Jewish tradition holds that “Moses received the Torah from Sinai,” yet there is also an ancient tradition that the Torah existed in heaven not only before God revealed it to Moses, but even before the world was created.
“The Written Law: Torah”
Jewish Virtual Library
Last night was my regular Wednesday evening meeting with Pastor Randy in his office at church. Often our conversations take various twists and turns (last night was no exception) but we tried to stick to our task of discussing D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians
Between last week and last night, we managed to cover chapters 6 and 7, but we keep running into a wall based on our different perspectives.
Paul had an ulterior motive for this trip to Jerusalem. He intended to use the opportunity for a private meeting with the apostles, those reputed pillars of the assembly under James the Righteous, the brother of the Master. James presided over the assembly of Messiah as the steward of the throne of David, so to speak. Paul wanted to present his unique interpretation of the gospel to James and the apostles – namely the version of the gospel that God-fearing Gentile believers need not become Jewish in order to inherit salvation, enter the kingdom of heaven, and obtain citizenship in the people of God; rather that faith in the Master was sufficient for even Gentiles.
-Lancaster, Sermon 6: The Big Meeting (Galatians 2:3-5), pg 60
One of the problems Paul had encountered was hearing of “false brothers” (Galatians 2:4) coming into the Messianic communities in Galatia, and convincing some of the Gentile believers that they could only be saved if they were circumcised and converted to Judaism. This was contrary to what Paul believed, but he needed his understanding of the Gentile role in Messianic Judaism confirmed by the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem (which it finally was in Acts 15).
Pastor Randy agrees with me that non-Jews don’t have to convert to Judaism and take on the full weight of Torah as the Jews in order to become disciples of Jesus. However, he believes the “false brothers” were not just convincing the Gentiles to be circumcised, but the Jesus believing Jews as well!
The underlying belief is that both Jews and Gentiles were being taught by Paul that no one must “keep the Torah” once they have come to faith in Jesus because Jesus fulfilled the Law (This contradicts Paul’s own testimony that he never broke any of the laws of Torah, which he repeated many times starting with Acts 21, including what he says in Acts 25:8).
(Note that I’m using the New American Standard Bible – NASB – for quoting Bible verses unless otherwise indicated.)
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
According to the Greek (according to Pastor Randy), the word “fulfill” in Matthew 5 gives the sense of to fill up, to complete, rather than “fulfilling prophesy” as in simply meeting the qualifications.
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
Pastor interprets this verse the way you might expect, that the Torah had one primary purpose and that when Jesus came, that purpose was completed and the Torah, for the most part, is no longer valid or at least not currently valid.
This actually is a little complex because there are whole sections of Torah that have to do with the Temple and Priesthood that cannot currently be performed for obvious reasons. However, both Pastor Randy and I believe that there will be a third Temple and when it exists, some or all of the laws related to Temple worship will be re-established. We also agree that what Christianity calls “the moral laws” of the Torah remain, such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, and these are laws that apply to Christians and (believing and non-believing) Jews. You can’t eliminate all of the Torah without eliminating Christianity.
My assumption is from the opposite end of the telescope, so to speak. I believe that the Jewish believers including James, Peter, and Paul, would not have automatically assumed that the coming of Moshiach would have meant their Torah-observant lifestyles would have been changed or diminished in any way. In fact, I believe that their faith in Messiah would have given them a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in Torah.
You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
There seems to be a duality in how the Torah is addressed in the New Testament, so we can each make a case for the Law being considered “good” or “bad” but what we are trying to determine is if the Torah retained a purpose for the Jewish believers after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. In order to do that, Pastor Randy and I need some sort of definition for “Torah” or more likely, a mutually agreed upon answer to the question, “What is the purpose of the Torah?”
Pastor believes that there is a purpose to certain portions of the Torah after the ascension but that those portions apply equally to both Jewish and Gentile believers, since believers are defined by faith in Jesus as the bottom line. I disagree and believe there is an additional differentiation between Jewish and Gentile believers based on Sinai and that the Jewish believers remain distinct, even among the larger body of Gentile disciples of Messiah.
My project is to try to investigate the purpose of Torah for Jewish people who are in Messiah. Pastor is going to approach it from his perspective starting with Calvin’s Purposes of the Law in the New Testament. While I think it’s necessary to look at such a viewpoint, my concern is that by definition, it will not take the possibility of continued Jewish Torah observance into account.
I think it is completely reasonable to say that believing Jews and Gentiles can still have differences in obligation and duty under the Torah, just as Levites and Kohens have different duties under Torah than other Jewish people. They are all Jewish and yet specific Jews have certain additional obligations based on who they are. In a community of Jewish and Gentile believers, they (we) are all believers, but the Jews have certain additional obligations based on who they are.
Even a casual Google search on the string, “What is the purpose of the Torah” turned up a vast number of what seems to be very compelling sources, too many to review and summarize in a single blog post. I know this conversation with Pastor Randy will go beyond next week’s meeting, but we both agree that we need to, if not settle the matter, at least have a better handle on it than we do now (we’re also covering Chapter 8 in Lancaster for next week).
I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, so to speak, but I’m not the dullest either. I know how to do my homework. On the other hand, I’m still only one person and as such, have the limitations of a single perspective. If anyone has something useful or can point me to a resource that can assist me in looking at the purposes of the Torah for believing Jews, both in the time of Paul and in the present age, I’d certainly appreciate you giving me a “heads up.”
Oh, Pastor Randy reads my blog every day, so it’s not like I’m trying to pull a fast one or something.
One more thing. At the beginning of this blog post, I quoted from Jewish Virtual Library on part of the “identity” of the Torah. It’s interesting that Pastor Randy pretty much agrees with that definition. That is to say, he believes there is a “Word of God” that is independent of the physical object we call a “Bible.” There is a pure, refined, holy, transcendent Torah in Heaven that no man has access to. The Bible contains the Word of God, but the Bible isn’t actually that Word.
That belief lends itself to some very interesting possibilities about what happens when we study the Bible, but I’ll stop at this point rather than try to explore such a vast territory.
The Torah is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and its supporters are praiseworthy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace. Lengthy days are at its right; at its left are wealth and honor. Hashem desired for the sake of its [Israel’s] righteousness, that the Torah be made great and glorious.
-from the Siddur
I hope to continue contributing to this project on my blog with some regularity, not only because of my conversations with my Pastor, but for its own sake. I suppose I’m “reinventing the wheel,” and perhaps some knowledgeable scholars have already done some or most of the work for me. If that’s true and who know where I can access that work, don’t be shy. Let me know.
More questions and another perspective on Torah coming up in Part 2 of this series.