Sunday, June 25, 2017

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Is the Torah Eternal?

Definitions and context matter, and today's question is a perfect example of both.

One concept that gets floated around a lot in Messianic circles is this: The Torah is eternal. But what do we mean by "Torah" and what do we mean by "eternal?" In our understanding at Ben David, we view "Torah" as the full written counsel of God that includes all 66 books of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. Torah therefore means everything in the Bible as one continuous and progressive revelation. Eternal means that we believe that the entirety of Scripture is God's Word, and that there are no new documents that need be added to this encyclopedia we call the Scriptures. In this context, and with these definitions, yes the Torah is eternal.

But not all Messianics see the Torah that way. And this is the problem.

Some Messianics refer to Torah as only the 613 commandments (by Rabbinic count) contained within Genesis to Deuteronomy. Because the word Torah literally means instruction, some assume that these commandments are forever applicable and binding (i.e., eternal). The argument sounds something like this: if God has always existed and does not change, why then would God change His Torah (613 commandments)? The Torah, thus, is eternal.

Um, actually, no it isn’t eternal in this context. And this is rather straightforwardly proven.

One of the most central aspects of the books of Moses (i.e., Genesis to Deuteronomy from which the 613 are counted) is the Levitical priesthood. These Scriptures are not open to the idea of non-Levite priests. The appropriate commands are found in places like Leviticus 18:1-8 and Numbers 3:11-13 and Numbers 18:6.

If only Levites are priests, how then can David’s sons act as priests (2 Samuel 8:18)? Many (bad) kings in Israel/Judah got in trouble for setting up their own (non-Levite) priesthoods. No explanation is given for this appointment. Perhaps it doesn’t mean priest though, because a similar passage in 1 Chronicles 18:17 suggests these sons were court officials.

If only Levites are priests, how can we explain the Lord’s own words that “all nations and tongues” (i.e., non-Jews) will become Levites and priests (Isaiah 66:21)? This time an explanation is given: all flesh will worship Him (Isaiah 66:23). Note that this very same concept is emphasized elsewhere: all tribes of Jews (1 Peter 1:9) and also non-Jews (Revelation 1:6) are to become priests of the Lord. Levite exclusivity apparently is not in season and there is no way around that this time.

If only Levites are priests, how can Yeshua rightfully become our High Priest (Hebrews 7:26)? According to the the Books of Moses, Yeshua cannot be a priest, let alone High Priest, as the author of the book of Hebrews makes clear in Hebrews 7:12-14:

For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

I hope that you are starting to see the problem here; this is not meant to suggest that the books or Moses are not Scripture (they are) or that the books of Moses are not important (they are). But let me continue my thought here.

If we believe that Yeshua is really the Messiah, and also our Atonement, it is necessary to have a change in the Torah (i.e., the 613), a change in the Law, a change in the commandments. This fact is indisputable. Rabbinical Judaism will protest, saying this fact proves Yeshua was not Messiah. We lovingly remind our Rabbinic friends that by their negating temple sacrifice they have annulled commandments in the very same Torah they claim to uphold. Thus it is clear that the 613 commandments, by themselves and thus out of context with the rest of the Scriptures, cannot be eternal and universally binding. Instead, we see the books of Moses as one of many important steps along the way of a progressive revelation towards Messiah Yeshua.

But wait: isn’t the word of the Lord forever (Isaiah 40:8) and thus the 613 are forever binding? Yes His Word is forever, but the books of Moses are only part of His Word. The principles have not changed, but the means have. In our example, we needed a High Priest to help atone for our sins; now instead we have a High Priest who Himself is the Atonement for our sins. The job for High Priest is thus closed; no applications are being accepted. Perhaps the best way to think of the 613 is that they form a template for the rest of Scripture. In this way they are similar to the development of cellular phones; the modern cell phone is a far cry from the phones of antiquity, but many of the same concepts apply.

We have to remember that the "613 Commandments" were given to a particular people (Israel) in a particular context (ancient theocracy) for a particular purpose (calling a people). Understand too that the non-binding nature of these commandments does not diminish their value; they are still Scripture that is very profitable and important to read and study (which is why we do this every week in the Parsha). We just don’t see that Scripturally speaking every one of the 613 commandments has the same meaning today as it did in the time of Yeshua or Moses. We uphold the entirety of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, as God’s Torah and not only the initial 5 books.

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