And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.[Deuteronomy 4:1-2]
The entire story of human history can be summed up in one thought — man makes a mess of things and God has to clean it up.
God says one thing, and man does another. Man wanders off the path and God calls him back. Man’s heart is deceitful, and by nature man seeks to do that which is right in his own eyes, which put him at odds with God’s word. As a result, we have become masters at twisting, perverting, and cherry picking God’s word to suit our own desires, or simply ignoring it altogether.
The Creator tells Adam in the garden … you are free, which means I am giving you a choice. Everything is yours! Take anything you want. I have just one simple commandment: do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Did God really say?
Adam did what was right in his own eyes and transgressed God’s only command, making a big mess of things. And the rest is history.
As time passed and man descended into deeper depravity and sin, God progressively added more commandments to clearly establish His moral boundaries and righteous standards (see Galatians 3:19). The LORD revealed His Torah to Noah before and after the flood (Genesis 6-9) and later instructed Abraham in His commandments so that he and his family would live set apart from the world and be blessed. Most of us have never considered that Abraham kept the Torah 400 years before the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. The LORD blessed Abraham, the man of faith, because he “obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” [Genesis 26:5].
By the time the LORD gave the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the law was nothing new. God’s value system is eternal — it never changes. God did not create the Torah at Sinai. He merely revealed it.
The LORD further expanded on His commandments to address the specific circumstances and situations that inevitably would occur in a covenant community living together in the same land under the same legal constitution. Israel was called to be a peculiar people, set apart from the nations. God engraved His laws in stone and told Moses to codify His commandments in writing, which have been preserved in the Bible to this day.
And once the book of the law was written, the LORD gave very specific instructions that no one is authorized to change His word — ever!
God especially made it clear that no one has the authority to add to the Torah or take anything away from it. To change God’s word is to reject His authority and pervert His character.
Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.[Deuteronomy 12:32]
Yet here we are nearly 3,500 later, and that is precisely what has happened — men teaching as doctrines their own traditions above the commandments of God. This grievous error has cut both ways, in both adding to and subtracting from God’s word.
DO NOT ADD
Over the course of time, the Jews became notorious for adding to the Torah by ascribing authority to their oral traditions, religious commentaries, and rabbinic teachings. In many ways, Judaism elevates their man-made traditions found in the Mishnah and the Talmud above the pure and plain commandments of God.
This is precisely why Jesus was particularly harsh with the religious leaders of His day. Jesus had no issue with the Torah. He is both the Author and embodiment of the Torah and obeyed the law perfectly as our example. Jesus condemned the Jewish leadership for elevating their own traditions above the Torah and putting a stumbling block of unnecessary burdens on the people.
“In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. 8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”[Mark 7:7-9]
Man’s rules make a mess of God’s truth. The Jewish traditions had made the Torah burdensome and difficult, when God never intended His law to be difficult [see Deuteronomy 30:11-14]. This is why Jesus said His yoke was easy and His burden light. He came to expose the legalistic traditions of men that had perverted God’s word and to call His people back to the purity and simplicity of the Torah as God intended.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.“[Matthew 23:1-4]
But the Jews are not the only ones to blame for making a mess of God’s word. While Judaism has been guilty of adding to the Torah, Christianity has been guilty of taking away from it.
DO NOT TAKE AWAY
The early church consisted predominantly of 1st Century Jews who believed in Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah and were empowered by the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses first in Jerusalem and Judea and eventually to the nations. As far as the Apostles were concerned, Jesus had not come to start a new religion but rather to fulfill all the promises in the Torah and the prophets.
Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus and His Apostles all were avid Torah observers, keeping the Biblical feasts, eating clean foods, and worshiping at synagogue every Sabbath. Even Paul — who has become seriously misunderstood and grossly misinterpreted in orthodox Christianity — loved the law of God and kept Torah, saying “for I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (Romans 7:22).
When Paul reached the Gentiles with the gospel and multitudes from the nations began to put their hope in Yeshua as Messiah, Paul reminded them that they were no longer strangers but had been brought near by the blood of Christ and incorporated as citizens in the commonwealth of Israel [Ephesians 2:14-21], being grafted in to Israel as God’s covenant people [Romans 11].
Even the Jerusalem Council [Acts 15] gave Gentiles four basic rules from the Torah to be an initial entry point for new believers, and then the Apostles instructed them to continue to grow in their faith by attending synagogue every Sabbath to learn how to live through Torah [Acts 15:21].
Consider, for example, the testimony of the Apostle John, who considered obeying the Torah as the purest expression of love for God.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.[1 John 5:1-3]
But just exactly which commandments could John be talking about? Surely he wasn’t referring to all those Old Testament laws, but only the most obvious ones like do not murder or lie or steal or commit adultery. Surely John didn’t really mean to say that followers of Jesus should treasure all of God’s commandments, did he?
After all, Christians like to incorporate some of the Torah into their lives but at the same time are quick to dismiss and plainly reject others — taking away from God’s word.
Well, let’s look to our greatest authority to answer that question — Jesus Christ, the Author of the Torah Himself. What did Jesus say about picking and choosing which laws we want to keep and which ones we don’t? You may be surprised to find out what He has to say — and in the Sermon on the Mount of all places.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.[Matthew 5:17-20]
Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to do it — to perfectly live and embody it as our example. Last I checked heaven and earth still remain to this day, so not one stroke of the law has been done away with. That sounds pretty permanent to me.
And if that weren’t already clear enough, Jesus goes even further to emphasize that anyone who “relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of God.”
In Jesus’ own words … DO NOT TAKE AWAY FROM THE TORAH!
It does not get any clearer than that.
And yet the “church” is filled with self-proclaimed Jesus-loving Christians who have stripped away much of the Torah, showing blatant disregard to Jesus Himself. Christian leaders are guilty of changing the word of God and replacing it once again with their own traditions.
So where Judaism has added to the Torah, Christianity has taken away, creating two religious extremes that have strayed off the narrow path and made a mess of God’s word.
But God is sorting it out and cleaning up this mess we have made.
God is calling millions back to the unadulterated truth of His word and bringing people from all over the world — both Jew and Gentile — back the pure and simple way of Torah — to live as Jesus lived and walk as Jesus walked and to obey as Jesus obeyed in freedom and love.