TORAH (tō'ra, Heb. tôrâh, direction, instruction, law). The common Hebrew word for “law.” It is so translated over two hundred times in the OT, even though this is far from being the best translation. The word is used for human instruction such as takes place between caring parents and beloved children (e.g., Prov.4.1-Prov.4.2 kjv). In our ears the word “law” carries the overtones of “authoritative imposition”; but while the Torah of the Lord certainly does not lack such authority (Deut.6.1-Deut.6.2), it is rather his loving and caring “instruction” of his people.

The division of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Law (tôrâh), the Prophets, and the Writings comes from ancient times. The Samaritans have had only the Pentateuch for their Scripture since ancient times. Perhaps that means that only these five books of Moses were in the sacred canon when the Samaritans began their separate worship. The Torah was divided into 154 sections for use in the synagogue services. It was read through, a section at a time, in three years.

TORAH tôr’ ə. Usually tr. “law,” refers to the Pentateuch, i.e., the five Books of Moses. In OT and in rabbinic usage torah (תּוֹרָה, H9368) is more than a legal code.

In the NT, νόμος, G3795, generally stands for the Mosaic code (cf. Luke 2:22; 16:17; John 7:23; 18:31; Acts 13:39; etc). In at least one instance it stands for the Scriptures generally (John 10:34).

In rabbinic tradition, torah connotes the written code (תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְּתָב) plus interpretation as codified into the 613 precepts (תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְעַל פֶּה). At no time is torah purely law in the legal sense; it is rather the Jewish way of life requiring total dedication by reason of the Covenant (cf. the Mishnaic tractate: Pirke Avot).


H. Danby, The Mishnah (1933), 446ff.; Law and Religion (Judaism & Christianity, ed. E. K. J. Rosenthal, III (1938), 50ff., 62; SBK, IV, pt. I, 439ff.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See Law in the Old Testament; Revelation.

See also

  • Judaism