Updated: Dec 5, 2020
In the first part of this lesson I tried to lay a little historical groundwork for understanding the word legalism. In Part II, I will continue with some historical teaching and then follow up with scriptures.
When reading through the letters of the Apostle Paul the word circumcision or circumcised appears a total of 42 times. He deals with this subject quite a bit.
In Acts Chapter 15 we read about Paul and the Jerusalem Council. This chapter is a most
mis-understood chapter. Many in modern Christianity use this chapter to explain that only the requirements listed in verse 20 apply to Christians, but that the rest of the law (Torah) they no longer have to abide by. By keeping the rest of the law, they reason, they would be practicing legalism and Judaizing. This is far from the truth for several reasons and verse 1 is a great place to start.
Acts 15:1 – (KJV) “And certain men came down from Judaea and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Notice what this verse says – except you be circumcised you CAN NOT BE SAVED. Verse 2 states that Paul and Barnabas disputed with these Judaen Jews about this matter until it was finally decided that they should all go up to Jerusalem and ask the elders. Now, notice what happened next. Paul and his companions explain what has been happening with the conversion of all of these Gentiles and in verse 5 it states, “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
The entire council of Jerusalem was called over the matter of circumcision. (That is what verses 1 and 2 stated) Why? What was so important about circumcision that it had everyone in an uproar?
This is where a very important history lesson comes in. Circumcision was the first step taken for conversion to Pharisaic Judaism. The only way that a male Gentile could convert to Judaism was to first be circumcised by a Rabbi. This is still the practice today in Rabbinic Judaism. If a male wants to convert to Rabbinic Judaism that has already been circumcised in the past, he must still be “pricked” by a Rabbi until it draws blood. Without having this done no conversion takes place.
What is interesting is that this circumcision was a basis for salvation, just as verse 1 in Acts Chapter 15 stated. The teachings of the Pharisee's of the first century was that a person could not be made righteous or have salvation unless they had undergone circumcision. Now, verse one states “according to the custom of Moses”. Actually, Moses did not institute circumcision. God instructed Abraham in the rite of circumcision. The Torah given through Moses only dictated at what age all males were to be circumcised (8 days old). God never told Abraham or Moses that circumcision brought salvation. Circumcision was only a “sign” of the covenant made to Abraham. The covenant of Abraham still stands and those males wishing to partake of the promises of Abraham should still be circumcised but it has nothing to do with salvation. Just as water baptism does not bring salvation to the believer but it is only a sign of an inward cleansing. Likewise, circumcision was an outward sign of an inward, “crossing over” from paganism to acceptance of the promises of Abraham for a chosen people.
Notice that the verse stated, “according to the CUSTOM of Moses”. This is the key. The Greek Word used here denotes “a tradition” of Moses. Going back to a scripture that I used in Part I of this lesson: Galatians 5:1-4, “For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace.” (ASV)
I will now explain what these scriptures mean.
According to the first century historian, Josephus, the vast majority of the people during the time of Y'shua favoured and followed the teachings of the Pharisee's. In Pharasaic Judaism "the whole law" consisted of both the written Torah and the Oral Torah. (See my teaching under Basic Hebrew Terms for definition of the Oral Torah) If a person was circumcised and converted to Judaism then they were expected to obey not only the written Torah of Yahweh but they were expected to obey EVERYTHING that the Rabbi's handed down. Paul's argument in this scripture is that we are not saved by circumcision and we are not required to obey man's traditions or customs, we have salvation by repentance and the blood of Y'shua our Messiah. He argued against them listening to the "Judaizers" who were telling them that they had to become entangled in the religious system of the day which required first that they be circumcised for salvation and then become OBLIGATED to a heavy BONDAGE of "LEGALISTIC" MAN-MADE REGULATIONS. These Non-Jews that were being reached by the Apostle Paul had just come out of a "legalistic" pagan society where they were entangled. He argues as to why they would want to become entangled again in another man-made system. He argues that NO ONE has to come under this "yoke" of bondage. That is why Yeshua could make the statement that I have already quoted in Matthew 23:15- “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves.” (ASV) Paul argues that the "works" required by the Pharisee's do not bring redemption, only Y'shua does that. He argues that if they believe that obeying the "works" of the Pharisee's ORAL traditions will save them, then they don't need Messiah, and they don't have grace that comes from His salvation. So, to be a Judaizer was to "push" man-made creeds and doctrines as set forth by the Rabbi's which were not commanded by Yahweh's Holy Word.
We know that Y'shua was constantly rebuking the Pharisee's and rulers of His day. He was not rebuking them as one who was looking in from the outside, but He was rebuking them as someone trying to bring about repentance from the inside. There is a big difference! Y'shua Himself taught very much like the Rabbi's of His day, so I am not saying here that He rebuked the whole belief system of His day, but what He rebuked and wanted them to repent of was their "man made customs and traditions" that added to the Word of God and put a heavy yoke on the people. That is why He spoke that His Yoke was easy and not burdensome, because His Yoke was His Father's Torah; and un-like man's "legalism", His Fathers Torah brought freedom and liberty.
Matthew 15:1-9, "Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? …...Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (KJV)
The washing of the hands here had nothing to do with getting bacteria off. It was a ritual washing that the Pharisee's practiced, as does Rabbinic Judaism today, whereby they believe it necessary to ritually purify the hands less they make their food unclean. Yahweh never commanded such a “washing” in Torah. He commanded that we eat of the clean animals and they would already be “clean and accepted” by Yahweh when we eat them. No further “washing” was required. This was an added tradition of the elders. Why was Y'shua and Paul so upset? Apart from the heavy “yoke” of bondage that it put on the people, there was another reason. They were breaking Yahweh's Torah. In the Torah it commands, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (KJV) Deuteronomy 4:2
Revelation 22:19 “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (KJV)
The Apostle Paul was a very learned man who was a student of the most honored Rabban Gamaliel. He would have been not only instructed in the written Torah but well versed in the Oral Torah as well. Galatians 1:14 -“And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” (KJV) The term “traditions of my fathers” is not talking about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob here, it is talking about the leading teachers and elders of the people who taught the Oral and Written Law, the Renowned Rabbi's.
If a person really wants to understand the Bible it is imperative that they stop reading it through their American, Greek or otherwise glasses. You must study the Eastern ways and culture and stop putting the interpretation of the Bible into the hands of professors at seminaries who, for the most part, left the Jewish understanding of the Bible behind; way before the dark ages. If you want to understand the Bible then you must read it according to the Hebrew language and culture. A student of the Bible who really wants to learn the truth about the mindset of Y'shua and His disciples would include in their studies the ancient writings of the Rabbi's and the Talmud, the Dead Sea Scrolls and even Josephus. Most books coming out of seminaries don't have a clue.
In no way, form or fashion, am I degrading or denouncing everything that the Pharisee's believed or taught. I have read much of the Talmud and all of the Ethics of the Fathers and many of the ancient Jewish writings, and much of it sounds exactly like something Y'shua would have spoken. Again, Y'shua sought to bring repentance amongst HIS PEOPLE and restore them to the authentic Word of God.
Before anyone points an accusing finger at Rabbinic or Pharisaic Judaism they should take a closer look at the many Christian denominations with all of their “traditions” and “customs” whereby they have placed a heavy “yoke” and “bondage” on people. They have their many “don't do this” and don't do that” philosophies that do not even come from the Word of God; it is simply a man made “LEGALISTIC” religious system. We have “bound” so many people down with our religious, legalistic churches that many ran away and have never come back.
Yet, one would look at a Torah observant follower of Messiah and dare to call them “legalistic”? Since when does keeping something that Yahweh called perfect, pleasant, Holy etc. become legalistic? It became legalistic when man accepted the lie that it had been done away with and instead BOUND HIMSELF to the true legalistic man made religion of a blond haired, blue eyed, Greek speaking Jesus! All the while, that Man that was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew and is coming back as a Jew, still lives and will soon return and teach TORAH FROM A MOUNTAIN IN ISRAEL; where He will be reigning as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Micah 4:1-2: “But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law (TORAH) shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (KJV)
This scripture shows TORAH being taught during the Millennial reign by Y'shua to ALL the nations.
Isaiah 2:1-4 states the same thing as Micah.
In Ezekiel speaking of the Millennial Temple and Y'shua reigning in it:
Ezekiel 44:8-9, “And ye have not kept the charge of mine holy things: but ye have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves. Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.” (KJV)
This scripture shows that both circumcision of the heart and FLESH will still be practiced during the Millennial reign.
Zechariah 14:16, “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” (KJV)
This scripture shows that the Feast of Tabernacles is still being kept during the Millennial Reign.
Isaiah 66:22-23, “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.” (KJV)
This scripture shows that All flesh is coming to worship Y'shua during the Millennial reign from new moon to new moon and from Sabbath to Sabbath. Wow, and that's not a SUNDAY thing! WAIT AND SEE!
I could go on and on and on and on with scriptures but the point is: either Yahweh, and His Son are schizophrenic and keep changing their minds over and over, or else this Torah hasn't been done away with and it isn't legalistic but it is MAN that has messed up and needs to get back on the right path of observance. It is man that has made it legalistic, just as in the first century, by their religion. Y'shua is calling us back to the ancient paths. It is time for repentance. WE, the GENTILES or NATIONS have inherited lies from our fathers. The Messianic Jews haven't, they accept Y'shua and still keep Torah, but we allowed the enemy to steal from us our TRUTH. We may have the Spirit, but we lost the TRUTH. Psalms 119:142 states, “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.” (KJV) The word for “law” here is TORAH. Look up the definition of the word truth in a dictionary. It will tell you that truth is something that is perfect and doesn't need changing, it is constant and has stability.
Jeremiah 16:19-21, “O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles (NATIONS) shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit. Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods? Therefore, behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The LORD.” (KJV)
Please complete this lesson with the final part 3 on legalism.