In today’s Jewish life cycle, the event and rituals associated with becoming a Bar Mitzvah play an important role. The ceremony to mark this event as practiced today is of medieval origin, but the fundamental concept traces back to the first century and earlier.

At the age thirteen, boys participate for the first time in the public Torah reading as adults – leading the synagogue in congregational worship. The father, however, plays an interesting role in this wonderful ceremony.

He pronounces a short blessing: בָּרוּךְ שֶׁפְּטָרַנִי מֵעֹנֶשׁ הַלָּזֶה (baruch shepatrani meonesh halazeh). In translation, it means something like this: “Blessed is He who released me from responsibility for this one”.

Until the time of becoming a Bar Mitzvah (literally “son of commandment”), the father has responsibility for his son. He is to offer him close guidance until such time that he will be able to engage with the Torah on his own. The idea here is not that the thirteen-year-old son is no longer in need of parental guidance. It does not mean that the boy is now permitted to desist from honoring his father or should no longer obey him. But it means that Torah from this point on becomes his primary guide instead of his loving father.

It is possible that the Apostle Paul, who was steeped in Pharisaic Judaism of the first century, understood this basic principle of close guidance transfer as well. He understood together with some other Jews of his time that now with the coming of the Jewish Christ, such responsibility transfer was taken to the next level.

In one of his letters to the gentile followers of the Jewish Christ, the Apostle Paul wrote about his countrymen’s experience with the Torah:

”Before the coming of the faith, we were closely guarded by the Torah (ὑπὸ νόμον ἐφρουρούμεθα συγκλειόμενοι), until the faith that was to come would be revealed. The Torah was our guardian (ὁ νόμος παιδαγωγoς) until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that the faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (Gal. 3:23-25)

Later in the same letter, he stated that gentiles are in the same position as Christ-following Jews. They too must be primarily guided not by the Torah (no matter how wonderful and good it is) but by the Holy Spirit sent by Israel’s God at the request of King Jesus (John 14:26). In Galatians 5:18 he wrote:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Torah.

Paul believed that the new age had dawned with the coming of the Messiah. This meant that the Christ-following Jews were no longer primarily guided by the Torah, but by the faith in Christ Jesus. However, just as in the case of the father and the Torah, the believers were not to disregard the Torah simply because they were now under the close guidance of someone who was even greater – Christ Jesus through God’s Holy Spirit!

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Dr. Eli, Thanks for the clarifification of the Torah as tutor or guardian in Galatians. When we have faith in the Messiah Yeshua, we enter into a new relationship with the Torah. viewing it through the understanding that He had when He was a Torah observant Jew. Yeshua taught the spiritual aspect of the Torah which went beyond the letter of what was written by Moshe in regard to the moral imperatives that was taught. That’s what it means to fulfill the torah of the Messiah that Rav Shaul refers to when we have faith. Galatians 6:2

  2. I fantasize that Jesus was Bar Mitzvahed & with this new freedom, joined a camel caravan traveling the Spice Road. Spent time in India & Tibet.

  3. I can agree that “the Torah was our guardian until Christ came”, but I was taught to read the passage in a time zone. Christ already came so there is no more “before the coming of faith”. This idea of faith being an afterthought seems misleading (not a revelation). I like your context because it makes faith seem like who Jesus is (revealed), not something I have enough of, after I read enough NT, enough times.

  4. Old Testament is a spring from where our faith comes from, we close the spring, we have no water(knowledge) flowing to nurture our faith

  5. Faith is the language we speak to communicate with the Lord; faith is the position, the attitude we adopt to seek Him for our salvation, blessing, healing and for our bread and water; faith is the hand we hold on to our confession, faith is the element in us that

  6. pleases God, without faith, it is impossible to function in our relationship with God and to know the truth, faith is the way we receive all the promises of the Almighty; and it doesn’t take away the work of the Word of God in us, it is alive and active

  7. The scripture in Luk42-47 says that at the age of Twelve he was sitting in the midst of the teachers listening and asking them questions in the temple. How can this be reconcile with the thirteen years age of “Son of comandment” ?
    God Bless you.

  8. Mine is a tangential question: At what point in the history of Judaism did the bar mitzvah tradition begin? I recently heard an author of a boys-growing-up book state that “In the Bible, boys became men at the age of 12.” All I see is age 20 to serve militarily.

    • The earliest reference to such a transition is from the Mishna (Avot 5:21) which says that a 13-year-old becomes responsible for “religious duties” (c.200 AD). The tradition to have a party/celebration for a Bar Mitzvah, however, developed in the middle ages. One commentator calculates Levi’s age in Gen.34 (where he is called a “man”) to be 13, but this is a late comment. I’m guessing that author you mentioned had Luke 2:42 in mind.

      • He cited no reference, but I suspect that you are correct.

        Perhaps the gospel writers, when pointing out that Yeshua was “about 30” and “not yet 50”, were making allusions to age of priestly service. But I agree that a Luke 2:42 Bar Mitzvah is an unlikely stretch, at best.

  9. Dr Eli, Your explination is very interesting. I have a point need ti be explained. In Luk2:42-47 our Lord Jesus when he was twelve yeras old, he was in the temple sitting in the midst of the doctors hearing and asking them. Does this condradict to the law of 13.

    • There is no indication that Jesus was Bar Mitzvah in Luke 2, so there is no contradiction. Maybe Luke simply included Jesus’ age of 12 to highlight what a brilliant boy He was even before His Bar Mitxvah.

  10. I think that in spite of we are saved through faith in Jesuschrist this justifyng by faith in Him do not invalid the ten commandments of the Torah rather comfirm them
    It is so exciting to see our children having God’s Word as guardian of their lives

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