Discover the meanings of thousands of Biblical names in Abarim Publications' Biblical Name Vault: Torah

Torah meaning

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🔼What is Torah?

The word Torah is both a name and a general concept. Nowadays Torah is name of the first five Books of the Bible (a.k.a. the Books of Moses, or Pentateuch), and that tradition probably stems from the time just after the return from the Babylonian exile. The Torahic concept encompasses some stipulations that might be comparable to what we presently call law but that fraction is certainly not representative of the whole. In stead, the word Torah appears to reflect "the way things are" much rather than "the way things are supposed to be".

The narrative stories of the Pentateuch, therefore, are not so much (legendary, folkloristic or even sentimental) histories but much rather archetypes of processes through which everything that evolves either will evolve or will be annihilated (read our article on Evolution and the Bible for more on this). Fulfilling the Torah is thus not so much a forced obedience to stipulations but rather a having developed into an entity that corresponds to the way the physical universe works; something that is stable in the physics sense of the word. Since that stability is a requisite for further growth, that stability must be reached before anything else can come about. In a passage that could easily spawn a few gigabytes worth of commentary, Paul teaches that love fulfills the Torah (Romans 13:8-10) but Jesus makes it clear that the entire law must be fulfilled before the state in which people can actually love their neighbor is achieved (Matthew 5:18). And that ties Torah firmly to Wisdom.

🔼Parables since the foundation of the world

The creation account of Genesis 1 is not so much a primitive myth, but rather the most rudimentary blueprint of how evolution works (see for more details our Introduction to Scripture Theory or our article on Evolution and the Bible). The story of the Father and the Three Sons for instance (in which one son dies or diminishes and the lowly second son joins the glorified third) is told in its most basic form in the account of Adam and Cain, Abel and Seth, and is repeated in various nuances from Noah and Shem, Ham and Japheth all the way up to Jesus' parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14), the image of Jesus on the cross with His one neighbor rejected and the other one joined with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43), the breach between the lost northern kingdom of Israel and the saved southern Judah which contained the temple of YHWH, and might even establish the rough outline of the New Creation (in which satan is irrelevant and the nations of the earth attach themselves to the elect living in the New Jerusalem; Revelation 21:24).

All these narrative forms (also known as narrative cycles) are obvious continuations, or self-similar reproductions (geneticists would speak of homologous structures), of the second creation day, where one watery continuum is breached in two by a third (namely the heavenly firmament). The waters over the firmament are heard from no more, and the waters below the firmament produce dry land, vegetation and life; federated with and governed by lights placed in the dividing firmament (Genesis 1:1-19).

This image may even apply to the structure of a living cell, in which the cell-body body distinguished itself from the world at large, organized around a nucleus that contains the cell's genetic code (see our article on the Household Set), and obviously also applies to the organization of Israel around the tabernacle, which contained the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the two tablets with the Ten Commandments. This tabernacle, in turn, provided the blue print for the Temple and the Temple became the Body of Christ; all formed after fundamental patterns which were shown to Moses (Exodus 25:40, Hebrews 8:5). And that is why the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ follows the human reproductive cycle, and the standard model of elementary particles appears obviously embedded in the structure of the family of Abraham.

🔼The name Torah in the Bible

The name Torah and the general word torah are usually translated with either law or teaching, and that would work on the proviso that what is taught is actually true (i.e. a reflection or adaptation of "natural" law). And it should be noted that covenant precedes formal law (covenant: Genesis 6:18; deposition of formal law: Exodus 20, but note man's natural knowledge of law: Genesis 26:5, Romans 2:15); meaning that the relationship of God and mankind is not brought about by wisdom (God is not "discovered" or found by looking for Him; Luke 17:20), but that wisdom is brought about by the relationship of God and mankind (God is found because He looked for us; 1 John 4:19).

Quite tellingly, the first time that the word תורה (torah) is used is in the statement: "The same law applies to the native [Israelite] as to the foreigner who lives in Israel" (Exodus 12:49). The second time our word appears is in Exodus 24:12, where the Lord instructs Moses to approach Him on the mountain in order to receive the famous stone tables that He had prepared for him (Exodus 24:12).

Even though the existence of Torah also resulted in rules and regulations that people needed to learn by heart and carefully observe, Torah itself was regarded as something delectable (Psalm 19:10), desirable (Psalm 119:92) and loveable (Psalm 119:97).

🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Torah

The Hebrew word for Law (Torah) is a derivation of the verb ירה (yara), meaning to throw, cast or shoot:

The letter ת in front of a root has somewhat the same function as an integral sign in front of an equation: it sums up the whole of different variations of the root. But when we do that with the root ירה (yara) in order to create the word תורה (Torah), something that seems like a regular female form of the word תור emerges:

To anyone who is not familiar with these things, seeing a dove descend on someone (Matthew 3:16) is cute at best. For someone who sees the linguistic connection between Law and dove, this is all quite a bit more profound.

Jesus summed up the Law by stating what the "larger and unified objective" of all God's instructions are: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind & You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).

These words sum up the true purpose of man. If this purpose is obtained, sin is without effect and the Law is fulfilled. See for a more in depth study of law, sin and forgiveness our article The Skinny on Sin — Romans 7

Also note that the first occurrence of the first letter of our word תורה (torah) is the last letter of the first word of the Bible, namely בראשית (bersheet), meaning "in the beginning" (Genesis 1:1). Fifty letters later (or forty-nine, depending how you count), we find the second letter of our word תורה (torah), namely in the word תהום (tehom), meaning "the deep" (Genesis 1:2). Another fifty letters down, there's the ר in וירא (w'yra'), meaning "and He saw" (Genesis 1:4). Fifty letters after that sits the ה in the word אלהים ('elohim), meaning God.

Whoever placed this marvelous little gem in the text of the creation account seems to have figured that Torah = In The Beginning The Deep Saw God. Whether this delightful letter-trick was known to the sons of Korah isn't clear, but read our article on Psalm 42:7 for something to ponder (and also see John 1:1-5 and Colossians 1:16).

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