The question of a Gentile’s obligation to Torah is a very big one in the Messianic movement. It can also be one of the most difficult issues for communities of Yeshua-followers to navigate. As a community of Jews and Gentiles, this is an question that sometimes gets brought up.
Within the Hebrew Roots community, there is an idea called “One-Law.” If you are unfamiliar with this concept, here is a brief definition:
One-Law: A theology that believes faith in Messiah erases all distinction between Jews and Gentiles. According to One-Law theology, Jews and Gentile believers in Yeshua are both obligated to the full yoke of the Torah and all of its commandments in an identical manner. Many One-Law adherents attempt to observe Torah without reference to traditional Jewish interpretation and practice in an attempt to be more “biblical” in Torah observance. The term “One-Law” is based on passages in the Torah that speak of “one law for the native and for the stranger” (e.g. Exodus 12:49). (from messianicgentiles.com)
Over the past decade, there has been a growing divide in Messianic Judaism as to the relationship of Gentiles to Torah. Most Messianic leaders worldwide believe that there remains a distinction in Torah obligation between these two people groups. But some groups have taken a very strong stance that the Torah, and every statute in it, applies equally to Gentiles and Jews alike.
As we convey our position on this often heated topic, we thought it helpful to tell a bit of our (Mark & Judy) personal story as we’ve navigated this issue through the years. This article isn’t meant as a treatise on why we’ve adopted a non-One Law perspective. Rather, it’s meant to relate in broad terms how we arrived at our stance.
When we started down this road in 2004, we were so passionate about the Torah and its power and application for today, and for us as Gentiles, that we found ourselves more and more aligned with the One Law mindset. But we soon realized that it had some major pitfalls.
It gave us an easy answer to the question, “What does God expect from us?” It seemed fairly obvious what God expected of a Jewish believer. After all, it’s written right there in black and white. But we struggled with understanding what, exactly, God’s expectations were for us as Gentiles. The One Law approach resolved this question for us: God’s expectations of us and our Jewish counterparts seemed to be exactly the same.
But this mindset caused a tremendous amount of tension in our families and friends. It can be a very divisive way to look at the Scriptures. We realized that by believing that our friends/family are supposed to keep Torah, by default we also were saying that they were living in sin by not doing so. This didn’t settle well with us. While we wished that they would catch the vision we had, we had much respect for them and felt a check in our spirits saying they were in sin.
First Fruits of Zion, a large Messianic publishing and outreach organization we were exposed to, came to the realization that their teaching of One Law was off-base. In 2009, they changed course and released a paper explaining why they no longer believed that the One Law doctrine was biblically accurate and apologizing for leading people in a direction they now believed didn’t align with scripture. (You can read this paper here: One Law and the Messianic Gentile)
We still remember driving with 3 kids from Washington to Montana for a dear friend’s wedding, with our 3 kids (one who was only 2 weeks old), and reading this paper aloud together. We talked for hours about this issue. We discussed the scriptures behind it, the fruit we saw in our own lives, and what had been taught and modeled at our home congregation. In the end, we realized that our stance was off, and that we ourselves needed a course-correction. Doing so gave us much needed peace.
Over the next couple of years, we really found ourselves settling into our faith in a healthy way that allowed us to keep good relationships with our families and friends who we didn’t see eye-to-eye with, without feeling the need to always be proved right, all while still maintaining healthy Torah observance. We found walking in love is so much stronger than wielding a good argument (regardless of how right you think you are). And we found that our faith and love for the Lord and others grew stronger.
Greater Messianic Judaism
Some might think that by saying that Jews and Gentiles have different obligations to the Torah, we are creating “first- and second-class citizens.” We definitely do not believe this – any more than we believe that the differences between men & women’s obligations to Torah make women second-class citizens. In fact, if Gentiles all walk as Jews, the distinction disappears and Gentiles lose track of the important calling we have. We view this as another form of Replacement Theology, which is to be avoided.
And Gentile followers of Yeshua certainly do have obligations to the Torah – just not exactly the same as Jews. The apostles were clear in Acts 15 that they were not to eat meat that was improperly slaughtered and that they must abstain from sexual immorality (as defined in the Torah). Murder, hatred, theft, etc. are also prohibited, for example. And there are many blessings to the Gentile for taking on more of the Torah than is required. For example, keeping the Shabbat is not optional for the Jew, but for the Gentile, it is a mitzvah with a promised blessing attached (see Isaiah 56).
As we said at the beginning, this isn’t meant as an in-depth article as to why we don’t adhere to the One Law theological stance. But we hope this article is helpful in conveying at a surface level why we believe what we do.
In addition to all this, there is a short book called The Didache that is believed to be written by the apostles (or their disciples) that is specifically written for Gentile disciples of Yeshua. We don’t believe this book is Scripture, but scholars believe it to be a genuine book written alongside the New Testament (possibly as early as 50 CE – contemporary with the book of James). It reiterates many of Yeshua’s teachings, doesn’t contradict Scripture in any way, and contains lots of practical application for Gentiles seeking to live a life of discipleship to Yeshua. This book also states that Gentiles are not obligated to the whole of Torah, but they should take on what they’re able.
From a careful reading of Scripture, we see that Gentile believers in Yeshua are grafted into the olive tree of Israel, they have become partakers of the covenants of promise. They enjoy the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as God’s down payment towards the Messianic Era, just as our Jewish brothers and sisters do. However, Gentiles are not covenantally-obligated to keep the Torah in the same way a Jew is, and should retain an amount of distinction as Gentiles.
We hope you will read the position papers linked above and give strong consideration to the perspective of distinct roles of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah. If you would like to discuss this issue with us personally, we would be glad to do so.
However you believe on this issue, however, you are welcome to be a part of our community. This issue doesn’t need to divide communities, and we believe that when members have a foundation of love, we can have differing perspectives in a healthy way.