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What is the Hebrew Roots Movement?
Maybe you have heard of the Hebrew Roots Movement or Hebraic Roots and wondered what it is. Or maybe you’ve heard of the term Messianic, Messianic Jews, or Messianic Judaism. You may have even heard it called by the pejorative term the Hebrew Roots Heresy. But what do these terms mean?
The term Hebrew Roots refers to an attempt on the part of Christians to go back to the Hebrew or Israelite roots of the Christian faith. Those within the movement believe these roots have been obscured, corrupted, or even completely lost through mainstream institutional Christianity.
Jesus was a Jew
The story of Jesus and the early church is a Jewish or Hebraic story. Jesus (his name in Hebrew is Yeshua) was a practicing Jew in the first century, as were his followers. He was raised in a Jewish family. He worshiped at the synagogue on the Sabbath day, he followed a biblically kosher diet, his family made the journey from the Galilee region of Israel to Jerusalem three times per year as prescribed in the Torah. He was an Israelite of the tribe of Judah.
John the Baptist; Peter, James, John, and the rest of the 12 apostles; the apostle Paul; the 120 in the upper room; the 3,000 saved on the day of Pentecost (Shavuot in Hebrew)—they were all Jews.
And yet, somehow, the movement started on that faithful day has become nearly entirely detached from anything Jewish. And any attempt to be obedient to the Torah—the law as given by Yahweh to Moses—will swiftly and harshly get you labeled as a legalist or a Judaizer.
How can this be? How did it happen? When did it happen?
That history lesson will have to wait for another teaching; this one is focused on what the modern Hebrew Roots Movement is rather than from where it came.
Three types of Messianic believers
In our experience, there are at least three distinct types of Messianic believers, that is, those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah:
Believers in Jesus should not keep Torah. These are Christians of Jewish heritage that worship and fellowship within a Christian church and identify themselves as Christians. They are not Torah pursuant. That is, they do not believe that believers in Jesus (Yeshua) are supposed to keep the law of Moses. We personally know and are friends with Christians who are Jewish and who attend church and do not keep the Sabbath or eat a Biblical diet or keep the Biblical holidays. Though they might hold to a few of the Jewish traditions of their families, they do not believe that the Torah applies to them now that they are Christians. Example: Jews For Jesus.
Believers in Jesus may or may not keep Torah. These are Jewish people that believe in Jesus and seek to make Messianic Judaism an accepted branch of Judaism. Messianic Judaism is divided into three groups: (1) those groups or synagogues who believe and teach that the Torah is for both Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua, (2) those who believe and teach that it is only for Jewish believers, and (3) those who do not believe that any believer in Jesus needs to keep the Torah. The second group expects Gentile believers to follow the seven so-called Noahide laws, but not the law of Moses (the Torah). The third group do not believe that even Jewish believers have to keep the law of Moses (like Jews For Jesus), but choose to worship in a synagogue environment with Jewish liturgical traditions rather than in a church environment. While the stated purpose of a Messianic Jewish synagogue is often to be an outreach to the traditional Jewish community, it is not uncommon to find more Gentile members of a Messianic Jewish congregation than Jewish members. Examples: Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA),(UMJC), Tikkun International, Hashivenu.
Hebrew Roots or Messianics
Believers in Jesus should keep Torah. These are Christians (though many do not use that term to describe themselves)–mostly Gentiles–who consider themselves to be either Torah observant or Torah pursuant. That is, they believe that both testaments of the Bible apply to all believers, whether Jew or Gentile. They believe all believers should endeavor to keep as much of the Torah as possible. Examples: One Torah Ministries, 119 Ministries, Tom Bradford, and others listed below.
All three of these groups might be called Messianic–that is, followers of Yeshua the Messiah. However, they may or may not consider themselves to be a part of the Hebrew Roots Movement. Most importantly, they have differing positions on whether or not Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus should follow the law of Moses (the Torah).
When One Torah uses the term Hebrew Roots Movement, we are referring to the third category, those who believe that there is one law and one Messiah for the one people of Yahweh the God of Israel. This is for identification or descriptive purposes only. We welcome fellowship with all believers in Yeshua, as well as with those within Judaism. We seek to unite under our one God rather than to divide. However, we also believe that all believers in the God of Israel should pursue His Torah.
Is Hebrew Roots legalism?
To be 100% clear, One Torah Ministries believes that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus–this is God’s love toward us. But after we are saved, we show our love to God through obedience which results in abundant life and blessings for us and our families. We know of no one within the Hebrew Roots Movement who believes or teaches that you have to keep the law in order to be saved. We believe that obedience is the natural byproduct of grace–we ought to want to do what our Daddy asks us to do, not choose to be openly rebellious toward His instructions.
Anyone who teaches or claims that the Hebrew Roots Movement is a heresy because it teaches a works based salvation is either uninformed or else deliberately bearing false witness. If there is evidence (defined in both testaments as two or more witnesses) of an individual or a ministry that teaches that you have to keep the Torah in order to be saved, we will gladly join in the denouncing of that person or ministry’s teaching. You are welcome to post proof in the comments section of this page. You are not welcomed to post hearsay or personal attacks.
A legalist or Judaizer was/is someone who teaches that you must keep the law in order to be saved. It is not someone who teaches that those who are already believers should actually do what God says to do in the Scriptures.
We read this in Acts 15:
And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1
Take a second to read it again. It’s very clear and very simple unless you’ve already been indoctrinated as to what it says. This Judaizers or circumcision party is teaching that you cannot be saved unless you are first circumcised. This is legalism, this is a works based salvation. And One Torah along with everyone we know and every Hebrew Roots teaching we’ve ever seen rejects this false gospel.
Notice that they were trying to teach this false gospel to those who already believed–they are referred to as the brothers. They were trying to teach Gentiles who had already been saved that they weren’t really saved because they hadn’t yet been circumcised. This is a false doctrine.
However, this does not mean that the believers were never to be circumcised or to keep the law. This is nothing new. We read the same thing about Abraham, the father of faith:
And he believed in Yahweh, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6
So Abraham believes first and is redeemed because of his faith. What does he do then? Does he go about living a lawless and rebellious life, ignoring every law and instruction that Yahweh gives to him? Of course not!
And God said to Abraham, “Now as for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you, throughout their generations. This is my covenant which you shall keep, between me and you, and also with your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you…When he finished speaking with him, God went up from Abraham. And Abraham took Ishmael his son and all who were born of his house, and all those acquired by his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskin on the same day that God spoke with him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he circumcised the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he circumcised the flesh of his foreskin. Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised on the same day. And all the men of his house, those born in the house, and those acquired by money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. Genesis 17:9ff
Yahweh makes His promises to Abraham based on Abraham’s faith, starting in Genesis 12 and again in Genesis 15. After Abraham is saved by faith and after Yahweh makes His unconditional promises to Abraham, Yahweh then commands Abraham to circumcise his entire household.
And Abraham obeys Yahweh and does it!
This is what it means to be faithful. And it’s exactly what happens with Moses and the Israelites several hundred years later. First Yahweh chooses to redeem Israel out of Egypt and make them a people for His own possession.
This is grace in the old testament!
Then He gives them the law at Mt. Sinai. This is the God pattern we see all throughout the Bible. We see the same thing in Acts 15 where we’re told exactly how it is that they will learn the Torah after they come to faith:
Therefore I conclude we should not cause difficulty for those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, but we should write a letter to them to abstain from the pollution of idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood. For Moses has those who proclaim him in every city from ancient generations, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every Sabbath. Acts 15:19–21
The issue at hand in Acts 15 is what Gentiles need to do in order to be saved, not what they’re supposed to after they are saved. These are pagans who have been worshiping false gods in pagan temples using detestable pagan rituals that included temple prostitution. Unlike the Jewish believers who had been worshiping Yahweh the one true God, and studying the Torah since childhood, these pagans knew little or nothing about Yahweh and His instruction manual called the Torah. They had to start from scratch. And the first step was to stop worshiping pagan gods in pagan ways.
Are we to seriously believe that these four prohibitions listed in Acts 15 are the only four things that a Gentile believer is ever required to do by God? Is the Jerusalem church teaching that as Gentile believers we can do anything else we want to do now that we’re saved by grace? We can murder or steal or abuse children or neglect the poor or hate our neighbor or blaspheme God’s name so long as we don’t eat strangled animals or drink their blood or participate in temple prostitution? Of course not! That’s foolishness.
No, these four things all have to do with worshiping pagan gods, and so the first step is to stop going to the pagan ‘church’ and start fellowshipping with believers. And how will these new believers then learn the rest of what a believer is to do and not do?
For Moses has those who proclaim him in every city from ancient generations, because he is read aloud in the synagogues on every Sabbath.
That’s right, they’ll learn it in church, just like today!
It’s really not hard to understand once we set aside our preconceived doctrines and simply read the text. We don’t expect brand new believers who weren’t raised in church to suddenly know and do everything the Christian church believes and practices, do we? We understand that they will learn more and more over time by studying the Scriptures and fellowshipping with other believers. And they will hopefully sin less and less as they learn what is expected of a believer.
And that’s the dirty little secret…
As much as Christians hate to admit it, we do expect believers to actually do things we’re supposed to do and stop doing things that we’re not supposed to do as believers. Here’s just a few that come to mind from 20+ years of being in church:
- Go to church on Sundays (and other days & nights as well).
- Stop doing illegal drugs and getting drunk.
- Stop cussing and being vulgar.
- Stop watching bad movies or listening to bad music.
- Start reading your Bible and praying.
And yet none of these were mentioned in Acts 15 as things the new Gentile believers were supposed to do. Why not? We thought that the only four things that Gentile believers have to do are the four listed in Acts 15. Of course that’s simply not true. As it is today, so it was then: the Jerusalem church elders and apostles fully understood that these new believers would learn everything they needed to know to live the redeemed life by hearing the law of Moses read aloud every Sabbath in all their cities.
Hebrew Roots Organization
The Hebraic Roots Movement is a movement without any formal organization or hierarchy. There is no central authority or denominational headquarters. It is made up of individuals, congregations, and ministries who loosely associate with one another. Or, in other instances, refuse to fellowship with one another because of differences in doctrines and practice.
It is not a monolithic term. Just like any other group or community or movement, there is not a single definition for what it means to be in the Hebrew Roots Movement or to be Messianic. One person’s brand of Christianity or Judaism is certainly not another’s. It is the same with Hebrew Roots.
When you say you’re a Christian, do you mean Catholic or Southern Baptist or Mormon or Eastern Orthodox or Lutheran or Church of Christ or what? Aren’t they all the same? After all, they all consider themselves to be Christian, right? Come on folks, no one holds themselves to this monolithic definition of what the word Christian means. So why do many then do the same thing to the Hebrew Roots Movement? As is the case with any group or movement–be it religious or political or otherwise–we all understand the difference between the overall term verses the many interpretations and variations within that group or term. Let’s be intellectually honest and consistent. Just because some loon calls himself a Christian doesn’t make him a Christian. The same is true within the Hebrew Roots Movement.
It’s also a common fallacious attack on the Hebrew Roots Movement to point to an example of the failing of an individual within the movement to discredit the entire concept of being Torah pursuant. It happens all the time. So-and-so did this, so the whole movement is evil. This is intellectually dishonest and no one holds their own group or denomination to the same standard. You don’t appreciate it when some nut job or child abuser or cult leader or crook calls themselves a Christian and shows up on every news station. You don’t for a second believe that that person or ministry represents your faith and the people you know. So stop doing the same to those within the Hebrew Roots Movement. Just because so-and-so did such-and-such doesn’t mean that the Hebrew Roots Movement does those things or condones them. And we should all thank Yahweh that our skeletons haven’t become public knowledge.
Hebrew Roots Movement Leaders
It has been said that there are 10-15 major figures or ministries within the Hebrew Roots Movement, and hundreds of smaller organizations or influencers.
The most prominent include Rico Cortes (Wisdom in Torah), Brad Scott (Wildbranch Ministry), Tom Bradford (Torah Class), 119 Ministries, Monte Judah (Lion and Lamb Ministries), Mark Biltz (El Shaddai Ministries), Jim Staley (Passion For Truth), Michael Rood (A Rood Awakening), Eddie Chumney (Hebraic Heritage), Bill Cloud (Shoreshim Ministries), and The Hebraic Roots Network. Please forgive any offense if you are not listed and feel you should be. Feel free to email us if you believe you should be included.
Problems within Hebrew Roots
Much debate exists within the movement over how many aspects of Judaism to adopt and especially which form of the Jewish calendar (if any) adherents should adopt. Additional problems are created by the fact that there is currently no physical Temple in Jerusalem or functioning Levitical priesthood. So being Torah observant is technically not possible, especially since most Messianic believers live outside of the land of Israel in which the Torah laws were intended to be practiced. This has caused much debate and dissension amongst adherents to the movement. (One Torah considers ourself to be Torah pursuant)
Is there a way to resolve these issues? One Torah believes that only when Yeshua returns to gather the lost sheep of the House of Israel and reunite them with the House of Judah will there finally be restoration of the Torah. Until then, we continue to repent and to study the Torah and to try to love our neighbor as ourself.
Where to Start?
If you’re new to Torah or to the Hebrew Roots Movement, Start Here. These are the foundational teachings that will prepare you to go deeper into your studies of the Torah.
Already keeping Torah?
If you’ve already been keeping Torah for a while and are looking to study the more challenging subjects, we recommend starting with our Messianic Bible Study section. And if you have original, high quality teachings of your own, we’d be happy to post them on our website! Click Submit a Torah Teaching to learn how.
Ask Torah Questions is where you can ask questions and we’ll do our best to answer you and interact with you! Feel free to post a question or comment, we’d love to hear from you!
May Yahweh bless you as you learn His Torah!