Restoring the Context of Torah

Excerpted from the Messianic Torah Devotional by Kevin Geoffrey.

“Rather, we have known that the Torah is good, provided one uses it lawfully….” 1Timothy 1:8

One of the major criticisms levied against the Messianic Jewish movement is that it allegedly causes believers to go back “under the Law.” Unfortunately, while much of our purported Torah observance is barely more than a superficial emulation of rabbinic Judaism, the accusation is not far from reality in some circumstances. Indeed, as the more militant among our ranks swing to the extreme with their versions of Torah observance, it becomes the very legalism they vehemently swear to oppose. The practices and propaganda of many independents, fringe elements, and those in pseudo-Messianic movements have also been cause for alarm within the larger Body of Messiah. Therefore, restoring the Torah to its proper context ought to be of paramount concern for the Messianic Jewish movement. 

It will suffice to assert that it is incumbent upon Messianic Jews (and the Gentiles who sojourn with us) to honor and embrace the covenant of Israel’s national distinction, the Torah. It is no longer sufficient for each believer in Yeshua—Jew or Gentile—to approach Torah individualistically, hyper-spiritu­ally, nonchalantly, legalistically, or any other way that is neither “good” nor “lawful.”

The keeping of the commands of Torah must be approached as Adonai’s means to an end—not the end itself—and that end is the restoration of the Jewish people to our covenantal calling as a light to the nations (see Deuteronomy 4:6ff, Isaiah 41:8, 42:1-6ff). While the Messiah Yeshua is the fullness of God’s plan for global reconciliation, Israel continues to hold her central and irrevocable position in His purposes… and at the center of Israel’s identity is Adonai’s Torah—both written, and written on her heart—calling her to return to the covenant in order to complete the task she was first and forever set apart to do.

The restoration of Torah begins with the simple premise that the written word should always be considered first in its original context, and last for its spiritual application. The following list, though far from comprehensive, enumerates a balanced beginning to a productive and fruitful approach to the Torah.

Consider first the national context of a given passage of Torah. How is the passage speaking to the nation of Israel as a whole? What effect does obedience or disobedience have on the entire nation? Are the commands tied to Israel’s occupation of the Land?

Second, what impact should the passage have on communal life within Israel? How are neighbor-to-neighbor relationships affected? How does adherence to or ignorance of the passage build or destroy the life of a community?

Third, how should an individual living among a united, restored Israel respond to the passage? What is his responsibility? How is he being practically instructed to think and behave?

Fourth, consider how the instructions of a given passage translate to community life in dispersion. Can the commands be fully upheld? Partially? What should be our attitude toward commands that are unkeepable in our presently dispersed state? Can or should we be creative in our solutions to overcoming any obstacles to Torah-keeping?

Fifth, what is our individual responsibility to the commands of Torah while in dispersion? How can we contribute to the building of our communities in spite of our dispersed condition? If community consensus is lacking, can we still honor the commands on an individual basis?

Last, in light of all of the above, contemplate the spiritual application of the passage. How does the “doing” of the command affect us spiritually? How is the command fulfilled in Messiah? What is the best way for Messianic Jews—individually and communally—to understand and apply the passage? What, if any, is the broader spiritual application for all believers in Yeshua? How does it instruct, reprove, correct, or disciple us in righteousness?

By approaching the Torah in this manner, we will be able to consistently view it in its divinely given context: the constitutional covenant for a united, distinct nation of Israel—in the Land, under the direct headship of Adonai our God. With this filter, we are better equipped to apply the Torah in our presently limited circumstances—dispersed among the nations, lacking in our communal identity—and begin to regain the perspective needed for Messianic Jews to enter into the fullness of our calling as covenantally faithful Israel.

What do you think? Is this the proper approach to Torah? Sound off below.

This “Challenging Paradigms” article was also published in Messianic Jewish Issues.

9 replies
  1. Cristine Curtis
    Cristine Curtis says:

    Love YHWH with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbour as thyself. On these 2 torot hang all the torah & teachings of the prophets. With this in mind, everything else falls into place. Loving God means having the spirit of Y’shua in us. The spirit will teach and guide. It is not possible to follow God’s instruction to the letter while in the dispersion – He did say we are to honor the laws of the country & as servants we are to honor our ‘master’ (employer). So, I feel that if we do our best in our circumstances to obey and humble ourselves before God, rely on Messiah for His forgiveness through a loving relationship with Him, we will be blessed and be a blessing to others. That is what is important – having a HEART for YHWH.

  2. Pam Reardon
    Pam Reardon says:

    Shalom Kevin.

    I marvel each time I read your articles. I scream inside: THIS IS THE TRUTH THAT ALL BELIEVERS NEED RIGHT NOW – Messianic Jews and Gentile “Christians” alike.

    Yours is the UNIQUE voice of reason, and balance, and truth for which believes unknowingly long.

    I agree with you in prayer that doors will open providing you with a platform and the resources to spread this message far and wide. Amen

    May Adonai bless, and strengthen and continue to anoint as you selflessly labor in His vineyard.

    A Friend in Maine

  3. Austin Fergusson
    Austin Fergusson says:

    I like to reflect on the spiritual application at every point of trying to be obedient. I also remember that Deuteronomy 4:6-8 says that the doing of them is not for my benefit alone but rather for the edification of the nations that they may see Adonai.

  4. Mona
    Mona says:

    Shalom everyone

    As Yeshua our lord has said himself in the book of Matthew… I’ve not come to destroy the Torah or the prophets… but to fulfill. He also said in (John 14:15) If you love me keep my commandments. With this is mind I think that we as thankful follower of our Messiah, should be observing and doing his commandments.

    True, many of those commandments are such that we can’t observe because there is no temple or priesthood. Also not everyone can do them because some are for women… others for men. I personally observe and do what I can.

    Torah observant in California

  5. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    As a believer I have struggled with this very issue. There are some, for whom the pendulum swings all the way to the left with “under grace. don’t want to talk of anything else” and then all the way to the right with “Torah Observant – obey God’s commands (all of them) or you are NOT a believer” and then all of them in between. So, I am over joyed to read your article and would like to add what I have found as I search the scriptures to find answers….In Romans 13:8 Paul writes “Don’t owe anyone anything – except to love one another; for whoever loves his fellow human being has fulfilled Torah.”

  6. Aggie Henley
    Aggie Henley says:

    We show our love to God by obeying Him, so yes, it becomes an issue when circumstances do not permit us to do so. However, God looks at the heart. Do I wish, for example, that I could celebrate Sukot-? Certainly. Is it something I can practically do? Not here in Montana. But I do recognize the date, and I do pray according to the meaning behind the act.

    I can imagine that in dispersion, Jews must make due as they can, and pray for the time that they will.
    As for legalism, I think that it has it’s place, but only in the face of deviant ideas that are put into practice.
    Yeshua did not come to abolish the Law, but to fullfill it. The Law without grace is a denial of what Yeshua suffered on the stake. Both are necessary in our walk with God. Leaning too much on the Law causes us to be spiritually dry and arrogant. Yes, you can become so “right” that you become wrong. But likewise, leaning too much on the Holy Spirit causes us to become hyper emotional.

    If there is anyone out there that can say they’ve got the Laws downpat, and need no reminders- then do away with the commandments. And if anyone out there can claim the ultimate spiritual heights as their on-going, uninterupted condition, then disregard any more teachings. Let me know who you are……ha!
    Balance is the answer.

    • terry
      terry says:

      what? i don’t understand the comment of leaning too much on the holy spirit that it causes us to be hyper-spiritual. please read Ro.8:16, Ga.4:6, 1Jn..24, Jn.14:26. 1Jn.2.27. says “but the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you of all things and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” we need to lean on the holy spirit, don’t we? we know that HE abideth in us by the spirit which HE hath given us…..1Jn.3:24.
      torah observant….among dispersed jews and those who have found they are of jewish blood,or christians.are all one in CHRIST and we are to obey Him in torah as able regarding one having the abilitly to do if they are not connected to a torah observing congregation. can we forget CHRIST’S own words? He did not come to abolish but to fulfill. forgetting not the CHRIST IS THE LIVING TORAH !

  7. Aggie Henley
    Aggie Henley says:

    If we lean too heavily on the Holy Spirit at the cost of neglecting torah observation, we will eventually lose our sense of the Law. Likewise, if we become so legalistic that we neglect the Holy Spirit within us, we will eventually lose sight of Grace.
    Yes, we are to lean on the Holy Spirit- but what I mean is that while we are being guided, we also need to proportionately remain in the Word. So if we want to lean on the Holy Spirit a great deal- amen- we should also temper ourselves with the Law in like quantity and quality.

    I have experienced congregations that fly high in the Spirit, and eventually lose groundedness because they are not checking the scriptures to make sure it is indeed the Holy Spirit they are communing with. The human spirit can interject itself, and also, Satan like to disguise himself as the Holy Spirit. If you don’t check experience with the Word, sooner or later, you are led astray.
    I have also experienced congregations that practice strict adherence to the Law, so much so that they become harsh and fail to act in love.
    A balance must be achieved if we are to witness to the world.

  8. Gerald Thompson
    Gerald Thompson says:

    Hi Kevin, although a Gentile believer in Yeshua, I agree with Aggie in a sense that the written Torah was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that through it, He reveals Yeshua, the Living Torah and leads us in the way we should go. I believe that God is calling people from every tribe, tongue and nation to Himself according to the Good News and for all believers to be faithful and obedient witnesses of Yeshua that’s expressed through the greatest commandment of Yeshua Himself, “Love one another as I have loved you.”


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