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Theology and Christian Faith

Keeping The Torah by Nature
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Two passages from the New Testament are troubling me.

Matthew 5:18:
"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the (Torah) Law until everything is accomplished."  Yeshua says here that nothing has changed in Torah (law).
Romans 2:14:
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the (Torah) law, do by nature things required by the (Torah) law, they are a (Torah) law for themselves, even though they do not have the (Torah) law,  15since they show that the requirements of the (Torah) law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.  16This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.  This we have decided either our definition of Torah (law) or translation in these scriptures is incorrect.  Much more study is obviously needed here so I am off to study.

How could Gentiles by nature keep (Torah) Law?  Without ever knowing about the Sabbath, Yahweh and Yeshua's name?  It would actually be impossible to keep the 1st 3rd and 4th (Torah) commandments without knowing them.

So Jesus in Matthew 5:18 could not have been speaking of 1st, 3rd, and 4th commandments as being (unchanged Torah), if our understanding of the definition of Torah in correct or the translations are correct In Matthew and Romans.

The translations are accurate, from my understanding of the Greek context.  And the passage does say what it seems to say.  And there is no reason to think the words are talking about some other set of commandments besides the ones we know.  I am always hesitant to dismiss a passage simply because it does not fit with my current theory, but rather probe to see what it is really telling us.

There are some background approaches that are good to remember here before we look at the specifics.  First of all it is good that you have noted that this is talking about the Torah (sometimes translated Law).  I'll talk more about the meaning of Torah I a little bit.

Be sure to read the whole context in Matthew to see the overall message and questions being dealt with.  Then do the same with the selection from Romans.  Each of these short passages is part of a larger topic, and each book has its own purpose and integrity.

Also remember that these were originally separate writings and only later were collected together with other writings.  Each writing (scroll, "book") has its own integrity and message.  Inpidual statements or passages are a part of that larger whole.

Torah — Life Instruction
Note that the Hebrew term Torah means "instruction," not Law.  You can find much commentary on this from both Jewish and Christian commentators on the Internet.  The "law" was one small part of the Torah, but not all in the Torah was commandments or prescribed actions and rituals.  The prophets provide much helpful interpretation indicating the basic purpose and meaning of Torah for the Hebrew people.

You refer to the words of Yeshua.  (This is the Aramaic form of the name; in other languages it is Isa, Iesous, Yesu, Jesus, etc.)  The words of Yeshua in the quote are only some of what he said.  He has much more to say about the relation of the Torah to heart and purpose.

The comments in the Letter to the Romans relates to the whole way Yeshua approached the Torah in his teaching.  In the gospels he always is careful to point out that the deep meaning, the spiritual meaning, some would say, was a matter of commitment and intention.

Matters of the Heart
The Tanakh also reminds us of this — a central message of the prophets and many of the Psalms.  The Talmud and various rabbinic interpretations have also been careful to point out that the primary and universal meaning of Torah is not specific observance, but commitment of the heart.  Torah was more than Law.  The law part was only a core.

The basic law was summed up in the "Shemah:"  "Hear, O Israel, Yahweh your God is One.  You will love Yahweh your God will all your heart, with all your might with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Jesus follows the other rabbis when he quotes this as the "first and greatest commandment."

This view occurs all through the Torah, including the Levitical Law.  Much attention is given in Leviticus and other instructions to the requirement of justice that guilt is related to intention and awareness.  An accidental violation is always punished less than an intentional one.  And the bulk of the Torah law deals with relationship to others.  It is instructions for living together in Israel.  (But what if you do not live in Israel, like the people living in Rome that Paul wrote to?)  The concern of Torah is right living in relationships in the society.  This all comes under right relationship to Yahweh.

Read Exodus and Leviticus for more on this.  Read Jeremiah and Isaiah for the focus on the meaning of Torah and law in life.

The rabbi Saul, or Paul, who wrote Romans, follows this same prophetic and Torah line.  Paul was a Pharisee, a strict observer of the law and its requirements, yet as he follows Yeshua, he understands that the meaning of the Torah is deeper than simple following of rules.  Thus he explains how the meaning applies to everyone — not just Jews, but everyone in any culture.

You write:
"Without ever knowing about the Sabbath, Yahweh and Yeshua's name?"  Your question includes the key to the answer!  The whole point Paul is talking about here!

The question is how the Gospel, based on Torah, can be universal, even for those who have not heard the specifics?  Paul answers this specifically for the Roman Christians.

We are responsible for as much as we know.  Yeshua teaches this in several of his parables.  Yeshua says, "To whom much is given, much is required."  Those who have Torah are responsible for Torah; those who have no Torah are responsible for what they do have.  Paul indicates how those who did not get the chance to grow up as Jews have still heard God's call, and when they respond they meets god's requirements.  The requirements of the heart, requirements of intention and faith.

Universal Justice
Paul thus explains how justice is administered by a just God to everyone no matter what culture they are in.  This is the concern and purpose of Romans. how the non-Jewish believers related to the Jewish believers.  This is a different concern than for the book of Matthew, which appear to be written to and for Jews.  Paul is writing to a congregation that includes both Jews and Romans, and other ethnic groups.

Paul explains how the basic, spiritual Torah applies to everyone, and how faith is the foundation, not specific knowledge or commandments.  Those having little formal knowledge but living in light of what they do know and understand, living in faith and repentance, are counted as living faithfully.  They obey what they know to obey.  As they know more, they obey more and better.

They follow the Torah (instruction) they have to the best of their ability and knowledge.  This is faithful obedience, the same thing God required of Israel, the same thing he requires of his Gentile believers.  It is often overlooked, but the Tanakh (Old Testament, Torah) also makes mention of God's work with other nations.  Read the prophets for insights on the Universal work of God.

Jesus is careful to point out that the meaning of following Torah is not blindly fulfilling rituals and requirements, but living in just and faithful intention in acknowledgement of God.  Paul seems to take this same approach.

This seems to be the meaning of the passage in Romans. Saul (Paul), a Rabbi of the Pharisees, was one of the most educated men of Israel (Judea) in his day.  What he said seems consistent with that Rabbi Yeshua also taught.  God's standards of holiness remain.  Torah will not pass away.  But Torah was given to the Hebrews.  What is the Universal Focus for all?  What is the Universal Torah?

Faith not Works
God is a just God.  The focus here is that the spiritual and universal meaning applies to everybody the same wayto the heart and to all situations, not just to the literal fulfillment of specific rites by those who know these specific things. For Paul we are not saved by our knowledge, or by our works.  We are saved by God's favor through faith.

Heart Observance
All through his teachings, we find Jesus focusing on the meaning of the observance of the heart.  He interprets the Kingdom of God in terms of the moral principles of God.  Read his teachings in Matthew 5 for a summary of his approach.  His parables also focus on relationships with God and other people. The Good News ("gods-spel") is about relationships, just as Torah was about relationships — with God and with our neighbours.

In his teachings, we find Yeshua emphasizing the moral meaning of the law, not the ritual.  Don't take my word for it.  Read his teachings in the Gospels.  Not just a phrase here and here, but all his teachings, in their context, in the full flow of the story.

Also related
[review] The Gospels in their Jewish Setting
[review] Culture and Context: Bible Times and Our Times
[TXT] Sabbath, Sunday and Covenant Relationships – Torah Instruction
[TXT] A Simple Theology of Religions
[TXT] Names of God and Words for God:
         Thoughts on Beliefs and Usages
[TXT] Relationships Between the Religions
[TXT] What about the people who were born before Christ?
[review] When They Haven't Heard
[Review] Saved without the Overt Gospel? — A Deep Analysis


Written in response to an email query 19 December 2007
Last edited 28 February 2014

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  researchguy@iname.com
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