When Jesus was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16), He was expected to read from the set portion of Scripture for that particular Sabbath. It was the tradition that set portions from the Torah and the Prophets were read each week. There were two possible cycles for these readings, extending over either one year or three years. The tradition continues to this day.
The word Torah is a Hebrew word with rich meaning. It means teaching, God’s teaching and instruction for life. The word Law is not adequate to define what Torah is, while it is true that Torah contains Law and leads to a well-ordered life. It is recognised that God teaches us through the whole Bible. In the Old Testament (what the Jews would call the Tanakh) is the foundational teaching on all matters of truth. This view was supported by Jesus in His teaching, particularly when He said that He had not come to destroy the Law (Torah) and the Prophets, but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17). If we were restricted to the Old Testament we could still set the foundations of our faith, but we would fall short of the full revelation of Jesus Christ.
When we are grafted into the Olive Tree of the family of faith in Jesus (Romans 11), we become members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19), and inheritors of the covenants of promise with the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12). Our inheritance begins in the truths set out in the pages of the Old Testament. The foundations of truth that God built up from Genesis onwards are the foundations of our faith. We find, for example, that our model for the life of faith, the man Abraham, is in the book of Genesis. We find the character of God and the nature of man developing from the early books of the Bible. We find pointers towards the coming of Jesus embedded in the pages of all Scripture. If we read the Bible starting from the foundational books we will discover that the fulfilment that is revealed in Jesus’ ministry and the teaching of the Apostles, contained in the New Testament, has much deeper impact. If we know our Bible well we will see that threads of truth develop right across Scripture.
The synagogue tradition was to treat the first five books of the Bible as the foundational reference point for all teaching. Thus the word Torah is often applied directly to these books. Christian tradition gave these five books the title Pentateuch. There is great benefit in using the teaching of the first five books of the Bible as the foundations upon which our Bible studies are built.
If this method of Bible study is adopted it will soon be realised that there is no limit to the way links can be made across Scripture. An idea that begins in the early books of the Bible is developed in many ways throughout the rest of the Bible. This is why this method of reading the Bible is so rich. Year by year, day by day, ideas develop in different ways, often in step with the experiences of life, through which God is teaching us. There is no one Bible commentary. We can each develop our own commentary through our individual walk with Jesus in fellowship with the Holy Spirit. We each have our walk on our “Emmaus Road” where Jesus reveals Himself to us through the Torah, Prophets and Writings of Scripture.
This study utilises a portion (Parashot, in Hebrew) from the book of Genesis which the synagogues use for their one-year cycle. The studies begin with the portion from Torah and then develop the themes through the whole of Scripture. A method of Bible study is introduced rather than a definitive commentary, which it cannot be. This method has been used by individuals and by heads of families at family devotions in the morning and evening. The studies are divided up so that a fraction of the weekly Bible portion is studied each day, and so that each portion is taken over the whole week. This allows additional complementary readings to be brought in. It will be seen that the ideas taken up from Genesis develop across the whole of Scripture. Though the studies begin in Genesis they link easily to the fulfilled message of Jesus the Messiah and to the eternal hope expressed by the prophets, pointing to the message of Revelation in particular.
The main aim of the study is to explore the process of studying all Scripture from its original foundations. Each person might then continue with this method but in ways which suit themselves. The Torah and Haftarah Portions have been divided up into suitable sections to give six separate studies. Each day two additional and related studies have been found so that there is a Bible Study for morning, midday and evening on each day. Short notes have been given with each Bible reading to give some food for thought, discussion and prayer.
The morning and evening studies are suitable for brief times of teaching and devotion for the whole family, when they can gather together led by the head of the home. It is appropriate to read the Bible passages together and then enter into a short discussion, finishing with prayer. The head of the home should have some ideas already prepared to feed into these discussions and to help to draw conclusions.
Longer studies can take place when possible (for instance around the meal table on the Sabbath Day) when ideas can be reviewed for the whole week.
Torah studies help us to understand both God and ourselves. They point specifically to Jesus. In practical terms, they are also relevant to our understanding of situations in the world around us. As a stimulus for prayer, they should encourage us to draw near to God in praise and worship, to pray for our personal and family needs and to pray for the situation in the Church and among the nations.
(This article was first published on the Tishrei Web site “familyrestorationmagazine”)