In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section New Testament Views of Torah

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies and Collected Essays
  • Bibliographies
  • The Gospels
  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke-Acts
  • The Sayings Source “Q”

Biblical Studies New Testament Views of Torah
William R. G. Loader
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0037


“Law” or “Torah” (Hebrew) normally refers to instruction given by God to Moses at Sinai and preserved in the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), but can occasionally be used more broadly, even to refer to the Psalms, as in John 10:34. This article focuses on the former meaning and thus on works that deal with how New Testament writers (and also the historical Jesus) view the Law. Research on the latter has been greatly influenced by the way scholars have understood how Judaism at the time of Jesus and the early Christian movement viewed the Law. Stereotypical conflicts between Protestants and Catholics contributed to stereotypical views of Judaism and Law in much of the literature up to the mid-20th century, so that, at worst, Judaism was depicted as a religion where one earned status before God by meticulous observance of the Law, seen as burdensome, and had no real hope of forgiveness. Since the 1970s, much more attention has been given to the Jewishness of Jesus and the early Christian movement and to more careful delineation of their attitudes toward the Law. The impact of the study both of the Dead Sea Scrolls and of pseudepigraphic literature also undermined monolithic understandings of Judaism. Key aspects in the revised understanding are recognition that Judaism of the period was diverse; that there was a range of interpretation among those who saw themselves as Law-observant, including those who enhanced its strictness by setting aside its more lenient provisions or its leniency by making for a wider range of exceptions; that Temple or cult and ethical law were not considered as two separate entities but as aspects of Law as a whole, so that challenging any significant part challenged the whole; and that within the Law concepts of purity, uncleanness, pollution, and sin need to be carefully distinguished. Much of the engagement by New Testament writers with the Law reflects the conflicts within the Christian movement over the extent to which the Law (as Scripture) remained authoritative, especially in relation to Gentiles and to Christian Jews responding to them, and whether and to what extent new situations called for some aspects of the Law to be overridden—temporarily or even permanently—or set aside, or even whether faith in Jesus supplanted the Law except as testimony to its own intended replacement. Diverse views exist both among New Testament writers and among scholars in their assessment of them.

Introductory Works

E. P. Sanders contributed most to a renewed appreciation of Judaism as a religion of grace where Law was instruction on how to live.

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