The Torah of Messiah (part 1)
I am asked this question repeatedly, as a follower of Jesus, what is my/our relationship to the Law (Torah)? First, we must acknowledge that we are dealing with a subject that is very volatile in many Christian circles, not only today but historically. It is an issue that provokes strong emotions and often condemnation if you do not hold to the right view. My approach is to deal with this a little more soberly and cautiously.
Let me start with some preliminary statements or caveats as to what it is that I am trying to do here when I talk about this subject. (1) What I am attempting here is more a discussion than a definitive treatise. The issues are so exceedingly complex and the scriptures bearing on them are so abundant that scholars today and for centuries have differences of interpretation. Please understand, I don’t know that there is one, definitive right answer. And if there is, I am not sure that we have the discernment or ability to grasp it fully. I hope we can approach it. But I also want you to know there is nothing wrong with having differences of opinion. (2) What I am here to do is to share with you a Hebraic perspective—such as I have it—to share with you some thoughts that have come from years of study and thinking about this issue and of discussing it with other scholars. And I want in doing so, not to give you a definitive creedal statement, but I want to be a catalyst to your thinking. (3) I want you to learn to think for yourself. I want you to leave here with some questions circulating in your mind. I may raise some questions that I do not give answers to. I want you to go and study these issues, think about what I have said. Think about other texts that come to your mind. In other words, what I’m trying to do here is just share with you some fresh insights. (4) And to some extent you are going to find, I think, a little bit of correction perhaps in your thinking and certainly in the thinking of a large portion of the church on some of these issues. Because even though we have the truth in some respects, I think we also have a tendency to get off on the periphery of truth because of the conditioning of our culture, of our mindset, and even of our theology. (5) And so in this teaching, my intent is to edify, to educate, and to encourage. It is not to create controversy. It is not to give a comprehensive and definitive treatment of these complex issues. And I would ask that you take seriously your responsibility—which is first to listen carefully. Do not jump to conclusions. Listen to what I am actually saying, not what you think I am going to say. And then, carefully and prayerfully consider, evaluate, and act upon the word of God ... if you believe I have shared with you accurately. Again, the question I am addressing is this, what is our relationship as believers in Jesus to the Law? You have most likely heard the answer put like this, from a classic expression taken from the book of Romans. Paul makes a statement that has been quoted, used, misused, and I believe abused over the centuries. "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." (Romans 6:14) What does this statement mean? And what are its implications for us? My position is that this text, Romans 6:14, is a great truth but it has been twisted out of its original context. It has been distorted by a Western mindset, based on preconceptions and conditioning to such an extent in some circles that it has become a pernicious doctrine. A great truth has been twisted until it has done us a disservice rather than the service that was intended. Let me give you an example of some of this before we treat this text in-depth. The greatest misunderstanding that Christians have in this area, and practically speaking how could it be otherwise, is a distortion of the biblical concept of law. This will not come as news to those of you who have listened to any of my previous lecture series. The English word law is a very poor translation of the Hebrew word torah. The Hebrew word torah (tō-rä'), dating before the time of Jesus all the way back to the Septuagint some approximately 200 years before Jesus, was translated by the Greek word nomos. This translation tradition continued all the way through into the New Testament: from torah in Hebrew to nomos in Greek to law in English. But the word law to you and me today has a very negative connotation—partly due to all the preaching we have heard against the law, partly due to the way we use it in English. We do not understand how those crazy Jews could extol the law so highly. We cannot imagine ourselves going around and saying, “I thank God for the speed limit laws. They renew my soul. They make me feel good.” No, we fail to understand that the word torah comes from an important Hebrew root yarah (yä-rä'), which means to cast, to throw, to shoot something straight. To cast a spear, for example, on a straight course so that it hits its target, it hits the mark. The fundamental meaning of torah is direction, guidance, and instruction. That is what it meant to Jesus the Jewish Messiah and what it meant to Paul, his Jewish apostle to the non-Jewish world. And I pray that it would mean that to you, his church, as well.
This devotional study is from a professionally produced transcription of Dwight's audio message. It is a full and accurate transcript, formalized and edited for readability and clarity by JC Studies.