Holman Bible Dictionary
Old Testament Though universally translated “law” in the KJV, torah also carries the sense of “teaching” or “instruction,” as reflected in more recent translations ( Job 22:22; Psalm 78:1; Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 4:2; Proverbs 13:14; Isaiah 30:9 ). The meaning, law , is certainly present in the Old Testament. Torah , for example, is used in connection with terms for requirements, commands, and decrees (Genesis 26:5; Exodus 18:16 ). The Torah was given to Moses (Exodus 24:12 ) and commanded to be kept (Exodus 16:28; Deuteronomy 17:19; Ezekiel 44:24 ).
Within the Book of Deuteronomy, torah is used to represent the body of the Deuteronomic code (Deuteronomy 4:8; Deuteronomy 30:10; Deuteronomy 32:46 ), that is, the essence of Israel's responsibilities under the covenant. Subsequent Old Testament writings continue to speak of Torah as “The Law” in this sense (Isaiah 5:24; Jeremiah 32:23; Jeremiah 44:10; Daniel 9:11 ), often as “the book of the law,” the “law of Moses,” or a combination (Joshua 1:8; Joshua 8:31-32 ,Joshua 8:31-32,8:34; 2 Kings 14:6 ). The “book of the law” found in the Temple which fueled Josiah's reforms (2 Kings 22:8-13 ) is often regarded to be roughly equivalent to the Book of Deuteronomy. By the time of Ezra and Nehemiah “the book of the law of Moses” (Nehemiah 8:1 ) included more material than the Deuterohynomic code. Ezra cited the “law which the Lord had commanded by Moses” concerning the feast of booths, which is prescribed in Leviticus (Leviticus 23:33-43 ). Eventually the name Torah came to be applied to the entire Pentateuch, the five books traditionally ascribed to Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In rabbinical Judaism, the scope of Torah is sometimes expanded to include all of the Scriptures or even the entirety of God's revelation.
New Testament During New Testament times the limits on the Old Testament canon were being finalized. The Jews began to think of their Scriptures as consisting of three sections: the Torah (Law), the Prophets, and the Writings (compare Luke 24:44 ). The books of Moses were considered “law” despite the fact that a considerable amount of their material is not legalistic in nature. The Torah was unquestionably considered the most important division of the Scriptures. The Sadducees, in fact, accepted only the Torah as inspired Scripture. The same is true of the Samaritans who considered themselves God's true chosen people.
In the New Testament period, Torah was more than merely a section of the Scriptures; it became central to Judaism. The will of God was seen as embodied in the observance of the law. Pious Jews, therefore, needed some elaboration on the commands contained in the Torah to determine more precisely their obligation, and the interpretation of various passages became the subject of much debate. The traditions of the Pharisees went far beyond the bounds of the law as spelled out in the Torah. These traditions became for them the oral Torah, considered given to Moses at Mount Sinai to accompany the written law. Jesus scathingly denounced the Pharisees' placing their tradition above the intent of the law (Mark 7:8-13 ). Jesus never denied the authority of the Torah, but denounced the elevation of ritual concerns above “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23 NRSV). Some of the precepts of the law, according to Jesus, were provided because of humanity's nature and fall short of God's perfect will ( Matthew 5:33-37; Matthew 19:8-9 ). For true believers, Jesus demanded a commitment which went far beyond the supposed righteousness gained by keeping the law (Luke 18:18-23 ).
The apostle Paul preached justification by faith rather than by the keeping of the law. Thus, he had much to say about Torah. Torah, according to Paul, would lead to life if it were actually practiced (Romans 10:5 ), but such practice is impossible (Romans 3:20 ). The effect of the law has been to manifest a knowledge of sin and bring about its increase (Romans 3:20; Romans 5:20; Romans 7:5 ,Romans 7:5,7:7-11; 1 Corinthians 15:56 ). Mankind was thus consigned to sin and God's resulting wrath (Romans 4:14; Galatians 3:22 ) which set the stage for the revelation of God's grace through Christ (Romans 3:21-26; Galatians 3:22-25 ). For Paul, Torah epitomized the old covenant, with the law written on stone (2 Corinthians 3:7 ). In the superior new covenant, the law is in the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6 ), written on the hearts of believers (compare Jeremiah 31:33 ). Believers are not subject to the Torah (Galatians 5:18 ), but by walking “in the Spirit” (Romans 8:4; Galatians 5:16 ) they produce fruits which transcend (Galatians 5:22-25 ) and fulfill the essence of the law (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14; compare Matthew 22:37-40 ). See Law; Pentateuch .
Daniel C. Browning, Jr.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Torah'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/t/torah.html. 1991.