The Hebrew word Torah means “instruction”, “teaching” or “direction” and is often translated as “law”, which includes both written and oral laws of the Israelites. The word Torah (Hebrew תּוֹרָה) most frequently refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which are the same as the first five books of the Christian Old Testament. These books are also called the Pentateuch (Greek) by Christians and the Taurat (Arabic) by Muslims. These books are referred to as “The Book of the Law” (Joshua 1:8 ESV1) or “The Book of the Law of Moses” (Nehemiah 8:1 ESV2). The English names of the books are taken from the Greek translations of the book names.
- Genesis 1:1 (NIV): In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
- Name: Genesis
- Meaning: Origin or Generations
- Greek: γένεσις
- Exodus 1:1 (NIV): These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family….
- Name: Éxodos
- Meaning: Going out or Exit
- Greek: ἔξοδος
- Leviticus 1:1 NIV: The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said….
- Name: Leuitikón
- Meaning: Going out or Exit
- Greek: ἔξοδος
- Numbers 1:1 (NIV): The LORD spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said….
- Name: Arithmoí
- Meaning: Numbers
- Greek: Ἀριθμοί
- Deuteronomy 1:1 (NIV): These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab.
- Name: Deuteronómion
- Meaning: Second-Law
- Greek: Δευτερονόμιον
The Torah is primarily a covenant between God and the people of Israel. The Torah contains history and God’s laws given to the Israelites during the 40 years of the Exodus. There are a total of 613 commands in the Torah given to the Israelites, but the best-known of these laws are the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17 ESV)3
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
- You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
- Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
When the Israelites were living in the Promised Land, they had a tendency to pick up religious practices of the neighboring nations, and stopped following the laws of the Torah. Israel has been conquered several times over the past 3,500 years since the Exodus from Egypt, and there were mass deportations of Israelites to other countries. During these times, the Torah helped create a sense of national identity while living in foreign lands. The Torah represents a common heritage for people to relate to. In many communities, the Torah kept national pride alive while being oppressed. It is the most sacred writing of ancient Israelites and modern Jews.
The Torah is also important for Christians. It teaches us the history of the Israelites, and why a savior is needed. The teachings of the New Testament are based on Old Testament events, and many Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament. An understanding of the Old Testament is not a prerequisite for salvation, but it can certainly help with understanding parts of the New Testament.
- Tanakh (Sefaria.org; Website) Accessed 03-Mar-2019.
What is the Torah? (9 articles)
- What is the Torah? (1 of 9)
- What is a Sefer Torah? (2 of 9)
- Who are the Hebrew Sofer? (3 of 9)
- What is the Middle of the Torah? (4 of 9)
- What are some Statistics about the Torah? (5 of 9)
- Did Moses Write the Torah? Part 1 (6 of 9)
- Did Moses Write the Torah? Part 2 (7 of 9)
- Where did Moses get His Information? Part 1 (8 of 9)
- Where did Moses get His Information? Part 2 (9 of 9)
- This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8 ESV)
- And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. (Nehemiah 8:1 ESV)
- Parallel passage Deuteronomy 5:7-21 ESV)