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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

God's Law (Part 4)

It is evident that the Jews have always regarded the Torah as a whole. For them, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures are "The Law." Indeed, that is why we use terms like Torah and Pentateuch today. Moreover, the textual evidence supports their view in this regard.

The text makes very clear that YHWH expected the Israelites to keep all of his statutes, judgments and commandments (Leviticus 26:3, 14-15). We are told that God instructed the Israelites to "make them fringes in the borders of their garments" so "that ye may remember, and do all my commandments..." (Numbers 15:38-40). We are informed that God once lamented, "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep (obey) all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29) Indeed, this kind of inclusive language about the law is repeated throughout the book of Deuteronomy (5:31, 6:1, 7:11, 8:11, 11:1, etc.).

It is also clear from Scripture that the Jews regarded everything within the Pentateuch as the "Law of Moses" (Joshua 8:31-32, Joshua 23:6, I Kings 2:3, II Kings 23:25, II Chronicles 30:16, Ezra 3:2, Malachi 4:4). Notice also that in the seventh chapter of Ezra and the eighth chapter of Nehemiah the terms "Law of Moses" and "Law of God are used interchangeably. Indeed, Christ apparently made numerous references to the Law as a whole (Matthew 5:17-19, Luke 24:44, John 7:23). In his epistle "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad," James wrote: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2:10) And in the very next verse, he makes plain that he is including the Ten Commandments in his remarks (verse 11).

In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus wrote that Moses brought all of the people "with their wives and children" to the base of the mountain to hear God's voice (Book 3, Chapter 5, Section 4). He said that this was done so "that the energy of what should be spoken might not be hurt by its utterance by that tongue of a man, which could but imperfectly deliver it to their understanding." He then proceeds to list the Ten Commandments (Book 3, Chapter 5, Section 5). Then, in Section 6 of this same book and chapter, we read: "Now when the multitude had heard God himself giving those precepts which Moses had discoursed of, they rejoiced at what was said; and the congregation was dissolved: but on the following days they came to his tent, and desired him to bring them, besides, other laws from God. Accordingly he appointed such laws, and afterwards informed them in what manner they should act in all cases; which laws I shall make mention of in their proper time..." (Josephus: Complete Works, Translated by William Whiston, Published by Kregel Publications of Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1960).

According to the Jewish Virtual Library in their article on "The Written Law" (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/The_Written_Law.html), we read: "The Torah, or Jewish Written Law, consists of the five books of the Hebrew Bible - known more commonly to non-Jews as the "Old Testament" - that were given by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai and include within them all of the biblical laws of Judaism. The Torah is also known as the Chumash, Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses." Likewise, in their article on the Halakhah (or Jewish Law), Judaism 101 reports that 613 mitzvot (commandments) are derived from the Torah (http://www.jewfaq.org/halakhah.htm). Interestingly, they go on to say that modern Jews disregard more than half of these commandments because so many of them apply to sacrifices and offerings made at the Temple (which no longer exists) and many of them apply to the "theocratic state of Israel" and to its agricultural practices.

Thus we can see that the Jewish people, both historically and currently, have regarded the Law as a whole. This point is also critical to a proper understanding of how this Law may or may not apply to Christians. In the next installment, we will begin to explore in more detail how some of these factors influenced the views of Christ and his followers on the subject of the Law in the First Century.

1 comment:

  1. And laws about the keeping of Slaves! Thank goodness Jesus abolished slavery - oh wait, no he didn't, he endorsed it, talking about meting out whippings ("stripes" KJV) - and no more than 40 lashes (how merciful) as he told Moses at an earlier time.