What is the difference between the Torah and the law of Moses, if any?

This question from on of our loyal readers just came in about my recent post on Acts 15.

Great teaching Natan, but one question…I never thought of there being both a Torah law and a law of Moses that was custom rather than law. So circumcision isn’t a Torah Law but Law of Moses that is a custom rather than law. How does one tell the difference between what Moses commanded that is a Torah law and what he commanded as his customary law? Referring to this: ” Rather, what he was referring to was the customs Moses established (which become known as the law of Moses), which exceed the basic requirements of the Torah. In this case, it was the custom the circumcision as a requirement for inclusion in the nation of Israel and is based on the Passover requirements found in Exod 12:43–49. “

Here is my response—

What is the difference between the Torah and the Law of Moses?

Is there a difference between the Torah and the law of Moses? Technically, no, since the Scriptures use the terms law of Moses and the law (i.e. Torah) interchangeably in many places.

However, many people think that the law of Moses or the Torah originated with Moses. I have emphatically taught over the years, and the Scripture is clear on the fact, that the Torah didn’t originate with Moses, but from eternity or from heaven where Elohim exists. How can we assert this? This is because the Torah is a reflection of the heart, mind, will and righteous character of Elohim. It is spiritual and is thus eternal as Paul states in Romans 7:14.

At the same time, and in a sense, Moses is the originator (by the hand of Elohim) of the law of Moses as a opposed to the eternal principles of the Torah, which, again, are a reflection of the heart, will, character, holiness and righteousness of Elohim. What do I mean? Moses is the first person to have written the Torah down (perhaps that’s one reason he needed to be educated in Egypt, so he was capable of such a task). He put the Torah into a form that had not existed before: a national constitution for a physical nation state. For the first time, he codified the Torah or turned it into a written legal code. This was necessary because Israel was now a nation with physical borders and not just a large nomadic family or tribe. As such, Israel needed a system of written laws by which to govern their nation. Therefore, Torah had to be expanded and more clearly defined, if you will, to meet those requirements. The laws of Elohim had to be specifically spelled out and put into a written form. In this form, political leaders, judges, priests and people would know what the law was, so that could be studied, obeyed and adjudicated. Furthermore, the nation could pass no new laws that in any way would contradict the Written Torah, which was the supreme law of the land.  

Consider this. The principles of the Torah are eternal, spiritual and endless because Torah is a reflection of the eternal and infinite mind of the Creator, so it has many applications and possibilities and can be expanded to meet the legal exigencies of a physical nation. None of those applications, however, violate the basic principles of the eternal principles of Torah. For example, the Sabbath is a rest day. Though rules and regulations may be enacted that tell us how to keep the Sabbath, nothing can violate the basic principle of resting on that day.

The eternal principles of the Torah may also be likened to the Constitution of the U.S., which is the overarching law of the land; no state, county or city government can pass a law that violates the Constitution. They can pass many additional laws, but nothing that goes against or supersedes the Constitution. This is akin to the law of Moses, which was based on or sprung out of the eternal principles of the Torah. It could contain additional legal requirements that would help to rightly govern a physical nation, but the nation could never pass a law that would contradict or invalidate any principle of Torah. For example circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, but under the law of Moses, it became a proof of citizenship in the physical nation of Israel. It was necessary for the protection of the nation and to prevent aliens from coming in and taking over. Those people who went through this physical ordeal were likely serious about wanting to part of Israel. This was a test of the seriousness of their intent. The problem with the believing Pharisees of Acts 15:1 who believed that circumcision was to be a precursor for salvation is that they took the concept of circumcision both as a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant and as a physical act of faith in Elohim, mixed it with the proof of citizenship requirements of the law of Moses and then conflated the two and now made it a salvational requirement for inclusion in the spiritual nation (or body of Messiah) of Israel. Paul corrects this theological error in Romans four and addresses it in Galatians (and elsewhere), and the apostles made a ruling on this issue in Acts 15, as well. Acts 15 was not a verdict on the validity of Torah, as the mainstream Christian church has erroneously made it to be, rather it was a verdict on whether circumcision was a prerequisite for salvation. It was a prerequisite to be a member of the physical nation of Israel, but not for salvation, as Paul states in Romans chapter four.

Another example where the Torah had to be expanded under the law of Moses was in the area of the inheritance laws. Traditionally, the firstborn son received the lion’s share of his father’s inheritance and was responsible for carrying on the family lineage. That’s following Torah in at its ideal level. However, what if your first born son was out of Elohim’s will (such as Ishmael), or was a profane, rebellious and godless man (such as Esau), or was an immoral and power hungry person (like Reuben who slept with his father’s concubine to affirm the his status as the firstborn leader of his tribe), then what? The birthright would then go to the next best male candidate for the position. Now what if one had no sons? Then what? This is what the daughters of Zelophehad faced in Numbers 36. The Torah had to be amended or expanded to accommodate this situation. Moses sought YHVH on the matter, who gave him instructions on what to do. So ideally, and according to the overarching principles of Torah, the birthright would go to the firstborn son, but humans don’t live in an ideal or perfect world, so sometimes adjustments or exceptions were made and the  Zeloophehad’s daughters were able to inherit their father’s estate with certain provisos made. The same thing is true with marriage. Ideally, it’s between one man and one woman for life. Period. But what if you were the leader of a tribe or a king and your wife was barren and she couldn’t bear you a son? Then what? You had to get a son somehow or your tribe and lineage would die out or be destroyed or subsumed by a more powerful neighboring enemy tribe. Today the same conditions don’t exist where if one childless, that’s not the end of the world; they’re nomadic or kingly lineage dies out. As nomads in the ancient Near East, one’s tribe was one’s life and security. One couldn’t exist without that community support and protection; without this, one died. So if one’s wife was barren, what did one do? A man had to take another wife who could bear him a son to continue his lineage. The same was true of a king who had a barren wife. Was having multiple wives (polygamy) YHVH’s ideal situation for marriage? Absolutely not. It caused no end to familial problems, as the Bible so poignantly chronicles in a number of instances. Yet, polygamy became a reality for some men, and the law of Moses accommodated this practice and addresses this issue.

The same is true of divorce and remarriage. Yeshua states that, again, marriage was between a man and a woman for life from the beginning. Yet because of the hardness of the human heart, some people simply couldn’t continue to live together in marriage, and so the law of Moses permitted divorce and even allowed for remarriage (Mark 10:2–9, cp. Deut 24). This was not the perfect will of Elohim for marriage, but his permissible will, if you will.

Paul alludes to the good, better and perfect will of Elohim in Romans 12:2. All three are in the will of Elohim, but how much of the time are we ever in his perfect will? What is the perfect will of Elohim? It’s the Torah, which reflects his perfect and righteous character. Are even the best intended humans capable of always walking in the perfect will of Elohim, or walking at the highest level of Torah? Hardly! Though we should always be striving to do the best we can. Life is just plain difficult. That’s where grace comes in! If our hearts are right and we’re doing the best we can, his merciful grace will cover us, as long as we don’t turn his grace into licentiousness or license to sin (i.e. violate the Torah, 1 John 3:4), which is what the church has largely done through its misguided and false teaching about the Torah being abrogated. There isn’t grace for willful disobedience!


5 thoughts on “What is the difference between the Torah and the law of Moses, if any?

  1. Thanks for your detailed explanation on Torah / Law of Moses. Lately I’ve been trying to get clear on this. All the scriptural references you included are most helpful.

  2. Shalom Natan this is lucid and quite a feat to put so much complexity is so few words. I am grateful. Thankyou. Blessings FJ

    • It’s not me. It’s Him.

      Now I’ll let you in on a little secret.

      Most of my blog posts I pull from my already existing Bible commentary that I have on my laptop and copy and paste with only some minor revisions and updates. This post, however, I wrote early that morning from scratch, under the inspiration of the Ruach, before I left the office at 7:45 to go to work.

      I had been ruminating on this subject for a couple of years, but hadn’t written much of anything on it. Dr. Betsill’s question asking what is the difference between the Torah and the law of Moses suddenly provoked within me the desire to write about this subject. As I was writing, the words and thoughts kept flowing—things I had never thought much less ever written before. This happens to me on a regular basis. For example, someone will ask a very hard biblical to question to which I have no clue of an answer. I’ll pray, will get a leading of the Ruach and then sit down and start to write and the divine revelation will come. The thoughts and words will just start coming as fast as I can write them down.

      Again, it’s not me, it’s YHVH Elohim, and I give him all the glory. Many times I sit back amazed at what has just come through me. Many of these things I’ve never read or heard anywhere before. This includes what I wrote about the law of Moses.

      I know that YHVH has given the same revelation to other people; it’s that I just haven’t come across it before.

      These truths that are revealed to me ring true, because, like a missing puzzle piece that fits perfectly into the puzzle without having to be crammed helping to complete a beautiful picture, so do these truths fit perfectly into the biblical truth-picture that I already have. That’s all. Soli Deo gloria!

  3. Yes Natan and I agree for such has happened to me and all for the glory of YHVH. Still you were faithful and obedient to bless us with this revelation and didn’t it feel good! And now we know too, don’t you just love how He works!

  4. I understand Natan you don’t want to steal God’s glory! I am just grateful you want to be a servant. I tend to get excited about these questions and forget to pray and go ahead without the One who Knows. So even in your response there is instruction! Shalom FJ

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