Are Messianic Youth Properly Trained in the Torah and All the Scriptures?




reproduced from Galatians for the Practical Messianic

When we consider Paul’s description of the Torah as serving as a pedagogue, some difficult questions are asked of us as Believers considering whether or not any of us were actually trained in the basics of the Torah. If Paul intends the Torah to serve as a pedagogue for all, or at least most, who come to faith in Yeshua, what is this to say about Christians—and also Messianics—today? Are any of us properly trained in the Torah? What role does the Torah play in showing us our depravity as sinners, and our inherent need for a Divine Savior?

One of the most confusing passages in the Bible for many today is Yeshua’s words, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15; cf. Matthew 19:14). Many in the contemporary Church have concluded that what Yeshua is saying here is that the best time to receive salvation is when one is a small child. The problem with this is that a small child cannot understand his or her sin nature as demonstrated by Scripture. A small child might have some kind of rudimentary understanding of right and wrong, and a small child might understand some of God’s love—but a small child cannot comprehend his or her sin nature, knowing that condemned sinners are worthy of eternal punishment.

The purpose of the Torah as pedagogue is to train individuals in what the God of Israel considers acceptable and unacceptable behavior, clearly laying forth the penalties of disobedience to Him. In the Jewish tradition, it takes anywhere between twelve and fourteen years for a child to be prepared for adulthood, knowing the principles of right and wrong, and the responsibilities that one is to be cognizant of as a member of the Jewish community. During the years between birth and bar/bat mitzvah, Jewish children are trained in the commandments of the Torah and principles of the Tanach, to prepare them to be accountable. Often this is accompanied with some kind of Hebrew study, with the youth also becoming familiar with Jewish history and tradition.

Interestingly enough, many Protestant denominations follow a similar, yet less rigorous process with confirmation. Youth preparing to enter their teens go through confirmation classes by learning the basic stories and principles of the Bible, Christian history, the traditions of the denomination, and their role as young people in the contemporary Church. Confirmation classes are often held separately from Sunday School, even though they take on a similar format.

I can remember in 1993 going through confirmation classes in the United Methodist Church, where I went to take several weeks of classes independent of Sunday School, and our pastor took about a dozen or so male youth on a day-long houseboat cruise on the Ohio River. We read Scripture passages, we prayed, and we discussed issues that were pertinent to us as young people. One of the prominent issues that we discussed, especially as many of us were just entering puberty, was human sexuality. The issue had actually been forced because we had all stopped at a truck stop on the way to the marina, and several of us had noticed a condom dispenser in the men’s room. Some did not know what this was, and our pastor was very gracious to discuss the issue. While none of us were Messianic, we certainly did focus on God’s commandments and moral expectations of us that afternoon.

How many of us were trained in the truths of the Torah—even if they were just the Ten Commandments from a limited Christian understanding—that we were sinners in the eyes of God and needed His salvation? How many of us had the Torah guarding us while we were young, so that in the future when we reached a point of maturity, we no longer had to be reminded of the basic truths of what was sin and not sin? Did we ever have the Torah function as a pedagogue for us in any capacity?

Boice makes the surprising observation, “the experience of passing from law to promise needs to be repeated in everyone who comes to faith in Christ Jesus, for the law condemns in order that faith might make alive.”[1] Boice is correct; all sinners must be shown their sin from their violation of God’s Law. But how often does this actually happen in the Christian Church today? In a Christian Church that has largely sluffed away the Torah, are new Believers to Christ actually shown their sin from the Torah, told that they need to confess and repent of this sin, and once redeemed discipled in a life of holiness? While we cannot speak in broad terms, the problems that the contemporary Church faces today are a direct result of the fact that this largely does not happen. The majority of people who profess faith in Yeshua did not have the Torah serve as their pedagogue, or even limited pedagogue.

It is not that difficult to enter into a Messianic congregation or fellowship today and discover that a great deal of teaching emphasis is placed on the Torah. The weekly Torah cycle often dominates a Shabbat teaching. It is certainly good for Messianic congregations to focus on Scriptures that too many of our Christian brethren ignore. We need to know the essential stories and foundational decrees that compose our faith, and ultimately our belief in Yeshua. We need to know what the God of Israel considers proper and improper behavior, and have a firm theological foundation that begins with Genesis. But what is actually discussed from the weekly parashah, and how the material is delivered is a much more complicated issue. Does the Torah actually guide us as a standard of holiness?

It has been my observation over the past ten to fifteen years (1997-2012) that the Messianic community as a whole largely does not understand the proper role that the Torah is to play as pedagogue. The Torah as pedagogue is to train people on the way to salvation in what God considers to be righteous and unrighteous. The Torah following salvation is by no means to be discarded, but can then serve as the “ethos statement” of one’s life, as consistent study of the Torah as God’s Word is to then enable a person to fulfill His Divine mission. Prior to salvation, the Torah serves as a person’s pedagogue, and after salvation it serves as a person’s assignment book from the Holy One.

This is largely what we do not see in many Messianic congregations. For too many of our Messianic brethren, Torah observance is used to “prove” to others that they are “better” than our Christian brethren. Torah observance is not adopted as a proper way of holy living, but to indeed demonstrate “superior sanctity,” be it non-Jewish Believers embracing their Hebraic Roots or Jewish Believers having an over-inflated view of their ethnic and cultural heritage. Torah teachers who adopt this approach often do not teach from the Torah’s instruction as a pedagogue would, challenging Messianic Believers with whether or not they have truly lived up to God’s high standard. Instead, too much of the “Torah teaching” we are submitted to, can be disengaged from the ethical and moral demands of the text, and the weekly parashah is largely used as a springboard for teachers to “rant” on either the ills of Christianity or society—rather than used as a place for providing solutions. And worse enough, the solution to the world’s problems, Yeshua the Messiah, is often not provided. Notably, in the time I have been in the Messianic movement, pertinent issues like sexuality (which the Torah certainly talks about) have never been discussed at any of the youth or adult meetings I have been a part of.

The impact that this has on Messianic youth is going to be quite severe if things do not begin to change. Are Messianic youth being properly trained in the Torah? Certainly, there are many good traditions from the Jewish practice of bar/bat mitzvah that should be integrated into our congregations. I think it is a good thing for a young boy or girl to learn some Hebrew to read his or her parashah, and that young people should be honored by the adults as they enter into their “adulthood” and begin to take positions of responsibility in the assembly. But preparing for bar/bat mitzvah should be more than just learning some Hebrew and having a party. We should integrate the elements of the Christian confirmation, where the ethical and moral issues that directly concern today’s teens should be discussed. Yet, how can we address those issues with youth if we do not tend to even address them with adults?

Many Messianic congregations do not have a large number of youth (at least today) to warrant bar/bat mitzvah classes. At most, such youth prior to bar/bat mitzvah might have a few consultations with their rabbi, pastor, or congregational leader. This means it is incumbent upon such a leader to make sure that the youth are trained from the bema/pulpit in the proper principles of life during the weekly Shabbat service. Furthermore, to limit the youth or anyone to exclusively the Torah, and not to provide teachings from the Prophets or Apostolic Scriptures, is also a severe mistake. Messianic youth preparing for bar/bat mitzvah need to know the commandments of the Torah, the stories of the Bible, and the essentials of the gospel. If they have truly not had a born again experience by this point in time, the bar/bat mitzvah process should be so serious that a true coming to Messiah faith should follow shortly thereafter.

Questions are being asked today not only about how we properly teach from the Torah (not avoiding some of its controversial issues), but also how we are to have more well-rounded teachings from all parts of the Bible. Too many Messianic assemblies exclusively analyze the Torah. Sadly, they may be just as theologically neutered as those in the Christian Church who just focus on the “New Testament.” Likewise, people attending a congregation where not only the same parashah is addressed every year, but the teaching every year is on the exact same points of the parashah, can become dis-empowered from fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives. The Torah can become stale, dis-enlivened, and also boring. This need not take place with a Bible as big as we have. People need to know about the results of disobedience to God, as seen all throughout the histories and Prophets of the Tanach, and most importantly the life and ministry of Yeshua the Messiah who came to bring us all salvation.

We need to have leaders and teachers with discernment, who can appropriate themes and broad principles from the Torah, connecting them to other parts of the Bible when they stand before the congregation to speak. Youth, as well as adults, are listening and looking for an appropriate model to emulate. Some congregations desperately need to consider the example seen in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:15-16), where short teachings from the Torah and the Prophets were given. A similar format needs to be adapted whereby a small 15-20 minute Torah teaching could be offered, later followed by an actual 30-45 minute sermon that might take a broad theme seen in the weekly parashah, or address other pertinent issues facing the local assembly and/or community.


[1] Boice, in EXP, 10:467-468.