What is the Torah?
The Torah is called the Pentateuch or the books of Moses and includes the first 5 books of the bible. Collectively, they could be and have been called the books of Moses or Moses. For instance, Yeshua (aka Jesus) responded to the scribes and Pharisees that questioned him, “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me,” in John 5:46
Despite popular Christian teaching the word Torah does not mean, “Law.” Torah is Hebrew for “Instructions” but has been erroneously translated as “LAW” in English bibles. Although the Torah does contain laws and ordinances it cannot be summed up as a legal document rendering legal judgments. The Torah is not a set of do’s and don’ts but rather the loving instructions of a father to his children. To the Jewish Sages the Torah is the highest level of scripture followed by the Prophets (Nevi’im) and the other writings (Ketuvim). Collectively the Jewish scriptures are called the TaNaKh. It is a Jewish acronym:
T= Torah (instructions/Moses)
N= Nevi’im (Prophets)
K= Ketuvim (The other writings)
The Torah was always an oral instruction until Moses penned it down sometime between 1280 -1441BCE. Some believe that the Torah was instituted and began at Mount Sinai but there are those that believe that the Torah always existed and was the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. There are actually a lot of scriptural evidences that point out that the Torah always existed and will always exist in one form or the other. Let’s take a look at some references to this point pointing to the Torah existing before Mount Sinai:
1. Gen. 3:3,17 “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it:” Here we have an establishment of a commandment (a food law) in the Garden, breaking of the commandment and the subsequent consequence of breaking the commandment- a curse or death.
2. Gen. 4:8 “…Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” This was murder and was forbidden according to Torah Law so there was a punishment for breaking the Law in Gen. 4:14 “Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.” This punishment is separation from God and death by anyone that finds him. According to the Torah a murderer is to be stoned to death except those that find refuge in what is called a “city of refuge.” Cain plead with God about his sentence and a “refuge” was created for him…”…Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” Num. 25:35 “ And the congregation shall deliver the slayer (suspect of murder) out of the hand of the revenger of blood (those that want revenge), and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest…”
3. How many of the different animals went into the ark made by Noah? If you said 2 of each kind you are wrong. Well, partially wrong. Gen. 7:2 “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two…” Again we see that clean and unclean were important to God prior to the giving of the written instruction at Mount Sinai. You can read more about kosher eating in Lev. 7. And by the way, that Sunday school picture of all animals entering two by two was sadly inaccurate. Later after the flood you will find Noah building an altar and sacrificing some of the clean animals in worship and thanks to God.(Gen. 8:20)
4. Abraham was righteous and faithful. Listen to what God says about him: Gen 26:5 “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
5. Lot the nephew of Abraham was saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The evening before he and his family were delivered from the city by the angels Lot provided a feast of unleavened bread (Passover) just like what was instructed by Yahweh to the children of Israel the evening before they fled Egypt. Gen. 19:3 “…he (Lot) made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.” Also in Exod. 12:8 “And they (Israel) shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread;”
Now let’s look at scriptural evidences that the Torah will always exist:
1. Matthew 5:17-19 “Think not that I am come to destroy the law (Torah), or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil (fill up full of meaning). For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law (Torah), till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Yeshua (aka Jesus) did not replace, make void or annul even the least of the commandments of Torah. In fact he states that the Torah will continue as long as there is a heaven and an earth.
2. Rev. 12:17 “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Yeshua Messiah.” This is a point in the future when the Beast will wage war against the chosen people of God. Again this is a group that “keeps the commandments of God,” and have the testimony of Yeshua.
3. Once the war with HaSatan (Satan) is over and there is healing to the earth and the New Jerusalem is established then we see a clear picture in scripture of the Kingdom of God on the earth and the Torah still in full effect and being taught by the Messiah King himself. Isaiah 2:3 “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he (Yeshua) will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law (Torah), and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” Rev. 22:2 “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life (Torah), which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
4. The feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) will be celebrated in the New Jerusalem. Zech. 4:16 “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” The feast of Tabernacles is in the Torah and can be read in Lev. 23.
According to Jewish sages there are 4 levels of understanding or revelation in the Torah:
1. Peshat- The literal reading or face value of the text
2. Remez- The hinted or alluded meanings of the text
3. D’Rash- homiletical or exegetical application to the text
4. Sod- ‘secret’ or mystical meaning hidden in the text (e.g., Gematria)
For the people of Israel the Torah is life instruction that was passed down orally from generation to generation until penned down by Moses and the very finger of Yahweh. This emphasis of teaching the commandments of God to the children was revitalized by the words of Yahweh in Deut. 6:6-7 “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” The Kings of Israel were also required by Torah Law to write their own copy of the Torah in its entirety:
Deut. 17:18 “And it shall be, when he (the king) sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:”
The Levites were in charge of keeping the Torah and teaching the commandments of God as well as the altar service and various temple duties. After the captivity of Judah into Babylon around 538 BCE and the destruction of Jerusalem Babylon was taken over by the Persians. The Persian King Cyrus allowed the Jews (around 40,000) to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah there is a detailed account of the Jewish return. It is at this time that Ezra the scribe begins the public reading of the Torah and teaching to the Jewish exiles.
Neh. 8:1-9 “And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street…they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women…And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people…and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands…So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand (teaching) the reading.”
It is after this time that that the tradition of reading the Torah every Sabbath day began. The Jews took the entire Torah and broke them up into weekly portions, called Parsha or parasha in Hebrew so that the people could read or hear the Torah being read in its entirety throughout the span of one year or three years pending on cycle they chose to follow. The public reading of the Torah Parsha were primarily done in places of worship called Synagogues and they can be seen as early as the days of King David (Psa. 74:8) and throughout the New Testament. The books of the Prophets and other writings were also broke up into weekly portions and read every Sabbath day. In the days of Yeshua we can read many accounts of Yeshua teaching and miracles being performed in the Synagogues on the Sabbath day. One account in particular opens one’s eyes to the history of what was going on as well as the integral part that the Messiah played in this weekly practice.
Luke 4:16-20 “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias (Isaiah). And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor…To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down.”
This is what the Jewish people had done for hundreds of years before and throughout the ministries of the Messianic Jewish Apostles and still today in orthodox and messianic synagogues some 2,000 years later. The messianic synagogues add a third reading called the Brit Chadasha or Renewed Covenant (New Testament). Was the Torah explicitly just for the Jewish people or were the Gentiles (those of other nations) that were coming to faith in Yeshua as their Messiah expected to adhere to the same commandments of God? This was something that the early Jewish believers such as Paul, Peter, John and James also had to figure out. It wasn’t that they did not know the answer. The problem was that the Torah was so vast and hard to understand and grasp immediately for the new gentile believers, who did not grow up with the commandments being heard continuously, that they wanted to have a starting point for new believers that was easy to grasp quickly. The rest of the information they would soak up by hearing it read and taught every week in the synagogues. You have to understand that these were Greeks and those of other nations with religious beliefs rooted in idolatry, paganism, Hellenism, and philosophies much in contrast with the character of the God of Israel. After a council about this matter in Jerusalem they all agreed that to start new believers were to be given three commandments and the rest they would pick up over time by hearing Moses read in the Synagogues every sabbath. Letters were then dispatched to the messianic believers and teachers and it is found in Acts 15. James the brother of Yeshua makes this declaration:
Acts 15:19-21 “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”
Here we have three things that are imperative for a New Testament believer whether they are of Jewish descent or one of another nation. These three laws are referred by Torah teachers as “The Heart of The Law” and can be read in Lev. 17,18,19.
1. “abstain from pollutions of idols”- This is idolatry and one could not even enter the assembly of the Jews if you were involved with such practices. This was a big issue among the gentile nations.
2. “fornication”- This was also a problem among the gentile nations. This would involve incest, orgies, rape, molestation, beastiality, and all kinds of horrific practices.
3. “things strangled, and from blood”- This may sound like two separate things but they are one. This is eating Kosher. Those animals deemed unclean for consumption were considered blood when eating them. The prescribed method of killing a pig for consumption in the days of Acts was by strangulation.
Abraham wasn’t Jewish and he kept the law. Abraham came from the land of the Chaldeans and was considered the first Hebrew (one that crossed over). Noah was before Abraham and knew which animals were considered clean and unclean and how to sacrifice before the Lord and he wasn’t Jewish. This concept of the commandments of God only pertaining to the Jews is ludicrous and there are no scriptural evidences that point to this false conclusion. The concept of the Torah being for all people is spoken right from the mouth of Yahweh himself:
Exod. 12:19 “…for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land.”
Exod. 12:49 “One law (Torah) shall be to him that is homeborn (Israel/Jew), and unto the stranger (gentile) that sojourneth among you.”
Lev. 17:2 “Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.”
Lev. 24:22 “Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.”
Secrets in the Torah:
Concerning the sod level of study and understanding of the Torah, there is something referred to by Jewish Sages as Gematria. Gematria is the study of numbers in relation to the Hebrew Aleph Bet used in the original Torah text. After the invention of modern day computer programs there has been many startling discoveries that have astonished the academic world and opened up the possibilities of hidden messages within the Torah. One theory is called ELS or Equidistant Letter Sequences. This theory is based on a set pattern of counting letters and selecting a letter within the numbered sequence. For example, a discovery of the Torah ELS showed that every 50th letter in Genesis, from left to right, the ELS repeatedly spells “TORAH, TORAH, TORAH. There is the same sequence in Exodus.
Every 49th letter from right to left in Deuteronomy and every 50th in Numbers say Torah backwards. All of these books are pointing to the central book of Leviticus which has an ELS every 7th letter, producing, “YHWH, YHWH, YHWH,” the sacred name of God. Some scientists and Bible scholars see this as the divine authorship of the Torah and yet others would see it as a controlled coincidence. You can be the judge.
The Torah is the instructions of God to his people in how to live a righteous and full life. It is not a mere set of do’s and don’ts. The Torah was an oral instruction past down from one righteous generation to another until finally penned down by Moses at Mount Sinai. The Torah always was and will always be and will be the code of conduct in the Messianic era. By this Torah the nations will be judged and ruled by the Messiah. The Torah was central in all teachings of the New Testament including the letters of Shaul (Paul) and Simon Keefa (Simon Peter). The Messiah nor his disciples and apostles advocated the removal or diminishing of the Torah. In fact, they upheld its importance in the believer’s life. Today we should not say that the Torah was done away with at the cross. Nor should we compartmentalize it and say it is only for the Jews. This is a mistake and the Christian world needs to re-examine their position on this matter. We are all One in the Messiah. We are One family in One House with One Father and One law or set of instructions.
What is the Torah?