In 2013 the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) did a survey on biblical literacy in South Africa. The study found that, while most self-professed Christians read the Bible daily, many held views that disagreed with the Scriptures. This is troubling, because it indicates that Christians who read the Bible often don’t understand it, nor do they apply it to their lives.
Christians should not only be busy with the Word, but should be transformed by it. We should not be like the women described in 2 Tim. 3:7: “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth”. This void leaves people open to deception (just look at verse 6) and opens the door for movements like Hebrew Roots. One area in which the Hebrew Roots Movement exploits people’s ignorance of basic Christian truths, is their attack on the doctrine of the Trinity.
The rejection of the Trinity
We’ve already mentioned that many within the Hebrew Roots Movement reject the doctrine of the Trinity. While not all adherents do, it is telling that a significant number of the movement’s most vocal proponents do. Writers and teachers like Ken Garrison, Randy Folliarde, AB Traina, as well as organizations like Yahweh Restoration Ministries, Hebraic Christian College, and Beit Yeshua Torah Assembly explicitly reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Some embrace the Arian heresy and teach that if “the Son was the first begotten of creation, there was a point in time He did not exist.”
Hebrew Roots teachers often point to the Nicene Creed (325AD) as the moment the Christian church embraced a pagan idea about the nature of God. This is simply not true. The creed summarized biblical teaching on the nature of the Godhead. This process did not start with the Nicene council. The Scriptures gave birth to the doctrine of the Trinity, and that doctrine was summarized, not by philosophers (as Hebrew Roots proponents assume), but pastors who sought to be faithful to the witness of Scripture. What was generally assumed and agreed upon within the wider Christian church, had to be defended because of heresies that threatened biblical truth. Arius from Alexandria (318) taught that only the Father was truly God and that Jesus, his Son, was not eternal and did not possess by nature any of the divine perfections.
A defense of the doctrine of the Trinity falls beyond the scope of this article, but it should be noted that the council assembled to defend biblical teaching, not to redefine it. The Trinitarian formulae of passages like Matthew 28:19-20 and 2 Cor. 13:14 present the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as equally God, while not confusing their Persons. It is tragic that ancient heresies, which the church has confronted and refuted countless times throughout church history, is making a comeback. The Hebrew Roots Movement threatens this fundamental Christian doctrine, even if there are proponents who do not reject it entirely.
The Hebrew Roots hermeneutic
Hermeneutics is a big word for the rules of interpretation. If we compare studying the gospel to a sport, hermeneutics would be the rules of the game. The Hebrew Roots movement subtly changes the rules of interpretation, thereby changing the way we read the Bible. For example, the Christian maxim has always been that that “the new is in the old concealed, the old is in the new revealed.” This phrase, first found in the writings of Augustine of Hippo (fourth century AD), is taken from Ephesians 3:5. There Paul explains that the gospel and the subsequent inclusion of the Gentiles “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”
The Hebrew Roots Movement turns this on its head by insisting that we cannot understand the Old Testament in light of the New, but should instead interpret the New Testament in light of the Old. There is no denying that we cannot make sense of the New Testament without the Old. It would be a fatal mistake for believers to ignore or set the Old Testament aside. However, the New Testament illuminates the Old, while the Old is the foundation for the new. As John 1:17 says: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
This is not the only hermeneutical error that the Hebrew Roots movement makes. In private correspondence with Hebrew Roots proponents, I’ve had to correct errors such as:
These are, admittedly, varied examples. Not all proponents of the Hebrew Roots movement make these same mistakes or make them in the same way. There have also been non-Hebrew Roots teachers who have made these mistakes. The point, however, is that much of what the Hebrew Roots movement teaches rely of exegetical fallacies and hermeneutical gymnastics. It is not light, but darkness.
The Hebrew Roots Movement is not a return to biblical Judaism, but to Talmudic Judaism at best and “pop-Judaism” at worst. It ignores the clear teaching of passages like Acts 15, which addresses the relationship of Gentile believers to Judaism. There we are told: “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” Hebrew Roots proponents believe that the council just corrected what was missing in the Gentiles’ obedience, but the letter that the council wrote destroys that notion. Look at verse 24: “Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions”. What were these false teachers preaching? That they had to keep the law and be circumcised. Later, the letter adds: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements” (v. 28). They clearly did not expect these Gentiles to keep the whole Mosaic Law.
It is telling that the majority of Jews who come to faith do not join Messianic Synagogues, because of the unbiblical impositions placed on those who convert to Christianity. Most of these Synagogues are filled with Gentiles trying to be Jews. Fisher warns: “This imposition of Jewish practice on non-Jewish believers really does constitute a serious issue that promotes elitism, unnecessary division, wide confusion, and unbiblical practices. We can almost understand Jews who convert to Christ who still try to keep some of the cultural aspects and celebrations of their familial heritage. If their intentions and motives are not legalistic, and if these things are not done for salvation or out of religious elitism, there may be some minor benefit. Yet to impose them on Gentiles (as is the case, more often than not) is a direct violation of Paul’s words to the Colossians: “So let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (2:16-17).”
Finally, the Hebrew Roots Movement cannot agree on which version of Judaism it should follow. There were different streams of Judaism in the first century. Should we emulate the religious Pharisees? And, if so, should we follow the school of Shammai or Hillel? What about the Sadducees, the Zealots, or the Herodians? Did John the Baptist capture the true essence of Judaism? There were purist movements, like the Essenes, who withdrew from society for fear that their faith would be corrupted. Should we follow their interpretation? We cannot return to the Judaism of the first-century: there is no temple, no priesthood, and no animal sacrifices.
Some in the Hebrew Roots Movement seem to be enamoured with modern Orthodox Jews. This doesn’t solve the problem either, because we would have to decide between the Ger Hassidic Dynasty, the Belz Hassidic Dynasty, and many others. It just causes more confusion.
You cannot belong to the Hebrew Roots Movement without making the most crucial mistake of all: believing that Jesus is not enough. Therefore, beware of the Hebrew Roots Movement and those who hold to it. It is a very real danger to your soul, your family, your church, and the glory of Christ.
Because of Christ,