Hebrew Roots at a Glance
- What: A diverse, global religious movement, with many variations and gradations of teachings and practices, but with one common emphasis: to restore what it considers to be the ‘Jewishness of Christianity.’
- Alternative Names: Hebraic Roots, Jewish Roots, HRM (Abbreviation)
- Messianic Christianity: The majority of Hebrew Roots adherents are Gentiles. Many (certainly not all) of them prefer to be known as “Messianic Christians.”
Note the difference between Messianic Christians and Messianic Jews: The latter are Jewish people who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Messiah, Savior and Lord. The former are Gentiles who believe that God has called them to be Jewish and/or to live a Torah-observant life.
- Organizational Structure: None. This is a diverse, decentralized movement that consists of many factions and spin-offs (including organizations, individual churches and independent, autonomous individuals).
Many of them are — to one extent or another — not necessarily in doctrinal agreement, but all of them have the common goal of returning (or restoring) Christianity to its Jewish roots.
NOTE: There are some groups and individuals who use the term ‘Hebrew roots’ merely in reference to the religious, social and historical context in which Jesus taught and ministered in order to help people better understand various aspects of the gospel — but without changing Christianity into something it is not. This article does not address those ministries.
Menachem Kaiser writes that since there is no central leadership, ecclesiastical superstructure, or other decision-making entity,
[t]he tone is set, instead, by the ministries, of which there are about 10 to 15 major ones and hundreds of smaller ones. They are anchored by personalities who have become celebrities in their world.
- Adherents: Menachem Kaiser says
It’s impossible to quantify the number of Hebrew Roots followers worldwide, though I was given a range of estimates that ran from 200,000 to 300,000, most of whom have joined in the past 15 years.
- Doctrines: The Hebrew Roots movement is so varied that many entities within it promote mutually contradictory teachings and practices.
What Hebrew Roots adherents have in common is that they claim Christianity has moved too far away from its Jewish roots, that the Christian faith has been indoctrinated with the culture and beliefs of Greek and Roman philosophy, and that the Christian Church as a result has been corrupted with pagan concepts and practices (e.g. observing pagan holidays such as Christmas and Easter, while ignoring the Jewish feasts and festivals).
They teach that Jesus’ death on the cross renewed the Mosaic Covenant (Old Testament), and that an understanding of the New Testament can only come through a Hebrew perspective. According to this movement, Christians must keep the Torah (be Torah-observant), including its dietary laws, keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday), and observing the Jewish feast and festivals.
Hebrew Roots, then, is arguably the first non-Jewish movement to approach Torah the way contemporary Jews do — or, at least, to view that mode as the most legitimate, as the sort of religious lifestyle to strive for. […]
The way the followers see it, Hebrew Roots is not about being Jewish; it’s about obeying the Torah. […]
Many followers of Hebrew Roots consider themselves to be Children of Israel or members of the 10 lost tribes, but they do not consider themselves to be Jewish.
– Source: Menachem Kaiser, For Some Believers Trying To Connect With Jesus, the Answer Is To Live Like a Jew
Many in the Hebrew Roots movement teach that there exist original Hebrew versions of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and that these versions are superior to the Greek texts — a) because they include Hebrew idioms that are said to provide deeper insight, and b) because of claims that the Greek texts have been corrupted.
Combined with its emphasis on the Torah as the foundational, fundamental teaching for the Christian Church, and the insistence that the New Testament can only be understood in light of the Old Testament, this belief directly attacks the reliability of the Bible as the standard of truth used by the Church.
It therefore comes as no surprise that some factions within this movement go as far as to deny the doctrine of the Trinity, one of the essential teachings of the Christian faith.
Interestingly, many doctrines in the Hebrew Roots movement are rooted in the teachings of the late Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God — which was theologically a cult of Christianity, until (after Armstrong’s death) it made a dramatic turn-around and embraced orthodox Christianity instead.
- Criticism: The Christian faith does, of course, have Jewish/Hebrew roots. But even a cursory reading of the New Testament, particularly of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, reveals that there are right ways and wrong ways to go about acknowledging those roots.
It is no wonder that the most aberrant and heretical elements among adherents of the Hebrew Roots Movement attack the reliability of the New Testament, because the New Testament reveals their doctrines and practices to be false and un-biblical.
But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the [a]Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. — Romans 7:6, NASB
Research the Hebrew Roots Movement
Note: Like just about everything published on this website, this entry is a work in progress. Additional resources — showing more variety in perspectives — will be added over time.
- For Some Believers Trying To Connect With Jesus, the Answer Is To Live Like a Jew [Neutral] Feature-length article in Tablet — a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture. Written by Menachem Kaiser, and subtitled, “The Torah-observant gentiles of the Hebrew Roots movement get circumcised, lay tefillin, and grow peyos.” An interesting introduction from the perspective of a Jewish writer.
- The Hebrew Roots Movement: Deeper Insights or Elitist Movement? [Not online] [Contra] Note: this article can only be obtained by ordering a printed back issue of the The Quarterly Journal (or by ordering a CD that contains a collection of Quarterly Journals), published by the Personal Freedom Outreach. Written by G. Richard Fisher, The Quarterly Journal, Vol 31, No 3, July – September, 2011.
This article described various divisions with the Hebrew Roots Movement. It points out that one of the most influential organizations within the movement is The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, in Jerusalem. One of its founders was Robert Lindsey (died 1995), who came up with the idea of a ‘retro-version’ — “a translation of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke into Hebrew from the Greek, and then seeing those translations as superior to the Greek texts.”
Fisher points out that one of the key figures in the HRM is David Bivin, who was greatly influenced by Lindsey, whom he called, “my pastor, my mentor, and my second father.” He takes a look at Bivin’s book, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus: Insights from His Jewish Context. Fisher examines Bivin’s claims, and in the process provides insight into the basic assumptions of the Hebrews Roots Movement and The Jerusalem School.
- The Hebrew Roots Movement — So What? [Contra] “So what if Christians want to keep the Law? What’s wrong with keeping the Sabbath and observing the Feasts? Are those things wrong?”
- Hebrew Roots/Hebraic Roots/Messianic Movements [Contra] Extensive series of articles on the background of this movement as well as the people and ministries involved. The site is somewhat marred by the author’s approach to some of the people she disagrees with, but the research presented is solid. As always, we encourage Christians to bring their own discernment.
- Hebrew Roots Movement [Contra] This extensive profile is part of the Field Guide to the Wild World of Religions website, operated by Pam Dewey, formerly an active member of Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. She is also the co-author of an online book about the movement.
- What is the Hebrew Roots Movement? [Contra] Succinct overview by GotQuestions.org. Includes a brief refutation.
The influence of this movement is working its way into our churches and seminaries. It’s dangerous in its implication that keeping the Old Covenant law is walking a “higher path” and is the only way to please God and receive His blessings. Nowhere in the Bible do we find Gentile believers being instructed to follow Levitical laws or Jewish customs; in fact, the opposite is taught.
See also, GotQuestions vs. the Hebrew Roots Movement, [Contra] on the Got Questions Blog.
- The Jewish Roots Movement: Flowers and Thorns [Contra] by Stephen Katz, Jews for Jesus.
- Joyfully Growing in Grace [Contra] This blog examines the “beliefs found in the Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Judaism, and Netzarim streams of thought and related sects.” An excellent resource that will keep you busy researching for quite some time! We especially appreciate the generous helpings of grace, along with the clear presentation of the Gospel. Here’s a listing of all the posts addressing the Hebrew Roots Movement.
Books — Online
- Digging Up Hebrew Roots: Is This The Faith Once Delivered? [Contra] By Ronald L. Dart and Pam Dewey, both formerly active in the Worldwide Church of God.
- Hebraic Roots Network (HRN) [Pro] Bills itself as the only television station focusing on the Hebrew Roots, Hebraic Roots, Messianic, “bringing the Torah and Yeshua (Jesus) to the nations.”
HRN organizes the annual Revive event — said to be America’s largest Hebraic Roots conference. While the Hebrew Roots movement is a diverse, decentralized movement with no ecclesiastical structure, Menachem Kaiser notes that “Virtually all the major leaders of the movement were at Revive to pray, teach, and inspire—and to sell videos of themselves praying, teaching, and inspiring.”