For the week of July 24, 2010 / 13 Av 5770
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1-26

The Torah Controversy

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 4:2; ESV)

Misunderstandings among New Covenant believers about the Torah stem partly from a lack of awareness over the issues the New Covenant writers were dealing with. New Covenant believers, especially of the Protestant variety, see Torah through the eyes of the controversy that took place over the doctrine of salvation during medieval times. In those days it had became common to think that in order to be accepted by God one had to accumulate a certain number of merits. The New Covenant teaching that faith in the death and resurrection of Yeshua was sufficient for salvation had been lost. It seems that many of the creeds and theology established during the Reformation was a response to this and other unbiblical teachings.

Looking at the New Covenant references to the Torah (English: the Law / Greek: nomos), there appears to be very clear statements against an approach to God that includes the accumulation of merits. When reading these statements, one would almost think that the New Covenant writers were purposely and directly criticizing medieval thinking. The biblical contrast of justification by works vs. justification by faith is certainly relevant to that discussion. If I understand this aspect of the Reformation correctly, the prevelant thinking at that time had been that even though a person was part of God's family through faith in the Messiah, they still needed to be good in terms of their moral and religious deeds to be fully accepted by God. The Reformers, rightly based on Scripture, demonstrated that acceptance by God could never be established on the basis of our own efforts, but solely upon the merits of Messiah alone.

Statements about Torah in the Book of Acts, Paul's letters, and the Book of Hebrews clearly demonstrate justification by faith alone. But what has contributed to current misunderstandings is that these statements are not concerned about the accumulation of merits. It is common today to hear people explain our need for God in terms of our not being good enough. We explain how the Torah is God's standard, given to show us that all human beings fail to meet that standard. As a result we are all under God's condemnation and can only be forgiven through faith in the Messiah. All this is true. But the realization of our failure to live up to the Torah's demands is only one aspect of the Torah's function. Most of the negative Torah statements in the New Covenant writings aren't concerned with this problem. Adherents of the Torah in the first century - as well as many in contemporary Jewish circles - were not concerned about being good enough to be accepted by God. Those who wanted to impose Torah upon non-Jewish followers of Yeshua were not doing so that these Gentiles might become good enough. It was that they thought that possession and observance of Torah itself was what merited God's acceptance.

For those not used to this concept, you may need to pause and take a deep breath at this point. The New Covenant writers when speaking about Torah confronted the wrong notion in their day that living a life of Torah was the key to acceptance and intimacy with God. The gift of God's revelation to the Jewish people became something like an idol. Instead of being the people of God, we became the people of Torah.

It is true that this is not the only aspect of the Torah being addressed by the New Covenant writers. According to Jeremiah's prophesy (Jeremiah 31:31-33), there are significant differences between the Old and New Covenants. One of those differences is the internalization of Torah, not the doing away with Torah all together. Any teaching that implies that Torah is completely done away with is a misunderstanding of the intent of the New Covenant writers. Note that this is not to say that Torah as the Sinai Covenant is still in force. That is made clear both by Jeremiah and the New Covenant writers.

Torah is God's direction or teaching for our lives. Torah is the revelation of God and his revelation of how we are to relate to him. But it is not our understanding of this that puts us in good stead with God. That only happens through trusting in his Son, Yeshua. As we trust in him, we will also hunger for his Word - his Torah - for guidance in life.

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