A Critique Of The Hebrew Roots Movement

The law of God is at the heart of the HRM and the debates surrounding it. The traditional understanding of God’s law is that there are three parts of the law and three uses of the law. Reformed understanding would also include three main principles for understanding the Ten Commandments (though I will not go through those principles in this post). As far as I can tell, the HRM rejects all or most of these distinctions.

The three parts of the law are the moral, civil, and ceremonial. The moral law is the Ten Commandments. The civil laws are those laws given to Israel as a political entity for the Old Testament time. They were given to Israel for the time when they were in the land (Deuteronomy 5-6, note the recurring phrase “in the land”). They taught the Israelites about holiness, being distinct from the rest of the world. they included laws such as not sowing the land with two different kinds of seeds, or weaving cloth with two different kinds of thread. The dietary laws are also usually reckoned to be in this category. The ceremonial law is the sacrificial system, the worship laws, the feasts and festivals. Of course, there has always been some debate about whether a particular law belongs in one or the other of these three basic categories. However, the vast majority of the church has held to this distinction for most of its history.

The HRM believes the church invented this distinction without any biblical basis whatsoever. The HRM erases category distinctions between sets of laws, thus (at least potentially) putting the law of two different kinds of threads on the same footing as “Do not murder.” Jesus says, in Matthew 23:23 that there are weightier and less weighty matters of the law. Tithing mint and cumin is less weighty than justice and mercy. He says none of them should be neglected by the Pharisees, but the Pharisees lacked a sense of proportion. For a far larger and exegetical position defending the biblical position of the three parts of the law, see this excellent tome. Read More»

Lane Keister | “Hebrew Roots Movement, Part 3” | December 30, 2022


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6 comments

  1. Thank you Drs Keister and Clark for this post. I would encourage others to follow the link above and search for parts 1 and 2 of this series as well as several other fine posts regarding the HRM at the Green Baggins blog. I have personally seen rapid growth of the HRM (and closely related Torah Observance Movement) in the area I live and it has been quite difficult to refute as the belief system is so broad and entwined in other more legitimate theology. In my experience, those holding to the HRM and TOM are so certain that they are right that they will not even listen to opposing arguments…..it can be a slow and somewhat frustrating experience. I have been engaged in ministering to JWs for many years, and I find ministry to those engaged in these two movements to be quite similar. There is a difference however: my HRM and TOM friends all acknowledged the deity of Christ, so I tend to disagree with those calling these movements heresy….I prefer error, but it is serious error as it fails to acknowledge that “it is finished.”

    • Paul has a couple of things to say about HRM and TOM from Galatians which makes the movement(s) seem more than just a “serious error” as you say.

      As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:9, ESV)

      For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Galatians 3:10, ESV)

      I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:12, ESV)

      Whether or not they believe in the deity of Christ, Paul curses them twice and wishes mutilation upon them once. Seems “heresy” is an appropriate label.

  2. Thanks Steve, I much appreciate you taking the time to respond.. For the record, I’m in no way unsettled….and believe me, I’ve spent no small amount of time in Galatians with these folks, and no small amount of time in prayer for them and even with them. Paul was fighting the same battle…..”O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth?” You see, they believe that the do have the truth and we do not.

    The problem is that they have a Biblical answer for everything (from their own perspective)…..so do the JWs….that’s why I draw a parallel. Also like the JWs, they tend to separate themselves from any mainline Christianity, especially us reformed folk. I have been friends with a few of them since before their “enlightenment” so I’m “in the door” so to speak. Our relationship focuses on our shared love of Jesus……my hope is that in the end truth will prevail. Again, like working with JWs, the most effective strategy (for me) is to point out Biblical cracks in their theological foundation.

    There are many ways to define heresy….the one I prefer is a denial of the deity of Christ, and/or a denial of His salvific work on the cross. I acknowledge that it is a narrow definition and that not all would agree. The HRM and TOM folks love Jesus, fall at His feet, and fully acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior. They claim to trust 100% in salvation by grace alone and insist that their observances are simple obedience, albeit, necessary obedience. So I focus on the whats and whys of their “necessity”…..”necessary for what?” I have found it also helpful to really understand their theology to be able to talk intelligently to them about it (another parallel with witnessing to JWs). It is quite easy to tell someone that they are wrong….it’s a whole new matter to convince them that they are. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can change hearts….my focus in on changing minds and causing them to question what they believe.

    Until one has experienced a conversation with some of these folks it can be quite difficult to sympathize with the difficulty. They are not dumb or uneducated, just the opposite, my friends are highly intelligent and know their Bibles well (so do most JWs). It would be easy to simply dismiss them as heretics and move on, but I’m a little stubborn, so I press on.

  3. I have spent ten years dealing with HRM and TOM people out of Colorado, so I am well aware of the difficulties that arise. They are heretics. They claim to love Jesus, but they love the law more. They love the Yeshua Hamashiach of their own making more than the Jesus Christ of the gospel, thus they are cursed. They love the law more than the gospel, thus they are under the curse. They may claim a salvation by grace alone, but the rest of their teachings give lie to their words, and they are false teachers and are actively leading people astray. Their theology is wrong, their practice is compromised, and their ultimate hope is not in the finished work of Christ on the cross, but in their own obedience to the law. Paul is crystal clear, thus we must be as well. You may color it as you will in your winsomeness and desire to win them to the true Messiah, but I have been witness to enough families destroyed and churches split by their intransigence to have no patience for them. In this, I stand unapologetically with the apostle Paul.

    • I’m glad that I’m not the judge of humanity…..who is and who is not accursed is not for me to say. Your explanation makes it clear why you feel as you do Steve, but characterizing me as “winsome” is neither fair nor accurate. I’m certainly no apologist for the theology, but I have not yet reached the point where I’m ready to give up on people. Truth has a way of cutting through sin (if it didn’t I would still be lost), and at least for me, loving sinners is more important than condemning them. My heart aches for the families and churches you describe, but many families have been broken by just about every form of sin, sometimes sin masquerading as faith or theology, and we continue to work for restoration in such cases. I’ve had some success with the JWs over 30 or so years, but it is a long and arduous process requiring no small amount of patience and bringing little reward in this life. In the end all I really seek is the glory of God.

  4. The church in Israel has a lot of trouble with this. In addition to the normal problems of QIRC and QIRE, we also have the QIRS (Quest For Illegitimate Religious Superiority). All dispensationalists. Many keep dietary restrictions. Most keep holidays. The mutilation (Paul’s term, not mine) is almost universal. There are even congregations that out of trying to be “Jewish” end up denying that we worship one God in trinity and trinity in unity.

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