It is repeated over and over in scripture, both Old and New Testament, yet it is a concept we struggle with intensely. So our simple question is this: What is “the law”?
What Is "The Law"?
Our investigation will start in the beginning, in the Old Testament scriptures, with the word our English Bibles universally translate it as “law”—Torah. The word Torah is perhaps the most misunderstood word in the Bible, and “Law” is actually a terrible translation of this word. Here's the full story…
"Law" and "Torah".
The idea that Torah equals law dates back three hundred years before Jesus to a group of Hebrew Rabbis. This group took on the difficult task of translating the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language. The result of their work is the “Septuagint,” the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint they translated the Hebrew word Torah as the Greek word “Nomos.”
Nomos was a good choice because it expresses the sense of a living network of traditions and customs of a people associated with the Hebrew word Torah. Nomos can mean a pasture or a feeding place; an inheritance; a district or a province; a law or ordinance.
Hundreds of years after the introduction of the Septuagint the “Latin Vulgate” translated Torah and Nomos as “Lex.” Lex is Latin for pertaining to the law, legal.
A couple of hundred years after the Latin Vulgate the King James Bible followed the Vulgate’s lead and translated Torah and Nomos as “Law.”
What’s wrong with translating Torah as Law? The simple answer is that the meaning of the Hebrew word Torah is lost!
Through Paul's Eyes…
When Paul used the Greek word Nomos in his letters he meant Torah in the same sense that the word meant to him in his world at that time. Paul trained in Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel. He was taught in the school of the Pharisees and understood Torah from a Hebrew perspective. So when Paul wrote the word Nomos he was thinking Torah and not law. Torah was Paul’s passion and the guide for his way of living from day to day. Torah, for Paul is as vast as God Himself.
Paul, as a trained Pharisee, spent hours and hours studying the Bible. After his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus Paul felt the calling of God to share the message of the Gospel with other believers in Jesus. The Gospel of Paul is the Gospel of the Bible and comes from Paul’s study of Scripture. Paul’s letters to the believers in the New Testament explain how he understood the Bible. The New Testament believers who received those letters were fortunate, because if the had a question they could write Paul and ask him to further explain what he meant.
Since Paul is no longer with us and we can not ask him for further explanation we must turn to the Bible to understand what Paul meant. Therefore to understand Paul’s concept of Torah we must learn the Biblical concept or definition of Torah.