HOW WAS THE WORD TORAH USED DIFFERENTLY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT THAN IT WAS USED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT? As we discussed in part 2 of this series, the Hebrew word Torah was used to refer to the first five books of the Bible. However, when we come to the New Testament, the word Torah has a wider, more diverse usage than what we see in the Old Testament since there were new institutions (Sanhedrin, synagogue}, groups (Pharisees, sadducees, Essenes, Zealots), teachings (midrashim), traditions (Oral Torah or Mishnah) and customs that did not exist at all during the time period of the Old Testament.
TORAH — ITS WIDE SPECTRUM OF USE
In the New Testament, the word Torah has a wider spectrum of use. For example, Jesus [Yeshua] uses it to refer to the five books of Moses, and Paul [Sha’ul Paulus] also uses it to refer to the five books of Moses, but also uses to a prophecy in the book of Isaiah ( ).
THE PHARISEES’ VIEW OF THE TORAH
In order to begin to understand Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) view of the Torah, we first must understand the Pharisaic view of it since he repeatedly claims to be “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.” Their view of the Torah involves so much more than our Christian concept of the same word. We read the word “Torah,” and we think about the first five books of the Bible, the Pharisees (and later Rabbinical Jews) read the word Torah, and at its most basic, they think about the following chart:
And there’s been much more added to the Rabbinical concept of Torah than what existed during the 2nd Temple period of the New Testament. In order for you to have a basic understanding of what was in Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) mind as a Pharisee when he used the word Torah, I want to go through now and briefly explain the various terms within this chart.
THE TWO TYPES OF TORAH
The Pharisees, as well as Rabbinical Jews today, believes that God gave to Moses two Torahs on Mt. Sinai:
- The Written Torah, which constitute the first five books of the Bible, AND
- The Oral Torah, which is comprised of teachings of the Pharisees and the ancient sages, explanations for how to do the things taught in the written Torah, and customs that developed among the Jewish people as well.
This Oral Torah was later collected and written down in 200 A.D. by Judah the Prince, and is now called the Mishnah. I have an English copy of the Mishnah, and it is 1,137 pages in length. In fact, the first teaching in Tractate Avoth, the oldest Tractate in the Mishnah, dating back to at least 200 years before Christ, is the teaching –
Moses received Torah at Sinai and handed it down to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and elders to prophets, and prophets handed it on down to the men of the great assembly. They said three things: Be prudent in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence for the Torah. (Tractate Avoth 1:1)
Consequently, this phrase “Raise up many disciples” was carved into the doorway of the Great Synagogue about 200 years before the time of Christ, and was the heartbeat of every rabbi. And it was this same rabbinic heartbeat, “to raise up many disciples,” that was handed down by Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) to His disciples, in what Christianity calls “the Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20).
In the Oral Torah, there are a total of 6 divisions that are divided up into a total of 63 Tractates. The 6 divisions are the following:
- Zeraim (“seeds”) — this section deals with agricultural laws.
- Mo’edim (“feasts” or “appointed times”) — this section deals with the Sabbath and the other feasts.
- Nashim (“Women”) — this section deals with marriage, divorce, and contracts.
- Nezikim (“Damages”) — this section deals with tort laws and other financial laws.
- Kodashim (“Holy Things”) — this section deals with sacrifices and the Temple.
- Toharot (“Purities”) — this section deals with laws of ritual purity and impurity.
Therefore, as a Pharisee, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) would’ve had the entire Old Testament, the Mishnah, and Pharisaic interpretations and applications of both memorized. So that when he thought of the word “Torah,” it would’ve included much more than just the first five books of the Bible.
Therefore, what we as Christians need to understand about Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) being a Pharisee is that one was not born a Pharisee, but one became a Pharisee because of what one believed and practiced. So when Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) said, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee,” he was not only identifying himself as a Pharisee, but he was also identifying and reaffirming his own belief system and practices, as well as saying that he was continuing in the Pharisaic beliefs and practices held by his father, and perhaps even his grandfather before him.
TWO FORMS OF TORAH
In addition to the two types of Torahs, the Pharisees (and Rabbinic Jews today) also believe that Torah included two forms of interpretation: Halakhah and Aggadah.
HALAKHAH: lit. “the way of walking,” or how we interpret and apply the commandments of God to our day-to-day life. When a Jew talks about “Jewish Law,” he is talking about Halakhah — not Torah. One’s view and understanding of the Torah is demonstrated by one’s halakhah, or how one interprets and applies it. And each group during the 2nd Temple period of the 1st century, A.D., had their own halakhah, or interpretations and applications of the Torah.
For example, when two Jews were discussing halakhah, if person A thought that person B had misinterpreted or misapplied the Scriptures, he would say, “You are destroying the law!” However, if person A thought person B had correctly interpreted and applied the Scriptures, he would say, “You have fulfilled the law!”
Understanding this, Matthew 5:17 takes on a whole new meaning:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law [to weaken or annul them by incorrectly interpreting and applying them], or the prophets: I am not come to destroy [to misinterpret and misapply them], but to fulfill [to correctly interpret and apply them].
As further proof this is the correct understanding of this verse, in just 4 verses after saying this, Jesus [Yeshua] begins to teach saying, “You have heard…but I say unto you.” In these teachings, He is not correcting or changing Scripture, as I’ve heard Christian ministers erroneously teach, but interpretations and applications that were being taught by different groups. When Jesus [Yeshua] referred to the Scriptures, He said, “It is written…” or “Haven’t you read….” But here, He says, “You have heard…” referring again, not to the Scriptures, but to popular misinterpretations and misapplications of the Torah.
AGGADAH: These are teachings, including rabbinic teachings, that’s not considered halakhah (or legally binding), consisting of stories, parables, legends, history, and witticism. Although aggadah is not legally binding, they are held in high esteem concerning one’s insight into the Scriptures and piety.
Although Jesus [Yeshua] did not spend a lot of time with Halakhah, He was clearly a Master of Aggadah (spec., the telling of parables). On the other hand, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) spent much more time with halakhah in his writings than He did with aggadah.
FOUR LEVELS OF TORAH
Not only are there two types and two forms of Torah, but there are also four levels of Torah. The first letter from each of these four levels are put together to formulate the acrostic PaRDeS, which means “garden” or “orchard.” It is taught that how much one gains from the study of the Torah depends on the amount of work one puts into it, just like how much “fruit” you gain from a “garden” or “orchard” depends on how much work you invest into it. These four levels are the following:
P’SHAT. The plain, simple grammatical meaning of the text. It is at this level that the study of the Scriptures begin. Also at this level, it was considered as one was studying the “breadth” of the Scriptures, and it was likened to one entering into the city of Jerusalem.
REMEZ. There’s something in the text that seems to hint at or allude to a deeper truth, such as a word, phrase, image, etc. At this level, it was considered as one was studying the “length” of the Scriptures. The purpose of studying the use of remez within the Scriptures is to enlarge and strengthen one’s understanding of the Scriptures and one’s knowledge of God. And studying the Scriptures at this level was likened to gaining access to the Temple Mount.
Not only was Jesus [Yeshua] a Master of Aggadah, but He was also a Master of Remez. He was constantly alluding or hinting or pointing people back to the Old Testamental Scriptures. For example, the title He most used for Himself “the Son of man” is itself a remez, alluding back to Daniel’s prophecy of the “Son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14, as well as the discussions of the “Son of man” in the Apocryphal Book of Enoch, a book not found in our Bibles, but quoted in Jude 1:14-15.
DERUSH. Also called “Midrash”. lit. “investigation,” it is “to seek,” “to search,” “to explore” the concepts and teachings within the Scriptures. It is the non-literal, homilectic (sermon) interpretation of Scripture (the moralistic meaning).
This level of understanding is based on a detailed level of analysis involving certain rules of logic. It implies a level of understanding that’s arrived at only after delving beyond the literal wording of the text. And at this level, it is said that one is searching the “depth” of the Scriptures. Therefore, the purpose of studying at this level is “to seek out and search the deep and profound mysteries” found within the Bible.
SODH. A “mystery” or the “hidden” or “secret” meaning of the text. At this final level, it is said that one is searching the “height” of the Scriptures, and its purpose is to “cross over, lift up, and elevate to the sky the hidden, secret, or foundational meaning of the text.” There are those who compare this level of interpretation to “being the most privileged among the privileged and entering into the Holy of Holies, the place of God’s manifested Presence.”
In his writings, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) said that the church was “a mystery,” or in other wise, one’s understanding of it comes only through a sodh-level interpretation of the Scriptures.
Although these four levels allow one to mine more material from the Scripture, it should be remembered that the three deeper levels – Remez, D’rush, and Sodh – are to further develop and expound upon the p’shat (or plain, simple grammatical) meaning of the Scriptures, but they cannot contradict the plain simple meaning of the text.
So when we consider the terms, “breadth,” “length,” “depth” and “height,” it should remind us of Sha’ul Paulus‘ (Paul’s) statement in Ephesians 3:17-19,
So that Christ [Messiah] may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend the breadth [p’shat] and length [remez] and height [sodh] and depth [derush], and to know the love of Christ [Messiah] which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
As we can see, there was a lot more to the Pharisaic view of the Torah than what most people think about in the church when the word “law” is used or thought about. One of the biggest reasons why we do not realize the differences between Paul’s view and our own is that we tend to view Paul as someone like us, a “Christian” from our denominational backward, who believes things that we do. However, I am hoping that through this study, we are beginning to see that this is not the case.
Jesus did not reveal Himself to Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) and transform him, and then throw away all of his previous preparation and training as a Pharisee. Instead, the Lord made use of it. For example, I was a college English instructor for 25 years, but two years ago, God called me to be a missionary. Did God just throw away my 25 years of academic preparation and experience? No, everyday He uses it to help me dig into the Scriptures, to mine out the treasures within its pages, and to share that information with others. In much the same way, God did not just throw away the preparation and training of the Apostle Paul. God used his Pharisaic background and training in the teaching and development of these beginning congregations, and in the writing of half of our New Testament.
Sha’ul Paulus‘ (Paul’s) faith in Jesus [Yeshua], the Risen Lord, Savior, and Messiah, did not remove him from 2nd Temple Pharisaic Judaism; instead, it gave his faith even deeper meaning, purpose and significance. In truth, in and through the Messiah Jesus [Yeshua], God is keeping His promise spoken of by the prophet Isaiah:
The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the law [Torah], and make it honorable. (Isaiah 42:21)