Torah, the Law, and Legalism

Torah, the Law, and Legalism

by Ken Ryland

(This article is an excerpt from the Sept-Oct 2003 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)

“To many Protestants the idea that Christians should “keep the Law” is equal to suggesting that they should become Pharisees. The theology of most Protestant denominations is based on the rejection of any obligation derived from the Hebrew Scriptures—the Old Testament. That view, of course, paints us who have a high regard for all the laws of God as legalistic in the eyes of those who believe that grace has supplanted the law. Many Sabbatarians, on the other hand, fall into the ditch on the opposite side of the same road with the belief that after accepting Christ as Savior, Christianity consists of living by God’s code of conduct, His law, and nothing else matters. To such people, all matters of life and love are ultimately judged by the question, “Does it conform to God’s law?”

Both of these points of view are based on a misunderstanding of the meaning of “Torah,” the Hebrew word most often translated as “law” in English and “nomos” in Greek. Years ago a Hebrew scholar friend of mine impressed upon me the fact that “Torah” has a much broader meaning than the word “law.” Neither “law” nor “nomos” comes close to conveying the depth and breadth of meaning carried by the word “Torah.” My friend always admonished me to think of Torah as “instruction” rather than law, and this definition has served me well over the years in helping me understand the mind of God and the meaning of His Word. “Instruction” has many connotations and nuances, similar to the word “Torah.” Besides conveying the idea of teaching, it also implies an obligation to obey the instruction, but the meaning is much deeper than that. Torah instruction also brings into play the “relationship” between the instructor and the one instructed (shall we say, between teacher and disciple)…”


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