The Holy Spirit Fulfillment of Torah Law Part 1 of 2

Thesis Statement:

Though the Old Testament, the Law, Torah enabled the people of Israel to have identification as a nation, know the character of YHWH, and have a moral/ceremonial/legal code of conduct, it could not offer complete salvation until the person and work of Jesus and the arrival of the new law, the Holy Spirit.

Introduction

The apostle Paul, in his epistles, sometimes sends a mixed message on how followers of Jesus should approach the Law or Torah. On the one hand, he states that the law is good (1 Tim 1:8), is to be upheld (Rom 3:31), is holy and righteous (Rom 7:12), and is his delight (Rom 7:22). On the other hand, he also points out that the law is insufficient for justification (Rom 3:20 and Gal 2:15-16), increases transgressions (Rom 5:20), made for the lawless and rebellious (1 Tim:9-10), and weak (Rom 8:3-4). When reading the New Testament and Paul in particular, how does one reconcile these observations? The key is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the binding factor, and the Torah could not promise the Holy Spirit to every believer. However, only Jesus could do that. This essay will examine the understanding of Torah by the second temple Jews, how the person and work of Jesus completed the Torah, and how the Holy Spirit fulfills the role of the law and bears fruit in the life of a believer.

Second Temple Understanding of Torah

In Luke 16:14-18, Jesus was, yet again, chastising the Pharisees over their shallow understanding of their faith. In a biting statement, Jesus declares: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly admired by people is revolting in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15).[1] Jesus then immediately follows with a statement that would have been most scandalous to those Pharisees: “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urgently invited to enter it” (Luke 16:16). Jesus stated that the Tanakh (The Torah, along with the history, wisdom, and prophetic books) was entering a new phase in importance. In the minds of first-century Jews, the Torah (first five books of the Jewish scriptures) was the centerpiece of all that God had directed for their people.[2] The law was delivered by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai and provided specific guidance for how the people were “to think, to act, and to live.”[3]

 The Torah was not merely another religious book, but the word from God to the nation. The first-century Jews keenly knew the history of their nation: the apostasy, the idolatry, and deviant behaviors. The price of that disobedience to the Torah was exile. With the Davidic Monarchy wiped away, the nation of Israel returned from the diaspora exile under Ezra and Nehemiah. With this return, the Jewish people realized their need for adherence to Torah, and a religious renewal began alongside the Temple renewal (Ezra 3). As Fee states: “Israel’s failure caused them to forfeit God’s presence. This is what makes the fall of Jerusalem and the exile so full of pathos for them.”[4]

Also crucial to first-century Jewish thought was the history of Antiochus’ desecrating of the temple. What Antiochus did not count on was the resiliency of the Jewish people. As Wright states: “Some of [the Jews] refused to break the ancestral laws, and died rather than submit, bequeathing a memory of martyrdom-for-Torah that was kept fresh right through [the early first century].”[5] Coupled with Antiochus was the current Roman occupation of Judea. To the minds of the Jews, “the past was forever integral to the present.”[6]

The understanding of the Torah and adherence to the law should also be understood, considering the Jewish understanding of God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit used the Hebrew words רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים rûaḥ ’ᵉlōhîm . God’s Spirit was an extension of Himself. It was an extension of and an expression of His power and presence.[7] God’s Spirit dwelled in the Tabernacle/Temple and rested on the prophets (for a limited time). Adherence to the Torah did not result in God’s Spirit present in the Jewish believer. Instead, it gave the Jew a sense of identity and  that “God had not left them to figure out life by trial and error” but with “guidance and direction for the path of life.”[8] Unfortunately, as Luke 16 recounts, the Jews turned the concept of obedience better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22) into a complex system of 613 rules – “248 Positive Commandments (do’s) and 365 Negative Commandments (do not’s)”[9]. The Jews of Jesus’ time had lost their love for God and instead placed their love in the Torah. It would not occur to them that there was something new coming in the person of Jesus. Yes, they waited for Messiah. However, the Messiah they waited for was a religious-political conqueror, not s suffering servant.

Jesus’ Completion of the Torah

The disciples of Jesus would have these concepts in the forefront of their minds when discussing their faith. However, Jesus was bringing a new message to the people. While He affirmed the Law, His mission was also to complete the Law (Matt. 5:17-19). Matthew uses πληρόω pleroo, which means to fulfill or complete or bring to completion. Torah, which is essential and eternal, was incomplete. Jesus expanded the law from behaviors to heart status.  For example, in Matt. 5:22, Jesus expands the sixth commandment of “you shall not murder” to include internal anger and insult. He first states the commandment (v. 21 – “You have heard…”) and then adds the internal aspect (“But I tell you” (v. 22)) in the expansion of the commandment.[10] He goes even further in a summary of the expansion of the law by stating, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mt 5:48.

 The problem is that, with one exception, no human can be perfect. Jesus was able to live the complete perfect life of the Torah. This complete perfect life is where Jesus’ declaration of Law completion comes into effect. First, the Torah demands blood atonement to cleanse all sins (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22). Second, the animal sacrifices were insufficient to cover the entirety of human sin as they had to be repeated over and over again. Thus, God had to become a man in the form of Jesus to lead a sinless life – completion of the Torah. This sinless life led to the provision of lasting and eternal salvation from sin.[11]

In his influential work, Anselm of Canterbury in Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man) lays out the argument as to why Jesus had to die and why Jesus had to be God. His argument discusses the sin debt that no human could pay. In response to this inability to pay, Anselm provides an argument that can be put into a simple syllogism:

  1. To pay God back, an entity must be God or something greater.
  2. “Someone who can give to God from his own property something which exceeds everything which is inferior to God, must himself be superior to everything that exists apart from God.”[12]
  3. God is the most superior being.
  4. However, humanity must still pay the price for its sin.
  5. Therefore, for God to fulfill His desires for humanity and pay back what He is owed, God must become a human because there is no one else who can pay back God but God Himself.[13]

To save humanity, God had to become a man in Jesus, satisfy the Torah by living it entirely, and then pay the blood sacrifice on the cross. But Jesus needed to do more than die for atonement. Shedding blood to cover the sins of all humanity erases the cause of humanity’s estrangement from God, but it did not resolve the penalty for sin – death (Gen 2:16; Rom 6:23). To defeat the penalty of sin, Jesus needed to resurrect.

The resurrection was the final note in the symphony of Torah completion. The law exposed sin and death (Rom 8:2). Jesus lived the sinless life, was executed, and defeated death with resurrection on the third day. The defeat of death erased the penalty of sin. This resurrection event prepared the way for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Although the gospels do not mention the Spirits’ role in the resurrection, there are several references in the epistles that give us some idea of the Holy Spirit’s role.[14]

Romans 1:4 states that Jesus “was appointed to be the powerful Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.” Cole further states “Paul elsewhere argues that Christ’s resurrection is the beginnings (aparch, “firstfruits”) of this eschatological harvest, then it is hard to resist the conclusion that the Spirit was integrally involved in the first in the series.”[15] Paul continues to talk about the Holy Spirit in chapter 8 and declares in Vs. 11: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through his Spirit who lives in you.” This passage is the strongest link for the Holy Spirit’s role in the resurrection.  However, the role of the Holy Spirit in the resurrection, as well as the ascension, is still hard to justify via Scripture.[16] What is clear is that the resurrection and the ascension set up the next movement of God.


Continue to Part 2 HERE

[1] All Bible quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible version.

[2] Marvin R. Wilson, Exploring Our Hebrew Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2014), 38.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gordon D. Fee, Paul the Spirit, and the People of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 12.

[5] N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird, The New Testament in Its World: An introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2019), 90.

[6] Wilson, 41.

[7] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective Three Volumes in One,  “Vol. 2 Renewal Theology: Salvation, The Holy Spirit, and Christian Living” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 140.

[8] Wilson, 46 – 47.

[9] Mendy Hecht, “The 613 Commandments (Mitzvot)”, Chabad.org, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/756399/jewish/The-613-Commandments-Mitzvot.htm, Accessed July 15, 2020.

[10] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective Three Volumes in One, “Vol. 1 Renewal Theology: God, the World and Redemption”(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 238.

[11] Ibid, 361

[12] Anselm of Canterbury, The Major Works (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), Kindle Edition, 319-320.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Graham A. Cole, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books), Kindle Edition, Location 3836.

[15] Ibid, Location 3860.

[16] Ibid, Location 3910.

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