Many of the people who read this blog who know that my husband and I keep the Old Testament commandments, but aren’t quite certain what, exactly, that means. Recently, I was asked some questions about this, and I thought that now would be a good time to post our views on this matter.
Before I begin explaining this more thoroughly and documenting our journey into keeping the commandments, however, I would like to acknowledge that this is an extremely controversial subject. In light of this, I ask that before you begin, you please take a moment to Read This. It is neither my desire nor my intention to lay my own convictions onto others. It is ultimately the Holy Spirit who is responsible for molding us into the people He wants us to become, and we must be careful not to adopt the convictions of others as our own without the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The following describes our personal convictions and I invite anyone who feels led to search out the matter for themselves and to do what they feel is best for their own family. That is, ultimately, the standard by which we are all held accountable.
The Greek word for “sin” is “hamartia” and literally means “to miss the mark” and is derived from an archery term (1).
The term “Torah” derives from the root “y-r-h,” to shoot and arrow, and thus etymologically refers to that which “hits the mark” (2).
When I began to study the subject of the Law, it was in response to a question my step dad asked me, regarding the seeming inconsistency of a God who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” yet required standards of obedience for His people that were not required after the death of Jesus. In my answer, I gave him most of the standard replies about Jesus “doing away with” the Old Testament laws at the cross, the law only being applicable during the Old Testament time period, etc. The more I researched the matter, however, the more intrigued I became. I was fascinated by the commandments, and the incredible wisdom behind them.
For instance, although the existence of germs was unknown until around AD 1890, the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), written approximately around 1500 BC, contain surprisingly advanced medical and scientific principles. For example:
Leviticus 15:13: ‘And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, wash his clothes, and bathe his body in running water; then he shall be clean.
Numbers 19:16, 17: Whoever in the open field touches one who is slain by a sword or who has died, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. ‘And for an unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and running water shall be put on them in a vessel.
The benefits of simple procedures such as hand washing were unknown until the mid 1800’s. At that time, a doctor named Semmelweis was working in a maternity clinic where as many as 30% of mothers died from “childbed sickness” every month. Recognizing that the doctors performing autopsies were the same doctors who were delivering babies, sometimes just moments after handling a corpse, Semmelweis had a theory. He mandated a strict hand washing and instrument washing policy. The results were drastic and the death rate fell to about 1%. When he reported his findings to the great Medical Association of Vienna, however, he was rejected. Germs were unheard of at that time and doctors believed that washing hands between each surgery would take too much time. 12 years later Louis Pasteur’s experiments would confirm the germ theory and the medical world was revolutionized. 3,000 years before Pasteur, God gave the instructions that saved the lives of hundreds of women in Semmelweis’ practice when He commanded the Israelites to wash their hands when dealing with those afflicted with infectious diseases
Leviticus 13:45-46: “Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
During the fourteenth century, almost one-third of the population of Europe are estimated to have died of the bubonic plague. Entire countries and towns were devastated with no known survivors. Doctors at the time were unable to stop the plague due to their lack of knowledge and many died of the disease themselves. It wasn’t until the public health boards began to quarantine individuals who were sick with the plague, as instructed in the Torah, that the plague began to dissipate. God had given instructions, 3,000 years earlier, in these principles of quarantine.
Genesis 17:12: He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.
The two factors responsible for the ability of our blood to clot quickly are vitamin K and prothrombin. Interestingly, it has recently been discovered that only on the fifth through the seventh days of the newborn male’s life are the levels of vitamin K and prothrombin present in adequate quantities. Furthermore, it has been discovered that Vitamin K and prothrombin are at the highest levels (110% of normal) on the eighth day of life, and this is the only day in the male’s life in which this will be the case under normal conditions. 3,500 years ago, before the elements of clotting were understood, God commanded His children to circumcise their male infants on the 8th day.
Leviticus 11:3, 7-10: Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud–that you may eat. and the swine, though it divides the hoof, having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you. These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers–that you may eat. But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you.
Clean animals who chew the cud eat a vegetarian diet and have three stomachs which are used to break down and refine their food in a process that takes more than twenty four hours, in general. Pigs, however, were designed to be scavengers and can (and will) eat almost anything. They do not have the food processing and refining abilities of clean animals and their digestive system is not designed to filter toxins from the system. Instead, these toxins make their way through the pig and are deposited in the animal’s flesh within approximately four hours. This is why a March 1950 Reader’s Digest article stated that pork contains “myriads of baffling and sinister parasites” (3). As for sea scavengers such as oysters, clams and crabs, Scientists literally gage the contaminate levels of our oceans, bays, rivers, and lakes by measuring the mercury and biological toxin levels in the flesh of these animals (4). And yet, 3,500 years before we understood any of these principles, God commanded His people not to eat the meat from these “unclean” animals.
The bible, and the Torah in particular, is filled with many incredibly advanced scientific principles such as these. The more I studied the law, and the more I discovered about the amazing facts behind the commandments, the more I began to wonder whether the Old Testament commandments were still applicable to us, today. 3500 years ago no one knew about the existence of germs, they only knew that God had commanded them to keep the lepers separate from their camps. This must have seemed a terribly cruel law to those whose family members were struck by the disease, but God had a reason for commanding it that the people could not then understand. 3500 years ago, no one understood the benefits of an 8th day circumcision or the washing of hands. I began to wonder about the other commandments. Could it be possible that other laws found in the Old Testament today, which don’t make sense to us, are still beneficial? Could it even be possible that laws we think we understand (separating the lepers, abstaining from pork, circumcising on the 8th day), that we now feel we have the “answer” to, have more to them than our scientific knowledge has yet uncovered? Could there be health benefits to circumcision that we don’t yet understand? Could there be dangers in pork that Science has not yet revealed? And more importantly, could there be blessings and benefits that we are missing out on because we believe that the law was no longer applicable to us?
In light of these questions, I began my journey into Torah by keeping what I considered to be “health” laws. I stopped eating pork, shellfish, and other unclean foods, but as time went by, I began to consider other laws as well. Who knew whether Niddah was a health law, rather than a “ceremonial” law, as I had once believed? Perhaps there was a medical benefit to not wearing clothing of mixed material that I didn’t understand, that science had not yet discovered. How could I know for sure which laws were “health” laws and which were not?
Many Christians believe that Gentiles (and Messianic Jews) are required to keep the Ten Commandments, but most agree that we are not responsible for the other laws found in the Torah. To take this position to a literal extreme, it would be considered acceptable for a Christian to commit incest with his/her own child, as this is not mentioned in the ten commandments but mentioned elsewhere in the Torah. Most don’t go to that extreme, however, and also believe that we are obligated to keep the “moral laws” in addition to the ten commandments. These include laws such as the prohibition against homosexual acts and bestiality, incest and fornication. They include helping our neighbors and being generous with our finances, etc. These types of laws are not found in the ten commandments but are generally accepted as “moral laws” that each of us should follow. However, not everyone agrees on what is considered “moral law” and what is not. There are those who believe that homosexuality is permissible because it is not forbidden in the ten commandments. There others who believe that tithing and certain forms of generosity are no longer necessary, as we have the government to care for the poor. The problem with this goes back to the question I had previously asked myself: how can I know what consists of “health” laws and “ceremonial” laws? Where does the divide start between “health” laws and “moral” laws? God never separates the Law into categories (ceremonial vs. health vs. moral) in the Bible. By categorizing laws into compartments of morality, ceremony, health, etc. I understood that I was subjecting morality to my own opinion of what “morality” should be defined as. If thousands of Christians (and by that I mean those professing Jesus as their Savior) in America today can be deceived into believing that homosexuality is permissible under the “New Covenant,” it is more than possible that we have been just as deceived regarding other aspects of the Law that we, in our human understanding, have deemed inapplicable for us today. If the Bible isn’t our source of understanding (and we know that it is not, as there is no separation of the laws into categories according to the Bible) then we are our own source, and we are in danger of being deceived.
The dictionary defines “moral” as: “pertaining to the distinction between right and wrong, and the rules of right conduct.” With this definition in mind, I would like to suggest that all of the Law of Moses should be considered the “moral law,” as it as all been give to us for the “instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
This is something I hope to write more on at a later date, but for those who are interested in (and feel led by the Spirit to) dive deeper into this subject, I will leave you with these questions:
1.) Which of the ten commandments are applicable today? Which are not? How do we know the difference?
2.) In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus teaches about the law. When does He tell us the Law will be done away with?
3.) In the same passage, Jesus gives a distinction between those who will be called “great” in the kingdom of heaven and those who will be called “least” in the kingdom. How does he define the two?
4.) In Leviticus 23, God gives instructions for the keeping of the Holy Days (Passover, Pentecost, Sabbath, etc.) How long does it say these statues will be in effect? Does it seem likely that this type of covenant would be “done away with?”
5.) In Acts 18:20-21, Paul refuses to remain in Ephesus although the people ask him to stay. Why is he leaving?
6.) In Acts 20:16, Paul refused to spend time in Asia. Why?
7.) In Matt 24:20, Jesus tells his followers to pray regarding the flight from Jerusalem during the tribulation. What are the two things He tells them to pray?
8.) In 1st Corinthians 5:6-8, what is the feast Paul encourages the Corinthians to keep?
9.) In Acts 18:18, Paul takes a vow. What kind of vow is this?
10.) In Revelations 12:17, How is the “remnant” defined?
11.) In Revelations 14:12, how are the saints described?
It is important to note, in closing, that we do not keep the Old Testament laws as a way of earning our salvation. I began keeping the law because I truly loved doing so. I found a joy in obeying God’s commandments that I had previously lacked. We don’t refrain from murder or from stealing as a way to earn God’s love, or our own salvation. We refrain from these things because we love God and desire to obey Him in these things. This is how I feel about the Torah. As a very good friend of mine once wrote:
Grace is the unmerited favor God has for me, a place in His heart that I don’t deserve. Because of His grace, He sent His sinless Son to become the sacrifice for my atonement. Jesus paid the price for my sins, saving me from their penalty. He restored my relationship with God. That is done. Now, I am indebted, because of my gratitude. I am free from the penalty of disobedience to the law, but the law still has a rightful place as a description of what sin is and therefore as a guide for living here on earth. The same faith which enabled me to believe for my salvation also enables me to believe that God is for me, that He is trustworthy and has my best interest at heart and has given me a gift in the instructions for living (His Law.) I have faith that He will enable me to obey His commandments to the extent that I continually surrender to Him. The Law serves the function of pointing out my sins to me, and out of gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus and my trust in Him to never lead me astray, and a desire to continually put to death the flesh so that my spirit might live, I willingly obey His commandments. Obedience is a result of my love for Him, and blessings are the result of my obedience.
1.) The Spirit Filled Life Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers
2.) The Jewish Study Bible by Jewish Publication Society.
3.) Laird S. Goldsborough, The Readers Digest, March, 1950
4.) Jordan S. Rubin, The Makers Diet, pg 37