What is the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM)?
It is a modern day form of Judaizing that is spreading in the church. Its impact is being felt in all areas of Christendom of those who call Jesus Lord. For those who are like the Bereans and study the scriptures comparing this movement with the Gospel given to the NT church, they would see bright flashing danger signs. Sadly, many are being deceived. Amazingly, this is happening even in assemblies. I personally know of two believers who fell into this false teaching. As a result they left their assemblies and went to fellowship at a Messianic/Hebrew Roots congregation. The HRM is similar to Messianic Judaism (MJ). MJ is more Christ-centered than HRM; however, both are based on the same root error.
The central theme of the HRM is the belief that all believers must “keep the Torah”(Mosaic Law), which is contained in the first 5 books of the Old Testament. This would include worshipping on Shabbat (the Sabbath), keeping the Levitical feasts, and obeying all the dietary laws (no pork, shellfish, etc). Some groups go as far as saying that all male believers must be circumcised. Those in the movement believe the Church has strayed from the true teachings and Hebrew concepts of the Bible. The HRM maintains that Christianity has been indoctrinated with the culture and beliefs of Greek and Roman philosophy and that ultimately biblical Christianity has been corrupted with a pagan imitation of the New Testament gospels.
Interestingly, the HRM is composed of mostly Gentiles. Another mark of this group is avoidance of anything that they deem to be “pagan”. This would include holidays in Christianity (Christmas, Easter, etc.), and learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset. They erroneously teach that Gentile Christians have been grafted into Israel, and so this obligates followers of Christ to obey the Torah. They claim doing this is not required out of legalistic bondage, but out of a heart of love and obedience. However, they teach that if you are truly born again, you will desire to obey the Torah.
There are also many in the HRM who insist that believers must use only the Hebrew names for God and His Son (YHWH, instead of Lord, Yeshua instead of Jesus). Some will teach the heresy that Jesus means “hail Zeus” in the Greek.
The arguments I hear from many in the Hebrew Roots Movement and Messianic Judaism as to why all followers of Yeshua (Jesus) must observe the Torah/Mosaic Law go something like this: “Yeshua told us to make disciples!!”, “Yeshua told us to teach His commands”. “Yeshua kept the Torah and said He did not come to take it away”, so clearly, we must teach Gentiles to keep all of the Torah!!!” The most common OT passage quoted as support for this law-keeping theology is the Exodus 12 passage regarding the alien living amongst Israel—that they were also expected to keep the Torah in ancient times.
LET’S DEAL WITH THE ALIEN PASSAGE
Using Exodus 12:49 as “proof” that all believers must follow the Torah is shoddy scholarship at best that picks and chooses passages that seem to support their theology, while excluding others. The Hebrew Roots Movement seems to have key scriptures that appear to prove their point, regardless of context or full exegesis, no different from Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons who memorize scripture to evangelize, without truly understanding the meaning and context of the verses.
For instance, one verse pointed out to me more than any other by those who believe all believers must obey the Torah is:
“One Law (Torah) shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you.” Exodus 12:49
Seems clear until you look at it in context. It is referring to those in Egypt who left with the Israelites. These were non-Hebrews who became convinced, probably during the Ten Plagues, that it was time to hightail it out of Egypt. (Ex. 12:38) They recognized that YHWH was the true God and desired to be united with the Hebrews. The Hebrew word (גר) translated stranger or alien, can also be translated as “convert” in Modern Hebrew.
In other words, they were non-Hebrews seeking to be united with the Israelites. God was merely telling them that if they wanted to be part of God’s people, they had to obey the same rules they did. To better understand the context of verse 49, let’s take a look at verse 48.
“And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it.” Exodus 12:48
We see here that in context it is referring to non-Jews who were living amongst Israel wanting to keep the Passover. So the inference is that non-Jews living amongst them could choose NOT to keep the Passover, and NOT be circumcised nor required to adhere to all ceremonial customs in theTorah. These verses prove that the Torah was for Israel, and not for the Gentiles (nations).
But even looking at v. 49 alone, “One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you” it is clear that is not referring to the entire Gentile world, but those “who dwell among” Israel – who live in an Israeli community.
However, the New Testament makes it clear that believers in Christ do not enjoin themselves to Israel or an Israeli community, but become part of the church.
“Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man (the church) from the two (Jew & Gentile), thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” Ephesians 2:15-16
In Part 2 of this article, I will talk about the fundamental change that the death of Christ brought about for the Jew and Gentile. We will also look at exactly how the false teaching of the HRM makes a mockery of Jesus’ finished work at Calvary.