Torah Means Much More Than Law

The word Hebrew word above that is transliterated "Torah" in English is derived from the root ירה, which in the hif'il conjugation means “to guide” or “to teach” (cf. Lev 10:11). Its meaning, therefore, is "teaching", "doctrine", or "instruction".

In its earliest use, Torah (meaning “instruction” or “guidebook”) refers to the
central text of Judaism -- the scroll that contains the first five books of the Bible.

However, as time passed, the meaning of the word “Torah” expanded to apply to all of Jewish sacred literature, learning, and law. According to the Jewish rabbinic tradition:

The Torah in its broadest representation is
God’s blueprint for the creation of the universe

More specifically, the Torah is also the constitution of the Jewish people, the historical record of origins and the basic legal document passed down from the ancient Israelites to the present day. Torah provides the basis for the Jews' relationship to God as well as their interactions as a socio-political cultural group. The key to accurately determining what the word Torah means is identifying who is using it and what they are referring toa Torah scroll, Mishnah, Talmud, etc.  

Therefore, the commonly accepted translation of Torah -- "the law," not only gives the wrong impression – it is wrong. But, it must be remembered that the Torah contains “laws,” too. Aviya Kushner, in her book The Grammar of God, records a lecture a law professor gave (p. 120).

“He talked about what makes Jewish law different from other types of law. He points out that in Roman law, the emperor decided what was right. In British law, the king decided what was right. But in Jewish law, the king is not allowed into the court of law -- there is a barrier between law and power. Beyond that, the power to decide exactly what a law means is given to human beings, so Jewish law is necessarily flawed, being human, and not a thing of God. Law is something that people discuss. He views the weekly reading of the Torah, which takes place in synagogues around the world, as a weekly reading of the law. It is a time when every listener can familiarize himself or herself with the law instead of just the judges.”

The people in synagogues understand that they are hearing and discussing “instructions, commandments and laws.” When Christians in their churches hear the word “The Law,” it is linked to Jewish people, and they view “Jewish law as something that is tough or harsh – the opposite of God’s grace.” That is wrong too.

Always identify who is using the word “Torah” and to what it refers.

I hope you found this BHC Bible Study informative and thank you for reading it.

Jim Myers