Can We Keep All 613 Commands?
Can we keep all 613 commands in the Torah? This question has been asked by many Torah-observant believers in Yeshua haMashiach after they had come out of the man-made religion of Constantine.
And indeed, can we keep all commands in the Torah? In the following we will explain that this is an incorrect question to ask. The correct question, however, to ask is this: Are we commanded to “keep” all commands? Let us see it a little deeper, because it behooves each one of us to acquire as much insight into the matter as we can.
There are 613 positive and negative commands in the Torah. These 613 commands stem from the ten commands that represent the Covenant of the Eternal. This Covenant YHVH Elohim made with Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20) and renewed it at Mount Nebo (Deuteronomy 5).
The Ten Commandments of the Covenant stem from two, which Mashiach quoting the Torah called the greatest of all,
You shall love Yehovah your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and great command. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mat 22:37-39) (See Deu 6:5 and Lev 19:18)
Now, there theologians who say that we cannot keep all 613 commands, while others say that the Law has been done away with; the former we will prove to be incorrect, and the latter—not true.
But first, what does the English word “to keep” mean? “To keep” means to look after, to have charge of. It means also to maintain, stick to do correctly or closely something, to behave as expected. In the religion, “to keep” is interpreted to mean to observe and obey the Law.
The misunderstanding of the issue of keeping the laws of Elohim is partially grounded in the interpretation of verses like this.
For as many as are of works of the Law are under the curse, for it has been written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all that has been written in the Book of the Law to do them.” (Gal 3:10)
Most if not all Christian theologians and commentators have interpreted this to mean that by the “works of Law” Shaul means those who seek to find their own righteousness in keeping the laws of Elohim. According to them, by quoting Deu 27:26 the apostle teaches that it is impossible to keep all commands of the Law, and that the failure to keep them deems a person under the curse of the Law.
Therefore, they conclude, since the Law requires a perfect and continual obedience, keeping the Law is humanly impossible. As we will explain below, this is not true.
Others go even further in their conclusions, namely, that “God gave the Law to show that no one could keep all commands perfectly, and the failure to keep them would bring a sinner to accept the Christ”.
But all theologians in one voice and of one mind speak that “the Christ abolished the Law” so that no one should keep it. But no one in his right mind would assume that Mashiach came to abolish the Law for he himself explained in his first address to the nation that such a statement was not true either.
For further knowledge on the matter, the reader may do well to read what we have written in our commentary in the articles Has the Messiah abolished the Law of God? and “You are not under the Law of God”: Exposed.
The intelligent reader will understand that such a reading of Deuteronomy is simply unscriptural, for this is what the Torah indeed means when it speaks of the laws,
For this command which I am commanding you today, it is not too hard for you, nor is it far off. (Deu 30:11)
What then is Shaul teaching? What Shaul is teaching that the Torah of YHVH is not a “pick-and-choose” option; either take it as a whole, or nothing.
With that being said, can we keep all commands of YHVH Elohim? No, we cannot. And we are not commanded to keep them in the first place.
There are commands that pertain only to the time of the Exodus. There are commands that pertain only to women, or to men (like the purity laws, for example).
There are commands only for the Levites to do, and commands for the priests that even the Levites are not allowed to do.
And there are commands that only the high priest is allowed to do, and no one else. But neither the high priest nor the Levites can do these commands today, because there is no Temple erected in Jerusalem.
For example, we find such a command in the laws of the priests, as we read thus,
… no stranger who is not of the seed of Aharon, should come near to offer incense before Yehovah … (Num 16:40)
The word “stranger” as translated here and elsewhere in the Christian Bibles, is understood to mean a “gentile”. Thus translated, this law is misinterpreted to mean that the gentile believers are freed from bringing sacrifices and keeping the laws.
However, the Hebrew word for “stranger” here is זוּר zur אישׁ ish. Ish zur does not mean a convert but an outsider: זוּר zur means to turn aside. We find its literal meaning in Deu 25:5, wherein a widow is not to marry someone outside of the family, but a brother of the deceased, in order to protect the woman and keep her sustenance.
Therefore, the correct translation in the context of the entire Torah is this:
“no outsider, who is not of the seed of Aharon, should come near to offer incense before Yehovah”.
In other words, only the priests are to burn incense before YHVH, not even the Levites; all others, including the kings, are considered outsiders who have no business in the Temple. Thus translated the command that no outsider is to offer incense before YHVH, but only a priest, makes a perfect sense.
Note: When the word stranger is used as a proselyte or convert, then a completely different word is used: גּר ger, as in Num 19:10.
Consequently, we are not able to keep all 613 commands in the Torah, but only those (1) that Torah allows us to do, and (2) that pertain to us personally. Therefore, by the same token, we are not commanded to keep, that is, to do all commands of YHVH Elohim, but what we are commanded is to guard them. This we can do.
And when Mosheh ended speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them,
Set your heart on all the words with which I warn you today, so that you command your children to guard to do all the Words of this Torah. (Deu 32:46)
While most of the translations unanimously translate this verse to read “to keep” or “to observe” all commands of the Torah, this is not what it says.
The Hebrew word שָׁמַר shamar, behind the translation “to observe”, means to hedge around (as with thorns), that is, to guard and protect. For instance, a shepherd constructs a pen of briers for the night to protect the flock from predators.
Our father Ya’akov-Israel being a good shepherd, attended the flock by guarding it, as we find it in Gen 30:31. שָׁמַר shamar can also mean to keep an animal confined, as found in the law of Exo 21:29.
But the best example of using שָׁמַר shamar with its literal meaning can be found in the very beginning of the Scripture.
After mankind sinned at the tree of life and gained knowledge of good and evil, Elohim said, “Look, the man has become apart from us”.
so Yehovah Elohim drove the man out of the garden of Eden. And He placed keruvim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen 3:24)
To guard the ark the Covenant by setting their camp around the Tabernacle (Num 1:53) was the duty of the Levites.
The idea is that the Hebrew word שָׁמַר shamar is used in the Torah for guarding, that is, protecting the commands from violations, not for doing or observing them.
Hence, we can only do the commands that pertain to us personally, but we are to guard all commands in the Torah.
Because if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror, for he looks at himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what he was like (Jas 1:23-24)
The apostle bids us not only to study the Word (the Torah) but also to do its commands. Even the Rabbis of old, who so highly valued the study of the Torah, recognized that it is not the study of the Torah that pleases most the Eternal, but rather, it is the doing of Torah.
And indeed, the children of Israel, native and non-native, fulfill this calling through their obedience to the Covenant, because we all of one mind said at the skirt of the mountain, “All that Yehovah has spoken we shall do” (Exo 19:8), before we even knew what He wanted from us. That was faith.
Because He said,
If you listen up the voice of Yehovah your Elohim and do what is right in His eyes, and shall listen to His commands and shall guard all His laws, I shall bring on you none of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am Yehovah who heals you. (Exo 15:26)
In conclusion of the matter, had the word שָׁמַר shamar to be taken as “to keep”, “to obey” the laws, as it is translated in most Christian bibles, then we are faced with all the difficulty to explain the Aharonic blessing of Num 6:24 as to how the Highest will obey human: “The Lord bless you and keep you”.
Having now completed our exposition in detail, we should be in one mind with King Solomon, who says,
Let us hear the conclusion of the entire matter: Revere Elohim and guard His commands, for this is for all mankind! (Ecc 12:13)
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.