They Loved The Torah: What Yeshua’s First Followers Really Thought About The Law, by David Friedman
In a world that was remotely knowledgeable about the Bible, writing a book like this should be akin to carrying coals to Newcastle. After all, it should be glaringly obvious that the apostles kept the Sabbath and holy days and food laws and that their approach was obedient to the point of being scrupulously so when it came to the laws of God, whatever their disagreements about aspects of nonbiblical traditions. It should go without saying that I have myself heard sermons and written blog entries and even longer works concerning some of the matters the author discusses in the book. Both from direct biblical citation as well as a great deal of sound inference the author proves decisively the pronomian position of Jesus Christ (consistently called Yeshua here in honor of its original pronunciation) and the early apostles and leaders (who the author tends to call by their Aramaic names as well). I personally think that this sort of Messianic Jewish book is the kind I appreciate the best because its approach is essentially the same as my own, as well as its view of the relationship between law and grace and early Christianity and the Second Temple Judaism it sprang from.
This short book of a bit over 100 pages contains fourteen chapters and various other material divided into four parts. The author begins with a foreword and preface that demonstrate the author’s own commitment to the law and his joy in expounding upon it. The first part of the book consists of four chapters that examine the question of the Torah observance of Jesus and his family–starting with his family (1), then looking at Jesus’ Sabbath observance (2), then looking at Jesus’ view of the dietary laws (3), and then discussing other examples of Jesus’ Torah observance (4), none of which should be surprising to readers. The author then turns his attention to the Torah observance of early disciples, including how Paul lived (5), the Torah observance of Peter (6), Torah observance in the writings of John (7), and some notes from other early Torah-observant believers (8). The third part of the book consists of three chapters that examine the response of others to Jesus’ observance of God’s laws, including the common people (9), Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (10), and those encountered in the book of Acts and beyond (11). After this the author address the question of whether this Torah observance was legalism or love with a discussion of love, grace and mercy in the early messianic community (12), obedience as a sign of love to the nations (13), and thoughts on what God’s law says about observing the law (14), after which there is a conclusion and an epilogue and various supplementary material.
Reading a book like this one leaves me with several questions. For one, why is this sort of book necessary? Is the Bible so little read with understanding that someone felt it necessary to detail the various and obvious ways that Jesus Christ and the early believers were obedient to God’s laws in ways that are foreign to contemporary Hellenistic Christians? The author likely views these as rhetorical questions to be answered in the affirmative. Similarly, the reasoning of Jesus Christ is so obviously drawn from the rabbinical styles of his day that there is no question that early Christianity sprang from Second Temple Judaism with its many divisions and quarrels over the legitimacy of various authorities and various traditions, in which He and His followers were certainly distinctive but were by no means outside of the community in terms of their approach. The course of history has hardened the feelings of many followers of Jesus Christ and many self-professed Jews towards each other, but this gulf is not one of hostility to God’s laws by those who are genuine followers of the Messiah. In addition to these concerns about the content of the book and its concerns, I am left with the question of how I would be considered myself by the author of the book and others like him, given their own considerable concerns about Jewish identity questions.