“When you are finished reading this book, you will be able to strongly defend the validity of Torah for born again believers.”
-J.K. McKee, The New Testament Validates Torah
I always point them to J.K. McKee’s TNN Online. McKee is one of the few souls I’ve come to trust over the years: grounded in the Scriptures, engaged with modern scholarship. Devoted to Messiah and Torah. In my years of knowing McKee, as well as his parents Mark and Margaret Huey, they’ve been gems in the rough, examples of Messiah both online and in the real world.
In his massive 430-page book, The New Testament Validates Torah, McKee presents a reasoned and convincing argument for Torah observance for Messiah’s followers today.
The book’s needed now more than ever. As it stands, fine Kineti readers, as of late 2012, the Messianic movement is…a bit of a mess. Plagued with “unscholarship” – teachers with no credentials, lack of scholarship, people with no knowledge of Hebrew claiming to know the only real name of God, shifting ministerial alliances, congregants majoring on the minors, even real heresies and apostasy.
McKee’s book goes against the grain and makes something beautiful: framed in the Scriptures and engaged with biblical scholarship, McKee presents the case for the ongoing validity of Torah for Messiah’s disciples.
Believers today are facing a difficult road ahead.
The western world is growing secular and more hostile towards faith, and its Christian heritage in particular. We’re seeing our culture in the 21st century grow more godless, more lawless: atheism is more popular than ever. Western nations are displacing faith with State and Darwin and anything-but-God, a legal and powerful homosexual agenda in media and in law, pornography commonplace, divorce and broken homes the norm. Christianity in particular is mocked and laughed at as outdated skygod myth from the old generation.
Meanwhile, a shallow pop Christianity aims to blend in with this same world, and while it attracts many, its impact is superficial and leaves us searching for something deeper.
What’s the answer?
The Messianic faith calls for a return to the foundation: The Torah, the Law, the first 5 books of the Bible. In it contains God’s commandments, the moral foundation of Judaism and Christianity, the very fabric and code of our faith. The Messianic call to Torah is ultimately a call to holiness: separation from the sinful world, a return to those things that the Apostle Paul called “holy and good and righteous.”
But is returning to Torah a Scriptural idea? If believers keep Torah, won’t we be practicing legalism? Won’t we be Judaizing? Isn’t Christ the end of the Law?
In The New Testament Validates Torah, McKee tackles these issues and presents the Scriptural case for a return to Torah for modern believers.
Practical, Scriptural rebuttals to anti-Torah beliefs
McKee’s arguments for Torah play out as responses to the arguments of a typical evangelical pastor who believes the Law is done away with. I found this technique practical. So many of us have heard these exact arguments preached from the pulpit and parroted by our Christian friends; having straightforward answers presented with detail and brevity gives us a solid base for defending our convictions.
The Law for ancient Israel only?
How is it that believers should keep the Law when it was apparently only given to Israel, and only for that ancient era at that? McKee notes how God’s law predated Moses and the revelation at Sinai. He argues from Scripture, citing how Abraham “obeyed Me and kept My charge, my commandments, My statutes, My laws”, and backs up this assertion from Jewish and Christian commentary. This lays a foundational understanding in which God’s Instruction is eternal, predating Sinai and still applicable to today’s believers.
The Law as a stopgap to Christ?
Many Christians reject Torah by citing Paul’s letters. Paul says in Galatians, for example, that the Law was added “until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made”, and Christians commonly interpret this to mean the Torah given on Sinai was a temporary measure until Christ arrived.
But McKee rightly points out that the Law could not merely have been a stopgap measure: he builds on the previous point of the eternal nature of the Torah, and bolsters this argument by citing Messiah’s own words that the Torah will last as long as heaven and earth exist. Instead, we should read these verses in light of the Torah’s powerlessness to provide final redemption and point us to the need for Messiah.
“No one can keep the Torah. So why try?”
Others argue that because no one can keep the Torah, there’s no point in trying, and instead we should just trust in the grace of Christ.
I find this argument silly, akin to a dieter saying, “No one can resist cookies. So why try?”
But McKee treats this argument fairly and more seriously that I would have. He goes to the Scriptures to prove that obedience – even if attempted and at times failed – is better than open rebellion. He shows that God’s grace should be given a response of obedience, not law-breaking, citing Paul’s rebuke that we establish the Law through grace (Romans 3:31). He also warns believers not to err as some early believers did, thinking Torah observance would bring salvation.
And this is really a great example of what you’ll find in the book: a balanced view set forth that doesn’t swing to one side with no abandon, but instead considers Jewish and Christian sources and discerns from the Scriptures a right path for Yeshua’s disciples.
But what about this verse?
The heart of the book deals with the Scriptures traditionally given against Torah observance. You know, things like,
- “…the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
- “…you are not under law, but under grace…” (Romans 6:14, 15)
- “…Christ is the end of the law…” (Romans 10:4)
- “…all things are lawful for me…” (1 Corinthians 6:12)
- “…a man is not justified by the works of the law…” (Galatians 2:16)
- “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete…” (Hebrews 8:13)
And many more! In fact, McKee addresses nearly 30 verses – literally every verse used against Torah observance I’ve heard in my 20 or more years in the Messianic movement – and provides answers that are engaged with modern scholarship, given in light of the Greek text, and supported in the broad view of the Scriptures.
Take for example his dealing with the difficult passage in Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”
Does this mean Jesus has set us free from the Torah?
McKee examines the Greek text to find “tou hamartias kai tou thanatou” (the law of sin and death) may not actually refer to the Mosaic Law. But if it did, he reasons, it would then mean commandments such as “You shall not murder” – laws designed to prevent death, are somehow producing death. Non sequitur.
McKee suggests two alternative views of this Scripture
- The verse as principles and spiritual constants: Yeshua’s rule is life, sin’s rule is death.
- The verse contrasting the functional conditions of Torah: Life in the living Torah, Yeshua, but darkness and death in rebellion to this Torah.
Both interpretations do no harm to the Torah and fit within the Scripture’s broad view of the Torah.
He concludes by citing Christian scholarship, where N.T. Wright interprets the verse as the Torah remaining God’s law, not responsible for bringing death, but instead continuing to be active in a believer’s life (pp 113-114).
This same thorough, Scriptural analysis is typical in the book. For the nearly 30 verses traditionally presented against Torah observance, McKee gives a detailed response, answers that consult scholarship, examine the Greek text, and sit in harmony with the broad view of the Scriptures.
Under the Law?
How do we deal with the repeated “you are not under the law” passages of the New Testament (i.e., Galatians 3:23, 4:4-5, 21; 5:18; 1 Corinthians 9:20-22; Romans 6:14-15)? Does it mean to say we don’t have to keep God’s commandments?
The book’s answers were enlightening to me, fine Kineti readers (pp 293-340). McKee first consults Christian scholarship and shows that even various modern scholars do not always think the matter is conclusive, even noting a few doubts from Christian scholars like Douglas Moo who believe that the Mosaic Torah was decisively for the times before Messiah. McKee also looks at Messianic examiners and how they’ve tackled the “under the law” passages:
- David H. Stern says “under the law” speaks of legalism.
- Aaron Eby says “under the law” means relying on ritual conversion to Judaism as a means of salvation.
- Tim Hegg says “under the law” means under the condemnation of the Torah, or those who rely on Jewishness for justification.
The book looks at these possible interpretations and tells you the truth, opened about the potential issues with these interpretations. McKee is honest: “I am not convinced any of these alternatives deals adequately with how hupo nomon [under the law] is used within the text.” (p 299)
But with that same honesty, he asserts that the traditional Christian view that “under the law” means “obedience to God’s Torah” is likewise unsustainable in light of Yeshua’s pro-Torah statements and the broad view of the Scriptures.
He suggest that the best reading of “under the law” – one that fits in contrast to the “under grace” statements and with the whole of Scripture – is one defined as subject to the Torah’s condemnations and penalties on lawbreakers. He argues that Yeshua’s disciples, because of God’s grace, are not subject to the Torah’s harsh penalties for lawbreakers.
How to become Torah observant
If the New Testament is not against keeping God’s commandments in the Torah, but in fact upholds the Torah, where does that leave us as believers today?
For many Christians, the realization that the New Testament is not anti-Torah is an eye-opener. It challenges our faith life: we’re to walk in holiness according to God’s commandments as Messiah did. This is a revelation that changes a person’s life moving forward, going against the grain, viewing Messiah in a Jewish light, no longer antagonistic towards the Torah, the Jewish people, Israel.
Where we go from here is key. The author recommends a gradual approach, growing in the faith by honoring God’s commandments more and more in your life. Taking on the feasts, the kosher diet, and the sabbath while steadfastly remembering first Messiah’s amplification of loving God and neighbor (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). Above all, the book teaches Torah observance not as a means to be saved or to appear Jewish, as some have, but encourages Torah obedience out of a desire to live as Yeshua the Messiah lived and to grow in your faith.
“Arguably, we have not seen these numbers of believers in Messiah following the Torah since the days of the First Century. We live in exciting times where Moses’ Teaching surely is going forth and greater shalom and well being are experienced by the saints. The realization that the New Covenant really does involve a supernatural transcription of the Law on to the hearts of the redeemed is becoming quite conscious to many! The Messianic movement has much to accomplish in the future!” (pp390-391)
The New Testament Validates Torah is a guide for the believers seeking holiness in God’s commandments. Scriptural and engaged with biblical scholarship, it equips believers with the truth of God’s Torah and amplifies your ability to defend your convictions from the Scriptures. Grab the book and see for yourself.