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Reading the Torah as Wisdom, not Law

November 16, 2006

Although there is law found within the Torah, the Torah is not law.  Torah comes from the Hebrew root yarah which means point, direct.  So Torah is direction, instruction, wisdom. 

And although there is law found within the Torah, we’re not under any of it anymore as law.  It’s still the word of God, it’s still a historical and prophetic witness, it still reveals the character of its Author, but it’s not binding legal code for us.

So we need to learn to read the Torah the way we would read wisdom literature, not law.   Consider the way Paul handles the law in this passage:

1 Corinthians 9:7-11 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?

Paul has been meditating on the laws of Moses to find principles for conducting new covenant ministry.  But even when he finds them, he doesn’t apply them as law.  He doesn’t say, “And so, Corinthians, it is clearly God’s will for you to pay me, and you are sinning if you do not pay me.”  On the contrary, he boasts that he has not made use of his right to be paid for his labors and he refuses to accept money from the Corinthians for himself.

And when he challenges them to give to others, he never cites the laws regarding tithing, he simply challenges them to be generous.  So the reasons that I tithe to the church are the same reasons I gave two posts ago for resting on the Sabbath.   I believe there is wisdom and blessing in tithing, but I do not believe I am under the law of the tithe.

Highly Recommended: John H. Sailhamer, “The Mosaic Law and the Theology of the Pentateuch,” Westminster Theological Journal 53.2 (1991): 241-261.

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