Law – 01 – Torah, the Jewish Law

103 Law CoverNow that we have worked through the Pentateuch, the first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) in our daily posts of the Old Testament I can make some observations on the Torah – the Jewish Law. I will post another brief series on the law.

There will be four posts;

  1. Torah, the Jewish Law
  2. The Story of Israel and Covenant
  3. Paul and the Law
  4. The Commands in the Law of Moses

Story and Command in Scripture

“The OT has a variety of terms for ‘law’, the commonest of which are: tôrāh, ‘law, instruction, teaching’; hōq, ‘statute, decree’; mišpāt, ‘judgment, legal decision’; dābār, ‘word’; miṣwāh, ‘command (ment)’.

Their number reflects the importance of law within the Bible. The first five books are called Tôrāh, ‘law’, by Jews and the NT, even though they appear to be as much about history as law.

The specifically legal sections are embedded in narratives about Israel’s early history, and this context is important for the understanding of biblical law.” (Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (672). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)

The phrase ‘the law and the prophets’ also occurs in some texts (Mt 5.17; 7.12; 22.40; Lk 16.16; Jn 1.45; Acts 13.15; Rom 3.21) and denotes the OT scriptures as a whole.


17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Mt 5:17)

Thus the Jewish Law can be understood in at least two different ways.

  1. Its the Story of the Jews (historical narrative) recorded in scripture,
  2. The Commands of the Jewish law recorded in the Story of the Jews.

Law and Covenant

In a large number of cases the use of the term ‘law’ refers to the Sinaitic covenant (e.g. 2 Ki 22.8; 23.2,21). The Jewish law is part of the covenant Israel has with the LORD. In some cases the Law is synonymous with covenant.


8 And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. (2 Ki 22:8)

2 And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD. (2 Ki 23:2)

14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, (Lev 26:14–15)

The ‘Book of the Law’ is also called the ‘Book of the Covenant’ and breaking the law is the same as breaking the covenant.

Paul and the Law

Paul refers to the law in a number of ways.

1) the Story of Israel

Describing an era of time from the time God commanded Circumcision up and approaching the time of Jesus recorded in the gospel (Rom 3.10-18; Gal 4.21; 1 Cor 14.21).

2) The Commands of the Law of Moses

Given within this time period to the Jews (e.g. Rom 2.23,25; 7.12).

3) Another set of ethical principles

Paul refers to the ‘commandments of God’ (1 Cor 7.19), the ‘law of God’ and the ‘law of Christ’ (1 Cor 9.21). These appear to be different from the Law of Moses.

4) A principle or reigning power

In Rom 3.27 Paul refers to the ‘law of faith’ and in Rom 8.3 ‘law of sin and death’.

The Commands in the Law of Moses

In the last post I display the following table of commands from the Law of Moses.

Attitudes Actions Prohibitions Conditional laws
Love Circumcision Idolatry and Foreign Worship Firstborn
Honor Festivals and holidays Murder and Violence Property, Land and Servants
Worship and Sacrifice Sexual immorality Punishment and Restitution
Purity and Washings Stealing Social Justice and the Poor
False Witness Vows
Coveting Trumpets
Food laws Clothing

We will have a look at these in more detail and see how Jesus and Paul relate to them.

This post has served as an introduction to the next couple blogs on the Jewish Law. In the next post we will look in greater detail at the law as the Covenant.

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