IN THIS ISSUE
THE JOY OF
CHRISTIAN TORAH STUDY
For centuries, Jews have read the Pentateuch or Torah (i.e., the five books of Moses-Genesis through Deuteronomy) every year according to a set schedule of weekly readings. The schedule begins right after Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) and continues until the following Sukkot. Each week's Torah portion is supplemented by a related section from the Prophets, and there are special readings for the festival seasons as well.
Many Christians have a similar practice, in which scheduled passages from both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament are read in church services every week. The idea of a Christian lectionary (the usual name for a schedule of scripture readings) probably has its roots in the ancient Jewish synagogue tradition.1 A lectionary has the advantage of ensuring that key scriptures, and thus the truths that those scriptures contain, are rehearsed by a congregation on a regular basis.
Right after the Feast of Tabernacles in 2000, Sherry and I decided to dedicate our family Friday night Bible studies for the next year to an in-depth study of the Torah. We would discuss a few chapters each week, following the traditional Jewish schedule.2 Our decision was based partly on a desire to become more familiar with a foundational part of the Bible. We were also influenced by testimonials from other Christians who had participated in Torah studies and found them to be very rewarding.
Now that our study is over, we can add our own testimonial to a growing list. We found the study of the Pentateuch to be an extremely enriching activity and highly recommend it to our readers. As the year progressed, I began writing articles about the exciting things we were learning. Four of them appear in this issue, and I plan to include more in upcoming issues.
Highlights of our Study
Our study began with the familiar stories of the patriarchs and
the Exodus. To enrich our discussion of this narrative portion of the Bible, I
regularly consulted some internet websites that provide commentaries on each Torah
portion. A good source of such commentaries from a Messianic point of view is
the website of First Fruits of
From such websites, one begins to catch a glimpse of the long and rich tradition of Jewish interpretation of the Torah, an ongoing dialogue that has continued across the generations over a period of many centuries.3 It turns out that every detail of the text has been the subject of extensive discussion, debate, and reflection. In this issue of Grace and Knowledge, the article ``Watch your Antecedents!'' describes three cases in which the meaning of a passage turns upon the identity of the antecedent of a single pronoun. The controversy over these passages is fascinating and far from trivial.
For our study of the book of Exodus, we made use of two valuable resources. One was Göran Larsson's wonderful commentary on Exodus entitled Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Hendrickson, 1999). The other was Professor James L. Kugel's Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible as It Was at the Start of the Common Era (Harvard University Press, 1998). These two books go much further than the aforementioned websites in revealing the treasure trove of tradition and insight that is available on the narrative of the Pentateuch. An abridged (but much more economical) version of Kugel's book is available in paperbook under the title The Bible as It Was.
When we reached the instructions for the building of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-31, I was worried that our study would get bogged down. On previous times through the Pentateuch, I had read quickly past this section on the details of the tabernacle and its furnishings. But this time, a careful study of our books and websites introduced us to the beautiful symbolism of these items. Motivated by the things I was learning and the perceptive comments of Consulting Editor Jared L. Olar, I wrote the article ``The Real Ark Mystery'' for this issue of Grace and Knowledge. I am sure that you will find the meaning and symbolism of the ``lost ark'' to be very inspiring, just as I have.
Right after the detailed tabernacle instructions comes a pivotal portion of the Pentateuch, the story of the sin of the golden calf and its aftermath in Exodus 32-34. More than I had ever understood before, these chapters give a powerful presentation of the gospel in their account of man's sinfulness and God's abundant grace. I discuss Exodus 32-34 in the article ``Grace upon Grace: The True Meaning of John 1:17'' in the current issue.
By this time, our study had gained enough momentum to successfully tackle
the details of the sacrificial and holiness codes of the book of Leviticus.
Here we turned to Walter C. Kaiser's commentary on Leviticus in the New
Interpreter's Bible (Abingdon Press, 1994). Regular readers of Grace and
Knowledge know that Kaiser is my favorite Christian Old Testament scholar;
his books are referenced in many of my articles. His commentary on Leviticus is
extremely helpful, providing careful discussion of puzzling passages and
marvelous insights into the ways that
Our guide to the book of Numbers was Ronald B. Allen's commentary on Numbers from Zondervan's Expositor's Bible Commentary. Both Allen and many Jewish commentators present the book as a tale of two generations of Israelites. The older generation starts from Sinai toward the Promised Land with high hopes, but its faith is not sufficient for completion of the task. After forty years in the wilderness a new generation prepares to finally enter the land, again with high hopes but without so much of the psychological baggage of Egyptian slavery that got in the way of the older generation.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives this second generation the
instruction and vision it needs in order to make the transition from a nomadic
existence in the wilderness to a settled life in the land. His instructions
tell us much about the mission of
By the time we neared the conclusion of our study, I was struck by the way in which certain themes were visited again and again in the narrative of the Pentateuch. I write about several of these themes in ``Deja Vu All Over Again'', my longest article for this issue of Grace and Knowledge. Everyone who has read this article can think of additional themes and examples that could have been mentioned. Indeed, I had to force myself to finally conclude the article and not add even more examples from the book of Numbers.
I had similar feelings at the end of our study. Although we had spent a year reading and discussing the Pentateuch, it seemed that we had barely scratched the surface of its riches by the time we reached the Feast of Tabernacles and the conclusion of Deuteronomy. We have moved on now to study other parts of the Bible, but we can appreciate why Jews-and an increasing number of Christians-promptly begin the book of Genesis again right after the completion of a year's Torah cycle.
The ancient text of God's Torah has been a guide to Jews and Christians in every generation for thousands of years now (see Ps. 119:105; 2 Tim. -17). Wisdom books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes teach us much about the practical application of Torah. Most of us are much less familiar with the wisdom books of the Apocrypha, which provide additional insight and inspiration. In our latest installment of our series on the Apocrypha, Jared Olar gives a fascinating introduction to The Wisdom of Solomon, a poetic description of God's righteousness and wisdom and possibly a precursor to Christianity's mission to the Gentiles.
I have mentioned the commentaries that we used in our Torah study. These are just some of the resources available to aid us in our quest for guidance, wisdom and understanding from God's Torah.
Another excellent source of Torah study materials is the First Fruits of Zion ministry. This Messianic ministry provides extensive Torah teaching through its Torah Club program. We have found the study of the Pentateuch to be a great adventure. We would enjoy hearing about your experiences with Torah study. Feel free to write to us at any of the addresses listed on the inside front cover of this issue.Doug Ward
1This tradition may be reflected in Jesus' ``standing up to read'' in his hometown synagogue in Luke , although the passage Jesus read from the Prophets (Isaiah 61:1-2) is not part of any lectionary of which we have record today.
3Christian biblical scholarship has long been enriched by the profound insights in the works of the great Jewish commentators. For example, Nicholas of Lyra (A.D. 1270-1340), recognized as the best medieval Christian biblical exegete, relied heavily on the works of the renowned Jewish commentator Rashi (Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes, A.D. 1040-1105).
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