Torah

This is a subsidary post of Law.
It is also a subsidiary post of Instruction, Teaching, Doctrine, Torah…

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The first point to be made is that “torah” is a Hebrew word.  Therefore, the scope of our study of this word is initially restricted to the Old Testament.  The concept of “torah” was certainly known and used by the apostles who wrote the New Testament, but those writings are in Greek and therefore explicit reference to “torah” is not present.

The second point to make is that while “torah” is normally translated to English as “law” (as you’ll see as you read through this post), this can lead to misunderstanding the term.  The word “law” carries for us today connotations of legal code and related issues while the Hebrew meaning of the word carries connotations more closely associated with “teaching,” “instruction,” “doctrine,” or “direction.”  Therefore, whenever we encounter the word in the Old Testament text we should think less about its legal function and more about its instructional function.  In fact, as I suggested in the post Law, I consider “authoritative teaching” – notwithstanding its clunkiness – to be perhaps the best single interpretation of the word in biblical usage.

The third point to make is that even it its original language of Hebrew, the word “torah” can have a range of meanings – including that of being a way of referring to the first five books of the Bible, or to the totality of Jewish teaching, or to several points in between those two.  Therefore, we always want to pay attention to the context in which we find each occurrence.

Because of these three points, and because the word is so frequently used and so important in the Bible, we should approach it with a particular respect so that we might understand – and not misunderstand – what God is saying every time one of His prophets uses it.   With these points in mind, therefore, let us turn our attention to some specifics about its occurrences in the Old Testament.

The word “law” appears in 283 verses of the Old Testament of the New American Standard Bible (NASB).  It is capitalized only in these three verses:  1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; and Psalm 40:8.  (The phrase “law of Moses,” i.e. with lowercase “l” occurs in 12 verses of the NASB OT; and the phrase “Your law” with lowercase “l” occurs 30 times.   It’s unknown to me why the NASB translators felt that the “l” should be capitalized in the three verses above and not in any of the other 285 verses in which the word occurred.  I am simply recording what is; I don’t think it’s an important distinction.)

The plural English form “laws” occurs only 14 times in 13 verses of the NASB OT.  They are outside the scope of the study in this post, but I do not expect that study of them would materially change any of the conclusions drawn here.

According to Strong’s Concordance (embedded in the NASB website), in the vast majority of these 283 OT verses the underlying Hebrew word is Strong’s 8451 “torah” for which Strong’s gives the following:

direction, instruction, law:–custom(1), instruction(10), instructions(1), Law(1), law(188), laws(10), ruling(1), teaching(7), teachings(1).

The first three words gives the meaning of “torah.”  The remaining words show how, and how often, it is translated.  As you can see, the vast majority of times it comes out “law.”  (I cannot explain why the word count for “Law” with the capital “l” is only one; based on the three verses identified above, it should read “Law(3).”  Again, however, this should not become a focus.  The distinction between uppercase and lowercase letters is a modern convention, not employed in ancient writings.)

As for the translation of “torah” (Strong’s 8451) into English words other than “law,” here’s the accounting:

“custom”  –  2 Samuel 7:19
“instruction”  –  Exodus 16:4; Job 22:22; Psalm 78:1; Proverbs 4:2; Isaiah 1:10; 30:9; Malachi 2:6, 7, 8, 9
“instructions”  –  Exodus 16:28
“ruling”  –  Haggai 2:11
“teaching”  –  Proverbs 1:8; 3:1; 6:20, 23; 7:2; 13:14; 31:26
“teachings”  –  Daniel 9:10

As for the translation of “torah” (Strong’s 8451) into the plural form of “law,” here’s the accounting:

“laws”  –  Genesis 26:5; Exodus 18:16, 20; Leviticus 26:46; Nehemiah 9:13; Psalm 105:45; Isaiah 24:5; Ezekiel 43:11; 44:5, 24

(I dwell on these less frequent translations of “torah” in this sub-post:  Translations of “torah” Other Than “law”)

Having gotten those less frequent translations out of the way, let us turn our attention to those cases where “torah” (Strong’s 8451) is translated as “law” or “Law” – which is the vast majority of cases (189 out of 220; which is 86% of the time).

First, we must distinguish those occurrences of “law” which are based on the Hebrew word “torah” from those that are based on any other Hebrew word.  Of the 283 verses where we find the English word “law” (or three times “Law”) in our NASB Old Testament, there are only 16 verses where the underlying Hebrew word is not “torah” and they are confined to the books of Ezra, Esther, and Daniel.  Here they are with the corresponding Hebrew words:

Ezra 7:12  –  1882
Ezra 7:14  –  1882
Ezra 7:21  –  1882
Ezra 7:26  –  1882
Ezra 7:26  –  1882 (a second occurrence of the word in the same verse)

Esther 1:8  –  1881
Esther 1:13  –  1881
Esther 1:15  –  1881
Esther 3:14  –  1881
Esther 4:11  –  1881
Esther 4:16  –  1881
Esther 8:13  –  1881

Daniel 6:5  –  1882
Daniel 6:8  –  1882
Daniel 6:12  –  1882
Daniel 6:15  –  1882
Daniel 7:25  –  1882

1881 dath – of for. or.; decree, law:–decree(5), edict(4), edicts(1), law(7), laws(3), regulations(1)
1882 dath – (Ara.) corr. to 1881; decree, law:–decree(3), law(10), laws(1).

Therefore, of the 283 verses in which you find the word “law” in the NASB OT, 267 of them have as the underlying Hebrew word “torah.”

In common Jewish usage the word “torah” refers most strictly to the first five books of the Bible which comes from Moses.  Hence, it is the Torah which Moses gave from God. However, the word can also be used to cover the entirety of Hebrew Scripture and even Hebrew oral tradition as well.  With the coming of Jesus Christ, the torah became His and, in that sense, refers to all His teaching.

Here are some occurrences of torah that I have found particulary memorable.  Remember that these are only a few of the 189 occasions where “torah” appears in the Old Testament and it is translated as “law” (or, in 3 cases, as “Law” – i.e. with a capital “L”: 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; Psalm 40:8).  (An asterisk at the beginning of the citation indicates a verse in which “torah” occurs but is translated as something other than law – the full list of such verses being at Translations of “torah” Other Than the singular “law”.)

Exodus 24:12  –  “Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.'”

*Leviticus 26:46 – “These are the statutes and ordinances and laws which the Lord established…”  –  This is one of 10 plural occurrences of “torah” in the NASB Old Testament; all 10 are shown together in Translations of “torah” Other Than the singular “law”.  

Deuteronomy 1:5  –  “…Moses undertook to expound this law…”

Deuteronomy 4:8  –  “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”

Deuteronomy 4:44, 45, 46  –  “Now this is the law which Moses set before the sons of Israel…”

Deuteronomy 17:18-20  – “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.  It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes…”   –  Priests and the Law

Deuteronomy 28:58, 59  –  “If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name…”

Deuteronomy 28:61  –  “Also every sickness and every plague which, not written in the book of this law, the Lord will bring on you until you are destroyed.”

Deuteronomy 29:29  –  “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”  –  Compare to Proverbs 29:18 HCSB below.

Deuteronomy 30:9, 10  –  “…if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law…”

Deuteronomy 31:9  – “So Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests…”  –  Priests and the Law
Deuteronomy 31:10
Deuteronomy 31:11  –  “…you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing.”
Deuteronomy 31:12  –  “…and be careful to observe all the words of this law.”

Deuteronomy 31:24-30  –  “It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, ‘Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you…'”

Joshua 1:7-9  –  “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

2 Chronicles 15:3  –  “For many days Israel was without the true God and without a teaching priest and without law.”  –  Priests and the Law

2 Chronicles 17:9  –  “They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the Lord with them…”

2 Chronicles 31:4  –  “…to give the portion due to the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the law of the Lord.”  –  Priests and the Law

2 Chronicles 34:14  –  “…Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses.”  –  Priests and the Law

Ezra 7:10  –  “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.”  –  Because Ezra was a priest (Ezra 7:11), see Priests and the Law; as for “Israel,” see note on Malachi 4:4 below.

Nehemiah 9:3  –  “…they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day…”

Nehemiah 9:26  –  “…and cast Your law behind their backs…”

Psalm 1:2  –  “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”

Psalm 19:7, 8, 9  –  “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul…”

Psalm 40:7, 8  –  “…Your Law is within my heart.”

Psalm 94:12, 13  –  “Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord, and whom You teach out of Your law…”

The word “torah” appears in Psalm 119 once in each of 25 verses (this psalm having 176 verses in all) and “law” is always the way it is translated.

Psalm 119:1  –  “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.”

Psalm 119:18  –  “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.”

Psalm 119:29  –  “Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law.”

Psalm 119:34  –  “Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart.”

Psalm 119:44  –  “So I will keep Your law continually, forever and ever.”

Psalm 119:51  –  “The arrogant utterly deride me, yet I do not turn aside from Your law.”

Psalm 119:53  –  “Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked who forsake Your law.”

Psalm 119:55  –  “O Lord, I remember Your name in the night and keep Your law.”

Psalm 119:61  –  “The cords of the wicked have encircled me, but I have not forgotten Your law.”

Psalm 119:70  –  “Their heart is covered with fat, but I delight in Your law.”

Psalm 119:72  –  “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”

Psalm 119:77  –  “May Your compassion come to me that I may live, for Your law is my delight.”

Psalm 119:85  –  “The arrogant have dug pits for me, men who are not in accord with Your law.”

Psalm 119:92  –  “If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction.”

Psalm 119:97  –  “O how I love Your law!  It is my meditation all the day.”

Psalm 119:109  –  “My life is continually in my hand, yet I do not forget Your law.”

Psalm 119:113 –  “I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law.”

Psalm 119:126  –  “It is time for the Lord to act, for they have broken Your law.”

Psalm 119:136  –  “My eyes shed streams of water, because they do not keep Your law.”

Psalm 119:142  –  “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.”

Psalm 119:150  –  “Those who follow after wickedness draw near; they are far from Your law.”

Psalm 119:153  –  “Look upon my affliction and rescue me, for I do not forget Your law.”

Psalm 119:163  –  “I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law.”

Psalm 119:165  –  “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble.”

Psalm 119:174  –  “I long for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is my delight.”

The word “torah” appears in the book of Proverbs as “law” a total of 4 times; all 4 are shown here.  In addition, it appears as “teaching” 7 times and as “instruction” 1 time; for the sake of curiosity, I’ve included all 12 occurrences of “torah” in the book of Proverbs however it is translated below, too.  In any case, all translations of “torah” other than the singular “law” are listed in Translations of “torah” Other Than the singular “law”.  By the way, all translations of “torah” into a word other than “law” in the book of Proverbs is accompanied by a margin note indicating that “law” is an alternate translations, except for Proverbs 1:8.  I have no idea why the exception.  The use of this marginal note in such cases is by no means restricted to the book of Proverbs; it is as commonplace outside it (I give the marginal notes on all of them at Translations of “torah” Other Than the singular “law”.

Proverbs 1:8  –  “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.”  –  There is no NASB margin note on this verse.

Proverbs 3:1  –  “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments;”  –  An NASB margin note on “teaching” reads “Or law.”

Proverbs 4:2  –  “For I give you sound teaching; do not abandon my instruction.”  –  An NASB margin note on “instruction” reads “Or law.”

Proverbs 6:20  –  “My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother;”  –  An NASB margin note on “teaching” reads “Or law.”

Proverbs 6:23  –  “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life”  –  An NASB margin note on “teaching” reads “Or law.”

Proverbs 7:2  –  “Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye.”  –  An NASB margin note on “teaching” reads “Or law.”

Proverbs 13:14  –  “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn aside from the snares of death.”  –  An NASB margin note on “teaching” reads “Or law.”

Proverbs 28:4  –  “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive with them.”

Proverbs 28:7  –  “He who keeps the law is a discerning son…”

Proverbs 28:9  –  “He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”

Proverbs 29:18  –  “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.”  –  An NASB margin note on “vision” reads “Or revelation.”
Proverbs 29:18 KJV  –  “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
Proverbs 29:18 ESV  –  “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
Proverbs 29:18 HCSB  –  “Without revelation people run wild, but one who listens to instruction will be happy.”  –  Compare to Deuteronomy 29:29 above.

Proverbs 31:26  –  “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”  –  An NASB margin note on “teaching” reads “Or law.”

Isaiah 2:3  –  “…For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

*Isaiah 30:9  –  “…sons who refuse to listen to the instruction of the Lord;”  – An NASB margin note on “instruction” reads “Or law.”  For more like this, see Translations of “torah” Other Than the singular “law”.

Isaiah 42:21  –  “The Lord was pleased for His righteousness’ sake to make the law great and glorious.”

Jeremiah 2:8  –  “The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ and those who handle the law did not know Me…”  –  Priests and the Law

Jeremiah 6:19  –  “…because they have not listened to My words, and as for My law, they have rejected it also.”

Jeremiah 8:8  –  “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’?
But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.”

Jeremiah 31:33  –  “‘…I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it…'”

Hosea 4:6  –  “…Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you from being My priest.  Since you have forgotten the law of your God…”  –  Priests and the Law

Zechariah 7:12 – “They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets…”

In the following four verses, the word translated as “instruction” is “torah” (Strong’s 8451) in the Hebrew.  The NASB gives a marginal note in each case indicating that the word could be translated “law.”  (For a list of all such cases, see Translations of “torah” Other Than “law”)
Malachi 2:6  –  “True instruction was in his mouth…”
Malachi 2:7  –  “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth…”
Malachi 2:8  –  “…you have caused many to stumble by the instruction…”
Malachi 2:9  –  “…are showing partiality in the instruction.”

Malachi 4:4  –  “Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.”  –   Compare “Israel” here to “Israel” in Ezra 7:10; the law of Moses was for the nation of Israel, not the Gentiles.

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