Refuting the Hebrew Roots Movement

Image result for hebrew rootsYesterday in our study of Colossians 2:16-23, we addressed an issue that has resurfaced in Christian circles over the past 15 years: the resurgence of the Judaizing heresy. A careful reading of the New Testament clearly reveals a persistent problem in the early church. A Gospel-minded church would be planted, only to see Jewish teachers enter the congregation and demand that Gentiles obey the Mosaic Law. This error was refuted multiple times in the New Testament (cf., Mark 7:19; Acts 15:1-35; 2 Corinthians 3:4-18; and the entire letter to the Galatians, just to name a few) and for centuries it collected dust as a long-forgotten heresy.

But Solomon was right, their really is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). In the internet age the Judaizing heresy has made a comeback. And it’s growing with a vengeance. Although a few ministries have offered a helpful response to this heresy (like here, here, and here), the truth is this the burgeoning movement has largely slipped under the radar.

By God’s grace that has not been the case at Poquoson Baptist Church. Nearly two years ago, God led our deacons and myself to draft an comprehensive response to the Hebrew Roots Movement. Completing this document forced us to think deeply about Scripture, Christ, the Gospel, the Law, Gentiles, the nation of Israel, and much more. We strove to be rigorously biblical in our application of the truth of God’s Word to each of the major tenets of the Hebrew Roots Movement. It is my prayer that God would use the principles of His Word to protect you from this false teaching (Ephesians 4:14).

And before you read any further, let me just tell you what a joy it is to serve alongside a group of deacons who are willing to protect Christ’s sheep from false teaching, even when it hurts. Soli Deo Gloria!

INTRODUCTION

 The Hebrew Roots Movement is  a grass-roots approach to New Testament interpretation that aims to better understand and obey the Scriptures.[i] The movement as a whole is suspicious of traditional Orthodoxy and suggests the solution is a return to our Hebrew roots in at least three areas:

  • Return to Hebrew roots in order to better/rightly understand Jesus.
  • Return to Hebrew roots in order to better/rightly understand Scripture.
  • Return to Hebrew roots in order to better/rightly understand how to please God.

An emphasis on the Jewish culture into which Jesus was born and the New Testament church was formed can be helpful. Nevertheless, the popular teachers within the Hebrew Roots Movement often resort to an overemphasis on these roots, resulting in a skewed vision of Jesus, the Scriptures, and the church. Adherents of Hebrew Roots teaching generally believe that New Covenant Christians are required to obey the Mosaic Law in a fuller sense than most Christians have practiced throughout church history.

This document presents a doctrinal response to the Hebrew Roots Movement from the leadership of Poquoson Baptist Church. We begin each section with a brief excerpt from our Theological Profile, showing that the positions outlined herein are not spurious but in line with what we have previously believed. The affirmations in each section are intended to explain positively what we believe. The denials are meant to refute specific teachings within the Hebrew Roots Movement. The footnotes provide some source material for these false teachings, as well as additional dialogue on the knottier theological problems. In summary, the leadership of Poquoson Baptist Church renounces certain teachings of the Hebrew Roots Movement, as outlined below, as departing from sound doctrine and obscuring the simplicity and purity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

CHRISTOLOGY

There is only one living and true God, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, supremely holy, supremely good, supremely just, supremely wise, and absolutely sovereign. He manifests Himself to us in three eternal persons – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, distinct in personality and role, yet of one substance, undivided in essence, and equally divine.

—Theological Profile, Poquoson Baptist Church

1.1       We affirm that in His incarnation Jesus was born a Jew (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). We affirm that understanding Jesus’ Jewishness can be helpful in our efforts to understand Him. We deny that understanding His Jewishness is essential to understanding Him,[ii] since God the Son existed in eternity past prior to His incarnation (John 1:1-5, 8:58; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20).

1.2       We affirm that understanding who Jesus was in history is important. We deny that there is any difference between the “historical Jesus” and the “Jesus of doctrine.”[iii]

1.3       We affirm that Christians are to aspire to Christ-likeness (Romans 8:29, 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). We deny that this refers in any way to an adoption of external Jewish culture or rituals.[iv]

1.4       We affirm that Jesus obeyed the full intent of the Mosaic Law (John 8:46; Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:15).[v] We deny that His perfect obedience requires a continuation of the Mosaic Law in the same sense for New Covenant people (cf., Mark 2:23-28, 7:19).[vi]

1.5       We affirm that Jesus is the Son of Man (Matthew 8:20), a title meant to reveal His Deity (Daniel 7:13; Mark 14:61-64). We deny that the main point of this title is to emphasize Jesus’ Jewishness.[vii]

1.6       We affirm that Jesus is a Rabbi. We deny that the rabbis of His day were equivalent to Him (Matthew 22:29).[viii] Rather than appealing to Moses’ authority or an ancient Jewish teacher, Jesus appealed to His own authority (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44).

1.7       We affirm that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 1:1; John 1:34, 49). We deny that this term is meant to convey that Jesus is merely “the king of Israel.”[ix] Rather, we believe that this title refers to Jesus’ Deity and His position as the second person in the eternal godhead.

SCRIPTURE

The Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety are the only written Word of God, divinely inspired, authoritative, and inerrant in all that they affirm (whether speaking of moral values, history, science, or any other realm of knowledge) and are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Any view which attributes to the Scriptures a lesser degree of inerrancy than total is in conflict with the Bible’s self-testimony in general, and with the teaching of Jesus Christ in particular. The authoritative revelation of God ceased upon the completion of the New Testament and no such revelation is given by God today.

—Theological Profile, Poquoson Baptist Church

2.1       We affirm the clarity (Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Luke 24:25-27) and sufficiency of Scripture (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:14-17). We deny that Christians need Jewish archaeology, Jewish culture, or Hebrew Roots Movement books to understand who Jesus is or what He expects of His people.[x]

2.2       We affirm the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, that only Scripture is authoritative (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21). We deny that this means we should abandon commentaries, books, sermons, creeds, councils, confessions, or catechisms that help us to understand the Scripture rightly.[xi]

2.3       We affirm the value of the Old Testament Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We deny that the Hebrew Roots Movement contains better interpreters of Scripture than Jesus or the Apostles (Luke 24:44-47; Colossians 1:28).

2.4       We affirm that the sixty-six books comprising the Old and New Testaments are the only books that can legitimately be considered Scripture. Only these books are inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and necessary. We deny that books like the Didache and the Apocrypha are in any way equal to Scripture.[xii]

2.5       We affirm the validity and usefulness of many modern Bible translations. We deny that so-called Messianic Bible translations are inherently superior, or are essential to understanding the Scriptures. We reject the tendency of some of these translations to omit or alter words or phrases that contradict their doctrinal presuppositions.

GOD’S PEOPLE

Salvation is entirely the gift of God, given solely by His grace to His elect, whom He chose before the foundation of the world, not as a result of works of any kind, but according to His mercy and purpose. Salvation is freely given by God to those who have faith in Jesus Christ, who trust, receive and rest entirely upon His finished work on the cross. The very faith to believe is itself purely a gift of God. Regeneration, faith, justification, sanctification, and glorification are all aspects of salvation.

—Theological Profile, Poquoson Baptist Church

 3.1       We affirm that God’s primary dealings with His people in the Old Testament period were workings among ethnic Jews. We affirm that God still has plans for the future of many ethnic Jewish people (Romans 11). We deny that God has two peoples (ethnic Jews and Christians), but believe that in Christ both Jews and Gentiles are now one people, the Church (Galatians 3:14-29; Ephesians 2:11-14; Romans 3:29-30, 4:16, 11:11-24, 15:8-13; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Although we may disagree on God’s future plans for national Israel, we agree that His plans for Gentiles do not include an incorporation into the Mosaic Covenant.

3.2       We affirm that New Testament Christians sometimes observed Jewish traditions, rituals, feasts and days (Acts 9:20, 14:1, 16:1-3, 17:2-3, 18:4, 21:20-28, 24:14-16). We deny that New Testament Christians always kept these observances (Acts 6:8-15, 11:2-3, 15:1-35; Galatians 2:1-5, 11-14).[xiii] We further deny that Christians observed these traditions out of obligation, but affirm they did so for the sake of reaching Jews with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

3.3       We affirm that the people of God were never exclusively national Israel, but those who by grace through faith believed the promises of God (Romans 2:28, 9:6; Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:3). In other words, even in the Old Testament not all Jews were redeemed (Romans 9:6-8) and some Gentiles were (Ruth 1:16; Hebrews 11:31). We deny that there are two ways of justification or sanctification, one for Jews and another for Gentiles.

3.4       We affirm that the most widespread and recurring false teaching in the early church was a Judaizing heresy, akin to the modern Hebrew Roots Movement (Galatians 2:3-5, 4:8-11; Philippians 3:2; Colossians 2:16-17; 1 Timothy 4:1-4; Titus 1:10-11). We deny that the early church’s concern with this heresy was merely a concern about legalism. The early church was not concerned with a legalistic abuse of the Mosaic law, but with the very notion of returning to the law after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

3.5       We affirm that many Jewish people since the Incarnation have rejected Jesus as the Messiah. We deny that this is because Christians wrongly obscured the Jewishness of Jesus.[xiv] Rather, the Jewish people were looking for the wrong kind of Messiah because they didn’t (and don’t) understand the Scriptures (Matthew 12:3, 12:5, 19:4-6, 21:42, 22:29-31; Luke 24:25-27; John 5:39). Furthermore, they rejected the gift-righteousness Jesus offers because they were seeking righteousness through law-keeping (Romans 9:32).

3.6       We affirm that the desire to see ethnic Jews believe in Jesus as Messiah is good (Romans 10:1). We deny that ethnic Jews are best won to Jesus by promoting adherence to the Mosaic Law, but by preaching the Gospel.

THE LAW

A believer is not under the law, in the sense that he will not be condemned for violating the law since that debt was paid in full by Christ. However, a believer is not exempt from the law. The moral laws of God have never been rescinded, nor are they subject to either temporal or cultural re-interpretation. While a believer will not suffer eternal condemnation for violating such laws, he will be subject to the temporal consequences of sin, he will grieve the heart of God, and will suffer loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ.

—Theological Profile, Poquoson Baptist Church

4.1       We affirm that the Mosaic Law was given to accomplish three purposes under the Mosaic Covenant. (1) The first purpose of the Mosaic Law was to separate the Jewish and Gentile peoples, thus keeping God’s people untainted by the pagan practices around them. We deny that this ethnic separation is still necessary today (Galatians 3:14-29; Ephesians 2:11-14; Romans 3:29-30, 4:16, 11:11-24, 15:8-13; 1 Corinthians 12:13).

4.2       We affirm that (2) the second purpose of the Mosaic Law was to reveal the utter inability of God’s people to obey it (Matthew 3:7-10, 5:20; John 7:19; Acts 7:53, 13:38-39, 15:10-11; Romans 3:20, 5:20, 7:7-12; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 7:19). We deny that God’s people were ever able to keep His law (John 7:19; Romans 2:17-3:18). [xv]

4.3       We affirm that (3) the third purpose of the Mosaic Law was to increase sin, thus further highlighting our need for Christ (Romans 5:20; Galatians 3:19). We deny that this means God condones sin or is the author of sin (James 1:13). The problem is human sinfulness, not the Law (Romans 7:8, 11, 14, 17-18, 24).

4.4       We affirm that the Mosaic Covenant was never meant to be permanently binding for the people of God (2 Corinthians 3:4-18; Galatians 3:15-4:7). We deny that this means the Mosaic Law was flawed or faulty. The problem lies in human sinfulness. We further deny that the temporary nature of this covenant means it contains no lasting value for the New Covenant people of God. Moral principles from the Mosaic Law can help us to better understand God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and how we should live.[xvi]

4.5       We affirm that the Mosaic Law is still good, insofar as it is properly understood and applied (Romans 7:12; Galatians 3:21; 1 Timothy 1:8). We deny that it is properly applied by adherents of the Hebrew Roots Movement.

4.6       We affirm the classic Protestant understanding of the threefold use of the law. (1) We believe the law is useful today in its ability to restrain sin by keeping people from doing what they should not (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Timothy 1:8-9). We deny that all the civil laws and penalties of the Mosaic Covenant should be enforced by civil governments, since no government exists that is led by God the way national Israel was initially governed.

4.7       We affirm that the law is useful today (2) in its ability to reveal sin by exposing our utter inability to keep it (Matthew 3:7-10, 5:20; John 7:19; Acts 7:53, 13:38-39, 15:10-11; Romans 3:20, 5:20, 7:7-12; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 7:19). We deny that God’s people were ever able to keep His law (John 7:19; Romans 2:17-3:18).[xvii]

4.8       We affirm that the law is useful today (3) in its ability to instruct us about the character of God and His demands for holiness. We deny that God’s expectations for New Covenant holiness constitute a demand for obedience to the letter of the Mosaic Law (Romans 2:29, 7:6; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

4.9       We affirm that God demands His people to adhere to the spirit of the law, which is fulfilled through love (Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 7:12, 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28; John 13:34, 15:12; Romans 2:29, 10:4, 13:8-10; 2 Corinthians 3:4-18; Galatians 5:14, 6:2; James 2:8-12; 1 John 3:23, 4:21; 2 John 5). We deny that New Covenant people are obligated or encouraged to obey the letter of the law in all areas.[xviii]

4.10     We affirm that Jesus fulfilled the law but did not abolish it (Matthew 5:17-20). By saying this, Jesus did not mean that each specific law would stay exactly the same (cf., Matthew 19:3-12 and Deuteronomy 24:1-4). He meant that the purpose and message of the Law and the Prophets would remain the same. The Law and the Prophets pointed to Him and were intended from the beginning to be fulfilled by Him (John 1:17, 1:45, 3:14, 5:39, 5:45-47; Luke 24:44-47).

4.11     We affirm that the movement away from adherence to the letter of the Mosaic Law is evident in the New Testament, even among ethnic Jewish Christians (see Scripture references in 4.12). We deny that this shift began under Constantine or during any other era of church history.

4.12     We affirm that certain food laws, rituals, sacrifices, feasts, festivals, and special days were mandatory observances for the nation of Israel under the Mosaic Covenant. We deny that those laws are still binding for the New Covenant people of God (Ephesians 2:15). This includes circumcision (Romans 2:25-29, 4:9-12; 1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 2:3-5, 5:2-6, 5:11, 6:12-15; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11), food laws (Matthew 13:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Acts 10:9-16, 15:1-35; Romans 14:1-23; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 10:23-11:1; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; Hebrews 9:9-10, 13:9), and the observance of certain days (Mark 2:23-28; Acts 20:7; Romans 14:5-6; 1 Corinthians 5:7, 16:1-2; Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 4:1-11). Furthermore, we affirm that those who seek to live under these laws are accountable to obey the entire Mosaic Law perfectly (Galatians 3:10, 5:3; Romans 2:25; James 2:10).

THE GOSPEL

Man in his corrupt nature, being in bondage to sin and under the curse of the law, has no means of redeeming himself and attaining communion with God through his own efforts, and is justly worthy of Hell. But God, though under no obligation to do so, chose to provide a way of redemption for mankind whereby mankind could again enjoy communion with Him. In the perfect expression of His grace, God sent forth His Son who clothed Himself with humanity, being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. Jesus Christ was, and is, fully God and fully man, inseparably joined in one person yet without mixture of natures. He lived a sinless life and freely offered His own life, suffering crucifixion on the cross, as a substitutionary, atoning sacrifice for sin. His sinlessness made Him the only acceptable sacrifice for sin. He suffered, died, and was buried, and on the third day He physically, bodily rose from the dead. It pleased God to promise forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to Himself to all who would trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. There is no other way of salvation provided for mankind except by the grace of God through faith in His Son.

—Theological Profile, Poquoson Baptist Church

5.1       We affirm that Jesus taught us to repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15). We deny that He said “Repent of your sins, and obey the Law of Moses.”[xix]

5.2       We affirm that God has related in various ways towards Jews and Gentiles at different points in redemptive history. However, we deny that salvation has ever come by any means other than by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4; Ephesians 2:8-9).

5.3       We affirm that Old Testament saints were redeemed by grace through faith in the Christ to come (Genesis 15:6; Hebrews 11). We affirm that New Testament saints are redeemed by grace through faith in the Christ who has come (Ephesians 2:8-9). We deny that there are two ways of salvation, one for Jews and one for Gentiles.[xx]

5.4       We affirm that God required sacrifices in the Old Testament to temporarily cover over the sins of His people while pointing towards the coming of the ultimate sacrifice (Leviticus 16). We deny that these sacrifices had any ability to permanently atone for sin. (Hebrews 9-10).

5.5       We affirm that Jesus was the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice to satisfy God’s righteous wrath against human sin (John 1:29; Acts 8:32; Romans 3:25; 1 Peter 1:18-19). We deny that sacrifices are still required for God’s people in the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:13-14, 10:11-18).[xxi] The only sacrifice remaining for the people of God is the living sacrifice of sanctified lives (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15-16).

———————————————————————————————————-

[i] For a helpful introduction to the Hebrew Roots Movement, see https://gotquestions.org/Hebrew-roots.html

[ii] Jacob Fronzak, Yeshua Matters: Putting the Jewish Rabbi Back at the Center of Christianity. (First Fruits of Zion: Marshfield, MO, 2015), 16. Ibid., 30-31.

[iii] Ibid., 17. By distinguishing between the “Jesus of doctrine” and the “Jesus of history,” Hebrew Roots teachers are casting suspicion on the classic teachings about Jesus as historically taught for two thousand years of church history. They are suggesting that understanding Jesus through the lens of recent archaeological discoveries, etc. is more beneficial than understanding what the church has historically taught about Jesus Christ.

[iv] Ibid., 24-25.

[v] One particular area of apparent disobedience to the Mosaic Law is Jesus’ practices of touching those who were ritually unclean (cf., Matthew 8:1-4). The Mosaic Law prohibited touching the ritually unclean (Leviticus 5:3), since clean people would become unclean through contact with the unclean. Jesus turned the Mosaic order on its head, since when He touched the unclean He did not become unclean, but they became clean. Nevertheless, the New Testament writers can still boldly proclaim that Jesus is guiltless in regards to the law (Hebrews 4:15) because He obeyed the intent of this law, which was to protect the clean from becoming unclean. Furthermore, by healing the unclean in this way Jesus obeyed the Mosaic Law’s self-summary in Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

 [vi] Yeshua Matters, 18, 68-69.

 [vii] Ibid., 49-58.

 [viii] Ibid., 70.

[ix] Ibid., 99-104.

 [x] Ibid., 33-34.

 [xi] Ibid., 46.

 [xii] Ibid., 77.

 [xiii] Ibid., 17.

[xiv] Ibid., 137.

 [xv] Ibid., 47-48.

[xvi] For example, note the way Paul uses principles from the Mosaic Law and applies them to Christians: Deuteronomy 19:15 and 2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19; Deuteronomy 13:5, 17:7, 17:12, 21:21 and 1 Corinthians 5:13; Deuteronomy 25:4 and 1 Timothy 5:18.

 [xvii]Yeshua Matters, 47-48.

 [xviii] This clearly applies to the civil and ceremonial laws of Moses. The exception would be what are sometimes called the moral laws. Although this distinction is not explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures, its existence is self-evident. Tom Schreiner explains it this way: “The difficulty in distinguishing between various parts of the law is often overplayed; in many cases it is clear what segments of the law are moral norms that relate to the church directly, and which areas of the law have been fulfilled in Christ and are no longer practiced.” Tom Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, 1993), 177.

 [xix] Yeshua Matters, 57.

[xx] Ibid., 88.

 [xxi] Ibid., 94-95.

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