A Study of the Term Torah

RESEARCH: A Study of the Term Torah

Professor of Biblical Languages, Southern Missionary College

The problem is modern to seek to understand a divine moral order. A tendency of all ages throughout the history of mankind has been a constant sentiment regarding the place and authority of law in both human and divine administration. It would be singularly difficult to point to any one period of human history and maintain that in respect to the spiritual sphere, comprehending law and ethics, there was a one hundred per cent dis regard of divine requirements. A section of the human race, in even the darkest periods of history, has contemplated God working through material forces under the direction of established law.

The reflections of the human mind that have submitted to the prevalence of natural law in the general economy of the world of matter, have not found it difficult to see its bearing on the religion of the Bible as perfectly legitimate. It has been conceded as logical and right that the supernatural has immediate moral relations and results in the proper field of man's relation to his Creator. Furthermore, the moral elements in man's constitution demand of necessity a place for responsibility in the higher sense, as do also the phenomena of the human conscience involve subjection to moral government and the establishment of a divine moral order. It has been recognized that moral law possesses the character of a divine revelation.

A principle of progression pervades divine planning, each revelation forming a complement and issue of that which preceded and the groundwork of future and more comprehensive revelations. These revelations were spiritual indications of the divine will, guidance to man in expressing faith and hope in God. Thus men were brought into near relation and inter communication with the Source of holiness and truth.

In the revelation of God's torah there is an objective, for it is of Him; He works with un erring wisdom to subordinate everything to its accomplishment. From the Scriptural viewpoint torah has been displayed as announcements, as doctrine, as prescriptions of order and duty, a rich treasury of knowledge and wisdom with ample materials for meditation, a way of life the faithful will follow.

For generations before the Christian Era the minds of the better part of the Jewish people were more or less occupied with the problem of revealed torah, its place in the economic life of the people, though it is true that the singu lar prominence of its spiritual endowments was frequently overshadowed by the traditions and religious customs of the forebears; or again by an endeavor to find a key to the spirit of the torah in the sublimated metaphysics of Gentile philosophy.

As one element in this advance and seeming retreat to accommodate the torah to religious, national, economical, and personal life, Jewish scholars during the three centuries prior to the Christian Era addressed themselves to the task of translating the Hebrew sacred text into koine Greek. This translation has traditionally become known as the Septuagint. Most of the New Testament writers utilized the vocabulary of that translation, and in many passages quoted directly therefrom.

Translation, of course, involved stating Semitic thought in Greek forms. Inasmuch as Greek, in the main, was the language of early Christianity, the importance of the Septuagint must be recognized. In reality, the Septuagint came to be regarded as the holy text by Christians, which fact, incidentally, led the Jews to prepare other versions to supplant the earlier Greek translation. Historically Christianity must evaluate its spiritual heritage as having flowed through the Hellenistic literary period. One apparent modern result of the fusion of the He brew culture into the Greek has been a strong tendency in exegesis to evaluate concepts via the Greek alone. In respect to the term torah, which is evident in the Massoretic text 220 times in 217 verses, the Septuagint rendered the same by 13 different substantives. Nomos was the majority choice, 86.8 per cent times. However, in the light of the meaning of the collective noun lorah, namely: (a) teaching, directions, instructions, regulations; (&) in the ethical sense the will of Jehovah for His people; (c) a usage, habit, mode, custom; (d) the Pentateuch, a book characterized by teaching and instruction, directions and regulations in the light of these meanings various references in the New Testament in which nomos is used, especially the Septuagint quotations involving the term, should be interpreted with stress upon the ethical sense of nomos rather than the juridical. The Greek language did not distinguish between the juridical and the ethical sense of the term nomos.

In so far as nomos is a rendering for the term torah in the Septuagint or the New Testament, there is no basis to consider nomos in a juridical sense. In the New Testament, Paul, particularly in Galatians, attacked the legalistic mode of life so characteristic of Pharisaism. The term nomos in the juridical sense was used to express his views. Note as follows:

"For if the inheritance is dependent on nomou, it is no longer dependent on promise." Gal. 3:18.

Likewise in Romans 4:14, "For if the heirs are dependent on nomou, the faith is empty and the promise is useless."

Only two passages of the Septuagint that contain translations of the Hebrew term torah were quoted directly by New Testament writers, namely Deuteronomy 27:26 and Jeremiah 38:33 (31:32). The latter reference of Jeremiah was quoted twice by the author of Hebrews. First in Hebrews 8:10, in discussing the ministry of the new priesthood, the writer asserted that Jesus, in becoming the surety of a better covenant, was superior to a Levitical priesthood; that Christ's ministry was a better ministry, for the new covenant saves from sin, nomous being written in the very heart of the believer.

In Hebrews 10:16, in presenting his proof that Jesus was the high priest, the author reasoned from Scripture that the old system and prophecies pointed to Jesus' sacrifice; and that that idea agreed with the new covenant as described in Jeremiah 38:33 (31:32): "placing di vine instructions [didous . . . nomous] on their hearts."

There exists no known reason to conclude that the word nomous in the Hebrew epistle passages referred alone to the Decalogue as such, although it must be included since it is an integral part of the ethical instruction of the torah of Moses. Since nomous is a plural anarthrous substantive of a collective noun, emphasis has been placed upon all those singular ethical teachings that God has desired should be manifest in the life. The author of the Hebrew epistle assumed the identity of Jeremiah's "new covenant" with Christianity.

The apostle Paul, in composing the Galatian epistle, quoted Deuteronomy 27:26, which statement was the summary sentence of the imprecations pronounced on Mount Ebal. The Massoretic text reads, "Cursed is he who does not maintain the words of this torah to do them."

The Septuagint version to which Paul referred reads, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the words of this nomou to do them."

The quotation in Galatians 3:10 reads, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide in all things written in the book of the nomou to do them."

Unquestionably Paul has in mind the Pentateuch, but Moses undoubtedly had reference to all instructions reiterated in his discourse when it is stated, "The words of this torah."

Is it any wonder, then, that the student without knowledge of Biblical languages is confused when simply the word law is used in the same sentence with different meanings and back grounds?

In Romans 3:19 it seems quite evident that Paul uses the Septuagint terminology, nomos for torah to mean the entire Old Testament, as follows:

"Now we know that whatsoever the nomos says, it speaks to those who are living on the basis of the nomoi."

Many writers and prophets subsequent to Moses wrote pertaining to the Pentateuch. Frequently they referred to those writings as torah, which in the Septuagint was most often translated nomos. That concept accounts for the fact that in no instance in the Greek Pentateuch is the locative case of nomos used with en to indicate a book or scroll. On the other hand, the use of nomos in the locative case with the prepositions en or eis does not exclusively indicate that the Pentateuch or a book called Nomos was signified. Many times emphasis only was being placed upon doctrines, "on the basis of the nomos."

Thus torah, translated "law" in the King James Version, differed from the law of other nations. It stood immutable; it furnished an epitome of the growth and development of the ethics and moral standards of the theocratic church, as well as the background out of which evolved the ideals of Christianity. To Paul it was the pedagogue (Gal. 3:24), whose duty it was to conduct the novice to the teacher; torah was teaching, direction, revelation, instruction, regulation, rather than mere legal requirement. Truly, the language of the torah is the pedigree of the church today.



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Professor of Biblical Languages, Southern Missionary College

April 1952

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