Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dismantling the Evangelical Talmud: Identifying and Avoiding Legalism

Genesis 3:1-3
Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”

God, in Genesis 2:16-17, told Adam and Eve that they could not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or they would surely die. When questioned by the serpent, Eve took God’s law and added her own stipulation—or touch it. And in that once sentence, Eve became the first lawgiver. There truly is nothing new under the sun.

What is the Talmud

The Talmud is an extensive compilation of Rabbinic writings. At the time of Jesus it was known as The Traditions of the Elders and, according to Talmud scholars, is believed to be the teachings of the Pharisees – the very sect that Jesus so frequently condemned1.   The Talmud included mishna, the oral teachings of the Rabbi’s concerning the law2. And just as Eve added to God’s law, so did the Rabbis.

These Pharisees, believed at the time to be the most holy in the eyes of the people, were meticulous in keeping the law and mishna, which scholars claim the Pharisees held to be equal with Scripture3.   These oral traditions were meant to protect people from accidentally transgressing the law, but in fact they added additional burden—laws that God had not given. Though they appeared to be holy, Jesus repeatedly rebukes the Pharisees:
Matthew 7:5-9
Then the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why don’t Your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders, instead of eating bread with ritually unclean hands?”
 He answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:

These people honor Me with their lips,
but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain,
teaching as doctrines the commands of men.

Disregarding the command of God, you keep the tradition of men.” He also said to them, “You completely invalidate God’s command in order to maintain your tradition!

Matthew 23:23
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
Those Israel regarded to be the most holy were in fact hard-hearted and most rejected their Messiah. They bound people not only to the Law of Moses, which none could fulfill, but also to their own oral traditions—and neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Lawgiving in the Early Church

Sadly, lawgiving did not end at the cross.  In Acts Chapter 15 the Pharisees who had become believers were trying to put the new Gentile believers under the Law of Moses:

Acts 15:5-11
But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!”
  Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter.  After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them: “Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe.  And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?  On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”

The book of Galatians is Paul’s response to the Judaizers, who were also trying to put people back under the law. There is much I could quote here, but I will give you just a few passages.

Galatians 3:1-3
You foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you,  before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified?  I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?

Galatians 3:10-13
 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed.  Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith. But the law is not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live by them.  Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.

Galatians 5:1-6
Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Take note! I, Paul, tell you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all.  Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to keep the entire law.  You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.

The Evangelical “Talmud”

Of course, there is no true Evangelical Talmud. However we are still prone to be lawgivers. Spend any amount of time on social media and you’ll see that Christians still take God’s law, add their own stipulations and try to hold others to it.

Every Christmas and Easter blog posts come out about why Christmas and Easter are pagan and that nobody should celebrate them—yet responses from other bloggers demand they be observed. However Scripture tells us that there are no holy days under the New Covenant. There are two verses that clearly teach this:

Colossians 2:16-17
Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.

Romans 14:5-6a
One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord.

Whether or not we celebrate Christmas or Easter is a matter of Christian liberty, and we cannot make laws about it.

This is just one example. There are also ongoing debates about dietary laws and the consumption of any alcohol. Just last week I read a Facebook post claiming that since God gave Adam and Eve only plants to eat, all that Christians should eat is fruits and vegetables. Friends, this is important. 1Timothy 4:1-5 calls this the “teachings of demons.”

I am a part of a Facebook group in which many posts begin with the phrase “Should a Christian…” or “Is it lawful for a Christian to…” And then the debates begin, with the legalists claiming that those who teach grace or believe it to be matter of liberty are pagan or antinomian, and with those who view the issue as a matter of liberty belittling those who are convinced it is wrong for them. Yet in considering Romans 14:1-4, it’s clear that most of these debates are unnecessary and unbiblical:

Romans 14:1-4
Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables. One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does, because God has accepted him. Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand.

I’m sure many of you have seen the social media and blog posts commanding all Christian women to wear skirts, forbidding age-segregated Sunday school, mandating courtship, requiring Christians to homeschool, etc. There is even a growing movement called Hebrew Roots, which is once again trying to put believers back under the Law of Moses. 

Friends, Christ took our certificate of debt with its legal demands and He nailed it to the cross:

Colossians 2:8-17 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Now, most often those pushing these ideas won’t come right out and say “This is the law of God,” but they will make it appear that their way is most pleasing to God. They write passionately and point you to proof texts. I believe these are out of a heart-felt concern for other believers, but they fail to recognize that these are just their own convictions.

Romans 14 is the key text regarding law and liberty, and in it Paul admonishes believers to avoid putting stumbling blocks before weaker brothers, and to keep matters of liberty between themselves and the Lord:

Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way. (I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.) For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat.  Therefore, do not let your good be slandered,  for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats.  It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble. Do you have a conviction? Keep it to yourself before God. The man who does not condemn himself by what he approves is blessed.  But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from a conviction, and everything that is not from a conviction is sin. (verses13-23)

It is fine to be convinced that you should not eat meat or celebrate Christmas. Homeschooling is a great way of giving your children a Christian education, and if you are convinced that it is right for you and your family, wonderful. But we must give liberty where God has given liberty. The passage above tells us we must pursue what promotes peace, and in Galatians 5 we read this:

Galatians 5:13-15
For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.

Online debates about what is lawful seldom promote peace, and usually result in biting and devouring.

How Do We Determine if Something is a Sin or a Matter of Liberty?

I asked my dad, Theologian Bob DeWaay, this very question once. His answer was simple yet it struck me as very profound. That which is truly a sin is a church discipline issue, and it’s true of all believers. For example, it is always a sin to commit adultery, and anyone who professes to be a Christian must be brought under church discipline in hope of bringing about repentance and restoration. If it’s not a church discipline issue, it’s a matter of liberty.

Let’s take just one popular topic that is at the forefront these days – homeschooling.
There are many good reasons to homeschool, and a lot of Christians choose to do so. But should a Christian who is not homeschooling their kids be brought under church discipline? Is this true of all believers?

I have dear friends who were homeschooling their children. She stayed home with the kids, he was a pastor. Yet there came a time when they strongly felt that God was calling them to be missionaries to a country in which homeschooling is illegal. They did end up being sent as missionaries to that country by their denomination, and they are no longer homeschooling. Have they sinned? Of course not. They are bringing the Gospel to lost people.

When considering whether or not this would have been a discipline issue it quickly becomes clear that this is a matter of liberty.

What is our New Covenant Law?

1John 3:23
Now this is His command: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He commanded us.

1John 4:10-11
Now this is His command: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He commanded us.  Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

 Romans 13:8-10
Do not owe anyone anything except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments:
Do not commit adultery;
do not murder;
do not steal;
do not covet;
and whatever other commandment—all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.

We are no longer under the Law of Moses. If you are in Christ your New Covenant law is to believe in Jesus Christ and to love one another. When dealing with the moral law of God the loving thing to do is follow the steps in Matthew 18 in hopes of bringing about repentance. If it’s a matter of conscience or liberty, the loving thing is not to put a stumbling block in front of the weaker brother, and not to bind other people’s consciences to your conviction.

So What Should We Do?

Ephesians 4:1-6
Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Galatians 2:19-21
For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

If you are a new creation in Christ, rest in the finished work of Christ. “It is finished,” and He has taken your certificate of debt and nailed it to the cross. The law, which serves to condemn (and once convicted you), has been fulfilled in Christ.

Galatians 2:15-21
For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Romans 10:4
          For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

God has given you a new heart—one that loves God and the things of God. Those who truly have been saved will increasingly be obedient to God. Not to be saved but because they are saved.

 If you are concerned about friends who don’t hold to your same convictions, trust God to work in their lives. Don’t use your liberty to cause them to stumble, and don’t give them laws which God hasn’t given. These are precious brothers and sisters whom Christ has shed His precious blood to save. If your brother or sister in Christ differs with you on a matter of liberty, do as Paul exhorts you to and accept one another in love.

Colossians  3:12-14 

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.


End Notes


  1. so then would all Christians that attack those of other faiths and beliefs that practice divnination or yoga as a way to honor god be not following the law of love. if god is universal and in all things where as Christians get the authority to say what things are in honor of god and what are not if they are not a sin for all to commit. surely in times of faith you have prayed to god looking for an answer and received that answer. when another faith does this through other methods it is evil? certainly love like the father has for us is not bound by words and opinions but by what you produce in action and experience alone. so if one uses yoga meditation or any other manner of things the modern church hates about what they call paganism. but all it produces is love like jesus himself would preach us to do who are we to add to the law of god.

    Ephesians 4:1-6
    Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

    that does not seem to me to be saying that any one faith is greater than another but what matters is faith in the father himself who is universal and in all.

    Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.

    should we not love people of all faiths by trying to bring them to the father through love and repentance but not through forcing them to adopt new words to call these things by. i think this is the very reason christ never wrote anything himself because it was the life he lived. if love is the law then why do we as a community have so many rules about what is OK for a christian and what is not that have nothing to do with love. i am not posting this to seem like im trying to start a flame war, but to engage into a real biblical inquiry to come to the answer to this question. english is not my first langauge so i apoligize for any issues in how i phrased my questions.

  2. to add more background i was raised in a deeply spiritual bhuddist family that practiced very deep forms of meditations in order to achieve greater levels of peace and love. but they were not going to force tradition on me as it was against there beliefs. so i stuck with that faith before coming to america 5 years ago since being here i have found great power in the church but because i see christianity being completely in line with the core values of bhuddism and vice versa, but i was was told i could not attend the church i was at and practice meditation or as they called it mysticism. my wife follows your blog and i read this post and it sparked something deep in me. as you in a sense seemed to be saying the truth of christ is in love and the unity of god and nothing else. all other things are just paths to achieving that.

    1. Dear friend, thank you so much for taking the time to read the article, and for your comments. I’m sorry it has taken me a bit to respond. I wanted to be sure to take some time to prayerfully consider this.

      The scope of the article was meant to address how we as Christians treat each other, and the Scripture verses I quoted were all from the epistles, whose original audience was the church, BUT I do agree that often Christians are guilty of treating those of other faiths unlovingly. The gospel itself is should be the only offense…our actions and attitudes should not be offensive.

      However, we do have faithfully and forthrightly preach the gospel (who Jesus is, what He did, and why we need Him) and the Gospel is exclusive. Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). I know this is hard for many to hear, but the most loving thing we can tell anyone is about the one way to God, and that is through Jesus Christ. We cannot compromise on this, as the consequences are eternal.

      I would highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch this short video, I think it might be a blessing to you:

      You mentioned in your comment Ephesians 4:1-6. That is a great verse, and does get at the heart of what I was trying communicate in this article, but this verse does not teach any form of universalism (that all faiths are true and lead to God). This epistle, the book of Ephesians, was written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesis, and is about unity in the body of Christ. Other religions are not a part of the body of Christ, only those who have saving faith in Jesus Christ are a part of the body of Christ. There is one Lord – Jesus. One faith, one baptism, one God and Father who is above all and in all –but God is only the Father of Christians:

      But to all who did receive Him,
      He gave them the right to be children of God,
      to those who believe in His name,
      13 who were born,
      not of blood,
      or of the will of the flesh,
      or of the will of man,
      but of God. (John 1:12-13)

      To truly be a son of God, you must be born again. Those who have not repented (turned from serving anyone or anything else, and trusting only in the finished work of Christ) are not a part of the body of Christ, and are not children of God. We cannot add Jesus to another religious system, He is the only way. I know it’s hard to hear, but we have to believe God and His word – Scripture.
      (Continued in next comment)

    2. They very first of the 10 Commandments tells us this:

      I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
      3 Do not have other gods besides Me.
      4 Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands. (Exodus 20:2-6)
      The issue here (in dealing with Buddhist meditation and yoga) is that it is a religious practice that violates God’s moral law, and Buddha is both and idol and a “god other than Him.”
      If you have repented and put your trust fully in Jesus, the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23) will be yours and will increase because of Christ and His faithfulness, without you going back to yoga and meditation. Those are not practices that God has ordained and because they are practices used in worshipping other gods (which Scripture tells us are in fact demons). I strongly urge to turn from this and trust in the finished work of Christ.
      21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Or are we provoking the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? (1Corinthians 10:21-22)

      Dear friend, if you have truly been born again you have everything you need in Christ. God has told us what means we can use to worship and honor Him (Bible study, prayer, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism –the means of grace). These are more than sufficient for everything you need.
      Colossians 2 tells us:
      6 Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.
      8 Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. 9 For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, 10 and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 11 You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.12 Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.
      Friend, Christ the sinless Savior died as the one and only acceptable atonement for your sins. Galatians 4:8,9 says this:
      But in the past, when you didn’t know God, you were enslaved to things that by nature are not gods. But now, since you know God, or rather have become known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and bankrupt elemental forces? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again? Do not go back to the elemental forces of the world, which never had the power to save, but trust in Christ.

      Please, dear friend, if you have been saved and put your trust fully in Jesus, do not go back to the weak elemental forces. You have all you could ever need in Christ. Your former religious practices never could atone for your sins –that was done for you on the cross.
      Thank you, again, for your comments. I will be keeping you in prayer.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hi Jessica,
    Can I have permission to use the term "American Evangelical Talmud"? I am a fellow blogger.

    1. Yes, thank you for asking. I would appreciate credit for it with my name (Jessica Kramasz) or a link to this post.

  5. Hi Jessica,
    Here is the link with credit given: God Bless, John


Your comments are such a blessing to me.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. " Hebrews 10:23-25