Why Not One Law For Everyone? (by Derek Leman)

Why Not one Law for everyone by Derk LemanDerek Leman, a messianic rabbi from Atlanta, GA in this guest post for Jewish Studies for Christians deals with an issue of whether or not Jews and Gentiles are bound by the same commandments. While there are other well-argued opinions, I am happy to present his post to you for your careful consideration and engagement. (You are cordially invited to visit one of his blogs “Messianic Jewish Musings” of this talented and prolific author. To do so, please, click HERE).

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Whose commandments are they? That is, for whom were they laid down as stipulations? Does that still matter or did something change, such as God issuing a new covenant that made the original commandments a law for everyone? Or did a new people come to God who were then transformed in some way, made to have the same relationship to God as this first people, the Jewish people?

The logic of “one law” or of the divine obligation of all people of faith in Messiah to the same laws as those given to Israel is usually based on one of a handful of arguments. Aren’t non-Jews grafted into the Jewish tree through Messiah and if so, doesn’t this eliminate the Jewish-Gentile differentiation? If a commandment is holy, then isn’t it unholy not to follow it? Since the Torah is the only ordered list of God’s requirements, it has to be for everyone, because God nowhere gives a “law for the Gentiles,” right?

People often base their opinion about the commandments on their experience and not on the Bible. I am not against the importance of our personal experience with God. It’s just that experience can be misinterpreted. It seems to be far better if we interpret our experiences with reference to the great ideas that are in the Bible and find answers which bring together Bible and experience.

So, for example, a Christian may experience a deep awakening upon discovering the joys of Passover and Sabbath and the rhythm of the Torah calendar. Likewise, eating a restricted diet can feel like intensifying holiness. And the whole experience of becoming a Torah-observer may feel like getting very close to God. Then, when encountering Jewish beliefs about Torah — that Torah is a covenant between Israel and God, not between the nations and God — such a person might feel as if they are being denied membership in an exclusive club.

I would like to explain why, in simple terms, God’s way is not one law for everyone, and suggest a middle path for non-Jews who want to have a closer relationship with Israel’s Torah.

First, it would be helpful if people would go back to the giving of the Torah from Sinai in Exodus 19. Would Jewish people be asking too much if we say, “Please keep in mind the importance of this event as something special between us and God?” When you read Exodus 19, can you not see God is making a covenant with the Jewish people? Yes, there are clever work-arounds such as “Gentiles were there too in the form of the mixed multitude.” But those tortured arguments look like a way to deny the simple truth: Torah was given as a covenant to Israel. The commandments are the stipulations of the covenant.

Second, what is in the Torah? Do people who want to read it as “one law for everyone” actually take into account what is actually contained in it? Many things in Torah no longer apply to anyone today, Jewish or non-Jewish. Do you need laws about how to treat your slave? Have you seriously entertained the idea of taking a war-bride after giving her a month to mourn her father? Were you considering stoning your rebellious teenager? Reading the Torah calls for some maturity in reading, some willingness to learn history, to see the difference between the ideal in Torah and the time-bound social and civil legislation it contained for an ancient nation in a barbaric world.

Third, when people talk about how they are “Torah-observant” or say that they “keep the commandments,” they mean only a handful of them. What they are really talking about is the observances given to Israel which the church has not made part of its practice: Sabbath, dietary law, circumcision on the eighth day, tassels on one’s garment, and festivals. There is no Temple anymore, so the laws about offerings and giving the tithe to the priests cannot really apply. But these few commandments that differentiate Israel from the nations — which can be referred to as the sign commandments, since they are signs of Israel’s uniqueness — are a cause for controversy. It may help (or maybe not) to point out that the Sabbath is specifically said to be such a sign: “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations” (Exod 31:13). When God said this, it is clear the “you” was Israel, and Israel’s generations are still very much alive today.

Fourth, it is possible — and I try to get people to see this — that what is holy and required for one person is not holy and required of all people. One person — a priest in Israel — may not be able to attend a burial or walk in a graveyard. If the whole world follows the “one law” principle, none of our dead will ever be buried. One person — someone under a Nazirite vow — must avoid wine and even grapes and raisins. If the all-commandments-apply-universally notion is followed, well, we will all miss out on some great Cabernet and the joy of raisins in our oatmeal. Likewise, it is possible that Sabbath is a holy sign of Jewishness (just like Exodus says) and that it is not holy for Gentiles. It may be that Israel’s diet was restricted and this marked them as a different people in the ancient world, but that there is no reason why pork is inherently unclean — just as Genesis 9:3 suggests.

Fifth, it is fairly easy to see — but clever and specious arguments are used to avoid seeing what is obvious — that the apostles believed Jews in Messiah should keep all the commandments but that the Gentiles did not need to “keep the law of Moses.” They did not mean by this that Gentiles in Messiah were free to steal and murder. “Law of Moses” means the covenant stipulations from Sinai as a total system. It is clear in reading Paul that he taught his Gentile adherents they were not bound by diets and days and the use of flint knives to remove a foreskin. To many people, this makes Paul seem problematic, anti-Torah. Did it occur to anyone he was being a good Jew and interpreting Torah according to its true sense?

Sixth, it is also fairly easy to see that the church went too far in distancing itself from Torah and the Jewish people. Christian theologians regularly write about this and recovering the Jewishness of Christianity is standard form today in many circles. Yes, plenty of Christians remain oblivious to what the theologians and historians within Christianity are saying about Jewish roots, but the church has definitely turned a corner. It is possible now to argue that Christians practice a form of Judaism and to point this out entirely from Christian thinkers and scholars.

Seventh, it is often overlooked that Christians keep most of what is in Torah, at least what I call the ideals of Torah. Love God and neighbor is the ideal center of Torah. It is expressed in ways we treat the powerless, honor one another, serve those in need, form community, and repair the world. Christians have always been very involved in love and service and good works.

Eighth and finally, there is a middle way for people who want to keep some of Israel’s Torah without those same people denying Israel’s unique relationship to God. It is not necessary to say, “I am grafted into Israel’s tree and so I am virtually an Israelite now.” It is not necessary to say, “All the commandments are holy for everyone and there are no distinctions.” It is possible instead to adopt the philosophy of one of the earliest writings of the Yeshua-movement, the Didache (pronounced deed-ah-KHAY). The Didache came out of the first century Messianic Jewish movement and a few decades after Paul died, the Didache argued that Gentiles could keep Torah. It is possible to see that in Paul’s time this could have been dangerous, it could have rendered Messiah null and void. But after many Gentiles came in, it was possible some of them would want to live close to Jewish communities and worship with them.

So in the Didache, Gentiles were encouraged to “keep as much Torah as they are able” and to live in fellowship with Jewish disciples. The audience of the Didache, then, were Messianic Gentiles — as we often call people today who are in Messianic congregations or, even if not members of a Messianic congregation, live a Messianic Jewish lifestyle and maintain friendships with Messianic Jews. And the Didache does not encourage these Gentiles to simply act as if they are Jewish. Some distinctions remain.

So, for example, in Messianic Judaism today, Gentiles have a welcome place. The best practices of Torah will include making distinctions without discrimination. It is possible to distinguish and not discriminate.

And it is not necessary that Gentiles who choose this middle way should claim that all Christians must do the same. Living as a “Messianic Gentile” (or just as a “Messianic”) does not make a person holier. It is one way and God has many ways for people. The most important commandments are not Sabbath and dietary law anyway. To over-exalt these is to practice a form of cheap self-righteousness.

Jewishness is not a privilege. It is a responsibility. Jewishness is not a status of higher blessing. It is a calling to be a distinguishable people and to pass on that identity to children and children’s children forever. Gentiles who love the Torah should not try to erase Jewish distinction, to render Jewishness inert, to say all Messiah-followers are essentially Jews.

It does matter whose commandments they are. And the ideals of Torah apply to everyone even if some of the specifics are about Israel’s peoplehood. One law for everyone fails to read Torah according to its own distinctions. Being grafted in is a way of explaining how Gentiles come into the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, one given long before Sinai and which included Gentiles from the beginning (Gen 12:1-3). God did not ever say, “I now take the commandments given to Israel and make them apply to all of Messiah’s people.” But Paul did show his Gentile adherents how they could derive from the Torah what was required of them. And like Abraham (Gen 26:5), it is possible to keep all of God’s statutes without having a specific law-code.

The Torah is not one law for everyone. But neither do we have to forbid people from keeping it. There is a middle way.

What do you think?


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  1. Randy Sandford

    The Torah of Moses is not BINDING upon anyone. If it was BINDING for Israel then they would also come under its curse. If it was BINDING for Israel then it would have to be 100% BINDING as it is written “if you break one part of the Law you have broken the WHOLE law. How many in the Jewish community had sacrificed a lamb this past Passover and eaten it? Ashkenazim don’t even eat lamb on Passover. If, as you said, what is holy for one may not be holy for another then the Torah of Moses (beside the moral code) can only be observed volitionally via the Ruach HaKodesh and without the fear of reprisal of the Law.

  2. Marcus Willis

    It took me a while to understand this because I felt that if we were all one family or community or congregation that it would only seem right that we would all have the same laws but I was never taught or given an understanding of what the Bible taught. But now that I have the full understanding I understand why it’s important for us to remain Gentiles or be identified with the Nations and for Jewish people to have and to keep their identity because it speaks to the power of the transformation of the Holy Spirit causing the Jewish people to come into fellowship with the Nations. God bless

  3. Dimitrios Dourmas

    As Jona from the belly of the whale,do I cry out, but silently from my heart. And as Job do I cry out, diseased and failing my test , wishing I could pass it. Amin. And Amin as Elijiah instructed us, and all of Judaism, and all Jewish people , and all Orthodox Judaism. From now on, to be very commonly known by every court system in every country, and all societies. To be the religion to practice honesty, righteousness and the religion of making amends. So if any Judaist, and Judaism members that would violate , any laws must turn themselves into the court system on their own accord, and confess the truth before the judge and accept punishment. Even if stealing one chocolate bar. Will turn yourself into the court system on your own accord and confess it to the judge and accept punishment. For one white lie , accumulates to one hundred white lies. And Jewish people will always be very well known by the court systems of every country to turn themselves in on their own accord if breaking even the smallest laws. Because they are Jewish. As Lot , and Elijah invoked the Righteous Spirit and the Righteous Spirit agreed and energized. And the Judaism religion does not practice this, and was never known to do this . Amin, the Righteous Spirit agrees and is pleased.

    Questions, please beesseeching answers from a most venerable Rabbi.

    Was our ancestors Adam and Eve Hebrew? Did they speak Hebrew in the garden of Eden? Did God create Adam and Eve as Hebrew persons speaking Hebrew in the garden of Eden? Is the whole world of Hebrew decent? Is all of mankind’s ancesteral roots Hebrew?

    Was Jesus Christ the off spring of King David ? Was the Virgin Mary the off spring of King David? Jesus Christ son of King David in the New Testament and Hebrew royalty in high standing. Virgin Mary, daughter of King David and hebrew royalty in high standing.

    Hebrew people would state the son of King David inherited his spirituality , but got confused and he thinks he us also the son of God., But he is the son of King David and Hebrew royalty in high standing none the less. And Mary his mother is the daughter of King David from the seed of King David. And Hebrew royalty in high standing none the less. And would be very well known in Israel and and to all Israeli people. Pontius Pilate would have him put to trial and possibly crucified just for being the offspring of King David alone, and Mary aswell. Pontius Pilate in the New Testament would state that Jesus Christ is the son of King David, and Mary is the daughter of King David at the crusifiction of Jesus. Geneology of Jesus is in first page of the book of Mathew in the New Testament. Contradicting scriptures .

    But Pontius Pilate did not state to Jesus that he is the son of King David as he was suppose to, at the crusifiction of Jesus, son of David and King of the Jews none the less???

    Venerable greetings Rabbi, and to all Judaism practicioners.

    Can please help answer these questions?

    Forever gratefully thankfull.



  5. Diane

    In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus explains that the Law has not and will not pass away until all is accomplished. I think we all agree with that. In fact, in verse 19, He goes on to explain that, “Whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven…” which then begs the question, are we teaching Gentiles to not keep the commandments?

    And then how do we explain away verse 20? Are we saying that Jesus was only addressing the Jews and not Gentile believers that would follow in the faith soon after? Should Gentiles then ignore Jesus’ teachings in Matthew? How far do we go here? How separate and divided do we want the new body of Christ to be?

    Then what do we do with Ephesians 2:15? It says that “by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man…” the two into one new man… (16) and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross…” …through the cross!…and the remaining verses seal the two together as one new person — why then do we want to continually separate Jews from Gentiles? Once we are believers, we both have lost our old identity as Jew or Gentile and have a new identity in Jesus. Shaul said he is more Jewish than anyone but counts it as dung in comparison to the new life/identity he has in Jesus.

    In Galatians 3:23-29, Shaul explains that “the law has become our tutur to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are ALL sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” And he continues by saying, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…”

    Is one made righteous — in right standing with GD — by practicing the law or by faith? Do we continue trying to justify our flesh by our flesh (by practicing the law) or by recognizing that we cannot ever be made right with GD through our flesh but rather through our reliance and belief on Jesus — His perfect work as He was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. It is faith in Jesus’ work that gives us new life–and it is the brotherhood of faith that makes us one in Him. It is time to let go of the old self-righteous identities and become one new man — not two — in Jesus.

    1. Stan Feldsine

      You said, “In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus explains that the Law has not and will not pass away until all is accomplished. I think we all agree with that. In fact, in verse 19, He goes on to explain that, “Whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven…” which then begs the question, are we teaching Gentiles to not keep the commandments?”

      The question is, has all been accomplished? One could certainly argue that it has based on the finished atoning work of Christ. The verses say that the law will not be changed until that happens, not a jot or tittle. But certainly we can all agree that the law has indeed changed, aside from the change to the tribe of the High Priest, Jesus, the entire sacrificial system has been done away with by the one time sacrifice of Christ. A lot more than a jot and tittle has changed.

      This passage cannot be used to support a continued rule of the Law of Moses.

    2. Randy Sandford

      You are right, Diane. Derek has been floating “Torah observance” for years. And as I have observed for over 40 years it does not produce good fruit. Many, if not most, “Torah observant” Jewish and Gentile believers who continue to go in this direction fall away from Messiah.

  6. MK

    I guess in all your studies, you missed the part where the sabbath was before Sinai. Maybe study a little more before misleading the masses.

  7. Todd Maloney

    It appears that everyone missed Romans 2:28-29. Romans 2:28-29 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. 29 On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter.

  8. Brad Thompson

    We are indebted to the Jew for they have kept God’s Word. If it wasn’t for God’s Word we would not be able to determine what is right and wrong. I’m not a Jew, but believe in keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher, but have no inclination to keep Jewish Holy Days; Although there are lessons to be learned from them; I’m Goyim yet A Believer Praise GD