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What is the Law?

The Pentateuch is the Greek term, meaning “five volumes,” for the first five books of Scripture—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—also called the Books of Moses, or simply the Law or the Torah. 

While the term “law” implies a list of rules and regulations, and there are many of those in the Law, the Law is primarily a story, a narrative that unfolds the divine origins of the created order, the fall and dispersal of humanity, the calling of the Patriarchs, and the creation, redemption, and organization of God’s chosen people, Israel. 

In terms of the overall structure of the Pentateuch, God’s conference with Israel at Mt. Sinai after the exodus from Egypt dominates the story—beginning from Exodus 19, through Leviticus, and up to Numbers 10.10 (see diagram).

Egypt to Sinai 

at Sinai 

to Kadesh 

wandering in the wilderness 

to the plains of Moab 

Ex 12-18 

Ex 19–Num 10.10 

Num  

10.11–14.45 

Num 15-19 

Num 20–Deut 34 

three months 

ca. eleven months 

ca. three months 

thirty-eight years 

seven months 

The reality that the God who created by His Word would then speak to Israel, giving them direct revelation of His will for them, led Israel to make a profound theological connection between God, the Law/Word of God, and God’s ideal pattern for human life. That is, the Law came to be viewed almost as a Person alongside God, like Wisdom in Proverbs 8, who is also present in and fills, even is incarnate in, creation and the life of Israel. Ben Sira in fact comes to make these very connections explicit: 

‘“Then the Creator of all things gave me [Wisdom] a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, 'Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’ … All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God, the law that Moses commanded us as an inheritance for the congregations of Jacob. (Sirach 24.8, 23) 

Through all this, God was preparing His people to receive the full revelation of Himself and what it means to be truly human in Christ, the Word of God, through Whom the Father created all that is, Who “tabernacled among us” (Jn 1.14), and fulfilled the Law through His perfect obedience to the Father as the New Adam. The Law is Christ Himself! 

 

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