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Do we follow the Torah?

posted by xscot mcknight

Not according to Jesus, but this all hangs on what “follow” means. In the passage we need to look at today, Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus makes an astounding claim. He did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. In brief, Jesus is saying that the Torah and the Prophets were preliminary sketches of God’s will and he will now be and teach its fullness. That takes chutzpah.
Let’s look closer. The Law and the Prophets, along with the Writings, were the Bible for Jesus’ day. Jesus says he is not here to destroy them (which responds to his behavior or teachings that he is sabotaging them) but to fulfill them. The word “fulfill” refers to the OT fulfillment theme, how what God has promised is now coming to pass. Only Jesus sees the Law (and the Prophets) as functioning prophetically somehow.
The way to put this together, which follows the interpretations of Robert Banks and Doug Moo (you can find them in Hagner’s commentary or any standard academic commentary on Matthew), is this: the Law and the Prophets were preliminary expressions but had an inherent longing for completion, and Jesus is saying that he and his teachings are that fulfillment.
Let me put it this way: I learned to type on a typewriter; I now use a PowerBook G4. What a typewriter is to a G4, the Law is to the teachings of Jesus.
Which now means this: Jesus himself, both in who he was and what he taught, ushered in a new era of complete revelation of God’s will for God’s people.
Which means also this: we are summoned to follow Jesus, not the Torah. In following Jesus, we do everything the Torah ever said and ever wanted to be and more. Jesus’ disciples follow Jesus and in following Jesus they follow the fulfilled Law, which is swallows up the old Torah into a new form.
He does not eliminate the Torah, he enables the Torah.



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James

posted November 10, 2005 at 9:33 am


Scot,
Excellent insight. Have you ever read E. Stanley Jones The Christ of the Mount? He develops this theme at length. Too bad it is now out of print. My wife bought it for me years ago when I was in seminary and it languished unread on my bookshelf until about 4-5 years ago. I wish I had read it when she gave it to me.



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Mark

posted November 10, 2005 at 10:10 am


It has been stated that one difference between Judaism and Christianity is that Judaism is a faith of practice whereas Christianity is a faith of belief. What does fulfillment of the law in light of your earlier comments regarding the SOM say regarding our modern focus on belief? I suspect our focus on belief has come at the expense of practice.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 10, 2005 at 10:55 am


Mark,
I’m not so sure the dichotomy between Judaism and Christianity here is accurate: I don’t think Christianity is “belief” without practice (James).
I agree with your second part.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 10, 2005 at 10:59 am


James,
I’ve not read that book.



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JLapp

posted November 10, 2005 at 12:19 pm


Very well said! Your thoughts are appreciated. Of course many of the religious folks of Jesus day didn’t like what they saw in Jesus’ fulfillment. But then, they were no longer focusing on their election: to be a blessing or light to all peoples.



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Wolf Paul

posted November 10, 2005 at 1:05 pm


Scot said,
In following Jesus, we do everything the Torah
> ever said and ever wanted to be and more. Jesus’ disciples follow Jesus and in following Jesus they follow the fulfilled Law, which swallows up the old Torah into a new form.

This raises some interesting questions:
When a devout Jew (who has not yet recognized Jesus as Messiah) looks at us, would he see us doing everything the Torah ever said?
If not, what actually is the meaning of this assertion? Is it not all to often a very selective interpretation of all the Torah ever said, and less?
How can we determine exactly what the “new form” of the “fulfilled Law” looks like? Judging by the varieties of behavior/observance among Christians this seems a pretty hopeless undertaking.
Why do so many Christians, when they see a “Torah-observant” “messianic Jew” or a congregation of such, doing all that the Torah ever said, and perhaps more, start looking for “legalism” and “judaizing”>? Perhaps to justify their own failure to “do all …”?
Sorry if these questions are provocative, but I am just trying to deal with these types of reactions to some friends of mine.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 10, 2005 at 2:32 pm


Wolf Paul,
No one is suggesting the absence of ambiguity. I believe God’s hand guided the Church into the hands of Paul — and the Spirit-filled existence is, in my assessment, a specific way of saying what Jesus is saying in Mt 5:17. The “fulfilled Torah” in Jesus is an eschatological existence, as is the pneumatic existence of Paul. So, the Law becomes specific indicators of where the Spirit guides the people. I think because Paul stopped there so will I. Those who live in the Spirit have no Law against them.



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Laura

posted November 10, 2005 at 6:46 pm


I’m currently in a Theology of the Pentateuch class with John H. Sailhamer and according to his thinking–which is making a ton of sense–the Torah was written so that people would trust God, not so that they would obey the law. If that is the case, then we who follow Jesus and trust him are indeed following Torah.



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Broken Messenger

posted November 10, 2005 at 7:42 pm


He does not eliminate the Torah, he enables the Torah
Amen. Though I lean to a little stronger language here Scot in that the Lord Jesus Christ does not only enable, but personifies the Torah. Good thoughts.
Brad



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Scot McKnight

posted November 10, 2005 at 9:25 pm


Laura,
Tell John “hello” and thanks for the computer analogy.



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Brian

posted November 11, 2005 at 3:08 pm


Ephesians 2:15 The Scriptures ’98 (15) having abolished in His flesh the enmity – the Torah of the commands in dogma – so as to create in Himself one renewed man from the two, thus making peace,
AMDG



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Laura

posted November 11, 2005 at 3:54 pm


I will indeed let him know.
I must say, Sailhamer’s take on Torah–and Tanakh–has opened a world of ideas. I’m not sure if I follow his lead completely, but, at the very least, the notion of taking text as revelation and responding accordingly certainly has merit (at least for me). Further, if he is even heading in the right direction, then how we as Christians interact with Torah, changes dramatically.
And on Eph 2:15–this verse seems to say that the commands of the regulations have been rendered inoperative. It does not say, nor can it be supported from the NT, that Torah (meaning the five books of Moses) is of no use to Christians. This is especially true if Moses’ point is that the law was added due to the transgression (this is Sailhamer’s take; see also Gal 3:19)



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Brian

posted November 11, 2005 at 5:54 pm


Laura,
Arbitrary division of “the law” gets tricky and doesn’t have much foundation in the Scripture. If you have verses that teach such arbitrary division (i.e. the dietary law is no longer applicable but other parts are) I would love to see them.
The bottom line is that ALL of the law is completely fulfilled in Christ. I am not saying it doesn’t have a “use”. Romans tells it what “use” it has. However, to somehow say that the letter of the law (i.e. the ten commandents, etc etc) is something that is binding to a Christian is an insult to Christ and His accomplished work IMO. Christ is our “law”. His fulfillment of the “old” law goes much deeper than some would like to admit.
AMDG



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Scot McKnight

posted November 11, 2005 at 6:05 pm


Brian,
Can’t figure out to whom you are addressing this comment.



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Laura

posted November 11, 2005 at 7:37 pm


Sailhamer’s claim (to which my post refers) is that the Torah contains law and that the book itself (meaning Torah) teaches faith in God and the inadequacy of the law. See his books (Pentateuch and Narrative; Introduction to Old Testament Theology) for a detailed argument. As regards an ‘arbitrary division’–I do not know to what you refer. Seems to me Ephesians 2:15 clearly teaches that the entire law has been rendered inoperative. What I am saying is that Torah is not law, but rather contains law codes, which are easily distinguished from narrative or poetry.
I agree that Christ fulfilled the law; I have never said the law held sway over Christians.



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Brian

posted November 11, 2005 at 8:14 pm


I probably misread it. :)
AMDG



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jim

posted July 4, 2010 at 10:13 pm


sorry for the late comment – has anyone read Matt5: 17 – 20?
17 “DO NOT THINK that I have come to abolish the Torah (Law) or the Prophets. I have NOT COME TO ABOLISH but to complete.
18 Yes indeed! I tell you that UNTIL HEAVEN and EARTH PASS AWAY, not so much as a jot (or yud – smallest dot) or tittle (stroke) will pass from the Torah (Law) – not until everything that must happen – has happened.
19a. SO, WHOEVER DISOBEYS these teachings (mitzvot) AND TEACHS Others to do so will be called the LEAST in the KINGDOM of HEAVEN – (but, they still get in?!) b. BUT, (a very big,big but) WHOEVER OBEYS ( what,? these Teachings, Law & Prophets) these teachings (mitvot) and teaches others to do so (Be like Me As I am Like your Father in Heaven) will be called great in the Kingdon of Heaven.
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness is far greater than that of the Torah teachers (“honor man made rules and traditions , not God’s) and Pharasees (remember Paul- “I am a Pharasee,” not was a Pharasee!” , you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Please remember God does not change Mal 3:6 & Heb 13 :8 & and remember Paul ” do we nullify the Law (Torah) by faith? No we establish (uphold) the Law (Torah)
God bless & please read your bible (with these verses in mind) and let God’s Spirit open your minds and hearts. – jim



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