Why Christians Should Study TORAH Part Two

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Christian Living
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There are many reasons why Christians should study TORAH, the first five books of the Bible, as well as the Talmud, a set of writings by Jewish rabbis collected two hundred years after Yeshua (Jesus) lived. You may ask, “Why would a Bible believing Christian care about the insights and comments from Jewish rabbis, scholars, and sages?” You may be worried that your Christian friends might think it strange if you began studying Jewish writings, or your Jewish friends might be offended if they learned you were studying “their stuff.”

There are four reasons why the study of TORAH and Talmud can be valuable for Bible believing Christians:

1. To Better Understand the Entire Bible

The Old Testament is divided into three groups:

• The Law—the five Books of Moses called TORAH

• The Prophets—the prophetic books, such as the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other prophets

• The Writings—the books of poetry, such as the Psalms and Ecclesiastes

The word TORAH comes from a root the word which is an ancient Hebrew archery term meaning to shoot an arrow straight to the mark. It also means to teach or bring instruction. So in a truly biblical sense, TORAH refers to instructions from a loving God on how to live a life that ‘hits the mark.’ To sin means to ‘miss the mark.’ However, TORAH is most frequently translated ‘The Law’ by Christians. A much better translation for ‘The Law’ is teaching. Perhaps many of the verses that contain the English word ‘law,’ should be thought of differently than the way we have traditionally interpreted its meaning. For example, look at these two verses:  “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD” (Ps. 119:1). “He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 28:9). In each of these passages, as in many others throughout the Bible, the word we read in English as ‘law’ is actually TORAH in Hebrew and refers to the full teaching found in the Books of Moses, rather than a select group of commands or commandments.

So, when Yeshua (Jesus) makes His statement in Matthew that He did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, He is using Hebrew shorthand to say that He did not come to destroy or contradict any of the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, our first reason to study TORAH is to better understand the entire Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments.

2. To Better Understand Yeshua (Jesus) and His Disciples

Our second reason to study TORAH is to better understand Yeshua and His disciples. The Scripture which they studied and quoted was from the Old Testament. They referred to it as the Tanakh, an acrostic for TORAH—the Law, Nevaim—the Prophets, and Khetuvim—the Writings.

In both ancient and modern Judaism, the TORAH is seen as the most important and widely studied section of the Tanakh. For example, each of Yeshua’s answers to the devil when He was tempted in the wilderness (Luke 4:4) comes from TORAH in the book of Deuteronomy. (Compare Luke 4:4 to Deut. 8:3)

When the devil tempted Messiah he answered: “It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Luke 4:8). Yeshua was quoting from TORAH.  “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (Deut. 6:13).

At the time of Yeshua, the Sadducees accepted only TORAH as Scripture, a doctrine that set them apart from the Pharisees, who accepted the totality of the Tanakh. Jewish boys at the time of Yeshua were taught to memorize the Books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Typically, they memorized all, or at least large portions, of each of these books.

Obviously, by studying the Bible Yeshua studied, memorized, and quoted will help us to know Him on a deeper and more meaningful level. However, this same concept of studying the Old Testament is crucial for understanding the life and words of Yeshua, and also the rest of the New Testament as well. God used the Apostle Paul to write more pages of the New Testament writings than any other person. Here’s how Paul described himself and his background: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem], educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today” (Acts 22:3).

To best understand Paul’s writings, we need to understand his training, and the many references to the Old Testament and to Jewish learning that he makes throughout his writings. Paul is often thought of as one who speaks against the law, but look at these quotes from the book of Romans:

“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (3:31).

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, you shall not covet.” (7:7)

“So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (7:12)

“But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.” (7:16)

Can we really understand Paul’s epistles if we do not understand his context and what he means when he refers to the Law? Until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, most Jewish teaching and commentary was passed on orally. One teacher would disciple another, who in turn passed on the teachings through memorized and repeated conversation. However, in the years following the destruction of the Temple, centuries of teaching, debate, and discussion were written down in what today we call the Talmud, a word which comes from the Hebrew root lamad. Interestingly, it means both to teach and to learn. The Talmud then is much like a commentary of the TORAH.

Although the actual recording of the oral tradition happened over a period from roughly AD 100 to AD 500, the Talmud undoubtedly contains many of the teachings and discussions about the meaning of Scripture that were prevalent at the time of Yeshua. For example, two famous rabbis who lived in the century before Yeshua were Hillel and Shammai. The Talmud preserves some of the debates between the followers (or school) of Hillel and the school of Shammai. These debates were well known and the basis of regular discussion at the time of Yeshua. Generally, Hillel was more liberal and Shammai more conservative.

Yeshua held opinions that sometimes agreed with one and sometimes the other. For example, in Matthew chapter 19, when Yeshua is asked about divorce, his listeners were probably eager to see if He sided with the more liberal school of Hillel, who allowed divorce for any reason, or with the more conservative Shammai, who was very restrictive on the subject. Here Yeshua comes closer to the school of Shammai in His answer. Later, in Matthew chapter 22, Yeshua is asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He gives an answer almost identical to that recorded in the Talmud by Rabbi Hillel. Reading these debates and commentaries in the Talmud help us understand Yeshua’s words much closer to how His followers first heard them.

The New Testament is rife with references to this body of rabbinic teaching and debate. For example, “And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). Have you ever wondered what rock Paul was referring to? The Talmud says that from the time that Moses struck the rock at Horeb and brought forth water (Exod. 17:6) until the death of Miriam (Exod. 20:1), that water-giving rock “followed the Children of Israel through the desert and provided water for them each day” (Taanis, 9a and Bava Metizia, 86b). It seems clear that the Apostle Paul is referring to this story recorded in the Talmud. If we remain ignorant of the Talmud, we remain ignorant of many of the references and concepts mentioned in the New Testament.

If you give it a chance, you will be blessed to learn from the insights of these Jewish teachers, who deeply love the Word and seek to understand its most profound meaning. As you begin to study these resources, you’ll find that you will sometimes agree and sometimes disagree, but you will always be challenged to think more deeply about the Word of God, as you study to rightly interpret His instructions for living a life that hits the mark.

3. To Help Know What We Believe

Our third reason is simply to know what we believe in the whole Bible, the Old and the New Testaments. Many Christians proclaim the authority of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The two of the largest Protestant denominations regarding the authority of Scripture write in their Statement of Faith:

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.” – Southern Baptist –

“WE BELIEVE…The Scriptures are inspired by God and declare His design and plan for mankind.” – Assembly of God –

Most books written on the Christian faith spend a large amount of time discussing the Genesis account of creation and its logical defense. Yet, for many of us, the first 39 books of our Bibles are seen as of little use. If we say that the Bible is the Word of God then let’s take some time to study the whole Bible. Not only will you be blessed, but you will begin to live the life of scriptural authority in a deeper way. You will enrich your understanding of Yeshua and His first followers, and you will drink deeply of the fountain of God’s revealed truth.

4. To Help Establish an Honest Dialogue with Jews

The fourth and final reason I encourage Christians to study Torah and Talmud is to prepare for a meaningful relationship and dialogue with our Jewish friends and neighbors. The misunderstandings and false assumptions we have about Judaism leaves us open to the lies and bigotry of anti-Semitism. It is hard to have a dialogue, let alone develop a meaningful friendship, with someone you know little about, and if most of what you know is based on misinformation. The Church owes a great debt to Judaism. Many of our practices from hymn-singing to public reading of the Bible, from baptism, to teaching our children about God, come to us from traditions that were first practiced in Judaism. (I’ll post more about this later) In addition, our Bible, our spiritual heritage, our Messiah Yeshua, the disciples and apostles were all Jewish. Nearly every one of the Apostle Paul’s letters were addressed to Jewish followers of Messiah. Isn’t it about time we begin to explore our roots and appreciate those who cultivated them?

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Comments
  1. Amber says:

    How would you know, when reading, which of the teaching and stories in the Oral Torah/Talmud to be true, and which to be false? Or are they all considered to be true?

    • Good question Amber. The Jewish Sages taught that the Talmud is a collection of traditions Moses gave them in oral form. These had not yet been written down yet in Yeshua’s time and he often condemned the traditions of the early Talmud and those who taught it (Scribes and Pharisees) because they taught that the Talmud nullifies the teachings of the TORAH. Mark 7:1-13 represents Our Lord’s condemnation of this. It is my humble opinion that since all we have today is the written TORAH, the Oral TORAH / Talmud should be read as a commentary. Much like when a person reads Charles Spurgeon or Mathew Henry’s Commentary. We also need to take into account that the time in which these commentators as well as the sages lived was very different than ours today and things they taught as truth then may not apply to us the same way today. For example, Charles Finney once preached a sermon that went into great detail about the evils of riding a bicycle. His point was not to become involved in frivolous activity that did not honor God. But I don’t think that sermon would have the same effect on people today. The Talmud is simply a guide of how to live a good life and should never nullify the teachings of TORAH any more than Mathew Henry’s Commentary should nullify Scripture. The Talmud itself, in tractate Shabbos 31a, relates a time when Hillel acknowledged that; “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.”
      Keep on seeking, and you will find. Matthew 7:7

      • Amber says:

        I very much appreciate your help. I thought that reading the Oral Torah would give new insight to Scripture, as even Paul draws from it at least once (in reference to the water-giving rock), and maybe even twice (the head coverings and the angels), which I why I was wanting to know what parts were true. Do you think it’s just something we can’t know right now, and have to just take it as stories?

  2. Amber, I believe that all biblical writings are profitable for us but we must keep in mind that even the sages, being mere men, at times misinterpreted the true meaning of parts of TORAH. For example, many Jews today do not serve meat with dairy products because of the sages interpretation of Exodus 34:26. Research teaches us that some pagan religions at the time of Moshe taught that those who boiled a goat in its mother’s milk and then poured the liquid over crops or over a woman’s stomach would be blessed with prosperous crops or fertility in their women. The point of Ex. 34:26 was not to keep us from eating cheeseburgers, but to teach us not to be like the pagans. What most Christians do not realize is that most of what the Apostle Paul taught he quoted from TORAH. There are many more New Testament writings that were not included in the cannon we have today that are just as inspired as Paul’s writings but many Christians have been taught that these writings are not to be taken as truth. And yet these same Christians often quote 2 Timothy 3:16 to prove that the New Testament is part of God’s spoken word, when in reality, Paul was referring to TORAH; since TORAH was the only Scripture available at the time. Remember what Hillel said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.” Yeshua basically said the same thing in Matthew 22:36-40. May God bless your journey in seeking His truth.

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