Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Torah as Nomos in Greek Isaiah: And What's That Mean?

Some time ago, I wrote a post on this blog asking, "How to translate the word torah?"  I showed how "nomos" in Homer's Iliad was translated by a couple of different excellent English translators. Then I advised:
Now, go back and read read Numbers 5 in the Greekish Jewish Old Testament called the Septuagint.  Notice how the word torah [תּוֹרָה] has been rendered nómos [νόμος].  Notice it's associated with women differently than it's associated with men.  
The conventional wisdom is that the real difference is not in some application of "nomos" to women. But the critical general difference comes in the application of "nomos" to Christians, by Christians, for Christians. The New Testament is to take the Greek word "nomos" for Christians as the "Law."  Christ, then, is offered in contrast to the Law.

And so, for Jewish scholars reading and/ or translating the New Testament, the issue needs addressing.  Here's some of that.

First, from Lawrence Kushner's Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians:

Second, from The Jewish Annotated New Testament:

Third, from Jewish convert to Christianity, David Stern's Complete Jewish Bible, his translation of the Greek letter from Paul to Romans:
14 For whenever Gentiles, who have no Torah, do naturally what the Torah requires, then these, even though they don’t have Torah, for themselves are Torah! 15 For their lives show that the conduct the Torah dictates is written in their hearts. Their consciences also bear witness to this, for their conflicting thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them
Fourth, from Willis Barnstone's Restored New Testament, his translation of the same bit of the Greek letter from Paul to Romans:
When gentiles who do not possess the Torah
Practice it naturally, these without Torah
Are themselves Torah. They show that the work
Of Torah is, as Yirmaiyahu writes:
..Written in their hearts.
And their own conscience also bears it witness.
For each Greek "nomos" νόμος, there's "Torah."

So now there's the Greek word in Greek Isaiah.  And what's that doing there?  Is it for men or women, for the Jewish ideal of Torah or the Christian of post-Judaic Law?

1:10 - ἀκούσατε λόγον κυρίου ἄρχοντες Σοδομων προσέχετε νόμον θεοῦ λαὸς Γομορρας

2:3 - καὶ πορεύσονται ἔθνη πολλὰ καὶ ἐροῦσιν δεῦτε καὶ ἀναβῶμεν εἰς τὸ ὄρος κυρίου καὶ εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ Ιακωβ καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ἡμῖν τὴν ὁδὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ πορευσόμεθα ἐν αὐτῇ ἐκ γὰρ Σιων ἐξελεύσεται νόμος καὶ λόγος κυρίου ἐξ Ιερουσαλημ

What's that mean?


  1. It won't surprise you that I think this is a critical question. What I think we have is a perennial tension between book learning and experience of the Holy One. How does the 'teaching' get enfleshed in us? My theoretical answers are of course from the side of incarnation and the Spirit oured out. That doesn't make real life any easier in some ways - there is still tension in me - and perhaps we see it in the period 300 BCE to 2012 in many larger groups and traditions. I have been thinking recently of the phrase 'people of the book'. I do not accept that I am a person 'of the book'. I am one in whom the pointer (imperfect but sufficient) in the book has had some effect in moving me to seek the 'teacher' of 'torah'. I have not been disappointed, but I do not exalt the written word above the teacher it points to. Is that philosophically OK? How could a pointer that is infallible point sufficiently to the right place?

    The 'teacher' told me to read the psalms - all the way through this reading, I was taught, and taught, and taught. Am I too rigid? too subjective? too flexible? too liberal? I live in the tension, but I accept it as the gritty reality it is. I think I have obeyed the faith - even when I was in a state where correction and exile was required in me.

    It is not a book - but a teacher that has such an effect. A teacher too who is willing to pay the cost - intimated throughout Isaiah 1 and 2.

    JB has 'command' in 1:10 and Law in 2:3. Not verbally very helpful. Teaching seems to me to work everywhere - but we still might be too rigid or too flexible - one gloss does not make a gospel. What will we 'bind' and what will we 'loose'?

  2. So is the Torah/way to be understood in a dynamic relational manner or in a static legal code manner? In the Thai Bible it is Dharma.

    1. definitely the former - where there is teaching, there is a teacher, not a lawbook.

  3. Bob,
    Your comments and questions inspired another post here. Thanks!

    Thanks for the comparative-religion comment. You inspired me to look a bit more, and the entry on "Asian [Christian] Theology" in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (edited by Walter A. Elwell) has the following:

    "The Thailand Bible Society selected the word dharma (law, duty, virtue, teaching, gospel) for the word Logos in John 1:1, because the dharma in Thai Buddhist culture is as meaningful as the Logos in the hellenistic world of NT times. In the same way Matteo Ricci, Roman Catholic Jesuit missionary to China in the sixteenth century, chose the words Tien Chu (Heavenly Lord) as the name for God because that was the popular Chinese Buddhist concept of God."


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