Typically in these articles, we review the core bible principles of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom, integrity, vigilance, holiness, trust, forgiveness and compassion. But if you’re a regular listener you may remember that I’ve begun a year long journey of exploring some of the bigger doctrines in the Bible, and how those core principles apply to the larger biblical worldview.
As we go through these doctrinal statements in the coming weeks and months, I think you’ll find I typically do not hold to traditional perspectives on many of these topics, which is one of the reasons I am very excited to share them with you and possibly help you explore concepts and ideas that you may not have previously considered.
In today’s episode, we will be talking about and defining what torah is, what its purpose is, and how it is relevant for believers today.
So let’s begin with: what is torah? Torah is instruction. Torah is also known as the law of God. Anytime God commands or gives direction to something or someone, torah exists. I believe torah is through every fiber of the Bible, from the first page of Genesis all the way through the Revelation; yes, even into the New Testament.
Of course, this goes against the common understanding of the Torah being relegated only to the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy. This is even how Jews view their own holy writings, as we discussed in our last lesson. Their holy writings, what most Christians call the Old Testament, are made up of the Torah (law), the Nevi’im (prophets) and the Ketuvim (writings); the Tanakh.
However, regardless of this tradition the word torah itself simply means instruction or direction. It comes from a Hebrew root word, yara, meaning to throw or shoot, as in shooting an arrow toward a target. This is what torah’s purpose is, what it is designed to do; to point us to the target, or goal, that God would have us accomplish. This is why I believe that torah is all through the Bible: the whole collection of these writings is designed to point us toward the goal God has for every one of us: Messiah-like obedience as God’s children in the Kingdom of God. One of the primary reasons that I believe torah is eternal and not just from Sinai forward is because both Noah and Abraham are said to have kept God’s torah.
Many people don’t realize that Noah was given direction as to the making of a distinction between clean and unclean animals.
Genesis 7:2-3, 5 – “You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth.” … And Noah did according to all that Yahweh commanded him.
How is it that Noah knew about clean and unclean animals when he lived over thousand years earlier than Moses receiving the commandments at Sinai? This implies that God’s torah was revealed previously, even if only in oral form at that point.
With Abraham also, even though he lived about five hundred years earlier than Moses, the Bible tells us that he followed God’s torah. In the book of Genesis when God was reinforcing the promises to Isaac that he had promised his father Abraham, God recounted to him how Abraham had and kept his commands and statutes.
Genesis 26:4-5 [God speaking to Isaac] “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws [torah].”
If God is here explaining how Abraham kept torah five hundred years prior to Moses and Sinai, and we’ve seen how Noah was diligent to maintain torah over a thousand years earlier than that, it should come as no surprise, then, how the whole Bible is is based on torah, or instruction, from God. And if this is true, then it becomes obvious why I believe torah is relevant for believers today, since it is essentially God’s eternal word that he always expects his people to abide by.
We have an understanding of torah first and foremost from the books of Moses, whose narrative describes the back-story and beginnings of the nation of Israel through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then to Joseph and Moses, preparing them as a people to enter the land of Canaan. Those principles established in that root story are repeated and expanded through the Prophets and the Writings of the Tenakh (OT), along with the writings of the Messianic Believers (NT).
The regulating principle of God’s torah
Now here is something interesting about torah. The torah or instruction of God has a simple, self-regulating principle: anything that claims to be instruction from God but is not conforming with the revelation provided through the books of Moses (that is, Genesis-Deuteronomy) is not considered a valid teaching from God. These five books are the baseline recorded narrative of God’s interactions with men since the beginning, which is why they have collectively come to be primarily known as THE Torah. And this conformity to the revelation provided to Moses isn’t just my opinion, let’s see what the Bible says about it.
Deuteronomy 4:2 “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you.
Deuteronomy 12:32 “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.
Proverbs 30:5-6 Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.
Ecclesiastes 3:14 I also know that whatever God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken away from it. God has made it this way, so that men will fear him.
Therefore, if some new doctrine or teaching comes along that does not fit the principles, patterns, and standards of torah as previously revealed, then it cannot be considered a legitimate spiritual teaching from God, and should not be heeded.
As the biblical books and writings of the prophets were being written and added to the body of the Tanakh or Old Testament writings, they were being judged as to whether they were aligning with the revelation provided to Moses in those earlier books. For believers in Messiah, they also were also faced with ensuring the apostolic teachings were also in alignment with the principles, patterns, and standards of torah as revealed to Moses. We see that the New Testament writings are based on the teachings and revelation of Yeshua as the Messiah. So, for believers, we see Yeshua as the “prophet who was to come” whom Moses spoke of.
Deuteronomy 18:15 – “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. You shall listen to him…”
The coming of this Prophet was the ultimate goal and expectation of the revelation to Moses, along with all of the rest of the Tanakh, so much so that Jews today are still waiting for a Messiah since they don’t believe in Yeshua.
Since Yeshua did not add or take away from God’s torah, but simply clarified and fulfilled it, we must take care that we don’t add to or take away from what he taught, as well. Taking away something that has been previously revealed is equally as destructive as adding something that does not belong. Yeshua was careful to demonstrate he was not advocating taking anything away from God’s torah.
Matthew 5:17-19 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law [torah] or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law [torah] until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
This idea of adding or taking away from torah is essentially a principle of testing. Moses warned about false prophets:
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which Yahweh has not spoken?’ “When a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which Yahweh has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
Yeshua also warned about testing false prophets in a similar way. Just as Moses instructed that the results of a prophet’s prediction will prove him right or wrong, Yeshua explained the same principle using the fruits that are produced by those who have false teachings as an indicator of their falsehood.
Matthew 7:15-17, 20 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. … So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
In this way, Yeshua demonstrated that his teaching on the testing of prophets was established upon the same principles of God’s torah as revealed to Moses.
The early believers in Messiah were also commanded to carry on this same practice of testing false teachers.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits [of the teachers] to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
How would they know what was “good” and what was false? Since they didn’t have a “New Testament” to go by, they were instructed to examine everything in light of the only torah that was already established, the Tanakh, which includes the torah originally related by God to Moses, to ensure they would not be led astray. In the process of following the Tanakh by believing in its fulfillment in Messiah, some of them then created the letters and epistles that have become the New Testament writings of today.
Fulfillment of Torah
True torah cannot be added to or diminished, but according to Yeshua, it can be fulfilled or brought to fruition. Yeshua fulfilled the ultimate purpose of torah, but that does not mean there is no longer a need to follow the principles of torah. He is our example of how to be obedient to the Father. He did not come to destroy torah, but to fulfill it. If he fulfilled it, so should we.
1 John 2:3-6 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
As we fulfill God’s torah by following its direction, then it accomplishes the intent that God had for it in the first place. This in itself is a principle of torah that the prophet Isaiah spoke of.
Isaiah 55:10-11 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
According to the apostle John, the very definition of sin is exemplified as not abiding by torah.
1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness [literally: torah-lessness].
Therefore, the opposite must also be true: obedience to torah leads to non-sinfulness, that is, to righteous and holy actions.
Romans 7:12 So then, the Law [torah] is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
However, we must remember that torah obedience on its own does not totally accomplish freedom from sin. This is because even though we may become aware of God’s righteous commands, we many times still desire our own ways.
In a moment, we will dive a little further into why this is so important when it comes to keeping the torah of God.
So, while we may understand with our minds the importance of keeping God’s word according to his instruction or his torah, many times we still struggle, desiring our own ways. This is primarily due to the fact that, even though we may know what the right thing is to do, our hearts are still not right and we can’t find the strength necessary to be obedient.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? I, Yahweh, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.”
Zechariah 7:8-12 Then the word of Yahweh came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has Yahweh of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts [like] flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which Yahweh of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from Yahweh of hosts.”
Torah can tell us the right things to do, but it can’t make us do the right things with the right attitude and for the right reason.
Yeshua accused the Jewish leaders of this very thing. They tried to follow the letter of the Torah in scrutinizing detail, even adding their own man-made traditions in an effort to ensure the Torah commands themselves would not be violated. However, they missed the intended goal of torah because their hearts were not right before God.
Matthew 15:7-11 “You hypocrites [the Jewish leaders], rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hear is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines [of God] the precepts of men.'”
Matthew 23:23, 27-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. … “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness [torah-lessness].
The Jewish leaders were guilty of what the apostle Paul calls following “the letter of the law”, but not the spirit of it, and it resulted in hypocrisy which led them further from torah. Following the spirit of the law, and not just the letter of it, is what brings life.
2 Corinthians 3:5-6 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as [coming] from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
The Jewish leaders were trying so hard to follow all of the rules that they missed the intent or spirit of the rules in the first place. This can be likened to a person at a busy traffic intersection who wants to cross the street. However, they are focusing so hard on staying within the lines of a crosswalk that they forget to check for traffic.
The letter of torah alone can be deadly if misapplied with the wrong spirit or intent. This is why acting on Bible verses taken out of context is so dangerous. For example I’ve heard people who claim to be believers justify retribution against others by saying, “the Bible says, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'” Yes, it’s true the Bible does say that, but the context is ancient Israelite civil law, not current day individual morality. Yeshua made it clear we are to love our enemies and do good to others as a way of demonstrating the love of God to them.
In a similar way, even though the Bible tells us the right things to do, it cannot bring life on its own.
Galatians 3:21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
The righteousness that Paul is speaking of here is the type that says we have right-standing in God’s eyes because we are doing what’s right. Paul is saying it takes more than just following a set of rules to be exhibiting true faith in God. Faith that honors God is simply believing what God said is true, and then being obedient to it; not the other way around.
God continues to teach people about his ways and lead people to Messiah through the symbols and object lessons of all of his torah. But just like graduating from one grade to another does not make all of what you previously learned vanish, it simply indicates that you have now earned a basic understanding of the rudiments of that grade level, and can now apply and follow those things that you have learned as you continue to grow.
Galatians 3:23-26 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Messiah, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Messiah Yeshua.
This passage is famous for causing confusion, as most Christians take away from it that if Paul is saying believers are no longer under the tutor of the Torah, then it must be done away with. Since we have already seen that we cannot take away from God’s torah without violating it, we should understand that Paul must be trying to teach something else here.
Here’s an analogy that may help: Once you graduate from school, the lessons you have learned don’t disappear as if they no longer apply. You are now able to take what you have learned and use it in practical ways all the time, even though you are not in school anymore. Therefore, you no longer require the tutor or the teacher, because what the teacher taught you is now ingrained in you, and you now do textbook things naturally without always needing to reference the textbooks. Therefore, you are no longer “under” the tutor, who would need to constantly go over the basics with you. The textbooks are still valuable and still true, and you will still abide by the principles in the textbooks, you just don’t need to reference them because you are already understanding and practicing what they teach.
Remember what the apostle John wrote to the early Messianic believers:
1 John 2:4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…
1 John 5:2-3 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
His commandments are his torah, his instruction, his direction. If we are not abiding by the principles of torah, then that is evidence that we haven’t had our hearts truly changed. This is why believers should still follow the principles of God’s torah, even though we technically no longer need it as a tutor. It is being fulfilled in us as we live it out in sincerity and truth.
It is true that torah can give us indications of the right actions to do that lead to life. But it is when we act reflexively with the spirit and intent of torah that we know life has actually come into being and changed us.
John 6:63 “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
Romans 8:1-2 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua. For the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Jeremiah 31:33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares Yahweh, “I will put My law [torah] within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
So, my question to those who would maintain that torah has been done away in Messiah is this: If God always intended to put his torah in the heart of his people, why would torah be done away with? It’s the very thing that he wants to reside in our hearts!
This is what Paul was trying to show in relation to God’s torah; it hadn’t passed away, but those in Messiah were to consider themselves as passed away, jointly dead with Messiah. He wanted believers to consider themselves as dead to the letter of the law (i.e., from trying to earn their favor with God through it) so they could instead obey the spirit of it from the heart. This is because they had simply believed God, just like Abraham, and become risen as new creations in Messiah!
Just as Yeshua was risen from the dead, believers were to consider themselves as also alive from the dead; the dead obedience of rote tradition to the letter of the law. The torah was never meant to be done away, but it was meant to be fulfilled; fulfilled in God’s children as they obey it from the heart! It was to serve as an ongoing foundation for the believers heart-service to God which has only become possible based on the new life of faith in Messiah.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
So, as long as there are people who don’t know the God of the Bible, these principles, patterns, and standards of God’s torah will continue to lead people to the truth of his Messiah. This is how and why torah must be eternal. It is through the torah of God that they can become born from above, renewed in heart as new creatures in Messiah. Therefore, God’s torah is ultimately still a tutor for all among the nations, so that people will continue to learn and practice his ways and be led to new life in the Messiah where they can then obey it from the heart. As they come to believe in and follow his Messiah, the torah of God will then reside in their hearts and bear fruit among all men.
Psalm 119:142, 144, 152 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law [torah] is truth. … Your testimonies are righteous forever; Give me understanding that I may live. … Of old I have known from Your testimonies that You have founded them forever.
Micah 4:2 Many nations will come and say, “Come and let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh And to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us about His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For from Zion will go forth the law [torah], Even the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.
Zion is the New Jerusalem, the residence of believers everywhere.
Hebrews 12:22-24 – But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the gathered throngs and assembly of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Yeshua the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
It is from Zion, this place of believing heart-obedience, that God’s eternal torah goes forth into all the world. This is how God’s kingdom is, and will continue to be, established on the earth.
Alright, so let’s quickly review some of the key points we covered today:
- I believe torah is not just limited to the first five books of the Bible. Torah is instruction or direction from God that is throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation.
- Torah has a self-regulating principle. For something to be considered torah or instruction from God, it must be in agreement with the patterns, principles and standards that were revealed within the books of Moses. This applies to the teachings of Yeshua and the apostles, as well, since Yeshua clearly taught that he had no intent on abolishing torah, and in fact, upheld and fulfilled it.
- The purpose of torah is that we also would fulfill it, not by simply following the letter of the law, but by fulfilling it in spirit from the heart, as new creations in Messiah. This is the intent that the prophets looked forward to in the New Covenant in Messiah.
- Torah continues to instruct people and direct them to Messiah; that is its eternal purpose. We who are inheritors of the Kingdom of God shine forth from the prophetic city of Zion, the New Jerusalem, for the rest of the nations to be healed and brought into fellowship with their Creator.
Ultimately, I believe the core principles of the Bible, the basics of the eternal torah of God, were revealed through the Ten Commandments revealed to Moses and substantiated through the principles of the Sermon on the Mount taught by Yeshua. They can be summarized as follows:
- Separate yourself to seek first the Kingdom with vigilance.
- Love God with all of your heart, mind, and strength, trusting him for everything.
- And love others as yourself with integrity, forgiveness, and compassion.
Next time, we will look at the doctrine of there being only One True God. This was the fierce monotheism of the ancient Hebrew people. I hope you can join us.
Remember, there is a Core of the Bible virtual study group that is hosted through the Marco Polo video chat app. It is designed to discuss the topics that we cover each week and to help people with responses to questions that may come up. If you are interested in joining the discussion, simply download the free Marco Polo app and email me a request to join the group at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to send you a link to join the virtual Bible study group. And if you’re not sure about joining the group, you can always just email any questions you may have, as well.