Session Three: The Inner Torah
Lancaster began this lecture by recalling a time when he was teaching a Torah class at a large, Charismatic church. One of his students really loved the class and decided to bring her husband. The husband was less enthusiastic and told Lancaster after the lesson was over, “This sounds like the oldness of the letter, not the newness of the spirit.”
It’s the contrast between these two ideas and the traditional Christian misinterpretation of these concepts, that Lancaster presents through out this forty-three minute sermon.
Lancaster followed up with a fictional story about him running a stop sign while driving and being pulled over by a police officer. In this made up scenario, Lancaster told the officer, I know the letter of the law said “stop” but as long as I didn’t hit anyone or cause an accident, I obeyed the spirit of the law.
In real life, that wouldn’t work out very well.
Let’s take another example from the lecture.
When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have bloodguilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.
–Deuteronomy 22:8 (NRSV)
This is included as one of the 613 mitzvot or commandments in Judaism. The letter of the law is that, assuming you have a flat roof on your house where people can stand, you shall build a barrier around the roof to keep people from falling off. The spirit of the law, that is the intent, and in this case, it’s God’s intent, is that you should locate and remediate any dangerous hazard on your property.
The spirit of the law doesn’t abrogate or somehow cancel the letter, the spirit is simply the intent behind the actual law.
But in Christianity, the letter of the law and the spirit of the law are placed in direct opposition to one another. The letter usually means the Torah or the “Old Covenant” conditions, while the spirit usually means the grace of Christ or the New Covenant. The spirit is an easier law, one people are more capable of obeying than the letter.
However, Christians are somewhat justified in their assumption which they get from Paul:
But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
–Romans 7:6 (NRSV)
Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
–2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (NRSV)
I can see why some people want to get rid of Paul, especially when many of us are trying to interpret Paul as pro-Torah, not anti-Law.
But what did Paul mean? The peshat or plain meaning of Paul’s words seems to indicate that he is contrasting the law with the spirit, the Torah with Jesus. Is this the way we should read Paul? Is there another “plain” and more accurate way to understand what he’s saying?
That requires a little background, perhaps the very background possessed by his original audience.
According to Jeremiah 31:34, we know the New Covenant language declares that in the future, Messianic Era, there will be a universal revelation of God. Everyone will know God. We will have an apprehension of God that will be greater than that of John the Baptist, all of Israel will be saved, because the Torah will be written on the hearts of Judah and Israel.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
–Deuteronomy 6:4-6 (emph. mine)
I’ll get to that.
We know that God will give Israel a new spirit and new heart, and God will put the new spirit into the hearts of the Jewish people (Ezekiel 36:26-27) so it will be possible for people, Israel and the people of the nations who join them through faith in Messiah, to obey God, not just the list of mitzvot, but the intent behind them, not out of fear or obligation, but because we want to and fully understand why we should do good. I know Gentiles are included because God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28-29) and that our evil natures will be bound and unable to sway us (Revelation 20:1-2).
But we aren’t there yet, are we? That’s what Lancaster said in session two. So what do we have?
Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
–2 Corinthians 5:5 (NRSV)
So God gave believers His Holy Spirit as a pledge or down payment. Against what? According to Lancaster, against the promise of the coming Messianic Age which was inaugurated and started beginning to arrive with the death and resurrection of Jesus, but will not fully arrive until the return of Messiah.
Until then, we know what we want and what we should do (such as stopping at a stop sign) but we don’t always do what we know is right because of our human nature or what is called in Judaism the evil inclination.
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
–Romans 7:14-20 (NRSV)
A person who has received the “down payment” of the Spirit knows what is right and what pleases God. God has just started writing the Torah on that person’s heart. But they still possess their will to be disobedient, and so two natures war within the person, and they always will be until the resurrection. We can live in the flesh, that is, in our human nature, but then we don’t even desire to please God. We can live by the letter of the law, attempting to please God, but only with our human strength. Or we can live in the spirit, desiring to please God and relying on the Spirit of God to help us obey him, even though we know we will continually be in a battle with our human nature.
This isn’t a battle between the Torah and grace, but between the Holy Spirit within us and our human nature.
To some degree, this makes it seem as if we’re off the hook, since being evil, even possessing the Spirit, the best we can do is try to do good but continue to sin.
Lancaster says Paul doesn’t make it that easy.
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
–Romans 8:12-13 (NRSV)
Once we receive the Spirit, God expects us to live as if the Messianic Age has already fully arrived, not to just blow off God’s desires.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!
–Romans 6:15 (NRSV)
By the way, that “law” Paul mentions is not the Torah. You’ll have listen to the entire recording of the lecture to get the full argument, but the “law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) means the wages or consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23). If we give in to the temptation to sin and don’t even resist the evil inclination within us, then the result is death. We must keep fighting, the old man against the new man, wrestling like Jacob and Esau in their mother’s womb (Hosea 12:3).
I’m reminded of the sermon and subsequent Sunday School lesson I heard last week in church. The message was on the perseverance of Paul in the face of almost certain death.
But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
–Acts 20:24 (NRSV)
We know, based on what Paul said in Romans, that he continued to struggle with his human nature and disobeyed God, but we also know that he “fought the good fight…finished the race…kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7), remaining obedient and faithful to God and his mission to the Gentiles, never teaching against the Torah or against the Jewish people (Acts 28:17-20).
So it’s possible in this life with the current troubles we face (and how many of us have ever had the struggles Paul had to deal with?) to obey God and to commit our lives to our Master, with the old nature and new creation within each of us struggling “like two immortals locked in an epic battle until Judgment Day and trumpets sound” (quoting from this movie) at the return of the King.
I wouldn’t be giving a complete review of “The Inner Torah” unless I talked some about the Rabbinic perspective on the Messiah and the Messianic Age. Lancaster says that according to the Sages (he didn’t provide a specific reference), Messiah will teach the Torah, correcting all of the misinterpretations, and he will even bring a new Torah, the Torah of Messiah. This is somewhat misleading since the Torah of Messiah is the Torah of Moses, but…
…it’s thought that there is a perfect, heavenly Torah, which is God’s wisdom, will, and intent. To make it accessible to people, the Torah was “clothed,” so to speak, so that it could take on physical properties and be given to our world. That is the Torah we have as represented by scrolls in arks in synagogues and by books of the Bible we carry with us. But you can only include so much of Heaven in an object meant to exist on Earth. Messiah will be able to “unlock” the greater mysteries of the Torah, the heavenly essence, so to speak, and teach that Torah. It’s still the same Torah, but it contains so much more than we can currently perceive.
This is the inner Torah, the same Torah that was given at Sinai, but fully “unclothed” and fully written within us, so that we will not only know all good and everything that pleases God, but we will have a total desire to do all that is good and we will understand why each thing God wills is good and perfect, because it will be written within our natures. There will be no more fighting inside of us. The old creation is dead and the new creation lives on victorious (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The messianic age will be characterized by the peaceful co-existence of all people (Isaiah 2,4). Hatred, intolerance, and war will cease to exist. Some authorities suggest that the laws of nature will change, so that predatory beasts will no longer seek prey and agriculture will bring forth supernatural abundance (Isaiah 11,6-9); others like Maimonides, however, say that these statements are merely an allegory for peace and prosperity. What is agreed on by all is a very optimistic picture of what real people can be like in this real world, the like of which has never been seen before.
All of the Jewish people will return from their exile among the nations to their home in Israel (Isaiah 11,11-12; Jeremiah 23,8; 30,3; Hosea 3,4-5), and the law of the Jubilee as well as the rest of the special agricultural laws in the Torah will be reinstated.
In the messianic age, the whole world will recognize YHWH, the LORD God of Israel, as the only true God, and the Torah will be seen as the only true religion (Isaiah 2,3; 11,10; Micah 4,2-3; Zechariah 14,9). There will be no more murder, robbery, competition, or jealousy.
-Mashiach: The Messiah
Near the end of the lecture, Lancaster briefly mentioned that the Torah written on our hearts doesn’t mean that Gentiles become Jews or that Gentiles and Jews all wear tzitzit, lay tefillin, and wear payot. How the Torah is applied varies between Jews and Gentiles. I want to add that people struggle hard enough with our human natures and our sins. It’s not like wearing a tallit will cancel being stingy, or repeatedly losing our temper, or other sins of which we’re guilty.
As Lancaster interprets Paul and presents in his lecture, we may still struggle between righteousness and sin, but we are also responsible for continuing the fight. Paul kept the faith all his life and he’d have lived a longer life if he wasn’t obedient to God. But the Master taught, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The New Covenant is only beginning. We are still at war within ourselves. But as we battle, the finger of God slowly is writing His Torah on our hearts and the King is coming. We must continue in his will and grace, be obedient, and prove ourselves as worthy servants until his return.
Addendum: I just read a commentary on New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado’s blog on N.T. Wright’s new book (tome) Paul and the Faithfulness of God. This is the last of a series of reviews Hurtado has written, and I found the following quote appropriate to the current discussion:
We do have Wright emphasizing correctly that for Paul God’s eschatological programme had already begun in Jesus, especially in Jesus’ death and resurrection. So, to use terms familiar in the history of NT scholarship, Paul held an “inaugurated eschatology,” the final events already underway, the programme to be consummated at Jesus’ parousia (return). (I still like Oscar Cullmann’s analogy: For Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection was D-Day, and his parousia V-Day, and Paul thinks he is living in the exciting time between these two events: Christ and Time, pp. 144-74, esp 145. )
Also, Wright links (again correctly) the Spirit with eschatology, and so the presence and experience of the Spirit in early Christian circles was for Paul evidence of the new age underway, the Spirit raising new possibilities, new energies for obedience to God, even among former pagans.
For the full content of Hurtado’s commentary, please read Paul’s Eschatology: Further Comments on Wright’s New Opus.