Jesus and Torah

Last time on the blog, we thought about some of the purposes of Torah. For Christians, spending some time thinking about Torah is useful because that helps us better understand some of the things Jesus said and did.

For example, in Matthew 5 during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter (iota), not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (v17,18) Then Jesus goes on to say a series of statement which begin “You have heard it said…But I say to you…” where a more rigorous standard is given.

In other places Jesus heals people on the sabbath much to the disapproval of the religious authorities. In the book of Acts we are told about the Jerusalem council which decides that gentile followers of Jesus do not have to become practicing Jews. The apostle Paul spends quite a bit of time in several letters wrestling with the relationship between followers of Jesus and the Law and ends up, to over simplify his reasoning, saying that Christians are not bound by the Law.

So how can Jesus say he fulfills the Law and later followers declare Christians do not need to follow the Law? At first glance it seems these are contradictory things. This is one reason why it is important to have given the purpose and intention of Torah some thought. Remember the three things we said Torah does? It provides a way for people to declare their allegiance to God, it helps people live together as followers of God and,  it offers a way to be reconciled to God.

What does being a follower of Jesus do for people? Jesus provides a way for people to declare their allegiance to God, Jesus helps people live together as followers and Jesus offers a way to be reconciled to God. Jesus functions for Christians as Torah did for Israel.

It seems to be human nature to frame life in terms of rules. All you need to do is spend time with children, they will create a rule for every situation. People can reduce Torah to a bunch of rules. People can reduce Christianity to a bunch of rules.

But as Jesus (and the prophets said) Torah is misused when it is turned into rules and regulations that restrict rather than liberate.  Torah is misused when it is used to separate people from each other rather than building community. Both Jesus and Paul warn about this.

We can do that same to Jesus. We turn Christian life into rules and moral standards. We turn Christianity into a adjective- Christian musician, Christian book. Christian lifestyle.  Jesus as the fulfillment of Torah is an invitation into life- all of it.

The story told in the first five books of the Bible and beyond is not a story about rules, but  a story about how to follow the one true God, and also, how not to follow. How to live and how not to live.

We are constantly trying to turn the story into rules.

Rules are easier.

We can set ourselves apart, select who is in and who is out. But Torah Jesus plunges us into life. Life lived on God’s terms. Not by following rules but by being and doing. Because all of life matters. All of it for God’s glory. Not just worship but also what we wear, and eat, where we live and how we live. Not rules but an all encompassing holy engagement of life.

I’d like to know, what do you think?


2 thoughts on “Jesus and Torah

  1. This made me smile because I was just thinking about this. I know many people who interpret the word “fulfillment of the law” to mean “justification for the law”. But I always like pointing out that Jesus also said he was the END of the old law. And later it is also written that when there is a change in the priesthood there is a change in the law. Changing law is a paradoxical idea. The law was never meant to be a set of concrete rules. Bottom line: the law didn’t work that’s why Jesus was here in the first place. I always find it so disconcerting that people fight about things like placing the 10 commandments in public places, prayer in schools etc. These are irrelevant fights that have no place in the grace and love of Jesus. I think the Torah is important but I do not think the New testament is an extension of the Torah. With the new testament something completely new happened that made the Torah irrelevant as a philosophical life style. There is wisdom in the Torah and the rest of the Old Testament but it must be read in context and not as a literal map for our current post-resurrection world. Pentecost also changed the spiritual cartography. Even though Jesus is no longer a bodily presence, his spirit still lives and can be found in the most unlikely places outside the institutions and rules that Christians have set up. In short, God is just to big to be limited to one religion.

    It’s my understanding that Jesus was the way to God. Jesus was the doorway that made it possible for each of us to have a relationship with God without having to make some religious declaration of allegiance. I wonder if we sometimes get stuck at the doorway and forget to pursue what’s on the other side as Jesus intended.

    As always thanks for inspiring my thoughts.

    1. I was, just today, having a conversation with some folks about how when we start moving from Hebrew to Greek to English and back we lose some of the nuance of words. So fulfillment has a few aspects to it, end, culmination, full expression and so on.
      You’re right we forget that laws can and should change. There is always a moving forward in life and in faith. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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