Hebrew Voices #97 – What is the Torah

In this episode of Hebrew Voices, What is the Torah, Nehemia Gordon explains the meaning of the Hebrew word “torah” and the Greek word “nomos”, and how these words are often mistranslated.

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Hebrew Voices #97 - What is the Torah

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Nehemia: And so, He’s going to Torah us His ways. This is a prophesy. The Torah’s not done away with. If you believe Isaiah, and I love this prophesy, because it ends with them beating their swords into plowshares, and there’s peace to the world. To get to that, we need to go through the Torah and be taught this Torah and the ways of God.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot.

Michael: We have a lot of great questions coming in from cyberspace, and one of these questions I thought best to be answered by a Torah scholar himself, and that is Nehemia Gordon, here with us from Israel. Nehemia, good to have you back.

Nehemia: It’s great to be here, Michael. Shalom.

Michael: Shalom. I had the question, “What is the Torah? What is the Torah, exactly?” We’re going to hear it from someone who was raised in the Torah his whole life.

Nehemia: Let’s start with really basic. Torah is the Hebrew word that means “instruction”. Every word in the Bible in the Hebrew language – or I should be more precise – every adjective, noun and verb, has a three-letter root. The three-letter root of Torah is Yud-Reish-Hey, to instruct, yarah. And Torah simply means “instruction”. It’s often translated as “law”. In Greek it was translated as “nomos.” Nomos is the Greek word for “law”, and then we have in English “antinomian” which is really anti-Torah, anti-law.

But “law” doesn’t get the full sense of the word “Torah”. Torah really is instruction. For example, the word for teacher in Hebrew is “moreh”. Moreh is from the same root as Torah. Moreh is the one who teaches the Torah. One of the places where we can see a more literal meaning of this, you’ll see commandments in the Torah where it’ll say, “This is the Torah of the sin offering. This is the Torah of burnt offering.” The word there is “Torah”. It’s the instruction for that particular…

Michael: It’s the Torah of or for. The instructions for, concerning, pertaining to the sin offering.

Nehemia: What we’re really looking at, it’ll say, “This is instruction for the sin offering,” and originally what we were dealing with is, Moses had a scroll that he wrote. On that scroll, on the side, it probably said, “This is the instruction for the sin offering,” and they put that in a jar, and at some point Moses tasked Joshua, he said, “Sew all of those together.” [laughing] And lliterally, he probably came along and sewed them together with sinews. But that’s what that is - it was the instruction.

And so we sometimes have the word “Torah” in plural. We’ll have “Torot”, “the laws”. The Rabbis have taken that to mean there’s a written Torah and an oral Torah. Actually, when it says Torah in plural, Torot, it means all these specific instructions. Now, there’s a great passage in Joshua chapter 8. Let me pull this up, and we’re doing this live, and I don’t have the verse in front of me!

There’s a verse there where it talks about how Joshua read for the people all that Moses instructed. It’s a great verse, and I’m not finding it at the moment. The point is, they had this book of the Torah. In other words, at the end, Torah became the collective body of the instruction that Moses gave the people of Israel.

Here it is, Joshua 8:31. “Just as Moses, the servant of the LORD…” it says there “Yehovah”, “has commanded the Israelites as written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of hewn stone. There in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on the stones a copy of the Torah of Moses which he had written.”

So there were these stones, they were plastered over with plaster, and he wrote on ink the entire Torah on these stones, in front of the altar there in northern Israel. Here it is, verse 34. “And afterwards, he read all the words of the Torah, blessings and curses, according to all that is written in the book of the Torah.”

So there was this book of the Torah, and it goes on. It says, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel and the women and the little ones and the aliens who resided among them.” So the Torah was this scroll which had all these specific instructions sewn into it – meaning it was a big scroll, and Joshua read every single word that Moses commanded and that had been written down in that scroll. That’s what the Torah is.

The Torah, we’re told, “Don’t add and don’t take away from it,” Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32. It’s what God gave the people of Israel to live by and to teach the world about.

Michael: As we talk about the term “law”, when we see it in the Gospels and in what’s referred to as the New Testament by Christians, we see it in here and we see that it is the word “nomos” here, and this is where we see that this may be written in Greek, a lot of the New Testament, but yet it’s referring to every word and it’s referring to a culture that is completely immersed it and is knowledgeable of the Torah. It was the schoolmaster, it’s like as you grew up learning Hebrew in kindergarten, that was a schoolmaster. Nothing changed. What you learned in kindergarten concerning Hebrew is still true today. It’s not like you went on past it.

I want to ask you about this. Yeshua makes a statement here, “Think not.” That’s where most Christians stop, right there, and they put a period and then they close the book and say, “May the Lord have His blessing on the reading of His Holy word, Amen.”

However, it does go on. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets.” Now, you read this in the Hebrew Matthew, the ancient Hebrew Matthew, but also in the Greek. What’s it saying? Both ways, “I did not come to destroy…” First of all, I’ll read the whole thing. “Think not that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I’ve not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”

Nehemia: Right. The word in Greek is “nomos”, and if you want to know what that Greek word means -and here’s where people get messed up and confused. They say, “Oh, I want to know what this Greek word means in Matthew 5:17,” and they go and they look at Plato, Aristotle and Homer. That’s a mistake. What you need to do is go look at the Septuagint…

Michael: That’s it.

Nehemia: …which is the Greek translation of the Tanakh, and then see what Hebrew word stands behind that Greek word. It doesn’t matter what it means in Homer’s Iliad, which is what Greek scholars do. You need to go and see when they were translating from Hebrew in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament…

Michael: It was done by Hebrew scholars.

Nehemia: That’s right.

Michael: It wasn’t done by philosophers in Greece.

Nehemia: What does the Hebrew word mean? That’s the only thing that’s important. They may have used the wrong Greek word, it doesn’t matter. What’s the Hebrew word behind it? Then you go and you look and you find, “This word ‘nomos’ is a translation of ‘Torah.’”

So this isn’t like what they sang in the song – I forget who sings the song – “I fought the law and the law won.” No, [laughing] that’s not it. This is the concept of Torah. This isn’t the guy with the six guns and the law.

Michael: Flashing blue lights, prison bars, handcuffs. “You have the right to remain silent.”

Nehemia: The law! God’s given us this law, and it’s this punishment, this curse.

Michael: “Oh, it’s a curse!”

Nehemia: No, this is the Torah, the instruction. And one of the things you need to do is look and see how is this word used in a literal sense and in other contexts? Let me give you a verse. Isaiah chapter 2 verse 3, “Many people shall come and say, ‘Come and let us go to the mountain of Yehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of Yehovah from Jerusalem.”

And everybody loves this verse, right? Except when it says, “We want to learn His ways, but we don’t want to learn the Torah,” the word “teach” there, “teach us His ways” is the word “yarah”. He’ll Torah us His ways, is what it actually says. You can’t say, “Teach me the ways but not the Torah,” because that is His ways, the Torah. It’s the same word in Hebrew, “yarah” and “Torah.” It’s the same root.

He’s going to Torah us His ways. This is a prophesy. The Torah’s not done away with. If you believe Isaiah, and I love this prophesy because it ends with them beating their swords into plowshares and there’s peace to the world. To get to that, we need to go through the Torah and be taught this Torah and the ways of God.

Michael: Yeah, it’s incredible. And then it speaks of this in Galatians. Again, we have these translations done by agenda, “All those who are of the law are under a curse.” It sounds like if you were to do anything concerning the law, you are under a curse.” But then it says, “As it is written, cursed is everyone who…” as you go back to Deuteronomy, he is quoting from outside of the law. In other words, the Torah is the fence, the instruction. This is where you’re supposed to be. This is where the protection is. And if you’re outside of it, we as a nation, as those words were read, we were to say, “Yes, we are under a curse. We are cursed if we are outside of the law.” If we’re in violation of the law, we are under a curse. We’re under a curse.

Nehemia: Wow. Let me show you one more verse, in Genesis 46:28. “He sent Judah before Him unto Joseph to direct his face unto Goshen.” Really, what it says in Hebrew is, “To teach him the way to Goshen.” The word there is “Torah.” So basically, God shows us the way, how do we get there. There’s this path of God that we need to walk on. Don’t veer to the right or to the left.

Michael: To get to the Promised Land.

Nehemia: Show us how to get to where we need to get to. That’s what the Torah does. It’s the GPS. It says, “In 300 feet turn right.” [laughing] That’s the GPS. That’s what the Torah does, that’s all it’s about.

Michael: That is beautiful.

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6 thoughts on “Hebrew Voices #97 – What is the Torah

  1. The point Nehemia makes here (Greek vs Hebrew equivalents) is so important. Amazingly, I have not been able to find a translation dictionary based on the Septuagint. Understanding what Greek words were used for each Hebrew word is critical in properly understanding the Greek texts of the Apostolic Writings (known in error as the “new testament”). If anyone knows of one, please provide the full name and author/editor.

  2. Thank you Nehemia! Don’t know how many times I’ve heard this. I love it. Basic and to the point. Good idea to bring it back.

  3. Michael’s comment on “Think not” was hilarious!

    What you said about scholars looking to ancient Hellenic sources for the meaning of NT words such as *nomos* was so true. It would be no different than consulting Ovid’s Metamorphoses for the meaning of *Deus* in the Vulgate Bible.

    Keep up the great work, achi!
    Shavua tov!

  4. We were just discussing how we need to compare the Greek Septuagint to the Hebrew in order to find the full meaning of New Testament words and phrases yesterday at our Shabbat gathering. I haven’t been able to find a good Septuagint interlinear. Is there a resource you recommend?

    • Accordance Bible software can do this. Their regular interlinear feature is customizable, and they have an MT-LXX module specifically for the purpose.

      • It doesn’t really do this as best I can tell (neither does Logos). That is, neither translates word for word, such as based on Strong’s.

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