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Why the New Covenant Doesn’t Do Away with the Torah

by Michael Bugg

The Covenant vs. the Torah

It's a common question: "Why are you into all this Jewish stuff? Don't you know that all that Old Covenant stuff passed away with the coming of the New?"

On the contrary, while the Old Covenant was indeed replaced by the New (or rather, is in the process of being replaced-complete replacement will not happen until all Israel is saved and within the New Covenant, to whom it was promised originally) the Torah itself is still God's Law. Let's start by looking at the exact promise of the New Covenant, given in Jeremiah 31 and quoted at length in Hebrews 8 (here quoted from the CJB):

“Here, the days are coming,” says ADONAI, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Isra’el and with the house of Y’hudah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day I took them by their hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt; because they, for their part, violated my covenant, even though I, for my part, was a husband to them,” says ADONAI.  “For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra’el after those days,” says ADONAI: “I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, ‘Know ADONAI‘; for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest; because I will forgive their wickednesses and remember their sins no more.”  (Jer. 31:30-34 [31-33])

Point the first: There are not two, but eight major covenants in Scripture, and only one of them is specifically replaced by the New Covenant:

The Edenic Covenant (Gen. 2): Man given dominion over the earth and told to subdue it, be fruitful, and multiply. While one might make the case that Man broke this covenant by disobeying God (though not eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was never mentioned as a part of this covenant), this covenant most certainly was not made "in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt," and so is not in view as the "old" covenant.

The Adamic Covenant (Gen. 3): Curses for sinning handed out as well as the first promise of the Redeemer, from the "seed" of the woman, given. Again, this promise was not made in the desert when God brought Israel out of Egypt .

The Noahic Covenant (Gen. 9): God's promise never again to destroy all life by a flood, and a renewal of the command to be fruitful and multiply. In this covenant, God commands Man to carry out the death penalty for murder, and permits the eating of meat. Sealed by the sign of the rainbow. Again, this covenant had nothing to do with coming out of Egypt .

The Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 15): God unilaterally promises to give the Promised Land to Abraham through his natural seed ("from your own body") who will number as the stars in the sky. Sealed by the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17), and renewed through Isaac and Jacob. Not subject to being broken by Israel 's disobedience to the Torah (Gal. 3:17). This covenant did not come about when God led His people out of Egypt --just the opposite in fact, since this covenant prophesies the 400 years of oppression in Egypt .

The Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 24:1-8): The people of Israel , upon hearing God's commands, say as one, "We will obey every word ADONAI has spoken"--in other words, to keep the Torah. Includes curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience (Dt. 28-29). This is the only covenant which came in conjunction with the liberation of Israel with Egypt . It is also the only covenant in which anyone but God promised to do anything. Therefore, it is the only one subject to being broken by the people of Israel . This covenant, and no other, is the subject of Hebrews 8.

The Levitical Covenant (Num. 25): As a reward for his zeal, God promises Phinehas that the Levitical priesthood belongs to him and his descendants forever. Reiterated in Jer. 33, which links it to the Davidic Covenant (see below). While it might be said that this promise is linked to the salvation of Israel from Egypt , it in fact took place nearly forty years later. Furthermore, Phinehas made no promises, so this covenant is not subject to being broken on his end.

The Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7): God promises that David will never lack a man to sit on his throne; that is, the throne of Israel . Reiterated in Jer. 33 and numerous other Messianic prophecies, as well as to Maryam the mother of Yeshua (Lk. 1:32-33). Fulfilled in the Messiah. Again, has nothing to do with Egypt , and could not be broken if anyone had wanted to.

Read carefully the terms of the New Covenant. Does it say that the Torah-the commandments, the feastdays, etc.-would be done away with? No. Instead it says, "I will put My Torah in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." Ezekiel promised the same in different terms:

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit inside you; I will take the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my Spirit inside you and cause you to live by my laws, respect my rulings and obey them. (36:25-27)

So then, shall we say that God's promise to write the Torah on our hearts, to cause us to walk in His statutes and keep His judgments by the power of His Spirit means that His Torah, His statutes, and His judgments are done away with? From whence did this theology that if God writes His Torah in our hearts it ceases to be the Torah come from? Certainly not from the Bible!

As we saw in previous posts, since God Himself gave the Torah, only God Himself could change it--no prophet or even apostle has that authority. But what did Yeshua say about the Torah?

“Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete.  Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah – not until everything that must happen has happened.  So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot (commandment) and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven . But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven .”  (Mt. 5:17-19)

The last time I checked, the Heaven and the Earth were still here, so the Torah is still in effect. That's not to say that every commandment applies the same way to all people--the High Priest had to follow commandments that the common Levite did not, the Levite commands that the rest of Israel did not, and the circumcised Israeli had to keep commands that the alien living among them wasn't held responsible for--but that we cannot simply say the Torah is the "old" covenant and should no longer be followed.

The Yoke of the Torah (see article on Acts 15)

"But," one might object, "didn't the Apostles call the Torah a yoke too heavy to bear (Acts 15:10)?" Not at all! First, let us consider what the Torah has to say about itself:

For this mitzvah which I am giving you today is not too hard for you, it is not beyond your reach.  It isn’t in the sky, so that you need to ask, ‘Who will go up into the sky for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?’  Likewise, it isn’t beyond the sea, so that you need to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?’  On the contrary, the word is very close to you–– in your mouth, even in your heart; therefore, you can do it! (Deu. 30:11-14)

In other words, there is nothing about the Torah that is arduous or humanly impossible to keep—and in that lies our just condemnation under God’s Law. If keeping His commandments was impossible, then He wouldn’t hold us accountable for keeping them; but having given us a Torah that we could keep, our true rebellious nature is made manifest.

Yeshua Himself, though endorsing every last letter of the Torah and saying that those who taught against keeping the least command would be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven (note that the issue is teaching falsely, and that it clearly isn't a salvational issue), said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Mat. 11:28-30, NKJV). He did not regard the Torah—properly interpreted and applied—to be a burden.

No, this heavy yoke must be something else; and by simply carefully studying the debates between Yeshua and the Pharisees, it's not hard to say what it was. Yeshua never once criticized a single commandment of the Torah, but vehemently opposed adding commandments to the Torah so as to make it a burden or pervert its meaning. For example, He condemned the Pharisees for judging others on how (or if) they ceremonially washed their hands, or for gleaning a bit of food on the Sabbath, or for allowing one to sidestep their oaths and their obligation to care for (honor) their parents by way of legal loopholes. It was the addition of literally thousands of extra-Torahic commands, too many for any other than a scholar to even keep track of, which made the Torah a burden—and it was that culture of legalism that the Apostles wished to protect the Gentile converts from, not the Torah itself.

I've been accused several times of being rabbinic. Nothing could be further from the truth. I like to get the rabbis' take on certain issues, just to have the additional perspective, but I don't feel bound by it. I respect the Jewish (extra-Biblical) traditions and even observe some, like the details of the Passover dinner or the praying of the Amidah (sans the 19th "Benediction"), but I am certainly not bound by them the way I am bound by God’s commandments in the Scripture, nor do I judge anyone on them. If I don't rest on the Sabbath in a rabbinically-correct way because I drive ten miles to teach the kids of our youth group, I nevertheless rest from my regular work and teach on the Sabbath as Yeshua and the Apostles did. Doing what God has commanded me to do out of love for Him is far more important than trying to be more (rabbinically) Jewish than a born Jew (cf. 1 Col. 7:19).

The truly sad thing is that most conservative churches do observe--and even quote from--about 90% of the Torah. Nobody here thinks it's alright to steal, for example, or commit adultery, or practice occultism, or cheat in business, etc. Yet take someone like myself, who finds it a delight to observe the Feastdays that God Himself ordained, and suddenly some people get offended.

Let me be clear about this: I am not trying to foster an attitude of legalism or to dictate to anyone, "You have to do this and that in just such a way to be saved." Heaven forbid! What I am trying to accomplish with the last several essays is to change a basic attitude: Instead of saying, "Oh, that's the Law! We're under Grace, so it doesn't apply anymore," I would that the Church as a whole would say, "We are under Grace, and having been shown so great a grace, let us both hear and carry out God's Teachings." (The word Torah, which comes from the word yarah, has more the connotation of "teaching" than "law.")

We must also avoid the artificial division Christianity as a whole tends to put on the Torah, saying, "Well, the moral law still applies, but the ceremonial law doesn't." That's simply not true, as we can see from the example of the Apostles. Nor are the ceremonial commandments more arduous to keep than the moral commandments--just the opposite! As I explained back in my High Holy Days posts, I have found great joy and blessing in observing God's appointed times.

But even more importantly, such a division creates a rather strange attitude: That the commands that tell us how to love our neighbor (the moral law) are more important than those which tell us how to love God.

Loving ADONAI your God

"That's Jewish! You're trying to earn your salvation! That's the Old Covenant, we're under the New! Those old rituals were just the carnal shadows of the things to come!"

It's an objection that rings down through the ages, but is it really true? Did the Messiah do away with all shadows in the ceremonial commands? Let us consider for a moment those commandments which every Christian would still consider binding:

[A]nd one of them who was a Torah expert asked a sh’eilah to trap him: “Rabbi, which of the mitzvot in the Torah is the most important?”

He (Yeshua) told him, “‘You are to love ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’  This is the greatest and most important mitzvah.  And a second is similar to it, ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’  All of the Torah and the Prophets are dependent on these two mitzvot.” (Mat. 22:35-40)

Love then, first for God and then for our neighbor, is the core principle of the whole Torah. As Rabbi Hillel said, “The rest is commentary. Now go learn it.” That is, the Torah tells us how to love God and our fellow human being in practical terms. And how do we love our fellow man? "Thou shalt not steal, bear false witness, commit adultery, murder, or covet" while we should “honor your mother and father.” These commandments all give specifics on how to love our fellow man. So do the commandments to help our enemy if we see him stranded on the road, to take community responsibility for an unsolved murder, or to care for the widow, the orphan, or the alien in the land (or the visitor to our congregations, for that matter). I can't think of too many Christians who think of such things as "living in the shadowy world of the old covenant, with its carnal symbols."

How do we love God, then?

If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:21, NKJV)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome. (2 Jn. 5:3, NKJV)

The first four commandments of the Decalogue all deal with the love of God:

1) I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt , out of the house of bondage. Many people think the first commandment is the injunction against other gods or idolatry. It isn't. The first command is to know who God is and what He has done for you.

2) You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make to yourselves any graven image . . . Knowing who God is, we shall not show Him hatred by worshiping anything made by our hands, whether Baal, Moloch, Zeus, our house, our car, our job, our favorite sport or hobby, our church, our orthodox theologies--nothing.

3) You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain. For the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain. Here is a most misunderstood commandment. I don't think it has anything to do with cursing. The command is literally that we should not take God's Name, His reputation, upon ourselves for nothing. We must show who we are in our every deed.

4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. . . For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and sanctified it. The Sabbath is the first Feastday (cf. Lev. 23), the first appointed time, of the Lord. The Rabbis believed that it came once a week instead of once a year was not that it was common, but because it was that important. It was not to be a burden, but a gift from God to man--and not just Israel , but to the whole world. It prefigures the "Sabbath rest" of the seventh Millennium.

Let's summarize: We love God by keeping His Commandments: To know Him and know what He did for us, to not worship anything else, not to take His Name ("Christ-ians," "Messiah-anics," "Isra-El") upon ourselves for nothing, and to take the weekly Feastday that He gave us to rest as a gift.

What then of the other commandments? Let's take an “absurd” example that I don't think was ever mandatory for Gentiles under any covenant (which I can prove from the Torah, not just the NT): Kosher. What does eating only certain meats have to do with loving God or our fellow man?

When Noah took the animals onto the Ark , he was commanded to take seven of the clean ones. Obviously, the concept of clean and unclean goes back long before Sinai, but the question is why? The Antidiluvians were vegetarian; meat-eating wasn't allowed until after the Flood. So what possible difference did clean and unclean meat make to them?

The answer, I believe, is that they may not have eaten meat, but they did do sacrifice. Therefore, the distinction to Noah was not what was eatable or not, but what could be brought to the altar of the Lord or not. Therefore, by eating only kosher meats, Israel , the nation of priests, was eating only what was acceptable to offer to God. Or to put it another way, the kosher Messianic Jew is only bringing meat into the temple of his or her body that is acceptable to offer before the Lord in the Temple built by hands.

I didn't think of such things before I started keeping kosher. When I started keeping kosher, I did so only because that's what God did when He walked the earth. But by keeping a commandment that I did not understand in faith, a new insight was given to me.

What about celebrating Passover? How is that loving God? I'd think this one would be obvious: It's a celebration of God's deliverance of us from both Egypt and sin by His miraculous work and His willingness to make Himself our Passover Lamb, so that we might be spared by His blood from death. Just as we eat bread without leaven (which symbolizes sin, cf. 1 Cor. 5:6-8) for seven days, we are cleansed of all sin completely by Messiah Yeshua’s once-and-for-all sacrifice.

Firstfruits? Sha'ul himself explains this one when he calls Yeshua "the firstfruits of them that slept." And just as Yeshua, the firstfruits of the dead, was Resurrected and glorified, so we, the latter harvest, will be Resurrected in His likeness.

Pentecost? A memorial of when the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit or Holy Breath, first descended upon the "firstfruits" of all the Church in the upper room, assuring us that we latter fruits would receive the same Spirit.

What about Rosh Hashanah? It is a memorial in advance of the Second Coming, when Yeshua shall return on the clouds of the sky with a loud trumpet (shofar) blast to raise the dead and take us to be with Him.

Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement? A day to prayerfully consider our sins and repent of them, remembering that Yeshua is our High Priest in the heavenly Holy of Holies. Also prophetic of Israel 's future reconciliation to the Messiah.

What about celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles? That's Yeshua's birthday, believe it or not, when He came to "tabernacle" among us, and the eighth day of Sukkot celebrates His circumcision, His admission into the community of Israel . This Feastday also celebrates the coming age, when the Messiah will rule bodily over the earth; it was so joyful, and so important, that it was often called simply the Feast. It will be compulsory to celebrate in the Millennium (Zec. 14:18-19).

What about wearing a tzitzit, or blue thread or tassel, on one's clothing? It's a reminder to follow God's commandments, not unlike the WWJD bracelets that were so popular a few years ago.

Sacrifice? A daily memorial of the price of sin and the fact that the Messiah paid that price for you and me. (Not that sacrifices are currently possible, nor are they necessary, but we know from Scripture that they will begin again.)

See, all of these "carnal shadows" many Christians speak against are all about continually reminding us of God's plan and God's commandments, celebrating what He has done and what He will do, and actively loving Him for them in our hearts, souls, and bodies. By keeping them physically—in the right Spirit, of course—I am loving God with all of my might. By meditating upon God's Word, I am loving Him with all my soul, or mind. But before all that, I had to receive a new heart, so I could love Him with all my heart and worship Him in Spirit and truth, for the natural heart "is deceitful above all things."

By keeping all of these "carnal shadows," I have seen dry theology turned into a living culture. Pure theology is noble, if directed properly, but when God presented Himself to Israel , did He give them theology, or did He give them commandments, celebrations, a culture? When Yeshua walked the earth, did He write the Institutes, or did He also give commandments, celebrations, and a culture--and moreover, did He not infuse all of those with new meaning?

God did not give theology because theology would keep proper worship of Him solely in the realm of the intellectual elite. Instead, He gave a culture so that everyone, from the most brilliant mind to the severely retarded, from the white-haired to little children, from the eclectic to the simple, could all know Him for who He is. He thus infused every element of their lives with meaning, from the keeping of the time to the clothes they wore to the food they ate.

That is Torah. And to keep it is to love God, and to learn, a little bit each day, how to be like Him.

Torah in the New Testament

In previous entries (see below) we saw that the Torah was not replaced in the New Covenant, but was written on our hearts by the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. We saw that Yeshua put His personal endorsement on every last letter and penstroke of the Torah, and we have seen that when it is not being added to and when it is understood that it is God's grace received by trusting His Messiah, the Torah is not a burden too heavy to bear. And we saw that the "Jewish," or ceremonial, parts of the Torah tell us how to love God, just as the "moral" commandments tell us how to love our fellow man.

What then about the Apostles? Didn't they say that keeping the Torah was putting one's self "under the Law" instead of under Grace?


What is sin? According to the Apostle Yochanan (John), "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness" (1 Jn. 3:4)--or to put it another way, since nomos nearly always means "Torah" in the NT: "Everyone who practices sin also practices Torah-lessness, for sin is Torah-lessness."

And again from Sha'ul: "What shall we say then? Is the Torah sin? [Ed. note: Some Christians seem to think so.] Let it not be said! But I did not know sin except through the law. For also I did not know lust except the law said, You shall not lust" ( Rom. 7:7). The Torah tells us what is sin, so that we may avoid it. It also tells us what is good, that we may be more like God. Every Biblical Christian would agree with that in regards to not stealing or avoiding idolatry.

I'm not saying that one has to be Jewish to be saved or to grow in one’s Christian walk. God likes variety (see the second half of Rev. 7), and He loves you just as much as a Gentile. And I'm certainly not saying that Torah-keeping is a prerequisite for salvation; it's not. But neither should you preach against keeping God's commandments.

Moreover, in falsely teaching that Yeshua came to do away with the Torah, we have put a stumbling block between the Jewish people and their Messiah:

Everything I am commanding you, you are to take care to do. Do not add to it or subtract from it.


“If a prophet or someone who gets messages while dreaming arises among you and he gives you a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder comes about as he predicted when he said, ‘Let’s follow other gods, which you have not known; and let us serve them, ‘ you are not to listen to what that prophet or dreamer says. For ADONAI your God is testing you, in order to find out whether you really do love ADONAI your God with all your heart and being.  You are to follow ADONAI your God, fear him, obey his mitzvot, listen to what he says, serve him and cling to him; and that prophet or dreamer is to be put to death; because he urged rebellion against ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from a life of slavery; in order to seduce you away from the path ADONAI your God ordered you to follow. This is how you are to rid your community of this wickedness.” (Deu. 13:1-6 [12:32-13:5])

Now consider the perspective of an observant Jew: He hears of this Jesus fellow, who came with all these signs and wonders and prophecies, but who, according to the Christians, came to do away with the Torah and start a new religion based on worship of him rather than worship of the One God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Based on the information being given him by the vast majority of Christians, the Jew would be right to reject Jesus according to the Torah.

But Yeshua never did away with the Torah. What He did away with were the curses the Torah pronounces against those who do not keep it. Being thus freed from the curses, we can now follow the Torah out of love and a legitimate desire to be like God instead of out of fear of punishment. Having no fear, and having instead received the Spirit of Adoption, we don't have to add fences around the Torah lest we accidentally violate it--and it was those fences, all those additional laws and traditions, which would be codified centuries later in the Talmud, which were the "yoke too heavy to bear," the "heavy burdens" that the Pharisees tied up on others' shoulders and refused to help them carry.

Nor did Sha’ul, who told others to imitate him as he imitated the Messiah (1 Co. 11:1), ever say that the Torah was done away with. On the contrary:

For it is not merely the hearers of Torah whom God considers righteous; rather, it is the doers of what Torah says who will be made righteous in God’s sight. (Rom. 2:13)

Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the Torah, won’t his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?  Indeed, the man who is physically uncircumcised but obeys the Torah will stand as a judgment on you who have had a b’rit–milah and have Torah written out but violate it! ( Rom. 2:26-27)

Does it follow that we abolish Torah by this trusting? Heaven forbid! On the contrary, we confirm Torah. (Rom. 3:31)

So the Torah is holy; that is, the commandment is holy, just and good. (Rom. 7:12)

For we know that the Torah is of the Spirit; but as for me, I am bound to the old nature, sold to sin as a slave. (Rom. 7:14)

For in my inner self I completely agree with (Gr. sunedomai, lit. “delight in”) God’s Torah. (Rom. 7:22)

For Christ is the end (Gr. telos, “goal,” not “termination point”) of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4, NKJV)

Being circumcised means nothing, and being uncircumcised means nothing; what does mean something is keeping God’s commandments. (1 Co. 7:19)

Therefore the Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:24, NKJV)

We know that the Torah is good, provided one uses it in the way the Torah itself intends. . . (1 Ti. 1:8)

All Scripture (including the Torah) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Ti. 3:16-17, NKJV)

(See also What Does the Bible Say About the Torah?)

Sha’ul was never opposed to the Torah, nor to keeping it. What he was opposed to was the misuse of the Torah, in Torah-keeping as an end unto itself, as if one could keep God’s Law well enough to earn the salvation that God has freely offered by His grace.

And if none of that makes sense to the reader, then I have one last argument: My Lord kept Torah, therefore I strive to keep Torah--not for salvation or rewards, but so I can be like Him. My Lord kept kosher, therefore I keep kosher. My Lord wore tzitzit (tassels with a blue thread) on His clothing, so so do I. My Lord celebrated the Feastdays, therefore I celebrate the feastdays. My Lord kept Sabbath on the seventh day, and so do I. My Lord observed Hanukkah (John 10:22), and so do I.

It's as simple as that.



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