One Law Movements

Reprinted from

One of the glories of life in the Messianic Jewish community is the unity of worship and service between its Jewish and Gentile members within a specifically Jewish context. In recent years, however, a trend has developed that challenges the Messianic Jewish community on this very issue. This trend involves various groups and movements that teach that all Jews and Gentiles under the new covenant are called to keep the same Torah in all regards.

In so doing, these One Law movements not only misinterpret a great body of Scripture, but they also miss the unique calling of Jews and Gentiles within the Body of Messiah, robbing both groups of the biblical richness of their identity. They lose the new covenant vision of unity in Messiah between Jews and Gentiles and replace it with a man-made rallying cry, which One Law advocate Tim Hegg has expressed as “One people, One Messiah, One Torah.”1

Several streams teach such views, including Ephraimite groups that believe that Gentiles who have come to faith in Yeshua in some way fulfill the prophecies concerning the regathering of the Northern Tribes and their reunion with Judah. Generally, they teach that all believers are called to follow the same Torah instructions, with the exception of circumcision.

Other groups teach that Gentiles are both called to live the same Torah as Jews (except for circumcision), without teaching that they are in any way descended from the so-called “lost tribes” of Israel. These groups see all believers as grafted into the Olive tree, and therefore called to obey the same Torah as Israel. Perhaps the best-known proponents of this view are the writers of First Fruits of Zion, including Tim Hegg.

The Continuing Value of the Torah

Hegg and others make some good and important points about the Torah, which we should recognize before correcting what we believe is wrong.

Judaism, of course, always speaks of the Torah in the most positive terms. Torah as a whole—the 613 commandments identified in rabbinic literature—is the unique responsibility and privilege of the Jewish people, although many aspects of Torah apply to all people. It will be more relevant to this discussion to compare the “One Law” view of Torah with views in the Christian world.

The best One Law arguments on the value of the Torah resemble those within classical Reformed (Calvinist) Christian thought. Reformed theologians throughout history have put forth a clear doctrine of the Law. They see the will of God described by his Law, not only as taught in the New Testament, but also as taught in the Torah of Moses. Those who teach that we only need to love and can forget the Law of God are badly mistaken. Why? Because without the Law to tell us what love looks like, we will fall into sentimental indulgence. True love is always according to God’s Law. Therefore, the true believer, saved by grace, keeps God’s law, and the mark of the saved is obedience of the Law of God.

Starting in the late 19th century, Dispensational Theology overturned much of this view in popular Christianity in the United States and even in world missions. It taught that the Mosaic Law had no claim at all on the believer. Since the Christian is saved by grace, he may continue to live in sin while being assured of heaven. Such a life would not be a happy one, so believers should be exhorted to commitment and holiness. The committed disciple, however, should be instructed mostly by the epistles, not Torah and not primarily even the teaching of Yeshua, which is an application of Torah.

Many of today’s Dispensationalists have abandoned this severe anti-law position, but many Christians are still influenced by it. It is reflected in popular Christian speech and is prevalent in much Christian culture. One Law teachings can be seen as a reaction to this anti-law culture, and a return to a sounder understanding of grace and law, such as is taught by Reformation theology. So why are One Law people not simply conservative Presbyterians?

Most of Reformed Theology was replacement theology, declaring that the Church has replaced Israel in the plan of God. It treated Israel, the Jewish people, like all other peoples, except that until they receive Yeshua, they may show special marks of both preservation and judgment. Reformed thought divided the law into the ceremonial and the moral-social. The latter is a guide for personal life and for the laws and practices of society. The former related only to the practices of ancient Israel and the Temple. Such theology is alive and well today.

One Law people would see the deficiency in this sort of theology. If Israel has not been replaced, but is still the covenant people of God, then the division of the Torah into an easy moral/ceremonial dyad cannot be sustained. For example, the festivals not only involved sacrifices, but also are memorials of the history of God’s grace and deliverance in the life of Israel, and the fulfillment of his promises to Abraham. Because of these non-sacrificial aspects of the festivals, they must still have validity. Indeed, why isn’t the entire Torah still valid where it does not depend on the presence of the Temple sacrificial system?

These issues and questions could serve as a healthy balance to some of the traditional teaching of the churches. But One Law teachers take another, crucial, step, which brings them into error. They argue that since Gentiles are grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel, both Jew and Gentile are now called to keep the same Law (except for circumcision). They would apply the Law in the same way to both groups, so that Gentiles in the Messiah are to keep the Sabbath, festivals, food laws, and much else that has not been common in Christian practice.

The Exegetical Case for One Law

Most of the case for One Law is taken from the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Exodus 12:49: “The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.” The alien (ger in Hebrew) is viewed as the prototype of the Gentile who comes to Messiah. Several Torah passages apply the same law to native born and alien, for example, Leviticus 24:22, or Numbers 15:16. The New Testament in contrast puts forth passages that seem to say that Gentiles are not called to keep the same application of Torah.