Are we under the Law?
The Law… The word law usually makes people cringe, especially when it is also used in connection with the Bible. Many people want to say that since Jesus came we are in the age of grace and not under the law anymore. As I have spent time in Israel, and learned more about what the “law” is, and how it relates to the New Covenant (Testament), I believe we need to turn back the pages of time and understand Paul’s writings from a Hebraic standpoint. Remember, Paul was Jewish. He was speaking to Jewish people. With this understanding, clarification and insight about the first five books of the Bible should bring excitement about following the Law instead of dread. (As a note here, I capitalize the word Law to show that it represents the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah).
We all know that law is important in the world. Without laws we would have absolute chaos. Most laws in the world are based on the Ten Commandments. Do not kill. Don’t steal. Most people recognize that it is important to honor your father and mother. Commandments one and two, about not having idols and taking the name of the Lord in vain, are important to those who follow God. Even the idea of not coveting is considered an important virtue in the eyes of most people. If we choose to follow these ideals and thoughts, we have a smoother life. We don’t have to worry about law enforcement coming after us. We don’t have to worry about arguing with our neighbors. The Ten Commandments might be in the Bible, but they do bring a positive structure to life.
There is one commandment I did not mention. That is number four, remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. This begins a discussion for most people. It has been taught for thousands of years that the Sabbath is now on Sunday. For those of us who have begun to follow the understanding of Sabbath and consider ourselves “Sabbatarians,” we are accused of “going back under the law.” This is what I want to address in this article.
What exactly does it mean to “live by the Law of Torah.”
The first idea that needs to be addressed is that Jesus followed the Torah. Jesus was Jewish and lived by the Law. He clearly states in Matthew 5:17-19, “Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete. Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud (a letter in the Hebrew alphabet that looks like a dot) or a stroke will pass from the Torah — not until everything that must happen has happened. So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot (commands) and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Jesus challenged those who wanted to dot every i and cross every t and caused problems because they began to follow traditions of man instead of what God gave Moses in the Torah. They began to become legalistic. These leaders commanded people to act in ways that were not required by God. Jesus NEVER did not follow the Law. Jesus was required to mikvah if He was unclean. Jesus was required to keep the Sabbath. Jesus was required to keep the Festivals. Jesus was required to do sacrifices. These were all things that had to happen in normal Jewish life.
A study of these 613 laws in the Torah that Jesus was required to follow can be placed into two groups. There are 248 Positive Commandments and 365 Negative Commandments. The 248 can be broken down further into different groups (gospeloutreach.net has a great outline of all the laws broken down). As we study them we can quickly see that many are not applicable for today because we do not have a Temple. Sacrifices and obligations to the Priests cannot be completed today. Some of the cleanliness laws were given because they lived in the wilderness and needed guidelines to keep their community clean. Today we have sanitation and sewer systems in place that do those things for us. There are many laws that we should still apply today. These have to do with the negative commands that deal with worship of false gods and related practices.
In Romans 6:14 we have read the verse to say, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” This interpretation of this verse leads many to come to the conclusion that the Law was done away with. Many say that those books of the Bible and the 613 laws that God gave the Israelites now mean nothing. Jesus came, so now we have grace.
What do we do with this verse in Romans? In the Complete Jewish Bible, which has studied the Hebraic culture and has an understanding of who Paul was writing too, this verse has been changed to read, “For sin will not have authority over you; because you are not under legalism but under grace.” Do you see the major difference??? Legalism is a much different understanding than the word law. Most people are adamantly opposed to legalism, and rightly so. That is what Jesus taught against. Man made traditions are not to be followed. Legalistic requirements are man made traditions.
Why would the Complete Jewish Bible use a different word for this verse? First, who was Paul writing to when he wrote the book of Romans. He was writing to the communities of faith in Rome. They would have been Jewish, with Gentiles beginning to join in. However, these Jewish communities had requirements to follow the Torah that God established. They had requirements to do keep the Sabbath, Festivals, keep their houses clean, not marry inappropriately etc… They could not abandon the Law. It would have confused them greatly if Paul would have written them and said they were not under the Law anymore. They would have considered him a false teacher. However, for Paul to write and tell them they are not under legalism (man made traditions that are not in the Torah/Law), that does make sense. They can know they are free to follow what God established, not what man established. When they are following God’s Law, grace abounds because God loves His children. He did rescue the children of Israel when they messed up. God can discipline, when people follow legalism and traditions of men, but He also extends grace when He knows people are following His commands.
Some of you might be reading this and wonder what this has to do with Gentiles. If we read Romans 11, we find that Gentiles have been “grafted in” to the Covenant that God made with Abraham. It is not the Judaism as we know it today because perversions have happened along the way. We were grafted in to the original intent of God’s heart to follow Him and serve Him only. This was God’s plan from the beginning! In Amos 9:11-12 it says, “When that day comes, I will raise up the fallen sukkah of David. I will close up its gaps, raise up its ruins and rebuild it as it used to be, so that Israel can possess what is left of Edom and of all the nations bearing my name,” says Adonai, who is doing this.” Acts 15 also makes it clear that the Gentiles are to be allowed to enter the group of those following Jesus. This is from verse 3, “After being sent off by the congregation, they made their way through Phoenicia and Shomron, recounting in detail how the Gentiles had turned to God; and this news brought great joy to all the brothers.”
In Colossians 2:16-17 it says, “So don’t let anyone pass judgment on you in connection with eating and drinking, or in regard to a Jewish festival or Rosh-Hodesh (New Moon) or Shabbat. These are a shadow of things that are coming, but the body is of the Messiah.” Some try to say that this exempts followers of Jesus from celebrating the Feasts because it says we shouldn’t pass judgement on someone about them. Paul states that these Festivals are a “shadow of things that are coming.” He does not say to stop celebrating them. Another verse that is used to state that we do not need to celebrate the Festivals today is Galatians 4:10, “You observe special days, months, seasons and years!” The verses around it lead some to think that Paul was saying it is okay to stop observing them. Once again, when we understand the Hebraic culture that Paul was speaking too, we can see that Paul is teaching the Galatians to stop following astrology and superstitions. This was not allowed in the Law/Torah, but some had begun to follow these practices.
No where in the New Testament does it tell anyone to stop observing the appointed times and feasts. In fact, it is usually quite clear that they should be done without malice or wickedness. I Corinthians 5:8 “So let us celebrate the Seder (Passover) not with leftover hametz (leaven - sin), the hametz of wickedness and evil, but with the matzah (bread without leaven - without sin) of purity and truth. The early communities of faith were Jewish and required to celebrate the Festivals. If those who began to follow Jesus had stopped celebrating the feasts, they would have been judged by their brothers.
We must remember that God gave these appointed times for us to watch His seasons and know what is happening. Jesus died at Passover. The Holy Spirit was sent at Shavuot (known to us as Pentecost). They all fit into special gifts God gave years before and those with eyes to see and ears to hear recognized that Jesus was God’s gift to fulfill prophecies because of these Festivals.
So, what does it mean to “follow the Law?” Why is it still important for all people who claim Jesus as their Messiah to obey them? I hope this article helps you want to understand the New Testament from the Hebraic mindset it was written in. I hope this helps you want to read the New Testament through knowing that the people it was written too were obligated to follow the Law, just not with legalism. If these communities of faith were following the Torah/Law that had been given to them as a guide so their lives would be blessed, why wouldn’t we want to follow them as well? I know that my life has been richly blessed since I began to understand that Jesus FULFILLED the Law. He did not abolish it, but came to bring LIFE and LIFE more abundant, when we study HIS Word, which always points to the Torah/Law (the Words He spoke are from the Old Testament. I hope you want to study this together and apply The Word in a new and exciting way to your life.
(I quoted from the Complete Jewish Bible with words in parenthesis next to it to clarify some of the Hebrew words.)