How does having the torah written on the heart differ from having it written on stone tablets?

(Jimmy Sellers) #1

I am still reading Walton, J. H. (2006). Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, 3 chapters to go.

In the ancient world people practiced the art of divinations which included looking for omens and signs both in the heavens and on the earth. One of the ways that people then tried to confirm their reading of these signs and omens was to practice “extispicy”, this is defined as the practice of using anomalies in animal entrails to predict or divine future events. The organs inspected included the liver intestines and lungs. Observably this was done after the animal was sacrificed. The practice was first common in ancient Mesopotamian Hittite and Canaanite temples and was practiced even by the Romans through the 1st century and beyond.
We know that the Hebrews did not participate in this type of divination (Lev 19:26), i.e. reading the entrails of the temple sacrifice. So far so good, but in the book Walton broachs the subject of the heart being written on as a metaphor see, Prov 3:3, 7:3, Exd 28:29. Ps 37:31, 40:8, Deut 6:6, Isa 51:7 and in the NT Rom 2:15 and 2Cor 3:2-3. According to Walton all the above verses are examples of memorization or intimate familiarly with the word of God which is in keeping with the admonition of the scriptures as declared in Ps 1:2. The common denominator in the metaphors is that this writing was either by someone else (a teacher, a family member) or was the results of personal study and memorization. Remember, their pagan neighbors were looking for signs from god written on the animal entrails.

Walton then address Jeremiah 31:33

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: after those days, declares Yahweh: “I will put my law in their inward parts and on their hearts I will write it, and I will be to them God, and they themselves will be to me people”.

Walton goes on to say:

“How would this be any different from the revelation of the torah in the Pentateuch that also had knowledge of God as its objective? That is, how does having the torah written on the heart differ from having it written on stone tablets? If the metaphor is from the world of extispicy, the text indicates that with God’s instructions/law written on the heart of his people, there would be no need for continuing guidance to teach God’s law. This had been an essential element in the Sinaitic law. What would happen instead? God would be known through his people, who would be living out the law faithfully. People with the law written on their heart become a medium of communication. Writing on the heart replaces not the law, but the teaching of the law. The law on stone had to be taught and could be ignored. The law on the heart represents a medium of modeling, in which case it is not being ignored. In this interpretation of the metaphor, then, the heart is a medium, not a repository. The metaphor would be one of revelation, not of memory.”
Walton, J. H. (2006). Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (pp. 258). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

I thought that this was a very interesting way to look at a verse we all know well and for me I would have never connected even a thought of comparing “extispicy” with what God, I believe, has already done through the finished work of Messiah, to give each believer a “new heart”. Now all we need to do is be a medium for our world.:smiley:

(SeanO) #2

extispicy makes me think “extra spicy”. Don’t think entrails would be quite like wings though…

I tend to agree with your original thought - I think the image of God giving us a new heart may be more accurate than the idea that we become the law through the way we live. I agree that we do show the world what it looks like to keep the heart of the law - but I’m not sure that I have the IQ to get that out of the passage.

(Jolene Laughlin) #3

Wow! This is awesome @Jimmy_Sellers! Thanks so much for sharing what you’re reading. I certainly have never thought about it this way either.

(Dave Kenny) #4

Once again @Jimmy_Sellers , thanks for applying some of your fresh learning from your reading into a post for us to enjoy. Given the complexity of what you were trying to communicate with us, I think you summarized it very well!

In my electives for my theology degree, I have been picking up as many courses related to Jewish studies as I could get my hands on. I have benefited a great deal by this and my Christian theology continues to deepen as I better understand Jewish theology and hermeneutics.

Your post brought up one of the OT verses that has historically caused some of the greatest angst between Christians and Jews, namely, Jer. 31

What my studies have revealed to me is that my life long understanding of this verse (and my understanding of its use in Hebrews) brought me to a supersessionist conclusion (even though I had no idea what supersessionism was… but do now). I am now convinced that that is completely incorrect (supersessionism is a big topic in contemporary theology today).

Walton really opened my eyes when I first read him in helping me uncover that much of my interpretation growing up has simply been handed down to me through the church from various pastors/teachers. When I challenge myself to keep the passages in their original context (with the help of fantastic scholars) and attempt to neutralize my presuppositions (which is ultimately impossible) it is incredible how much richer my theology has become (and continues to become).

This thread touches on a couple of topics that I have recently had to relearn. For instance:

  1. What does it really mean to be ‘the chosen people of God’? When we consider the suffering/sacrifice of the Jews in history and the suffering/sacrifice of Jesus himself, the King of the Jews, it is an interesting thought to remember that entrails can only be examined by those from the outside after the creature has been sacrificed. How does sacrifice relate to revelation?

  2. What does Torah mean? Law… teaching… way of living… wisdom (Sophia)… word (Logos)… all of the above?

  3. Would the immediate audience of the exile in the book of Jeremiah utilized the word ‘heart’ in the same way that we do?

I find the idea that the ‘people of God’ are actually a part of God’s revelation to be highly compelling. I think Waltons explanation of the common understanding of the metaphors at work in the Jeremiah passage in the ancient near east is excellent. I find his suggestion to be highly probable to both the original audience and author… and quite fresh for me!

Thanks for bringing it forward @Jimmy_Sellers.

(Helen Tan) #5

Hi @Jimmy_Sellers,

Thank you for sharing this interesting aspect of viewing the Torah. I was drawn to the parallel in the OT and NT in terms of the giving of the Torah and the impartation of the Holy Spirit.

The Israelites received the Torah at Mt Sinai on Shavuot, 50 days from the Exodus out of Egypt where the Passover was instituted. The giving of the Torah was a significant spiritual event which touched the essence of the Jewish people for all times. Shavuot means “oaths,” as the Jews viewed this as God pledging eternal devotion to the children of Israel, who in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him.

Fast forward to the NT and we see Christ delivering us from sin through His death, burial and resurrection. And 50 days from that, on the day of Shavuot, the gift Christ promised - The Holy Spirit, the Ruach haKodesh - was given.

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift the Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized in water, but in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1: 4-5

Just as the gift of the Torah came at Mt. Sinai 50 days after God delivered the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, the gift of the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection delivered us from sin. The Holy Spirit can be seen as Torah on our hearts as spoken of in Jeremiah 31:33. And as we hear His voice and are led by Him, we become the medium of communication to the world. I look forward to more thoughts and comments on this perspective.

(Jolene Laughlin) #6

Reading that actually gave me goosebumps, @Helen_Tan. Thank you so much for sharing.

(Phillip Walter Coetzee) #7

I must agree. We see that the problem of man was the nature of man, fallen. The law was given not in contrast to faith as Paul had made clear in his epistles to the Galatians. For the covenant of faith was in working 300+ years before the Torah came into existence.

Paul made clear that we do not “abolish the law” in his epistle to the Romans chapter 6. For we had doctrinal disagreements between the Jews and the Gentiles concerning “who should keep what”. In the book of Acts this dispute was settled when the authorities gathered in Jerusalem to meet concerning the issue.

Paul made it clear by quoting “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in My sight” just to clarify the righteousness by faith, and not of works.
In the book of Romans after discussing a life led by the Spirit of God in Romans 8, Paul goes on to talk about how God hands out mercy to Whom He wishes and then finally we read about the example of the olive tree. We (gentiles) being wild by nature, are grafted into this tree so we may be partakers of the devine nature. Yet here Paul also warns us not to boast against our fellow branches and also not to think that God has cast away His people.
Us being grafted in, receive a new nature. It is initially an ontological change, not an epistemological or pragmatical change, which occurs through this.
Which then clarifies the verse “I will put my Law into their hearts”.

The remifications ontologically makes sense, because no being has in himself the capacity to change his nature. Yet in order for a nature of a being to change, a foreign thing cannot be used which would not be compatible or even nearly the same anthropologically (human sense). So we had to get something much like ourselves, yet not the same nature and infinitely greater than our finite nature. From this we receive not only forgiveness but justification by grace, by faith in Christ (which is ultimately why our atonement had to be the Son of God). From a study in the book of Acts as to the receiving of the Holy Ghost we see that the Holy Ghost sometimes comes before baptism, other times after baptism, yet He remains essential to bring about the ultimate change in a being, possessing image, yet lacking nature. He comes because of faith in Jesus Christ. This guides us in the Truth and we are reconciled to God and we have fellowship with one another. The letter kills, why? I think it may be because “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in My sight.” This was spoken by God.
We must remember, the nation God chose was because of His will. He chose them because He wanted to. This does not mean, however, that the rest of the world becomes insignificant by comparison, hence the verse “for God so loved the world…”, we bear the image of God, as human beings thus we bear significance, hence; salvation.

(Jimmy Sellers) #8

@Sean_Oesch, @Dave_Kenny, @Jolene_Laughlin thank you I do appreciate feedback particularly when I feel like I am on thin ice. Ancient near eastern thought is a subject that I am not familiar with hence thin ice. The idea of the metaphor of the heart is not new to me but I never connected the difference in the examples that were cited. Memorization and intimacy with the law (Torah) are not the same thing as revelation of the law (Torah). More importantly for me this confirms that a new heart is the medium (an agency or means of doing something) that God will use/is using to achieve his purpose(s) which I believe the next verse clearly confirms:

And they will no longer teach each one his neighbor, or each one his brother, ⌊saying⌋, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for all of them will know me, from their ⌊smallest⌋ and up to their ⌊greatest⌋,” ⌊declares⌋ Yahweh, “for I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will no longer remember.” (Je 31:34)

Add to that:

20 Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘It will happen again that nations and the inhabitants of many cities will come. 21 And the inhabitants of one city will go to another city, saying, “Let us go immediately to entreat ⌊the favor of⌋ Yahweh, to seek Yahweh of hosts—I also will go!” 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to seek Yahweh of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat ⌊the favor of⌋ Yahweh.’ 23 Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from ⌊the nations of every language⌋ will take hold of the hem of a Judean man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you!” ’ ” (Zec 8:20–23)

And I think that this drives Romans: 9-11 straight to the theological bank not to saved but to be shared by the living out our Spirit filled lives.

@Dave_Kenny I think you and I had the same epiphany, not to long ago I was content to bask in the light of the New Testament with a thoroughly Southern Baptist bend to my theology. I am and will always be Southern Baptist but with a much better understanding of what it is to be a “True Israelite.” I am in Christ and because of this I am an heir to the promise.

(Jimmy Sellers) #9

Hi @Helen_Tan:
I appreciate your comments and I like your parallel. I can’t help but wonder was Torah ever really considered to be a gift? I have often wondered if the Israelite would have read, the law would they have said

All that Yahweh has spoken we will do.(Ex 19:8)

or would they have recognized their need for a savior? Just a thought.

(Helen Tan) #10

Hi @Jimmy_Sellers, thank you for your comment. I am not an expert in Jewish scholarship and I get that the Israelites said that all that God commanded they would do. I see too that the Torah is often seen by the Jews as a gift from God in the Jewish teachings that I have read. Here is an extract from:

“Shavuot is z’man matan torateinu – the time of the giving of the Torah. Midrash Bereishit Rabbah (6:17) describes Torah as one of three gifts that were given to the world, as it says, quoting Exodus 31:18: “When God finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, God gave – gifted – Moses the two tablets of the Pact.” To speak of Torah as a gift is to say something quite profound. Emerson once said, “Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself” (Gifts, 1844). In other words, God’s giving of Torah was a gift of and from God. The giving of the Torah – a gift from God – indicates the current value of our relationship with God.”

Do you think the difference arises from the new perspective as we read the giving of the Torah in the context of Jesus’ work in the NT as believers?

(angelina Edmonston) #11

This is very interesting Jimmy.

"People with the law written on their heart become a medium of communication. Writing on the heart replaces not the law, but the teaching of the law. The law on stone had to be taught and could be ignored. The law on the heart represents a medium of modeling, in which case it is not being ignored. In this interpretation of the metaphor, then, the heart is a medium, not a repository. The metaphor would be one of revelation, not of memory.”

If I understand this, the people become an oracle for GOD (a mouth piece from their heart), a medium of expression of what the law represented. I am unsure how the law on stone could be ignored (or how we can ignore GOD’s instructions in righteousness now) because there were clear conditions that IF the hearkened and did all that was written they were blessed. Or if the conditions of not obeying brought a lessening of the benefits of GOD’s favor… I was thinking of GOD saying, circumcise the foreskin of your heart in the OT. I see the standard was very similar to our present state In Jesus of Nazareth. Our conscious/heart appears to be the law court of a similar condition (?)

@Dave What does Torah mean? Law… teaching… way of living… wisdom (Sophia)… word (Logos)… all of the above?

I have a question regarding Sophia (Soph) as wisdom… I thought this is a Gnostic idea… a form of goddess worship - if I recall this Sophia was mentioned in my grand dads book on the 33 degree of Masonry and also in the Kabbalah. The idea of the sacred feminine. Or giving a female aspect to GOD and his nature. If I recall this was stuff I use to read.

Thanks for your posts.

(Dave Kenny) #12

Hi @Jimmy_Sellers

In my Jewish studies (both rabbinic and biblical), I can assure you that Israel views the Torah as a gift from God, not only to them, but to the entire world. (Many of the exilic and post-exilic prophets state that all the nations of the world will come to worship the Torah in the ‘Day of the Lord’)

One of the most important things that Christians need to keep in mind is that Torah does not mean law… Torah is much broader. Torah is the Wisdom and the Word (the sophia and the logos) of YWHW. A more useful understanding of Torah is to call it “God’s teachings”… but even that is still too small for what it means. Torah contains law in it, but it contains a whole lot more in it as well, especially when we consider the development of the Oral Torah. I have attached a fascinating article from a Messianic Jewish Rabbi in support for the oral tradition.

The love language that the Jewish people have used when describing God’s Torah throughout history is nearly identical to Christian love language for the Bible… this shouldn’t surprise us as the Hebrew Bible is much older than the Christian Bible, and it is the Hebrew Bible that Jesus taught and observed. Looking up the words Halakhah and Haggadah will help distinguish the fullness of Torah.

In Rabbinic teaching, it is understood that God offered the Torah to all the nations of the world, but that only the nation of Israel accepted this gift. While the historicity of this tradition is questionable, the point still demonstrates how they view the Torah.

For Israel, Torah was God’s Wisdom and his Word, and it dwelt among them (sound familiar?). This is why they developed such a robust Wisdom tradition in later Judaism…

Regarding their recognition for the need of a saviour… this is a landmine question and a bit radioactive (as post-holocaust theologians have drastically changed their view on this topic)… but I will offer a bit of a hands off answer…

From the traditional Jewish perspective, they are already saved and in covenant with YWHW. They would identify that the Exodus scenario was the very moment in history that they were saved (prior to the giving of the Torah). They make no connection what-so-ever with the Torah and salvation. Salvation (as we use it in contemporary language today) was not a concept present in ancient Israel… gods lorded over territories and people groups, gods did not lord over individuals… so salvation language in the OT almost universally refers to national restoration interests for Israel as YHWH is the God of Israel… he already saved them (Exodus)… the deed is done… the nation is either in blessing within the covenant or under a curse within the covenant. At no point do they lose their covenant. It is everlasting (plenty of scripture passages that I could quote to support that understanding). The torah is the sure fire way for Israel to remain in a position of blessing rather than a position of reprimand (curse).

Torah does a lot of things for the Jew… but it does not save them… and they know that. God’s unmerited grace is what saved them… more than once… That is the majority understanding of both the Jews of old and the Jews of today (although there are variant views, just as there are among Christians about all sorts of things).

Enjoy the article

Oral_Torah_Kinzer.pdf (289.7 KB)

(Dave Kenny) #13

@Helen_Tan… excellent reference

(angelina Edmonston) #14

One for the printer! Thanks for taking the time to write me. I will read what you wrote.


(Dave Kenny) #15


You are absolutely right when you state that Gnosticism, Mystic Judaism (Kabbalah) and Christian cults have extrapolated and distorted concepts (like Sophia) from the Bible to their own ends as a justification of their spirituality. What we want to be careful of is not throwing out the ‘baby with the bathwater’. The Judeo/Christian worldview was not immune to the effect of Hellenism (the introduction of Greek/Roman thinking and philosophy). This is when the theology surrounding Sophia (the feminine greek word, translated as wisdom in English) really took a ‘hard bank’ from the Jewish understanding of it, but rest assured, there was a legitimate Jewish understanding of it long before the Greek influences entered the scene.

Believe it or not, a powerful apologetic can be put together when we spend some time on this topic. The Jewish faith already had plenty of antecedent concepts of plurality in the Godhead by the time Jesus was born. The seeds of legitimate trinitarian thought is a thoroughly Jewish concept, and some of them were already deep down the path before Christians began to formulate a doctrine about this… The concept of Sophia in the OT plays nicely into this. Google: “Daniel Boyarin, two powers in heaven” for a fascinating read.

As Christians, we can make very good use of the correct understanding of Sophia/Logos/Memra. There is a powerful apologetic tucked away in there, but it takes some reading to uncover.


(angelina Edmonston) #16

Thanks this is good to know printing

(Jimmy Sellers) #17

Hi @Helen_Tan
You might be right, it might be my POV but not a POV that marginalizes the Jewish story or God and his people as I have long since left that camp, but I must confess that I do not take into account the Rabbinical teaching/writings after the Bar-Kokhba revolt of 132-136 AD (CE). I am going to stick my neck out and say that Christianity was beginning to separate itself from being a subset of Judaism by then so I don’t give much thought to Jewish writing after that period as it relates to the 1st century church and the theology that came from it. I am not saying that the writings need to be ignored, I just don’t think that they had much sway on the church at that time. Now on the other hand the Jewish writings (non-canonical) pre Jesus 515 BC to post Jesus 70 AD had a great deal to do with what and how Paul and the church deal with the law.

(Jimmy Sellers) #18

Hi @Dave_Kenny
I am reading the paper that you referenced and find it interesting in that if has shed some light on what is meant by oral tradition from a Rabbinical POV. But I have to weight that against the push back to oral tradition that Jesus gave to the Pharisees. There is a good argument that Jesus was more closely aligned with the Pharisaical view of the world than the Sadducees with the exception of his position on the oral tradition. I know this is a little off topic, but I see Saul as one of the Pharisees that Jesus described in Matt 23:15 as one who “traveled around the sea and dry land to make one convert…” I can’t’ prove it but it certainly aligns with what I understand as Saul’s zeal for Torah and his understanding that if all Jews just lived their lives in line with Torah that God would fulfill his promised eschaton, the rescues of his creation.

I agree that Jews by virture of the Abrahamic covenant felt included in the “elect” but even that was not enough for “assurance” because you had no way to know that you would finish the narrative and be part of that “great day.” If I understand what it meant to be a Pharisee in the 1st century I would believe in a Monotheistic creator God, in election (in the covenant sense) and eschatology (in the rescue of creation, making all things right sense). If this is true, then as a Jew I would want to know if I was in or I was out, and the theological climate of that day caused one to wonder if there were not two Torah’s at odds with each other.
As to the Exodus I believe there were/are those that were still wait and watch because the Scriptures had not been fulfilled. This is one of the main points that NT Wright and company maintains that for Paul, Messiah was out of sequence. he met the resurrected Messiah and he new that his Torah living life was good so he had to rework this around what he now knew to be the truth, Jesus is Lord. I believe that this is one of the reasons that those orthodox Jews today who still believe in the ha-olam ha-ba resist Jesus.

(Helen Tan) #19

Hi @Jimmy_Sellers, I am a novice at Jewish history, culture and thinking and appreciate what I’m learning here. I agree with what you said about looking at the law from the perspective of what Paul said in his epistles.

What I found astounding was that what is external in the giving of the Torah is now the presence of the Spirit of God living in us, being our Paraclete - our Counsellor, Helper, Advocate. The finished work of Jesus has enabled us to receive and be empowered with what the Torah is all about.