What Is the Purpose of the Torah?

Deuteronomy 28:1, Commandments. Most people with whom I have engaged in discussions about the Torah-law of Elohim have a limited understanding of the breadth, scope and purpose of Elohim’s law. If they were to understand the full ramifications of the Torah, they would likely be less inclined to dismiss its validity in their lives. When discussing the Torah with people who have a traditional Christian view of  “the law,” it might be helpful to keep the following truths in mind; they help to “blow the lid” off of people’s theological boxes!


(Excerpted from a larger work by Ya’acov Natan Lawrence entitled, YHVH’s Instructions In Righteousness—A Messianic Believer’s Introduction to the Torah available online at http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/pdfs/torahprimer.pdf)

The purpose of the Torah is to show man how to walk in right relationship (or righteousness) with his Creator. To do this, we must love YHVH with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut 6:5; Mark 12:30) and love our neighbor as ourself (Lev 19:18; Mark 12:30). Once one is saved by grace through faith (See my teaching article entitled: The Abrahamic Covenant: The Covenant of Salvation, available at http://www.hoshanarabbah.org/pdfs/abracov.pdf.), Torah helps show man how to walk in the straight and narrow path that leads to blessings and life and avoids the curses of the law (Deut 30:15; 32:47). The Torah shows man how to avoid sin (which is the violation of YHVH’s Torah-commandments, 1 John 3:4), which is walking contrary to YHVH’s instructions in righteousness that are for our blessing and benefit.

The Torah does not set an impossible standard by which to live. We must ask ourselves, would a righteous and just Creator and a loving Heavenly Father give to his chosen people and children a set of standards that were humanly impossible to perform, and then curse them for their inability to meet these standards? Of course not! Rather, the Torah (including both the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants) sets a standard of faith, trusting in Elohim, and of following its system of repentance and sacrifice for obtaining forgiveness from Elohim and restoring a condition of being considered righteous in his sight. After all, Moses, the human instrument through whom YHVH revealed the Torah to the Children of Israel, states in Deuteronomy 30:11–14:

For this [Torah] commandment which I command you this day, it is not hidden from you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?” But the word is very near unto you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.

Paul quotes this very passage in Romans 10:6–8 where he relates the written Torah to Yeshua, the Living Torah or Word of Elohim incarnate (in the flesh, see John 1:1, 14). He shows that they are one in the same and that Messiah Yeshua came to live and reveal to us the righteousness of the Torah-law (verse 4) that is available to us if we will but have a heartfelt faith in him (verses 4, 9–10) and allow him to live out his righteousness in us through the empowering work of the Spirit of Elohim. In verses 11 through 21, Paul goes on to relate this very truth to being the central message of the gospel that Isaiah prophesied (Isa 52:7) would be preached to redeem both houses of Israel to Yeshua their Messiah.

It might be said that in a sense that the Torah itself is neutral; neither positive nor negative, for it is like a mirror simply reflecting the image portrayed in it. Torah reacts according to human action. Those who obey it are blessed and those who disobey it are cursed. David Stern in his Jewish New Testament Commentary lists both some of the “negative” and some of the positive functions of the Torah.

On the “negative” side:

1) The Torah has the capacity to stir up sin in an individual. This capacity of the Torah to make us sin is not a fault in the Torah but a fault in ourselves. A healthy person thrives in an environment deadly to someone who is ill; likewise, the Torah, beneficial to a believer living by faith, is an instrument of death to these controlled by their sinful nature (p. 375).

2) The Torah can still produce guilt feelings in a believer—as it rightly should whenever he contemplates how his behavior falls short of the standard Elohim sets in the Torah. But these feelings are not irremediable. The remedy is once-and-for-all trust in Yeshua the Messiah’s final atonement for sin (Rom 3:21–26), followed by ongoing confession of and repentance from sins (1 John 1:9) (Ibid.).

3) The Torah also provides a framework of justice by which Elohim, the Just Judge of the universe, will judge the actions of men to determine both their level of punishment for its violation and their level of reward for obedience to it.

4) Because of the righteous standards the Torah sets out, for the sinner it points out the fact that they have sinned and how far they have fallen short of the glory of YHVH (Rom 3:23) and hence their need for a Savior or Redeemer. The Torah actually points the way to Yeshua as Paul points out in the book of Galatians (3:25).

On the positive side:

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An Overview of the Ten Words or Commandments

Exodus 20:1–17,

The Ten Words or Ten Commandments by which they are more commonly known are but the mighty cornerstone of the 613 commandments of the Torah. The Jewish sages teach that all 613 are implied in the Ten; or that the Ten can be expanded into 613. The Tanakh (Old Testament) and Jewish writings contain a number of phrases that express the quintessential essence of the Torah. One of these best-known passages naming several of these phrases is in the Jewish Talmud: “[R.] Simlai said, ‘613 commandments were given to Moses—365 negative mitzvot (commandments), the same as the number of days in the year, and 248 positive mitzvot, the same as the number of parts in a man’s body. David came and reduced them to eleven (Ps 15), Isaiah to six (Isa 33:15), Micah to three (Mic 6:8), Isaiah again to two—“Observe and do righteousness” (Isa 56:1). Then Amos came and reduced them to one, “Seek me and you shall live” (Amos 5:4)—as did Habakkuk, “The righteous one will attain life by his trusting [or by faith] faithfulness (Hab 2:4)”’ (Makkot 23b–24a, abridged, from the Jewish New Testament Commentary, by David Stern, p. 565). 

We see some of these same Torah summation-type statements in the Testimony of Yeshua. For example, the phrase, “the just shall live by faith” is found in three passages of the Testimony of Yeshua (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38); In Leviticus 19:18, we find the phrase, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which is the summation of the last five of the famous Ten Commandments. This in itself is a summation of all of the 613 Torah commandments that relate to human relationships, which we see in Yeshua’s famous “Golden Rule” passage of Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” Paul echoes this concept in Romans 13:8, “Love does not do harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fullness of the Torah.” Love is the foundation and quintessential concept behind the Torah-law of Elohim. Yeshua states this in Mark 12:29–31, 

“And Yeshua answered him, ‘The first of all the [Torah] commandments is, Hear, O Israel; YHVH our Elohim is one Master: And you shall love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these.’”

Love must be the motive behind all our righteous deeds or else our actions count for nothing (1 Cor 13:1–13). The concept of love and the keeping of YHVH’s Torah-law are codependent actions. One cannot exist without the other. John, in his epistle, discusses this idea at length in 1 John 2:7–11; 3:11–24; 4:7–21 where he states that “Elohim is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), and that one’s love of Elohim and man is linked to obedience to the Torah commandments (1 John 2:3–11; 3:11–18). As YHVH first loved us, we should love our fellow man (1 John 4:7–11), in word, deed and in (Torah) truth (1 John 3:18). This relates to Yeshua’s admonition to his disciples in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my Torah-commandments.”

Lest one recoil at the thought of having to keep 613 commandments of the Torah please be advised of the fact that there are approximately 1050 commandments in the Testimony of Yeshua!

The 18 Benefits of Studying and Obeying YHVH’s Torah

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What does, “the law and prophets were until John” mean?

Luke 16:16, The Torah and the Prophets. Many people in the mainstream church view this passage as drawing a defining line between the so-called age or dispensations of law (in the Old Testament or Tanakh) and the age or dispensation of grace (in the New Testament or the Testimony of Yeshua). This in turn, in their minds, sets the Tanakh (which reveals the law or Torah) and Testimony of Yeshua (which supposedly reveals the concept of grace) at odds with each other. Is this a correct interpretation of this passage? 

The evidence within the Testimony of Yeshua itself doesn’t support this common Christian interpretation, however. In no way is Yeshua annulling the Torah here, or else he would be contradicting what he clearly taught in Matthew 5:17–19. Furthermore, Yeshua’s statement here can’t possibly mean that the Torah was now obsolete in the Testimony of Yeshua, since the apostles and early believers adhered to the Torah long after the passing of John the Baptist (Yeshua, p. 41, by Ron Mosely). Additionally, Paul’s statement in Romans 3:31 that the Torah is not voided by grace should dispel any notions that Luke 16:16 implies that the Torah would pass from the scene in the life of believers.

There are a couple of ways to understand this passage without doing violence to the Torah. First, it could be understood that Yeshua is saying that the Law and the Prophets were the only Scriptures in existence up to the time that John came on the scene. The implication is that more would soon come (ibid.).

A second way to view this passage is that Yeshua is stating that the Torah and the Prophets prophesied or pointed to the time when John would come thus ushering in the Messiah at which time there would be a change in the focus of the message of YHVH’s servants. Instead of just preaching about the Torah or that the Messiah is coming, now the message of “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (see Matt 3:2; 4:17) would be preached. This is a more expansive message that focuses now more on the salvation message centered on the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua. This message also includes obedience to the Torah (e.g. Yeshua said, “If you love me, keep my Torah commandments” in John 14:15, also 1 John 2:2–6). Moreover, Paul clearly affirms the validity of the Torah for the New Testament believer in his forceful declarative statement in Romans 3:31,

Do we then make void the law through faith? Elohim forbid: yea, we establish the law.

The data found in the actual writings of the apostles confirms what Yeshua predicted in this verse. Of the some 8,000 verses in the Testimony of Yeshua, well over one-fourth of those verses contain direct references to the Person of Yeshua, while there are only about 260 direct references to the Torah. Yeshua himself confirms his own words as recorded by the Gospel writers. In the Gospels of Matthew and John, Yeshua spoke on 136 different subjects. The number one subject he talked about was himself (316 references), followed by his Father (184 references), then hypocritical leaders (177 references). The kingdom of Elohim comes in fourth place (77 references) and the Torah is in seventh place with 44 references. 

 

The Law of YHVH or the Law of Moses?

Luke 2:24, Law of the Lord/YHVH. This phrase is found only three times in the Testimony of Yeshua—here and in vv. 24 and 39. The same phrase is additionally found 18 times in the Tanakh and obviously refers to the Torah (e.g. Pss 1:1; 19:7; 119:1). Meanwhile, the phrase the law of Moses is found a similar number of times in the Bible: 15 times in the Tanakh and seven times in the Testimony of Yeshua. Obviously the phrases the law of YHVH and the law of Moses are synonymous terms in that they refer to the same thing: the Written Torah. 

From the obvious meanings of these two terms, we learn that YHVH Elohim is the divine source or origination of the Torah, while Moses was merely the one who first wrote it down or codified it, and as the leader of the nation of Israel, he administered it. 

In light of these facts, it is interesting, if not ironic, how the mainstream church chronically refers to the Torah as “the law of Moses,” when Scripture refers to the Torah as “the Torah of YHVH” the same number of times less one. The mainstream church’s choice of one term over the other seems to reveal, sadly, its apathy, if not, at times, its outright antipathy, toward YHVH’s Torah. To justify this ungodly attitude, it has chosen to use the term that casts the Torah-law of Elohim in the most negative light possible by inferring that its source is man and not Elohim. This furthermore underscores the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 8:7 about the carnal mind of man being at enmity with the laws of Elohim in that it refuses to be subject to them.

 

“Yeshua came to fulfill the law”—what does this really mean?

Matthew 5:17, The law and the prophets. Yeshua mentions two of the three subdivisions of the Hebrew Scriptures in this passage: the Law or Torah and the Prophets or Neviim. The Jews have traditionally subdivided the Hebrew Scriptures into three sections: the Torah, Prophets and the Writings. We see Yeshua referring to this threefold subdivision in Luke 24:44. In fact, the Jews of today do not refer to their Hebrew Scriptures by the Christian term of “Old Testament,” but rather by the Hebrew word TaNaKh, which is an acronym representing this threefold division. The T in Tanakh stands for the Torah or the first five books of the Bible, the N stands for Neviim or the prophetic writings in the Hebrew Scriptures, while the K stands for the Hebrew word Ketuvim, which means Writings and includes the book Psalms, Proverbs, Job and others.

I came to…fulfill [the law]. Yeshua came to fulfill the law so that the law might be fulfilled in us, not so that we can continue breaking it without suffering the consequences. He came to save us from the consequences of breaking the law, not from the law itself. He came to set us an example of how to fulfill not only the letter, but the spirit of the law and to empower us through his Spirit to live in up to the law’s standards of righteousness.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Jesus came to fulfill the law [in our place], so that we don’t have to keep the law ourselves.” Many people just repeat this church-system mantra without really stopping and thinking about it. But what do they really mean when they say this? Do they even know? Have they thought about the implications of simply repeating this oft-quoted religious cliche?

Let’s think about this for a moment. If Yeshua’s fulfilling Elohim’s law (also known as the law of Moses)means that he did it so that we don’t have to, does this mean that since Yeshua didn’t murder, commit adultery, lie, steal, worship other gods, dishonor his parents, take God’s name in vain or covet it’s now all right for us to do so, since he did it in our place? When a Sunday Christian is presented with this line of reasoning, he’s usually hard-pressed to come up with a logical response, since his initial assertion has been proven to be illogical. The basic tenets of Christianity assert that such behavior is sin.

Now if you ask a clergyman the same question, he’ll often answer you in one of two ways. He’ll either tell you that we only have to do the laws that Jesus or the New Testament authors specifically enumerated. Or he’ll tell you that Christians are obligated to keep the moral law, but not the ceremonial laws of which the Sabbath, biblical feasts and dietary laws are a part.

To start with, let’s deal with the first answer. If Christians only have to follow the laws that Yeshua and the New Testament writers specifically mention, then is it all right to have sex with animals, since this law is specifically stated in the Old Testament Torah, but not in the New Testament? What’s more, why do many churches teach the tithing principle, which is a law found in the Torah, but not in the New Testament if we only have to follow the New Testament laws? Do you now see the speciousness of the argument that we only have to keep the Old Testament laws that are specifically mentioned in the New Testament?

The next argument involves dividing Elohim’s Torah-laws into two categories: the moral and the ceremonial laws. The problem with this argument is that neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament make such delineations. The law of Elohim is law of Elohim. It all stands or falls together. James, for example, speaks about the whole law and says that when one violates one of Elohim’s laws, one violates them all (Jas 2:10). He calls the same law “the royal law” in a singular sense with no artificial subdivisions (verse 8). Similarly, Paul sums up the law of Elohim by one word: love (Rom 13:8). Yeshua and the apostolic writers in numerous places speaks about the law (e.g. Matt 5:17–19; Mark 12:28–31; Rom 3:31; 7:12, 14; 8:7) and makes no distinctions between moral and ceremonial. 

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The Torah Is the Elephant in the Room of the Testimony of Yeshua

Though the primary theme of the Testimony of Yeshua (the name John gives to the New Testament in the Book of Revelation—e.g. Rev 1:2; 6:9; 12:17; 20:4) is the testimony of Yeshua the Messiah, the Torah is, nevertheless, the elephant in the room. 

Though not mentioned outrightly as often as one would think in the Testimony of Yeshua, the Torah is implied, assumed, or referred to in on countless occasions using coded Hebraisms. Why, one might ask, is this the case with the apostolic writers? The answer is simple: They were writing to Jews as well as to non-Jewish people who either already operated within a Torah-centric religious paradigm or were being brought into it. The obvious didn’t have to be mentioned over and over again, for Torah was not a strange or foreign thing to the first century believers as it is to most in the church today. The Torah was their way of life and frame of reference for all that they thought and did! 

The word law as used in the Testimony of Yeshua is the first aspect of this “elephant” we need to examine. It is the Greek word nomos which in the Septuagint (the third century B.C. Greek translation of the Tanakh [Old Testament Scriptures]) is used in place of the Hebrew word Torah. Therefore, we know that the Jewish scholars who translated the Tanakh into the Greek language considered the words Nomos and Torah to be equivalent. Also, contextually, in the Testimony of Yeshua, we can see that the word law means Torah. To the Messianic Jews who wrote the entire Testimony of Yeshua, when the Greek word nomos is used this is not a reference to Roman, Greek or Babylonian law, but to the biblical Hebrew law or the Torah, or Torah-law of Moses. 

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Christian “Double-Speak” When It Comes to the Torah

Deuteronomy 31:10–13, You shall read this Torah before all Israel.Verses like this tend to expose the theological confusion that occurs in the minds of many Christian Bible teachers. For example, Christian commentator Matthew Henry on this verse writes about the need to read the Word of Elohim and that doing so will “help us to keep his commandments.” Yet elsewhere he says in the same commentary about the same laws that the commandments or laws of YHVH “are done away with.” 

Statements like these are representative of a split and incongruous, “double-speak” thinking on the part of many Christian Bible teachers and people when it comes to the commandments or laws of Elohim. Some laws, they say, we are to keep (e.g. thou shalt not murder, lie, commit adultery, etc.), but other laws we can disobey (e.g. the Sabbath, dietary laws, and biblical feasts). 

Is it possible to have it both ways: to believe that we need to keep his commandments, yet teach they are done away with? If so, then what is the meaning of such biblical phrases pertaining to YHVH’s Torah or Word as “forever,” “for a thousand generations,” “the same yesterday today and forever,” “till heaven and earth pass away,” “I change not,” and “think not that I came to destroy the Torah-law?” Is ­YHVH’s Word inconsistent and contradictory, or is this, instead, the case with the thinking of men? Is YHVH’s immutable character flawed with regard to keeping his Word, promises and standards or is man the one at fault?

In reality, we need to ask ourselves an important question: Do we have a high enough view of YHVH Elohim and fear him and tremble at his Word (Isa 66:2), or have we, in reality, demoted the veracity of his Word by contorting YHVH and his Word to fit the mindset of changeable and inconsistent man (which the Scriptures define as idolatry)? 

Moreover, have we, by denying the validity of some aspects of YHVH’s Word, bought into the lie that the serpent proffered at the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden when he told the man and the woman that YHVH really did not mean what he said and that humans can take the “have it your own way” and “pick and choose” approach when it comes to obeying the Word of YHVH (a philosophy that forms the basis for the religious movement called secular humanism, which is at the heart of all the religions of the world—including much of Christianity—except the true religion of the Bible)?

In reality, how many aspects of Christian theology are no more than a thinly veiled version of the religion of humanism in disguise? 

These are tough questions that the saints who are the Israel of Elohim (Gal 6:16) need to ponder seriously. Let’s not forget the words of Yeshua in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my [Torah] commandments” and the words of the apostle in 1 John 2:5–5, “He that says, ‘I know him,’ and does not keep his [Torah] commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him. But whosoever keeps his Word in him truly is the love of Elohim perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.”

Let’s be honest with ourselves. The bottom line reason why man has a hard time submitting to all of YHVH’s commandments is nowhere stated more concisely in the Bible than in Romans 8:7,

[T]he carnal mind is enmity against Elohim: for it is not subject to the law of Elohim, neither indeed can be.