The Meaning of Torah

“Torah” is a Hebrew word. Here are several things to know about the way the Bible uses the word:

Torah refers to God’s Teaching or Instruction.

The word is often translated “law” in our English Bibles because it is associated with the Hebrew legal code, but it is more accurately translated “teaching” or “instruction”, and is not limited to the idea of a legal code.

Torah sometimes refers to the legal code that God gave Israel on Mt. Sinai.

The laws given to Israel, the legal code including the Ten Commandments, the sacrificial system, the festivals, etc., are referred to as “the Torah given to Moses” (Josh 1:8); God refers to it as “the Torah of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel” (Mal 4:4).

It is important to note that the laws God gave ancient Israel were part of his Teaching and Instruction (Torah), but God’s Teaching and Instruction is not limited to these laws and legal code. The legal code is not the only way that God teaches and instructs his people.

Torah sometimes refers to the first five books of the Bible, or the Pentateuch.

The history of Judaism has always referred to the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, as the Torah. The Torah is one of three parts of the Hebrew Bible. Luke refers to these three parts when he recounts Jesus explaining to his disciples everything written about him in “the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Neviim), and the Writings (Kethuvim)” (Luke 24:44). Here Jesus is referring to “the law” or “the Torah” as the first five books, which includes not only the legal code in the Pentateuch but also the stories of Creation, Abraham, Noah, etc; essentially, the Torah is Genesis through Deuteronomy, the one book with five parts, or the Pentateuch.

Torah is closely related to the concept of the Word of Yahweh.

There are several Hebrew words used in passages describing God’s word such as Psalm 119. These words include “dabar” (word), “edut” (testimonies), “piquedim” (precepts), “mitsvah” (commandments), and “torah” (law/instruction). All of these Hebrew words are used in parallelism, i.e. they are able to be switched out one for the other, even though they all to a degree have their own nuance. They all are correlated to the one central theme of the Word of God, that great message of Yahweh that he has been speaking since Genesis 1.

The Torah is the idea that God is a God who is not silent; he has communicated with us and is concerned to tell us something and teach us something and to guide us. The Torah is the thing that God has been trying to teach us from the beginning.

Torah teaches us to live by faith.

Before any laws are given in the Pentateuch, we have 60 chapters of stories. This is important to take into account as we consider what God is teaching us through his Teaching, through his Torah.

One of the major strategies of the author of the Pentateuch is to contrast the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant as two ways to relate to God. Abraham lived by faith, was credited righteous, and walked around freely in the promised land. Moses brought the legal code, displeased God, and was not able to enter into the promised land. 

The meaning of the Pentateuch is therefore very similar to the book of Romans or Galatians; the righteous will live by faith in God rather than through the works of the law.

Torah teaches us that God will send his Messiah to fix the sin problem.

One of the key verses in the Pentateuch is Genesis 3:15. After the serpent deceives humanity and the earth is cursed, God offers this hope as he speaks to the serpent:

“      I will put enmity between you and the woman,

     and between your offspring and her offspring;

                 he shall bruise your head,

     and you shall bruise his heel.”

Here is a promise that a male descendant from the woman will destroy the serpent, who brought evil, sin, and corruption into the world. After this verse, the Pentateuch offers story after story and character after character searching for the Messiah.

The Pentateuch does not find the Messiah, but rather God offers a promise to Moses that “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut 18:18).

Torah teaches the reality the God is a Father who loves us.

A consistent message in the Torah is that God is a loving Father.

Throughout the Pentateuch we see fathers bestowing blessing upon their children. Significantly, it is God who lavishes his blessing upon human beings and upon creation in the first few chapters of Genesis. Here the author has creatively displayed God as the greatest Father, giving the entire universe and all of creation for the blessing of his sons and daughters.

In addition, God creates humanity in his image. In Genesis 5:1-3, the meaning of Seth being in Adam’s image is his sonship, and so the meaning of humans being in God’s image can rightly be understood as humanity being identified as God’s sons and daughters:

When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”

Before Israel enters into the Promised Land, Moses reminds them time and again that God is their Father. The message that God is concerned to teach us in his Torah is that he is a Loving Father.

The Torah is perfectly revealed is Jesus, the Son of God.

Everything God is teaching us in his Torah comes together in Jesus, who is the Word of God who is God and who has always been with God.

In Jesus, God is revealed as a Loving Father, who has always loved his Son for all of eternity, even when only God existed.

In Jesus, the promised Messiah arrives to deliver the world from sin, Satan, and death.

In Jesus, God fulfills his covenant with humanity as a human himself, so that everyone who has faith in the Son of God will be able to enter into the Abrahamic covenant of faith.

Jesus is God’s Torah. In him, we see that God is light and love and salvation and a loving Father. This is the message that we have heard from the beginning.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt 17:5).

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (Heb 12:25).

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