Torah as Interpreted Torah

In an essay entitled “Paul and James on the Law in the Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Martin Abegg incisively observes that

The interpretation of the law, which had been revealed by God, is the focus of the phrase “works of the law” [at Qumran]. . . . No doubt the emphasis is on Torah in its entirety (see 1QS 8.1–2) but “obeying the law” was in accordance with the correct interpretation, that which had been revealed by God. . . . [T]he phrase does not simply mean “works of the law as God has commanded,” but rather “works of the law that God has commanded and revealed fully only to us” (72–73; italics original).

Thus, at least to a great degree, Torah functions not so much as it is in itself but as it is interpreted by the Qumran community. For this preeminently defining element, opposing interpretations were not credible (e.g., CD 1:13–2:1; 4Q266 f2i:21–f2ii:2). Consequently, entering and remaining in the community necessarily implied returning and adhering to Torah, where Torah was understood according to the proper conception of Torah that the community believed itself to have (e.g., CD 15:12–13; 1QS 5:8–10, 20–22; 4Q271 f4ii:3).


In this post:

Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls
John Collins and Craig Evans

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3 Comments

  1. I can see that this way of approaching the subject would make it much easier to communicate to church members the complexity of the issue Paul is facing in his discussions, particularly in Galatians and Romans. Thanks for this quote!

    1. Good point. Seen from a hermeneutical perspective other than the one Paul developed in relation to Jesus, Torah would have looked and did look much different—not least to the Saul who had murderously persecuted the church (!). So, consideration of the alternative, hermeneutical perspectives that Paul raises and then discards can be a very useful exercise when reading him and one that does, as you observed, seem to be an effective way of way of developing an explanation of the argument in which Paul engages in Romans and Galatians.

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