Addressing the Hebrew Roots MovementPart 1
I have been desiring to address the issues which stream from the Hebrew Roots movement for some time now. Unfortunately, given the amount of time required to properly address the topic, this blog series has been much overdue. I want to provide a cogent, yet respectful, reply to their position. That being said, I want this post series to reflect proper articulation of their position while soundly correcting their theological shortcomings. There are a few different perspectives within this movement, so research has to be conducted by gathering information from a couple different sources and while watching videos or reading blogs in order to pick up on what the majority believe. So far, 119ministries.com has the most comprehensive statement of faith concerning their beliefs. I did not want to use Wikipedia since it is sometimes unreliable. Rather, I wanted to gain insight from primary sources on the matter. I believe this most constitutes effective research. Sources which I used will be listed in the resources section below.
The Hebrew Roots Movement (Hebraic Roots)
The Hebrew Roots movement is a growing movement of individuals who profess faith in Christ Jesus, yet believe that as a result of that faith in Christ, we are to keep the entirety of the Mosaic Law. This is the main point of disagreement. They do not make distinctions between the different categories of the Law. They accept the entirety of the Law as binding and a privilege to keep for the follower of Y’shua. (Hebrew for Jesus) They typically utilize Hebrew designations while referring to the Godhead, believing that this is the proper language to refer to our Lord, a sign of reverence. There are obviously historical and linguistic issues with this “sacred names” view and some do not dogmatically die on this mountain, but that can be addressed elsewhere. Furthermore, they interpret Scripture in light of older revelation instead of newer revelation so the Torah (first five books of the Bible) tend to be inevitably elevated higher than the rest of the Scripture. In other words, they see Scripture as a document which is contextually limited to the time in which it was originally penned. It also seems to come out in their theology that the whole of Scripture revolves around the Law of God instead of revolving around the person of Christ who was to be fully revealed in the New Testament.
Contrast With Protestant Christianity
The Hebrew Roots movement, while professing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, differs from Christian Protestantism in a few different, but major ways.
- The entirety of the Mosaic Law is seen as republished and binding on New Covenant members. Protestantism does not hold that position. Two major Protestant beliefs concerning the Old Testament Law are, A) the majority-Reformed view whereby the belief is held that only the Moral Law (Ten Commandments) remains binding today, that the Civil and Ceremonial Laws have been abrogated with the enacting of the New Covenant. Or B) the Dispensational view whereby it is seen that the entirety of the Old Testament Law is done away with and that the “Law of the Gospel” is the New Testament standard of righteousness. Of course, this Gospel Law is seen to be exclusively the words of Christ alone, that nothing from the Old Covenant is pulled over into the New.
- The Hebrew Roots movement has a hermeneutic framework which begins with the Torah and works its way out from there. This is to say that Scripture is interpreted in light of the Torah. On the other hand, the majority of Protestants hold that the Scriptures are to be interpreted in light of newer, clearer revelation and that the Old Testament saints were seeing a cloudy shadow of the things which were to be revealed later in the New Testament. This Protestant hermeneutic principle is called the analogy of faith.
- The Hebrew Roots movement has a differing view of faith whereby faith and works are seen as synonymous. In this sense, salvation does not come by faith alone, but rather by faith plus works. This is similar to a Roman Catholic understanding of salvation, however, the Hebrew Roots movement differs in that they recognize the entirety of the Old Covenant Law as binding. As a result, their view of justification and sanctification are placed at strict odds with the Protestant position as well as the Romanist/Greek Orthodox positions. To be fair, however, the Hebraist does affirm that we are saved by grace through faith, and that true faith produces outward obedience to God’s standard of righteousness. It is their articulation of this thought which is most in question.
The Core Issue
I would like to submit, in this post, that the key issue which causes a movement such as the Hebrew Roots has to do with a faulty hermeneutic. In Deconstructing Islam I argue that it is important that a source which is seen to be special revelation from God ought to also come with its own standard of interpretation. Without this, I argue, that a theistic position which does not come with its own standard of interpretation is indefensible and therefore false. I think that the hermeneutic utilized within the Hebrew Roots movement is just that, an indefensible, man-made, standard of interpretation.
Basically, what the Hebraist does is read the Torah and say to himself, “this is the word of God so it must be perfect, so it therefore must also never go away.” I can respect their reverence for God’s Word and desire to see it as something which is always true and never fading (I agree). However, in order to see God’s Word as always true, there is no need to believe that the Old Covenant economy eclipses the New Covenant economy. In fact, this causes one to lose sight of the entire point of the Scriptures. For instance, Christians see the Old Testament as always true because the revelation within reveals to us, further and further, God’s overall redemptive plan. It is always going to be true that Christ is foreshadowed in Genesis, (Gen. 3:15) it will always be true that God’s Law served a purpose for the historical nation of Israel, it will always be true that Old Testament prophecy served to reveal the future coming of the Messiah. However, to think those who believe God’s Word must always be true must also carry over the entire Law of the Old Testament is fallacious. What else must we also carry over in order to be consistent with this logic? Judges? Prophets?
Furthermore, Scripture itself has revealed to us a standard of interpretation. We as Christians believe that Scripture has come with instructions for how to interpret it. Let us turn to Luke:
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
Jesus’ point here on the road to Emmaus was not to point the two disciples back to adherence to the entirety of the Old Testament Law, His point was to establish the fact that the entirety of the Old Testament, and thus all God-breathed words, point to Him. The Old Scripture had a purpose. What was that purpose? Here in Luke we find that that purpose was to ultimately point to Christ. What about the Apostle Paul? How did he interpret Scripture? Let’s take a look:
For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak certainly for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. (1 Cor. 9:9,10)(emphasis mine)
Here we get a glimpse of Paul’s hermeneutics while interpreting the Old Testament. We understand, because of passages like the one above, that there is a symbol/principle distinction. In the Old Testament there were many symbols purposed to point to a deeper principle. This is merely the New Testament standard of interpretation. What Paul is saying here is that the law in Deuteronomy 25:4 was not purposed, ultimately, as a law to be kept by God’s people. To delimit the meaning to a superficial obedience would be to take away from God’s larger point. It’s ultimate purpose was to point to something much deeper. God is not concerned for the oxen, God is concerned with the principle which this symbol represents. Paul tells us what that principle is in v. 10. It’s principle was that the plowman and thresher ought to labor in hopes that there will be recompense. Paul equates the plowman and thresher to ministers of the Gospel in vv. 11,12.
What about Jesus? How did He exemplify this symbol/principle distinction? He does this while expositing the moral law in His Sermon on the Mount starting in Matthew 5:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt. 5:21,22)
In His exposition Jesus claims that it is not only the superficial understanding of the 6th Commandment which must be understood, but the deeper principle of anger and hate equating to the same thing as the physical action. He is pointing here to the depravity of the human heart, demonstrating that no man can keep the Law.
Possible Objections Addressed
The objection then comes, “well, there is a deeper principle to each law, but this does not mean we ought not keep it as prescribed in Torah!” Ah, but now we get to the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants which can be clearly seen in Hebrews:
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13)
Hebrews infallibly communicates the abrogation of that first covenant. What was that first covenant? “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.” (9:1) It is apparent that Hebrews must be referring to the Mosaic Covenant in light of the ceremonial regulations cited here, regulations given at Sinai. But wait a minute, the Hebrew Roots movement has posited that we not take only some of the Torah, nor that we see it as completely abrogated, but instead that we keep the entirety of it. They do not observe a distinction between categories of the Old Law but recognize the entire thing as a unit. Most theologians have counted 613 laws or so (Hebraists do not typically venture to count them) which were part of the Mosaic Law, but in Hebrews we see that, at least, some portions of the ceremonial law have been abrogated. They have “vanished away” with the revelation, fulfillment, and conclusion of the New Covenant because it is a “better covenant”. Let us explore more of Hebrews:
For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:19-22)(emphasis mine)
Regarding this passage the question is rightly asked, “what is the covenant mentioned here?” It is apparent that this is, once again, the Mosaic Covenant. But, as we have seen above, that covenant has vanished away. So then, the Hebraist must, to some capacity, admit that a portion of the Old Covenant Law is abrogated or done away with. Indeed all of Scripture is perfect, it is God breathed, but God Himself calls His own first covenant obsolete (notice, not imperfect). (Heb. 8:13) We should follow suit. Let’s look at one last portion:
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:23,24)
Firstly, the things instituted as a result of the Mosaic Law are now called copies. They are not real, they are representations of what is real. Already we have an idea of temporal symbols which represent everlasting principles. Secondly, once more, here in Scripture, there is a symbol/principle distinction.
This post, I’m sure, will be the first of others on this matter. I will also be uploading a video series on the Reformed Collective Facebook page where I will attempt to deal with the issues of the Hebrew Roots movement. I hope that this first post served as a strong rebuttal to the Hebraist method of interpretation. I will attempt to write more concerning the interpretation of Scripture, but also look for posts concerning their soteriology and also an argument using historical evidences against such a movement utilizing the information found in the Early Church Fathers (prior to Constantine). I think we will find that the Mosaic Law was not seen the way the Hebraists see it by men who were discipled by the Apostles themselves (see Polykarp), nor from men who were involved with the Church at its earliest stages in Asia-minor, Italy, and elsewhere. Keep your eyes peeled for further posts and videos on the Facebook page! Get the latest blogs always at www.ReformedCollective.com!