A Dialog on
Torah, Law, Teachings
The following dialog is between Dr. Peterson, a Ph.D. scientist, and David Black, who is currently preparing to serve as a congregational leader of a Messianic congregation in the metropolitan area of Baltimore.
Todd: A Messianic congregation does things in a way that differs from other congregations, but as Scott Brown has stated, we aren't simply trying to do the Jesus thing in a Jewish way. As we noted before, one might think of this as a format that goes back to the first century, but as you indicated there are good reasons to think the Messianic congregations tell us something about the present time in history.
But the word ''Torah'' keeps coming up in our discussions of Messianic themes. Do Gentiles have to follow Torah... do Jews still have to follow Torah? And if not... then what are they doing now?
Let's have a bit of a dialog on this to break the topic down into component parts to develop some understanding here. To be honest, I'm thinking this will help me form a clearer picture because I have questions that keep coming to mind about Torah, the Law, which is contained in the first five books of the Bible. We also see academics who sit around and endlessly dissect this text and speculate on who is the true author of this writing. That seems a disservice and moves us away from the core message that is in the Torah.
So, as someone who is about to enter ministry and as a congregational leader, how will you be presenting Torah to the congregation? How would you do this to a Jewish audience, to a Gentile audience, and to a combined audience?
Dave: I think an important understanding to have is what the word Torah means. What is this in the Jewish mindset when they speak of Torah. What is in the Gentile mindset when they refer to Pentateuch (Gk) or Torah (H), that's the same thing—both refer to the first five books of the Bible.
Over the years the Pentateuch in as we have known it in the Gentile community, in the church community, has been referenced as the Law. Especially since the advent of dispensational theology and thought... there has been a big push toward this dispensation of Law opposed to a dispensation of Grace.
Todd: Dispensation is a process of dividing or segregating... to say you have your way and we have ours...
Dave: Right... it's dividing and you know it may be a convenient way of looking at things, but it's also incorrect way because this genesis of thought tends to lead in two different directions.
Torah to the Jewish people means the Law, but the actual word in 98% of its usage means teaching.
When we look at that and understand Torah means teaching, then all of a sudden the words of David in the Psalms, like Psalm 119 which is the longest chapter in the Bible, there David is declaring the attributes and the wonders of what we in the Gentile world call the Law. So how is it that David can look so admirably and confess love and gratitude and worship for that which we in the Gentile community consider bondage. And there is a disconnect and I say this disconnect is in the understanding.
The Greek language always deals with law like we think of a law... someone passes a law and then we have to obey that law... and if you don't then there is punishment, a negative aspects to being under laws. There is a sense of freedom with a limited a number of laws or no laws. That is a Greek mindset. The Jewish mindset sees Torah differently. The Hebrew sages called the Torah the 'yoke of heaven.' They considered it freedom to be yoked to heaven with the Torah. The Hebrews saw this as freedom. We otherwise think of getting this thing off my neck and I'll be free! But they saw the freedom as being in the yoke.
There has to be an education of these things and a different actually clearer understanding. If we think of Torah as teaching more than precepts, more than just commandments... you have to do this or else. Then this is understanding who God is. Understanding how He would have us be a unique and peculiar people. This is like the environment in a household where the parents tell the kids... you will go to bed at 8 o'clock. There are rules that set up the environment for the household that do what? The purpose for the rules is not to oppress children, but to develop children who will be responsible and productive adults.
The Torah does something similar in setting up household rules for the household of Israel for the purpose of developing the people into a people of God.
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Todd: One of the books on our book list is 'Rediscovering Torah,' which states that one of the purposes, perhaps the main purpose, is to bring Israel to its Messiah. And I remind myself, the entire Bible for a time was the first five books... certainly until other writings came along. So, from the start of a written teaching, the Law, there is this Messianic purpose within the household rules!
We sometimes read that there exists an anti-Semitism in the Scriptures... this is erroneously stated for passages in the Gospels. A common example is Jesus rebuking the Pharisees. Yet, when we look at the Torah there is reference to the 613 laws... and the ten commandments. There seems to be a transition overall, in that we can reduce the 613 down to just the 10 commandments plus two ruling guidelines to love God and also to love our neighbor. When Yeshua (Jesus) comes along he actually boils the 613 and even the 10 down into the latter two and states these are the greatest commandments of all: to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. This does not lighten the burden because in principal everything is wrapped up in these two commandments... yet there is a release from being entirely legalistic... and that's the fault Jesus found in the Pharisees. The Pharisees not only focused on the legalism but failed to be guided by God's teachings... that is the Torah... and as you noted the other day, they also lived by other standards outside the Torah. That is what really caught Yeshua's attention and this is why he confronted these Jewish religious leaders.
So, here's a question for you... why do you suppose the Messiah and thus God moved from 613, to 10, to finally simply two comprehensive commandments?>
Dave: While you were speaking you reminded me of a book that came out some time back, the title was something like 'Things They Never Want You to Know.'' The book listed things like the recipe to Coca Cola, why are there so many numbers on a credit card, what do they mean, and other interesting secrets. One of the things in the book was the recipe for Worchester sauce. The book described how the sauce is made. When I pick up a bottle of this stuff I notice it's entirely liquid. But when the sauce is made its not all liquid. There are vegetables, spices, and fish put into this preparation to make a liquid, so all these elements are rendered down to a liquid and the solids are gone! All this is rendered down to the liquid.
Well, if we look at the 613 laws and if we start to put the fire under those just a bit to render them down ... they come down to the 10 commandments ... and those 613 are completely encapsulated in the 10. But if we turn the fire up under these, just a bit more, we can render the 10 down to 2.
I think it was Francis Assisi who essentially said... 'the Christian life is actually simple, all you have to do is love God with all of your being and then do as you will.'
You know that seems rather simple, except, if we love God with all of our being, then the do as you will part would actually be doing His will! The hard part is how do we do that! To rephrase the first of the two commandments, which is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind ... to rephrase that is to 'love God with 100% of your being, 100% of the time' ... how do you do that? Anything short of that being sin, then I would have to admit to being in a constant state of sin... because I don't know if I am even able to do this! When I think I'm at 100% I still don't know that I am.
Todd: Yes... and as a Gentile growing up going to a Christian Sunday school... when I finally heard the word Torah, I'm left to wonder if this is a Jewish thing or do I need to concern myself somehow. But here we see a boiling down of 613 to 2 commandments and as you have noted these might be wrapped up into one guiding instruction to love God 100%. This transcends any notion of an application for just the Jew or the Gentile... but is applied to both together. I'd remind folks that the 2 commandments—described by Jesus as the great commandments—are also embodied in the text of the Hebrew covenant (i.e., Old Testament). Just another point in favor of the consistency we talked about the other day.
So, as you described the Torah as the yoke of heaven... what we have here is simply a demonstration of how easy it is to fall short, to be in sin, but his is also not a message of discouragement. So many of us live in the workplace where performance is the standard. The Torah might seem performance based, but I remember that the workplace is not defined by love. The boiling down of commandments reminds us that we should love God such that we in turn receive His love... even if we find ourselves falling short. We might be demoted at work for a lack of performance, but when there is repentance for sin, we can pick ourselves up again, where ever we are and continue to grow and continue the walk with God.
We can refine our believe, build on our faith, and all the while be aware of what sin is... and that is the purpose of the Law (i.e., teachings) even when rendered down to two guiding commandments.>
Dave: I recall a time when I corrected my son when he was about three years old. I corrected him for doing something wrong and he was a strong willed child at that time. I felt like I was continually correcting him.
On this occasion it was time for both of my boys to go up to bed and I was going to read them a story and to pray with them before tucking them in for the night. My youngest was in bed crying and I asked him why he was crying. He said, ''Daddy, I don't like being corrected. I don't want to be corrected any more. It hurts my heart when you are upset with me.'' I responded, ''If I could tell you a way that you'd never be corrected again, would you be interested in hearing that?'' He said, ''Oh yes!'' And he really perked up. So I said. ''All you have to do is to do everything your mother and I tell you, when we tell you, and you'll never be corrected again.'' With tears in his cheeks he said, ''Okay, I'll do it!''
I almost laughed out loud at my son's response... he was so sincere... but at the same time I thought of the Jewish people standing on the banks of the Jordan River telling Joshua that God is our God. We will follow Him and will do whatever He commands. And then within days they fell away from God in spite of their sincere intent. Were they really sincere? Yes, they were sincere, yet they sincerely fell away, too.
And with my son, he fell away again and I corrected him again. But here is the same mentality... all I have to do is everything I'm told, when I'm told, then Okay! You know, I've come to realize the only thing God requires is for us to completely surrender to Him. There is no need for chastisement, no need for correction, holiness is yours ... all you have to do is to surrender to Him ... Ah! Okay! I'll do it!
Todd: Another story line elsewhere in WindowView is a theme study by Carl Foltz on the ''Heart of God.'' This piece is a bit poetic and presented in a simple style for easy reading. This writing helps to illustrate how each individual's time on earth is for learning about the heart of God and too learn about His will. Each example focuses on a person who attains a personal relationship with God as defined in the heart.
Everyone of us in our lives encounters the question about what is the heart of God. You are talking about a parent who is disciplining but at the same time is loving and nurturing a child. What you are doing is a parallel role. For if there is no God then we are not His children, but given His existence then we are all His kids and He is he heavenly Father who is nurturing us. However, we have too turn around to see that God is there. A rebellious child is not going to turn and look.
Let me switch tracks to turn to a question posed by one of my coworkers. He was interested in the idea of a Messianic congregation, but he asked if that meant we followed the teachings of Torah or do we follow what is in Acts 10.
Dave: Ah, he was referring to Peter's vision of a sheet coming down from heaven. When Peter was visiting friends and was up on a rooftop praying, at that point he saw a vision... the vision was of a large sheet or canopy being lowered from heaven. On that sheet were all kinds of birds, animals, and creeping things. He heard the voice of the Lord saying ''Take and eat.'' His response was... ''but Lord these things are not clean.''
Todd: Reading the text in Acts 10 seems to say that now it is okay to eat what is not kosher and this makes for a change in what God instructs the Jews to do.
Dave: What happens there, as you read you may read literally, but I realize that this is also a reading taken literally out of context! The message doesn't end there... in fact the text states the vision happens three times and then Peter sat there on the rooftop pondering what could this vision mean. The text never says that he took and ate. I think it's wrong to read into the Scripture what is not there. But he did see the vision three times, asked God what this could mean, and God's response was the same each time... still he sat there pondering what this meant!
Peter was perplexed by the vision but he is not thinking he can just go out an eat whatever he wants. He is still asking what this could mean when there comes a knock at the door. Two Gentiles have come to the house to find Peter. The Gentiles request that Peter go with them to tell them about the Messiah. So he goes with them to the house of a Gentile to tell them about Messiah. But when he was there he described the vision and next he says ''this is what the vision means.'' A chapter or two later in Acts, Peter is back in Jerusalem with the disciples and there he describes the vision and what it means.>
The vision serves to illustrate that the Gospel of the Messiah is to be presented to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
Todd: That's great, because I think my coworker's question does not account for the entire context of the vision and thus may lead to a misinterpretation. And again, God's message is for Jews and Gentiles together.
At this point I'd like to return to our original question! Again, you are going to lead worship services for a Jewish and Gentile congregation... so how would you present Torah to this audience? Would you approach this as God's teaching that first applies to the Jewish audience within the congregation and then as a tool that God uses to apply to all people. In the latter aspect the message embodies the good news Messiah brings (i.e., a Gospel is good news).
Dave: I see that Torah was given to the Jewish people. But, it also points to a Messiah who came for the world. We also need to see that the Jews do not see a separation between God and His Word [the Scriptures]. God's Word is holy and His Word is Him. We can see this Jewish mindset of looking at the Most High, His Word, and there being no separation... But then if we look at the very beginning of the book of John we can see very clearly the same mindset of this Jewish apostle, where he says (John 1: 1-5):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
And later in the first chapter it states (John 1-14):
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
So we have in Messiah, God's Word, presented in the flesh here on earth as a man walking among us!
Todd: These passages are really fascinating. I'm thinking of my reading books by and on three occasions hearing live presentations by Prof. Phillip Johnson. At first I didn't hear references to the Bible. But within the intelligent design sphere of thought is the concept of making all that we see, touch, hear, and experience. Just recently Prof. Johnson goes to this opening passage of John to really tie together the larger picture. You can talk about scientific evidence within the creation/evolution debate, but when we encounter evidence for an intelligence behind our being—something a strict evolution mindset cannot accept—we begin to link this back to who that intelligent source really is! The evidence delivers us to a place where we can consider that such a great creative force can within itself present a human interface—the man Messiah—to actually provide guidance and a way to relationship with God himself.
Your point also ties the fullness of this Scripture with the mindset of the people who first received Torah—again as a teaching not separated from the source.
Dave: Right! It's amazing that a group of people who saw no separation between God and His Word... treat His Word in a holy fashion... this really opened my eyes several years ago when I started to watch Jewish people handling the Word of God.
My [Jewish] mother-in-law looked at my Bible one day and saw the yellow highlighting I'd done to mark certain passages. She looked at me with this expression of horror and said: ''This is God's Word, what are you doing?'' She said this as if I was a maniac! That was the first time I ever saw such a reaction. Of course, me being raised in a Christian household I was hardly phased by the idea of marking passages and writing notes in the margins! Her response was there is nothing I could put in that text that would make it better!
Todd: And I think about my visit to Qumran at the north end of the Dead Sea in Israel. There is a dig or archaeological site there that includes dwelling and communal spaces along with a Scriptorium where the scribes copied the biblical scrolls. Just outside the community's site there is a graveyard for scrolls that were found in error. Just one letter in the wrong place and the scroll was buried! So here too, is a part of the high regard the Jewish community had and still has for the handling and authority of the very words in the biblical text. We can also add that without this treatment there would be lots of room for error upon error and the Scriptures [the copies we have today] would not be authentic.
Dave: There were lots of things the scribes would do, like: washing themselves before setting down to work on the text and at every reference to God [be it 'Lord,' 'Elohim,' etc.] they would pick up a new writing implement... and from that point write until the next reference to God and again pick another new implement and so on. The fact that each book had a set number of words and these had to tally to just that exact number... all of these things kept the text accurate. Time consuming to be sure!>
Todd: Well I guess they had more time back then... it's all relative! later Gutenberg came along with the printing press... and as long as they got it right, then numerous copies could be printed.
Well, we are running out of time for this dialog, but I think we really addressed a number of interesting topics. Again, there is a harmony throughout all that we encounter here and this puts Jews and Gentiles together to face God and see that we all have the potential for a personal relationship with Him. We hope this discussion is constructive and enlightening for our visitors at WindowView!
Dave: Thanks Todd!
Todd: Oh, indeed Dave, thanks to you... and I'm sure we will do this again sometime soon!