Connecting the Gospel to Its Pro-Torah Hebrew Roots
When I was taking a college level biblical Greek class a few years back, the Christian professor and I had a few discussions about the Torah. It was his belief that the epistles in the New Testament contained very few references to the Torah. In his mind, therefore, the Torah wasn’t a very prominent idea in the minds of the apostolic writers. I tried to enlighten him otherwise.
While the epistles might not contain very many outright references to the Torah — especially direct commands to be obedient to the Torah’s standards of righteousness, the apostolic writers weave the fundamental concepts of the Torah through their writings and make countless allusions to the Torah as we shall see in the study below. The Torah was just part of their spiritual and social fabric and background. It was their spiritual foundation, and to them Yeshua the Jewish, Torah-obedient Messiah, who was the Living Word of Elohim incarnate, was simply an extensions or expression of this basic idea of Torah truth and righteousness, and whose example they expected the saints to follow as his disciples.
1 Thess 1:2, Labor of love.(Hard work, intense labor or toil of charitable/agape love, benevolence, good will). Biblically speaking, is love merely an emotion, or is it something more? The Bible presents love as an action. Yeshua said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This action involves obedience to YHVH’s Torah-commandments. Elsewhere, Yeshua sums up the Torah when he quotes the biblical shema, which states that the duty of man is to love YHVH with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength and one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:28–31 cp. Deut 6:4 and Lev 19:18). The shema is a summation of the ten commandments the first four of which show us how to love YHVH, while the last six how to love our neighbor. These ten statements form the foundation or cornerstone of the entire Torah, which expand out of them.
1 Thess 1:9, Turn from idols … serve the living Elohim.The Tanakh (Old Testament) views idolatry as anything that takes one away from worshiping and serving YHVH by obeying his Torah commandments. The biblical prophets were continually warning the Israelites against following the idolatrous (Torahless) ways of the nations and urging YHVH’s people to repent of the sin of idolatry and to turn back to the Torah.
1 Thess 2:12, Walk worthy. Walking involves action. Worthy indicates a direction or the manner of the walk. What determines whether the direction or manner of one’s walk is worthy or not? A religious leader, denomination, or each person himself? If so, then the concept of what is worthy is merely a subjective determination left up to the whims of individuals or a group of individuals. If so, how can there ever be any unity among people? YHVH hasn’t left such an important thing as this up to the changing vicissitudes and caprice of humans. YHVH Elohim determines for man what is worthy or good. This is delineated in his Torah — his immutable standards for righteousness.
1 Thess 2:13, Word of Elohim.This is another reference to the Tanakh, whose foundation is the Torah. John in the book of Revelation, several times juxtaposes the terms the word of Elohim and testimony of Yeshua. This seems to be a reference to what later became known as the Old Testament and New Testament.
1 Thess 2:13, Truth. Is truth whatever someone says it is? Has YHVH left up to each person to determine his or her own truth? If so, how can there ever be unity or harmony between humans when each person is dancing to a different drum beat, tuned to a different pitch or following a different conductor to use musical analogies? YHVH hasn’t left man to wander aimlessly in search of the truth. Rather, he has divinely revealed his truth to man in the form of his Torah, which the Bible defines as truth (Ps 119:142 and 151). Yeshua the Messiah was the living embodiment of that truth (John 14:6) in that he was the Word of Elohim incarnate full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 14).
1 Thess 2:14, Imitators of the churches … in Judea.The churches in Judea were largely Jewish and Torah-observant. Here Paul is admonishing the so-called Gentile churches to follow the example of their Jewish, Torah-obedient brothers what received the word of Elohim in truth and were being persecuted for their obedience to that truth.
1 Thess 3:12, Abound in love.See notes at 1 Thess 1:2.
1 Thess 3:13, Blameless in holiness (or free of fault or defect in moral purity).YHVH’s chief attribute is holiness, which is why the living creatures around his throne are worshipping him continually by crying “holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8). In Hebrew, the word holy is kadosh meaning “set apart.” Set apart from what? That which isn’t holy, but is impure or profane. YHVH’s people are to differentiate between the two (Ezek 22:26; 44:23) and to walk blamelessly in holiness as YHVH is holy (Lev 20:7; 1 Pet 1:15, 16). What determines whether one is walking blamelessly in holiness or not? The Torah, which is YHVH standard of righteousness that shows man how to walk blamelessly without sinning. Sin is the violation of the Torah (1 John 3:4), and sin separates man from a sin-free, blameless or holy Elohim. This is why Messiah Yeshua came — to die for man’s sins (Torahlessness) and to reconcile man to the Father by showing man how to walk in righteousness (obedience to YHVH’s Torah laws).
1 Thess 4:1, How you ought to walk and to please Elohim.Has YHVH Elohim left it up to each individual subjectively and arbitrarily to determine what is pleasing to him or not? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. Each person would have a different idea, and besides, who knows what’s pleasing to Elohim unless he tells us? And he has told us — in his Torah — how to walk in a manner that’s pleasing to him. The psalmist in numerous places in Psalm 119 talks about the walk of the righteous and relates this to obedience to YHVH’s Torah commandments (Ps 119:1, 3, 45).
1 Thess 4:3, The will [choice, inclination, desire, pleasure] of Elohim.What is the will of Elohim? It is to obey him and to keep his commandments. The Torah succinctly states what the will of Elohim is in Deuteronomy. “And now, Israel, what does YHVH your Elohim require of you, but to fear YHVH your Elohim, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve YHVH your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of YHVH and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Deut 10:12–13).
1 Thess 4:9, Brotherly love.See notes at 1 Thess 1:2. Additionally, Paul declares that love is the fulfillment of the Torah which tells man how to love his brother. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:8–10).
1 Thess 5:5, Sons of light.Light and darkness are universal as well as biblical metaphors for good and evil, truth and error, and righteousness and wickedness. Light is also a biblical metaphor for the Torah (Prov 6:23). Additionally, Yeshua calls himself the Light of world and darkness is something antithetical to who he is (John 8:12). Yeshua is also the Living Word of Elohim incarnate (John 1:1, 14); therefore, Yeshua is YHVH’s Living Torah Light to the world. Biblically speaking, sons of light are, therefore, those who follow the Torah and Yeshua who is the Living Torah.
1 Thess 5:14, Pursue what good.(See also Ps 34:14.) What is good? Is it up to each person to determine what is good? If so, then each person will have a different opinion. If this were the case, then how can Paul encourage people to pursue good when the definition of good is so subjective and unclear? Most would agree that good is opposite of evil. The first biblical reference to good and evil is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:9). YHVH planted this tree, so he’s the one who determined the standards of good and evil. So, in the a biblical context, what is good? In Psalm 37:27 we’re admonished to depart from evil and to do good. In the next verse, the psalmist juxtaposes the saints (those who pursue good) against the wicked (those who pursue evil), and he goes on to say that YHVH’s Torah-law is in the heart of the righteous saint (verse 31). This is one biblical example where good and the Torah are synonymous concepts. Obviously, Paul viewed YHVH’s law as being good as well, for elsewhere he writes, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good,” (Rom 7:12), and “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully,” (1 Tim 1:8).
1 Thess 5:22, Abstain from every form of evil.See notes on 1 Thess 5:5 and 5:14.
1 Thess 5:23, Blameless.A person who is blameless is one who is sinless. The Torah defines what is sin (1 John 3:4), so one who is blameless is one who follows YHVH’s standards of righteousness as determined by his Torah.