I believe in two things at the same time that seem irreconcilable to many people of faith. On the one hand, I believe in Torah, the very idea of Torah. I believe that God moved prophets and priests and sages to speak and write Torah. I also believe God appointed scribes to preserve and pass it down to later generations. I think we were meant to receive it. It is first for the Jewish people and indirectly, through Yeshua (Jesus) it is for the whole world (in a different way than it is for Jewish people).
To put it simply, I believe Torah is inspired by God.
Yet, at the same time, I accept Biblical criticism as a valid approach to interpreting and understanding the history of the Torah (and the rest of the Bible). That means I believe that literary and historical evidence often prevent us from accepting literally certain claims made by biblical authors and speakers.
Thus, for example, Moses did not give the speeches in Deuteronomy. And, in another example I have written about recently, the Flood Story is really two complete stories that were combined by a later editor. (See “The Flood Story and Torah’s Multiple Authors (Documentary Hypothesis)”).
One commenter objected and said if I think some of the claims made in the Torah are factually incorrect then I disbelieve in Torah. No. Think about it. He is assuming that “believing in Torah” equals “believing Torah contains no factual errors.” It’s not that I disbelieve in Torah. It’s that I disbelieve in the notion of infallibility or inerrancy. The truth is, God clearly does not care about trivial things like whether an ancient priest, prophet, or sage got all their facts right.
So what if Deuteronomy uses the literary technique of putting speeches in the mouth of Moses? It is a device of literature known from many times and places, not least in the Ancient Near East where writers created dialogue by characters such as kings or gods that were invented words. This does not mean the words are necessarily untrue. They are not meant to be a transcript but to tell the story of what happened.
Anyway, I want to comment briefly on why I believe in Torah. I don’t believe in some things contained in and permitted by Torah: slavery, polygamy, patriarchalism, vengeance, genocide. But I believe God intended Torah to be written and passed down to us and that God intended us to encounter him in Torah. God shook Mount Sinai some 3,700 ago or thereabouts. As Abraham Joshua Heschel says, “we have never been the same” (God in Search of Man).
There is a continual presence of sublime thoughts in the Torah that draws me, that shines divine light into the spark in my soul and lights it on fire. Not just mine, you’ve probably experienced it too. I make no claim to greater saintliness than anyone else. It’s the Torah effect. If you open yourself and dig deep, you’ll experience it too. Perhaps you already have.
Don’t let the revelation that Torah is a human book as well as a divine one dampen your spark.
I said something in a recent post which few people seem to have read:
What we should marvel at in a human book — which I also believe to be divine — is not the ruin and blood. Rather, it is the vision of better things that came to prophets and sages and apostles long ago. We don’t need to be convinced that death, hunger, and injustice haunt our world. But we do need reminding that laughter, friendship, and contentment will have the last word.
Torah calls us beyond ourselves. It doesn’t leave us feeling okay with vengeance, but tells us to return our enemy’s donkey when it straying and rescue it if we see it falling under its burden (Exod 23:4-5).
It is not okay really in the Torah to slaughter your enemy or even own a person as property, as was the custom in slavery, because it says we must love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev 19:18) and we must not wrong the immigrant (Lev 19:33-34).
Death is unclean in the Torah. Some of its purifying rituals are symbolic of resurrection (the leper cleansing ceremony).
God sometimes sounds angry in the Torah, but he keeps relenting and giving the people chance after chance.
Perhaps most importantly to me, Torah represents God as mysteriously transcendent and yet able to appear among us. God gets close to people in Torah, on Mount Sinai, in a burning bush, hovering as the divine spirit over the primeval waters, walking back and forth among the people of Israel, going with Israel on the road to Canaan, and in many, many more modes of manifestation.
Torah creates in me a desire to have God draw near to us, near to me. It causes me to long for the blessings of Torah in which food, water, peace, and health are all perfectly granted to every person. It makes me think of a day when the uncleanness of death will be no more.
The prophets whose words came after Torah drew upon it. They sharpened its images. They revealed more of the sublime wonders of the time when God will take over rule of this world.
And Messiah, when he visited us for a short while, drew upon Torah as well. He was the closer manifestation of God than any that had happened before in Torah. He was the promise of Torah made flesh. He was the scion of David and son of Abraham whose presence and actions show us that Torah was right all along. Death is unclean. Love is the way of God. Peace and life are our destiny.
Through the Torah, we are able to see Messiah when we look at Yeshua.
God brought Messiah to us as a limited human being whose true nature is divine. Messiah shares the unique nature of God. Yet Messiah was human. He did not know certain things. He was not everywhere at once. He was able to be killed.
God brought Torah to us as a human book. It is not right in all factual matters. There is room to doubt the permission that it claims was given for campaigns of genocide. Could God have used imperfect men to pass down to us otherworldly truths?
I think so. I believe in both its humanness and divinity.