By Kaaren Craig
Words have meanings, and translating from one language to another and from one culture to another is difficult, let alone translating eras between centuries. Any translation from one language to another, or from one era of history, is difficult, and translators do their best. This blog will hopefully challenge us to review our 21st-century perspective on the keyword, Torah, which is translated in English as “Law.”
Some examples of these translations where the word Torah is translated as Law.
Psm. 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
Psm. 119:1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of Adonai.
Webster’s definition of Law: that which is laid out, set or fixed, imperative, mandatory, revealing rules of conduct, and unchangeable (for example, the laws of nature or physics).
The ten commandments in Exodus 20 are Law: fixed and commanded. In Hebrew, the ten commandments are called the “ten words” to convey their importance. God’s Word definitely is Law, and it demonstrates the permanence and importance of knowing and obeying God’s laws. His laws are fixed and won’t change.
Torah, on the other hand, has a much broader definition according to Strong’s Concordance. Torah: direction, instruction, law. Original word: תּוֹרָה Part of Speech: Noun Feminine
You may be surprised that the word “torah” comes from the root word ya-rah, which means to throw, point the way, or shoot an arrow. Proverbs 1:8 tells us not to forsake the Torah (teaching, direction) of our mother.
Frank Seekins, in Hebrew Word Pictures, further expands our understanding of the word torah. When Hebrew was first written, each letter represented both a sound and a picture. These pictographs slowly evolved into today’s letter shapes. As the word Torah is viewed from a paleo/picture perspective, a picture emerges from the letters.
Tav – the shape of a cross
Vav – a nail connects two things
Resch – head or leader
Hay – look; behold; this is what happened
So, what does that give us? “The man who was nailed to the cross is now the head and leader of God’s people!” Thus, because the word “law” rightly infers judgment or standing before a judge in a formal, unchangeable procedure, we see that the man on the cross paid the penalties incurred by breaking the law.
Now let’s look at the differences in the eras. In our 21st C. with Western, Greek mindsets, we want to know what and how. We want a proof text, proof of the existence of something, and static and unchanging sets of rules or laws. That has its place, or we would not have the technological or medical advances we all enjoy.
However, from the Ancient Near Eastern mindset that permeates the Scriptures, God’s existence is assumed. He is the great storyteller; He loves relationship over knowledge, and He wants us to know Him. For that reason, He always has words of instruction for us. He is a relationship-focused God. “Be still and know that I AM God.” That gives Him time to teach us from His Word and to expand on what we have already learned from His Word.
Jesus told us that He puts new wine into new wineskins, suggesting that His information for us is new and startling, and we must open our minds to receive it without relying on comfortable tradition. There is so much we don’t know, but we do know Him. When I consider the word torah as instruction, that perspective is ongoing and relational.
We can open the Word with expectation: “What will the God of relationship teach or instruct me today?” With this perspective in mind, go back and read the above verses and insert the word “instruction” rather than “law.” Torah is like the instructions and teachings of a mother, which is relational and life-giving.
Now write down what new instructions or insights you received from our ever-present, ever-relational God. How will that change your day today? What new counsel did you receive? How has your understanding of the Torah changed?
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Kaaren Craig is a BibleInteract board member and loves exploring the depth of Scripture.