The Word of God Made Flesh: Jesus as the New Torah

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By Jessica Lincoln, Benedictine College

In the Torah, God sets out for His people a means of following Him, His Law. These are His words, given to the Israelites with a promise for future fulfillment. In Jesus, God sends His Son, the living Word, to fulfill this Covenant. God gradually leads His people into the deeper mystery of Himself, and He extends His promise to the whole world, gathering all as His people. However, He does not merely reiterate what He had previously declared; rather, He presents a new, greater way of following, yet He does so without diminishing the promise of the Old Law in any way. Jesus is the Word of God, the New Torah who perfects the Old and is the way to salvation, and He illumines this in a particular way through His Baptism, parables, teachings, and Transfiguration.

Jesus’ Baptism begins His public ministry, and from the start, He demonstrates the saving actions that bring humanity to new life. Although He is sinless, “Jesus load[s] the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he [bears] it down into the depths of the Jordan” (Jesus of Nazareth, 18). In plunging into the Jordan River, Jesus descends into the very depths of death itself, bringing with Him humanity’s sin and shame, in order to rise up again into new life within the glory of God. This act points forward to the Cross and is not completed until Christ’s death and Resurrection; still, within that context, His Baptism opens up the gates of Heaven for all who choose to follow Christ and enter into the waters of rebirth. This is accomplished through each individual’s baptism, for “to accept to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus’ Baptism” (18). In order for one to be baptized, he must agree to partake of Jesus’ Baptism, including the death it entails. Jesus does not need to be baptized, but He does so in order to provide an example for us and participate with us, taking on our sin and suffering as His own. Throughout all of history, man has faltered under the attack of the Enemy and cried out to God for help; yet through Jesus’ actions, He enters the realm of the Enemy and defeats him once and for all, granting humanity’s story a decisive conclusion. He builds upon the reality of salvation history already present and brings it to perfection.

Jesus takes the teaching of loving your neighbor found in the Old Covenant and expands it in a revolutionary way. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan man, commonly thought of by Jews as an enemy, makes himself the neighbor of the man who has been robbed. He is not concerned with whether or not this man is his friend, nor with notions of obligation or reward; rather, “his heart is wrenched open” (197). Because of the intense compassion he feels, the Samaritan chooses to be this man’s neighbor. It does not matter who the man is. “The issue is no longer which other person is neighbor to me or not. The question is about me. I have to become the neighbor, and when I do, the other person counts for me ‘as myself’” (197). This is not something we are to choose arbitrarily, but it is something we must choose because Jesus Himself is the Good Samaritan, and He beckons us in this teaching to follow His example. Jesus becomes Himself our neighbor, and He teaches that each one of us must do the same. “God, though so remote from us, has made himself our neighbor in Jesus Christ” (201). If God can bridge the gap between divinity and humanity, we can bridge any human divide that may arise and threaten our function as neighbor.

Jesus does not leave anything out of the Old Law, but He adds one crucial piece: Himself. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sifts through numerous components of the Law and provides, in exchange, new teachings that both fulfill and perfect the old. Importantly, the key component in all that Jesus teaches is His very Self: “Jesus understands himself as the Torah- as the word of God in person” (110). He is the very essence of the Law and the Prophets; He is the Law, the Logos, the Word. Since, then, perfection in terms of the Old Law fell under following the Torah, Jesus’s New Law follows this same principle. “Perfection, the state of being holy as God is holy, as demanded by the Torah, now consists in following Jesus” (105). The focus shifts from following the written Word of God to following the living Word of God, who does not abolish what is written but transcends it. Furthermore, it is precisely because Jesus is the living Word of God that He can insist upon such a claim. Rabbi Neusner explains, “I now realize, only God can demand of me what Jesus is asking” (115). Because this Law was given by YHWH, only He can add to or change it, and this is precisely the identity Jesus claims.

In order to witness and partake in the glory of God, one must follow Him devotedly. Only a few of Jesus’ closest followers are privileged with witnessing His Transfiguration. This points to the fact that true knowledge of Jesus requires following Him closely. “There is a deeper knowledge [of Jesus] that is linked to discipleship, to participation in Jesus’ way, and such knowledge can only grow in that context” (291). It is essential to recognize that this knowledge of Jesus consists not in knowing about Him, but rather in truly knowing Him. This means achieving unity to the point of identity, in which the knower becomes the Known. The only way to authentically know someone is to grow in relationship with that person. Jesus requires the same in coming to know Him. When we grow in relationship with Christ, we grow to share in His identity: that of Son, which is glorious at the same time it is incredibly fundamental to all of creation. Jesus is not simply a son; He is The Son- His identity is intrinsically and inseparably linked to His relationship with the Father. So, too, is our identity fundamentally tied to our relationship to the Father as sons and daughters in Christ. Moreover, to be in Christ is to know Him, which happens by way of following. As a result, “our sonship turns out to be identical with following Christ” (138). For this reason, we have authority to name God as Father in the Lord’s prayer, and we can draw intimately close to Him- even more so than Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration. We are not merely followers of an impersonal Law but sharers in the divine relationship of God.

Jesus takes the Old Covenant and turns it into the New, leading all who choose to follow on the sure path to salvation. By following Him, we are given the ability to draw close in relationship with the divine God, daring to call Him Father. Jesus, the New Torah, transcends the limit between humanity and divinity, bringing the Law to its perfection as a living, breathing reality. Salvation is more glorious than previously thought: it is union with the divine Logos, identity with the Word of God made flesh. To follow Jesus is to walk with Him all the way to the Father.

Works cited:

Ratzinger, Joseph. Jesus Of Nazareth. New York, Doubleday, 2007.

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