Torah Observant Movement

I am about to begin a series of posts that will deal with the Hebrew Observant movement, also known as Hebrew roots. This sect is identified by its insistence that God’s covenant people are called to observe the Torah, the law. The Torah, in many ways, was summed up in the first 5 books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch. Though the law has wider implications, it is the Pentateuch that is the most commonly appealed to as that which God’s people must continue to obey and observe.

I am writing these posts with the hope that I can serve the local church. My target audience is those who are in the church who have been or will be exposed to the heretical teachings of this torah-observance-movement, henceforth designated TOM. Within this primary purpose, my intention is also to challenge those who are a part of the TOM, and thereby challenge them to rethink the radical claims of Christ, the claims that eventually led to his crucifixion at the hands of his Jewish brethren; which claims were further explored by the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Let me lay out the primary texts we will examine over the next several posts:
Part 1: John 2:19, Matt. 26:61, Mark 14:58, Acts 6:14. Part 2: Mark 7:19, Acts 10, Levitcus 20:22-26, Galatians 2. Part 3: 2 Cor. 3, Romans 7, Romans 10, Acts 15.

In the first part we will examine some of the radical things Jesus said about the temple, and the way in which he treated it. It is understood that the temple played a central role in the life of a torah-observant Jew. There were periods of time when Israel was taken into captivity with no temple, and the recovery of the temple was always central to their identity and the continuation of their people in obedience to God. Jesus pronounces early in his ministry that the temple will be destroyed, that the central institution upon which torah-observance is built will be rebuilt, but with a twist. He teaches that he himself will be the temple, the place where God and man meet and sins are dealt with. Here, as in many other cases, the story of Israel is being retold around Jesus, with Jesus doing what Israel, and the temple, could not do.

“The argument…so far…is that there is a further significant fact: virtually all the traditions, inside and outside the canonical gospels, which speak of Jesus and the Temple speak of its destruction. Mark’s fig-tree incident; Luke’s picture of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem; John’s saying about destruction and rebuilding; the synoptic traditions of the false witnesses and their accusation (Matt. 26:61, Mark 14:58, Acts 6:14.), and of the mocking at the foot of the cross; the charge in Acts that Jesus would destroy the Temple (Acts 6:14): all these speak clearly enough, not of cleansing or reform, but of destruction.” [N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), 416.]

This theme will be the first thing we explore to see how Jesus was redrawing the identity of God’s people around the new Jesus-observant-movement instead of Torah observance. This will explain why he offers forgiveness of sins, which is meant to be sought after (by faith) through the temple and torah observance. Jesus claims that now, at the fullness of times, God’s covenant people will be demarcated and marked out as God’s people by faith in Jesus, and not by torah observance. (As a side note: much of the TOM’s confusion is a result of the dispensational theology that says that the OT taught salvation by works. Reformed theologians have always maintained that the OT way of salvation was by grace through faith in God’s provision through Israel; and that such a life of faith was to be lived out in torah observance. Now, in the NT, the path of salvation is still by grace through faith, and this faith must be God’s provision of Jesus the Messiah, and such faith is to be lived out in observance of his “yoke” and obedience to Him. The difference mainly is, God’s people are no longer marked out as God’s people through Torah observance, that manner of identity has been done away with, now God’s people are marked out by faith in the Messiah of Israel, Jesus Christ.)

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  1. Bill Wilson

     /  October 15, 2013

    Do you know how wide spread is this movement? Is it growing? My wife recently got sucked into it, will not objectively discuss scriptural interpretations with me, and always appeals to the “scholarly people” who hold these views.

    • It is quickly growing, but it is not because of the ‘scholarly people.’ In fact, the scholarly level is actually where this movement is at its weakest; which is one of the reasons that I am writing on it; namely, Because, there is not enough written at the scholarly level on it because when it is defended at the scholarly level it is more easily undermined; people at the lay level therefore are at the disadvantage of thinking that much of the teachings are logical and trustworthy when in fact it really isn’t. What I am trying to do with these 9 posts (so far) is pull several themes together that will individually and especially collectively undermine the theology of the Torah Observant Movement. I’m sure that if it continues to grow there will be some serious works done by some of the top conservative scholars.

      That is not to say that there are no scholarly people who hold these views; but they don’t want to debate the scholars who disagree with them. From what I have seen, at least at the scholarly level is that many of the TOM scholars actually undermine the inerrancy of some of the New Testament; they undermine the fact that books like Matthew are inerrant, because many say that it was originally written in Hebrew, and corrupted by people who put it in Greek and added things that were false. Of course not a single Hebrew Matthew manuscript was seen for over 1200 years after Christ, but that is another subject. My point is, once you get to the scholarly level, many people in the movement know better than to go into academic essays defending what the average Torah-observer claims to be truth; because it will be crushed. So, certain measure have to be taken; like discrediting the book of Hebrews, or the Apostle Paul. Many, for example, will appeal to 2 Peter 3 where it says that Paul is hard to understand, and that many twist his words, as the basis for undermining what Paul clearly says about circumcision and dietary laws. That appeal to 2 Pet. 3 will get crushed in an academic essay.

      So, the scholarly level is not dealing with this movement much; it is more of a pastoral need. One last thing: A lot of what the Torah Observant movement is resulting from is some of the terrible theology in churches today. No offense but much of the Tim Layhaye type eschatology, in addition to thinking that people in the OT were saved by works, is partly responsible for so many people buying into this stuff. For a good intro: see my Jesus, the Torah, and the People of God part 2; and a Word on Prophecy.


      • Bill Wilson

         /  October 18, 2013

        Thanks, Josh. Yes, it floors me how these people can even get through the book of Galatians and keep believing what they believe. It must be the veil over their eyes, now that they have turned to the law. Or else they just ignore a serious reading of Galatians and Hebrews.
        Re: Matthew written in Hebrew, I believe Papias has a statement (very early in second century) that Matthew did first write his gospel in Hebrew. I don’t have any problem with that at all, as Matthew was clearly written as a witness to Jews.
        Keep up the good work! –Bill

      • Thanks Bill!

        Speaking of a veil over their eyes, check out 2 Corinthians 3:7-15.

        The Hebrew Matthew: I suggest you look at a post I did. It is the first one under the Torah Observant Movement called “A Hebrew Matthew?” The quote is actually a quote from Eusebius (3-4th century), who is quoting Papias (who is from the 2nd century).

        I, like you, don’t have much of a problem with it in theory. But, it is helpful to point out that we have not one line of a Hebrew manuscript from the first 1300 years; with tons and tons of Greek MS’s of Matthew all the way back to the early part of the 2nd century. The first Hebrew Matthew was put forward in the 14 century by Shem Tov, who was a Christ rejecting Jew.

        Also, I don’t know if you have ever heard of the Q gospel, it is reported to be a very early collection of Jesus’s sayings. Think of 1 Cor. 15:1-8 where Paul lays out the gospel in a very concise way. Most likely, Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and so this early collection of Jesus’s sayings could very well be in Aramaic (a Hebrew dialect); or in Hebrew; and it could have been penned by Matthew.

        The things that I disagree with are 1. The Greek Matthew (MS) relied on the Hebrew Matthew (MS); and intentional or unintentionally corrupted the original Hebrew text; and 2. That the Greek Matthew was a translation of the Hebrew to begin with. The Greek Matthew doesn’t have the marks of a translation; especially in the way the author often uses the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament); something that a Hebrew manuscript would probably not have done.

        In the end, what I am defending is the inerrancy of the Greek Matthew. It is the only reliable manuscripts we have of matthew, and so we cannot allow a so-called Hebrew Matthew manuscript from the 14 century Jew who rejected Jesus override the more reliable manuscripts.


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