How many of you believe that we Christians are not under Law, but under grace? After all, isn’t it a truism of the Church that, as people living under the New Covenant, the righteousness that the Old Testament Law required was fulfilled by Jesus, and so did away with it? The Law no longer applies to us because of the New Covenant established in Jesus’ blood, right?
As those of you who know me, the contrarian that I am, have probably surmised, I am going to disagree with this established teaching of the Church. (Quelle surprise!, right?)
Be that as it may, with the next couple of posts, I would like to share an eye-opening thought that just might help with bridging the gap that stands between the teachings of Jesus, who was a completely Torah-observant Jewish rabbi, and the teachings of his followers.
Torah Isn’t Law!
First off, we need to understand the Greek and Hebrew terms that are the foundation for this aspect of Christian theology. The word torah is the Hebrew word from the TNK (Old Testament) that was translated Law in the Septuagint (LXX). Due to the Diaspora of the Jews throughout the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, and the Near East after the Babylonian exile, the TNK was translated into Greek for the non-Hebrew speaking Jews.
An unfortunate word choice was made by the LXX translators in using the Greek word nomos for the Hebrew word torah. Nomos is the Greek word for “law”, and given that other terms for God’s word in the TNK include “statutes”, “decrees”, and “ordinances,” it probably seemed like an acceptable equivalent. However, the translators of the LXX could not forsee the rise of the Christian church and the subsequent decision to distance itself from the Jewish scriptures.
While history, as it played out, contributed to the mistaking of Torah for Law, the root problem is this: torah doesn’t mean law, but means teaching!
The word Torah comes from the Hebrew root word Yarah, which literally means to throw or to shoot, but with the connotation of guiding the stone or arrow to its target.** Because of that , yarah is understood to mean to give guidance. As such, Torah, as a derivative of yarah, is understood to mean to guide or to instruct.
What it comes down to is this: what we call “Old Testament Law” isn’t law at all, but instead is God’s guidance and instruction on how to live in covenant with our holy God.
Torah Isn’t Onerous
“CSL, you just HAVE to be wrong about this! After all, didn’t Jesus say that He came to give us rest, that His burden is light? The Law has to be onerous, if Jesus said that His yoke was light. That has to be wrong!”
Okay, then, if I am wrong, why does Psalm 119 even exist? Or for that matter, why do Christians even read Psalm 1, then? If the Law/Torah is such a burden and cross to bear, why do we find such verses as:
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law/torah of the LORD! (Ps. 119:1)
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law/torah. (Ps. 119:18)
Oh how I love your law/torah! It is my meditation all the day. (Ps. 119:97)
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law/torah of the LORD, and on his law/torah he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1:1–2)
“But CSL, don’t you know that the Law was impossible to keep, that it was only given to us to show us just how sinful we are? The Law was never meant to be something that man could keep, much less delight in.”
I am not so sure, if this is what you think of God’s Torah, that you have God’s support. After all, Moses told the people, at the time of the renewal of the Covenant in Deuteronomy,
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deut. 30:11–14)
God doesn’t seem to think that His Torah is impossible, so why do we?
As you might have guessed, more to come…
** Which is also interesting, since both the Hebrew and Greek words for sin, (chata and hamartia) mean “to miss the mark.”