The first five books of the Bible are called the Torah. Torah is a Hebrew word which means law or instruction or way. It is all of these words and more. The Torah is also called the Pentateuch or the Five books of Moses. Each of these refer to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
These books are different. They are sacred. They are holy. They start before creation and follow the creation of everything with the fall and the flood and the calling of Abram and Sarai. From there, the story continues through Isaac and Jacob and the 12 brothers before moving to the slavery in Egypt, the calling of Moses, the Exodus, and the wanderings in the wilderness. Leviticus covers the law in detail while Numbers and Deuteronomy give two different accounts of the journey from Wilderness to the cusp of the Promised Land.
Torah is the holiest book of Judaism. Any other sacred writing has a secondary footing compared to the Torah. The Talmud, the holy set of enormous books that drives much of Jewish thought consists of commentaries upon commentaries upon the Torah.
How are Christians supposed to understand the Torah?
This is not a simple question. A deeply complicating factor has been the history of anti-semitism in the church. This wicked distortion has read Paul as a self-hating Jew and read the law something wicked and strangling upon the people. In this poor view, law is contrasted with spirit, which is good and lovely.
In practice, it separates the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament. One is a God of rules, another of Love. This is wrong. The scriptures which Jesus and all the New Testament authors speak of are Torah and the rest of the Old Testament. There is only one God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the God of Jesus Christ who is love.
The law is not just telling people what to do but a gift from God about how to live. It has been distorted and can be, but everything can be distorted. The devil quotes scripture back to Jesus. Instead of dismissing the law, we must look at how Jesus uses the Torah, how we are taught that not one jot or tittle will fall away of the law.
Instead of dismissing scriptures that we don’t understand, we should pray and seek God’s wisdom. We should remember what Paul says in Romans that the Gentiles are grafted onto the tribe of Abraham in Christ. Christians do not replace Jews. The New Testament does not replace the Old. If you read the Torah and are confused, I encourage you to write down questions, take it slow, talk to me or another you respect about what is going on. Jesus is revealed in Torah in amazing ways. It is not just a story or a law but a gift from God that continually enriches our lives.