What is it with the Hebrew Roots Movement?

Posted By on December 24, 2013

I’m not that familiar (or interested) in the Hebrew roots movement, but in the past month or so I’ve gotten several emails about it and its ideas. I’m presuming that not everyone associated with the movement thinks as poorly or oddly as the folks I’ve been directed to for commentary on their teachings. At least I hope that’s the case. If anyone can tell me what drives this bunch, feel free.

Anyway, a lot of the consternation has been about Rob Skiba and Russ Houck and their Christian (?) or Hebrew (?) or Pagan (?) denial of Trinitarianism. Others have commented on him at length, so I’m directing readers to that work. Cris Putnam has put a good deal of effort into this movement, as has Natalina at the Extraordinary Intelligence blog. The arguments by the Hebrew roots writers are deeply flawed and propelled by non sequiturs. My impression is that the arguments are old and deeply flawed, almost as though the point is “hey, look at us over here – we can argue as poorly about Christology as the Zeitgeist folks.”

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32 Responses to “What is it with the Hebrew Roots Movement?”

  1. blendahtom says:

    Michael,

    Thanks for addressing this, Have listened to any of Jim Staley’s teachings?

    • MSH says:

      Never heard of him. To be honest, I don’t listen to anyone’s teachings, or listen to preachers in general. I spend my personal time reading scholarly material that engages the texts, or reading primary texts. It’s boring, but useful.

      • Emil says:

        Hello MSH ,

        Please don’t take this the wrong way. And I’m not saying this to get you to listen this this sermon that was linked to you,because i wont listen to it either. But Jesus was not a scholar or “learned man” and neither were his disciples. As a matter of fact if I am not mistaken no one prophet sent to Israel was a “learned man”. Paul was a “learned man” and later claimed that the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.

        At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.-Matthew 11:25

  2. J. Whidden says:

    Thanks for the links. The Hebrew Roots movement is indeed “deeply flawed” as it is very easy to adduce a plethora of trinitarian quotations prior to Constantine so the argument behind it is illiterate.

    Additionally, as Christians, the trinity which is three fully interpenetrated persons who are one God (John 17:21-23; 10:38; 14:10-11) is our model since we are to be one as God is one (John 17:22), an interpenetrated unity of multiple persons who are many members but one body (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:12) and, since Christ is the head of the body and since the Father and the Holy Spirit also indwell each believer, we are intimately connected with the trinity.

    Thus to deny the trinity is display ignorance of who we are as believers in Jesus Christ.

  3. In essence they believe that Christianity is the “great apostasy” and that they are returning the faith to its Hebraic roots. This means they take a very similar approach as many of the Yahwist cults of the modern era. One fellow by the name of James Trimm has set himself up as the “Nasi” of a Beth Din, by which he presumes to make declarative proclamations that are binding on all in the movement. He is an interesting character study in his own right. Simply keyword his name and you can find a plethora of things available on both him and the Hebraic Roots Movement.

    They refer to themselves with the moniker “Netsarim” or “Nazarene Judaism” to distinguish themselves from Christianity, deny the trinity, keep the O.T. Law, observe kosher rules, wear tzitzit….everything you find in Judaism you will find in the Hebraic Roots Movement. Some of the movements leaders actually promote polygamy, and thus have taken several wives.

    I could go on, but I think this gives a good enough picture of their oddities.

    • Dave Lewis says:

      I recalled the name “James Trimm” from the Messianic Newsgroup I used to look at when I got my first internet connection in the 1980s I think. There are several web pages devoted to telling the world what a naughty boy he’s been!

      Dave Lewis

  4. Keith R. Starkey says:

    It’s unfortunate that one of the fads that has slinked round of late is the Jewish roots movement: getting back to our Jewish roots; using the Hebrew for saying Jesus’ name and other biblical names and concepts; ministers and teachers claiming that such-and-such is a Jewish tradition (usually with not the slightest hint of evidence to support the claims), and the list goes on.

    It’s another creation of pseudo authoritative spirituality causing the ignorant sheep to once again look upon their fearless leaders with eyes-at-the-headlights fealty (that same sheeple attraction to the preacher who starts shaking his hand a bit while saying “The Spirit’s here,” as if some sort of neurological malfunction is a sign of the Spirt’s presence).

    What’s sad is we Christians do have a steep history for our faith, but it’s not Jewish; it’s Hebrew (you know, the Old Testament!). But that would require spending time learning the OT (in its originally given ancient context, of course), and that’s just not as easy as simply claiming something is “Jewish” to get that pseudo spirituality going.

    I’m all for enriching ourselves in understanding our Hebrew roots (i.e., understanding our faith in the contest of the OT and Ancient Near East culture), and I’m all for appreciating the Jewish context in which our faith was born. But the rest of the dog and pony show is just that.

    Keith R. Starkey

    • MSH says:

      This is a worthwhile point – the tendency to conflate Judaism with Israelites of the OT. Related, but not the same. Thanks.

  5. Faye Rod says:

    Was looking into Hebrew Roots but Scripture says we are now one new man in Jesus neither Jew or Greek. These people seem to be getting all into bondage and legalism which is breeding a Pharisee spirit and all full of self righteousness.

  6. Patrick says:

    I’ve heard lots of this nonsense w/o a title to a movement, it’s popular with the non Christian westerners.

    The main challenge to my faith was nonsense like this when I was a kid and it did set me back, my faith was w/o any support beyond child like belief back then.

    Let’s assume some of this is accurate( I don’t), let’s assume 12/25 really was a big pagan day for various gods.

    It makes imminent good sense the true God would “step on it” in a sense and have Christ really be born on that day, IMO.

    Just as His transfiguration was probably atop the main pagan god mountain of ANE antiquity near Peter’s confession(Hermon?).

    That just demontrates who the boss is, IMO, it doesn’t demonstrate Christ is really Mithra polished up.

    Just like Jesus walked on water, wouldn’t that be a symbol for Him owning chaos? Doesn’t mean He is an fake amalgamation of something.

    The Christmas tree would be the same. Say it is an old pagan idea, some “holy pagan tree” of some sort.

    So, the true God comes along and uses a tree as an instrument of torture, yet, also uses it to advance His plan to redeem lost creation.

    Turns the tables on the goofballs, so to speak.

    • MSH says:

      This has some good illustration for the non sequitur nature of what I’ve been seeing. It’s as though Skiba and others don’t know what a polemic is – or how distinct ideas could be communicated to ancient people conversant in symbols and a particular cognitive framework. The argumentation on the HR side is utterly simplistic and naive.

  7. Keith R. Starkey says:

    Well, I had posted a comment here, but now it’s gone. Don’t know what happened.

    Keith R. Starkey

  8. Rob Skiba says:

    Dear Mr. Heiser,

    The so-called “deeply flawed” arguments you are referring to as presented by Putnam and Natalina are only from their perspective, with cherry-picked quotes lacking larger context. I would have hoped that a scholar of your caliber would know better than to judge based on such heavily biased evidence, lacking full context.

    By the way, I do not now, nor have I ever denied the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one. Anyone who says I deny this basic truth has serious mental issues.

    If you have a need to discuss your opinion about someone by name on a public forum and slander/mock them based on what you THINK they believe, don’t you think the Biblical model is to approach the actual person and confront them first, in order to get the whole story straight instead of listening to third parties and perpetuating gossip?

    Just a thought.

    Respectfully,

    - Rob Skiba

    • MSH says:

      Your thought here is incoherent, Rob. I didn’t bother with any personal critique, but linked to the critiques of others. Since my professional academic work has focused on binitarian monotheism (it was part of my dissertation), I know a thing or two about the subject and the arguments used to deny such ideas (including a trinitarian framework). I also know that every discussion I’ve ever seen of it lacks any sort of understanding of the Israelite conceptual framework about divinity. (Really – it’s why my dissertation got approved in terms of making a contribution). Judging by what Cris and Natalia have written, there’s ZERO new here. I don’t need to waste valuable time on retreaded ideas that have been resigned to the academic and exegetical dustbins of history. I’m just asking what the motive is. Notice – I didn’t supply one for you. I just asked. And if you’re thinking you’re going to make me timid about asking, don’t, since it won’t. But you are more than welcome to post something in the comments about what’s driving this.

  9. Jesse says:

    Mike,

    There appears to be something in the human psyche that craves an ability to “lord something” over another person. Every time a Christian splinter group forms they attack the doctrine of the Trinity to evolve their “new knowledge.” I found this out in a heartbreaking way when some friends of mine, from the United Pentecostal Church started attacking my beliefs, strangely and in a backhanded way. At the time I could see no reason for this as I had been visiting their church and enjoying their friendship. Within the UPC they attacked the Trinity, calling their brand of Christianity “oneness doctrine,” they were proud Manicheans, following the heresey of a third century mystic. The UPC preached that they, and only they had to keys to the kingdom of God. It’s sad because once I made it clear that I had no interest in joining their church they became somewhat distant. I wish this didn’t appy to the MAJORITY of Christianity but it does… rarely does one find a church that is not simply a cultural enclave of Xian religiosity. I for one would like to see the “true religion” written of in the New Testament.

    On a brighter note, Happy New Year!

    Jesse

  10. Bob T. says:

    Dear Dr. Heiser,
    From my perspective, the Hebrew roots movement arose out of the desire to more fully understand the mindset/world view of our brethren of the 1st century church.
    It is assumed by many within the HRM that the modern church’s (as a whole) lack of knowledge regarding the Jewish (i.e. Hebrew) culture, history, and paradigms leave a lot on the table, so to speak.
    Personally having been one who has delved into the Hebrew origins of the church, I have found a richness in scripture that elucidated my understanding of the Messiah Jesus and also continues to bring joy to my soul. I find that the 4 gospels “come alive” when one sees more deeply the intricacies of the culture that Jesus, who is a Jew by birth, opted to make His appearance in.
    That said, having associated with a lot of folks within the HRM for about 15 years, I also see a preponderance towards independence, pride, and divisiveness. This translates into much in-fighting unfortunately, which ultimately casts a disparaging shadow on the movement as a whole. So much of the mainstream church tends to throw the baby out with the bath water, regarding the entire concept as bordering on heresy.
    As with any “move of the Spirit”, there has always been: 1.) an inspiration from the One True God, 2.) man’s sinful tendency to defile the inspiration, and 3.) the Adversary’s intention to discredit the inspiration. We would all do well to try and remember this.
    Respectfully,
    Bob T.

    • MSH says:

      Interesting. I have a friend who’s a pastor of a messianic congregation, but from what I’ve gathered, that’s not the same as the HRM (anyway, that fellow has had me speak twice on the topic of a godhead in Israelite thinking – my dissertation stuff – so he’s not denying trinitarianism). The one thing I find consistently odd is (see below) the conflation of Judaism with OT Israelite thinking. Not saying you’re doing that, either. Judaism, at least as it comes from rabbinic sources and thought, post-dates the Christian era. That material by definition doesn’t lead TO the NT; it’s a response to it, often in the form of reinforcing (Jewish) community identity in a polemic or apologetic way (vs. Christians). I see little value in that sort of thing for illuminating the early church’s thinking. But, naturally, I see great value (it’s essential, really) of grasping the OT worldview and Israelite theology for parsing what happens in the pages of the NT. So I’m with you there (and this blog, I hope, illustrates that). And then there’s the great variety WITHIN Judaism. Many know that is the case for ancient Judaism (the various sects), but it’s also true of the Judaism from late antiquity onward. In other words, which Hebrew thinking are we talking about? Anyway, those are some of the thoughts that run through my head when my thoughts are directed toward messianic Christians and, now, the HRM.

  11. Mark C says:

    I just received a notice that fireworks will not be allowed on the premises in the course of New Year’s celebration! What’s next? No Christmas trees on Christmas??? Oh.

    Years ago, I was told that the Christmas tree is rooted in traditions of ancient Druids. I didn’t give it a second thought. BUT, it did cause me to wonder, Where did the tradition originate? It’s not an ANE tradition, as far as I can tell. There’s no mention of this symbolism in the tradition of Hebrew or Greek holy scripture either. So, I’m still looking for its origin, but I don’t think of it in terms of primary importance. It’s more in the category of fad and fashion. If you ever see me, you’ll see right off that I’m no fashionista. I don’t have a single tattoo, and I was once an infantryman, where tattoos are/were a rite of passage.

    So, what does any of that have to do with HRM? I’d categorize HRM with every other kooky fad and fashion within the ranks of historic ‘Christianity’. It will pass. What it, and all other kookiness illustrates is that there is a general lack of interest in and devotion to the central aspects of Christian doctrine with which every Christian ought to be most concerned. We’re more preoccupied with whether or not we have an appropriate tree to decorate our seasonal display of fashion. Druids or no druids. While the ACLU goes about challenging the public display of manger scenes – a true and accurate symbol of the celebration of the season.

    We do have something to celebrate. Hebrew roots, in the sense of a faith shared by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – that we are justified by faith. Now that’s something to celebrate. Let’s try that on for size.

  12. Dave Lewis says:

    There is a well written article on Wikipedia on the Hebrew Roots Movement. It mentions antecedents including the Sacred Name Movement which came out of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and also Herbert Armstong’s Worldwide Church of God, both of which date to the 1930s.

    In the 1980s I used to see a guy named Joseph Good of HaTikvah Ministries in Nederland, Tx on Trinity Broadcasting Network. He taught his opinions on the Hebrew Roots of Christianity. He was kicked off of TBN when Paul Crouch learned that Joseph Good believed that Jesus was the messiah but not God.

    Dave Lewis

  13. Doug Ward says:

    I would describe the groups mentioned in this blog post and the Wikipedia article as the “lunatic fringe” of the Jewish roots movement.

    There also are ministries within historic orthodox Christianity that have a Jewish roots orientation and serve constructive purposes. I am thinking in particular of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies,

    http://jcstudies.com/index.cfm?

    an organization founded by Dwight A. Pryor for promoting a better understanding of Jesus in his Jewish context. (The Center helped publish Marvin Wilson’s book, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith.) The Center tries to (a) bring high-quality scholarship to a wide audience; (b) promote understandings of scripture that are not antijudaic or supersessionist; (c) promote better understanding between Christians and Jews; (d) correct the kinds of nuttiness discussed in this blog post and Wikipedia article.

    Other examples of Jewish roots teachers and ministries that I would classify as “sane”:

    Lois Tverberg.

    http://ourrabbijesus.com/

    Derek Leman

    http://www.derekleman.com/musings/

    First Fruits of Zion

    http://ffoz.org/

  14. What I find interesting is the apparent convergence of the Hebrew Roots Movement with the Apostolic-Prophetic movement. The tenets, as far as I can tell, are that Jesus will return only when these conditions are met:

    1. Reconciliation of the church to her Hebraic-Jewish roots
    2. Reconciliation of the church to the Jewish people
    3. Reconciliation of the Jewish people to their Messiah
    4. Reconciliation of the Messiah to planet Earth

    They see the “one new man” (a phrase that keeps cropping up) of Ephesians 2:14-16 as the future group of believers, Jew and Gentile, that will together inherit the land promised to Abraham’s descendants, all the way to the Euphrates.

    The adoption of this belief into the postmillennial eschatology of the New Apostles is troubling because of their conviction that they have to make it happen before Jesus will (or *can*) return, and because of their growing focus and influence on American politics.

    I don’t believe for a minute that a Rick Joyner will ever be elected to high office, but this teaching appeals to the patriotism of conservative Christians. It’s an attractive deception that twists the Great Commission into something you do with the Army.

    • MSH says:

      This linkage (to the military, of which I’m admittedly fond of) really has a sinister feel to it. I haven’t yet read The Family by Jeff Sharlett but I’ve had some, shall we say, interesting exchanges in recent days that included encouraging me to read it. Thanks for this, Derek!

  15. JGIG says:

    Hi MSH,

    The HRM crossed my path several years ago, and was prompted to put together Joyfully Growing In Grace.

    An article you may find helpful sorting out the ‘hooks’ of the HRM can be found here, with links to other articles appearing at the end:
    Hebrew Roots Movement – Salesmanship 101 (http://wp.me/pfnCN-6N)

    Joyfully Growing In Grace engages in an examination of beliefs found in the Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Judaism, and Netzarim streams of thought and related sects.

    The term “Messianic” is generally understood to describe Jews who have come to believe in Yeshua/Jesus as their Messiah. Jews who are believers in Jesus/Yeshua typically call themselves Jewish/Hebrew Christians or simply, Christians.

    Many Christians meet folks who say they are ‘Messianic’ and assume that those folks are Jewish Christians. Most aren’t Jewish at all, but are Gentile Christians who have chosen to pursue Torah observance and have adopted the Messianic term, calling themselves Messianic Christians, adherents to Messianic Judaism, or simply, Messianics. Some will even try to avoid that label and say that they are followers of “The Way”.

    These Gentiles (and to be fair, some Messianic Jews) preach Torah observance/pursuance for Christians, persuading many believers that the Christianity of the Bible is a false religion and that we must return to the faith of the first century sect of Judaism that they say Yeshua (Jesus Christ) embraced. According to them, once you become aware that you should be ‘keeping’ the edicts and regulations of Mosaic Covenant Law, if you do not, you are then in willful disobedience to God.

    It has been my observation that Christians who adopt the label of Messianic identify more with the tenets of Judaism than they do with the tenets of Christianity. Many reject the label of Christian altogether and some eventually even convert to Judaism.

    1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

    Joyfully Growing in Grace examines the methods, claims, and fruits of the Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Judaism, and Netzarim streams of thought and related, law-keeping sects.

    To borrow from a Forest Gump quote, “Law ‘keepers’ are like a box of chocolates – ya never know what you’re gonna get!” The goal of JGIG is to be a resource to help those affected by the Torah pursuant movements to try and sort out what they’re dealing with.

    Joyfully Growing In Grace is *not* a heresy-hunting site, it is not an anti-Semitic site, nor does its author have any agenda other than defending the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    This site is not against the Laws of God.

    This site does not condemn believers who find joy and insight into their faith by celebrating Feasts, observing a seventh-day Sabbath or who feel they should adhere to dietary laws.

    This site does not condemn believers for choosing to not celebrate the Birth or Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Romans 14:6 says, “He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.”

    JGIG is not about secondary disputable matters, but addresses core issues of the Christian faith and examines how the Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Judaism, and Netzarim streams of thought and related sects stand or fall when placed alongside the plumb line of the whole of Scripture.

    JGIG is not a site to ‘expose’ teachers in the HRM, as they are a dime-a-dozen. The posts at JGIG do examine teachings, however, and may, from time to time reference or quote a particular teacher for demonstrative purposes only.

    JGIG is not a place for conspiracy theories. Jesus told us that when we see certain things to not be afraid; that our Redemption draws near. He didn’t say to get it all figured out and go and retreat to some bunker somewhere; He calls us to love God, love others and make disciples. So there won’t be time spent on conspiracy-minded banter there.

    Lots of resources there – hope that helps!

    Grace and peace,
    -JGIG

  16. Jimi says:

    it would seem that many who are criical of the believers who have decided to explore the historical perspective of traditions handed down as “christianity’ are wilfully ignorant of many forecasts made in Scripture about the level of deception that the world will be faced with in the last days.. Ya:usha the Messiah was bold to warn that if it were possible,even the very elect wil be decieved.. One clear feature of truth is that no part of it is a lie. If the Name announced by the angelic messenger is not jesus, and we are tols that salvation is found in only ONE Name(and in no way may one be convinced that jesus is same as Yahusha.Neiither in spelling nor in meaning. John 17:6,”I have revealed Your Name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world”. Jer 23:27 foretold of false prophets who want Yahuah’s people to forget His Name for baal(lord).Many other practices of the christian doctrines confirm the system as NOT the one practiced by the Messiah and the apostles . Rather it is a syncretism of ancxient paganism mixed with some truth. ie an abomination to the set-apart

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