Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law [Heb. Torah] of the LORD; and in His law [Torah] does he meditate day and night – Psalms 1:1-2.
THE WRONG QUESTION
On a number of Christian and even some Messianic websites, the question is presented to the reader, “CAN PEOPLE TODAY KEEP THE WHOLE LAW?” Then the writer points out the fact that there is no Temple in Jerusalem, sacrifices, or priesthood (Even though this is an error, since a group of priests in Jerusalem has been trained in the Temple practices and rituals; however, at least at this time, they are right that there’s no Temple.) After pointing this out, the writer then quotes James 2:10,
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
After quoting from James, the speaker or writer then points out that since people can’t offer sacrifices in a Temple, then no matter what they do, then they cannot keep “THE WHOLE LAW.” For example, in the online article “Should Christians Keep the Law of Moses — What About the Ten Commandments?” the writer states,
Since the law of Moses cannot bring us salvation, there is no need to require the gentiles to keep it. God gave them the Holy Spirit and showed that he accepts them without all those rituals. They are saved by grace, and the Jews are, too. If we follow Peter’s logic, we will see that Jewish believers do not have to keep the laws of Moses, either. They are saved by grace through faith, just as the gentiles are. The old covenant is obsolete, so its laws are no longer required for anyone, ….
And so, for many people, it seems quite obvious after being told this that any attempt to try and walk in obedience to the law (Heb. Torah) of God is not possible and simply a waste of time to even try. However, when one really looks at their argument, one finds a great many flaws or FALSE ASSUMPTIONS.
RULES OF HERMENEUTICS
One of the basic rules of Hermeneutics is that we must examine any text within its original context. We cannot impose our worldview, values or beliefs onto the text. This is called “Eisegesis” and it leads to misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and error, but instead, we must research the text – examine the life of the author and the various contexts that were involved in the creation of the text (historical, cultural, social, linguistic, etc.) – and then based on that research, draw conclusions as to the meaning of the text within its original context. This is called “Exegesis,” and it is the correct and proper way to handle any text. Once that meaning has been attained, we then bring that meaning forward to us today and see how that meaning can be applied.
So in this article, I will move point-by-point through the argument of those who ask this question of whether-or-not an individual can keep the whole law – presenting their view and then showing where it agrees or disagrees with Scripture. However, once we complete this analysis of the argument based on the teachings contained within the Bible as a whole – from Genesis to Revelation – I am convinced that you will draw the same conclusion that I have, which is that their proposed argument is flawed due to several false assumptions that are unfortunately commonly taught in the majority of Christian churches and in some Messianic congregations.
FALSE ASSUMPTION #1: THE QUESTION ITSELF
The very question they ask, “CAN PEOPLE TODAY OBEY THE WHOLE LAW?” is based on a false assumption: that God intended an individual to keep the whole law. When one goes back and actually reads the first five books of the Bible (where the commandments are given by God to Moses are recorded), one discovers that the basic assumption is wrong here. God did not actually intend for any individual to keep all 613 commandments, and there are, in fact, 613 commandments; I have print out of them all. For example, the commandments can be broken down into the following 9 categories:
|COVENANTAL LAWS||BUSINESS LAWS|
|GOVERNMENTAL LAWS||AGRICULTURAL LAWS|
|JUDICIAL LAWS||PERSONAL LAWS|
|SOCIAL LAWS||TEMPLE LAWS|
These laws deal with Israel’s national life and how they are to conduct themselves as a NATION, much like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights guide the conduct and national life of the United States. Some laws are for certain groups of people. For example, under GOVERNMENTAL LAWS, there are laws for the KING, the PROPHETS, and the PRIESTHOOD. Also, under PERSONAL LAWS, there are laws for women, that are not for men, and vice versa. In addition, under MEDICAL LAWS, there are laws in regard to Lepers and Leprosy.
Let me give you some other examples. In the book of Leviticus, there are a series of commandments in the first six chapters, where God gives instructions on how the animal sacrifices were to be performed. Now did God intend for every individual to cut up and offer these animal sacrifices on the altar? No, these instructions were intended for the Levitical priests, not the masses. I’ll give you another example. In Numbers 6, God gives instructions for what one should do who decides to take upon himself the vow of a Nazarite. Now did God intend or require every male to take this vow? No, it was only for those who wanted to do this. My point is that there are commandments that apply to everyone, such as the Ten Commandments (as well others), but there are other commandments, such as the ones mentioned (plus others) that were not intended for everyone to follow. Consequently, to even ask the question is to imply an assumption that is simply NOT TRUE.
FALSE ASSUMPTION #2: THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW
The second false assumption is that obedience to these laws has anything to do with someone going to heaven. This, of course, is why they ask the question. They are trying to dissuade people from thinking that obedience to the commandments will, in some way, result in them going to heaven. But their effort in doing this is a waste of time, for the simple reason that God’s commandments and laws were not given for that purpose at all.
The reason many Christians believe this error about the Torah, God’s commandments and laws, is simply due to the fact that they don’t study it, even ministers. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Christians say, “Well, if Paul said it, it must be true; after all, he understood the Law better than me.” And so they default to their denominational view of Paul and his writings, instead of spending the time themselves in studying the Pentateuch, and realizing that the belief and attitude they read about in Paul’s writings DID NOT EXIST in the Old Testament. It simply is NOT THERE. It developed over time between the Old and New Testaments. But this attitude is an erroneous one, and does NOT reflect the teachings of God or the LAW itself, in any way, shape, or form. And because it’s NOT taught in the Bible, this is why Paul was arguing against it. He was not arguing against Judaism, but against this attitude and perspective that was developing within certain groups of Judaism.
I mean, all one has to do is simply look at the various 9 categories, and one can see that there’s NOT a single category about going to heaven. The commandments and laws were given to a REDEEMED PEOPLE to teach them how to live WITH GOD and WITH ONE ANOTHER here ON EARTH. But NOWHERE IN ALL OF THESE LAWS does God EVER promise ANYONE, or even imply the fact, that if they obey these commandments and laws that when they die, they will get to go to heaven. Again, this was an attitude that was developing among some groups within Judaism, but NOT all groups. And for years now, I have challenged people to read the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) or the Old Testament as a whole, and to find even ONE PROMISE, JUST ONE, anywhere in its writings that God says, “If you will obey these commandments, then when you die, you will get to go to heaven.” And AT NO TIME has ANY ONE been able to come back and show me even one promise. Why? Because no such promise exists.
FALSE ASSUMPTION #3: THAT THE ABSENCE OF THE TEMPLE, SACRIFICES, AND PRIESTHOOD INVALIDATES THE LAW AS A WHOLE.
Those Christians and Messianic Jews who ask this question often point out that several of the commandments involve a Temple, animal sacrifices, and a priesthood. However, they then note, that there is no Temple, sacrifices, or a priesthood, so, they say, we cannot obey these commandments. However, again their assumption is in error.
When ancient Babylon conquered Israel in 586 B.C.E., they destroyed the first Temple that had been built by King Solomon. The Jews were then taken as captives to Babylon for seventy years. While in Babylon, the Jews did not have a Temple, animal sacrifices, or a functioning priesthood. Did God tell them, “Sorry guys, no Temple, sacrifices, or functioning priesthood, so I guess, we’ll just have to forget all the commandments.” No, God did not say that. Instead, He expected them to keep what commandments they could. For example, in the book of Daniel, which was written while Daniel was in Babylon, Daniel maintained His obedience to God by keeping the dietary laws (i.e., he ate kosher), and by praying three times a day. Prior to the destruction of the Temple, Jews prayed three times a day, and now here Daniel is in Babylon, and he is continuing this practice.
It is believed by most researchers, that it was in Babylon when Jews got together, prayed, and studied the Scriptures. It was this practice, they believe, that led to the formation of the first synagogues. In addition, the Jews kept the Sabbath and as much of the feasts as they could, and as many of the commandments as they could do. And then, when the Jews returned from Babylon, they eventually rebuilt the Temple, re-instituted animal sacrifices and a functioning priesthood. And then those commandments which applied could then be followed. Consequently, the absence of a Temple, sacrifices, and functioning priesthood does not invalidate all of the commandments.
FALSE ASSUMPTION #4: IF ONE CANNOT KEEP ONE POINT OF THE LAW, THEN NONE OF IT SHOULD BE KEPT.
The Christians and Messianic Jews who ask this question, often quote James 2:10 to demonstrate that unless one keeps the whole law, one is living a life of disobedience:
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
Now it seems on the surface as if they have a valid point here. However, they don’t. Let’s go back and look at the context in which this quote is given:
Listen my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in
faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? Yet you dishonored that poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Don’t they blaspheme the noble name that you bear?
If you really carry out the royal law prescribed in Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself [Leviticus 19:18], you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
FOR WHOEVER KEEPS THE ENTIRE LAW, YET FAILS IN ONE POINT, IS GUILTY OF BREAKING IT ALL.
For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you are a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who will be judged BY THE LAW OF FREEDOM. For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
CONTEXT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! Now if we look at the whole passage here in its original CONTEXT, we can see that verse 10 is not given to dissuade readers from obeying the law (Heb. Torah), as many Christians and some Messianic Jews use this verse, but James uses it for the exact OPPOSITE purpose. He is using it to try and ENCOURAGE FULLER OBEDIENCE to the commandments – NOT LESS. Consequently, Christians and some Messianic Jews take this verse out of CONTEXT and misrepresent it, when they use it to discourage obedience to God’s commandments by saying that if they’ve broken one law, they’ve broken them all, so they might as well not even try to keep them. This is to the exact opposite message that James was trying to communicate here in this passage with this verse.
Also, in this passage, notice that James refers to God’s Torah, His instructions and commandments, as “THE LAW OF FREEDOM,” NOT the “LAW OF BONDAGE” or the “LAW OF LEGALISM.” James here is actually referring to Psalm 119: 44-45,
So shall I keep Your Law [Heb. TORAH] continually forever and ever. And I will walk AT LIBERTY: for I seek Your precepts [or commandments].
In this passage, we can see the psalmist writes that he will keep God’s Torah continually forever and ever. There’s absolutely no indication here that God has any plans of bringing His Torah, instructions and commandments, to an end. Also the phrase “AT LIBERTY” is translated from the Hebrew word rachav, literally meaning “roomy, in any (or every direction); – openly, freely” or “IN LIBERTY AND FREEDOM.” True LIBERTY AND FREEDOM comes when we seek to know, understand, and live in accordance to God’s commandments, the exact opposite of what many Christians and Messianic Jews claim a life of obedience to God and His Torah would be like. Another false assumption by those who use this question to serve their own purposes.
In the next half of this study, we will examine FOUR more FALSE ASSUMPTIONS that are made by those who erroneously make use of this question.