my deliverance from unbelievers there.

Chapter 16 – Be generous and welcoming to the men and women who serve the Kingdom in their various capacities and give my greetings to all those in your community who also work faithfully for the Kingdom. Do not allow anyone to cause division among you but remain faithful to God in the preaching of the Gospel and obedience to his commandments.

Conclusion

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is very clear in some ways and very cloudy in others. Chapter 14 is especially confusing for many Christians for two reasons: 1) They have inherited an antinomian (anti-Law) view of Jesus and Paul, and so they interpret everything in that light, and 2) At least half of the conversation is missing, so it’s easy to fill in the gaps with what we’ve been taught rather than what Scripture actually says. Reading our own assumptions into a text is known as eisegesis, and it’s always a bad idea.

Paul’s original readers understood the full context of his words because he wrote them in response to a controversy they were experiencing at that moment. In order to understand what he intended for them to get out of his letter, we need to separate what we think he meant from what he actually wrote. Once we are able to do that, we are free to consider his words within the context of the whole of Scripture (not just the New Testament or Paul’s other letters) and of the controversies that we know were an issue at the time (not just the controversies we’ve been told were an issue).

Taken at face value, Romans 14 isn’t really that difficult to understand and isn’t anti-Torah at all.

Gentiles and the Law in Romans 2

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. Romans 2:13

In another attempt to say that Christians have no obligation to keep the Law of Moses (aka God’s Law), Freddy wrote, “Paul tells us in Romans that the Gentiles who have no law do by nature what law empells them to do so they are a law unto themselves.”

Here is the passage to which Freddy is alluding:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Romans 2:13-16 ESV

Clearly there is nothing here that implies that being “a law unto themselves” excuses Gentiles from keeping the Law. In fact, Paul said exactly the opposite in this very passage: God will judge them according to their obedience of what they understand of his Law, even if they don’t know that it is his Law. Let me paraphrase and expand this passage to clarify what I believe Paul intended:

Nobody is righteous in God’s eyes merely because he knows the Law. The righteous, those who are justified by God’s mercy, are not those who know what the Law says, but those who actually do what the Law says. Consider Gentiles who have never heard Moses taught in a synagogue. When they instinctively do what God commanded us to do in the Law, even though they know nothing of Moses, it is as if they are Moses, the stone tablets, and the scrolls in themselves. Their actions show that, in their hearts, they already know the basic dos-and-donts of the Law. Not just their visible deeds, but also when their consciences prompt them to do good or make them feel guilty for doing wrong. Since at some level they know what is right and wrong, that knowledge will serve as a witness to their obedience or disobedience to the Law when God, through Jesus Christ, judges all of our hidden deeds and thoughts, as the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven requires.
Romans 2:13-16 (Paraphrased and Amplified)

In other words, at the final judgment, God will hold everyone–Jew or Gentile–accountable for their disobedience to what they instinctively understand of his Law, whether they have read the Bible or not. As Paul pointed out in the previous chapter, Romans 1, everyone is born with a basic understanding of right and wrong as defined by God’s eternal Law. By refusing to heed our conscience, we gradually silence it, but our willful deafness will not be a defense. We can’t claim ignorance of the Law today when we knew yesterday.

Galatians and the Abuse of Paul

What did Paul mean by "weak and worthless elementary principles of the world" in Galatians 4:9?

Someone named Daniel made the following argument against believers in Yeshua being obedient to God’s Law as given through Moses:

Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

-Daniel

Context, context, context. Modern Christians hear too many sermons and don’t do enough studying and thinking.

Daniel is alluding to a couple of Paul’s statements in the Letter to the Galatians, but he ignored the context and re-interpreted these statements to mean something other than what Paul intended. This isn’t entirely Daniel’s fault. His teachers all likely did the same thing. Here is the original passage:

Galatians 3:21-29  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.  (22)  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  (23)  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  (24)  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  (25)  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,  (26)  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  (27)  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  (28)  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29)  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 4:1-11  I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything,  (2)  but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  (3)  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  (4)  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  (5)  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  (6)  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  (7)  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.  (8)  Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.  (9)  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?  (10)  You observe days and months and seasons and years!  (11)  I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Paul Is Easy to Take Out of Context

By reading and quoting small bits of this letter out of context, Christians are able to say that the Law is irrelevant to them. Paul wrote that no one can be saved by keeping the Law, and many Christians point to that and say, “See? Paul said we don’t need to keep the Law.”

This is nonsense. It’s like saying we don’t need pens and paper to do our jobs because we didn’t need them to get to the office. Just because you don’t need to keep the Law to be saved, doesn’t mean you don’t need to keep the Law after you are saved. The conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the argument.

I am going to deconstruct this passage, paraphrasing and amplifying one piece at a time. First, I want to establish the reason that Paul included this discussion in his letter at all.

Galatians 1:6-7 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– (7) not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

After Paul had introduced the Galatians to faith in Yeshua, some other people came and began giving them a false teaching. But what was the false teaching? Rather than stating it outright, Paul summarized his own ministry of the past 20 years. He wrote of how he had once persecuted the Christians, but was converted by a miraculous encounter with Yeshua, after which he began preaching the gospel to gentiles. Many years later, some Pharisees had infiltrated the Christian congregations and were insisting that the gentiles should be circumcised and keep the whole Law before they could be considered true members of the congregation. Again he traveled to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles, and they agreed that salvation was not by circumcision and works, but by faith. James, Peter, and the other Disciples wrote a letter to the new Gentile congregations with four rules just to get them started in the right direction because “Moses is read aloud in every synagogue”.

That controversy was not about whether gentiles should keep the Law or learn it; it was only about justification, or salvation from sin. (See “Does Acts 15 Say We Can Ignore God’s Law” for a more detailed discussion of that event.) Later, Peter visited the congregation in Antioch. While there, he sat and ate with gentiles and Jews alike, but when some Jews arrived from Jerusalem, he stopped eating with the gentiles. Paul confronted him about it because Peter’s own vision had shown him that he should not hesitate to fellowship with gentiles. Besides that, there was nothing in the Mosaic Law to prevent a Jew from eating with a gentile. That was only a rule that had been invented by men and was never from God.

Galatians 2:15-21 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; (16) yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (17) But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

At this point Paul clearly established that he was not writing about living a good life of upright behavior, but about eternal spiritual justification, about salvation: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Yeshua the Messiah.”

Paul said that, even though he and the apostles were Jews, they knew that they were saved in the same way as the gentiles: through faith in Yeshua, and not by works of the law. But as James pointed out, this did not stop them from keeping the Law, only in relying upon it for their salvation (James 2:18).

Galatians 2:18-19  For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. (19) For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

This thing that Paul is writing against is the same thing that he had previously torn down, but what was that thing? Not the Law itself as he repeatedly pointed out in the Letter to the Romans, but rather the legalism of attempting to earn salvation through obedience to the Law, especially to man-made laws that frequently ran counter to God’s Law. To go back to depending on the Law for salvation when it was never sufficient either before or after the cross would be counterproductive in the extreme.

Having established that the controversy in Galatia was not about how people ought to live, but how they are to be saved, let’s skip ahead to the passage that Daniel quoted.

What Was Galatians Really About?

Galatians 3:21  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.

There is no conflict between Law and Grace if they are both used properly. God’s promise of salvation is alluded to in the Law, but is not provided for by the Law. Put another way, the Mosaic Law was never intended to save anyone from sin that has already been committed. There are provisions in it for enabling sinners to approach God despite their sin, but there is no provision to permanently remove that sin. That was never its purpose.

Total righteousness–the complete absence of sin–is not possible under the Mosaic Law and never was. Of course, there is another kind of righteousness that comes from obedience to the Law, unless Moses was lying in Deuteronomy 6:25, but that is not the righteousness that Paul was addressing here. It is has value, but all of the law-abiding righteousness in the world can’t erase a single instance of law-breaking. In Galatians 3:21, Paul was discussing to a greater righteousness that goes beyond mere actions of the flesh.

(22)  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

The Scriptures written on stone and parchment would not have been necessary if we were able to maintain God’s standards perfectly. It’s very existence proves that we are imperfect. Because we are sinners, God gave us the Law to teach us how to behave, and also to serve as a witness and judge against us in our sins. When we sin, the Law testifies against us, and we come under its authority to condemn. If it weren’t for the written Law, many people would not even know that they were “imprisoned” by it because of their sin and would be unaware that they needed a savior. For those who become aware of their need, God has also made promises of redemption in the same document.

(23)  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.

Paul did not mean that faith came at a particular moment in time for all people everywhere. Faith did not come after Yeshua’s crucifixion or even after Pentecost. If it did, then Abraham’s faith could not have been counted as righteousness (Galatians 3:6). Faith has come to individuals in all ages. Enoch, Moses, David, and Paul were all saved by faith and set free from the condemnation that came from their guilt under the Law. Those who have not yet found faith in Yeshua are still held captive to the Law because their failure to obey it, keeps them under its authority to condemn.

The Law As a Schoolmaster

(24)  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

The Greek word paidagogos is translated as guardian, schoolmaster, or tutor, depending on the translation you’re reading. According to David Stern (Jewish New Testament Commentary), the paidagogos functioned as a disciplinarian who ensured children arrived at their school safely and on time. Because the paidagogos does not exist in our culture, none of those translations are quite right. Young’s Literal Translation renders it as “child-conductor,” which is probably as accurate as one could hope for.

I think the King James Version is very instructive here.

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

Notice that “to bring us” is in italics, which means that those words were not in the original Greek text. They were inserted by the translators to help the reader understand what they believed the passage to be saying. The added words don’t detract from the meaning in the KJV, but the English Standard Version, from which I have been quoting throughout this series, is misleading in this case, especially because it doesn’t include the italics. The ESV translators (as well as the International Standard translators) took a huge liberty with this verse, contrary to almost every translation before them. The Rheims New Testament, Bishops Bible, and Geneva Bible (all 16th century) agree with the KJV. So does the American Standard, Darby, and Young’s translations (all 19th-20th century).

The Law was not a paidagogos until Christ, but unto Christ. The difference in prepositions is very important. The Law leads us to the Messiah by illustrating the principles that require a savior, by demonstrating our inability to save ourselves, and by prophesying of his coming, not to mention the many, many allusions to the Messiah’s role in the physical and spiritual salvation of Israel. To this day, the Law continues to function as a “schoolmaster unto Christ” for everyone who doesn’t yet know him.

(25)  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,  (26)  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Paul’s illustration of the paidagogus is a metaphor, and it’s always important not to add more meaning to any metaphor than the author intends. Since Paul only said that the Law is like a paidagogus in the sense that it leads us to Christ, we abuse the text by trying to make it say that the Law functions as a paidagogus in every conceivable circumstance.

Now that the Law has demonstrated our need for salvation and shown us the way to obtain it, we no longer need it for that purpose. This is not to say that we don’t need the Law for other purposes. Having come to faith, we are not to go on sinning.

We know that the Law defines sin.

Peter, John, and Paul all explained that one of the purposes of the Law is to show us our sin. If it didn’t define sin, how could neither convict us or inform of our need for a savior? If something was a sin before faith, it makes no sense to think it somehow becomes not sin after faith. Having “put on Christ” (v27), we are not allowed to rely on his covering to hide continuous sin. We are required to continue striving for perfection, not to earn salvation, but because righteous behavior is pleasing to God.

The great benefit of faith in this regard is that it removes any worry of failure. We obey out of love for our Savior, but we don’t need to be terrified of instant condemnation if we fail in any small point, because we know he will forgive us when we sin.

I am going to skip a few verses to make a couple of final points.

Elementary Principles of the World

Galatians 4:8-9  Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.  (9)  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

What are these “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” to which the Galatians were once enslaved? We can’t know the specifics of what they were, but we can know for an absolute certainty that they were not God’s Laws as Daniel implied in his comment. The Galatians were very much enslaved to the Law, but only because they were sinners, not because they were trapped in Pharisaical Judaism.

The answer is only a single sentence away, and I am astonished that any Christian who has actually read Galatians can think Paul was referring to Torah! Those “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” were false gods and religions, not God’s Law! Verse seven says, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.”

Indeed, Daniel, it doesn’t get any clearer than that.

The Galatians were pagans before they came to faith in Yeshua, not Jews. How could they return to a Judaism that they had never known? When Paul wrote that they were turning back to those former principles, he meant that by attempting to earn their salvation by works, they were returning to the same principles that had informed their former idolatry. When they were idol worshipers they appeased their gods by speaking the right incantations and offering the right sacrifices on the right days.

What Is the Law to a Christian?

There was never any eternal salvation in such things whether they originated in pagan idolatry or in God’s perfect Law. You cannot be saved through the rigorous observance of days, months, seasons, and years no matter what days or seasons they are.

You can, however, learn a great deal about who God is and how he relates to you by keeping his commands, including his holy days.

Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

So this Spring, try removing unleavened bread from your house during the week of Passover. This Fall, get yourself a family sized tent and find a group of people celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. Or build yourself a sukka.

Love God and love your neighbor. God’s Law, the Torah, shows you how to do that.

Study, do, and live. Obeying God’s instructions will never steer you wrong. By definition, keeping the commandments can never be sin.

There’s No Rest without Submission

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:29-30

Years ago, when Robert was in college, one of his more socially awkward classmates, Bennie, showed up at his dorm room–this was before cell phones were ubiquitous–eager to make a new friend and maybe hang out for awhile. Unfortunately, Robert already had all the friends he wanted and told Bennie to get lost; he wasn’t wanted there. He still remembers the look on Bennie’s face.

Nicole had three children, but she was never a mother to them. She had a nanny who took care of their daily needs, took them to school, and read stories to them at bedtime. When her daughter had an abortion at sixteen, Nicole didn’t find out until six months later. When her son was arrested for drug possession, her husband bailed him out and she pretended nothing happened. Today, her daughter hasn’t spoken to her in over a decade, and she has three grandchildren she’s never met.

We all have regrets. We all harbor guilt. Some of us more than others, deservedly or not.

Matthew 11:28-30 contains a chiasm on finding rest in Yeshua (aka Jesus).

  • A – V28 – Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden
    • B – I will give you rest
      • C – V29 – Take my yoke upon you
        • D – Learn from me
      • C – I am gentle and lowly in heart
    • B – You will find rest for your souls
  • A – V30 – My yoke is easy and my burden is light

I have heard people say that “Jesus is my Sabbath”, and that’s not a bad sentiment as long as it’s only meant metaphorically. Some people want to take an idea like that too literally, as if believing in Yeshua alleviates all other physical and spiritual needs. The Sabbath is a day of the week, and Yeshua isn’t a day of the week. He does give us rest, but not the kind of rest that eliminates the need for a day off from work.

The rest that Yeshua gives is spiritual and emotional in nature. He alleviates our fears, heals our wounds, and enables us to develop a full relationship with our Heavenly Father.

The labors and burdens that Yeshua spoke of in Matthew 11:28 are not physical. He wasn’t speaking only to manual laborers, but also to tax collectors, entertainers, and CEOs. Suffering is relative. From the outside, it might appear that a brick layer carries a heavier burden than a house wife, but inner burdens can’t be measured by weight or volume. A harsh word at the wrong moment can often cause a deeper, more lasting wound than a knife that slips and cuts the flesh. The worries of a parent can be more damaging in the long run to a person’s health than the repetitive stress of hammering nails. These are the burdens that Yeshua primarily meant and that he wants to help us with.

Guilt, regret, worry… they weigh heavily on everyone, but God can give us relief if we will put our faith in Yeshua. Having faith in him means trusting his promises and teaching, but most of all it means being faithful to him, submitting ourselves to his sovereignty over our lives.

“Take my yoke upon you”, he said. He wants to take the yoke of sin and self that has enslaved us, but it’s impossible to live without a master. It’s part of the nature of being human. The old yoke cannot come off our shoulders unless it is immediately replaced with Yeshua’s. We have to be willing to take his yoke in its place or he cannot take ours.

This passage says, “If you are burdened, come to Yeshua, who will give you rest through a lighter burden.” But at the very center of the chiasm, Yeshua says “Learn from me.” In other words, become his disciple and learn by studying and following his example.

Once you have decided to put our faith in Yeshua, to believe what he told us, he will accept you into his house. Once you are in his house, learn from his words and deeds, and become an imitator of Yeshua, as Paul instructed the believers at Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:1.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. -The Apostle Paul

There is no expiration on the teachings of our Master. In Matthew 24:35, he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Everything he taught to the Twelve Disciples and the people of first century Judea is applicable to us now:

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Be slow to anger and quick to forgive.
  • Don’t worry about the future and all that the world might do to you.
  • Trials and persecution are inevitable, but so is salvation for those who trust in him.
  • Keep the instructions of God as given through Moses and the Prophets.

Do you want rest for your soul? Then put your faith in Yeshua, take the yoke of his discipleship on your shoulders, and learn to live and love as he did. Your difficulties and labors won’t disappear, but as you learn more of his character and incorporate it into your own life, those troubles will grow lighter and lighter over time.


A brief video teaching on the same passage…

Did Paul Behave Differently with Jews and Gentiles?

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 1 Corinthians 9:20

During a lengthy argument between pronomians and antinomians in an online forum, one Torah-keeper asked “Why did Paul go with other Christian brothers and sacrifice sheep at the Temple?”

Someone on the other side of the argument replied…

Why? That easy: 1 Corinthians 9:20

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. “

-NorOb

In other words, NorOb believes that Paul was a good actor. He was just pretending to do Jewish things to trick the Jews into thinking he was just like them. When Jews complained that Paul was teaching other Jews to abandon Torah, he took a Nazirite vow and made a blood sacrifice at the Temple, paying for several other men to do the same thing to demonstrate that those Jews were in error. If NorOb’s interpretation is correct, then Paul only did this to pretend that he still kept the Law. As soon as he was back among gentiles, he resumed eating pork chops.

This is not a reasonable interpretation. Once again, it is a misunderstanding based on one statement taken out of its original context. Here’s the same verse with the surrounding text:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Unless NorOb is a true antinomian and libertine, I seriously doubt that he believes that “I have become all things to all people” means Paul fornicated in order to witness to fornicators. He didn’t starve himself and cause his muscles to atrophy so that he could become weak in order to win the weak over to Christ. His intended meaning should be very clear to those who have done actual street ministry or door-to-door witnessing.

Paul didn’t become lawless so that he could win the lawless or legalistic to win the legalistic. Instead he did the same thing that Yeshua did with prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, and rabbis: he spoke to them where they were and in terms they could understand. He did not pretend to be something he was not. In order to convince deeply religious Jews that Yeshua is the Messiah, Paul wrote of the priesthood and tabernacle (the Letter to the Hebrews, probably). In order to introduce Greeks to the Creator, he spoke to them of their own Unknown God (Acts 17:21-34).

I am certain that Paul did not mean what NorOb asserted, and Paul himself confirmed it. First, in the very same passage, Paul said that he did not operate outside of God’s Law.

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
1 Corinthians 9:21

Second, only a few sentences later, he wrote that he kept his body under strict discipline so as not to compromise his witness.

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:27

In other words, he strictly monitored and controlled his own behavior so that nobody would have cause to call him a hypocrite. He was consistent in lifestyle, morality, worship, and theology, not changing his behavior based on the company at hand. Paul called Peter on the carpet for the very thing that NorOb accused him of:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Galatians 2:11-14

Third, he said that he remained a Pharisee in regards to the Law his entire life. He always kept the Law no matter where he was or who was watching.

My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.
Acts 26:4-5

Either Paul lied to Agrippa or else he continued to live as a Pharisee at all times during his many missionary trips among both Jews and Gentiles recorded in the book of Acts. 

It is abundantly clear from Paul’s own extensive testimony that he did not sacrifice at the Temple only so that he could appear to be a Jew in the eyes of other Jews. He sacrificed at the Temple because he really was a Torah-observant Jew in every way and continued as such throughout his entire life.

And he wrote…

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1

Be obedient like Paul and like Christ. Be straightforward and consistent in your moral behavior, like Paul and like Christ.