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Month 10:5, Week 1:4 (Revee/Shavu'ot), Year:Day 5940:271 AM
2Exodus 3/40, Yovel - Year 50/50
Gregorian Calendar: Tuesday 3 January 2017
The Torah Puzzle
Theories and Realities Examined


    Christians and Messianics alike have, in their own minds, 'resolved' the Torah (Law) puzzle. For the former, it's gone - forever - nailed to the cross and not binding on believers anymore; for the latter, it is eternal, and needs to be obeyed. Few of these have any idea what the main theological controversy is really about, or that there are (at last count), at least eight different interpretations that cross both evangelical and messianic lines.

    How I Got on the Bumpy Torah Road

    Ever since being lent a copy of David Stern's New Testament translation by a friend [1], getting his Messianic Jewish Manifesto in 1992 and Commentary in 1996 [3], which convinced me that the Torah (Law) has not been abolished but brought to completion in Yah'shua (Jesus), and which led our congregations to start becoming Torah-compliant in 1999, I have been on a very long a bumpy journey trying to make sense of the attitude of the Apostle Paul toward this vitally important subject. Though the road has got less and less bumpy over the years, it has not been without considerable struggle on my part to get a comprehensive picture firmly established in my mind. And do not suppose that Messianics have a uniform theology about this either, because they absolutely don't - see Messianic Heresies Exposed.

    Spiritually Fatal Consequences in Misunderstanding Paul

    The central dilemma and conflict revolve around a number of passages in the Pauline epistles which seem to be saying, unambiguously, that the Torah (Law) has been done away with or abrogated, and those which say the exact opposite. This has led a number of messianics to unfortunately, and unnecessarily, lose faith in Paul and abandon him as uninspired - see my Anti-Paul Series. Worse, this has led some of this number to reject the New Testament and revert or turn to Judaism, and a smaller number to abandon emunah (faith) in Elohim (God) altogether and turn to atheism. Since this subject is shaking up so many people I have long felt the burden on my heart to prepare studies to help those struggling with these issues find resolution. Since I have found it myself, I feel suitably positioned now to render a testimony. We really do need to nail Paul before we can use him confidently to resolve other equally important doctrinal matters in both the evangelical and messianic communities. So I hope this study will be a blessing to many.

    The Four Key Torah-Abrogation Texts

    There are four passages which give the impression that the Torah (Law) has been forever abbrogated and these are they that Christians of all stripes fall back on. These are, using typical Protestant translations (with their inherent biases that we will examine presently) which are made from Greek manuscripts (MSS) as opposed to Aramaic or Hebrew ones, are as follows:

    • 1. "Do you not know, brothers - for I am speaking to men who know the Torah (law) - that the Torah (law) has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the Torah (law) of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that Torah (law) and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. So, my brothers, you also died to the Torah (law) through the body of Messiah, that you might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to Elohim (God). For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the Torah (law) were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the Torah (law) so that we serve in the new way of the Ruach (Spirit), and not in the old way of the written code. What shall we say, then? Is the Torah (law) sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the Torah (law). For I would not have known what coveting really was if the Torah (law) had not said, 'Do not covet.' But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the mitzvah (commandment), produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from Torah (law), sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the mitzvah (commandment) came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very mitzvah (commandment) that was intended to bring chayim (life) actually brought death" (Rom.7:1-10, NIV).

    • 2. "For through the Torah (law) I died to the Torah (law) so that I might live for Elohim (God)" (Gal.2:19, NIV).

    • 3. "Such confidence as this is ours through Messiah before Elohim (God). Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from Elohim (God). He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Ruach (Spirit); for the letter kills, but the Ruach (Spirit) gives chayim (life). Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Ruach (Spirit) be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a tiqveh (hope), we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Messiah is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Master, the veil is taken away. Now the Master is the Ruach (Spirit), and where the Ruach (Spirit) of the Master is, there is freedom" (2 Cor.3:4-18, NIV).

    • 4. "For He Himself is our shalom (peace), who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the Torah (law) with its mitzvot (commandments) and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making shalom (peace), and in this one body to reconcile both of them to Elohim (God) through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility" (Eph.2:14-16, NIV).

    Our Angle of Approach

    We are going to approach this, first of all, from the 'Christian angle' by restricting ourselves to the Greek MSS, and though messianics don't for the most part like this approach, there is much value in doing so, if for no other reason to show the importance of getting back to the Hebraic receptor tongues. We shall do that in a later study, Yah willing.

    The Kartagéo Problem

    Now here is the problem from the Greek-translation perspective: all four Torah-Abrogation texts use the Greek verb katargeó which is unequivocal in its meaning, containing a range of shades of meaning anywhere from the absolutust 'abolish' to the gradual 'fade away'. However you view the word, there is no escaping its basic denotation of impermanence as far as Torah is concerned. Along with these four assertions one must align Galatians 3:19 - 4:5 where Paul apparently is saying that the Torah (Law) had only been valid from Moses to Messiah:

    Protestant Version Based on Greek Texts (NKJV)
    (Hebrew Terminology Added by the Author)

      "What purpose then does the Torah (law) serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through malakim (angels) by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but Elohim (God) is echad (one). Is the Torah (law) then against the promises of Elohim (God)? Certainly not ! For if there had been a Torah (law) given which could have given chayim (life), truly righteousness would have been by the Torah (law). But the Scripture has confined ('encircled', AENT) all under sin, that the promise by emunah (faith) in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) might be given to those who believe. But before emunah (faith) came, we were kept under guard by the Torah (law), kept for the emunah (faith) which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the Torah (law) was our tutor to bring us to Messiah, that we might be justified by emunah (faith). But after emunah (faith) has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of Elohim (God) through emunah (faith) in Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus). For as many of you as were baptised into Messiah have put on Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus). And if you are Messiah's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. || Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, Elohim (God) sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Torah (law), to redeem those who were under the Torah (law), that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Gal.3:19-4:6, NKJV).

      Messianic Version Based on Aramaic/Syriac Texts AENT)

      "Why then Torah? It was added because of apostacy, until the coming of their heir (seed) to whom the promise was made, and Torah was given by Messengers by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not represent one alone, but Elohim is one. Is the Torah we received against the promises of Elohim? Elohim forbid! For if Torah had been given, which was able to give life, then truly righteousness would have come as a result of Torah. But the Scripture has encircled all things andf put them under sin, that the promise in the faith of Y'shua the Mashiyach might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, Torah was guarding us while we were confined from the faith about to be revealed. Torah was therefore a tutor for us, going towards the Mashiyach that we, by faith, might be made righteous. But since faith came, we are no longer under tutors. For you are all the children of Elohim by faith in Y'shua the Mashiyach. For those who have been immersed in Mashiayach have been clothed with Mashiyach. For there is neither Jew nor Aramean. nor slave nor free, not male nor female, but you are all one in Y'shua the Mashiayach. And if you are of the Mashiayach then you are seeds of Awraham and inheritors by the promise. || But I say that for a period of time the heir is a child, no different from the servants, even though he is the Master over all of them. However, he is under guardians and stewards of the house until the time has come which his Father has set. Even so with us, when we were young, we acted as if subject to elements of this world. But when therefore the fullness of time had come, Elohim sent His Son who was born of a woman, and was subject to Torah. To redeem those who are under Torah that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal.3:19-4:6, AENT).

    The Two Lines of Opposing Evangelical and Messianic Forces

    Had these five passages been the only ones in which Paul explained the purpose of the Torah (Law) the debate would be over...in favour of Evangelical Christians. Unfortunately, there are a number of other passages which, from the Christian theological point-of-view, apparently contradict such assertions. And not unsurprisingly it is this set of passages that represent the 'defence line' of pro-Torah messianics. While in Romans 7:6 Paul says, "we have been released (discharged) from the Torah (law)" (NIV), earlier in the same epistle he asks, "Do we, then, nullify/abolish the Torah (law) by this emunah (faith)? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the Torah (law)" (Rom.3:31, NIV). Interestingly, the words "released/discharged" and "nullify/abolish" are both forms of katargeó!

    An Apparent Roman Contradiction

    So the apparent contradiction is lodged in one and the same epistle so that solutions sought by means of audience criticism would not seem valid. In the same epistle Paul goes on to say that "in my inner being I delight in Elohim's (God's) Torah (law)" (Rom.7:22, NIV) and in Romans 13:8-10 he gives the very clear impression that stipulations of the Torah (Law) must still be obeyed, and are indeed obeyable through agapé or ahavah love:

      "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the [requirements of the] Torah (law). The mitzvot (commandments), 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other mitzvah (commandment) there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' Ahavah/agapé (love) does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore Ahavah/agapé (love) is the fulfillment (filling up of, completion) of the Torah (law)" (Rom.13:8-10, NIV).

    Messiah the End of the Law?

    The very heart of the problem is to be found in Romans 10:4 which seems to belong to the first set of abrogation passages, "Messiah is the end of the Torah (law)" (NIV). And yet the Greek word translated "end" in most non-Messianic English Bibles, telos , can also mean 'purpose', 'goal', 'accomplishment' or 'climax', as David Stern goes to great lengths in his translation, commentary and book to point out [1][2][3].

    Summary of the Nine Theological Solutions

    Protestant scholars have long been aware of this problem of Paul apparently contradicting himself in the attitudes he expresses toward the Torah (Law). They have sought a number of solutions in different directions which we need to be aware of. These include:

    • 1. Deny the dilemma by rejecting the Tanakh (Old Testament) entirely (e.g. Marcion);
    • 2. Attenuate the problem by putting the two testaments on different levels of authority;
    • 3. Distinguish between the the oral and the written Torah (Law);
    • 4. See the death sentence and various curses of the Torah (Law) as abrogated, not the Torah (Law) itself, through emunah (faith) in Messiah;
    • 5. Shift the emphasis from the troublesome word katargeó to the more pliable telos and to thus view Messiah as the New Torah in an eschatological (end-time) age;
    • 6. See idolatrous abuses of Torah (Law) as abrogated, such as trying to get right with Yahweh through legalistic observance of Torah Law) instead of getting right (being saved) through emunah (faith) alone and thereafter living Torah (Law) as an act of ahavah (love) and obedience;
    • 7. See Messiah as displacing the older, invalid hermeneutic [4];
    • 8. See the function of Torah in isolating and separating Jews from gentiles as ended; and
    • 9. Understand that all Paul meant was that the curses of Deuteronomy 28 were suspended for the gentile Christian only.

    Selecting Categories to Work On

    Four of these categories (#1,2,4,9) I am not going to examine at any great length because they belong, to different degrees, to the liberal mindset which can also be agnostic or atheistic, though one or two aspects are interesting. The remaining five all have merit, in my view, and indeed I have maintained - and still maintain - a combination all of these with perhaps the exception of #3 [5].

    1. Marcion, von Harnack and Luther

    The earliest and most extreme solution to the Pauline dilemma regarding Torah was offered by Marcion around 144 AD in the post-apostolic era. He took Paul's use of the verb katargeó in its strictest sense and decided that it meant the Tanakh (Old Testament) itself should be removed from the Christian canon. However, to cling to one horn of a dilemma (however apparent) does not eliminate the problem it poses. Marcion's solution cropped up again centuries later in the liberal period of the late 19th century in the person of A.von Harnack, who also concluded that the Tanakh (Old Testament) should be eliminated from the Bible canon. While Luther did not want to go to the extreme position of uncanonising the Tanakh (Old Testament), in some of his writings he created artificial categories by making a sharp distinction between the Old and the New by saying we have 'Law' in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and 'Gospel' in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament). In his Tanakh (Old Testament) commentaries he looked upon the Tanakh (Old Testament) as a promise and the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) as fulfillment, agreeing with Augustine that the Torah (law) demands what the Besorah (Gospel) gives. In Lutheran tradition, at least in theory, the Tanakh (Old Testament) is valid for the Christian as a guide for morality, a round about way of recognising the validity of the ethical Torah (Law). Though this is certainly a valid conclusion, it does not nearly go far enough.

    2. Origin, Jerome, Calvin, Bousset and Bornkamn

    Another solution to the problem, in part prompted by Marcion's severe surgery on the canon, was that of Origen (184/185 – 253/254), which was more or less followed in later times by Jerome (345-420), John Calvin (1509-1564), Wilhelm Bousset (1865-1920), Günther Bornkamm (1905-1990) et al. However, in this view only a limited number of Tanakh (Old Testament) mitzvot (commandments) were abolished in the work of the cross, such as circumcision, Kashrut and the laws about festivals, while the ethical and moral laws were elevated and raised to their proper glory and place. With the exception of the festivals and Kashrut, no doubt forced (at least originally on Jerome) by the ecclesiastical powers on the contenders (from which they obtained their incomes and positions) of this stance because of the developing - and developed - Catholic and Protestant traditions, I have to say that this is almost the Messianic Evangelical position, with some qualifications which we shall examine later.

    3. Oral vs. Written Torah

    A third solution has been to distinguish between the Written Torah (Law) of Moses, in the Bible, and the Oral 'Law' of the Rabbinical Talmudists developed thereafter. The latter, also called Mishneh Torah are properly regarded as "man-made rules learned by rote" (Is.29:13, NLT) and "the lying pen of the Torah-teachers (scribes)" (Jer.8:8, NIV) and, accordingly, abrogated. Attractive though such an idea is (being one favoured by many messianics like ben Mordechai [5]) it would, however, be very difficult to attribute such a distinction to Paul [6], even if the false tradition of the elders is certainly roundly denounced by Yah'shua (Jesus) in particular (Mt.15:3,6; Mk.7:13, etc.).

    4. Abolition of the Penalty of the Torah

    A fourth position is to view the sentence of death issuing from the Torah (Law) as that which was abrogated in the work of Messiah. This is most certainly a Messianic Evangelical belief in the context that the penalties of the Torah are of no effect as far as Heaven is concerned when someone who has infracted a mitzvah (commandment) repents and appeals to the atoning blood of Messiah for cancellation of the penalty (forgiveness). However, there are those who also believe that the Torah's (Law's) rôle in bringing knowledge and an increase in sin, and inflicting curse and death upon humanity, has also been abrogated. This we cannot accept. Torah still reveals sin and moves souls to repentance, and it is this reality of the convicting power of Torah that contemporary Protestant evangelists like Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron use in winning souls to Messiah [7]. Related to this would be the suggestion by some that Paul, in this case, meant something like 'Fate', in speaking of the Torah (Law), and it was this evil 'Fate' in general that was abrogated. I think we have to be very careful here in going down that avenue, and indeed Barth has refuted this claim [8], for the implication of such a suggestion is that the Author of Torah is somehow 'evil', a totally unacceptable conclusion.

    5. W.D.Davies Part I - The Three Rabbinic Ages

    A fifth solution was advanced and developed by William D.Davies (1911-2001) in the 1950's to 1970's. Centering his thesis on Romans 10:4 ("Messiah is the end/goal of the Torah/law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" - NIV), Davies concluded that Yah'shua (Jesus) came to be the New Torah for Paul. Many Messianics, like ourselves, have absolutely no problem with this idea for He is, in reality, both the incarnation of Torah as well as its completion in a life-giving form as the living, incarnate Word. Basing his research on his knowledge of rabbinic literature, Davies brought to bear on Paul's view of salvation history discussions by the Rabbis of the fate of Torah in the Messianic Age. According to some rabbinic thinking, there were three dispensations of world history:

    • 1. The age of chaos (Gen.1:2);
    • 2. The age of Torah; and
    • 3. The age of Messiah.

    And in Paul there are three similar periods:

    • 1. That from Adam to Moses;
    • 2. That from Moses to Messiah; and
    • 3. That from Messiah to the parousia (presence) or Second Coming (Rom.4:15; 5:13; 10:4).

    In the first the world was (Davies supposes) Torahless (Lawless); in the second Torah reigned; and the third had begun in Messiah. Messiah, for Paul, in this position, was not only the Second Adam, accounting for the first period (typologically) but He was also the New Torah.

    W.D.Davies Part II - Paul at an Historical Juncture

    In Davies' model, the Torah (Law) did its noble work in its time, leading history right up to the Age of Messiah (Gal.3:24; Rom.10:4). Paul lived in that moment when the second and third ages met (1 Cor.10:11). In Romans 10:4 in this thinking, Messiah is the telos (end) of the Torah (Law); in 1 Corinthians 10:11 the telé (ends) of the ages meet back to back, as it were. Davies picks up on earlier work done on Hochmah (Wisdom) in the Messiah figure in Paul and suggests that this had been the Hochmah (Wisdom) already seen in Judaism 'incarnate' in Torah (Law). At any rate, it is now incarnate (even though this is not a Pauline word) in Messiah. Davies' position merits serious examination. Many scholars follow him in certain aspects of his thesis. Very close to Davies' position as it centres on Romans 10:4 is one that understands telos in that passage to mean 'goal' or 'purpose', so that Messiah for Paul was the exponent of the Torah's (Law's) fulfillment in unifying all humanity in Messiah.

    W.D.Davies Part III - Was There Really a Torahless Age?

    There are many lofty and potentially complex ideas contained in Davies' thesis that deserve careful scrutiny. There are also some serious errors. For example, his claim that there was a Torahless age followed by a Torah Age (upon the advent of Moses) does not bear up to scriptural scrutiny. Before the flood Noah must have been aware of some Torah (Law) because of his awareness of Kashrut as he knew the difference between clean and unclean animals (Gen.7:8). Likewise Abraham was aware of Torah (Law) as is proved by Genesis 25:6 where it is written that "Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My mitzvot (commandments), My chukkim (statutes), and My torot (laws)" (Gen.26:5, NKJV). The navi (prophet) Nehemiah echoes the same categories of Mosaic Torah (Law) when he tells us that "[Yahweh] came down also on Mount Sinai, and spoke with [the children of Israel] from heaven, and gave them just mishpatim (ordinances, judgments) and true torot (laws), good chukkim (statutes) and mitzvot (commandments)" (Neh.9:13, NKJV). How much Torah there was in the patriarchal era before Moses, or what form it took, we cannot absolutely say, only that there was Torah then, even if only oral, and that it seemes to have resembled Mosaic Torah remarkably, confirmed by the existence of pre-Mosaic circumcision, blood sacrifices, Kashrut, etc..

    6. Ragnar Bring - Torah-Validity as Sin-Revealer

    A sixth suggestion comes from the Swedish theologian Ragnar Bring of the Lundensian School who said that "for Paul faith in Christ is faith in the Torah, God's revelation in the Scriptures" [9]. Bring centres much of his thought in Galatians 3:24-25, "So the Torah (law) was put in charge to lead us to Messiah that we might be justified by emunah (faith). Now that emunah (faith) has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the Torah (law)" (Gal.3:24-25, NIV). In his thesis, the Torah (Law) leads to Messiah in that it clearly shows right from wrong, but it did not give or produce righteousness. Yahweh does that and He did so in Yah'shua (Jesus). Following Ödeberg, he views the telos in 2 Corinthians 3:13 as important as that in Romans 10:4, "We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away...Messiah is the end (telos) of the Torah (law) so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (2 Cor.3:13; Rom.10:4, NIV). This passage speaks not only of the fading splendor of Moses' shining face on Mt.Sinai but also of the end of Torah - precisely that which the Israelites could not see at that point. The Torah (Law) is good in that it leads to Messiah, but becomes idolatrous when the election of which it speaks is taken as privilege. The idolatry of Torah is what Yahweh has abrogated in the coming and work of Messiah. The Torah (Law) itself is still valid, however, in that it reveals the extent of humanity's fall and sin, and liability to judgment. Again, this is the Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron approach. Rather close to Bring's position, which we as Messianic Evangelicals also accept, is the view that what Paul actually considered abrogated were misinterpretations and misuse of Torah, particularly when it comes to be used as a means to acquire righteousness through self-effort instead of through emunah (faith) in Messiah, what Stern calls "legalistic perversion of Torah" in his JNT translation.

    7. Markus Barth - Abolition of the Middle Wall of Partition

    A seventh solution is that of Markus Barth (1915-1994), son of the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), in his work on Ephesians, and especially "but because of his great ahavah/agapé (love) for us, Elohim (God), who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Messiah even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved" (Eph.2:3-5, NIV). That aspect of Torah (law) which created a separation of Jews from Gentiles is not abrogated or set aside. What Paul viewed as annulled was the middle wall of partition indicated by such central passages as:

    • 1. "How will anyone know that You are pleased with me and with Your people unless You go with us? What else will distinguish me and Your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?" (Ex.33:16, NIV)

    • 2. "For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be Your own inheritance, just as You declared through Your servant Moses when You, O Yahweh-Elohim, brought our fathers out of Egypt" (1 Kings 8:53, NIV).

    • 3. "Now if you obey Me fully and keep my b'rit (covenant), then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is Mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of cohenim (priests) and a qadosh (holy, set-apart) nation" (Ex.19:5-6, NIV).

    Insofar as Yahweh's gift of Torah rendered Israel separate or distinct, or a priestly and qadosh (holy, set-apart) folk, to that extent Torah was set aside. Or at least that aspect of it, and yet obedience to Torah is still mandated of believers in Messiah, so there will be a new 'separation' of sorts - this time between the Torah-obedient saved and those who are not saved (including those who are Torah-obedient but not trusting in Messiah).

    8. Michael Wyschogrod - Paul as Orthodox Jew

    The eighth and final solution that has been offered by theologians approaches Paul and Torah (Law) from an Orthodox Jewish position. Wyschogrod centres his argument in Galatians 3:13; 5:12 and especially in Acts 15. His argument is that Paul was an Orthodox Jew and remained one. In this thinking, Paul knew that Gentiles were not subject to the laws of Torah but only to the seven Noahide Laws (Sheva Mitzvot B'nei Noah) [10], just as the Ger Toshav (unconverted Gentile living in Israel) was not subject to the same stipulations as the Ger Tsaddik (full convert). In Wyschogrod's view, then, for Paul, Messiah had taken on Himself the curses of disobedience to the Torah (Law) per pro Deuteronomy 28 (cp. Galatians 3:13), thus eliminating the threat thereof, of Yahweh's Middat daDin or 'Measure of Justice', for Gentile converts to Judaism through Messiah, who remain subject only to the Noahide Laws, like the Ger Toshav. What this hypothesis claims is that what has been abrogated vis-à-vis the Torah, is simply the effect of Deuteronomy 28 in the case of the Gentiles who have been engrafted onto the stock of Israel through the agency of Messiah. This idea is very popular amongst Messianic Jews which is why a two-class system has arisen in that movement consisting of 'Jews' who must obey Torah and 'Gentiles' for whom such obedience has been abrogated by Yah'shua (Jesus) on the Cross, a position repudiated by Paul himself who taught that the distinction between Judahute (Jew) and Greek (Gentile) has been abolished. According to Wyschogrod, the conciliar decision at Jerusalem (Ac.15:20,29) proves this hypothesis because there it is clearly stated first by James and then by message from the apostles and elders that Gentiles who turn to Elohim (God) are obligated only to obey the Noahide Laws. All Paul was trying to do was to provide access for Gentiles to membership in Israel in good, Orthodox mode. In no way, it is therefore claimed, did he really depart from Orthodox practice. Wyschogrod's position is not actually very distant from Markus Barth's emphasis on Paul's search for a way to tear down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile.

    Messiah as the New Isaac

    What is important to emphasise, having now examined all of these theological positions, is that Galatians 4:21-31 is clearly a midrash [11] on Genesis 21:10-12:

      "[Sarah] said to Abraham, 'Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.' The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But Elohim (God) said to him, 'Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned'" (Gen.21:10-12, NIV).

    This is a passage central to Paul's understanding of Messiah, with the curse of Deuteronomy 21:23 seen as devolving upon Messiah in the light of His being the 'New Isaac'.

    The New, Continuing Israel

    All scholars agree that the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) rests its case for Messiah and the Messianic Community (Church) as the true, new and continuing Israel under a new King (Yah'shua/Jesus) on a basically heilsgeschichte or salvation history view of Scripture, including Torah. As Käsemann puts it:

      "I would even say it is impossible to understand the Bible in general or Paul in particular without the perspective of salvation history" [12].

    The Story and the Lifestyle

    The Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) view the Tanakh (Old Testament) largely in terms of a story of Elohim's (God's) almighty acts of creation, election and redemption, and within that view Torah also has the expression of Elohim's (God's) will for how to live before Him. It is the divine lifestyle of the saved. Anything that contradicts it is pagan and idolatrous. And this is what is particularly interesting about Paul because he stresses the latter aspect of Torah as DIVINE LIFESTYLE as opposed to the former where the Greek word nomos appears.

    Two Main Connotations of Torah

    Since the work of Gunnar Östborn in the mid-late 20th century, there has been a general recognition of the multiple meanings of the word Torah [13]. This is crucially important to understand and something Messianic Evangelicals underline again and again. Östborn's work was seminal in that it showed clearly that the word torah, as applied to the Pentateuch (first five books of Moses), already had a long history of bearing the two connotations:

    • 2. LAW.

    Understanding Nomos

    In 1973 a similar service was was rendered for the Greek word nomos ('law', 'torah') by Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, going considerably beyond the work of C.H.Dodd and Kleinknecht [14], which, I am surmising, must have profoundly influenced David Stern's Jewish New Testament [1] which uses this scholarship to justify his particular renditions of Pauline Torah passages.

    Septuagint Problems

    The tendency among scholars working in the field to express regret that the Septuagint (LXX, the ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh/Old Testament) over-emphasised the legal aspect of Torah has now been put into perspective [15]. On the contrary - and this is EXTREEMELY important for both Messianics and Evangelicals to understand - it is now clear that nomos in the hellenistic age had at least the full range of meaning which Torah had and perhaps more.

    Torah is Far More Than Just 'Law'

    I cannot stress the importance of this emet (truth) in studies relating to Torah in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament). THE HEBREW WORD TORAH MEANS MANY THINGS and not merely 'law'. This must always be born in mind when reading Paul. Bultmann outlined five aspects of Torah:

    • 1. Tanakh (Old Testament) Law without distinguishing between the legal, and non-legal parts of the Pentateuch;
    • 2. The Tanakh (Old Testament) as a whole;
    • 3. The general sense of norm or principle;
    • 4. The sense of constraint or necessity; and finally
    • 5. In the phrase "the Law of Messiah/Christ" (Gal.6:2) [16]

    To these we must add nomos (Torah) in:

    • 6. The sense of Judaism itself, the identity symbol, over against Christos (Messiah/Christ), for those Jews who maintain their identity 'in Torah' rather than changing it to "in Messiah (Christ)" (e.g. Rom.6:23; Eph.2:13).

    Identity is the Crux


    Our Identity is Not the Torah

    Just as nomos meant 'religion' in the hellenistic (pagan Greek) world, so Paul could - and did on occasion - use nomos to mean the 'Jewish religion' in the sense of its use of Torah (along with oral traditions) for self-identity. Our identity is now in Messiah, not in Torah! And to miss that is to miss the Besorah (Gospel) altogether. We are not to wear the Torah - or our obedience to it - as a badge of identity, pride, honour or self-worth and to do so is to entirely miss the message of the B'rit Chadashah (New Covenant).

    Messiah identity Plus Torah Lifestyle

    Does this mean that we reject the Torah? By no means! It is the lifestyle of those who are saved and have their identity in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). That type of nomos or torah is gone forever and anyone who tries to resurrect it, even if they claim emunah (faith) in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), are not only resurrecting Judaism but are denying their identity. You can't have a dual identity - it is in one or the other. And that is why Messianic Evangelicals say that there is no such thing as 'Messianic Judaism'. That is why we say there is no such thing as a 'renewed' Covenant - you cannot renew an identity which, as Paul preaches, leads to death and slavery. We abide by a New Covenant because we have a New Identity in Messiah (Christ). This means we cannot rely on Torah for justification but only emunah (faith) in Messiah...as the Evangelicals correctly teach but this does not give us the licence to live a Torahless (lawless) lifestyle...which Evangelicals only partially teach.

    Which Identity Will You Choose?

    Here, then, is the problem and the challenge, and why studies such as this one are essential, however 'heavy' they may be for some. The problem of Paul's attitude toward the Torah (Law) devolved upon each passage in the problem-dilemma posed above. There is no question that in many passages where he spoke of Torah abrogation he meant by nomos specific legal stipulations (like animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc.). As the Jerusalem Council showed, new Gentile converts, with no background of Torah lifestyle, needed gradual induction so as not to be overwhelmed and to ensure they did not lose their identity-focus in Messiah - there were problems enough with converts from Judaism who still clung to their identity in Torah-observance, having failed to understand that the whole identity must now be in Messiah, without which there can be no complete regeneration and no overcoming of the flesh. This was the real 'Judaising heresy' - the attempt to maintain a dual identity in Torah and in Messiah, the struggle for these Jewish converts being their unwillingness to let go of their 'heritage identity', the same problem in Messianic Judaism today. There is no 'Jew' or 'Greek' in Messiah - these identiies and distinctions are gone forever - and the Torah-observance of this New Community in Messiah is therefore a consequence of being in Messiah. In that sense it is 'New Torah' or 'Messianic Torah'.

    The True Identity Symbol

    The starting point of this new chayim (life) is not in Torah but in Messiah as Torah incarnate - He is the only one who ever lived it perfectly and sinlessly, and the only way we will ever be able to live the Torah lifestyle as Yahweh wants us to as His images and witnesses on earth is if we are first wholly and exclusively in Messiah. This is the identity symbol of true believers.

    New Torah, New Life

    Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) as the New Torah inaugurated the Messianic Era and to that extend superceded the Torah-without-Messiah era but also to that extent did not eradicate or annul Torah - Torah was caught up in Messiah in a new era and life. The kaine ktisis ('New Creation') for Paul introduced a new kanón for the Israel of Elohim (God) to walk by - and this is why circumcision, the great idol of being 'in Torah', is meaningless in this B'rit Chadashah (New Covenant):

      "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation (kaine ktisis). Shalom (peace) and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of Elohim (God)" (Gal.6:15-16, NIV).

    Tanakh vs. Oral Torah?

    Messianics like Avi ben Mordechai [17] and others like him, just don't get what Paul means and try to make out the controversy to be between Tanakh-Torah and Talmudic Oral Torah. Though Talmudism was certainly an issue it was not the main issue.

    The Two Hebrew Denominations Part

    Paul's argument in regard to Torah is, as I have said, basically a heilsgeschichte (salvation-history) argument in an eschatological mode. As has been shown by Dietrich Rössler, inter-testamental Judaism, in its variety of religious expression, emphasised the Torah Story on the one hand in some sects or denominations, and Torah stipulations on the other, in others [18]. Of the two Hebraic denominations which finally survived the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70, Christianity fell heir to the emphasis on the heilsgeschitlick Story aspect of Torah (in sensu lato / in the broad sense) while Pharisaic-Rabbinic Judaism fell heir to the emphasis on Torah as the divine will expressed for lifestyle. Christianity inherited salvation while Judaism retained the (albeit corrupted) lifestyle. Judaism's greatest mistake was in rejecting the salvation of Messiah (the 'primary thing') and Christianity's the rejection of the divine lifestyle (the 'secondary thing').

    Jewish Denominations

    'Where do we go from here?' is what messianics have been puzzling over ever since the messianic resurgence at the end of the last century, and is the reason they are split up into so many denominations and schools of thought. The attempt to fuse Judaism with the Besorah (Gospel) is the main problem. You can't because what you end up with is Judaism, and Judaism carries no salvation. It is a dead, Anti-Messiah (antichrist) religion, in whatever mutated forms it may currently exist, for 2,000 years of evolution have spawned Orthodoxy (which is basically the old Messiah-denying Pharisaic religion), Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Reconstructionism (the most recent), not to mention transdenominational 'Jewish Renewalism' (essentially Hassidism) which is very liberal. Finally there is Secular Humanistic Judaism which is not so much religious as a belief that the secular roots of Jewish life are as important as the religious ones. To these we can add the occultic branch of Kabbalistic Judaism which very much meshes with Orthodoxy.

    Haggadah and Halacha

    There are, as we have seen, several meanings to the word torah which can broadly speaking be arranged under two rubrics: muthos and ethos, or 'story' and 'laws', or 'haggadah' and 'halacha'. Torah is, and always was, a balance between the two: to emphasise one to the exclusion of the other would be to fundamentally misunderstand it. The mistake that is made by Evangelicals in particular, when it comes to the famous Torah passages in Paul's writings, is to lay too much stress on the law aspect and then to misread exactly what Paul says is being abolished.

    How the Church Went Wrong

    Paul, in his mandate which he had received from the resurrected Messiah [19], was commanded to preach the Besorah (Gospel) to the gentiles and emphasised Torah as the story of divine election and redmeption, in the eschatological conviction that Yahweh's recent work in Messiah had made that election and that redemption available to all mankind. At the same time he pointed out the main stumbling-block to that mandate, which was Torah as identity, when sole identity is now in Messiah. The mistake made by the Christian Church (as it became) was in rejecting the lifestyle, for a variety of historical reasons, to be seen, in part, as different from the Jews. This resulted in abandoning the divine moedim (appointments - sabbaths, new moons, festivals) and replacing them with paganised observances (Christmas, Easter, etc.) to make it easier for pagans to convert to the Church. Judaism in its turn, in order to emphasise its distinction from Christianity (and probably to avoid persecution too), adopted new customs of its own [20].

    So What Torah Has Been Abrogated and What Remains?

    It is hard to summarise a study not only as large as this but about which considerably more could - and must at some point - be said. Obviously I have had to cut a lot of corners to keep this reasonably brief. We have seen that the word Torah means many things so what did Paul mean in his various statements about it in the B'rit Chadashah (New Covenant)? Firstly, he did not mean that all of the Torah has been abrogated, which means absolutely no sense at all and might well be viewed as a creed of lawless satanism. Yet it is clear that some kind of Torah has been abrogated or abolished. But what? Here is a list of some conclusions from this essay, and some others which there was not time to discuss here, to which doubtless others may later be added:

    • 1. We are to die to that kind of Torah from which the Hebrews previously got their identity because our sole identity is now in Messiah. We must die to the schoolmaster, Moses, into whom early Israel was baptised (1 Cor.10:2), who was pointing to Messiah, and be baptised instead into Messiah (Rom.6:3) - the Messiah was the "end" (termination) of that kind of Torah;

    • 2. We are to die to legalism or the legalistic perversion of Torah, meaning that we cannot be saved through mitzvah (commandment)-keeping but only through emunah (faith) in Messiah - erga nomou ("works of the Law") and upo nomon ("under the Law") are terms coined by Paul to denote the kind of false religious system by which someone tries to obtain acceptance and salvation from Yahweh by means of works (legalism) or knowledge (gnosticism);

    • 3. The penalty for Torah-breaking (sin) has been abolished through the death of Messiah on the Cross for those who repent and accept His salvation and sovereignty over their lives (which includes victoriously living the Messianic Torah lifestyle in and through Messiah's resurrection power rather than our own);

    • 4. In its broadest sense, Torah is the whole instruction, message or teaching of Yahweh, hardly something that could ever obviously be abrogated;

    • 5. Torah is also Salvation History - and, well, 'history is history' and you can't abolish or rewrite that...and it's part of our own narrative as the people of Elohim (God);

    • 6. Some parts of Torah, which were types, have been prophetically fulfilled in Messiah (like animal sacrifice, circumcision and the ministry of the Levitical Priesthood) so they have been abolished, and to reinstitute them is to deny the work of the Cross;

    • 6. Torah reveals sin to us so that we can know when we have wandered, when to repent and so get right with Elohim's (God's) Messiah, and in that sense increases our spiritual sensitivity;

    • 8. The Messiah is Torah's goal, its pinnacle or highest point) rather its termination (Rom.10:4);

    • 9. The Messianic Scriptures have been given as Torah (Heb.8:6), completing the written Torah of the Pentateuch and the Tanakh (Old Testament) as a whole;

    • 10. Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is the Living Incarnate Torah, the pre-incarnate Davar (Word) of Elohim (God) the Father;

    • 11. New Covenant Torah is the conditional, emunah (faith)-based Betrothal Covenant of the Messiah to His Qadoshim (Saints, Set-apart Ones);

    • 12. Torah is Yahweh's Ahavah- or Love-Letter to mankind and reveals the divine tavnith of pattern of that ahavah (love) worked out in daily living;

    • 13. We will give an account on the Day of Judgment for our violation of Torah and receive rewards, apart from salvation (which is a free gift) based on our obedience to Torah.


    [1] David H.Stern, Jewish New Testament (Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, MD: 1989)

    [2] David H.Stern, Messianic Jewish Manifesto (Jewish New Testament Publications, Jerusalem: 1988)

    [3] David H.Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, MD: 1992)

    [4] Hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of textual interpretation

    [5] Messianic writers such as Avi ben Mordechai have taken up a radical version of this position as in his book, Galatians: A Torah-Based Commentary in First-Century Hebraic Context (Millennium 7000 Publications, Jerusalem: 2005)

    [6] See, for example, Markus Barth, Ephesians 1-3, Anchor Bible (Doubleday, New York: 1974), p.288

    [7] Unfortunately, as far as they are concerned, this is Torah's only rôle - in the moral and ethical sense

    [8] Markus Barth, op.cit., p.290

    [9] Ragnar Bring, Christus und das Gesetz (Brill, Leiden: 1969)

    [10] These are derived from the Talmud:

      1. Do not deny Elohim (God);
      2. Do not blaspheme Elohim (God);
      3. Do not murder;
      4. Do not engage in illicit sexual relations;
      5. Do not steal;
      6. Do not eat from a live animal; and
      7. Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to the law.

    Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, introduction) states that after the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people were no longer in the category of the sons of Noah; however, Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 9:1) indicates that the seven laws are also part of the Torah, and the Talmud (Bavli, Sanhedrin 59a, see also Tosafot ad. loc.) states that Jews are obligated in all things that Gentiles are obligated in, albeit with some differences in the details. Six of these laws are derived exegetically from Genesis. That such a system existed prior to the creation of Talmud is entirely speculation.

    [11] Midrash is scripture interpretation, seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by plumbing the meaning of the words of the Torah. In the Bible, the root d-r-sh is used to mean inquiring into any matter, including occasionally to seek out the Davar Elohim (Word of God). Midrash responds to contemporary problems and crafts new stories, making connections between new realities and the unchanging biblical text.

    [12] E.Käsamann, Perspectives on Paul (SCM, London: 1971), p.63

    [13] Gunnar Östborn, Tórá in the Old Testament (Håkan Ohlssons Boktryckeri, Lund: 1945) & Walter Harrelson, Law in the Old Testament (Abingdon, NY: 1962) pp.30,77-89

    [14] Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Lat Notion de NOMOS dans le pentateuque grec (Biblical Institute Press, Rome: 1973); C.H.Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (Hodder & Stoughton, London: 1935), pp.25-41; H.Kleinknecht, Nomos in TWNT (English: 1962), 4, pp.1016-1029

    [15] W.D.Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 149: "It is unfortunate that its rendering of the LXX by the Greek nomos should have over-emphasised its legal connotation"

    [16] Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (Schribner, NY: 1965), 1, pp.259-260

    [17] Avi ben Mordechai, Galatians: A Torah-Based Commentary in First-Century Hebraic Context (Millennium 7000 Communications, Jerusalem: 2005)

    [18] Dietrich Rössler, Gesetz und Geschichte, Untersuchungen zur Theologie der jüdischen Apokalyptik und her pharisäischen Orthodoxie (Neukirchener Verlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn: 1962)

    [19] Galatians 1-2; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:5-9; Philippians 3:5-11; 2 Corinthians 4:6

    [20] See, for example, the origin of the Jewish tallit, tefilim and kippah in Headcoverings


    [1] James A.Sanders, Torah and Paul in Jacob Jervell & Wayne A.Meeks (Ed.), God's Christ and His People: Studies in Honour of Nils Alstrup Dahl (Universitetsforlag, Oslo: 1977), pp.132-140
    [2] Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1968)
    [3] Robert C.Roberts, Rudolf Bultmann's Theology (SPCL, London: 1976)

    Comments from Readers

    [1] "Pastor, all I can say...It took wisdom and a lot of research from you to reveal truth to us in such an explanatory manner. Now we can eat the 'fish' and cast away the bones more easily...Thank you for sharing. I will have to work through this several times to grasp it all. You are so appreciated!!!" (AMN, South Africa, 6 January 2016)

    [2] "Excellent article! The Torah issue (how to truly correctly understand it in light of the Gospel and all the Scriptures), is something I'm still continuing to think and want in the Ruach (Spirit). The article helped me to see the bigger picture, and to confirm in my own spirit what is good and true understandings and what are obviously is wrong interpretations.

    "I had a 'revelation moment' while reading again the verse where Paul compares Torah and the veil that was put over Moses face:

      "Such confidence as this is ours through Messiah before Elohim (God). Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from Elohim (God). He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Ruach (Spirit); for the letter kills, but the Ruach (Spirit) gives chayim (life). Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Ruach (Spirit) be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a tiqveh (hope), we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Messiah is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Master, the veil is taken away. Now the Master is the Ruach (Spirit), and where the Ruach (Spirit) of the Master is, there is freedom" (2 Cor.3:4-18, NIV)

    In many ways its so 'obvious', but the Ruach (Spirit) just hit me the understanding while reading these verses with the picture Paul was trying to give when he was comparing Torah (veiled to those who's minds and hearts are dull) with Moses covered face - the image of Torah as Person with a veil over Their Face. When Moses' face was covered with the veil, the people would have 'heard the words' Moses was speaking to them, but not seen either his face or light shining from it from his communion with Yahweh.

    The image Paul was trying to give of Torah was of Yah'shua (Jesus) as the face and light behind the veil! So when people hear the Torah, those that still have their hearts veiled 'hear the words' but don't see Him, with the light and glory that will not fade. They don't see the fire or tenderness in His radiating face. He (in echad with Yahweh) is the person behind the words! And the image connects back to SO many divine tavnith (pattern) parrallels. He is The Prophet that would arise from among the brothers, through whom are saved, that will lead us into the promised land. He has greater communion with Yahweh than Moses ever had, and His light will never fade!

    "Both the people who think Torah has no value (and has been 'done away with') and those who cling to the words of 'Torah' while missing the source (the Person speaking them) are still missing the point and the light and the presence. There is still a veil between them and the Speaker. (See my article, The First Husband of Romans 7:2-3: A Key to Torah-Observance in Paul's Epistle to the Romans).

    "May Yahweh cleanse our hearts and minds, so the veil may be removed, that we may see Him in and through Torah, and honour Him (and that our own souls and faces may begin to shine)" (DP, South Africa, 8 January 2016)

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