|THE TORAH OF MOSES AND THE MESSIAH
Tradition assigns to the Messiah a threefold role: kingly, priestly, and prophetic. When speaking of Jacob's blessing we also mentioned Judah's "ruler's staff", for which Hebrew uses the word me .hoqêq, 'lawgiver'. In his prophetic role the Messiah will draw up a new Law for the people.
On the strength of this we must now ask, "What then is the role of the Law? Does it always lead into bondage? Can the Torah liberate man? Were all of Moses' injunctions intended to be eternally binding? Where do we draw the line between the commandments of God and the commandments of men? Could it be that the law of God is centred upon some less common fundamental rules? Does God demand more from his chosen people than from the Gentiles? Does he show favouritism towards some of his children and not to others? Will the Messiah institute a new Torah? Are there essential differences between the Torah of Moses and that of the Messiah? Such questions are tough nuts to crack, particularly for the Jews.
The Messiah's Torah and the future of the Law
The future of the Law has preoccupied the Rabbis from early times. They sometimes asked, "Torah, whatever will become of you?"61 And further, in the Talmud there is a discussion of the possible ranking of the precepts in order of importance:
I remember once in a Jerusalem public park chancing upon an acquaintance of mine, a builder from Yemen, someone I knew as a devout man who possessed an intimate familiarity with the Scriptures. I sat down next to him on the park bench where he was sitting, and in the course of our conversation he told me how he had originally come to Israel by "flying carpet", and how his father had said to him before his departure, "My son, you will never manage to fulfil all the requirements the Law will make of you in Israel. Just remember the words of Habakkuk, that 'the righteous are to live by faith'." My friend was helped by his father's wise counsel to see what is central to the Law.
The ancient Sages reject on the one hand the idea that the injunctions received from their fathers will cease to be valid, yet on the other hand they sometimes stress that the Messiah will give Israel a new Torah. RaMBaM states in the 8th and 9th of his 13 dogmas that the "Torah which we now have was given to Moses" and "This Torah will not be changed nor will the Creator -- may he be blessed -- institute any other Torah". He nevertheless explains in his work "Ordinances of the Kings" that the King annointed as Messiah will "sit on his kingly throne and write for himself a Book of the Law in addition to the Law given to our Fathers" and "He will compel Israel to obey these commandments". Not even the NT speaks of the abrogation of the Torah but rather of its "fulfilment". Could this be the same as when the Pesikhta Rabbati says that "The Torah will revert to its original state"?64 Jesus "fulfilled" the punishment of the Law by his atoning death.
According to the Rabbis the Messiah will be invested with such authority. Yalqut Isaiah states that, "The Holy One -- may he be blessed -- will sit (in the Garden of Eden) and draw up a new Torah for Israel, which will be given to them by the Messiah."65 Even the fearful thought of "abrogation" appears in the traditions of the Wise: "In the future the commandments will be annulled.'66 In the Midrash Mekhilta from the time of the Tannaites -- that is, from the first two Christian centuries -- we find the statement that, "At the end the Torah will be forgotten."67 R.Shimon Ben Eleazar, who was active from ca. 170--200 AD, declares that, "This is how it will be in the days of the Messiah; there will be no 'thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not' commandments (zechut ve-hovâh)."68 Klausner, in his book "The Messianic Idea in Israel", explains that, "The natural interpretation of this is that in the days of the Messiah, the Torah and the Commandments will lose their significance".69
In so far as we understand redemption history as different eras, as we have seen the Sages above doing, we can interpret mentions of the 2000 years of the Torah and the 2000 years associated with the days of the Messiah as more or less mutually exclusive -- which is how Klausner and others have understood it. In practice this means that in the Messianic age there will be Messianic laws.
RaMBaM insists upon the natural character of the Messianic age. He writes:
The Torah interpreted by the False Messiah Sabbatai Tsvi
In the teaching of the Greek Neo-Platonists body and soul are so distinct from each other that immoral conduct does not necessarily affect the inner man. In its day, this way of thinking crept into both Jewish and Christian circles with the result that Psalm 146, for example, received the interpretation that "The Lord frees us from prohibitions", and so the door was opened to one of religious history's most odious phenomena.
Professor Gershom Scholem, an authority on Jewish mysticism, in his book "The Messianic Idea in Judaism" writes at length about the False Messiah Sabbatai Tsvi.74 The name Sabbatai in Hebrew means 'the star Saturnus' -- small wonder that he became a false Messiah, just like Bar Kokhba, the 'son of a star', before him. Balaam, son of Beori, prophesied in his time that, "A star will rise from Jacob and the sceptre will ascend from Israel" referring, in accordance with both Jewish and Christian exegesis, to the Messiah (Num. 24:17). Nevertheless that same Balaam enticed Israel into immorality. More abominable yet, however, was the way in which Sabbatai Tsvi and his compatriot Yankiev Frank were to appear and interpret the Torah.
Only one year after Sabbatai Tsvi had proclaimed himself in Israel to be the Messiah he converted to Islam, forced to do so by the Sultan of Turkey. This was in the year 1666 AD. His followers, however, explained that their master had merely "gone down into the world", klipôt,75 in order to save those who were in the world. He became "stricken with illness" for our sakes; he had to descend to the level of those who were still ba-Hol, in bondage to the daily round and superficiality, without holiness. In this respect Sabbatai himself explained: "Be blessed, Thou who freest us from prohibitions!" He claimed that the Messiah was to startle those who believed in him by performing "strange works". "The denial of the Law," he proclaimed, "is its fulfilment." His followers too were to descend to "trivialities" and to "open the doors of uncleanness" committing sin so much that it would no longer disturb them. There was nothing forbidden in the "sublime Torah". The word atsilim which means literally the 'sublime' or 'noble' ones became the nickname of Shabtai's followers. These believers really had to do quite revolting acts in secret. To illustrate, let the following suffice: In Turkey the 'Atsilim' held special "lights-out rituals" in which they exchanged sexual partners, a custom they had apparently learned from an Islamic sect.
The members of the movement had to swear an oath of secrecy which forbad them to speak to outsiders about their teaching. Only by denying the "Torah of Creation", the laws of society, could they reach the level of the "sublime Torah". They invented their own Confession of Faith with 13 articles, in which it was explained that the Ten Commandments had been abrogated, but that the ritual law was still to be observed. The Confession ends with the plea that the saviour and Messiah Sabbatai Tsvi will come back "quickly, and in our own day". The closest parallel to the follower of Sabbatai Tsvi is the Nazi Übermensch, the 'superman' who is also above all morality. The "man of lawlessness", the Antichrist, is said to "oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped" (2 Thess. 2:4).
We learn from the Sabbatai Tsvi episode that bare religiosity with no conception of holiness really does open wide the "gates of uncleanness". We see, however, in this error some aspects of Jewish Messianic expectation, albeit negatively developed. If we were to compare the Torahs of Jesus and Sabbatai we would first of all notice that Jesus did not come "to abolish the Law but to fulfil it". He prayed for his disciples:
It is true that the whole Jewish exposition of the Torah is intended
as a private matter for Israel alone. The Sages frequently repeat that
"The Torah was intended only for those who ate manna in the wilderness".
The Jewish understanding of the Torah can be depicted as a series of concentric
circles: the innermost rings are the Ten Commandments; then come the 613
precepts -- the taryag; next come the ancillary rules, the seyag
or 'hedge' around the Law; In addition to all this the 'Law' signifies
the teachings of the Pentateuch and also the exposition given to it by
both the Talmudic and the Mediaeval scholars. The word 'Torah', however,
means only 'teaching', even though the Septuagint, the Greek translation
of the OT made ca. 200 BC, translated the Hebrew by the word nomos,
'law'. Frequently we come across the distinction drawn between the Written
and the Oral Law. The scholars themselves do not always consider it necessary
to explain the different aspects of the Law because like Paul they are
addressing "those who know the Law" (Rom. 7:1). However, in the context
of the Messianic Idea the Torah receives a universal significance, made
clear by the Prophet Isaiah: " The Law will go out from Zion, the word
of the LORD from Jerusalem".76
Paul's interpretation of the Torah arose from the awareness that the teachings of Christ were meant for all nations. In this way he was forced to take a stand as to what were mere 'commandments of men' in the Jewish exposition of the Torah. As a profound authority on his own tradition he recognised that the Messiah had the right to give 'a new interpretation to the Law' and even to tear down the 'hedge'. In the Christian camp the claim is sometimes made that Paul's logic is "capricious", internally "inconsistent", and "vacillating".77 The Jewish camp, for its part, reckons that Paul's attitude to the Torah was "completely negative".78
One factor which contributes to this Jewish misunderstanding of Paul is the way Rom. 10:4 has been translated into many western languages as "Christ is the end of the Law!"79 However, the Greek word translated as 'end', telos, means primarily 'goal', as in "The end justifies the means". This same word telos is found in 1.Tim. 1:5, which in the NIV is translated as "The goal of this command is love!". Jesus made this point perfectly clear in the Sermon on the Mount when he said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them" (Matt. 5:17). In this spirit it would be better to translate the verse in Romans regarding Christ that he is the 'goal' of the Law. There is nothing negative in that.
What then is the logic of Paul's interpretation of the Law, and how does his scholarly exposition square up with the teachings of the Old Testament and with the points brought out by the earliest Jewish Messianic Expectation? For the sake of clarity it may be best to divide the answer into a number of basic points.
1. Firstly, we must see that the Bible depicts God as holy and that he demands holiness. Moses on several occasions received the words "Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy" (Lev. 11:44, 19:2, 20:26). Therefore Paul too wrote:
Modern Judaism's understanding of Man is quite different from that found in the New Testament. The devout Jew reads every morning in his prayer book, Sidûr, the words: "My God, the soul which thou hast given me is pure." Israel's most popular TV Rabbi once stated in his Sabbath morning service that, "In us there is more light than dark, more goodness than bad -- the Christians teach otherwise". And indeed: Jesus taught that "From within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, murder, adultery", the whole gamut of our sinfulness (Matt. 15:11 and Mark 7:21--22). Man is utterly corrupted by inherited sin. That is why he needs forgiveness and atonement for sin. Judaism generally rejects the idea of original sin and claims that the demands of God are not disproportionate. Hence the above-mentioned morning prayer asks:
2. Secondly, the will of God is manifestly much simpler than the hundreds of ritual and human commandments created by Jewish tradition. Furthermore, differentiating between the true manna eaters and the Gentiles in their relationship to God results in spiritual discrimination. The prophet Amos cried out: " 'Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?' declares the LORD... Surely the eyes of the Sovereign LORD are on the sinful kingdom" (Amos 9:7--8).
We have already seen the discussion in the Talmud about the possible reduction of the Torah's 613 precepts to one, "And the righteous will live by faith". Even Moses hinted at the simple, fundamental intent of the Law in Deut. 10:12:
The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah feared that the commandments of men might become a substitute for the true word of consolation or some kind of false refuge. Rather than the "rule upon rule" attitude "God said, 'This is the resting place, let the weary rest,' and 'This is the place of repose.' " But now instead they "will go and fall backwards and be crushed under their burdens" and they will be "snared and captured". They do indeed approach God "with their lips", but their "hearts" are far from him, "because their worship for God is made up only of rules taught by men". But God will yet have it that the "wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish". Paul too quoted these harsh words of Isaiah.80
In the same way the Old Testament's weeping prophet, Jeremiah, who was active before the destruction of the first temple (586 BC), complains that the people trust in an external form of worship, whilst otherwise following "the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts": "Do not trust in deceptive words and say, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!' " Or,"How can you say 'We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,' when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?... they have rejected the word of the LORD." The people place their trust in circumcision although "the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart".81
These prophetic rebukes apply equally to every age. How easily a learned religious tradition can become more important than the personal obedience of faith. The Christian too might say, "We have the church, we have the true teaching and we have baptism" -- and done in the right way too! Three times Paul employs the same formula: "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing" as such, but rather a) " the keeping of God's commandments" b) "faith expressing itself through love" and c) "the new creation".82 Paul did not disparage circumcision, but he wanted to get matters into their proper perspective. Following the same Pauline framework it could be said that "child baptism is nothing and adult baptism is nothing", rather a life lived in accordance with the will of God, faith expressing itself through love, and the renewal of the mind available to us in Christ -- and yet through baptism we are united with the death and atoning work of Christ. Personally, baptism has always for me been something very precious, especially so for one who has buried his only son as a fully fledged disciple of Christ in the soil of Israel. Paul was perfectly consistent in applying his Christ-centred thinking to every area of the Christian life.
3. For Paul the Law was not an end in itself but a "schoolmaster" (AV) to lead us to Christ. The Law shows a man his true spiritual state and in this way gives him a longing for conciliation. Christ is the goal of the Law. He is the end of the legalistic, formal relationship with God and the beginning of a new personal relationship. As the Messiah, Christ has the right to give the Law "new grounds of interpretation", through which the Torah will "revert to its original state". However, the Messianic tiqun, the healing of humanity's "sin impediment", means that Christ will atone for our sins. In this way he "fulfilled the Law" on our behalf.
Paul speaks of Christ as the goal of the Law "so that there might be righteousness". He bases this on the words of Deut. chapter 30, which are familiar to every devout Jew, and in which is also found the germ of the vicarious atonement idea. Christ is for him "the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes".
The logic behind these verses, in which we find a nascent OT doctrine of redemption, is that a) in the old covenant the Law was proclaimed to men so that they would fulfil its requirements, but now b) in the new covenant Christ has satisfied all the Law's demands by going on our behalf down into the deep and rising up to heaven, and we proclaim this completed act. Humanity was unable to carry out God's holy will, deserving only punishment, but now Christ has atoned for our sins, and justification is connected with the forgiveness of sins.
The best definition of justification is found in Isaiah 53:11 where it is said of Christ that, "my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities". Luther's Catechism defines justification with the words: "When in faith we receive Christ our redeemer, God does not hold our sins against us but forgives them for Christ's sake. He imputes Christ's purity and holiness to us. In this way God justifies us." Luther used his favourite expression opus alienum, 'a deed done by someone else', to describe this: another has satisfied the demands of the Law, another has suffered for our sins, another has borne our iniquities. This is all brought out by the OT's pro nobis phrase, so dear to Paul.
4. Nevertheless, this Messianic role includes Paul's description of Christ's "ascending" and "descending", (Grk. anabesetai and katabesetai.) This was also appealed to by Sabbatai Tsvi, even though he forced it to support his "strange deeds" and denial of the Law. Precisely this kind of common derivation attests to the genuineness of the ideas. Even if such thoughts are utterly foreign to the modern reader we cannot set new conditions to the grounds of the Messianic expectation. Paul says in Ephesians:
The Jerusalem Targum says in connection with Deut. ch 30:
In the context of the Bronze Serpent we discussed the description in the Wisdom of Solomon of the "sign of salvation", and the passage we quoted terminated with the words: "You lead men down to the gates of Hades and back again". Proverbs 30:4 asks: "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?... Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!" Thus the 'ascending and descending' idea is prominent even here in this passage, which speaks of the act of creation and of the Son of God.
This humiliation and exaltation is most beautifully expressed by Paul in his hymn found in the letter to the Philippians:
The decisions made at Jamnia were of momentous consequence for the whole subseqent development of Judaism. It thus became more and more a religion of law, and the minutiae of Pharisaic Torah exegesis began to monopolise the position of authority at the expense of the other streams of Jewish thought. Paul, who tells us about himself that he was a member of the strictest sect of the Pharisees, saw this danger. He writes:
The "hedge" around the Law with its traditions and ordinances of men
has now been torn down. The Ten Commandments are of course still valid
as the irrevocable "words of the Covenant". The Christian's protective
"hedge" is Christ himself, and so Paul in his letters uses over 160 times
the phrase "to be in Christ". If we stray out of Christ, the "dogs of the
Law," to use Luther's words will tear us to pieces. In this way the law
serves the gospel. Here lay the background and logic of Paul's Torah teaching.