Rebuttal: Dangers of the Hebrew Roots Movement, Part 6

AiG: “Not too long after that, following Paul’s first missionary journey where countless Gentiles believed the gospel message, the apostles gathered together in Jerusalem to settle a divisive issue in the church that speaks directly to the claims of the HRM. After Paul and Barnabas declared all that God had done during their journey, particularly the conversion of the Gentiles, some of the “believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:1–5). The apostles and elders debated the matter for a time, and then Peter stood and argued that such burdens mentioned in verse 5 (circumcision and Mosaic law) should not be placed on the Gentile believers. “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:10–11).”

Me: The Torah-observant believers that I know have absolutely no issues with this passage. It is not necessary to become circumcised or to keep the Law of Moses to be saved, and we quite acknowledge that fact. For anyone who does believe in a works-based salvation, a thoughtful read-through of Galatians should be sufficient to correct his faulty thinking. Perhaps the person reading this article (you) may not keep the sabbath day or may not refrain from eating unclean animals. Does that mean that I think you are not saved? Not in the least. The whole purpose that I am so vocal about the Law is because it has been a great blessing to me, and I want to share the entire Word of God with everyone who has a desire to please the Father. It’s not because I think that all modern Christians need to get saved. In fact, the passage in Matthew 5 makes very clear that people who disobey or preach against the Law are still part of God’s kingdom: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

When Peter says, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will,” he is saying that works are not required for salvation. He then reminds the Jewish believers that they and their fathers had been unable to earn their own salvation through obedience to the Law. It was only by Christ’s obedience to it and sacrifice on their behalf that they had been able to receive salvation.

AiG: “I have spoken with someone in the HRM who responded to this by saying that this referred only to the evangelistic message, and that once a Gentile became a believer, then he would be expected to be circumcised and keep the law. However, this is flatly contradicted by what happened next. James addressed the group and said, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19–20).”

Me: What James said does not at all contradict the fact that Gentiles would be expected to grow as believers. If James’ judgment were to be the only four restrictions placed on Gentiles for the rest of their Christian journey, then why would Paul consistently write to Gentile believers and teach them what sin is? If these are the only four restrictions placed on Gentiles, then why teach them not to steal, gossip, or murder? Wouldn’t that be teaching them to obey the Law? If these were the only four ways that a Gentile could sin, then we wouldn’t need the old or new testaments to tell us right from wrong. We would only need the instructions that came down from the Jerusalem council.

AiG: “So why did James think that four restrictions should be placed on Gentiles? Was it because Gentiles needed to obey these laws to be saved? Not at all! He answers that question in the next verse. “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15:21). One HRM follower told me that this verse meant that the Gentiles would go to the synagogues in those cities to learn about following the law. But that is not even close to what James said. The reason for the restrictions was so that the Gentile Christians who were not under the Mosaic law would not unnecessarily offend the Jews.”

Me: I agree that these four restrictions were not salvation issues. We are saved by grace through faith. The Gentiles were going to the synagogues on the Sabbath to learn more about the Law. This is why they needed to keep themselves clean enough to mingle with the Jews and not unnecessarily offend them.

AiG: “Notice, James did not include circumcision or the entirety of the law in his response. In fact, the four “apostolic decrees,” as they have been called, are quite similar to four of the regulations in the Mosaic law placed upon foreigners who wished to remain in the land of Israel. They were to abstain from pagan sacrifices (Leviticus 17:8–9), from blood (17:10–14), things strangled (17:13–14),5 and sexual immorality (18:6–23).”

Me: Yep, this is true to form. The disciples were not inventing a new religion. They were following the God-given instructions in Torah.

AiG: “Did the rest of the elders and apostles agree with Peter and James? Absolutely. In fact, they agreed at every point and drafted a letter to be sent out to Gentile believers that included the following words:

The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul. . . . For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (Acts 15:23–2628–29, emphasis added)

So the disciples specifically stated that they did not send people to teach Gentiles that the law must be kept, and then they sent people to deliver a letter that included just four regulations. If ever there was a time in early Christianity to teach that Gentiles should follow the law, this was it. The decision of the “Jerusalem Council” carried the combined weight of the apostles and confirmation of the Holy Spirit. They did not command the Gentile believers to keep the Sabbath, observe the festivals, or to be circumcised.”

Me: There were some in the early church who were going around telling the Gentiles that they must keep the Law in order to be saved. This is entirely false, and today’s Torah-observant believers know it. Just to be clear, I will say again that we do not keep the Law for salvation nor preach to anyone else that keeping it is a requirement for their salvation. Jesus kept the Law. He fulfilled the requirement in our place. It wouldn’t do us any good to try keeping it for salvation because we have already fallen short of God’s standards.

Again, I will state that James’ judgment did not contain the only four possible sins for Gentile believers. This was merely to make it possible for the Jews to associate with the believing Gentiles. Why didn’t the Jerusalem Council take the opportunity to mention that Gentiles should follow the Law, not for salvation of course, but just because it’s the righteous thing to do? Because this is the Father’s religion we are talking about in the first place. It is His covenant with mankind. Christian believers are entering the covenant made with Israel, not starting a new religion. “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Romans 9:4). Jesus came to share the one true religion with the lost 10 tribes of Israel, to bring them back into covenant with the Father, and to add Gentile believers to their number. “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). “But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). All believers are spiritual Israel; otherwise, the promises would not pertain to them. However, this also means that the covenant and the Law apply to them as well.

The Law is righteous. Anyone seeking righteousness will eventually discover this truth. Believers in both the Old and New Testaments had a great respect for God’s Law, and they knew it was the very definition of righteousness itself. That’s how some of them got confused and tried to make keeping it a salvation issue. Read your entire Bible and judge for yourself. Is the Law righteous?

“And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, Who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn And to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1). “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18). “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come” (Acts 26:22). “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:160).

My point is, it doesn’t matter whether new converts were reading the Torah, the Psalms, the prophets, or listening to Jesus, Luke, or Paul. Everyone agreed when it came to the righteousness of the Law.

All believers throughout the course of history have realized that they have failed to live up to God’s standards which He set forth in the Law. They all look to the Messiah for salvation. Salvation through Jesus’ perfect life and sacrifice did not change God’s standards; it merely changed our right-standing with Him. Christianity, based on the Living Torah, was not supposed to be a new religion. It’s the oldest religion, the one true religion. It’s all about the Father, His righteousness, His chosen people, and His salvation. His righteousness (as defined by the Law) will never, ever change. Jesus is the example of how we should walk in that righteousness: “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” I John 2:6.

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