Preface: Ten Common Questions Regarding Torah Observance for Gentile Christians

 

If you are like me, sometimes you want to know an author’s main point within a few minutes of delving into one of his studies.  This way you can decide if you want to invest the time it will take to read the next few hundred pages he wrote in support of his main thesis.  That being the case, I will go ahead and tip my cards to you, my readers, right from the beginning.  From my limited experience of studying Paul with many well-meaning folks, both Jewish and Gentile, layman and seminarians, I have found that those who study Paul fall into essentially two often opposing camps when it comes to interpreting and practically applying his letter to the Galatians: 1) Lutheran (Reformation) Paul, and 2) New Perspective on Paul (NPP). 

 

The first school of thought—Lutheran Paul—represents essentially the traditional reading of Paul, the popular reading of Paul, the prevailing perspective of Paul within standard Christianity.  This hermeneutic for the most part espouses to a belief that Paul seems to depict Judaism as coldly and calculatingly legalistic, a system of ‘works’ righteousness, where salvation is earned by the merit of good works.  To quote James D.G. Dunn, “Since Paul’s teaching on justification by faith seems to speak so directly to Luther’s subjective wrestlings, it was a natural corollary to see Paul’s opponents in terms of the unreformed Catholicism which opposed Luther, with first-century Judaism read through the ‘grid’ of the early sixteenth-century Catholic system of merit. To a remarkable and indeed alarming degree, throughout this century the standard depiction of the Judaism which Paul rejected has been the reflex of Lutheran hermeneutic.”[1]  This view of Paul often interprets Paul as preaching a “Law-free” gospel, where believers in Yeshua (Jesus) are set free from the “bondages” of the Law of Moses and are instead obligated by the Law of Christ.  While I actually agree with most of the central, foundational truths of Christianity, and even though I too am not ashamed to call myself a “Christian,” for the most part, as a Messianic Jewish man who believes that the promise of the New Covenant teaches that the Law of God (Torah) is written on my heart and that by his Spirit I am subsequently empowered and covenant bound to keep it, I’m afraid that I simply cannot espouse to the prevailing, traditional Christian views that teach that much of the Torah (ceremonial and civil) is not for [Gentile] believers in Christ.

 

In fact, with the exception of the rejection of the ongoing relevance of the so-called “ceremonial” and “civil” parts of the Law, I firmly believe Luther and Calvin (Lutheran Paul and Reformation Paul perspectives) did their jobs well, and I commend and respect them for that.  In contrast to what many NPP advocates often assume, I sincerely believe they demonstrated their understanding of Paul quite accurately, yet felt the need to contextualize his message for their respective modern audiences.  In other words, Luther (and Calvin after him) did what any good preacher should do with the timeless Word of God: interpret it and apply it to the current situation you are faced with.  In this regard, to the degree that Gentile Christians are assured of their genuine covenant standing as securely rooted in the finished work of Messiah—as Gentiles,—Lutheran Paul and Reformation Paul are necessary and accurate applications of Paul's words.  That being said, however, Lutheran Paul and Reformation Paul are not the same thing as 1st century Paul.  And that is why I believe we need, to some degree, all three views on Paul.  For indeed, with the unfortunate exception of today’s modern Messianic Jewish Movement and its ugly tendency to relegate Gentile Christians as 2nd class citizens in their congregations, most historic and modern Gentile Christians are not entertaining notions of taking on legal Jewish status for the ostensible sake of becoming genuine covenant members in Isra'el.  No, for the mainstream Christian Church in general, this socio-religious power struggle seems to have been a uniquely 1st century Jewish-Gentile dilemma.

 

The more recent school of thought—New Perspective on Paul—represents a break from Lutheran Paul in an effort to place Paul more sharply focused within the specific 1st century religious Jewish communities that he existed among.  The “seminal” work that introduced this new perspective to mainstream Christianity was published in 1977 under the title ‘Paul and Palestinian Judaism,’ written by E.P. Sanders, a Christian and New Testament scholar.  Comparing Sanders to the Lutheran Paul, Dunn again notes:

 

Sanders, however, has built up a different presentation of Palestinian Judaism at the time of Paul. From a massive treatment of much of the relevant Jewish literature for that period, a rather different picture emerges. In particular, he has shown with sufficient weight of evidence that for the first-century Jew, Israel’s covenant relation with God was basic, basic to the Jew’s sense of national identity and to his understanding of his religion. So far as we can tell now, for first-century Judaism everything was an elaboration of the fundamental axiom that the one God had chosen Israel to be his peculiar people, to enjoy a special relationship under his rule. The law had been given as an expression of this covenant, to regulate and maintain the relationship established by the covenant. So, too, righteousness must be seen in terms of this relationship, as referring to conduct appropriate to this relationship, conduct in accord with the law. That is to say, obedience to the law in Judaism was never thought of as a means of entering the covenant, of attaining that special relationship with God; it was more a matter of maintaining the covenant relationship with God. From this Sanders draws out his key phrase to characterize first-century Palestinian Judaism – ‘covenantal nomism.’[2]

 

Therefore, with regards to how to better understand Paul's writings from within his own Judaisms and their 1st century covenant relationships, and to make his theological arguments more sociologically relevant from their perspective, Sanders employs a method of logic he describes as “getting in” and “staying in,” where “getting in” deals with election and “staying in” deals with obedience.  The interpretations of ‘works of the Law’ and ‘justified’ (viz, status of righteousness) in Paul become tipping points of disagreement between the traditional Lutheran perspective on Paul and this newer perspective. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the ongoing (sometimes heated) debates over how to properly interpret and practically apply Galatians 2:16, a verse that uses both of these foundationally important Jewish concepts:

 

“…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” (Gal 2:16, ESV).

 

Sanders describes his own understanding of ‘works of the Law’ and ‘righteousness’ in Paul thusly:

 

One does not find in Paul any trace of the Greek and Hellenistic Jewish distinction between being righteous (man/man) and pious (man/God); nor is righteousness in Paul one virtue among others. Here, however, there is also a major shift; for to be righteous in Jewish literature means to obey the Torah and to repent of transgression, but in Paul it means to be saved by Christ. Most succinctly, righteousness in Judaism is a term which implies the maintenance of status among the group of the elect; in Paul it is a transfer term. In Judaism, that is, commitment to the covenant puts one 'in', while obedience (righteousness) subsequently keeps one in. In Paul's usage, 'be made righteous' ('be justified') is a term indicating getting in, not staying in the body of the saved. Thus when Paul says that one cannot be made righteous by works of law, he means that one cannot, by works of law, 'transfer to the body of the saved'. When Judaism said that one is righteous who obeys the law, the meaning is that one thereby stays in the covenant. The debate about righteousness by faith or by works of law thus turns out to result from the different usage of the 'righteous' word-group.[3]

 

I want my readers to know right up front that I do NOT believe one can be counted as forensically righteous (viz, saved) by keeping the Torah.  For that matter, I do NOT believe God ever expected perfect obedience, or that the Bible insinuates a hypothetical perfect Law-keeping anywhere at all.  For one thing, all of the laws cannot be enacted by a single individual because the totality of them were not designed by God to be done by a single individual (some are for kings, some for priests, some for men, others for women, etc.).  However, the “word is in [our] mouth and heart so that [we] can do it” (Deut 30:14), and “his commandments are not “burdensome” (1 John 5:3), and it is possible to be “righteous before God and walk blamelessly in all the statutes and commandments” (Luke 1:6), and “the righteous requirement of the Law [is] fulfilled in us,” (Rom 8:4), and in point of fact, “the Law is good if one uses it lawfully (1 Tim 1:8), with the understanding that “the whole Law is fulfilled in one word” if you “love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14).  Understanding the Law correctly means I dare NOT suppose that one can be counted as forensically righteous by the ‘works of the Law,’ and I dare NOT suppose one can be counted as forensically righteous by being born Jewish or by becoming a Jewish proselyte (see Section Three below for more on works of the Law and Jewish proselytism).

 

However, I am unashamedly in favor of saved Jews and Gentiles walking into the Torah of Moshe as a blueprint for daily living.  This includes many of what Christianity identifies as “ceremonial” and/or “civil” commandments such as seventh-day Sabbath, keeping kosher, keeping the Festivals of Leviticus 23, and other such patterns of religions that most people associate with “Jewishness.”  I do NOT believe it was “relaxed” or “fulfilled” in Jesus, so that we no longer have to keep it.  I do NOT believe Paul warned any believers away from genuine Spirit-led Torah obedience—whether they be Jewish or Gentile.  After all relevant sources have been brought to the table for examination, in the end, as a Messianic Jew with a “pro-Torah” conviction, I find that I have more agreement with the direction that the NPP is headed (towards covenant loyalty to Torah) than with where Lutheran Paul is headed (away from covenant loyalty to Torah).

 

I want to let the readers know right up front that my primary thesis to understanding the book of Galatians essentially launches from the New Perspective on Paul, although, I do not agree with all of the ramifications of the NPP view, and particularly with some of Sanders’ conclusions to his studies.  But I think the NPP is headed in the right direction.  Indeed, we have needed a fresh look at Pauline studies for a long time, and now that scholars are ready to accept the fact that Paul was a Jew who maintained a lifelong loyalty to Torah even after coming to faith in the risen Yeshua, we are finally able to begin to study Paul on his own terms and let him have his own voice (instead of that of a 16th century reformer).

 

So, let’s begin to ask some probing questions.  Why did Paul write the book of Galatians?  Was it to warn Gentile Christians away from getting sucked into the dead religion known as Judaism?  Was it to expose the uselessness of the Law of Moses in the life of a believer in Jesus?  Was it to show fellow Jewish believers that to fall back to a life of ceremony, ritual, circumcision, Sabbath, Feast Days, kosher, etc., was to fall back into slavery and bondage, and that they should instead keep pressing forward to the freedom found only in a relationship with Yeshua?  Or perhaps there was a different reason the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) superintended the writing of this letter. 

 

Let’s imagine for a moment that you, a 21st century Christian, have just finished reading the letter to Galatians, and then you pick up this commentary and go through it in one sitting.  What thoughts do I, the author of this commentary, hope that you might have concerning what you just read here?  I write my commentaries with the hopes that they will stimulate real-life dialogue about Jewish and Christian relations.  I am keenly aware that the mainstream Christian movement does not embrace Torah obedience as a way of religious life, and that they quite often separate the Law into moral, ceremonial, and civil components—with Jesus doing away with the ceremonial and civil.[4]  This commentary is designed to challenge the mainstream Christian notion that as believers in Yeshua we are no longer bound to ceremonies of the Law the likes of Sabbath, Feast Days, kosher, and of course that painful commandment, circumcision.  To be sure, I affirm the ongoing validity and application of those commandments just listed—to include a host of others not listed here.  Put another way, I don't believe Jesus came to set us free from keeping Torah; he came to empower us to keep it properly.

 

In an effort to begin to develop a working context for the social settings that many believers might face after reading this book study to Galatians, I have decided to entertain ten common questions (or Christian objections) to the notion of Torah observance for Gentile Christians.  Indeed, in my experience of speaking at various Christian churches and Bible studies as a Messianic Jew, I have been asked these exact questions or variations of these questions by genuine and well-meaning Christians no doubt, but questions which often times stop Gentile Christians from embracing the notion of Torah observance in their lives.  The objections and the subsequent answers are not exhaustive.  They are only meant to serve as the beginning of a dialogue between those believers who embrace Torah as a lifestyle and those believers who do not, and as a primer to this study on Galatians and Paul.  For ease of understanding, this preface was actually designed to stand alone as its own mini-study on Torah observance.  These ten questions were originally presented as a live Bible study to a Christian men’s group in Boulder Colorado in 2013 a few days before I moved to South Korea.

 

1.         Question: What is Torah?

Answer: Torah is “God’s Teaching” but Torah is also “Law.”  Using this comprehensive historical definition, the whole bible is Torah because all of it is God's thoughts that have been breathed out by him.  Recall Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:16-17: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...” However, the word Torah most often simply refers to the first 5 books of the Bible.

 

2.         Question:  To whom was Torah given and who is required/allowed to follow it?

Answer:  Recall that the Torah was historically given to Isra'el nearly 3500 years ago, but realize that Isra'el’s post-Egypt beginnings included both native-born sons of Jacob, as well as those mixed racial multitudes that God delivered out of Egypt during the Passover.  These two groups came to the foot of Mount Sinai, received the Words of God, and were collectively called “Isra'el” by the text (read the Exodus narratives carefully again).  Paul later reveals that the “mystery of the Gospel” is that according to Rom. 11 and Eph. chapters 2 and 3 and specifically 6:19, Gentiles are “grafted into the commonwealth of Isra'el via Messiah, and become fellow heirs sharing in the richness of the root of the Olive Tree and inheriting the blessings spelled out in the Torah for all of obedient Isra'el.”  Therefore, since Isra'el is actually a multi-ethnic entity, Torah actually applies to all who name the name of the LORD as their one and Only God.  This naturally includes Gentile believers in Yeshua.

 

3.         Question: Didn’t Yeshua fulfill the Law and nail the Law to the cross?

            Answer: This is a central teaching of the Bible and thus, this answer is going to be longer than normal.  Yeshua did indeed bring the Law to its fullest intended meaning and expression.  The root Greek word pleroo (fulfill in Matt. 5:17) simply means to fill to the top, to make full, to bring to realization.  Contrary to popular Christian teaching, God’s Torah never commanded or expected sinless perfection else the sacrifices for sin would be meaningless.  However, in Messiah, we are in fact supposed to strive towards perfection in this life until we one day we finally put it on for eternity.  Therefore, in this life, and while the Temple stood in Jerusalem, true obedience to Torah included bringing sacrifices when one sinned—thus, the Torah actually anticipated our failure to keep it from time to time by making provision for our shortcomings (read Gal. 3:19).  Without expecting sinless perfection, the Torah nevertheless does consider even a single breach to be guilty of violating the whole, thus, to break one commandment was to be guilty of breaking them all (read James [Jacob] 2:10).  And since the final payment for sin would have demanded the final death of the sinner (Ezek. 18:20), Yeshua paid this price by dying in our place—thus fulfilling the payment required by the Torah.  But Yeshua’s words here in Matthew carry an additional meaning, as evidenced by his own explanation in verses 18 through 20 (and indeed the rest of his sermon on the Mount).  In the following verses, the Master plainly reveals that all of Torah must eventually be fulfilled, and even implies that true followers of God will carry out this fulfillment by doing and teaching others to do even the least of the commandments.  After all, just because Yeshua obeyed the Torah perfectly, this doesn’t excuse believers from remaining obedient to its commandments.  On the contrary, now that we have a perfect example of Torah obedience to emulate, we too—by the power of the Ruach HaKodesh—can and should pursue Torah obedience, and teach others to do so, if we wish to be obedient to the Master’s words here in Matthew.  So what exactly got nailed to the cross if it was NOT the Torah?  Paul explains in Col. 2:14 that it was the certificate of our debt—our ultimate failure to pay for our sins—that was nailed to cross; it was not the Torah that was nailed to the cross.  We owed God a debt we could not pay because the payment demanded a sinless sacrifice—a payment we could never make on our own.  This accords with the Torah, which actually adjudicates penalties for unrepentant sinners.  By Yeshua’s blood, those penalties (debts) have been paid in full and have satisfied God’s courtroom ledger—they have been nailed to the cross.  Elsewhere in Romans, Paul teaches that because believers have died to sin in Yeshua, the ultimate penalty for sin—death—no longer applies to us.  Jesus nailed those penalties of the Torah that were reserved for unrepentant sinners to his cross.  For a fuller treatment on the sacrifices of the Torah, read or listen to my commentary Towards Understanding Sacrifices and Atonement available at my site www.GraftedIn.com.

 

4.         Question: Doesn’t Paul teach in many locations that we are free from the Law?

            Answer: Biblical freedom does not mean free from Law.  Again, knowing that Yeshua set us free from sin, its proclivities, its bondage, and its ultimate penalty, helps us to understand Paul’s teachings on this subject.  The paradigm set by the Exodus narrative teaches us that sin (bondage) prevents us from truly worshiping God the way he deserves to be worshipped.  Moses said, “Let my people go so that they may serve me!”  Once Yeshua makes us alive in him and sets us free indeed, we are then free to worship God properly without the fear of condemnation or bondage to sin.  This means we are free to walk into Torah the way God intended it to be walked out: by the Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.  Read Romans 8:1-7 as well as Answer 10 below.

 

5.         Question: Paul says in Rom 6:14 that we are not under Law but under grace.

            Answer:  The difficulty in correctly interpreting Paul is in understanding that his uses of the word Law in many of his letters applies the definition from the context, which means the root Greek word used (nomos=law) can apply to a variety of definitions.  Paul’s “not under Law” phrase is preceded by “For sin shall not have dominion over you...” In this verse, Law does not mean we are not under obligation to Torah commands.  Rather, it most naturally functions in this verse as shorthand for “not under the bondage of sin and therefore under the condemnation of the Law,” a just condemnation reserved for unrepentant sinners.  The reason we are not under [the] condemnation [of the Law] is because we are not under bondage, and the reason we are not under bondage is because we have been set free and are under [the] grace [of Yeshua’s blood].

 

6.         Question: Paul says, “We are not saved by “works of the Law.”  Explain.

            Answer: This will easily be the longest answer of the set because it will develop one of the core hermeneutic keys to historically understanding Paul’s letters.  “Works of the Law” (greek=ergon nomou) is one of the most challenging statements of Paul when read outside of the context of Paul’s 1st Century Jewish worldview.  On the one hand, mere mechanical Law-keeping will NEVER save anyone, nor will sincere Law-keeping for that matter.  The Torah was not given of God to provide salvation of the soul.  However, it is a wonderful sanctification tool when used by the Holy Spirit.  And it is a tool used to highlight and convict both regenerate and unregenerate men of sin.  So on the theological level, it is true that keeping the Law does NOT save us.  In fact, keeping the Torah has never saved anyone.  However, the standard Christian theological discussions on “Law vs. Grace” often fail to grasp Paul’s 2000 year-old historical and sociological discussions about group membership and what this meant to many 1st Century Jews.  In Paul’s day, Isra'el sincerely, albeit incorrectly, believed that group affiliation is what mattered most in terms of corporate salvation—both in this life and in the life to come after one died.  Belonging to (getting into and staying in) the family clan of Isra'el was the most important detail an individual person could focus on.  Jews both then and now refer to the social policies that govern Jewish life as “halakhah,” a Hebrew word referring to “the way in which to individually or corporately walk out Torah in a practical manner.”  The Torah has built-in God-given halakhah, but most often, it was the additional responsibility of Jewish leaders to determine specific group policy, etc., where the Torah was silent in some matters.  In their segregated way of thinking, all of covenant Isra'el was comprised of Jewish people only, viz, every one in Isra'el was a Jew.  If a non-Jew wanted to attain corporate salvation (both now and after they died), that person needed to legally convert to become a Jew first and thus join “Jewish Israel.”  Once they were legally recognized as Jewish, their place in the physical covenant was ostensibly maintained by keeping the Torah.  This “group membership-imposed Torah observance” concept is termed “covenantal nomism.”  Thus Paul’s term “works of the Law” is actually a sociological and technical phrase used to describe the historic Jewish-only policy that forbade Gentiles from joining Isra'el without going through a man-made conversion policy to become a Jew.  In short, this policy suggests that the Torah was and is for Jews only.  ”Works of the Law” was an ancient way of referring to “Jewish identity leading to covenant faithfulness.”  For Jews in the 1st century, God was offering a simple package deal equation: “Jewish Isra'el” + “Torah keeping” = “corporate salvation both in this life and in the life to come.”  Obviously by now most Christians understand that this historic, theological, Jewish-only policy is at odds with the genuine gospel of God through his chosen Messiah Yeshua, a gospel taught from Genesis to Revelation.  Using this more historically accurate way of interpreting Paul’s writings in the NT, we understand Paul to be opposing this 1st century inaccurate theological policy by saying to both Jews and Gentiles, “No one gets into Isra'el (is saved) merely by being or becoming Jewish and then stays in Isra'el by keeping Torah…” How do we know this to be the proper interpretation of Paul’s writings?  If we study the NT as an historical document alongside the other extant writings that have survived from the 1st Century Judaisms (the rabbinic commentaries, Talmud, etc.), as well as corroborate the theology of the Old Testament in proper context, then we begin to get a more accurate picture of the pattern of theology of the 1st Century Jewish people and what we discover is that the Jewish concept of individual/group salvation cannot be easily caricatured by simplistic “merit theology” the way historic Christianity has traditionally characterized Jewish devotion to Torah.

 

7.         Question: Doesn’t Romans 14 teach that Sabbath-keeping is optional?

            Answer: Space does not permit me to develop the complete context of this familiar passage.  But suffice to say Paul could NOT have been suggesting that Sabbath-keeping is optional because the Torah does not present Sabbath-keeping as optional for Isra'el (read Exodus 31:16).  On the contrary: Sabbath is the very sign of the Mosaic covenant.  It is the very wedding ring between God and his bride Isra'el.  The passage is most likely comparing fast days with non-fast days, and the fact that those who fast consider that day as special, whereas those who are not fasting on that same day do not consider that fast day special.  Moreover, the larger context even goes on to teach that God accepts each person’s devotional behavior since it is done in service to the very same God as each man’s counterpart.  This means that even if Paul were referring to Sabbath, at the very least, no one can judge one’s brother based on keeping or not keeping.  There is much more to this passage but I will leave off here for now.

 

8.         Question: Explain Colossians 2:16.

            Answer: The verse reads, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (ESV).  The traditional interpretation of this passage suggests a scenario where a 1st –Century Torah-observant believer is passing judgment on a non-Torah observant believer for NOT keeping the Torah.  However, this doesn’t accord with the historical context in light of what we learned in Answer 6 above.  It is more likely that Paul understood that gentile believers would be joining existing Jewish communities in his day, and that these Jewish communities would feel uncomfortable with Gentiles keeping Torah as Gentiles, while at the same time claiming the promises of God through Yeshua.  It is more likely then that the judgment being passed was not from Torah-observant believers down to non-Torah observant believers, but was in fact the opposite: it was likely judgment was being passed from the unbelieving Jewish community to Torah-observant gentile Christians for keeping Torah without going through the ritual of conversion first.  In a word, it is historically tenable that unbelieving Isra'el became jealous and outraged at Paul’s teachings at the newly fledged gentile inclusion into Isra'el via association with a slain Jewish martyr sans circumcision.

 

9.         Question: Doesn’t Paul explicitly say in Galatians 5 that the Law is bondage?

            Answer: Read Answer 6 above and then read Galatians again.  Context shows that Paul is combatting ethnic-driven corporate righteousness and ostensible covenant membership based on the social expectation and maintenance of Law-keeping.  The bondage of chapter 5 verse 1 is spiritual bondage spelled out for any believer who might wish to return to a 1st century Jewish worldview of corporate/individual salvation and sanctification based on group membership and maintenance of Torah commands.  Recall that in covenantal nomism, one “gets in” by belonging to the group (being legally born with or married into Jewish identity, or conversion to the legal status of Jewish), and one “stays in” by keeping Torah.  Remind yourself that neither of these two “gets in—stays in” facts are true in God’s courtroom.  Thus, Paul is warning the genuine Galatian believers that to “get in” one places his trust in Yeshua, and that to “stay in” one waits for the hope of righteousness by faith.  The debt to the “whole Law” of verse 3 is a debt to whatever ethnocentric Jewish conversion policy the hapless gentile converts would submit themselves to should they venture down that bondage-laden path—a debt that surely excluded group membership and Torah observance for non-Jews.  Justification by Law in verse 4 means ostensible justification by the policy that teaches a “Jewish-only Isra'el.”

 

10.      Question: Isn’t the Law written on our hearts now?  Why try to keep it externally?

            Answer: Having the Law written on the heart is indeed a NT feature (read Hebrews chapter 8 and chapter 10), but wasn’t having the Law on the heart already an Old Testament feature from the beginning?  Let’s keep reading to find out.  Speaking of the Torah, Moses taught in Deut. 30:14, “The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”  The psalmist stated, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11).  Surely Psalm 19:7-13, as well as the entire chapter of 119, is speaking favorably of the Torah of Moshe—the Law of God.  Paul coined the phrases “Law of the Spirit of life,” and “law of sin” in Romans.  He also coined the phrase “Law of Christ” in 1 Cor. 9:21, and again in Gal. 6:2.  In Yeshua, Paul calls the Torah holy, righteous, good, and spiritual (Rom. 7:12, 14) and considered himself to be in agreement with and a servant of the Law of God with his mind (Rom. 7:22, 25).  Moreover, Paul also speaks of love being the “fulfillment of the Law” in Rom. 13:10, and James (Jacob) speaks of the “Perfect Law of Liberty” in 1:25 of his letter to believers.  With these data in mind, where then should the Law of Moses fit within the NT theology for the believer in Messiah?  Firstly, we must affirm that according to the Bible, only the circumcised heart can have the Law of God written upon it.  Also, recall that when the NT was being written, the ONLY righteous Law given of God that Isra'el knew of was the Law of Moses—the very same Law that Yeshua stated in Matt. 5 would not pass away—even down to the smallest jot or tittle—until all is fulfilled (read Answer 3 above).  Therefore, the NT writers could not have been speaking of anything other than the Law of God that would be written in our hearts as believers.  The proof that the Law written on our heart is the very Law of Moses is made evident when we go back and continue to read about this “internal” heart law from the pages of the Old Testament itself:

 

Deut. 6:6, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart."

 

Deut. 10:16, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.”

 

Deut. 30:6, “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”

 

Ps. 40:8, "I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."

 

Jer. 31:33, “But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

 

Ezek. 11:19-20, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

 

Ezek. 36:26-27, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do [them].

 

It is clear from these “Old Testament” verses that the Law of the heart is the Law of God—the Law of Moshe.  It is also clear that the Spirit of God—the Ruach HaKodesh—writes this Law on the heart of those who genuinely know and love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, a love only possible when one surrenders to the Messiah Yeshua.  With this in mind, we can now appreciate Paul’s statement in Rom. 8 (hinted at in Answer 4 above, but presented in its entirety here):

 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:1-8, ESV).

 

We see then that the Torah is the universal document for both peoples and it outlines God’s plan for all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles.  God’s eternal promises are intended for all those with circumcised hearts and only the Spirit of God can write the Word of God on the heart of an individual.  Thus, the Torah is not just for Jews only!  A person does not need to take on legally recognized Jewish status in order to be grafted into the people group of Isra'el.  This will become a central theme of Paul’s letters and it will particularly be helpful for us as we study the historical, social, and religious context of the book of Galatians.



[1] James D.G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul: Revised Edition (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2008), Section I.

[2] Ibid., Section I.

[3] E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress Press, 1977), p. 544.

[4] Example article: http://www.gotquestions.org/ceremonial-law.html.