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  • Writer's pictureEric Cline

About the 613 Laws

Updated: Jul 5, 2023


It isn’t that the 613 laws are covered throughout the Old Testament but more accurately, the 613 laws are in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Rabbinic Judaism divides them into 365 “shall nots” and 248 “thou shall.” It is my understanding that these laws were not given all at once but incrementally as the Israelites continued to disobey the initial set of laws given. However, according to Jewish tradition, they were all given to Moses at Sinai.[1]Additionally, it is uncertain if there are more than or less than 613 laws. Some count the boiling of a kid in its mother’s milk as one and some count that as three because “it is written in the Torah three times and that our sages expounded each of those instances.”[2] The Psalmist says, “I have seen the consummation of all perfection, But Your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Ps. 119.96). Friedberg writes that “ . . . if we count only the general, the fundamental ones [ve-ha-iqarim] and the commandments that are binding for all time, the mitzvot do not add up to [’a s u yo t, lit. “are not made to be”] 613.”[3] Interestingly, the word “TORAH” equals 611 in letter value just as TARYAG (the word for the traditional enumeration of the 613 commandments) equals 613.[4] Friedberg adds “The two commandments] I am [Exod. 20:2] and Thou shalt have no [other Gods] [Exod. 20:3] [are not included in the count, because] we heard [them directly] from the mouth of the mighty [divine].”[5]

While there is some merit in quantifying the number of laws for perspective, and without entertaining the seven Noahide laws, and the laws for Jews and those for non-Jews, I think the greater importance is knowing the two greatest commandments because they form the foundation for all of God’s Law. Matthew 22:34–40, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (vv. 37–39).

In Romans 13:2, “There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. So those who refuse to obey the law of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow." Christians are to obey those in authority. The state is given the power of the sword, the church is not, but its use of the sword is always accountable to God. In Revelation, John's audience is familiar with Paul's instructions in Romans 13:1, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God." Yet those rulers in Paul's day were quite different than the ruthless rulers dominating in John's day. There is no contradiction here. Paul wrote during the administration of emperor Claudius who played down emperor worship and John writes well after during the administration of Domitian who demanded he be acknowledged as Dominus et Deus, "Lord and God."

The important point is to realize that people under duress might worship a corrupt government as well as a government that provides for all their needs, effectively substituting themselves for God. Choosing to serve the beast might have led to short-term success but it brings eternal destruction. We must obey the rulers unless those rulers are commanding us to do that which God forbids. The Roman Empire has no power except what was given it by God. The beast from the sea was given authority to act, to wage war, and when the Christian community opposes this, they can expect grief but only for three-and-a-half years. “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints” (Rev. 13:10b).

Notes:

[1] Albert D. Friedberg, Crafting The 613 Commandments: Maimonides On The Enumeration, Clarification, and Formulation Of The Scriptural Commandments (Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2013), 13. [2] Ibid., 18. [3] Ibid., 18. [4] TARYAG is a mnemonic whose Hebrew letters, when read numerically, stand for 613 (T=400, R=200, y=10, G=3). [5] Friedberg, Crafting, 13.

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