What Does Do Not Add or Take Away Really Mean?

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There are many times within the Bible, from Genesis through to Revelation, that we are told we are not to add to or take away from the commandments we are given. The most specific commands I could find regarding this can be found in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; 13:1; and in Revelation 22:18-19.

Too often I have noticed that people use these admonitions as a means of denying the validity of both Jewish and Christian traditions, rites and holidays that are not specifically commanded in the Torah. They believe the words “do not add to or take away from” as universally encompassing any and all words, ceremonies, activities or regulations outside exactly what is written in the Torah.

This is a form of legalistic interpretation, and although their heart is in the right place, their understanding is incorrect.

When Moses warned against adding to or taking away from the instructions God gave us he meant not to change only those things which he just instructed us to do. Rabbi Rashi gave an example by saying that we are told to use 4 species for the Lulav, so we shouldn’t use 5 or 3. The idea is that we are not to make arbitrary changes to the laws; that, however, does not mean we cannot make new additions to the Mosaic laws, as conditions require. Obviously, with the advent of new technology and moving from an agrarian economy to a service economy, the Mosaic Laws, taken in a stoic and unbending literal meaning, in many cases cannot be applied.

Let us consider that we do not change anything in the Torah at all- literally, not one word is to be added or taken away. If that is the case, then the only way we can be sure we obey that command is to read the Torah in the original Hebrew it was written in. For example, if we are not to add to the words in the book, then English cannot be used to translate the Bible because we would have to add many, many words.

Here’s an example: in Hebrew, the possessive is usually the noun with the ending having a “-nu” added. “Adonai” means “Lord” but when we write “Adonainu” it means “our Lord” The Hebrew is a single word but the English translation requires the use of two words, which is a violation of the command not to add anything to the words in the book. Imagine how many uses of the possessive we find in the Bible, and how many words will have to be added just to interpret the Hebrew correctly. Not to mention that the Torah has been translated into scores of different languages, each of them having their own need to add or remove certain words to make the translation fit.

Can you see how ridiculous it becomes if we insist on an absolutely literal interpretation of that command?

The Torah is a book of instruction- it is the ultimate User’s Manual for worshiping God and treating each other. Torah doesn’t mean “law”, it means “instruction” and the instructions we are given are to be performed as God said to. That means we are to do what God said to do the way God said to do it, but it does NOT mean we cannot adjust to a changing world. R. Maimonides has said that the sages (Sanhedrin) are allowed to temporarily suspend some requirements or allow that which is forbidden under extreme circumstances. These are not to be permanent changes, but under extreme conditions and only to allow what needs to be done only while there is a need for it.

And under no circumstance can additional requirements be considered as Divine instructions- that is what it really boils down to when Moses said do not add to or take away from what God gave us:  the instructions in the Torah are not to be changed, deleted, altered or modified in any way. However, what new “fences around the law” are required (aka, Talmudic instruction) are acceptable so long as they are not presented as Divine instruction. 

This is where Judaism has violated the Torah- the Talmud is studied and revered as scripture by some of the more Orthodox sects of Judaism, and that is what Moses said we should not do. There is nothing wrong with traditional forms of worship if they do not nullify or over-rule God’s commands, AND if they are recognized as man-made and not presented as Divinely ordered.

Here is an example: the Divine order in Torah is that we are not to boil a calf in its mother’s milk; the fence around that law (given in the Talmud) is that we are not to even mix meat and dairy. I, myself, will never boil a calf in its mother’s milk but I will go to Steak and Shake and order a cheeseburger, fries and a milkshake (Oy! Now I’m hungry.) I am not violating God’s commandment, and the truth is even if I never mix meat and dairy, I am not violating God’s commandment, and I am not sinning- I am simply doing a little more than the minimum to ensure I do not violate the Divine order. That is really what the Talmudic/Rabbinic traditions are designed to do- they are to help us perform God’s commandments properly and not accidentally violate them (hence the term “fences around the law”, i.e. a way to prevent us from accidentally trespassing the law.)

So, here is how I look at “traditional” rites and holidays: do they change what God has said? Is celebrating Hanukkah (not specified in Lev. 23) a violation of God’s commandments? In my opinion, it isn’t because God couldn’t include it when he gave the Moedim to Moses simply because it hadn’t occurred yet. Is thanking God for a miraculous military victory which saved Judaism wrong? How could it be? How can anything that is a loving and worshipful celebration of the Lord and what he has done for us ever be wrong?

On the other hand, is failing to honor the Sabbath OK? Certainly not! Or if we decided we wanted to celebrate Sukkot for only 5 days, would that be OK? Certainly not! But what if I want to have a party and read the Magillah of Hadassah on Purim, is that OK? It certainly is!

God gave us the Torah so we can know how he wants us to live. It is not all-encompassing, it does not cover everything we will run into as the world changes, and it is not absolutely the exact words God gave to Moses. There is no way we can know that. So, nu? What is it? It is a collection of instructions that are the minimum we should do to obey God. Anything outside of the Torah that is required by our religious leadership is not a sin as long as that requirement is in accordance with God’s instructions; they must not nullify, overrule or change them, and they must not be presented as a Divine instruction.

What we are given in the Talmud and Constantinian Christian dogma is man-made instruction. It is not Divine, it is not absolutely required, and if it goes against what God said (such as changing the day we celebrate the Sabbath) it is a sin.

So, celebrate the Lord, give thanks in every way you can and don’t restrict your thankfulness to only what is in the Torah.

Do You Think God is Your Drinking Buddy?

Having been raised Jewish, even though we were not at all “religious” when I was young, the one thing that I have found universally true with all my Jewish friends and family is a respect for God and for His Holy name.

What I have found prevalent with Messianic and Hebraic Roots Christians (maybe as a left-over from being raised Christian) is a nearly universal disregard for the holiness of God’s name, in that it is used as often as any other person’s name.  People constantly use the Holy Name of God, the Tetregrammaton, in postings and banners and as often as we would use the words “Lord”, “God” or “Adonai.” I don’t get it- if they want to be more “Jewish” why do they do what Jews would never do?

You know what? Maybe that’s the difference- maybe that’s what I have been missing all along! I have been thinking that Hebraic Roots and Messianic Christians want to be more “Jewish”, in their worship and their obedience to Torah, but that may not be what they want. I may be the one who’s missing the point here- maybe they want to worship more like Yeshua did, but they don’t want to be Jewish. They want to be comfortable with what they are used to and ignore what they don’t want to do. Christians grow up using “Jesus” all the time, and much of Christianity teaches He is God. Now that they have this zeal to know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I suppose they think they can use His name as often as they used “Jesus”, although Jews almost never use the Holy Name of God.

And more than that- some change how it is spelled! Many substitute a “W” for the “V” in the third letter, citing that this is how it was pronounced in Paleo-Hebrew. There isn’t a Jew anywhere that does that, but these new “scholars of Judaism” think they should change thousands of years of respect for God’s name because they are, what? Better than the Jews? More knowledgeable than the Jews? Closer to God than His own people?

I’ll tell you why they do this: it’s to make Judaism more comfortable, to make certain parts of it more like the Christian ways of worship they were brought up with. Just like the “Church” fathers of old that separated themselves from their Jewish roots, these new “converts” to Jewish worship want to keep what they are comfortable with, even if it goes against (and insults) the Jewish worship that they want to partake in.

Why do Jews distrust Christians? One of the main reasons is that Christianity has persecuted Jews, and why? If you ask me, it’s because Christians feel that Jews are “wrong.” They feel that because Jews haven’t universally accepted Yeshua that they are wrong, that they have rejected God, and (some believe) are no longer considered by God to be His people. And as such, Christianity has felt fully justified in changing all the Jewish laws and festivals to what they think they should be. No wonder Jews feel like second class citizens in a Christian world. And , at least to me, when I see someone using the Holy Name and/or changing it, or hear someone use Yahweh or Jehovah, over and over, I get a sick feeling in my stomach and feel like saying, “Excuse me, but God chose us and we have known Him a LOT longer than you have, so what makes you think you can just come in and change how we should address God?”  The misinterpretation of Micah and other scripture to try to justify that God, Himself, says we should constantly use His Holy name (which He has kept hidden all this time) is just a way to “Christianize” Judaic worship, and is an insult to Jewish tradition.

It is one of the most important Jewish traditions that we never use the Holy Name of God. The Orthodox won’t even use the word “God”, and will substitute HaShem (The Name) or Adonai (which translates to “Lord”) instead. They would never, ever think of using Jehovah or Yahweh (which is not His name) in speech, or write the four letters in normal usage.

Traditions are important: they bind us culturally and religiously, and give a sense of comfort to those who see these traditions pass from generation to generation. I have introduced a few traditional Jewish prayers into the Hebraic Roots congregation I worship with, and some of those who had been raised Jewish felt a sense of “home” and belonging when they heard the prayers they were brought up with being used again.

The problem Yeshua had with traditions was not anything to do with traditions, per se- His issue was with those specific man-made traditions that were over-ruling the commandments from God. There is nothing wrong with tradition, so long as it doesn’t replace or change the commandment from God that it is based upon. For instance, Kosher laws are very difficult to work with, and the Rabbinical Halacha (“Way to Walk”, defined in the Talmud) adds many stringent regulations over the simple laws of Kashrut God gave us in Leviticus 11. But that’s not a bad thing because it doesn’t detract from or over-rule anything God said. As such, I keep Kashrut according to bible only, but if I wanted to have separate dishes, pots and pans, and if I turned lights on Friday before sunset so that they were on during Saturday, and if I didn’t walk any further than the distance I am allowed for a “Shabbat walk”, etc., I would not be doing anything “wrong.”  If, however, I celebrated Shabbat on Sunday, that would present a problem, since God said Saturday is Shabbat and the traditional (i.e., man-made) tradition (of Christianity) is to celebrate it on Sunday. In that case, the tradition is wrong and I should not be a part of it.

For the record: traditions performed from love and respect for God and/or the Jewish people as their motivation is not “legalism”.

Using the Holy name is like calling God by His first name., and just because Hebrews 4:16 says:

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. 

that doesn’t mean we can slap God on the back and ask, “Yo! Big Guy- WASSUP?”

Using God’s Holy Name is disrespectful- that is all there is to it. When you go to a restaurant, and the waiter says, “Hi guys– I’m Steve and I will be your server tonight.” don’t you feel a little put-off by the uninvited intimacy of addressing you as “guys”? Maybe I’m just an old fogey, but I do. I also feel insulted for my wife, who is not a “guy”. I am sorry, but I expect to be addressed as “Sir” and my wife as “Ma’am” until such time as I offer my name. We are not college pals or go bowling together, and  as such this person should address us respectfully. If we are to address each other with respect, how much more so should we do it to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings?

We are told that God spoke to Moses face-to-face, as with a friend, but do you really think Moses talked to God using God’s Holy name? Moses was the humblest of all men, so it doesn’t seem likely he would have taken it upon himself to address God as he would have to Aaron or any of the other Israelites.

David was a man after God’s own heart, but do you really think he addressed God using the Holy Name? Everything we read about David showed he had the utmost respect for God and admiration. It doesn’t seem likely that he would have taken it upon himself, as with Moses, to use God’s Holy Name often, if ever.

I have gotten to the point of ignoring people that use the Tetregrammaton and change it’s spelling because as often as I have tried to get it through to them they are being disrespectful to God and to Judaism, they ignore me. I am tired of “kicking against the goads” and will leave it up to God to decide how He feels about it. As for me, I am not ever using God’s Holy name- not ever. If God tells me it’s OK, if He comes from heaven and stands in front of me and says, “Steve- you are allowed to address me as you would your drinking buddies because you and me, we’re mates!” , THEN I might use it. But probably not.

The name of God is spelled with a Yud, a Heh, a Vav, and another Heh, and no matter what anyone says, we really do not know exactly how it was pronounced by Moses, or the Hebrews up to the destruction of the Temple by Babylon. Or afterwards, for that matter. There are many different ways to pronounce it, and as many arguments that we shouldn’t use it as there are that we should. For me it all comes down to this: my people have respected God and not used His Holy name for millennia, so who am I to change that?

I will do what Jews have done since before the Exodus: I will show respect for God by not using His Holy name.

God is so far above us, He is the holiest of everything that is holy, and He is our Lord and King, so what makes someone think they can address God like He is their drinking buddy?

Tradition or Torah?

Besides being fed up with their faithlessness and ignorance, Yeshua’s (Jesus) biggest complaint when He was ministering to the people was that they gave more importance to the Rabbinic traditions then they did to God’s word. It is clear throughout the Gospels how He felt, accusing the Pharisees of hypocrisy, and adding more to what God required (Matthew 23.)

We have known of Yeshua’s request to do what God has said we should do (and to beware of hypocrisy) for centuries, and after all these centuries what have we learned?

Nothing. In fact, back then it was just Jews following Yeshua and Jews not following Yeshua, but today we have so many different religions (all man-made) with so many different laws and canons and requirements and traditions that not only have we not learned, but we have exponentially made it worse!

Jews that didn’t want to follow Yeshua made it hard for the ones that did, then Rome made it worse, so the followers began to separate themselves from the Jews, which led to ignoring some of the Torah. Then they wanted to separate further, and the Council of Nicene developed their own religion, changing the Sabbath, creating their own holidays, and developing Canon, laws, commandments and rituals (all man-made) that took precedence over the Festivals of the Lord that God told us we should celebrate (Leviticus 23.) What they did was to totally ignore God’s commandments, just as Jeroboam did when God gave him the 10 Tribes of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 12:2.)

So Christians became Catholics, became Eastern Orthodox and Western Orthodox, became Lutherans, became Protestants, became, became, became, became….until today there are dozens of different Christian denominations; adding to the ones I mentioned above, there are Unitarians, 7th Day Adventists, Latter Day Saints, Methodists, Amish, Mennonites, AME, Baptists (Southern and others), Christian Scientists, Quakers, and the list goes on and on.

Let’s not forget the Jews: Chasidic (different groups within this), Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Messianic (yes, my Jewish readers, Messianic Judaism IS a sect of Judaism:Messianic Jews are not Christians.)

If everyone is worshiping the same God, then how can there be all these different ways of worshiping?  All agree this is the same God, the God that doesn’t change. So, if He doesn’t change, and He told us how to worship Him when he gave the teachings to Moses (which describe how we are to worship and provides penal and moral codes we are to live by), then how can there be so many different ways to live and worship? The Torah is a constitution, but unlike a political constitution which can be amended, God’s constitution is never to be amended. He told us that in Deuteronomy 4:2.

I got on this “kick” by reading Dear Abby, where she was asked by someone who’s Grandmother believed all children need to be baptized, and another granddaughter had a baby that was not being baptized. The writer asked if it would be OK to baptize the baby in secret just so the Grandmother feels better.  Good for Abby!- she told them no way. But here is what “gets” me about this- where did anyone ever get the idea that God would send an infant to hell because it wasn’t baptized? I know that Yeshua said we must all be reborn of spirit and water, but when we read about John (Yochanan) baptizing in the Jordan, it was adults who were coming. There is nothing in the bible that even implies children were there, let alone infants. To even imply God would send an innocent infant or child to hell because some Priest or Minister didn’t have someone else promise that the kid would be raised in that religion (remember- God has no religion, so that promise can’t really mean anything to God) is nothing short of ridiculous! Maybe even blasphemous. The only one who gains anything from the baptism ceremony is the church/priest. From what I have seen, $40 is the recommended “donation”, but then again, you have the textile industry (you need to buy the baby a Baptism dress), the card company, the food industry (“Come back to our place for refreshments afterwards”), and who knows who else makes money from this ceremony?

Baptism, as it is done in the church today, is absolutely wrong. The truth about the Jewish ceremony called Tevilah, which is the baptism Yochanan did in the Jordan, is a ceremony that represents an outward expression of an inner, spiritual cleansing.  It is something that one decides to do, and an infant cannot make that decision for itself. And, since this represents a communion and relationship between the baptized and the Lord, obviously no one else can make that decision for them.

To bring it all together, I believe the traditions that people have created in order to worship God in their own way only pollutes the true spiritual meaning of worship. God told us how to act, to worship, and to treat each other, His laws and regulations are not too hard to follow, they are not too difficult to understand, and they are not to be messed with.

If you really think that God is going to send an infant to hell because it hasn’t had someone pour water on it, you don’t understand anything about God. And because the infant hasn’t made it’s own decision to be baptized, the entire ceremony is really just pouring water on the kid.

I have nothing against traditions- they help to bind us, to remind us, and to keep us acting in a proper manner. It is a comfort zone, of a kind, and when the traditions we form are in keeping with and complementing God’s commandments, they are useful, practical and can be a blessing. But when they take on more importance than what God said to do, and we follow traditions that don’t complement but compete with God’s commandments, then we are blaspheming. We are ignoring God and idolizing ourselves and expanding our own importance.

The tagline for my ministry (this blog) is designed to honor God and get you on the right path: “God has no religion.” God has given us what He wants us to do- no more, no less. And when we add to it or subtract from it, we are telling God that what He says isn’t good enough.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to face God and tell Him He didn’t get it right.

Do You Believe, or Do You Just Agree?

What kind of a question is that? I think one that we need to think about.

I know many people who say they are a “Believer” but they make up their own rules, and they are more like a “Buffet Believer” than a Believer that obeys the Lord. I also know many people, all raised within one of the Christian religions, who say they believe in God and Jesus, and pass it off with as much enthusiasm as when they say they believe the Mets will win the pennant this year.

These people have been brought up being told that Jesus died for their sins, that they are going to heaven so long as they are “good” people (where ‘good’ is what the world says ‘good’ is), and although they all believe in Jesus they are anything but what we who have been “born again” would consider a Believer.

Even the demons believe in Jesus / Yeshua; in fact, they are the most stringent and trusting believers because they have met Him, they have seen His Father, they know His power and that’s why they shake from fear at the very mention of His name. I think the demons have a better chance of getting to Heaven than the vast majority of people I know who say they believe in Jesus.

This is because of the wrongful teachings that have been handed down over the centuries. Too many humans telling other humans what God wants us to do, what is the right way to worship, creating traditions that only enforce their power over others instead of truly bringing glory to God.

Here’s a list from Wikipedia of the different forms of Christian worship (I am presenting it as an example, not as a definite and complete listing):

Catholic Church

The Latin Church

Eastern Catholic Churches

Other churches and movements

Independent (self-identified as Catholic)

Eastern Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodox Church

Oriental Orthodoxy

Church of the East

Medieval sects

Protestantism

Proto-Protestant Groups

Lutheranism

Anglicanism

Anglican Communion

Other Anglican Churches

Calvinism

Continental Reformed churches

Presbyterianism

Congregationalist Churches

Anabaptists and Schwarzenau Brethren

Plymouth Brethren and Free Evangelical Churches

Methodists

Pietists and Holiness Churches

Baptists

Spiritual Baptists

Apostolic Churches – Irvingites

Pentecostalism

Charismatics

Neo-Charismatic Churches

African Initiated Churches

Messianic Judaism \ Jewish Christians (Ed: really should be under Judaism) 

United and uniting churches

Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement

Southcottites

Millerites and comparable groups

Adventist (Sunday observing)

Adventist (Seventh Day Sabbath/Saturday observing)

Church of God movements (Sunday observing)

Church of God movements (Seventh Day Sabbath/Saturday observing)

Sabbath-Keeping Movements, Separated from Adventists

Sacred Name groups

Movements not related to the Millerites but comparable to them

Sabbath-Keeping movements, predating the Millerites

Latter Day Saints

Oneness Pentecostalism

Unitarianism and Universalism

Bible Student groups

Swedenborgianism

Christian Science

Other non-Trinitarians

New Thought

Esoteric Christianity

Racialist groups

Syncretistic religions incorporating elements of Christianity

Christian Movements

Internet Churches

LGBT-affirming Christian denominations

Interdenominational (ecumenical) churches and organizations

What’s with that? There is one God, and He gave us the Torah with the Mitzvot, Hukkim and Mishpatim (Laws, ordinances and regulations) and He said to obey these throughout all our generations. If these are the instructions directly from God, then how is it possible to have so many different groups of people worshipping the Lord in all these different ways?  Was God that confusing when He outlined the laws?

Moses said that to obey the Lord isn’t that hard: he said the laws aren’t so far from us that we need to send someone to get them or so high we couldn’t reach them. He also was adamant not to add to or take away from any of these laws, yet how can we have so many different means and ways of worshipping God, all with their own sets of “laws” if we never strayed from God’s Torah as He gave it to us?

Even the Jewish people, the ones that were given the Law and are the protectors and guardians of Torah, have 6 different sects that worship differently.

How can we know the difference between those that agree and those that truly believe? I guess the same way we know who to trust and who not to trust- by their fruit, by their ethics, by the way they live. People don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do, so are you a “believer” or just someone who repeats what you have been told, accepting things blindly because they are easy to live with?

Yakov (James) told us to be doers of the law and not just hearers of it. Decide if you really believe in Yeshua/Jesus; decide to accept the responsibility of knowing that He died so you can have a chance at salvation. The truth, Brothers and Sisters, is that you can’t make it on your own, and just because someone with a theological degree tells you the Spirit of God is in you and you are saved by the blood (after being able to answer three questions correctly) doesn’t mean you are a believer, or saved.

You need to decide that you are going to believe; you need to live your life showing that you are a believer by being a doer of the Word; you need to take possession of your salvation. You need to ask God for forgiveness: you, and only you because no one else can do it for you! If you just agree with what your Priest or Pastor or Rabbi, for that matter, has told you about salvation without deciding for yourself based on your own relationship with God, then you are a blind person being led by another blind person.

If you have decided to believe, halleluya! If you just agree, please please please get on the ball and make up your own mind!

Get real people- we’re talking about Eternity here!