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“Ask a Priest: What Do Christians Think of the Torah?”
Q: Can you please provide me with an authentic doctrinal answer to the following: 1) What is the official Christian view regarding the Jewish Torah? 2) What is the difference between the Jewish God and the Christian God — I mean, is it the same Person? 3) Are the stories in the Torah acceptable to Christians as true and actually happened, and can we draw morals and laws from them? 4) Did Jesus believe that the Torah is true? 5) What is the definition of “idolatry” and polytheistic religions, and how different is this from the Trinitarian doctrine? Thanks a lot for sharing your time. -A.S.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Thanks for your questions. Let me try to answer each one briefly.
1. The Torah, or Pentateuch, comprising the first five books of the Bible, is part of God’s revelation, and Christians accept these five books as part of Scripture. That is why we include them in the Old Testament. (For related reading, see the Vatican document “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible“.
2. The God of the Jews is also the God of the Christians. The difference, if we can use that word, is that God revealed himself more fully with the coming of Christ. Through Jesus we learned that God is a Trinity of three divine Persons. This was unknown to the Israelites.
3. The writers of Scripture used different literary genres, or styles, to transmit their message. Sometimes they used allegories; other times they reinterpreted something from the past and tweaked it in order to a make a point with a contemporary audience. For instance, the writer of Genesis has Abel offering animal sacrifice to the Lord; animal sacrifices came later in history, so the story is something of a projection based on the past. As for the laws of the Torah, the Ten Commandments still have value for Christians, though the dietary laws are not binding. As one Gospel passage says of Jesus, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).
4. Jesus believed the Torah. Jesus is God, after all, and “God is the author of Sacred Scripture” (Catechism, No. 105). Jesus quoted from the Jewish Scriptures, which meant that he accepted them. The interesting thing, though, is not only that Jesus believed in the Torah. Rather, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). The Torah represented a stage of God’s revelation. Jesus himself was the fullness of that revelation.
5. Idolatry is worshipping something or someone other than God. Polytheistic religions, by definition, believe in many (“poly-“) gods. Jews and Christians and Muslims believe in one God. Christians believe that this God is Triune; that is, he is one God, one nature, but three Persons (or subsistent relations). It is the core mystery of Christianity, and our minds really cannot grasp it fully. Polytheism is pagan; it cannot be reconciled with our notion of one God. I hope this helps.