Is the Torah Still Valid?

The Torah says some things that clash with modern culture, especially on the issue of moral laws in regard to sex practices, however, Jesus believed in the Torah and even said belief in the Torah was necessary to receive his teachings. When people push it off as man-made writing, it’s because they don’t want to be accountable for it, but Jesus believed it was God’s word. According to Moses and Jesus, the Torah is God’s instructions written down. God told Moses what to write and the Israelites were expected to live by it. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that all scripture is “God-breathed”, which means God inspires people to write about him. It was the spiritual inspiration that moved Moses, the prophets, and the apostles to write about what God was doing for Israel and with Jesus.

Jesus said this about the Torah in Matthew 5:17-19 (NLT): 17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some critics of Christianity say Christians are hypocrites for not following the whole Bible including various old testament laws. Some Christians push back by saying that the old testament doesn’t count anymore, which the critique uses as justification for arguing that moral laws in the old testament against things like certain sexual behaviors aren’t relevant anymore since the old testament is “scrapped by Jesus”. Anyone who tries to argue that some behavior that the bible calls a moral impurity has gone away because it is “old testament” is wrong. Certain laws were fulfilled like the sacrificial requirements since Jesus paid that price (Hebrews ch. 8-10), however, laws that govern moral behavior are still expected to be followed.

The Torah is not a list of do’s and don’ts, the Torah is a story starting from Genesis to Deuteronomy, the first five books of Moses. The laws in them cover multiple covenants, that apply in different ways to different groups of people under specific conditions. Some rabbinical writings say that on Sinai, God’s voice was divided into 70 languages as flames of fire, so all the nations could hear His instructions (Shemot Rabbah 5:9). This fuels the idea that the whole Torah and all 613 commandments were given to the whole world including Gentiles, but I have doubts about this. The book of Exodus itself doesn’t say so it is conjecture, therefore, there is no reason to believe that every law in the Torah is for all humanity. Furthermore, if it is true then it would only apply to the 10 commandments since it was those that were given on Mt. Sinai, however, that has limited scope since Gentile nations were never commanded to worship YHWH (the God of Israel) alone since they didn’t know him as Abraham and the Israelites did.

The Sinaitic Covenant (Mosaic law) starts at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19 and it is not an introduction to moral laws for the first time ever. There are some laws in the Torah that apply to everyone because they are from before the time of Moses (in the Genesis era), but even amongst there is an exception. For example, the law requiring circumcision was only given to Abraham’s descendants (Gen 17:9-14, Lev 12:3) so they do not apply to anyone else (Phil 3:2, Rom 2:21-29, Gal 2:11-16, Gal 5:2-12). Moral purity laws, like those against murder (Gen 4:8-12, Gen 6:11-13) and adultery (Gen 20:1-7, Gen 39:7-9) are both considered forbidden in Genesis, which means they apply to everyone, not just the Israelites. These kinds of laws can actually be found in various legal codes of other nations around the world like the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, etc. More on this here.

Certain aspects of the Torah only apply to the Israelites like the ceremonial and ritual purity laws regarding circumcision, impurity/uncleanness (contact with certain bodily fluids or courses of humans or unclean animals, skin disease, etc), kosher food, and holidays. In addition, some laws have very specific conditions. For example, God would say things like, “when you get to the promised land don’t/do this (or that)”. These kinds of laws only apply in the actual land of Israel. Even though they were given while they were still in the wilderness for 40 years, the Israelites could not execute laws involving agricultural practices because they were not in the land of Canaan yet. For 40 years, they were in the desert eating quail and manna provided by God, so those laws did not apply. That is why in the New Testament ceremonial, certain civil laws, and ritual purity laws specific to the Israelites and the land they lived in, do not apply to Gentiles. This was confirmed by Peter, Paul, and James in their Council of Jerusalem in Acts chapter 15.

The Old Testament has different categories of laws like the sacrificial rules (Lev 1-7), priest rules (Lev 8-10 and 21-22), ritual purity laws (Lev 11-15), ceremonial rules for holidays (Lev 23-25), and the Moral Purity laws (Lev 18-20). In addition, there are other laws through the Torah, like the civil laws like those governing how to dress, agricultural, and economic practices, and ceremonial laws like the rules regarding sacrifices. Some civil laws are about moral purity like the laws dealing with accidental death (Ex 21:12-14, Numbers ch. 35), while others are more cultural and have specific social functions like distinguishing Israelites (Jews) from Foreigners (Gentiles), like circumcision requirement which is only for the descendants of Abraham. One example of this is the law requiring Jews to wear tassels on their clothing (Num 15:37-41, Deut 22:12). This law only applied to Jews in the land because it visually distinguished them from Gentiles living among them for the purpose of helping them follow the law. For instance, if an Israelite wanted to sell assets to, purchase (for slavery), or marry a person to their offspring, the other person’s clothing would be a quick way to determine what the legal limitations are on any dealings with a person based on that person’s nationality. All land allotments are permanent for tribes of Israelites (Lev 25:23) except for Levites (Num 18:20-24). Since only Jews can only own land then it makes sense that Jewish slaves only work for 6 years because their debts are canceled on Shmita (sabbath-year) and on Jubilee they get their land back (Lev 25:1-22). Meanwhile, Gentile slaves don’t have a 6-year limitation or debt cancellation every 7 years like the Israelite slaves do (Deut 15:3). Marriage to Gentiles is allowed but some restrictions. Ideally, they are converted to Judaism and renounce idol worship. Moreover, treaty marriages to Canaanites were prohibited (Deut 7:3), and marriage of Israelite women to men of specific gentile nationalities (Moabites, Ammonites, Egyptians, Edomites) had restrictions that required them to live in Israel for a set number of generations (Deut 23:3-8). This rule about distinct clothing doesn’t make any sense if applied to Gentiles around the world. Another example is that Jews were required to observe the holidays like Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, but Gentiles were not required to celebrate Jewish holidays, in fact, they were not even allowed to eat the Passover meal unless they were circumcised (Ex 12:43-48), and circumcision for Gentiles was optional. Jews in Israel had more restrictions and rules to follow, however, Jews also had more perks like permanent land ownership, so there was a trade-off. Some civil laws applied to both Jews and Gentiles like the law requiring rest on the sabbath both for the weekly sabbath (Ex 12:19, Ex 23:12) and holiday sabbaths (Lev 16:29). These laws include accompanying text like: “these regulations apply both to the foreigners living among you and to the native-born Israelites.” Therefore, any law governing something like land ownership, sabbath years, or slavery wouldn’t apply to Gentile nations living outside of Israel. These kinds of laws were for the nation of Israel specifically and couldn’t be enforced outside of Israel’s borders so they don’t apply to Christians since the body of Christ includes believers from all nations/ethnic groups that live all over the world (Matt 28:18-20).

Most laws in the Sinaitic covenant didn’t apply to Gentile nations in the old covenant, and in most cases, these laws don’t apply to Gentiles like the kosher food laws, but there can be some rare exceptions. For example, Gentile nations were not forbidden from worshipping idols, even Abraham’s relatives worshipped idols (Gen 31:19-35, Gen 35:2-4, Josh 24:2). However, starting with Abraham’s circumcision in Gen 17:7, the Jews had a special covenant with God which required exclusive worship of YHWH so they could not worship idols. This is an exception because of the exclusivity clause of the covenant with YHWH. Paul explains this in Acts 17:22-31 when explaining to the Gentiles that in ancient times God “overlooked people’s ignorance about these things” when talking about idol worship, but then he says that in the new era (post-Christ), “God commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him” (v30). In other words, the spreading of the gospel itself makes Gentiles accountable when they hear it. Therefore, in the new covenant, Christians have a marriage-like covenant relationship with YHWH just like Israel did, so the prohibition of idol worship does apply. In Acts ch. 15, the apostles made it clear that rules like the prohibition of blood drinking (Gen 9:4, Lev 19:26) and sexual sin (Gen ch. 16 Gen ch. 19, Gen 35:22, Gen 38:14-16, Gen 49:3-4, Ex 22:16-17, Lev ch. 18, Lev ch. 20, Num ch. 25, Deut 22:13-30, Deut 23:17-18) applied to Christians Gentiles, in addition to the prohibition of idolatry. On the other hand, the kosher food laws (Lev ch. 11) never applied to Gentiles so it doesn’t transfer to Christians (Matt 15:10-20, Rom 14:14). Noah was told that humans could eat meat as long as they drain the blood in Gen 9:1-4, but there was no prohibition on eating unclean meats so Gentile nations were never required to follow those restrictions. The same logic could apply to laws on sabbath observance since those were never given in Genesis but whether or not this one is like kosher food laws and only for Israel or is more like idolatry prohibition and applies to Christians Gentiles now is debated among different groups of Christians. This one is tricky because laws from the time of Moses that were not inherited from the Genesis era like the sabbath laws, were only applied to the land of Israel, however, they were applied to Gentiles living in that land, so the interpretation can go both ways. Some have a view that this law is fulfilled in Christ and that sabbath observance is optional. Meanwhile, others believe Christians should continue this because it is in the 10 commandments and therefore is applicable like the commands not to worship false gods, make idols, or take God’s name in vain.

The Ritual Purity laws which involved dietary restrictions, quarantining for illnesses, bathing after contact with a corpse or certain bodily fluids, etc, are fulfilled since it was only sinful to go into God’s presence at the Tabernacle/Temple in an unclean state. The old testament laws say that touching a ritually impure person makes one unclean, but Jesus healed people who were ritually impure with diseases like leprosy (Matt 8:1-4) and bleeding issues (Matt 9:19-22) via direct contact. This is because he was the Messiah and had the holy spirit and Christians have the same spirit (Rom 8:11), so it seems obvious that we wouldn’t be able to receive God’s spirit if ritual purity was still a problem. A more in-depth look at this can be found here.

Meanwhile, Moral purity laws govern behavior like murder, stealing, adultery, etc, and these were sins before the time of Moses, going all the way back to Adam’s time in Genesis. These are not fulfilled in the same way, as we are still waiting on the return of the Messiah which will initiate the resurrection and eternal life with new sin-free bodies (1 Thess 4:13-18, 2 Cor 5:1-10). In the meantime, God’s presence (the holy spirit) is inside of believers making them the “new Temple” of this new covenant. The holy spirit is not only proof that believers are in a ritually clean state thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice, but the holy spirit is here to help them overcome sinful nature and keep the moral laws. Therefore, moral laws against sin (including sexual sin) are NOT “done away with”. Furthermore, if believers slip up and follow their flesh instead of the holy spirit (Gal 5:16, Gal 6:7-8), then they will be moved by the holy spirit to repent, or change/renew their mind (Ezekiel 18:23-32, & 1 John 1:9).

Like Moses, Jesus speaks for God (John 12:44-50). Therefore Jesus is in agreement with God and Moses when he said what he said in John 5:45-47. John 5:45 “Yet it isn’t I who will accuse you before the Father. Moses will accuse you! Yes, Moses, in whom you put your hopes. 46 If you really believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. 47 But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” Earlier in the chapter, Jesus said that God gives him ultimate judicial authority.

Furthermore, Jesus said this:
John 5:19, I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

Moses wrote what God told him to in Leviticus, they were direct instructions from God. Remember God physically manifested on Mt Sinai with Moses. God’s presence was proof that the law Moses wrote was God’s word and not Moses’ words. For example concerning the Moral Laws in Leviticus 18 and 20. Chapter 18 of Leviticus starts off with ” 1 Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the Lord your God. 3 So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life. 4 You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God. 5 If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord.” In Chapter 20 verse 23 it says, “Do not live according to the customs of the people I am driving out before you. It is because they do these shameful things that I detest them.” This is God speaking about his detesting of sin to Moses and the Israelites, and Jesus came to free us from sin because he agrees with God.

One thing to keep in mind when reading about civil laws in the Torah is that there is an underlying principle of love. For example, when the Torah says an Israelite must pay restitution for wronging their neighbor and bring a guilt offering to the temple (Num 5:1-10), it is because they must make things right to prevent strife and bitterness. This is not a law for Christians to follow literally since it involves animal sacrifices, but in principle, we should apologize when we wrong others and do what we can to make things right. In other words, there are principles found in some of these laws that apply conceptually, even when they don’t apply directly to the new covenant. Another aspect of this is that the Israelites were required to look out for orphans, widows, and foreigners (Deut 27:19) because they couldn’t inherit the land and grow food to feed themselves. In passages about helping the poor, the new testament still references widows and orphans (James 1:27, 1 Tim ch. 5) because these people were typically destitute and believers were supposed to love their neighbor and help when they can (James 2:14-20). Foreigners are no longer categorized as destitute like widows and orphans like they were in the old testament. This is because, in the new covenant, there is no limitation based on nationality or ancestry. Paul says the distinction between Jew and Gentile is irrelevant (1 Cor 12:13, Gal 3:28, Col 3:11) all because of what Jesus did. The new covenant is set up to receive “all nations”.

Even when the conditions required for an old testament law to be enforced are gone there is an underlying principle that still applies through what Jesus said were the greatest commands (Matt 22:37-40). Matt 22:36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[Deut 6:5] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[Lev 19:18] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Lastly, for moral law violations that are punished with the death penalty in the old covenant, Jesus covered the death penalty for the new covenant. Instead, the church has the right to excommunicate a person until they repent for moral violations (Matt 18:15-20, 1 Cor 5:1-13, 2 Cor 2:5-11), but no one can be put to death because Christ already died for them. More on that here.

If anything written in the Torah was not ordained by God, wouldn’t God have said something and scolded Moses? Wouldn’t Jesus have denounced a portion of the Torah that went against God’s word? Also as Jesus said, one must believe what is written by Moses and the Prophets (Luke 16:29-31) to inherit the eternal promises of God. How can one say they are a follower of God of Israel if they don’t believe the Torah is God’s word? The recorded evidence of God’s superiority over other gods is the bible. So if the bible is man-made, then God might as well be man-made. If any individual doesn’t believe the bible then the “god” they serve isn’t the God of Israel, nor the God that Moses and Jesus believed in. At that point, the individual is either agnostic or follows some other non-biblical god’s religion. Thus, Christians can’t make this argument without being in error. Christians are followers of Christ and Christ followed the Torah and believed the whole bible was God’s word, including the parts that are not “politically” or “culturally” correct. Believing in Jesus means believing every he believed in and he believed in what the Torah’s moral laws had to say because he trusted God’s word, so his followers should also trust God’s word.

An article explaining in-depth how Jesus observed the Torah

On Messianic Jews and Torah Observance