revernaculation: law

March 24, 2006

(This is a continuation of the revernaculation series, which I intend to pick up from time to time. Here are the previous posts: go to heaven, relationship with Jesus and knows the word.)

It is a shame that the word Torah is commonly translated today as the “Law”. This poor translation is one of the biggest challenges followers of Jesus face in understanding the work of God in history.

The Torah is sometimes known as the first five books of the Old Testament. That’s not a bad understanding, but it is more than that as well. The word Torah has its roots in the Hebrew word yarah, which roughly means “to cast, throw, or shoot”. It later came to mean “to teach”. So, the basic idea of the Torah is that it is a way, or a direction, for living. Unfortunately for us today, the word Law carries a connotation of restriction, which is a very different idea.

The New Testament writers chose to use the word ‘nomos’ to describe the Torah. Nomos did carry the idea of civic law, but it also had a secondary meaning worth noting. As the gods of mythology declared their will for how people were to live, it was called the nomos. So, again, nomos brings the idea of “way of living”.

To see Torah as “God’s way of living” greatly enhances our understanding of God’s work in the world today. Romans 10:4 describes Jesus as the goal (“end” is what most translations use, but it isn’t a good translation) of the Torah – he lived in the way of God.

This also gives us a much better understanding of one of Jesus’ key teachings in Matthew 22:34-40. Here, Jesus describes how the whole point of the Torah is that we would Love God, and Love Others. The Torah is not simply a list of restrctions so that we can love God and others. Instead, it is points us in the direction of loving God and others.

This completely reframes my understanding of Scriptures and the work of God. It is so much more beautiful, and it is for this reason that I’m revernaculating Law right out of my scriptural vocabulary and replacing it with “way of God”, or simply, Torah.

For anyone who is interested, here is a link to a teaching at Pathways where I explored this idea more deeply. Also, here is a link to a great perspective on the Torah from The Lost Message of Jesus, by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann.

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