ESSAY
The New Torahs
POSTED
February 25, 2020
FILED UNDER
Bible

Just what the difference is in the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the New Testament is a question not so easily answered. The distinction is often said to be that in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit is on the believer, but in the New Testament He is in the believer. But what does that mean? It seems to point to intimacy, and surely it does, but the psalmists and prophets often seem to have a level of intimacy that at least approaches that of the New Testament believer.

I would suggest that a more adequate approach and perspective would be found in the realm of freedom. The Holy Spirit, being in the believer rather than just on him in the New Testament, delivers him from the burden and limitation of Torah. Jesus as the Word of God is, in point of fact, the New Torah, and out of this New Torah, the Holy Spirit sprinkles all things clean and applies the priestly work of Jesus’ death to all the earth. One is freed from the clean/unclean distinction and from the entire sacrificial and temple system. And indeed, the believer is given radical freedom of approach unto God, as indicated by the tearing of the veil of the Temple upon the death of Jesus on the cross, the veil which, under Torah, created separation from the Holy of Holies (Matt. 27:51).

Hence, the primary distinction may well be in intimacy, but freedom is a very good lens through which to understand that intimacy. The Holy Spirit renders the believer a free man or woman (as in Galatians). This also points to the reality that apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, freedom is itself intolerable. The principalities and powers of the Old Covenant and world were barriers to God's presence and afforded protection and shelter to people who were still in their minority.

Apart from the Holy Spirit, freedom is itself a burden, and the burden of freedom is intolerable apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit. The absence of the Holy Spirit is the real source of Sartre’s dictum that we are “condemned to be free.” Sartre was a man of Christendom who despised the gospel and found himself a man “condemned to be free” in a life apart from the principalities and powers of an Old Covenant world and without the empowerment and consolation of the Holy Spirit in a New Covenant world.

What is Torah? Of course, Torah is the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Together, they serve to teach us about our origins and fall into sin (Genesis), our liberation from slavery (Exodus), the instructions for the priesthood (Leviticus), our wanderings in the wilderness (Numbers), and the second giving of the law (Deuteronomy). Hence, Torah is a comprehensive source and guide for the Hebrew people and the foundation of the whole rest of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

But the element we are most concerned with here is the Torah as the guidebook teaching the Hebrews how to approach a God who is unapproachable since the fall into sin. In a world of nothing but strict justice, God would now be a fiery furnace to sinners, and to approach Him at all would entail destruction and damnation. Torah reveals God’s assigned way of approach in order that God’s mercy, love, kindness, and forgiveness might be known.

From the time of the fall, the human race has had barriers (actually protective barriers) established between them and God, beginning with our first parents being cast out of the Garden of Eden. But to come back into God’s presence, not in wrath but in mercy, is a difficult and actually burdensome reality. An entire priestly order and sacrificial system and place of meeting all come to be established. And numerous protectors, teachers, and powers are also established that restrain the now sinful, and childish, human race.

However, it was not just the Jews that had torah. All other peoples also had torahs—albeit, false ones—teaching and giving approach to false gods. The true torah of the Jews gave “semi-freedom.” It did give approach unto the true and living God. But the false torahs of the nations led to darkness and slavery, since virtually all of the myths and stories of the gods of the nations present gods that created and shaped humans to be the slaves of the gods, not friends, as with the Hebrews. But darkness and slavery were also protections from light and freedom and the presence of the true God, which was unbearable in our sinful state.

Our recent experiments, proving this to be true, are the last fifty years of the foreign policy of neo-conservatives. George W. Bush in particular, used to say, “Freedom is the natural yearning of the human heart,” and he had a religious faith in the imposition of democracy upon ancient peoples as the antidote to ancient and enemy states.[i] Of course, the books of Exodus and Numbers show this dictum not to be true. On ten occasions, the Israelites grumbled and demanded to return to Egypt and to slavery. Instead, that generation was allowed to die in the wilderness, and then their children were given the true Torah as a semi-liberty. All other nations were still confined in childhood and in bondage to the false torahs of false gods. In our neo-conservative foreign policy, we saw nations, almost automatically and immediately, fall back into—or even elect themselves back into—slavery and false torah. Nothing has been a grander failure.

In the Old Testament, we see during the Babylonian Captivity that the scattering abroad of Jews—which was ultimately the plan and decree of God—gave pagan nations a leavening of true torah, and hence some level of liberty. The so-called “classical world” of Greece and Rome shows how far a leavening of true Torah can deliver pagan peoples. The “freedom of the citizen” is a topic and a reality in both Greek philosophy, and Roman jurisprudence.ii Compare the Eastern classical world with the Western “Jewless” world of the Aztec, Inca, and Mayan civilizations of false torah. Clean/unclean and sacrifice—particularly human sacrifice—are everywhere. They are comparable to the Carthaginians, who were human-sacrificing Canaanites and whose destruction by Rome Chesterton makes so much of as “good news” in his volume The Everlasting Man.

If it be true that the relative liberty achieved in the classical world of Greece and Rome was a result of the leavening effect of the presence of the Jews and a true Torah in all of those areas, I have wondered what the outcome in the Middle East would have been if George Bush and company (Bush 43) had recognized the gospel and the presence of Jesus Christ in His Church as the true source of liberty, rather than trusting immediately in democracy. It was a great confusion of root and fruit.

What if at the conclusion of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein—a questionable proposition in the first place—a modest change had also been put in place, which was not? What if, after the overthrow of the anti-democratic and tyrannical Hussein, George Bush had also protected religious liberty and practice (which he did not, trusting instead in democracy)? What if he had established a policy of protecting the free worship and religious practice of both Christians and Jews, instead of simply releasing the Islamic genie into that world (with the vast and oppressive torah of Islam)?

It has been repeatedly noted that Christians were much better off before the intervention of the United States than after. If the modest presence of a few Jews could produce the relative liberty of the classical world, what would the presence of a small minority of Christians have produced in Iraq in the presence of other democratic liberties?

Natan Sharansky cites the reality of a liberated Japan after WWII as the especially telling proof of the power of democracy. But is this not, again, a confusion of fruit and root? Religious liberty was established in Japan, and Douglas MacArthur wanted the nation—whose faith in a divine emperor had completely collapsed—to be “flooded with missionaries.” Now, it is true that Japan has not in the intervening time become "a Christian nation." But Japan has had the leaven of the gospel since that time and civil liberty has flourished. And after WWII, Yoshida Shigeru, a Roman Catholic, did become the prime minister of Japan.

Similarities transpired in all of post-WWII Europe. Europe had jettisoned Christianity and embraced anti-Christian ideologies. But following the war, a remarkable group of great Christian statesmen flourished and contributed to the creation of a new environment of liberty. They were De Gaulle (France), De Gasperi (Italy), and Adenauer (Germany). Political liberty and working representative democracies were re-established.

Liberty, as a political ideal, follows the new liberty that comes with the gospel and has been possible only in Christianized states. Wherever the leaven of Christianity disappears, so does the political liberty of a limited state, and some kind of torah returns. The center of torah is a clean/unclean distinction and the restoration of a sacrificial system, becoming, as consistency sets in, a system of human sacrifice.

It is also, by the way, the case that in an unregenerate world, there is no freedom, even for—or especially for—the most politically powerful. A godless king is the least free of men. His every move is predetermined by torah, and he is kept from uncleanness only by continual (human) sacrifice. Some level of freedom of action is given to kings and statesmen under Christ. Apart from Him, every action is no freer than a slave’s. There is a reason that every one of Shakespeare’s tragedies is about kings and royal families. Freedom for Shakespeare is to be found only in his comedies, not in his tragedies, which are all tales of the fates.

It would be profitable to examine Marxism, Fascism, Nazism, socialism, globalism, and even radical democracy (democracy-ism), and other isms as renewed false torahs in which the new false god is humanity. What is clear is that what is fled from, in particular, is freedom and liberty. Certain elite classes become virtual gods, with the rest of humanity existing as slaves to serve them. The elites become unapproachable and the masses are unclean, except through a series of torah like cleansings, laws, and regulations. Freedom is intolerable.

To rephrase what George W. Bush said, “The deepest yearning of the unregenerate world is to return to the certainties and securities of Egyptian slavery.” Egyptian slaves a working representative democracy do not make.


Richard Bledsoe is a Theopolis Fellow and works as a chaplain in Boulder, Colorado.


[i]Natan Sharansky’s The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror (New York: Public Affairs, 2004) was something of a bible for neo-conservative foreign policy thinking. Sharansky notes that democracy and civil liberty did take hold in post-WWII Germany and, even more remarkably, in Japan, which had no history of democratic experience. I will address this in the rest of the article.

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