This post is also available as a free downloadable MP3 audio track (30 minute program).
Click here to listen and/or to download and share.
"Works of the Law." "Under the Law." What does all this Mean?
For most of today’s mainstream Christianity, pastors and theologians say that the two statements speak against keeping and doing the Law of Moses; what the Hebrew Bible calls the Torah. In other words, if one seeks to hear and do the Law (the Torah) as it was given to us through Moses then one has fallen from grace; and therefore, one is now subjected to an unnecessary system of laws involving ceremonial slavery and in some circles an unnecessary slavery to a bunch of morally debilitating absolutes. This resultant theology stems from what is commonly referred to in church theology as the Grace vs. Law or Faith vs. Works controversy. This is derived from passages such as these:
Galatians 5:18. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Romans 9:31-32. But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.
Galatians 2:16. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Galatians 3:10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
Romans 6:14. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 3:27. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.
From a theological interpretation of New Testament passages such as these, anyone who is under the law (“under the Torah”) must be doing the works of the law (the “works of the Torah”) which is clearly a “no-no” for anyone who professes to be walking according to New Testament grace.
Is this a correct interpretation and understanding of what we are reading in passages such as those that I quoted? I think not and here is why: when we miss the context, we miss everything. “Cherry-picking” using New Testament statements and essentially interpreting them as standalone verses of biblical truth outside of their larger context is not just wrong; it is theologically dangerous.
The Two Laws
Many years ago, I was living a Messianic Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. Because I was so entangled in the tenets of Judaism, I did not get the message that Paul was trying to drive home in all of his letters, particularly in Galatians. Thus, I stopped reading and trying to understand Paul and his New Testament teachings. I considered him too crazy and too convoluted in his ideas. However, it was only much later on in my Torah lifestyle that I realized what he was getting at. I had come to experience what is called in Judaism “chidush” – a flash of insight. In 2003, I clearly saw that Paul was speaking about two different laws as he was pitting one law against another law; that is, the oral law of Rabbinic Judaism against the written Law of Moses. This insight led me to write and publish a book titled Galatians: A Torah-based Commentary in First-Century Hebraic Context. Yet, still, from this, the Almighty One continued to grow my understanding of Galatians even further. Through this, I believe that I received some additional insights and a greater piece of the puzzle that might better explain Paul’s theological message. Some 14 years later, in 2017, I began writing a follow-up book to the Law vs. Grace controversy. The following is a result of my new recently published book Coming Home: the Genesis Creation Story of Faith, Hope, and Love for Everyday Life.
Genesis 2:17 – Etz haDa’at Tov v’Ra (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil)
When Paul spoke of being “under the law” and wrote about doing the “works of the law,” he was taking his readers back to the theological foundation of Rabbinic Judaism’s oral law; he was pointing his readers back at Genesis 2:17. In that verse it is written:
And YHVH Elohim (the Lord God) commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Allow me to present this as I am reading it from the Hebrew narrative:
And YHVH Elohim (the Lord God) commanded the man, saying, “From all of the garden tree, eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, no eating from him! For in the day that you eat from him, in dying you will die."
It was on this basis "in dying you will die" that Yeshua said to some of the Pharisaic (Rabbinic) teachers of the Judaism in his day:
John 8:23-25. “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore, I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe (have faith) that I am he, you will die in your sins.” Then they said to him, “Who are you?” And Yeshua said to them, “Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning (from Genesis).
Case in point: some of the religious teachers snagged Yeshua and said to him:
John 7:14. “How does this man know letters, having never studied?”
In response, Yeshua made himself quite clear:
John 7:15. My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me.
In essence, these men were asking, how did Yeshua come up with all of his powerful teaching from the Law of Moses? when clearly he had not enrolled in one of their schools, nor had he studied under the flag of their exclusive rabbinic tutelage.
Genesis 2:17: – Etz haChayim (The Tree of Life)
Yeshua’s statement in John 7:15 was clearly a contrast reference between Judaism’s oral law and traditions versus his Father’s oral law of the Spirit of the Word which was later written down to become the Torah or Law of Moses, just as it was passed down for us as recorded in John 1:14 and in Isaiah 55:10-11:
John 1:14. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the unique one of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Isaiah 55:10-11. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my Word be that goes forth from my mouth; He shall not return to me void, but he shall accomplish what I please, and he shall prosper in the thing for which I sent him.
By the time that Sha’ul (Paul) of Tarsus arrived on the scene of Messianic Judaism – as a believer in Yeshua during Judaism’s late Second Temple period, he had already spent a good number of his young adult years immersed into the oral law and traditions of the fathers (see Galatians 1:14). Consequently, he was well acquainted with the written Law (Torah) of Moses and the oral law of the Pharisees and what would later come to be known as Rabbinic (Talmudic) Judaism. Given his many years of experience walking in the oral traditions of his day, Sha’ul understood the Pharisaic religious system and the seed from where it had sprouted.
When Paul wrote and spoke about being “under the law” and doing the “works of the law,” he didn't just pull down the concepts out of thin air. He understood Genesis 2:17 and all of Genesis chapter 3 as it relates to the Etz haDa'at Tov v'Ra -- the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil with its fruit of Sin and Death. Thus, in all his letters (particularly Romans, Galatians, and Corinthians), we see Paul’s references to the Law of life in the Tree of Life and the Law of Sin and Death in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is precisely what Yeshua had addressed in John 8 long before Paul said it:
John 8:43-44. Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my word. You are of your father the Nachash (the devil, Genesis 3:1) and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning (Genesis), and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
Like Yeshua and like Paul, Peter (Kepha) also understood the seed belonging to the fruit that was growing from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden:
Acts 2:38-40. Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be immersed in the name of Yeshua Messiah for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Spirit of the Holy One. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as YHVH our Elohim (the Lord our God) will call.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying…
"Be saved from this perverse generation"
According to Acts 2:38-40, Peter boldly said, “be saved from this perverse generation.” The Hebraic idea behind this perversity is that of the Hebrew concept of ahvon which means to twist, bend and distort. This is the Hebrew word that describes what happened in Genesis Chapter 3 when the Serpent caused Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thereby perpetuating distortions of truth among the many downline generations of Adam, even unto this very day.
The ancients of Messianic Judaism, walking in the footsteps of Yeshua, knew of only one way that any descendent of Adam could be saved from his or her genetic corruption to that tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and its poison fruit of Sin and Death. I believe that this was at the heart of Paul’s theology in referring to the Works of the Law and that of living Under the Law. Years prior, it was Yeshua who boldly taught his disciples:
Matt 16:24-26. If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
The one way to make a clean break from living under the Law and to sever our connection to the Works of the Law (man-made “religion”), which is the Law of Sin and Death in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is to come to accept the fact that we must first lose ourselves in Messiah who is the Tree of Life. This means that each of us must kill off all of our own self-made efforts to gain a right standing in the eyes of YHVH the Eternal One and instead, to freely receive what he has already done for us rather than what we think we must do for him; as if we must seek to appease an angry God or an angry Father. Again, it is written in Genesis 2:17
…but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, no eating from him! For in the day that you eat from him, in dying you will die (Hebrew: Mot Tamut).
This is an ancient Hebraic Law decree – “in dying you will die.” There are two deaths in this decree and they must be satisfied. The Eternal One of Heaven and Earth cannot turn a blind eye to this law, nor can he overlook the decree. It is what it is and it must be satisfied exactly as it is written. All man-made religion and its Works of the Law of Sin and Death (self-made righteousness) is a futile attempt to satisfy the divine call for justice which is the demand of Heaven’s decree. What must we do to satisfy the Law of Genesis 2:17? Yeshua told us exactly what we must do:
…Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
For every descendent of Adam since the Garden of Eden, the eternal and divine Law decree has remained the same because YHVH remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (see Hebrews 13:8). For all who are born into this world through Adam, the decree is the same:
…In dying (the first death) you will die (the second death).
This decree was spoken to Adam and because each of us is a descendent of Adam, we need salvation from the Law of Sin and Death as explained by brother Sha'ul (Paul) as living under the Law and in the Works of the Law which is from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Yeshua was subjected to the two-death decree of Genesis 2:17, divine justice was satisfied. In this, Yeshua cut the sin connection for us in the Name of YHVH. If we will accept his faithful actions on our behalf then his righteousness will be imparted to us, or if you will, the divine justice that he satisfied according to the demands of the Torah; this justice will be “faithed” unto us and therefore, we have our biblical Hebraic definition of how faith is defined. The natural outcome of faith is, therefore, what scripture calls the Grace of YHVH. As a result, Paul was able to say with great clarity:
Romans 6:8-9 Now if we died with Messiah, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Messiah, having been raised from the deaths, dies no more. Death (the second death) no longer has dominion over him (the one who believes).
“Having been raised from the deaths” (and note that this terminology is plural and not singular) is precisely how the Greek New Testament presents the statement. Furthermore, it appears precisely this way in many other references to Yeshua’s first death (physical) which led him to carry our sins (from Adam and Eve) and to take all that perversity into the second death to be burned up. Then, with Yeshua’s third day resurrection from out of the second death, we (in our new inner man) are no longer under the Law of Sin and Death and no longer doing the Works of the Law of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As Paul rightly said:
2 Corinthians 5:17. Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
And as Hebrew scripture testifies:
Psalm 103:10-12. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Accepting what Yeshua accomplished for us through his two deaths – the first (physical) and the second (spiritual), salvation was granted in his name. It is his salvation to all of us who live in a perverse generation, meaning, we live as and produce the fruit of a distorted and twisted seed inherited through Adam’s downline, corrupted because of what happened in the Garden of Eden with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Recall, in the creation story, a tree is decreed to produce after its own kind (see Genesis 1:11-12). Since the Garden of Eden, when the seed of Adam’s corruption was sown, all life has been dying and living only to reproduce a corruption after its kind. Our challenge is to sever the connection to the corrupted old tree and to enter into life through a new tree.
Through Yeshua’s two deaths (physical and spiritual) the old seed of Adam died. Then, with Yeshua’s third day resurrection, new seed was raised up to produce a new eternal man. This new seed is not corrupted. It is new seed from the Tree of Life. In Yeshua, he is the seed from the Tree of Life and, thus, in him, like-kind produces like-kind. Therefore, through Yeshua, we switch trees (so to speak) when we are re-conceived and reborn from above. Yeshua made this possible which is precisely why he said:
…Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
With our birth into this world, we all start off in slavery to a system of man-made “religion” – all of it with its many manifestations and flavours. In this world, we function according to the genetic code that is embedded in the seed that belongs to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That seed produces Works of the Law which is the fruit that grows from the seed of Sin and Death. In this, Yeshua presents to us a solemn reminder:
John 8:23-24. You are from beneath (see Psalm 137:15); I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore, I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.
Our challenge comes down to this:
1) Accept that Yeshua died a first death (physical) and a second death (spiritual) in the Name of YHVH for each of us, and then through his third day resurrection, he redeemed us and gave to us his righteousness and a great salvation.
2) Do not accept Yeshua and instead, die the required first death (physical) and then go into the second death in our own name (without Messiah the Word – YHVH’s “fire suit”).
If we choose option 2 – to die both deaths in our own merit (the Works of the Law) YHVH does most certainly allow it but then, we will remain hopeless because we will need a resurrection to get out of the second death. However, there is no possibility for resurrection for those without the face of the Living Torah on our face (Daniel 12:1-2 and many other references too numerous to list here). Without the Word in Yeshua accomplishing redemption for us – that we should become a new tree of like-kind in the Tree of Life – we will die, again, as Yeshua said:
John 8:23-25. I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe (have faith) that I am he, you will die in your sins.
If we choose option 1, this IS the Faith, the Grace, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Hope of Salvation, the Israel of Elohim (the Israel of God). So, did Moses in the Torah write in Deuteronomy 30:19…
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.
Indeed, the Law of Life is in the Torah of Life – the Word made flesh. Our life cannot be in the Works of the Law (of Sin and Death in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). No longer must we choose to live Under the Law (of Sin and Death). By grace through faith, we are now a new creation in the Word. Therefore, let us hear and do the Word – the Torah and in hearing and doing (see Luke 8:19-21) we are wonderfully rehearsing for that great day – the Last Day -- when we will wake up to the voice of the Torah calling out to us to rise (see John 5:27-29, John 11:25, Daniel 12:1-2, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 20:13-15) from the first death to a resurrection of life because the second death will have no more claim on our life. Thus, we are saved. This is the Gospel; the Good News.