Did they keep Torah in the New Testament? Here’s another question: If Jesus came to do away with the law (Torah in Hebrew), why did His followers continue to keep it for literally decades after His resurrection and the day of Pentecost?
Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) spent as much as three and a half years with Peter, John, and the other apostles. Why not just tell them that the laws and instructions that they had all grown up with and that they had been following their entire lives and that their ancestors had been following for 1,500 years were now coming to an end?
And since the church believes and teaches that those laws were a burden and a punishment and were too difficult for anyone to keep, wouldn’t it have been well received by the followers of Jesus that they were finally going to be freed from this horrible punishment that God had been inflicting upon them for centuries?
And yet, the apostles who spent every day with Him, and the thousands of Jewish believers who made up the early church in its entirety didn’t seem to get the message. Even James, the half brother of Jesus who became the leader of the congregation in Jerusalem, didn’t seem to know that the law had been done away with.
And we’re not just talking about the months and years that immediately followed the resurrection and the so-called start of the New Testament church (Click on Who is the Church in Wilderness? to see when the church really started). We’re talking about decades.
As Christians, we just assume that what we were taught is true, and then gloss right over the many statements in the new testament that contradict what we were taught. We don’t even see it. And yet, it’s right there in plain sight.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
And when he came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. And behold, a leper approached and worshiped him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you are able to make me clean.” And extending his hand he touched him, saying, “I am willing, be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.” Matthew 8:1–4
This same story is also found in Mark 1:44 and Luke 5:14. The condition of being unclean and what to do about it comes right from the Torah. Compare:
As for the person who is afflicted with a skin disease, his garments must be torn and his hair must be allowed to hang loosely, and he must cover his upper lip, and he must call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ For all the days during which the infection is on him, he shall be unclean; he must live alone; his dwelling must be outside the camp.” Leviticus (Vayikra) 13:45–46
Here in Leviticus we see Yahweh’s instructions for someone with various skin diseases, which most English translations call leprosy. The person with the skin disease becomes ritually or ceremonially unclean. While these terms are not found in the Bible and they are often problematic, they are the commonly accepted academic terms to describe Biblical uncleanness, and so are used here for the sake of convenience.
Here’s the remedy for becoming unclean because of a skin disease:
Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest…and he shall declare him clean…and he shall wash his garments, and he shall wash his body in the water; thus he shall be clean…” Leviticus (Vayikra) 14:1-20
So when Jesus heals the man’s skin disease thereby making him clean, He tells the man to go present himself to the priest and offer the gifts prescribed in the Torah–He tells the man to follow the old testament law!
There are many such examples in the new testament.
But you say, “Sure, but that was before the church started on the day of Pentecost.” Ok, let’s look at some examples from after Pentecost:
And all who believed were in the same place, and had everything in common. And they began selling their possessions and property, and distributing these things to all, to the degree that anyone had need. And every day, devoting themselves to meeting with one purpose in the temple courts and breaking bread from house to house, they were eating their food with joy and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding every day to the total of those who were being saved. Acts 2:44–47
This is after Jesus’ death, after His ascension, and after Pentecost (Shavuot in Hebrew). Why are the apostles and disciples still meeting in the Temple daily? Why are they still in Jerusalem at all if the Temple is irrelevant, obsolete, and ineffective? If Jesus’ death fulfilled and put an end to the Law and made it obsolete, why are His followers still following it?
Here is the very next verse:
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. Acts 3:1
Do they not know that because they are the temple of the Holy Spirit that there is supposedly no need to go to this ‘useless’ building anymore—that Jesus did away with all of it? Why didn’t they just pray where they were in the upper room or from house to house? Why were they still following the Temple worship schedule by going to pray at 3:00 every day?
The reason is that it never occurred to them that Jesus came to do away with the Law, let alone to start a brand new religion called Christianity. Because He didn’t.
They understood (eventually) that Jesus was the anticipated Messiah of their Hebrew Bible. He was ‘the prophet like Moses.’ He was the culmination of Yahweh’s great and awesome plan to begin to bring back the lost sheep of the House of Israel; and to begin to take back the nations (Gentiles) whom He had previously disinherited and given over to other gods.
But you say, “Ok, maybe, but eventually Paul sets all this straight, right?”
What about the Apostle Paul?
Our first thought is that Paul does not have more authority than Jesus or the Father. And in fact, Paul agrees:
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Corinthians 1:12–13
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1
But let’s take a look at Paul and his relationship to the Torah. Keep in mind that this story takes place about 20 years after Jesus:
And when we came to Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. And on the next day Paul went in with us to James (the half brother of Jesus), and all the elders were present. And after greeting them, he began to relate one after the other the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
And when they heard this, they began to glorify God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many ten thousands there are among the Jews who have believed, and they are all zealous adherents of the law (Torah in Hebrew). And they have been informed about you that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles the abandonment of Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to live according to our customs. What then is to be done? Doubtless they will all hear that you have come!
Therefore do this that we tell you: we have four men who have taken a vow upon themselves. Take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses so that they can shave their heads, and everyone will know that the things which they had been informed about you are nothing, but you yourself also agree with observing the law. But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter after deciding they should avoid food sacrificed to idols and blood and what has been strangled and sexual immorality.”
Then Paul took along the men on the next day, and after he had purified himself together with them, he entered into the temple courts, announcing the completion of the days of purification until the time the offering would be presented on behalf of each one of them.
But when the seven days were about to be completed, the Jews from Asia who had seen him in the temple courts stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, shouting, “Israelite men, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place! And furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple, and has defiled this holy place!” (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, whom they thought that Paul had brought into the temple.) And the whole city was stirred up, and the people came running together, and they seized Paul and dragged him outside of the temple courts, and immediately the doors were shut. Acts 21:17-30
Now this is a long passage, but it’s very important. One of the problems that the church has is proof-texting a verse here or there to confirm an already accepted doctrine rather than letting the whole of the Bible interpret itself. Frankly, you’re going to have to read the whole Bible if you really do want to understand it. There is no shortcut.
Let’s dissect this passage together:
Some 20 years after the day of Pentecost, the so-called start of the new testament church (Click on The Church in the Old Testament to see when the church really started), Paul travels to Jerusalem to meet with the leaders of the Jerusalem congregation. This is commonly known as the Jerusalem Council, although that term does not appear in the text.
Paul tells of the marvelous work that Yahweh is doing among the Gentiles outside of the land of Israel. But there is a problem: the leaders in Jerusalem are hearing reports from Jews outside of Israel that Paul is teaching that the Torah–the Law of Moses–has been done away with.
First notice that in Jerusalem alone there are “ten thousands there…among the Jews who have believed, and they are all zealous adherents of the law” Acts 21:20. And this is the home congregation where it all started. This is where Peter, John, and the other apostles were in the beginning—the ones who spent every day with Jesus. This is where James, the half brother of Jesus, appears to be the current leader of the congregation.
And they proclaim unabashedly that there are thousands of Jews who believe that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah in Hebrew); and who not only still keep the law, but are zealous adherents of it!
And what about the accusations from some that Paul is against the law and is teaching that it has been done away with?
and everyone will know that the things which they had been informed about you are nothing, but you yourself also agree with observing the law. Acts 21:24
The leaders of the Jerusalem congregation say that these accusations against Paul are false. There is nothing to them. Paul also agrees with observing the law!
This would be a pretty good time for Paul to speak up and explain to them that Jesus told him during his vision on the road to Damascus that the law had been done away with. Of course Jesus never said that.
But notice instead what happens: James and the elders of the congregation instruct Paul to take four men into the Temple and follow the Torah instructions for completing their vow—likely a Nazirite vow as described in Numbers (Bamidbar) 6:1-21.
Paul purifies himself, as do the four men. This is the same type of so-called ritual ceremonial cleansing that we read about a person with a skin disease doing. It is prescribed in the old testament law and Paul is doing it 20 years after Jesus!
Please don’t miss this.
I know we often read right over these things because we’ve been conditioned that the law is old and done away with. But Paul himself is in the so-called Jewish Temple and is following the Torah and is paying for the prescribed animal sacrifices to be offered to complete this vow!
Please don’t misunderstand us: neither Paul nor us believe that animal sacrifices were necessary on behalf of believers in order to atone for sin. Jesus paid the price for our sins once and for all on the cross, and we want to be very clear about that.
But once again, this is where the church’s failure to read the front of the book leads to misunderstanding and faulty doctrine. The offerings and practices of the Temple consisted of many more things than simply animal sacrifice for sin. And this will be the topic of another lesson.
There are many more examples that could be cited of believers keeping the old testament law in the new testament. We will detail some of these in Was Paul against the Law?
Some will no doubt make the argument that while the Jews continued to keep the law, it was indeed done away with for the Gentiles. This is addressed in our teachings One law for Jews & another for Gentiles? and Who Is Israel?
We will leave you with this thought from Paul:
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks (Gentiles), whether slaves or free persons, and all were made to drink one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13
There is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentiles), there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
As usual, this is not a new teaching–it’s simply Torah:
For the congregation there shall be one rule for the native-born (Israelite which includes Jews) and for the resident foreigner (Gentiles who worship Yahweh) who is living among you; it is an eternal rule throughout your generations. There will be one law and one rule for you and the resident foreigner who is living among you.
Numbers (Bamidbar) 15:15-16