Over the past few weeks, I have been online discussing the Torah (usually trans. “Law”) and God’s commandments with a group of Christian ministers, but over and over again, there was this insistence that we cannot obey the commandments because we’re not “perfect.” This belief that we must be “perfect” to live in obedience to God’s commandments has been perpetuated throughout much of Christian history, but is this belief valid or is this an “unsupported tradition” that’s been handed down through history.
Are We Willing to Examine the Evidence?
Unfortunately, because of the mainstream erroneous belief within Christendom that the Old Testament, or at least the Law, was done away with by Christ at His death, Christians are not being taught what the Old Testament Scriptures actually do teach in regard to the Scriptures themselves. And this is sad. There’s so much within the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh), and particularly within the Torah (the first five books) that would really benefit Christians in their life and in their service to God, but many of them have been so indoctrinated by ministers and their denomination against the Torah that they are not even open to looking at the Scriptures to see if what they are being taught actually lines up with the Bible.
And as a Christian and as a college professor who taught argument, research, documentation, and writing for 25 years, I firmly believe that we have to research and learn if what we believe is supported by the evidence. Some say that if you can point to evidence, then you don’t need faith. This is just another example of an erroneous belief that people have (This will have to wait for another article; too much to discuss here). There are different types of evidence that can be used to support any argument, and there are forms of evidence used within the Bible itself to support various forms of arguments and ideas. So how can evidence be in opposition to “faith”?
Biblical Teaching vs. Christian Tradition?
For example, there are things taught by ministers that are not even mentioned in the Bible. I’ve heard many ministers teach that it was an apple that Adam and Eve ate that resulted in the Fall, even though the Bible does not tell us what kind of fruit it was. Also, there’s the tradition that three kings came to see Jesus at His birth at the manger, even though the Bible teaches that they were wise men (not kings) who came and saw Him as a young child (not a babe) and He and His parents were living in a house (not a manger). These things may be “fun tradition,” but shouldn’t we teach what the Bible actually says, rather than these unscriptural “traditions”?
Another “tradition” that Christians have held onto is this idea that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) ended at the cross. As one who has spent the past 25 years of my life examining arguments and their use of evidence, and then weighing that evidence to determine the validity of the argument, the argument for the Torah ending at the cross is not valid; in fact, the whole basis of the argument is superficial at best. This is why we need to teach people how to critically examine texts and evidence, and to weigh the evidence of what’s being taught, so that they can examine and understand the truth of what all of the Bible teaches, from cover to cover, not just what some theologians think a small selection of verses mean.
Therefore, it is very important that we be like the ancient Bereans who “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). And when I follow this practice of examining the evidence provided within the Scriptures, and then weighing this evidence, I do not see any support for several ideas about the Torah that Christians have, including this idea that we have to be “perfect” to obey God.
Torah – Our Erroneous Perspective?
For instance, Christians have been brought up and taught several erroneous ideas and perspectives regarding the Torah, and there’s an abundance of evidence to support this. To illustrate this, let’s look at the following textual passage. In the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus teaches the following:
For truly I say to you, UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law [Torah], UNTIL ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED. (Matthew 5:18; Emphasis Mine)
These two lines, “UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY” and “UNTIL ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED” are spoken and written in Hebrew parallel form. This means that Jesus is equating these two lines in His teaching here, or in other words, He is telling His audience that when “HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY” is when “ALL” will be “ACCOMPLISHED,” and only then, at that time, will God allow “the smallest letter or stroke” to “pass away from the Law, not but until then.” But why?
Very simply, “heaven and earth” were the two witnesses that God called to observe the covenant that He made with the children at Mt. Sinai. For example, consider the following texts:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you might live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him: for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
Not only did God call “heaven and earth” to witness the covenant, but so did Moses:
Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. (Deuteronomy 31:28)
Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. (Deuteronomy 32:1)
In all three of the passages, the “heavens and the earth” are called to witness the covenant that God made with Israel, by God Himself and also by Moses. Then in the New Testament, Jesus teaches us that as long as these two witnesses – “the heavens and the earth” – “live,” not the smallest letter or even stroke of a pen can be removed UNTIL the “death” (or “passing away”) of these two witnesses. Have the witnesses “passed away”? No, so not “the smallest letter or stroke of a pen” has “passed away” from the law (Torah) either. And those who teach that it has are teaching in opposition to Christ, if not in opposition to God’s own word:
Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:32)
By teaching that God’s Torah, His “Law,” is not for believers today, they have deleted it, “taken away from it,” from their lives and the lives of those within their congregation. Simply ask yourself, Has heaven and earth passed away? No, obviously not, then therefore, not the smallest letter or stroke of the Torah has been done away with either. But when will “ALL” be “ACCOMPLISHED“? Jesus teaches us that it will be when “HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY” (i.e., Revelation 21-22).
Likewise, look at the very life of Jesus. He embraced the Torah with love and devotion. He did not violate it, nor did He view it as “bondage,” “legalism,” or as some form of hardship to do. In fact, during his 40 days and nights of temptation out in the wilderness, He relied on the Torah to fight the Enemy, Satan. As we all know, when we are being severely tested and tried, we go to those things are very dear to us. And where did Jesus go? The book of Deuteronomy (i.e., the Torah). Each and every one of the statements that Jesus quotes to refute the Enemy Satan comes directly from the pages of the book of Deuteronomy. The very source that Jesus embraced and used for comfort, we are taught by many Christian ministers and theologians to be “legalism,” “bondage,” and “spiritual chains.” This Christian attitude towards the Torah is definitely not a reflection of the mind of Christ.
In Philippians 2:5, we are instructed, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Again, is this “mind” (or attitudes) seen in the Christian view of the Torah? No, so then we must ask ourselves as modern day Bereans, “Why do we teach that the Torah ended at the cross when Jesus makes it quite clear that not one letter or stroke of it can be removed until the “passing away” of the two witnesses, the time period of the new heavens and new earth?”
Most ministers and Christians take Jesus’ final statement on the cross “It is finished!” to be the time when “all” will be “accomplished,” totally negating the statement made by Jesus that “all” will be “accomplished” at the time period of the “new heavens and the new earth.” Jesus’ statement that “It is finished!” is actually part of the Passover liturgy that was spoken by the high priest when he killed the Passover lamb; it had nothing to do with the ending of the Torah at all. What was “finished” at the cross was our slavery to sin, not the Torah. I already know some of you out there are wondering about the renting of the Temple veil. Wasn’t this a sign that God brought Torah (“the Law”) to an end at the cross since it rent from top to bottom when He died?
Actually, no, it was not. I’ve heard many Christian ministers teach this, but it is not true. God had just watched the betrayal of His Son by some of the Jewish leaders at the time (not all the Jewish leaders and definitely not all the Jewish people as a whole), as well as the cruel torture and death of His Son by the Romans, so He did what any loving Jewish father would have done: He ripped the cloth over His heart from top to bottom, signifying His anguish and mourning over what had happened. What was the cloth over the heart of God? The Temple Veil. So contrary to the teachings of many, this was NOT an act signifying that the Law and the Temple system had been brought to an end. Absolutely Not! In fact, the Temple system in Jerusalem did not come to an end until the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., almost 40 years later.
(Hint: If you read the book of Revelation, you will discover the heavenly Temple system, the original pattern for the Tabernacle in the Exodus and the Jerusalem Temple, is still going strong. Ask yourself, “If Jesus brought this system to an end, why do we still see it in use by God Himself throughout most of the book of Revelation?” And your questioning really intensifies when you study the writings of the Old Testament prophets and discover during the Messianic Kingdom that God is going to bring back the Levitical priesthood and Temple system. It sure doesn’t sound like God thinks it’s done, does it?)
Well, What is “Torah”?
Torah is a Hebrew word that can be translated as “Teaching, Instruction, Guidance, and/or Directives.” It does not mean “Law.” As a result, it can be applied in a wide spectrum of scenarios. For example, it can be applied to one verse, one chapter, one section of chapters, a whole book, several books, the first five books, the entire Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh], or even both the Old Testament and the New Testament together. Yes, the whole Bible, the Old and New Testament, can be said to be Torah because all of it contains God’s teachings or instructions. Therefore, the only way a Christian cannot be under Torah (usually trans. “Law”) is by not living in submission to any part of Scripture. But that would put the individual in complete opposition to God and His Word, wouldn’t it?
In fact, the book of Hebrews teaches that the New Testament has been established as Law (Torah), in exactly the same sense as what Moses received on Mt. Sinai. The verse that hides this is Hebrews 8:6. The following is a from the King James Version:
But now hath he [Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
The verb phrase translated as “was established” is the Greek word nenomothetêtai, according to Dr. David H. Stern, this compound word is made up of two Greek words: nomos [“law”] and the common Greek verb tithêmi [“to put, place”] (50). Dr. Stern further explains that if the subject matter of this text had been Greek law, rather than Jewish law, “it would be appropriate to translate this word as ‘enacted, established, legislated'” (50). Consequently, then, this verse could more accurately communicate the intended meaning of this verse if it had been written this way:
But now hath he [Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was [enacted, established, or legislated as law based] upon better promises.
When we understand the actual meaning of this compound Greek word, then we understand that ALL of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are Torah. You see in a covenant, you can reaffirm it, add to it, build upon it, improve and strengthen it, but the one thing you CANNOT do is TERMINATE IT. And the book of Hebrews teaches that God has acted appropriately with His covenant that He made with Israel at Mt. Sinai: He has added to it, built upon it, and improve and strengthened it, but He did NOT TERMINATE it.
Think of the Old Testament as the original program given to us by God, and the New Testament as the update. If you use only the original program, you miss the benefits of the Update, but if you try to use only the Update, well that doesn’t work either. The only way to get the desired result that the Programmer (“God”) intends is to use both the original program AND the update together (i.e., a Whole Bible Approach).
I hope from these few examples, you can see that there is a major problem with our traditional view of the Torah. It falls flat when you consider the teachings of the Old Testament, the teachings of the Gospels, Acts, the epistles by Peter, James, and John, Revelation, as well as what is taught in the Old Testament prophets regarding the upcoming Messianic Kingdom. And believe it or not, Paul likewise do not teach against the Torah when you put his writings back into context.
Unfortunately, due to our Christian anti-Torah bias that’s been traditionally taught by the mainstream ministers and denominations, translators today choose words that present the Torah in a negative manner, which again only reinforces this traditional anti-Torah presentation that people read and see within the New Testament.
Obedience to the Torah – NOT about “Perfection”?
In discussing what we have, I think you will agree that the mainstream Christian view of the Torah is flawed. You see, obedience to God’s commandments does not make one “perfect,” as I’ve heard repeatedly argued, it simply makes one obedient. In fact, nowhere in the Old Testament [Heb. Tanakh] does it say or teach that if you keep all these commandments, then you will become a perfect human being. It’s simply not there. God promises blessings to those who are obedient, but nowhere does God say these commandments will make one perfect. To illustrate this point, let’s consider some sample passages.
Deuteronomy 29:9. So keep the words of this covenant to do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.
So where in this verse does it say that by keeping the commandments that you would become a “perfect person”? I don’t see it, but what I do see is that it says that we will “prosper in all that [we] do.” Well, what about the next one?
Joshua 1:8. This book of the law (Heb. Torah) shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.
Again, where in this verse does it say that as a result of studying, meditating, and observing all that’s written here in the Torah that we will become “perfect human beings” or even that we will inherit eternal life? No, it says, that by doing so, we will make our way (or way of life) “prosperous” and have “good success.” I’m still not seeing it, so let’s look at another passage.
Psalms 1:1-3. Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law (Torah) of the LORD; and in His law (Torah) does he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.
Again, where does this passage say anything about us becoming “perfect” human beings if we make the Torah our “delight” and “meditate” on it both “day and night”? It doesn’t. Instead, it promises that “whatsoever” we do “shall prosper.” Obviously then, as we can see from these passages, obeying the commandments does not make us “perfect,” but obedient, and as we live our lives in obedience to God, He then begins to pour out His blessings upon us.
Well, what about in the New Testament? James, the brother of Jesus, likewise teaches and holds to this view of the Torah. In his epistle, James draws on the Psalms:
The law [Torah] of the LORD is perfect, converting [or restoring] the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)
This first Psalm is written in Hebrew parallel form, which means that the two lines are actually saying the same thing in two different ways. For example,
“The law [Torah] of the LORD” parallels “the testimony of the LORD.” In addition, the word “perfect,” which means “whole” or “complete,” parallels the word “sure” (or “reliable”).
In the second part of each line, “converting the soul [or returning or restoring the person]” parallels “making wise the simple.” But in what way does the Torah “return or restore the person“? The Torah teaches us what God expects of us and how we are supposed to live here on earth, so therefore, it restores (or returns) the person to living in conformity to God’s commands and expectations for our lives. And in so doing, it “makes wise the simple,” since the Torah is our “wisdom and understanding” (see Deuteronomy 4:6).
So shall I keep Your law [Torah] continually forever and ever. And I will walk in liberty: for I seek Your precepts.
In this passage, the Psalmist is committing to keep God’s Torah “forever and ever,” and as a result of him seeking to obey God’s Torah, His “precepts,” he will walk “in liberty” or “in freedom.” James, draws on these two passages and refers to God’s Torah as “the perfect law” and “the law of liberty” within his epistle, but notice that what he says about God’s Torah is completely consistent with the three previous passages:
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he was looked at himself and gone away, he was immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law [Torah], the law [Torah] of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25)
For James, looking into God’s Torah means looking to see who it is that God wants him to be and to strive to become that man. There’s nowhere in the life or teachings of James where he ever even hints at the possibility of the idea that God’s Torah is in any way “legalism,” “bondage,” or that it has been “done away,” “annulled,” or “terminated,” as we hear Christians and ministers teach.
Also note that what the believer will experience in their life – not by just listening to the teachings of the Torah, but in actually doing them – is the same in Deuteronomy 29:9; Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:1-3, and here in James 1:25, “this man shall be blessed in what he does.” So ask yourself, Why would anyone not want to enjoy the blessings of God? Has God changed His mind about the Torah‘s purpose or about His desire to bless His people? Malachi 3:6 gives us God’s response to this question: “For I am the LORD, I change not.” God does not change, and because He does not change, His Word does not change. I pray that the LORD will bless you as you consider the evidence of His Word.