They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The Law vs. the Spirit

As Christians, many of us have grown up with a negative attitude toward the word, “law”. We have been taught that the word “law” refers to excessive and burdensome regulations. The word “law” is always used in the context of the law vs. grace, or the law vs. the spirit. But the word that we translate “law” actually has a very different meaning in Hebrew. Let’s look at what the Hebrews thought when they heard the word that is translated in our Bible as law. That word in Hebrew is Torah.

The Hebrew word Torah is derived from the root word Yarah, (see “The Task of Teaching” lesson for more information) and means to point out, teach, instruct, or give direction toward a goal. It is that which aims you, (like a bow) so that you can hit the mark. Torah could best be described in English as instruction, God’s instruction to man. When God teaches us something we must obey. When the Bible was translated from Hebrew to Greek, the translators used the word “nomos” for Torah. “Nomos” was then translated into English as “law”. Obviously the word “law” is part of the definition of Torah, but it is not the main emphasis. The word law has a very negative connotation and makes us only think of harsh rules that we are required to obey. It is much more life-giving to God’s word to insert the word instruction or teaching for law. This makes the Text read in a much more positive light.

The Jewish Bible (also called Tanakh) translates the word Torah as “teaching” in almost every case. Look at the difference it makes in the following verses where the Jewish Bible translation is compared to the NIV.

Psalm 1:2 (NIV) “ His delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night…”

Psalm 1:2 (JPS) “The teaching of the Lord is his delight and he studies that teaching day and night..”

Joshua 1:7-8 (NIV) “ Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you…Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth, meditate on it day and night”.

Joshua 1:7-8 (JPS) “But you must be very strong and resolute to observe faithfully all the teaching that my servant Moses enjoined upon you… Let not this book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it”.

What a difference it makes to think of God’s words to us as loving guidance and instructions for life instead of oppressive laws to buckle under. Obviously, there are many laws in the Bible, but these are given to us in a positive way to make us into the people God intended us to be. (See also, “10 Commandments: Marriage Contract“)

The first five books of the Bible are usually referred to as the Torah or Law, but they contain much more than just laws. In the Torah there is the story of creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in the Exodus. The actual laws take up a very small portion of the Torah. The reason the first five books of the Bible were given the name, “Torah”, was to emphasize that they were God’s teachings given to Moses, not that it was the law.

In the future, when you read God’s Word, when the word, “law”, appears, say, “teaching” instead as the Hebrews did. This emphasis will help you see God in a more positive light, not as a judge ready to punish, but as a loving Father teaching and instructing us how to live.

This knowledge also leads us to take a different look at the law vs. the Spirit. When Timothy wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture was inspired by God, which Scripture was he talking about? The only Scripture he knew was the Torah! The word inspired at it’s root means, “in spirited”. The Torah was a gift of the Holy Spirit, written by the finger of God, (Exodus 31:18). “Finger of God” is a Hebrew idiom for the “Spirit of God”. Also, look at these verse in Romans; Romans 7:14 ,”We know that the law (Torah or His Teaching) is spiritual” and Romans 7:22, ”For in my inner being (inner spirit), I delight in God’s law (teaching, Torah)”. Also, think of this point: The law was given to Israel after they had been saved out of Egypt. The law was not the basis or means by which He saved them; He saved them by His grace. The Torah was given to the Hebrew people to guide and teach them and to bring them to the appointed place of promise. These verses and many others show that the “law” and the “Spirit” are really one and the same and are not in contradiction to each other. Hopefully, the next time you hear some negative words about the law vs. the Spirit or the law vs grace, you will be able to call this lesson to mind and turn it into a positive message.

The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost

The Feast of Shavuot (pentēkostē in Greek, Pentecost in English), one of the three great pilgrim Feasts that God told the Jewish people to celebrate (Deuteronomy 16:16),  occurs fifty days after the Feast of Pesach (Passover). This holiday, described in Leviticus 23:15-22, was primarily an agricultural festival and celebrated the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. However, very early in Jewish history, it also took on an even greater significance. The Rabbis determined that the timing of the Feast of Shavuot coincided with the great event in Jewish History of God giving His Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Israelites left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month, the morning after the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. They arrived at the foot of Mt. Sinai on the fist day of the third month (Exodus 19:1), which would have been approx 40 days. Moses then went up on Mt. Sinai and stayed there several days and then brought back down the two tablets written on stone by the finger of God. This total time-line closely approximated the fifty days after Passover that the Feast of Shavuot was supposed to be held on.

Since Passover was an Exodus related feast as was Sukkot in the fall, the Jewish sages concurred that Shavuot must be Exodus related as well and was to celebrate the occasion in which God revealed Himself to His people and made a covenant with them by giving them His written instructions on how to live (Torah). Why is this of significance to Christians today? The great event described in Acts 2 in the New Testament, when the Holy Spirit appeared and rested as tongues of fire on individual believers, occurred on the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost)! The same day that the Jews were celebrating God’s giving of His Torah on tablets of stone, the Holy Spirit came and wrote His Torah on people’s hearts! This confirmed God’s promise in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and was the promise from the Father that Jesus had told His disciples about in Acts 1:4. A look at these two seminal events in Bible history will reveal some remarkable parallels and similarities and will increase your faith in the awesome God of the Bible! God had planned the Acts 2 events even from the time of the Exodus and then He brought them to pass in the framework of the Jewish Feasts that had been set up 1200 years prior. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, here are some amazing parallels between these two events that happened 1200 years apart, to the day!

  1. Both events occurred on a mountain (Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion) known as the mountain of God – Exodus 24:13 & Isaiah 2:3
  2. Both events happened to a newly redeemed people. The Exodus marked the birth of the Israelite nation while the Pentecost events recorded in Acts 2 marked the birth of Christianity.
  3. Both events involved God’s people receiving a gift-Torah and Spirit.
  4. In both events the gift was given by God settling on a mountain with the fire of His Spirit
  5. Both events took place at the same time on the same month
  6. The Israelites left Egypt on Passover and 40 days later arrived at Sinai. Then Moses went up on a mountain to see God (Mt. Sinai). Ten days later Moses came down with the Torah and the Israelites broke the covenant and 3000 people died as a result.  Jesus died on Passover and 40 days later went up on a mountain to see God (Mt. Of Olives).  Ten days after Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit came down and 3000 people were saved!
  7. Fifty days after sacrificing Passover Lamb, the Israelites received a covenant from God50 days after sacrificing Jesus, Our Passover Lamb, believers received a new covenant from God.
  8. Both events had similar sounds and symbols-wind, fire, smoke, voices-the Hebrew word translated thunder in Exodus is “kolot” (Strong’s H6963), which means voices or languages. Think about this in light of the Acts 2 events.
  9. The fire at Sinai was one fire visible by all; the fire at Pentecost was individual fires on every person. In the event at Mt. Sinai, the people were kept away from the fire, but in Acts, the fire came to the people.
  10. Both events had theophanies, that is God showed up (Exodus 19:18-20 & Acts 2:4)
  11. In both events God gave His Torah (Law) to His People and in both cases He sealed the covenant that He had made with them. At Sinai He gave the Law written by His finger on tablets of stone. At Pentecost, He gave the Law written on Tablets of the Heart.
  12. In both events a mixed multitude of people were represented (Exodus 12:38 & Acts 2:5)13) The Torah attempted to change people from the outside (without). The Holy Spirit changes from within. The word “Torah” means teaching and in John 14:26 the Holy Spirit is called the teacher.

Think about these parallels! Wouldn’t they have been powerful to the Jewish people that would have been there to celebrate this time long ago when God showed up in fire, wind, smoke and voices?  Suddenly, it looks like God is showing up again in the same way that He came before! They see fire and smoke and hear voices and the place is shaking violently! God is back! What is He telling us?

Looking at the history of Shavuot and what God did there makes the story of Acts so much deeper and increases our faith in the God of the Bible. His plans for us were made since the beginning of time and are exact down to the last detail. What a mighty God we serve!