“Yeshua came to fulfill the law”—what does this really mean?

Matthew 5:17, The law and the prophets. Yeshua mentions two of the three subdivisions of the Hebrew Scriptures in this passage: the Law or Torah and the Prophets or Neviim. The Jews have traditionally subdivided the Hebrew Scriptures into three sections: the Torah, Prophets and the Writings. We see Yeshua referring to this threefold subdivision in Luke 24:44. In fact, the Jews of today do not refer to their Hebrew Scriptures by the Christian term of “Old Testament,” but rather by the Hebrew word TaNaKh, which is an acronym representing this threefold division. The T in Tanakh stands for the Torah or the first five books of the Bible, the N stands for Neviim or the prophetic writings in the Hebrew Scriptures, while the K stands for the Hebrew word Ketuvim, which means Writings and includes the book Psalms, Proverbs, Job and others.

I came to…fulfill [the law]. Yeshua came to fulfill the law so that the law might be fulfilled in us, not so that we can continue breaking it without suffering the consequences. He came to save us from the consequences of breaking the law, not from the law itself. He came to set us an example of how to fulfill not only the letter, but the spirit of the law and to empower us through his Spirit to live in up to the law’s standards of righteousness.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Jesus came to fulfill the law [in our place], so that we don’t have to keep the law ourselves.” Many people just repeat this church-system mantra without really stopping and thinking about it. But what do they really mean when they say this? Do they even know? Have they thought about the implications of simply repeating this oft-quoted religious cliche?

Let’s think about this for a moment. If Yeshua’s fulfilling Elohim’s law (also known as the law of Moses)means that he did it so that we don’t have to, does this mean that since Yeshua didn’t murder, commit adultery, lie, steal, worship other gods, dishonor his parents, take God’s name in vain or covet it’s now all right for us to do so, since he did it in our place? When a Sunday Christian is presented with this line of reasoning, he’s usually hard-pressed to come up with a logical response, since his initial assertion has been proven to be illogical. The basic tenets of Christianity assert that such behavior is sin.

Now if you ask a clergyman the same question, he’ll often answer you in one of two ways. He’ll either tell you that we only have to do the laws that Jesus or the New Testament authors specifically enumerated. Or he’ll tell you that Christians are obligated to keep the moral law, but not the ceremonial laws of which the Sabbath, biblical feasts and dietary laws are a part.

To start with, let’s deal with the first answer. If Christians only have to follow the laws that Yeshua and the New Testament writers specifically mention, then is it all right to have sex with animals, since this law is specifically stated in the Old Testament Torah, but not in the New Testament? What’s more, why do many churches teach the tithing principle, which is a law found in the Torah, but not in the New Testament if we only have to follow the New Testament laws? Do you now see the speciousness of the argument that we only have to keep the Old Testament laws that are specifically mentioned in the New Testament?

The next argument involves dividing Elohim’s Torah-laws into two categories: the moral and the ceremonial laws. The problem with this argument is that neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament make such delineations. The law of Elohim is law of Elohim. It all stands or falls together. James, for example, speaks about the whole law and says that when one violates one of Elohim’s laws, one violates them all (Jas 2:10). He calls the same law “the royal law” in a singular sense with no artificial subdivisions (verse 8). Similarly, Paul sums up the law of Elohim by one word: love (Rom 13:8). Yeshua and the apostolic writers in numerous places speaks about the law (e.g. Matt 5:17–19; Mark 12:28–31; Rom 3:31; 7:12, 14; 8:7) and makes no distinctions between moral and ceremonial. 

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The Torah Is the Elephant in the Room of the Testimony of Yeshua

Though the primary theme of the Testimony of Yeshua (the name John gives to the New Testament in the Book of Revelation—e.g. Rev 1:2; 6:9; 12:17; 20:4) is the testimony of Yeshua the Messiah, the Torah is, nevertheless, the elephant in the room. 

Though not mentioned outrightly as often as one would think in the Testimony of Yeshua, the Torah is implied, assumed, or referred to in on countless occasions using coded Hebraisms. Why, one might ask, is this the case with the apostolic writers? The answer is simple: They were writing to Jews as well as to non-Jewish people who either already operated within a Torah-centric religious paradigm or were being brought into it. The obvious didn’t have to be mentioned over and over again, for Torah was not a strange or foreign thing to the first century believers as it is to most in the church today. The Torah was their way of life and frame of reference for all that they thought and did! 

The word law as used in the Testimony of Yeshua is the first aspect of this “elephant” we need to examine. It is the Greek word nomos which in the Septuagint (the third century B.C. Greek translation of the Tanakh [Old Testament Scriptures]) is used in place of the Hebrew word Torah. Therefore, we know that the Jewish scholars who translated the Tanakh into the Greek language considered the words Nomos and Torah to be equivalent. Also, contextually, in the Testimony of Yeshua, we can see that the word law means Torah. To the Messianic Jews who wrote the entire Testimony of Yeshua, when the Greek word nomos is used this is not a reference to Roman, Greek or Babylonian law, but to the biblical Hebrew law or the Torah, or Torah-law of Moses. 

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Christian “Double-Speak” When It Comes to the Torah

Deuteronomy 31:10–13, You shall read this Torah before all Israel.Verses like this tend to expose the theological confusion that occurs in the minds of many Christian Bible teachers. For example, Christian commentator Matthew Henry on this verse writes about the need to read the Word of Elohim and that doing so will “help us to keep his commandments.” Yet elsewhere he says in the same commentary about the same laws that the commandments or laws of YHVH “are done away with.” 

Statements like these are representative of a split and incongruous, “double-speak” thinking on the part of many Christian Bible teachers and people when it comes to the commandments or laws of Elohim. Some laws, they say, we are to keep (e.g. thou shalt not murder, lie, commit adultery, etc.), but other laws we can disobey (e.g. the Sabbath, dietary laws, and biblical feasts). 

Is it possible to have it both ways: to believe that we need to keep his commandments, yet teach they are done away with? If so, then what is the meaning of such biblical phrases pertaining to YHVH’s Torah or Word as “forever,” “for a thousand generations,” “the same yesterday today and forever,” “till heaven and earth pass away,” “I change not,” and “think not that I came to destroy the Torah-law?” Is ­YHVH’s Word inconsistent and contradictory, or is this, instead, the case with the thinking of men? Is YHVH’s immutable character flawed with regard to keeping his Word, promises and standards or is man the one at fault?

In reality, we need to ask ourselves an important question: Do we have a high enough view of YHVH Elohim and fear him and tremble at his Word (Isa 66:2), or have we, in reality, demoted the veracity of his Word by contorting YHVH and his Word to fit the mindset of changeable and inconsistent man (which the Scriptures define as idolatry)? 

Moreover, have we, by denying the validity of some aspects of YHVH’s Word, bought into the lie that the serpent proffered at the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden when he told the man and the woman that YHVH really did not mean what he said and that humans can take the “have it your own way” and “pick and choose” approach when it comes to obeying the Word of YHVH (a philosophy that forms the basis for the religious movement called secular humanism, which is at the heart of all the religions of the world—including much of Christianity—except the true religion of the Bible)?

In reality, how many aspects of Christian theology are no more than a thinly veiled version of the religion of humanism in disguise? 

These are tough questions that the saints who are the Israel of Elohim (Gal 6:16) need to ponder seriously. Let’s not forget the words of Yeshua in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my [Torah] commandments” and the words of the apostle in 1 John 2:5–5, “He that says, ‘I know him,’ and does not keep his [Torah] commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him. But whosoever keeps his Word in him truly is the love of Elohim perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.”

Let’s be honest with ourselves. The bottom line reason why man has a hard time submitting to all of YHVH’s commandments is nowhere stated more concisely in the Bible than in Romans 8:7,

[T]he carnal mind is enmity against Elohim: for it is not subject to the law of Elohim, neither indeed can be.

 

If your forefathers broke a nation’s law, does that now free you to ignore that law?

Deuteronomy 29:15, Not here with us today.This verse  teaches us that YHVH made his covenant not only with the Israelites present there that day, but with all those who would live in the future. What are the implications of this with regard to your life? How does it impact what you do, how you act, your attitude and relationship with your Maker to know that covenants were made 3500 years ago that have a bearing on our lives today as Redeemed Israelites? 

There are those in the modern church who will say, “Since I’m not an Israelite, but I’m a Gentile Christian, therefore, I have no obligation toward the Torah, and thus the Old Testament laws mean little or nothing to me.” 

My response to this argument that, with the flick of the hand and the nod of the head, dismisses two-thirds of Scripture—the Word of Elohim—is simple. The idea that a born again believer is still a Gentile—a lie that the church system has convinced most Christians to believe—isn’t biblically substantiated. The Scriptures are clear on this point. For example, Paul calls redeemed believers the “one new man” and part of the nation of Israel. And who are the ex-Gentiles that Paul talks about who were aliens to the covenants (plural, referring to the Abrahamic Covenant revealing the path to salvation, the Mosaic Covenant revealing the path of righteousness and the New Covenant, which is the previous two covenants written on our spiritually circumcised hearts) of Israel, but have now been brought into the commonwealth of Israel through the work of Yeshua? (See Eph 2:11–19.) Remember, there’s no Gentile gate in the New Jerusalem—only the 12 gates named after the 12 tribes of Israel. So what tribe are you?

Additionally, some might question whether covenants made with one’s forefathers are applicable to us today. If this is your case, then let us pose the following question: Did the founding fathers of America make laws more than 200 years ago (i.e. the U. S. Constitution) that are binding upon us today? If so, how much more applicable upon us are covenants made by our forefathers 3500 years ago with YHVH? Just because our ­forefathers broke their covenant with YHVH does not free us to violate YHVH’s laws any more than if someone in the past violates a nation’s constitutional law frees this frees future generations from violating that law. Think about it! 

 

What Is the Purpose of the Torah?

The law of YHVH is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of YHVH is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of YHVH are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of YHVH is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of YHVH is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of YHVH are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. (Ps 19:7–11)

Deuteronomy 28:1, Commandments. Most people with whom I have engaged in discussion about the Torah-law of Elohim have a limited understanding of the breadth, scope and purpose of Elohim’s law. If they understand the full ramifications of the Torah, they would likely be less inclined to dismiss its validity in their lives. When discussing the Torah with people who have a traditional Christian view of  “the law,” it might be helpful to keep the following truths in mind; they help to “blow the lid” off of people’s theological boxes!

(Excerpted from a larger work by Ya’acov Natan Lawrence entitled, YHVH’s Instructions In Righteousness—A Messianic Believer’s Introduction to the Torah available online at http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/pdfs/torahprimer.pdf)

The purpose of the Torah is to show man how to walk in right relationship (or righteousness) with his Creator. To do this, we must love YHVH with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut 6:5; Mark 12:30) and love our neighbor as ourself (Lev 19:18; Mark 12:30). Once one is saved by grace through faith (See my teaching article entitled: The Abrahamic Covenant: The Covenant of Salvation, available at http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/pdfs/abracov.pdf.), Torah helps show man how to walk in the straight and narrow path that leads to blessings and life and avoids the curses of the law (Deut 30:15; 32:47). The Torah shows man how to avoid sin (which is the violation of YHVH’s Torah-commandments, 1 John 3:4), which is walking contrary to YHVH’s instructions in righteousness that are for our blessing and benefit.

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Is the Torah “Jewish fables?”

Titus 1:14, Jewish fables. Many people in the mainstream church are content to dismiss the Torah merely as Jewish fables having little or no relevance to Christians. Yet, the same preachers will passionately promote Christmas trees, Santa Claus and Easter bunnies. So what’s wrong with this picture? 

Moreover, many Bible teachers in the mainstream church teach that this verse refers to the Torah. They use it in attempting to prove that the commandments of the Torah are no longer valid for believers. Is this correct? 

In reality, Paul can’t be referring to the Torah here without contradicting himself elsewhere. In numerous places, he strongly upholds and defends obedience to the Torah (Rom 3:31; 7:7, 12, 14; 13:8–10; 1 Cor 7:19; 9:21; Gal 3:10; 6:2; 2 Tim 6:14; Tit 2:14) and even claims to follow it himself (Acts 21:24; 24:1425:8; 28:17; 1 Cor 9:21). He must be talking about the Jewish traditions of men, which Yeshua said in Matthew 15:3–9 and Mark 7:7–9 make of non-effect the word of Elohim. 

In fact, this is exactly what Paul is referring to here in this verse when he says “Jewish fables and commandments of men.” This is not a reference to the Torah the commandments which, in truth, came from YHVH Elohim and not from men. In the same verse, Paul contrasts these commandments of men with “the truth” from which men have turned away. 

So what is this truth that Paul references here? Since Bible defines its own terms, we must look to it for the definition of the word truth. Elohim is the source of truth (Deut 32:4 cp. Pss 86:11; 89:14; 117:2), he is truth (Ps 25:10; 31:5; 33:4), and his Torah is truth (Ps 119:142, 151). 

Truth is the opposite of a fable. One example of a Jewish fable and a commandment of men would be the idea that one can’t be saved unless they’re first circumcised (Acts 15:15:1, 5), which was the subject of the Acts 15 council. Paul vehemently fought this Jewish fable, and the whole Book of Galatians, for example, largely deals with this issue. If Paul had meant the Torah when mentioning “Jewish fables” then this makes Paul into a schizophrenic liar (since he promotes and lauds the Torah and claims to follow it elsewhere), while elsewhere he views the Torah as irrelevant and not necessary to be obeyed. Were Paul against the Torah, this would put Paul at odds with Yeshua who upheld the Torah (Matt 5:17–19) and with himself when he said to imitate Yeshua the Torah-keeper as he himself did (1 Cor 11:1). 

From this brief discussion, it should be obvious to a logical minded person that Paul doesn’t have the Torah in view when he mentions fables in this verse.

 

What was “wiped out” and “nailed to the cross”?

Colossians 2:14, Having wiped out. Here Paul mentions that Yeshua blotted out the handwritings of legal decrees that were against us when he died on the cross (Col 2:12–15). What was against us? It was the Torah law that specified that the sin of adultery carried the death penalty (Lev 20:10). For those who are washed in Yeshua’s redeeming blood and have been buried with him by water immersion or baptism (Col 2:12 cp. Rom 6:3–11), the devil, who is the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10), no longer has any legal basis against which to lay the charges of the sin of unfaithfulness against us before the Almighty (Col 2:15). Likely, there is a heavenly record of each man’s sins written in one of the books (which are in addition to the book of life) mentioned in Revelation 20:12. These books be opened at the last judgement and will be used to determine one’s eternal rewards based on one’s works of righteousness (v. 12). Some will be granted eternal life, while others will be destroyed in the lake of fire (v. 15). As mentioned, those who are under the blood of Yeshua and whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, there is no condemnation. 

In this passage, Paul may be alluding to the law of the jealous regarding an unfaithful woman (Num 5:11–31). In this case, the Torah instructs a man to bring his wife whom he suspects of adultery before the priests along with an offering of barley meal. What follows is one of the Torah’s more curious rituals. The priests, in front of the woman, sprinkle some dirt from the door of the tabernacle into an earthen vessel filled with holy water. Her head is uncovered, and she is then made to hold the barley meal, while she is put under oath and questioned about her alleged extramarital sexual activities. A curse is put on her if she has been unfaithful, and the curses are written in a book. The words are then scraped from the book and put into the water. The woman is then made to drink the bitter waters. If she is guilty, the curse takes effect causing her belly to swell and her thigh to rot. 

The sad thing is that not only was ancient Israel guilty before Elohim of spiritual adultery (see Ezek 16:1ff), but all humans, like an adulterous woman, have followed in Adam and Eve’s unfaithfulness and sinned (tantamount to spiritual adultery) by being unfaithful to the Creator by going his Torah-laws. The good news is that Yeshua took the curse of the adulterous woman upon himself when he died on the cross. He was given cup of bitter gall to drink, which he refused, but he drank symbolically from the bitter cup of death and even his side was split open by the Roman soldier’s spear.

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