I’ve been busily working on my dissertation for my Doctor of Ministry degree. One of the questions that I discovered needed answering is whether there was a Torah of Jesus or Yeshua. I thought a three-part examination of this particular question properly nuanced by some of the very caveats that I will be using in my dissertation would be worth sharing with you my faithful readers.
It is important, I feel, to define what Torah is and is not, without being as lengthy as I will need to be in my dissertation. I will begin by dealing with what the Torah is not. Once the definition of Torah has been established we will begin to collect clues like in every good detective show that I enjoy watching. We will start by dusting for fingerprints. That is usually the first thing the detectives on the scene do. So we will ask whether there any fingerprints that demonstrate that there could be a Torah of Jesus.
To quote an old song let’s begin at the beginning because it’s a very good place to start — What is Torah? To use one of my favorite quotes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “when you eliminate the impossible whatever remains no matter how improbable must be the truth”. We will define Torah first by eliminating what Torah is not. The church has made a tremendous mistake in defining Torah as merely a legal code. However, there are sound evangelical scholars that have woken up to this error “However, Torah is more than mere law. Even the word itself does not indicate static requirements which govern the whole of human existence.” In fact Walter Kaiser is noting something very important that the very meaning of the word Torah in its original language and is not that of law. It clearly carries the idea of instruction or direction, “תּוֹרָה (tôrâ). Law, teaching. ASV always “law,” RSV sometimes “teaching,” “instruction” and “decisions.” The word is used some 221 times.”
Neither Jesus nor Paul regarded the Torah as merely the legal code that some in the evangelical community has painted it to be. Neither Jesus nor the disciples understood Torah as mere law code “In the 32 verses in the Gospels where νομος occurs, it refers to both the law and the Pentateuch. The use of the Greek νομος to translate the Hebrew word תוֹרה expands the use of the Greek word νομος to embrace those of the Hebrew word תוֹרה.” The Gospel writers, being Jewish themselves’ understanding of Torah would have been in line with the understanding of Torah that existed in the Judaism of that time. If the inspired writers of the Gospel didn’t use nomos to refer to Torah us mere legalistic evangelicals should also avoid this practice. The gospel of Luke chapter 24 verse 17 it is made clear that Jesus regards the Torah as being more than law code as it states, “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” There is good reason to suspect that the phrase “beginning at Moses” is a clear reference to Torah.
The apostle Paul even teaches that the Torah is not a law code.
Paul uses the term “Torah” to refer to more than just the legal code material in the five books of Moses. We see this in Galatians, an epistle where he is dealing with issues pertaining to the dangers of potential legalism. Paul states clearly in 4:21 that those who would be under the law need to listen to the law and then reiterates the story of Sarah and Hagar. But the story of Sarah and Hagar or Isaac and Ishmael is not a part of the Mosaic legal stipulations at all but rather narrative out of the book of Genesis. Paul calls this narrative out of Genesis by the term “Law”. The force of Paul’s argument is entirely lost if Paul is not speaking of the Torah, and yet he is not referring to the Mosaic legal code.
Now to examine for fingerprints, are there any fingerprints at the very beginning that we can see at the scene that indicate that there is a Torah of Jesus/Yeshua? It is important to note that a Torah of Jesus/Yeshua does not necessarily mean a complete discontinuity with the Torah of Moses, but could be viewed as an additional Torah which realizes the Torah of Moses. It is possible when this caveat is taken into account to examine the idea of a Torah of Yeshua/Jesus without antinomies.
There is clear evidence to suggest just such a Torah of Messiah existed. Markus Bockmeuhl points out that although Jesus affirmed Torah, his halakha (practice) becomes the authoritative instruction for the community and so literally functions as an additional Torah. “In the end, Jesus’ teaching and interpretation of the Law is the highest authority and this alone is what the apostles are to teach the new, Gentile community of his disciples”. Graham Stanton points out Jesus is pictured by Matthew as the new Moses who gives law (Torah) to his people, “Matthew's Gospel was probably an even more direct influence on Justin, even though it too is not named in Justin's writings. Today’s evangelist intends to portray Jesus as the "new Moses" who gives the "new law" to his "new people.” Dr. Louis Goldberg says it best, “it can certainly be agreed that the New Covenant can be regarded as “Torah,” provided there is no suggestion of legalism and no suggestion that the oral laws are to be followed. Both of these would undermine the major thrust of the New Covenant message.”
Bockmuehl, Markus. Jewish Law in Gentile Churches Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic a Division of Baker Book House Company, 2000.
Goldberg, Louis. God, Torah, Messiah: The Messianic Jewish Theology of Dr. Louis Goldberg, edited by Richard A. Robinson, under “The Relationship of Torah To The New Covenant.” 99-124. San Francisco, CA: Purple Pomegranate Productions, 2009.
Kaiser, Walter Jr. “The Law as God's Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness.” In Five Views On the Law and, 177-99. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.
Liebenburg, W.A .The Rape of the Torah in the New Covenant. Pretoria South Africa: Hebraic Roots Teaching Institute, 2011.
Malin, Barri. “Can 'telos' in Romans 10:4 be correctly understood as 'consummation'?” PhD diss., Trinity Theological Seminary, 2004. Accessed July 26, 2016. proquest.
Stanton, Graham. "What is the Law of Christ?." Ex Auditu 17, no. 01 (2001): 3