Read an Excerpt
(Excerpted from Chapter 1)
The Torah Observance of Yeshua's Family
The keys to understanding Yeshua's Torah observance are twofold. First, we will see that he kept the Torah's commandments. Then, we will see that his teachings mirrored his practice. In some sense, I am making this artificial division because every rabbi of that era taught through both practice and oral teaching as an integrated whole. After we see Yeshua's words and example, such an integrated whole will emerge.
As we examine Yeshua's Torah observance, it is logical to look at his family background. It is important to understand how Yeshua was brought up. If his family was Torah-observant, then we should expect that Yeshua would have been Torah-observant as well. His upbringing would have been rich with the study of the Torah, the keeping of the feasts and holidays, and a deep connection to the history and calling of the nation of Israel. Let us see what the evidence shows us.
Yeshua's Family Upbringing
When we study the scriptural information about Yeshua's home life, it soon becomes evident that his family brought him up as a Torah-observant Jew. The family fit into the normal range of Torah observance for their era and geographic location (first century C.E. Galilean Judaism). This is seen from Yeshua's earliest days. In Luke 2:21-32, Yeshua and his family fulfilled the mitzvah of circumcision as found in Exodus 13:2, 11-16 and Leviticus 12:1-8. The Leviticus text states:
When a woman gives birth to a boy . . . he is to be circumcised on the eighth day . . . and when the days of purification pass . . . bring a one-year old sheep for a burnt offering, and a dove or pigeon for a sin offering, to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, to the kohen . . . or bring two pigeons or two doves, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering; and the kohen will perform the atonement and purification ceremony. (author's translation)
The text in Luke shows the literal fulfillment of this mitzvah by Joseph and Miriam (Mary), Yeshua's parents.
On the eighth day, when it was time for his b'rit-milah [circumcision], he was given the name Yeshua. . . . [T]hey took him up to Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] to present him to ADONAI (as it is written in the Torah of ADONAI, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to ADONAI") and also to offer a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons, as required by the Torah of ADONAI. (Luke 2:21-24)
Yeshua was circumcised according to the mitzvot of the Mosaic (and Abrahamic) Covenant(s). The Greek phrase, kata ton nomon Moseus, according to the Torah of Moses), in Luke 2:22, makes it clear that Yeshua's family did this in order to fulfill the requirements of the Torah. Luke 2:24, explains that the sacrifice offered by the family was the one mentioned in Leviticus 12:8. Here is one clear example of the Torah-observant ways of Yeshua's family. In addition, it is doubtful that the righteous man of Luke 2:25, meaning a strict Torah-observant Jew, would bless the Messiah (v. 28) if the Messiah was not going to be Torah-observant. A tzaddik would not give this blessing to a Torah-ignorant person. It is hardly conceivable, based on any Jewish writings or rabbinic literature with which I am familiar, that the Messiah would not observe the Torah. The text makes it clear why Yeshua and his family came to Jerusalem in this instance: "to do for him [Yeshua] what the Torah required! " (v. 27b).
Indeed, the family's scrupulous Torah observance is shown in Luke 2:39: "Yosef and Miryam [Joseph and Mary] . . . finished doing everything required by the Torah." Both the Greek text and the corresponding Hebrew translations bring out the beautiful flavor of this phrase, which well portrays the fact that Joseph and Miriam were careful to fulfill all of the mitzvot of the Torah regarding the birth, ritual cleansing period, circumcision, and sacrifices for their newborn son. This alone tells us a good deal about the family atmosphere in which Yeshua was raised. His family was not abnormal. As Dr. Safrai noted in his lecture of December 16, 1996, in Jerusalem, Israel, a Torah-observant home environment was normal for a Galilean Jewish family of that period. Logic, culture, and history dictate that Yeshua grew up as a Torah-observant child and youth.
At age twelve, we find Yeshua fulfilling a mitzvah of the Torah with his family. Luke 2:41 states, "Every year Yeshua's parents went to Yerushalayim for the festival of Pesach [Passover]." It is evident that participating in the pilgrimage festivals was the custom of Yeshua's family. As with all Jews of that time, this was done out of obedience to the mitzvot of the Torah. Here, the family fulfilled the mitzvah found in Exodus 23:14-15 and Deuteronomy 16:16. The Deuteronomy text states, " Three times a year all your men are to appear [in Yerushalayim] in the presence of ADONAI your God . . . [including] at the festival of matzah [unleavened bread/Passover]." Yeshua's family kept the festival cycle outlined in Leviticus 23.
On this particular Passover pilgrimage, the twelve-year-old Yeshua showed his desire to serve God and to know the true meaning of the Torah. He spent three full days in discussion of the Torah with leading Jerusalem rabbis (see Luke 2:43-50). If Yeshua, or his family for that matter, had been hostile to observing the Torah, this pilgrimage event would not have occurred. It is highly unlikely that Yeshua would have engaged in a three-day discussion about the Torah with rabbis if he had held an anti-Torah attitude.
Although it is impossible to identify these Jerusalem rabbis, they may have been Sanhedrin members. Leading Sanhedrin members headed yeshivas, or religious schools, where they taught young Jewish boys and men about the Torah. To engage in discussion of the Torah with a young Jewish pilgrim from Galilee is very imaginable. In Luke 2, could Yeshua have discussed the Torah with such eminent teachers such as the sages Hillel, Shammai, or Rabban Gamliel (Sha'ul's teacher)? We do not know. Yet, it does remain within the realm of historical possibility that this happened. No matter who these rabbis actually were, it is hardly possible that three days worth of discussions could have taken place between such lovers of the Torah and Yeshua, had Yeshua not been Torah-observant. . .