Oh, how I love your law!It is my meditation all day long.How sweet are your words to my taste,sweeter than honey to my mouth!
~ Psalm 119:97,103
What is meant by "Law," in the sense in which we often speak of the Word of God as including both "Law" and "Gospel"? To Lutherans, "Law" usually means God’s demand that we live completely in accord with God’s will. Since in our bondage to sin we cannot do that, we are condemned by the Law and must be saved by the Gospel. In this view, the Law always accuses us.
We are often surprised, then, to find that Jews embrace the Law more as a gift than a demand. Thus the Psalmist exclaims, "O, how I love thy Law [Torah]" (Psalm 119:97), and the rabbis emphasize that Israel received the commandments (mitzvot) not to be condemned but "to live by them" (Lev. 18:5)–"live" and not die. The Israelites do not receive the law in order to earn God’s favor; they were saved from bondage in Egypt before they ever came to Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. So they are already God’s people when God gives them the Torah to know how to live out their divine calling.
Torah embraces the Five Books of Moses, scriptural teaching as a whole, and the rabbis’ interpretation. Beginning with the Ten Commandments, which many Christians also use as a positive guide for living, it is a powerful mentor more than a legalistic taskmaster. Indeed, the Hebrew term "Torah" is better translated as "teaching" or "instruction," rather than "law."
The New Testament describes a vigorous debate between Jesus and the Pharisees, who led a lay renewal movement within Judaism, over some issues of Torah interpretation. Although this conflict has been wrongly interpreted as pitting "Christianity" against "Judaism," in fact both Jesus and the Pharisees were seeking to discern how God’s will applied to the details of daily life in the Jewish community. Jews know the Pharisees as the precursors of the great tradition of rabbinic Judaism, in which this effort to perceive the meaning of Torah teaching for each new generation was continued, and continues to this day.
So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
~ Romans 7:12
Questions for Discussion
"Talking Points" is a set of eight leaflets issued by the ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations to set forth propositions for discussion and debate on topics in Christian-Jewish relations. These Talking Points are not intended as position papers, but as discussion starters, with the hope of eliciting a broad range of responses to the point as stated in the box above. See below for information on how to offer feedback.
Prepared by the Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations of the ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations.
Your ideas about these topics are very welcome and will be considered by the Panel in its further work. To submit personal reflections or the results of a group discussion, please use the accompanying Response and Evaluation form or simply send a letter to the Department for Ecumenical Affairs at the address below, or send an e-mail to email@example.com
Read further information on Jewish-Christian relations. See also the comprehensive set of resources on the ecumenical Web site www.jcrelations.net
Copyright © 2002 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago IL 60615. Phone: 1-800-638-3522, ext. 2610; Fax 773-380-2977. May be duplicated without permission and without charge, provided that no alterations are made in the text.