The Church Quest for Jewish Roots and Applying the Torah
by DAN JUSTER APRIL 25, 2021
I have written extensively about this subject, especially in my book Jewish Roots which is a Biblical theology from a Messianic Jewish point of view. I have also written several published papers on this topic. Here I want to make a few foundational statements so that my readers can fix these as principles for their evaluation of the writings of many who are writing and saying all kinds of things.
1. The New Covenant does not do away with the Torah or God’s Law. Although we are now in the New Covenant order, the New Covenant order is one where the Torah is to be applied as fitting to the New Covenant order. This is an order of writing the Torah on our hearts, an order of the power of the Spirit and an order that preserves the distinct election and calling of the Jewish people. (Matthew 5:17-18; Romans 3:31, 8:4)
2. Jewish disciples of Yeshua continue to be part of their Jewish people and are called to identify and live as Jews. This includes a pattern of life that is based on the Torah, including circumcision, Sabbath, Feasts and identification with the nation of Israel as our nation. This pattern of life transcends the existence of a temple. There is a continuing covenant responsibility for us so to live. Jewish disciples are also called to identify as members of the universal Body of the Messiah.
3. Gentile disciples (those from other nations) are called to live out the universal aspects of the Torah and to be in unity and alignment with Messianic Jews, supporting Jewish ministry and the success of the Messianic Jewish movement. (Romans 11:11-14)
4. Alignment with the Messianic Jewish community and Israel/the Jewish people calls the Gentile Church to understand the Jewish people and the meaning of their biblically rooted pattern of life. Jewish life, the Sabbath and the Feasts have universal teaching meaning for all believers. Gentiles are responsible to teach and understand the whole Bible which includes the Jewish pattern of life.
5. One way of bringing connection to the meaning of the Jewish roots of our faith is in teaching and celebrating the biblical Feasts in the general times of their occurrence. This can also be a way of being aligned with the Messianic Jews and Israel. The way of doing this is a matter of being led by the Spirit. These meanings show fulfillment in Yeshua and his first coming and are full of meaning concerning the last days and his second coming.
6. The exact calendar days for the Feasts are disputed by scholars. The issue of when to celebrate is thus not a matter of getting the right day, but more about the general vicinity of the time as most appropriate as led by the Spirit.
7. We must not explain away Colossians 2 and Romans 14 on liberty in regard to Sabbath and Feast celebrations. These strong statements of Scripture are best understood in their ordinary and straightforward way. This means that though a community may find value in connecting to seasonal celebrations in the Torah, the way of presenting this should steer clear of any sense of “ought” since the celebrations are matters of personal and communal leading by the Spirit. If the Spirit does not so lead, no one is to judge those in any way who do not so engage through specific gatherings for Feast celebration.
8. We affirm the Christian days of celebration as appropriate and realize that Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost are indeed rooted in the Jewish Feasts and are seasonally appropriate and indeed may sometimes be closer to the intended biblical calendar than the Rabbinic dating of these times. The issue is that these celebrations should include a fuller biblical teaching on the context of why the New Covenant events occurred during the Jewish biblical feasts. The celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas is also appropriate though the day of the birth of Yeshua is disputed. The meanings of the seasons, the hymns, the Bible readings from Luke 1, 2 and Matthew 1 are very enriching and should not be rejected.
9. The Seventh Day Sabbath Day is as a weekly time of rest is not enjoined upon Gentiles in the New Covenant Scriptures, though it remains a covenant sign between God and the Jewish people and hence a covenant responsibility. The Sabbath principle of entering into rest is taught in Hebrews 4.
During this transitional age, there is a maximum flexibility in the Spirit given for Gentiles for application. This was necessary to see the Church become the Church Universal. In the early spread of Christianity, there was no seven-day week of keeping time in nations where the Gospel spread. A weekly Sabbath would have been impractical and even impossible for many, especially for slaves and employees who made up so many members of the early Church. This continued in many countries through many centuries. When a seven-day week was embraced in the Roman Empire, a seventh-day rest was not chosen. Keeping the seventh day would have been very hard since under the pagan emperors it was not fostered by civil governments.
The seventh-day Sabbath rest does require a level of civil support for many people to keep it as a day of rest. When the Roman Empire became Christian it embraced a tradition of the first day of Resurrection also kept it as a sabbath. One can argue about this choice. It was wrong to attack the seventh day and the keeping of it by the Jewish people.
10. In our modern times, keeping the seventh day is not to be enjoined for Gentiles. For many, this would mean not having vocations in retail, hospitality, healthcare, and other vocations in our culture.
11. However, there are many ways that Christians may appropriate the meaning of the Sabbath. Again, this is a matter of being led by the Spirit while supporting Jewish people who have a covenant responsibility for the seventh-day Sabbath.
A. One can be led to keep the seventh day and do errands and work on Sunday, even if part of Sunday morning worship in church.
B. One can keep Sunday as both the celebration of the resurrection and as a day of rest. This was the practice of most of the historic churches. We forget how the historic Church day of rest was deep and renewing since it is no longer practiced in modern secular cultures.
C. Families might make Friday evening a special Sabbath celebration for family and fellowship while not making the daytime hours of the Sabbath a time of rest.
D. Families might make the close of the seventh-day Sabbath Day a family celebration that leads into the celebration of the resurrection. This in Jewish practice is the time of Havdalah, the separation celebration of the end of the seventh day and the first day.
In all of this, we seek to see liberty and being led by the Spirit the rule and no “oughtness” or statements that universalize: “it would be better to” or “more of a blessing to” etc. If something is more a blessing and better, it then leads to “oughtness.” It is better to say that all are called to have an understanding of the Feasts and Sabbaths and the biblical patterns of Jewish life and how they are brought to fullness in Yeshua and have fulfillment for some in the last days and for all in the Age to Come. Individuals and communities may seek the Lord and find his leading to establish understanding.
The celebration of the Feasts near to the times of the actual Feasts is one way the Spirit will lead some churches to do this. Celebrating with Messianic Jews would be especially enriching.