By Maria Merola
© Copyright Double Portion Inheritance, September 2007
There are many Christians who incorrectly define “legalism” as obeying Yah’s commandments from the TaNaKh (Old Testament). But a careful study of the words of our Master YaHuW’shuwa (Jesus) will reveal that just the opposite is true.
Legalism, my friends is when we replace the commandments of YaHuWaH with man-made traditions. The Scribes and Pharisees of YaHuW’shuwa’s time had replaced all 613 commandments in the Torah (instructions of YHWH) with another set of 613 “oral laws” called “Talmud.” Many of these man-made laws (called takanot) were in direct rebellion against the commandments of YaHuWaH.
We are instructed not to add to nor subtract from the word of Elohiym (God), yet the Scribes & Pharisees in YaHuW’shuwa’s day did exactly that.
Debarim (Deuteronomy) 4:2 You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of YHWH your Elohiym (God) which I command you.
What made them so presumptuous as to think that they could do such a thing?
In order to understand the difference between the 613 commandments of YaHuWaH versus the 613 man-made laws of the Pharisees, it is important to watch this video by Nehemia Gordon by clicking on the title: “The Hebrew Yeshua vs The Greek Jesus.” In this video, Nehemia uncovers the mis-translation of the Greek text:
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 23:
1 Then spoke YaHuW’shuwa (Jesus) to the multitude, and to his disciples,
2 Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
3 All therefore whatsoever THEY bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not.
*Note: In the original Hebrew Matthew, the word is not “they” (referring to the Pharisees), but the word is actually “he” (referring to Moshe). The translators missed one small punctuation mark which rendered the word “they” inaccurately and so they mistranslated the word.
The words of YaHuW’shuwa in Matthew 23 originally should read as follows:
2 Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
3 All therefore whatsoever HE bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works: for they say, and do not.
Now, with that understanding, we can differentiate between the commandments that YaHuW’shuwa (Jesus) wants us to obey versus the traditions that man-made institutions want us to obey in order to keep the people under their control. Any institution that enforces man-made commandments which add to or subtract from the commandments of YaHuWaH are promoting “legalism.” You will notice that YaHuW’shuwa (Jesus) never rebuked the Pharisees for obeying the commandments of Elohiym (God). What did he rebuke them for?
Mark 7:9 And he said unto them, Full well you reject the commandment of Elohiym, that you may keep your own tradition.
And today in modern day Christianity, there are what I call “Pharisees of Grace” who replace the commandments of YaHuWaH with man-made ones, all under the guise of “grace” but in reality, they are promoting “legalism” because they want church members to be under their control instead of under the leading of the Holy Spirit and the scriptures. This is what is called “The Doctrine of the Nicolaitaines” in Revelation 2:15 and our Messiah said that he hates this doctrine. What exactly is it? The Greek term “Nicos” means “to dominate” and the word “laity” means “the people.” Messiah hates it when humans get in the way of the Holy Spirit who is our teacher and guide.
1st YaHuWchanon (John) 2:27 But the anointing which you have received of him abides in you, and you need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in him.
Now, I want to make something clear. Am I against the Talmud as a historical resource that may help us better understand the “context” of scripture? No! The Talmud is a great resource for giving us historical references that better explain things that are hard to understand in the Bible. But I am against the idea that the Talmud (oral traditions) supersedes the commandments of our creator. There are many within Judaism who actually uphold the Talmud as being more authoritative than the word of our Creator (the Bible)!
There are others within Christianity who uphold “tradition” above the word of our Creator also. They reject the Holy Feast days of YaHuWaH and instead keep their own traditions of Easter, Christmas, Halloween, etc. and every other form of man-made tradition. And this is exactly what “legalism” is my friends!
Celebrating the traditions of men such as Easter, and Christmas are actually “legalism” because these were invented by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 3rd Century and they were enforced under penalty of death. But Constantine outlawed the Holy days which our creator commanded us to keep in Leviticus 23 and he put to death the followers of Messiah who wanted to obey the commandments of YaHuWaH.
We have plummeted so low in the modern day Christian Church that the Torah (Law) of YaHuWaH (transcribed through Moses) is thought of as “done away with” and we have been taught lies based on gross misinterpretations of Paul’s epistles.
If YaHuW’shuwa were here today “in the flesh,” he would be thought of by most Christians as a legalist!
Listen to what our Messiah says about the Law of Moses:
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
*Note: most people think that YaHuW’shuwa (Jesus) already fulfilled all of the law/Torah, but he only fulfilled the penalty for breaking it. There are more things in the law/Torah that he must fulfill at his second coming and during the Millennial Kingdom.
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
HAVE HEAVEN AND EARTH PASSED AWAY YET? NO!
Therefore not one punctuation mark is passed away from the law/Torah until all is fulfilled, and this will not happen after the 1,000 year Millennial reign of Messiah is over (see Revelation 21:1).
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Those who teach that the Law of Moses does not apply to us today, and they erroneously teach that Yah’s law has been “nailed the cross” shall be called “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven! But those who are persecuted for wanting to obey the commandments of YaHuWaH, and they are falsely accused as being “legalists” shall be called “great” in the kingdom of Elohiym !
*Note: In Colossians 2:14 what was “nailed to the cross” were the “ordinances” (the Greek word is dogma). These were the additions and subtractions of the Rabbis who added to Yah’s Torah with the “doctrines and commandments of men.” This gives more clarity to what it means to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. It means that we do not add to nor subtract from Torah!
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
What does YaHuW’shuwa mean here? What does it mean to “exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees”?
He continues to expound using some examples of what he means:
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 5:
21 You have heard that it was said of them of old time, you shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, you fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
YaHuW’shuwa just made things “stricter” by showing us what the original intent of the Law of YaHuWaH was all along. Keeping the law outwardly was never acceptable even under the Old Covenant. YaHuW’shuwa is telling us that even if we call our brother a “fool” we are in danger of “Hell fire.” Wow, that sounds like what most Christians today would call “legalism.”
You see the true essence of “legalism” is trying to adhere to the “bare minimum requirement” of the law and looking for “loopholes” to see how much you can get away with and still be saved. This is what YaHuW’shuwa meant in the parable where the man attempted to go into the wedding without his wedding garment:
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 22:
8....The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.
11 And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:
12 And he says unto him, Friend, how came you in here not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.
13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
Why were those who were called to the wedding not ready? They were called to the wedding but they were pre-occupied with the things of this world. They did not “keep” their garments as described by YaHuW’shuwa:
Revelation 16:15: Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
What does it mean to “keep” one’s garments? It means that we do not allow ourselves to be stained by the world and we keep our garments clean by living a life crucified to the flesh and sin. We obey the commandments! This is not “legalism.” What does it means to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? We must obey the commandments from our hearts as well as outwardly. Not merely according to the appearance of men!
And so this is what the “bare minimum” looks like:
1.) Say the sinners prayer, and you are saved by grace alone (no obedience to commandments necessary).
2.) Go to Church on Sunday and say that you “honored the Sabbath.”
3.) Pay your 10 percent to the “paid professional” that teaches traditions of men (Pharisees).
4.) You pretend to believe in the 10 Commandments (except for the 4th Sabbath Commandment).
5.) See how much you can get away with and still be under “grace.”
6.) Believe that you are saved no matter what you do or fail to do.
7.) Find out on judgment day that Messiah “never knew you.”
Why will he not know you?
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.
What does the word “iniquity” mean in Greek?
#458. anomia an-om-ee’-ah from 459; illegality, i.e. violation of law or (genitive case) wickedness:--iniquity, X transgress(-ion of) the law, unrighteousness.
#459. anomos an’-om-os from 1 (as a negative particle) and 3551; lawless, i.e. (negatively) not subject to (the Jewish) law; (by implication, a Gentile), or (positively) wicked:--without law, lawless, transgressor, unlawful, wicked.
#460. anomos an-om’-oce adverb from 459; lawlessly, i.e. (specially) not amenable to (the Jewish) law:--without law.
INIQUITY = NOT SUBJECT TO JEWISH LAW!
*Note: The Strong’s Concordance is using the term “Jewish Law” to mean the Torah (5 Books of Moses), and they do not mean the Rabbinic additions of the Talmud.
Those Christians who misunderstand the Apostle Paul’s writings and think that we are no longer “under Yah’s law” will be counted as “goats” on the Day of Judgment!
What did Paul mean by “we are not under the law?”
Galatians 5:18 But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law.
He meant that if we have the Holy Spirit in us, we are not under a rabbinic man-made law. He was also teaching that we are not under a heavy burden to obey man’s interpretations of how the laws of our Creator should be kept. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and he is the one who teaches us “how” to obey the law because it is the Holy Spirit who now “writes” Yah’s law in our hearts and minds under the New Covenant!
Hebrews 10:16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says YaHuWaH, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
This was the whole purpose for the day of Pentecost---so that the Holy Spirit could deposit Yah’s Law inside of us!
So what does this mean? Does this mean that since it is in our hearts we don’t have to keep Yah’s law anymore?
No! Just the opposite! If we truly love YaHuWaH with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, we will enjoy doing his commandments, for love knows no sacrifice.
Keeping Torah (instructions) is not a heavy burden when we are under the Messiah, for his yoke is easy and light. But the yoke of the traditions of men are heavy and unbearable.
1st YaHuWchanon (John) 5:
2 By this we know that we love the children of Elohiym, when we love Elohiym, and keep his commandments.
3 For this is the love of Elohiym, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
We don’t keep the commandments of YaHuWaH in order to “earn salvation,” we keep his commandments because it is in our new nature (once we are born again) to do the commandments.
To those who think that hanging on to paganism, and the traditions of men gives you more “freedom in Christ,” you are deceived! For Messiah says:
YaHuWchanon (John) 8:32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
How is it that practicing lies and pagan customs makes one free? Only the “truth” of the word of Yah, can set us free! But so many in the Christian Church today we have it backwards, as Isaiah spoke well of these people when he said:
YeshaYaHuW (Isaiah) 5:20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
I hear the rationale of many Christians today and they call lawlessness “freedom” but they call keeping the commandments of YaHuWaH “bondage.” Beloved, it is sin and lawlessness that puts us into bondage---not the commandments of our creator!
Ya’aqob (James) 1:25 accurately refers to the Torah (Law) as “the perfect law of liberty.” Truly obeying Torah from the heart under inspiration of the Holy Spirit (and not merely in the letter) is absolute FREEDOM!
YaHuW’shuwa tells us that we must keep his commandments if we want to enter into life:
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 19:
17......but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He say unto him, Which? YaHuW’shuwa (Jesus) said, You shall do no murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,
19 Honour your father and your mother: and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
YaHuW’shuwa is listing the 10 commandments here----not just 2 commandments! Many people that I talk to in the church erroneously believe that our Messiah did away with all the other commandments and instead, he gave us only two commandments to keep. They cite this verse without paying attention to what he is really saying:
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 22:
37 YaHuW’shuwa said unto him, You shall love YHWH your Elohiym with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
What they fail to see, is that YaHuW’shuwa was quoting the “two great commandments” in the Torah. These were not brand new commandments that he was giving us:
Debarim (Deuteronomy) 6:5 And you shall love YHWH your Elohiym with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Debarim (Deuteronomy) 10:12 And now, Yisra’el, what does YHWH your Elohiym require of you, but to fear YHWH your Elohiym, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve YHWH your Elohiym with all your heart and with all your soul,
Wayyikra (Leviticus) 19:18 You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am YHWH.
You will also notice that YaHuW’shuwa is telling us that these “two greatest commandments” are like the “umbrella” upon which all the other commandments in the Torah (5 books of Moses) hang on. This means that the other commandments (the least ones) are not done away with. They depend on us obeying the two greatest ones! For if we are not able to obey the two greatest commandments in the Torah, then we will not be able to obey even the least of the commandments!
YaHuW’shuwa tells us that we must live by “every word of Elohiym” not merely the New Testament scriptures. When YaHuW’shuwa said these words, the New Testament had not even gone into print yet:
MattithYaHuW (Matthew) 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of Elohiym.
Luke 4:4 And YaHuW’shuwa answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of Elohiym.
Our Messiah, YaHuW’shuwa does not change, and neither does his word or his commandments change.
1st Kefa (Peter) 1:25 But the word of YHWH endures forever.
Malachi 3:6 For I am YHWH, I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed.
Hebrews 13:8 YaHuW’shuwa Messiah the same yesterday, and today, and forever.
And so now we get a better understanding of what “legalism” is. It is just the opposite of what many of you thought it was. Legalism is trying to find loopholes to disobey commandments by doing just the bare minimum and not obeying from the heart!