Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mutability of Torah, Introduction

As some of you already know, I attempt to dialogue with believers of various stripes. However successfully what transpires is as “dialogue” is open to question, but one of the religious groups that I discuss the Bible and theology with the most is “Messianics.” Though there is a great deal of theological and practical diversity among those who identify with the Messianics or Messianic “Judaism,” a rather common idea maintained by those I speak with is that of the immutability of the Law of God. Methodological problems aside (please see my post entitled “Messianic Negation of Torah”), the Law of God for the Messianic believer is found and expressed most authoritatively, exhaustively, and prescriptively in the five books of Moses which is often called variously the Chumash, the Pentateuch, and the Torah. For the Messianic believer that I have in mind, the Torah is God’s unchanging, immutable law or instruction. The Messianic will likely point out the following passage attributed to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19).

With this passage the Messianic will pin to Jesus to the idea of the immutability of the Torah (the law referred to in this passage). However, this idea of the immutability of the Torah is by no means unique to Messianic believers, it is a fundamental axiom of rabbinic Judaism. Rambam, a much celebrated twelfth-century rabbi and Jewish thinker, formulated the essential 13 principles of Jewish faith. Number nine of these principals is as follows:

I believe with that the Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be another given by God (see http://www.ou.org/torah/rambam.htm).

The rabbis assert that the veracity of a prophet or a teacher is to be judged by this principle. The prophet or the teacher that asserts that God has eternally cancelled out a single precept of the Torah is a false prophet. And, in their misinformed zeal for the veneer of Torah piety, Messianics likewise take up the same rubric. In a recent discussion, a Messianic pastor asserted the following, “Scripture tells us that any teacher/prophet that is anti-Torah is a false teacher/prophet.” If asked for Scriptural support, this individual would likely hearken to passages such as Deuteronomy 13 which the rabbis likewise use to maintain this rubric of Torah immutability.

Though these posts that follow may not be of much relevance to many of my readers, they are directed to this specific subset of believers who identify variously as “Messianic” (though some eschew this term but maintain the idea that the Torah is immutable). It is my plan to provide a half dozen examples of where the Torah displays legal mutability with examples from within the text of the Torah and from the prophets. Truth be told, this is really an “in-house” discussion, and it might not be of immediate concern to many.

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