In my first blog I discussed the theological significance of the Holy Spirit’s feminine gender. I also asserted that the Holy Spirit and Lady Wisdom are one and the same divine entity. This article explores this further because the word “Torah” just like the word “Spirit,” is grammatically feminine and this, I believe, has theological significance as well. The etymology of the word “Torah” is usually ascribed to the verb yara meaning “throw” or “shoot,” and in one form of the word (Hiphil) it means “teach.” But it may also be derived from the noun tor which means “turtle dove,” which would be highly relevant since the most famous depiction of the Holy Spirit is the dove. This may suggest a relation between God’s Law and the Holy Spirit. In Christianity it is commonly believed that you are no longer under the Law but grace which is a misleading statement.
The Law deals with ethics and legal matters and goes beyond that. Psalm 37:21 says, “The law of his God is in his heart; His steps do not slip.” Because a righteous man has internalized morals he follows it. The prophet Jeremiah foretold a new covenant that would be different from the Law God gave the Israelites after the Exodus. This is how Yahweh described it, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
So, what does it mean that the Law will be written on the heart of God’s people? It is not a different Law, but the change has to do with the access to it. Ben Sirach, an apocryphal book (canon for Catholics) written by a Jew in the 2nd century B.C., states that: “The man who fears the Lord will do this, and he who holds to the law will obtain wisdom” (15:1), “All wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and in all wisdom there is the fulfilment of the law” (19:20), “Whoever keeps the law controls his thoughts, and wisdom is the fulfilment of the fear of the Lord” (21:11), “He who seeks the law will be filled with it, but the hypocrite will stumble at it.” (3:15). This parallels language used to describe what happens when you are filled with the Holy Spirit. For example, in Exodus 31:3 we read, “And I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship,” and the prophet Micah said he was “filled with power– With the Spirit of the LORD—”. These expressions about the Spirit of God are common in the New Testament. In other words, the Torah leads you to know the truth from the inside. The descriptions of the Torah, Lady Wisdom and the Holy Spirit are thus the same.
The Torah was given to Moses by Yahweh and this was the central event in ancient Israel and is still the focal point of modern Judaism. For Christians, the most important part is Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. This is related to the Law, but perhaps not the way commonly understood. Jesus was a Jew who adhered to the Law and defended it. In Matthew 5:17-20 he said,
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In other words, Jesus wanted his followers to strive for perfection which starts in the heart.
Naturally, no one is flawless which is why there is forgiveness. In the earliest days, forgiveness involved animal sacrifice. After the Law of Moses, the priest was prescribed to appeal for forgiveness for himself and the people, once a year—the Day of Atonement—and it included animal sacrifice. It was performed in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple. In contrast, Jesus taught that you could receive forgiveness after repentance and baptism apart from the Temple ceremonies. As a Torah-observant Jew, Jesus would have observed the Sabbath on the Day of Atonement. But, John the Baptist started something new and Jesus continued it. Forgiveness was given after repentance and Jesus’ death was understood as a one-time sacrifice that replaced and ended all animal sacrifice. This created tension with the priests in the Temple. It also foreshadowed the fall of the Temple that took place just four decades later by Rome. This catastrophic event made the ceremonial laws void and consequently ended the priesthood.
In the Christian view, Jesus triumphed over sin by not giving into temptation and becoming the sacrificial lamb. Hence, the Law is still in place since it defines sin which is why he never denounced the Torah. Did he change it? Not quite. He delved deeper and addressed the source of sin and how to truly conquer it. One of the many examples of this is described in Matthew 5:28 where Jesus said, “but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Simultaneously, he expanded grace. He asked his disciples to forgive an endless amount of times and when a woman was caught in adultery, he famously said that those without sin should cast the first stone, and no one did. He then validated the Torah and told her (John 8:11), “go your way. From now on sin no more.”
Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostles agreed during the first council of Jerusalem that Gentile converts did not have to abide by the whole Law. They needed only to “abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication” (Acts 15:29). This has since created confusion for many. What about other sins? Did the Apostles dismiss the Ten Commandments, like stealing, for instance? Were these conditions meant only to apply at an introductory stage in the faith? And what about other covenants that took place before the Mosaic Law like circumcision?
The reason the Apostles started to accept gentile disciples without them first being circumcised and knowing the Law was that they saw them convert and change. They were receiving the gifts of the Spirit (Acts 10:45-47). Peter said they must allow them to be baptized for this reason which caused a rift between believers. Then they accused Peter of eating with gentiles which he defended by telling them about his vision at Joppa where God asked him, a Torah-observant Jew, to eat unclean food because Yahweh had made them clean. However, the context reveals that the vision used food as a symbolism for accepting gentiles into the faith, not to nullify kosher laws (Acts 10:28).
The Apostle Paul said that “through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20), “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” (Romans 3:23-24). So, Paul argued that you would be justified by faith not works. He also wrote that “if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). The reason Paul advocated for this was, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them’” (Galatians 3:10). It was the punishments, or as he put it the “curse,” of transgressing the Law that he objected to. Paul considered the Law good and agreed with it (Romans 7:16) but wanted to bring the focus on redemption via faith in Jesus’ death on the cross instead of animal sacrifice. Paul also said “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Romans 3:31). He goes on to explain that Abraham was justified by faith, and that many who have committed sins are considered clean through faith.
On the surface this language seems to suggest that the Law is no longer relevant, yet it is the Law that defines sin. James, the brother of Jesus, said,
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. (James 2:17-24)
Having faith and receiving grace does not mean you are released from the Law. You cannot have grace without the Law because grace can only exist if the Law exists. Via repentance, and forgiveness, you return to be right with God and in line with His Law.
Here is one more excerpt from Sirach (24:22-29), and in this one Lady Wisdom speaks of herself and says,
Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame, and those who work with my help will not sin. All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God, the law which Moses commanded us as an inheritance for the congregations of Jacob. It fills men with wisdom, like the Pishon, and like the Tigris at the time of the first fruits. It makes them full of understanding, like the Euphrates, and like the Jordan at harvest time. It makes instruction shine forth like light, like the Gihon at the time of vintage. Just as the first man did not know her perfectly, the last one has not fathomed her; for her thought is more abundant than the sea, and her counsel deeper than the great abyss.”
The Law was written in stone by the finger of God, but in the new covenant it is written on the hearts of His people. It lives in you and changes you inside out. The conduit to God goes via the Holy Spirit, also called the Spirit of Truth, Divine Wisdom and the Torah. She gives spiritual life.