Was the Torah Abolished?

Was the Torah Abolished?
By
James Scott Trimm

When I speak to people about the truth of Torah, they often quote Ephesians 2:14-16 which says in the KJV:

14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
(Ephesians 2:14-16 KJV)

Eph. 2:14 from the Greek reads:

For he himself is our peace, who has made both one,
and has broken down the middle wall of division between us.

The Aramaic for “and has broken down the middle wall of division between us” reads:

wash’ra s’yaga d’kamem h’va bam’tzata

The word for “loosed” (broken down in most translations, but
literally “loosed”) here is in the Aramaic “sh’ra” This particular Aramaic term was used in ancient Jewish literature as a technical theological term relating to halacha. To “bind” an activity means to prohibit it, while “loosing” (sh’ra) an activity, meant that the activity was to be permitted.  This terminology appears throughout the Talmuds (j.Ber. 5b; 6c; j.San. 28a; b. Ab.Zar. 37a; b.Ned. 62a; b.Yeb. 106a; b.Bets. 2b; 22a; b.Ber. 35a; b.Hag. 3b)

The word for “hedge” (middle wall in most translations) is s’yaga
this word means hedge (compare usage of Hebrew cognate in Song. 7:3). This is a technical term in Judaism found in the Mishna where we read “Make a hedge (Hebrew cognate of s’yaga) about the Torah.” (Avot 1:1).  This precept meant to establish a protective barrier around the Torah to protect the Torah from trespasses. The protective barrier consisted of commandments which were more stringent than those actually found in the Torah. The purpose was to make it unlikely to even accidentally violate a real Torah command.

Now seeing these two halachic terms connected together one should
immediately notice that the text should read “loosed the hedge” i.e. that Yeshua permitted certain acts that another School of halacha had bound (forbidden).

There were various schools of halacha in the first century. One such precept did not allow Jews to enter the home of a Gentile (see Acts 10:28). (the custom was probably of Essene origin. Peter (Kefa) who held to the custom, had been a student of John the Baptist who had been closely associated with the Qumran community. The Essenes were also intolerant of outsiders) Paul opposed this hedge and taught that Yeshua had “loosed” this “hedge.”

Ephesians 2:15a has long presented difficulties to Bible translators.
This can be seen by comparing the many ways in which this passage has been translated in the many English translations.

Most translations of Eph. 2:15a follow the lead of the KJV which reads:

Having abolished in his flesh the enmity,
[even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances;

Some English paraphrases have become blatantly anti-semitic in their
renderings.  The Living Bible, for example, reads:

By his death he ended the angry resentment between us,
caused by the Jewish laws which favored the Jews and
excluded the Gentiles, for he died to annul the whole
system of Jewish laws.

The Messianic Jewish version of the Living Bible (The Living Scriptures; Messianic Edition of the Living Bible; Tyndale; 1982) has edited out this anti-Semitic phrase reading only:

By his death he ended the angry resentment between us.

One of the major problems with this verse is that of its apparent conflict with Mt. 5:17 & Rom. 3:31, which state that Yeshua did not abolish the Law. In fact the Greek uses the same word for abolished (KATARGEHO Strong’s Gk. #2673) both in Rom. 3:31 and Eph. 2:15a. The Aramaic also uses the same word for “abolished” (BATEL Strong’s Heb. #989) in both passages.

In his commentary on Eph. 2:15a David Stern addresses many of the
problems related to this verse (see Jewish New Testament Commentary; David Stern; 1992; pp. 585-588) However Stern’s paraphrase from the Greek reads:

By destroying in his own body the enmity
occasioned by the Torah, with its commandments
set forth in the form of ordinances.

This paraphrase has difficulties of its own. To begin with the word “occasioned” is inserted by Stern, there is no corresponding Greek word. Secondly Stern’s rendering leaves a lengthy and rather off-the-subject phrase describing what the Law is.

The Aramaic Peshitta text reads in Eph. 2:15a as follows:

ובעלדבבותא בבסרה ונמוסא דפוקדא בפוקדנוהי בטל

Now the traditional understanding of this verse has been:

And enmity, by his flesh,
and the Law of commandments, by his mandates
he abolished

This understanding is reflected in Murdock’s translation, which reads:

and the enmity, by his flesh;
and by his prescriptions
he hath abolished the law of ordinances;
[The Syriac New Testament; James Murdock; 6th ed. 1893]

Lamsa concurs in this understanding, reading:

And he has abolished by his precious body, the enmity
between them, and he has abolished by his commandments,
the ordinances of the law,
[The New Testament according to the Eastern Text; George M. Lamsa; 1940]

One of the most easily misunderstood elements of Aramaic, is the Dalet Clause. This very ambiguous preposition is so easily mistranslated into other languages.

The Aramaic particle ד (or די in some dialects) (in the dialect of the Peshitta it appears ad a prefix) can mean any of several things. This preposition can mean “of; that; which; that which; who, because, or because of”; this ambiguity caused the Greek translator to misunderstand Eph. 2:15a. The Aramaic reads:

ובעלדבבותא בבסרה ונמוסא דפוקדא בפוקדנוהי בטל

This translates word by word as:

he abolished in his commandments because of commands and the Torah by his flesh And enmity
בטל בפוקדנוהי דפוקדא ונמוסא בבסרה ובעלדבבותא

 

Thus the correct meaning is:

And enmity (by his flesh and the Torah,
because of commands in his commandments),
he abolished.
However, the Greek translator misunderstood the DALET CLAUSE here, to mean “of”, thus producing the meaning:

And enmity in his flesh,
and the Torah of commands in commandments he abolished.’
or as the KJV reads:

Having abolished in his flesh the enmity,
even the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances …

 

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