For the week of February 2, 2008 / 26 Shevat 5768
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 21:1 - 24:18
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25,26
Is the Torah for Today? - Part 1
Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. (Shemot / Exodus 21:1; ESV)
As I read this week's Torah portion I am so struck by the wisdom of God found in this list of rules. There are regulations for the prevention of abuse of slaves, how children should relate to parents, the protection of persons and property, issues of safety, making restitution, the loaning of money, and the treatment of foreigners. These directives, if followed, would make a positive difference in any society.
I find that among many Christians today there is a growing interest in the Torah, but also a lot of confusion. I am going to attempt to clarify what I believe to be an accurate New Covenant perspective on the Torah.
First, what is Torah? "Torah," traditionally translated "law," is more accurately "direction" or "teaching". It is God pointing us in the direction of life and steering us away from death. God's directives are his Torah. Therefore in its broadest sense, Torah is the entire body of God's revelation.
A more narrow definition is that Torah is the revelation of God given at Mt. Sinai through Moses. Because the revelation at Sinai makes up most of the first five books of the Bible, they are collectively called "The Torah."
In Judaism Torah also includes the oral traditions that apparently accompanied what is written in the books of Moses. This body of oral tradition is called the Mishnah and is referred to as the Oral Torah. But if we hold to the authority of the Scriptures (both the Hebrew and New Covenant writings), we have no reason to accept the Mishnah as Torah.
In the early days of the New Covenant era, there arose a controversy over whether or not the Torah in the narrow sense of the Sinai Covenant was obligatory for non-Jewish followers of Yeshua. After careful deliberation the leaders came to the conclusion that the Torah as a body of regulations contained in the Sinai Covenant was not to be imposed upon Gentile believers (see Acts 15:1-35).
This decision was made for two reasons. First, the Sinai Covenant was given to the people of Israel in particular. While it is true that, up until that time, non-Jews who became part of the community of Israel were obliged to keep this Covenant, the early messianic leaders understood that through the Messiah the reality of God was now moving out from Israel to the nations, and so they were no longer required to take upon themselves the Jewish traditions.
Second, the older system under the Sinai Covenant was coming to an end. Due to Israel's failure to live up to the Sinai Covenant's standards, God determined to provide a New Covenant; one that was not like the Sinai Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31-34). The New Covenant book of Hebrews as well as some of the letters explain the contrast between these two covenants. Under the Messiah, the Sinai Covenant is no longer in effect. The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem which occurred some years later, made the Sinai Covenant impossible and impractical. This didn't prevent Judaism from attempting to uphold a covenant which was already irreparably broken. Instead of accepting God's New Covenant through the Messiah, they chose a religion of their own making.
But that doesn't mean we no longer keep Torah. God's Torah is his directives whatever era we find ourselves in. The real question is not whether or not we are to keep Torah, but what is the Torah we keep? The New Covenant writings clearly emphasize our obligation to keep the commandments (Hebrew: mitzvot) of God. Yeshua said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14;15; ESV). It is not that there are no rules to follow; it's a question of what rules to follow - a question we will look at more closely next time.
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