Archive for the 'Scripture' Category

The Biblical Canon, Church Tradition, and Messianics

by Geert ter Horst

new-testament-orientationA basic problem in the domain of biblical studies is the question of (how to establish) the Canon of Scripture. This problem is particularly important for Messianics when it comes to the Canon of the Apostolic Writings (commonly, but erroneously, called the New Testament). This importance is related to the fact that Messianics reject many of the traditional teachings of the Christian Church and yet accept the Canon of the New Testament as it is recognized by the tradition of this Church.

From the assumption that the Messianic theological position as to the remaining relevance of the Torah is correct it necessarily follows that the Church already began to deviate from the teachings of our Lord and the Apostles during the second century, and thus at a time when the formal recognition of the New Testament was still in its initial stages. For it is in the second century that we see the emergence of Replacement Theology, together with the development of christological doctrines that finally would lead to the dogmas of the Deity of Yeshua and the Trinity. [1]

The historical time-frame of the recognition of the New Testament Canon roughly coincides with the historical time-frame of the development of Replacement Theology and the great christological conflicts. However, there is evidence for the proposition that the history of the formation of the Canon is more complicated than often admitted, and that it extended to the times of the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent. One of the factors that led to its ultimate fixation were Luther’s and Erasmus’ reopening of the debate. This evoked a Catholic reaction at the Council of Trent. The position of this Council seems to have been helpful in ending the debate, even among the followers of the Reformers.

Regardless the exact reconstruction of this history, it is problematic to simply accept the NT Canon without granting any authority to the tradition of the Church, since it is clearly impossible for anyone of us today to determine which collection of books or letters of the times of the Apostles we should recognize as being part of Holy Scripture — had this collection not been handed down to us through the generations by the authority, the constant teaching, and the liturgical tradition of the Church.

This problem can be stated as follows: If the position of the Church on the relevance of the Torah and the nature of G’d led the believers completely astray by the developments that culminated in the doctrines of the Deity of Yeshua and the Trinity, how can we be sure that the Church did not lead us astray by adopting and using in her liturgy the collection of Scriptures that we call the New Testament?

From the Catholic point of view it is considered a basic theological error to isolate the genesis and reception of the NT Canon from the developing early Christian tradition. According to this viewpoint it is a fundamental metho-dological problem of all non-Catholic NT studies that they first isolate the NT from its functional context in Christian tradition and the living community of the Church, and subsequently find things in it which conflict with this tradition and the authority of the Church.

The Catholic response to these findings is to ascribe these conflicts with Church teaching to this initial error of isolating the Scriptures from the tradition and authority of the Church. If divine revelation is only partly contained in Scripture and if Scripture is an organic part of the developing Jewish nation and the later Christian Church, how can one separate Scripture from the tradition and teaching of the Church and subject the Holy Books to the insights of individual scholars, while ignoring the primal fact that these scholars themselves have received the Scriptures from the Church? Defenders of Catholicism always stress that the sola Scriptura teaching of the Protestant Reformers is not found in the Bible itself.

The Messianic position seems even more difficult to defend than the position of the Reformers. For the Reformers accepted the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils until about the fifth century, when the question of the Canon of the NT was practically settled or at least no longer debated. The Messianic position, however, is that the Church during the first centuries of her existence got throughly corrupted in such basic teachings as the nature of G’d and the relevance of the Torah, while at the same time developing a correct intuition in solving the problem of the NT Canon.

The question is thus: How it can be made reasonably credible that the Church stumbled into error after error in her teachings about the ontological status of Yeshua, the nature of G’d, and the normative status of the Torah, and yet preserved a right intuition on the issue which books of the Apostolic times should be recognized as inspired and canonical in addition to the Hebrew Bible?
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[1] Regrettably, many Messianics accept the Church doctrines of the Deity of Yeshua and the Trinity. But the basic problem pointed out here remains the same for them, since they don’t accept Replacement Theology.

Bijbelse Paradoxen (Deel III): Rituele versus Morele Onreinheid

 

door Erik ter Horst

[Dit is het derde uit een serie artikelen waarin een aantal schijnbare tegenspraken ofwel paradoxen in de Bijbel worden behandeld.]

Traditionele Handenwasbeker

Traditionele Handenwasbeker

Inleiding en Paradox

Op basis van de onderstaande tekst uit het Evangelie van Markus wordt veelal aangenomen dat Jesjoea alle spijswetten overbodig achtte. Deze interpretatie brengt echter een aantal serieuze bezwaren met zich mee:

Mark. 7:18-19 (SV, 1977)18
En hij zeide tot hen: zijt ook gij alzo onwetende? Verstaat gij niet, dat al wat van buiten in de mens ingaat, hem niet kan verontreinigen.
19 Want het gaat niet in zijn hart, maar in de buik, en gaat in de heimelijkheid uit, reinigende al de spijzen.

A)  In de Evangeliën geeft Jesjoea duidelijk aan dat Hij niet gekomen is om de Wet [1] buiten werking te stellen. De spijswetten zijn onlosmakelijk verbonden met de Wet. Vanuit de historische situatie is het ondenkbaar dat Jesjoea de spijswetten niet in acht zou nemen, of zijn volgelingen zou aansporen tot ongehoorzaamheid hieraan. De gevolgen zouden niet te overzien zijn geweest. Ook vanuit theologisch oogpunt is dit niet aannemelijk te maken. Jesjoea zou dan, evenals Adam ongehoorzaam zijn geweest, en een zondaar [2] zijn geworden met als consequentie dat zijn missie zou zijn mislukt.

B)  Ook later, in het visioen van Petrus, [3] blijkt duidelijk dat de spijswetten, na de opstanding van Jesjoea, nog steeds van kracht waren. Tot driemaal toe zegt Petrus: “…ik heb nooit gegeten iets, dat onheilig of onrein was…” In dit visioen gaat het overigens niet over de het al of niet onheilig of onrein zijn van voedsel, maar om de omgang met niet-Joden. De niet-Joden, in dit geval Cornelius en zijn gezin, werden als onrein beschouwd en de omgang hiermee werd in z’n algemeenheid vermeden.

C) In de brief aan de Romeinen [4] pleit Paulus voor een acceptatie van de joodse gelovigen met hun gebruiken. Paulus probeert een klimaat te creëren waardoor Joden en niet-Joden in gemeenschap met elkaar kunnen leven. Niet door de spijswetten af te schaffen, maar door: Enerzijds de strikte scheiding tussen beide groepen, opgelegd door de inzettingen der ouden en de mondeling overgedragen traditie als onjuist te bestempelen. Anderzijds door rekening met elkaar te houden betreffende de geschiktheid van het voedsel, met name het vlees, om het hogere doel niet in gevaar te brengen.

Dit hogere doel betrof de vorming en instandhouding van de Gemeente van de Messias. Op beide groeperingen, Joden en niet-Joden, wordt dus een beroep gedaan om de eenheid te bewaren. Paulus verwerpt hier geen reinheids- of spijswetten, maar creëert er juist ruimte voor. Dit alles zonder de Wet geweld aan te doen.

D) Dit is in lijn met wat Paulus de Korinthiërs voorhoudt [5]. Ook hier benadrukt Paulus om de eenheid in de Gemeente van de Messias te bewaren. Er wordt met nadruk opgewezen dat het niet-joodse deel zich van de afgodendienst afzijdig dient te houden. Met name het zogenoemde offervlees zou een splijtzwam zou kunnen worden in  de Gemeente. Dit komt overeen met wat er werd afgesproken op het Apostelconvent te Jeruzalem waarbij, i.v.m. met ons onderwerp, het niet-joodse deel wordt opgeroepen zich af te houden van de afgodendienst en het verstikte.

Ook  hier wordt dus niet gesproken over het afschaffen van de spijswetten. Het Apostelconvent pleit eerder voor het tegenovergestelde. Er wordt juist aandacht gevraagd voor de fundamentele beginselen van de spijswetten opdat beide groepen naar elkaar toe zullen groeien en een eenheid zullen vormen.

In het algemeen wordt binnen het Christendom aangenomen dat Jesjoea zich tegen de “beknellende” Wet keerde en het wellicht niet zo nauw nam met de daarin genoemde voorschriften. Dit zou blijken uit de diverse discussies en confrontaties met de Schriftgeleerden, Farizeeën en Sadduceeën. In het Nieuwe Testament komen we een aantal citaten tegen van Jesjoea zelf die hier niet mee in overeenstemming zijn. Hieruit blijkt dat Jesjoea zich aan de Wet hield op allerlei terreinen, zoals: de sabbat [6] huwelijk en echtscheiding [7] en omgang met niet-Joden [8]. Hoewel er verschil van inzicht was betreffende de inzettingen der ouden en de mondeling overgedragen tradities m.b.t. tot de Wet, moeten de Farizeeën  diverse malen erkennen dat ze geen kwaad in hem konden vinden [9].

Het voorafgaande betekent dat we voor een ernstige moeilijkheid komen te staan indien we uit Mk. 7:15 zouden concluderen dat Jesjoea de spijswetten zou hebben afgeschaft of voor ongeldig verklaard. Indien Jesjoea zich enerzijds op de Wet zou beroepen om bepaalde tradities te bekritiseren of te relativeren (Mk. 7:8-13), en anderzijds (bepaalde gedeelten van) de Wet buiten werking zou stellen, dan zou hij zich verstrikken in een tegenstrijdigheid. De hier dreigende tegenstrijdigheid is zelf een aanwijzing dat Mk. 7:15 om een andere dan de gebruikelijke uitleg vraagt.

Om uit deze patstelling te komen is het noodzakelijk een poging te ondernemen om de bovengenoemde teksten uit het Nieuwe Testament (Mk. 7:1-23 en Mt. 15:1-20) in de joods historische context van de eerste eeuw te plaatsen. Vervolgens kunnen we de teksten opnieuw gaan bestuderen en interpreteren.

De Spijswetten

De basis voor de bijbelse spijswetten, (hebr. kashrut), zoals we die nu kennen, zijn neergeschreven in Leviticus [10] en Deuteronomium [11] . Hierbij wordt een scheiding aangebracht tussen reine en onreine dieren. Deze scheiding werd al meegegeven aan Noach [12]. De primaire reden die voor deze scheiding wordt genoemd is: heiliging [13]. Het volk Israël is immers het heilige en toegewijde volk van God. Het diende zich afgescheiden te houden van de volkeren om hen heen. De spijswetten geven hier mede een praktische invulling aan. Hierdoor werd de kans op assimilatie beperkt. In het OT wordt voor deze assimilatie ernstig gewaarschuwd [14].

De praktische consequenties van deze heiliging, komen we weer tegen in het NT wanneer in de eerste eeuw de Gemeente van de Messias wordt gevormd bestaande Joden en individuen uit de omringende volkeren, aangeduid als: niet-Joden. In de inleiding, zie sectie B, C en D, hebben we hier al de nodige voorbeelden van besproken. In de volgende paragrafen  zullen we hier wat dieper in gaan.

De Begrippen Rein en Onrein

In de bijbel komen de begrippen rein (hebr. tahor) en onrein (hebr. tamei) regelmatig voor. Een voorwerp, een dier of een persoon kan rein of onrein zijn. Hiermee wordt de rituele status, zoals gedefinieerd in de Wet, aangegeven. De status rein of onrein is niet gerelateerd aan een bepaalde vorm van hygiëne en duidt ook niet op een morele waarde. Soms worden rein en onrein gebruikt als metafoor om een bepaalde morele status aan te duiden. Binnen het kader van de Wet is het strikt genomen een natuurlijke status. Hier een voorbeeld ter verduidelijking: Als een persoon in contact komt met een dode, bij het overlijden van een familielid, dan wordt de persoon tamei. Ook alle voorwerpen die door de persoon worden aangeraakt kunnen tamei worden [15]. De status van het ‘onrein zijn’ beslaat een periode van zeven dagen. Ook het eten wordt, gedurende deze periode, door aanraking tamei. Het is belangrijk om in deze periode geen heilige voorwerpen i.v.m. de Tempeldienst te verontreinigen [16]. Een persoon diende dan ook eerst gereinigd te worden om het (omsloten) gebied van de Tempel binnen te gaan.

De tegenstelling rein-onrein lijkt te maken hebben met de tegenstelling leven-dood. De primaire vorm van onreinheid is de onreinheid van een dode. De andere vormen van onreinheid lijken min of meer van deze primaire vorm afgeleid. Deze zijn de onreinheid van dierlijke carcassen, de menstruatie, sexuele gemeenschap, de onreinheid van de moeder bij de geboorte van een kind, en de onreinheid van de melaatsheid. Bij al deze vormen speelt de aanwezigheid van de dood een rol. Bij dierlijke carcassen is dit onmiddellijk duidelijk. Melaatsheid is een dodelijke ziekte, dus iets dat direct leidt tot de dood. De andere vormen van onreinheid zijn zwakkere vormen van de aanwezigheid van de dood, en lijken te maken te hebben met de overgang van (mogelijk) leven naar niet-leven of omgekeerd. Deze overgangen worden aldus in verband gebracht met de dood en drukken dus altijd uit een bepaalde mate van bedreiging van het leven.

De Begrippen Kosjer en Treife

Zoals reeds min of meer gemeld is, in de paragraaf over de spijswetten, is er qua voedsel een eenvoudige tweedeling te maken: voedsel dat toegestaan is om te eten (kosjer) en voedsel dat verboden is om te eten (treife). Het hebreeuwse woord ‘kosjer’ betekent letterlijk: geschikt of toegestaan. Dit houdt in dat het voedsel afkomstig van planten of geoorloofde dieren, mits deze op een bepaalde manier bereid worden volgens de regels van de joodse religie, geschikt zijn voor consumptie.

De begrippen tahor (rein) en tamei (onrein) hebben een bredere betekenis dan de begrippen kosjer en treife. Deze laatste hebben uitsluitend betrekking op voedsel. Het verband tussen kosjer versus tahor én lo-kosjer versus tamei zullen we aan de hand van enkele voorbeelden verduidelijken.

Sommige diersoorten, zoals vermeld in Leviticus en Deuteronomium, worden intrinsiek als tamei (onrein) bestempeld en zijn tevens niet geschikt voor consumptie, afgezien van de wijze waarop het bereid is. Maar dit betekent niet dat alles wat tamei is treife zou zijn. Een voorbeeld: Een rund is intrinsiek tahor. Wanneer een persoon tamei is geworden door aanraking van een dode, en vervolgens kosjer vlees aanraakt heeft dit tot gevolg dat het vlees tamei wordt. Het vlees blijft echter wel kosjer. Een ander voorbeeld: Een dier dat intrinsiek kosjer en tahor is kan treife worden wanneer het op onjuiste wijze wordt geslacht, of tamei wanneer het een natuurlijke dood sterft.

De Historische Context

Voordat we beginnen met de analyse van de tekst is het noodzakelijk informatie te hebben omtrent de historische situatie. In de tijd van de Evangeliën waren zaken als tahor versus tamei en kosjer versus treife in verband met de Tempel relevant voor het dagelijks leven. Het verontreinigen van heilige voorwerpen was een grote zonde. Om dit te voorkomen waren er verplichte praktijken van reiniging, zoals de hierboven vermelde reinigingsprocedure van de as van de rode koe voor de onreinheid van een dode. Bij genezing van melaatsheid moest ook een bepaalde reinigingsprocedure gevolgd worden. De andere vormen van onreinheid werden gereinigd door het rituele bad (hebr. mikwe). Deze laatste reinigingsprocedure is niet alleen van belang in verband met de Tempel maar ook voor het dagelijks leven. Volgens de Wet mag bijvoorbeeld geen sexuele gemeenschap plaatsvinden tijdens de menstruatie en moet de menstruatieperiode officieel afgesloten worden met een reinigingsbad na de zevende dag. Deze reinigingsprocedure wordt nog steeds toegepast.

De priesters in de Tempel moesten ook voortdurend de handen reinigen in het koperen wasvat in de voorhof. Hiervan afgeleid hebben de Farizeen een reiniging van de handen (netilat yadayim) ingesteld voor lichtere vormen van onreinheid.

Uit de tekst van het Markus Evangelie blijkt dat de handwassing een algemeen gebruik was: “…Want de Farizeeën en al de Joden eten niet, tenzij dat zij eerst de handen dikwijls wassen, houdende de inzetting der ouden…” De Farizeeën waren dan ook verbaasd en geschokt dat sommige leerlingen van Jesjoea met ongewassen handen brood aten. De tekst geeft niet aan waarom sommige discipelen dit niet deden. Mogelijke oorzaken kunnen zijn: Deze discipelen behoorden niet tot de twaalven en waren niet goed op de hoogte van deze praktijk. De handwassing zou een niet-verplicht karakter kunnen hebben. Een andere oorzaak zou kunnen zijn gelegen in lokale verschillen tussen de landstreken Galilea en Judea.

Uit de tekst kunnen we opmaken dat Jesjoea zelf waarschijnlijk wel zijn handen wastte. Dit heeft hoogstwaarschijnlijk te maken met het feit dat Jesjoea regelmatig maaltijden had met de Farizeeën en dit dus gewend was. Bovendien zou het eten met ongewassen handen van een directe tafelgenoot een gewoonte zijn die door de Farizeeën moeilijk zou kunnen worden getolereerd. Dit kan worden opgemaakt uit een incident bij een maaltijd vermeld in het Lukas evangelie, waar Jesjoea zelf de handwassing niet uitvoert:

Lukas 12:37-41 (SV 1977)
37 Toen hij nu dit sprak, bad hem een zeker Farizeeër, dat hij bij hem het middagmaal wilde eten; en ingegaan zijnde, zat hij aan. 38 En de Farizeeër, dat ziende, verwonderde zich, dat hij niet eerst, voor het middagmaal, zich gewassen had. 39 En de Heere zeide tot hem: nu gij Farizeeën, gij reinigt het buitenste van de drinkbeker en van de schotel; maar het binnenste van u is vol van roof en boosheid. 40 Gij onverstandigen! Die het buitenste heeft gemaakt, heeft hij ook niet het binnenste gemaakt? 41 Doch geeft tot aalmoes, wat daarin is; en ziet, alles is u rein.

De Farizeeër bij wie Jesjoea te gast is verwondert zich over het niet-wassen. De reden van dit niet-wassen was hier waarschijnlijk dat Jesjoea door middel van een symbolisch teken de huichelarij van sommige Farizeeën die morele onreinheid minder ernstig namen dan rituele onreinheid aan de kaak wilde stellen. Daarnaast kunnen we uit het allereerste openbare optreden van Jesjoea, bij de bruiloft te Kana [17], concluderen dat het strikt naleven van de reinheidsgebruiken binnen de familie en vriendenkring van Jesjoea wellicht gebruikelijk was.

De Uitleg van Jesjoea

In deze paragraaf zullen we stilstaan bij het betoog en de uitleg van Jesjoea in verband met de nalating van de handwassing door de leerlingen. Op de beschuldiging van de Farizeeën reageert Jesjoea met een citaat uit de profeet Jesaja [18]. Er is blijkbaar een analoge situatie, namelijk dat er aan de God van Israël veelal lippendienst wordt bewezen, dat de geboden Gods niet worden nageleefd, en dat de prioriteiten gelegd worden op de menselijke overlevering; ook wel aangeduid in de Evangeliën als: De inzettingen der ouden en de mondelinge tradities. Jesjoea noemt met name het vijfde gebod genoemd: “…Eert uw vader en uw moeder, opdat uw dagen verlengd worden in het land, dat u de HEERE uw God geeft…”  [19].

Er wordt door Jesjoea nadrukkelijk een beroep gedaan op de Farizeeën om als leermeesters van het volk gehoorzaam te zijn aan de Wet en morele onreinheid minstens even ernstig te nemen als rituele onreinheid.

Uit het gehele betoog van Jesjoea blijkt verder dat het niet over onrein, d.w.z. treife voedsel gaat. Het begrip onreinheid wordt hier door Jesjoea aangegrepen om een gelijkenis te maken tussen enerzijds voedsel, dat van buiten de mens inkomt en anderzijds de ongehoorzaamheid en huichelarij, die van binnen uitkomt. Onrein (tamei of zelfs treife) voedsel, maakt een mens in de regel niet onrein. Dit neemt niet weg dat Treife voedsel ongeoorloofd is en dat tamei voedsel ongeoorloofd is in de Tempel. Ongehoorzaam gedrag en huichelarij daarentegen creeren een ‘bemettellijke’ sfeer van morele verontreiniging en verval.

De opmerking: “…Want het gaat niet in zijn hart, maar in de buik, en gaat in de heimelijkheid uit, reinigende al de spijzen…” kan wellicht de mogelijke vraagtekens oproepen.

De meningen zijn hierover dan ook verdeeld. Sommigen gaan er vanuit dat deze laatste zin een latere toevoeging is en in het oorspronkelijk Evangelie niet aanwezig was. Anderen zijn van mening dat hier geduid wordt op het biologische proces van de spijsvertering. De menselijke uitwerpselen worden immers niet als onrein (hebr. tamei) beschouwd [20].Hierdoor wordt de opmerking van Jesjoea in het kader van de Wet geplaatst en is zij verklaarbaar. Hoewel de begrippen en handelingen rondom rituele onreinheid vaak moeilijk te begrijpen zijn wordt zij op deze wijze wel aannemelijk.

Dat Jesjoea hiermee zou bedoelen dat alle spijzen rein zouden zijn en dat de spijswetten niet meer in acht werden genomen is vanuit historisch perspectief ondenkbaar. Ook de interpretatie dat Jesjoea alle spijzen die in het huis van de Farizeeër aanwezig waren zou hebben gereinigd is niet aannemelijk. Immers, dit voedsel was ongetwijfeld kosjer. Het zou hoogstens tamei kunnen zijn, d.w.z. ritueel ongeoorloofd in de Tempel. Maar dit zou niet bezwaarlijk zijn en bovendien zou dergelijk voedsel toch niet meer tahor gemaakt kunnen worden.

Volgens de de Farizeeën kon de onreinheid van de handen wel leiden tot een afgeleide onreinheid van het voedsel. Het aldus onrein geworden voedsel had volgens de Fariseze interpretatie echter niet meer de kracht om de persoon die het voedsel tot zich nam te verontreinigen. Het was dus een betrekkelijk zwakke vorm van onreinheid.

De woorden “reinigende alle spijzen” kunnen in verband hiermee een dubbele betekenis hebben, alnaargelang we veronderstellen of Jesjoea het al dan niet eens was met de Fariseze opvatting van de reiniging van de handen:

a) Indien Jesjoea het eens was met de Farizese interpretatie, zouden deze woorden betekenen dat het eten met ongewassen handen weliswaar het voedsel verontreinigt, maar dat deze onreinheid zo zwak is dat de eter zelf niet onrein wordt en dat het spijsverteringsproces ervoor zorgt dat de onreinheid verdwijnt doordat het voedsel wordt verteerd. Er is dus geen reinigingsprocedure noodzakelijk, het lichaam zelf zorgt hier voor de reiniging.

b) Indien Jesjoea het niet eens was met de Fariseze interpretatie zouden zijn woorden betekenen dat de onreinheid van de handen geen echte onreinheid is in de zin van de Wet en dus ten onrechte als een aparte categorie werd afgeleid door de Farizeen. In dit geval zouden de woorden “reinigende alle spijzen” betekenen dat Jesjoea alle spijzen voor rein verklaarde voor wat betreft de onreinheid van de handen, en dus deze vorm van onreinheid niet erkende als gefundeerd in de Wet.

De Evangelien tonen aldus aan dat Jesjoea een wetsgetrouwe Jood was en zich als zodanig niet verzette tegen de inzettingen der ouden en de mondeling overgedragen tradities m.b.t. tot de Wet. Het is dan ook aannemelijk dat Hij de rituele handwassing (hebr. netilat yadayim) praktiseerde. Jesjoea heeft de autoriteit van de Farizeeën hierin niet ter discussie willen stellen. De kritiek uit zich met name op het teniet doen van Gods geboden, in dit geval het vijfde gebod, en in het algemeen de foutieve prioriteitsstelling van de Farizeeën met betrekking tot morele onreinheid versus rituele onreinheid.

Het is mogelijk dat netilat yadayim ontstaan is uit een zuiver symbolische imitatie van de tempeldienst en oorspronkelijk geen betekenis had als reinigingsprocedure. De status van netilat yadayim zou dan vergelijkbaar zijn met die van bijv. het gebruik van het bestrooien van het brood met zout. Dit werd en wordt gedaan als huiselijke herinnering aan de offers, die altijd met zout moesten worden gebracht. Het breken van het brood bij het begin van de maaltijd symboliseert het brengen van het offer, de tafel symboliseert het altaar, de huisvader, die de maaltijd voorzit, symboliseert de priester, de hoofdbedekking is een imitatie van de hoofdbedekking van de priesters, etc. Het is gemakkelijk te onderkennen dat de instelling van het Avondmaal als herinning van het offer van Jesjoea aansluit bij deze symboliek. De wassing van de handen past hier goed in. In dat geval zou deze wassing oorspronkelijk een zuiver symbolisch gebruik zijn, dat eerst later door de Farizeen werd verzwaard tot een werkelijk reinigingsritueel.

Samenvatting en Conclusies

Bij het openen van de Bijbel worden we regelmatig verrast door tegenstellingen, tegenstrijdigheden en andere eigenaardigheden waar we vaak geen raad mee weten. We weten of voelen aan dat er iets niet klopt. Deze tegenstrijdigheden blijken bij nader inzien vaak paradoxen te zijn, zo ook hier !

Enerzijds werden we geconfronteerd met de traditionele uitleg betreffende het zogenaamde feit dat Jesjoea alle spijswetten overbodig achtte en in het algemeen zich tegen de “beknellende” Wet keerde en het wellicht niet zo nauw nam met de daarin genoemde voorschriften. Anderzijds met de citaten van Jesjoea zelf die aangeven dat Hij de Wet uiterst serieus nam op allerlei andere terreinen, dus logischerwijs ook op het gebied van de de spijswetten. Dit laatste, het valide zijn van de spijswetten, wordt bevestigd in diverse Nieuw Testamentische geschriften door zowel Petrus als Paulus.

Uit het voorgaande weten we nu dat het gedeelte uit het Markus Evangelie, alsook de parallel tekst uit Mattheus, geen directe relatie hebben met de spijswetten. Uit het gehele betoog van Jesjoea blijkt dat het niet over onrein voedsel gaat. Het begrip onreinheid wordt hier aangegrepen om een gelijkenis te maken tussen: Enerzijds voedsel, dat van buiten de mens inkomt (lees: rituele onreinheid). Anderzijds de ongehoorzaamheid, die van binnen uitkomt (lees: morele onreinheid). Daarnaast is het vanuit de historische situatie ondenkbaar dat Jesjoea de spijswetten niet in acht zou nemen, of zijn volgelingen zou aansporen tot ongehoorzaamheid hieraan.

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Bijbel Index:

[1]     Mt. 5:17                                  

[2]     1 Jh. 3:4; 1 Joh. 5:2-3

[3]     Hd. 10:9-16

[4]     Rm. 14:14, 20

[5]     1 Kor. 8:1-13; 1 Kor. 10:14-33

[6]     Mk. 2:27

[7]     Mk. 10:2-9

[8]     Mt. 10:5, Mt 15:24

[9]     Mt. 26:4; Mk. 14:1

[10]    Lv. 11:1-23

[11]    Dt. 14:3-21

[12]    Gn. 6:17-7:12

[13]    Lv. 11:44-45; Deut. 14:2, 21

[14]    Ex. 34:15-16

[15]    Num. 19:11-22

[16]    Lv. 7:20-21

[17]    Jh. 2:6

[18]    Jes. 29:13

[19]    Ex. 20:12

[20]    Dt. 23:12-14

Bijbelse Paradoxen (Deel II): De Opnames van Henoch & Elia versus de Opwekking en Tenhemelopneming van Jesjoea

 

door Erik ter Horst

[Dit is het tweede uit een serie artikelen waarin een aantal schijnbare tegenspraken ofwel paradoxen in de Bijbel worden behandeld.]

Rembrandt — Hemelvaart

Rembrandt — Hemelvaart

Inleiding en Paradox

Op basis van de onderstaande teksten uit het boek Genesis en II Koningen wordt veelal aangenomen dat Henoch en Elia, op min of meer dezelfde wijze als Jesjoea, werden opgenomen in de hemel. Deze interpretatie brengt echter serieuze bezwaren met zich mee:

Gen. 5:22-24 (SV, 1977)
22
En Henoch  wandelde met G’d, nadat hij Methúsalah gewonnen had, driehonderd jaren; en hij gewon zonen en dochters. 23 Zo waren al de dagen van Henoch driehonderd vijf en zestig jaren. 24 Henoch dan wandelde met G’d; en hij was niet meer;  want G’d nam hem weg.

II Kon. 2:1 en 11 (SV, 1977)
Het geschiedde nu, toen de Heere Elía met een onweder ten hemel opnemen zou, dat Elía met Elísa ging van Gilgal. […] 11 En het gebeurde, toen zij voortgingen, gaande en sprekende, ziet, zo was er een vurige wagen met vurige paarden, die tussen hen beiden scheiding maakten. Alzo voer Elía met een onweder ten hemel.

A)      Paulus geeft aan dat Jesjoea de eerste was die werd opgewekt, zie I Kor. 15:20, “…Maar nu,  Christus is opgewekt uit de doden, en is  de eersteling geworden van hen, die ontslapen zijn…”

B)      En dat vervolgens bij de wederkomst de overige gelovigen opgewekt zullen worden, zie I Kor. 15:23, “…Maar een ieder in zijn orde: de eersteling Christus, daarna die van Christus zijn, in zijn toekomst…”

C)      Ook in de Kolossebrief wordt bevestigd dat Jesjoea de eerste is die opgewekt is uit de dood, zie Kol. 1:18, “…En hij is het hoofd van het lichaam, namelijk van de gemeente, hij, die het begin is, de eerstgeborene uit de doden, opdat hij in allen de eerste zou zijn…”

D)      En dat de gelovigen die ontslapen zijn pas bij de wederkomst tot Jesjoea gebracht zullen worden, zie I Thess. 4:14, “…Want indien wij geloven, dat Jezus gestorven is en opgestaan, alzo zal G’d ook hen, die ontslapen zijn in Jezus, weerbrengen met hem…”

E)       Maar, het kan nog sterker uitgedrukt worden: Petrus merkt op dat — uitgezonderd uiteraard Jesjoea — niemand is opgestaan uit de doden sinds de schepping van deze wereld, zie II Pet. 3:4, “…En zeggen:  Waar is de belofte van Zijn toekomst ? Want van die dag, dat de vaderen ontslapen zijn, blijven alle dingen alzo gelijk van het begin der schepping…”

In evangelische kringen wordt geleerd dat Henoch en Elia ten hemel werden opgenomen. In het Nieuwe Testament komen we een aantal citaten tegen van zowel Petrus als Paulus die hier niet mee in overeenstemming zijn. Uit deze citaten blijkt dat geen enkel menselijk wezen, uitgezonderd Jesjoea, is opgestaan uit de doden.

Om uit deze patstelling te komen is het noodzakelijk de bovengenoemde teksten uit het Oude Testament (Gen. 5:22-24 en II Kon. 2:1, 11) in een bredere context te plaatsen. Vervolgens kunnen we de teksten opnieuw gaan bestuderen en interpreteren.

De Opname van Henoch

Uit het boek Genesis zouden we de conclusie kunnen trekken dat Henoch werd opgenomen naar G’ds aanwezigheid in de hemel. Het werkwoord ‘nam’ (hebr. lakach) betekent: wegnemen, verwijderen, wegvoeren. Het werkwoord heeft geen unieke betekenis in de zin van het wegnemen van het leven, wegnemen van zonde of iets dergelijks. In de Septuagint wordt voor het werkwoord ‘nam’ (gr. Metethēken) gebruikt. Het verschijnt verschillende keren in zowel het OT [1,2,3] als NT [4,5,6] en betekent: verandering van plaats, herplaatsen, verplaatsing, overplaatsing, opnieuw vestigen. Dit wekt sterk de indruk dat we het werkwoord ‘nam’ moeten lezen als een beweging van de ene lokatie naar de andere. Het woord houdt geen verband met een verandering, verhoging, of verheerlijking van het aardse leven, en spreekt nergens over het opnemen naar een bepaalde vorm of positie van onsterfelijkheid.

Henoch werd niet opgenomen in de hemel en ontving geen onsterfelijkheid. Hij werd verplaatst naar een andere lokatie opdat hij de dood niet zou zien. Verder blijkt uit de Hebreeënbrief dat ze hem zochten [7]. En uit de brief van Judas zouden we kunnen opmaken dat er vijandschap was tussen Henoch en zijn tijdgenoten naar aanleiding van zijn profetische woorden en hij wellicht met de dood werd bedreigd [8]. Blijkbaar ging men er vanuit dat Henoch zich ergens anders gevestigd had, weliswaar middels een g’ddelijk ingrijpen en op een onbekende plek, maar in ieder geval nog steeds op aarde was. Uiteindelijk stierf Henoch in het geloof, zoals de brief aan de Hebreeën ons wil leren: de beloften niet verkregen hebbende, maar heeft deze van verre gezien, geloofd, omhelsd en beleden [9].

De Opname van Elia

Het jaar waarin Elia werd opgenomen en weggedragen werd, in een wervelwind, was 852 v. Chr. In dat jaar regeerde koning Joram (zoon van Achab) over het noordelijk gedeelte van Israël [10]. Elisa volgde Elia op als profeet [11]. In het zuidelijke gedeelte regeerde Joram (zoon van Josafat) naast zijn vader vanaf 853 v. Chr., en werd definitief koning over Juda in 848 v. Chr. [12]. Vanaf 852 tot 841 v. Chr. was er dus een Joram in Juda alsook een Joram in Israël. Koning Joram van Juda werd afvallig en wendde zich tot de afgoden [13]. Het jaar voordat Joram stierf (842 v. Chr.), tien jaar nadat Elia was weggenomen, ontving hij een brief van Elia [14]. Elia was blijkblaar nog steeds op aarde, in leven, en in dienst van de G’d van Israël. Sommigen dachten dat Elia in de bergen zat. Er werd intensief naar hem gezocht, maar hij werd niet gevonden [15]. Blijkbaar ging men er van uit dat Elia zich ergens anders gevestigd had, weliswaar middels een g’ddelijk ingrijpen en op een onbekende plek, maar in ieder geval nog steeds op aarde was. Ook hier wordt niet gesproken over een verandering, verhoging, of verheerlijking van het aardse leven en evenmin over het opnemen naar een bepaalde vorm of positie van onsterfelijkheid.

Wanneer nu in II Kon. 2:11 gezegd wordt dat Elia in een stormwind ten hemel voer, kan dit dus niet betekenen dat hij in de eigenlijke hemel, de verblijfplaats van de engelen, werd opgenomen. De term ‘hemel’ heeft echter meerdere betekenissen in de Bijbel en er wordt ook gesproken van de vogelen des hemels [16], de dauw des hemels [17], en de sterren des hemels [18]. Dit taalgebruik maakt duidelijk dat de term ‘hemel’ in II Kon. 2:11 heel wel de luchthemel of de wolkenhemel kan aanduiden.

Elia werd, evenals Henoch, niet opgenomen in de hemel der engelen en ontving geen vorm van onsterfelijkheid. Hij werd door de lucht weggedragen naar een onbekende lokatie waar hij G’d bleef dienen. Uiteindelijk stierf ook Elia in het geloof, zoals de brief aan de Hebreeën ons wil leren: hebbende door het geloof getuigenis gehad maar de belofte niet verkregen [19].

De Opwekking en Tenhemelopneming van Jesjoea

Jesjoea werd na zijn lijden begraven. Na drie dagen in de dood te zijn geweest werd Hij opgewekt. Afgezien van het lijden, zou dit ook gebeurd zijn wanneer Jesjoea een natuurlijke dood gestorven was. Immers, Jesjoea had de dood niet verdiend. Het opstandingslichaam van Jesjoea was onsterfelijk. Het natuurlijke sterfelijke lichaam was getransformeerd (veranderd) naar een onsterfelijk lichaam. En na veertig dagen werd Jesjoea vervolgens opgenomen in de hemel.

Hieruit blijkt dat allereerst ons natuurlijke aardse leven afgelegd dient te worden voordat we een onsterfelijk lichaam kunnen ontvangen; tenzij, en dat is de enige uitzondering, we nog in dit aardse leven zijn bij de wederkomst [20]. Dit laatste was bij Henoch en Elia niet aan de orde aangezien Jesjoea zelf nog niet was geboren, laat staan terug zou kunnen keren op aarde. Bovendien is het de vraag of het in principe mogelijk was om een opstandingslichaam te ontvangen vóórdat Jesjoea zelf zou zijn opgewekt als eerstgeborene uit de doden. In ieder geval lijkt dit in strijd te zijn met de gedachte van het Johannes evangelie, dat Jesjoea zelf de gestorven gelovigen zal opwekken [21] .

Henoch en Elia kunnen aldus niet opgenomen zijn in de hemel ten eerste omdat Henoch (en Elia) de dood niet hebben gezien zoals de Hebreeënbrief ons leert [22]. De uitdrukking: ‘de dood niet gezien hebben’ duidt impliciet op iets anders dan op een zogenaamde opname. In de tweede plaats, en dit is veel belangrijker, was Jesjoea zelf nog niet uit de doden opgewekt ten tijde van Henoch en Elia. De ten hemel opname van Jesjoea is dus fundamenteel verschillend van hetgeen we bestudeerd hebben over Henoch en Elia.

Samenvatting en Conclusies

Bij het openen van de Bijbel worden we regelmatig verrast door tegenstellingen, tegenstrijdigheden en andere eigenaardigheden waar we vaak geen raad mee weten. We weten of voelen aan dat er iets niet klopt. Deze tegenstrijdigheden blijken bij nader inzien vaak paradoxen te zijn, zo ook hier !

Enerzijds werden we geconfronteerd met de traditionele uitleg betreffende de opname van Henoch en Elia, namelijk een opname die min of meer gelijkwaardig was aan de opname van Jesjoea, met de uitzondering dat Henoch en Elia de dood niet zouden hebben gezien. Anderzijds met citaten van Paulus en Petrus die aangeven dat er geen enkel menselijk wezen sinds de schepping is opgestaan uit de doden en geen enkel menselijk wezen onsterfelijkheid heeft aangenomen, behalve Jesjoea.

Hieruit kunnen we concluderen dat de opname van Henoch en Elia geen overgang naar onsterfelijkheid kan zijn geweest. Henoch en Elia zijn uiteindelijk, evenals alle andere gelovigen, gestorven. De brief aan de Hebreeën geeft duidelijk aan hierop geen uitzondering te maken. Henoch en Elia hebben, evenals alle andere overleden gelovigen, geen notie van het verstrijken van de tijd. Zij “wachten” nu a.h.w. op de wederkomst van Jesjoea. Henoch en Elia zullen, evenals als alle andere gelovigen, opgewekt worden tot een leven dat onsterfelijk is bij de wederkomst van Jesjoea. Een hoopvol “wachten” dat iedere gelovige, in leven of in de dood, met deze geloofshelden mag delen!

Bijbel Index:

[1]     Deut. 27:17

[2]     Jes. 29:14

[3]     I  Kon. 21:25

[4]     Hand. 7:16

[5]     Jud. 4

[6]     Heb. 7:12

[7]     Heb. 11:5

[8]     Jud 14-16

[9]     Heb. 11:13

[10]   II Kon. 1:17; 3:1

[11]    II Kon. 2:1, 11

[12]    II Kon. 8:16

[13]    II Kron. 21:11

[14]    II Kron. 21:12-15

[15]    II Kon. 2:17

[16]    I Sam. 17:44, 46; I Kon. 14:11; 16:4; Cp. Gen. 1:20

[17]    Gen. 27:28, 39

[18]    Gen. 22:17; 26:4

[19]    Heb. 11:32, 40

[20]    I Thess. 4:16-17

[21]     Joh. 6:39-40

[22]    Heb. 11:5

Some Basic Contours of a Messianic Lectionary

Many messianic congregations have adopted the orthodox Jewish practice of an annual Torah reading cycle. In Orthodox Judaism the Torah is read in a lectio continua and the sequence of the weekly sections is only interrupted at the major feasts, which have their own Torah portions. According to the traditional practice a second lesson, taken from the prophets, concludes the Sabbath morning reading service. In messianic congregations this Haftarah reading is often followed by a third reading taken from the Apostolic Writings.

The traditional practice is recommendable, and should not be lightly set aside. Yet it has some disadvantages and problems. Its principal disadvantage is that only a small section of Holy Scripture is publicly read. While the Torah is completely covered, only some fragments of the majority of the other Books are heard in the weekly Sabbath liturgy.

In a messianic setting there are three important aspects to the question what to read which could lead to a reconsideration of this orthodox liturgical lectionary. The first of these is our emphasis on the primacy of all Scripture, not just of the Books of the Torah, in communicating G-d’s revelation to us. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of G-d, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of G-d may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim 3:16-17). The messianic emphasis on Scripture as the prime and supreme source of divine revelation conflicts with the orthodox theological model, which has elevated the Oral Torah, i.e. rabbinic authority, to a position of overriding authority, at least in practice. For Messianics it should only be natural to undergird their emphasis on Scripture by customs of public reading that are in line with their doctrine. Although this doctrine doesn’t necessarily lead to a schedule that has all the Scriptures read in the Synagogue, it should be acknowledged that there are important arguments in favour of it.

If we as Messianics want to be a biblical people, devoted to the exclusion of selective, one-sided and erroneous theological developments, then an excellent way to do so is to stimulate a culture of scriptural study in the broadest sense of the word. More specifically this means that no part of Scripture is negligible for the discipline of interpreting and applying the precepts of the Torah. Oftentimes one sees Messianics jumping to principles found in talmudic and post-talmudic halachic sources, without duly considering the possibility that other parts of Scripture, for instance the Book of the Proverbs, may contain important clues or interpretional principles for the study of the Torah. This is not to say that the Talmud or later halachic sources shouldn’t be consulted. It is to say that Scripture comes first and that the post-scriptural and non-scriptural sources should be given their due place under the primacy and authority of Scripture.

A second aspect to be given due attention is the fact that one of the criteria of the traditonal selection of Haftarot has been the deliberate exclusion of all passages that could easily lead to Christian associations or interpretations. Almost nothing can be ascertained here with rigid historical proof, but it is remarkable that passages which have a prominent meaning for Messianics, such as Isaiah’s chapters LIII and LXI (cf. Luke 4:16-20), were left out of the later Synagogue liturgy. This is especially noteworthy in the case of Isaiah 61:1-2, because the chapters closely preceding and following it were made part of the seven Haftarot of Consolation, which are read after the Fast Day in Commemoration of the Destruction of the Temple, Tisha B’Av. The sixth of these is Is. 60:1-22 (Haftarah Ki Tavo) and the seventh is Is. 61:10-63:9 (Haftarah Nitzavim). It is completely legitimate for Messianics to seek a correction of this state of affairs in some way or other. And an impartial way of doing is by endorsing a non-selective reading of the prophetic books.

A third aspect to be considered by Messianics in this context is the question what passages should be read from the Apostolic Scriptures. If traditional Judaism has made its choice of Haftarah passages, should Messianic Judaism do the same with the Apostolic Writings? Or should we perhaps follow a less selective policy and read them all? However, if it should appear that we are unable to make a convincing liturgical selection, and instead decide to read them all, should we then not apply the same procedure to the Prophets, and also to the third category of Scripture contained in the Tanach, the Writings? And if it is our best option to read all the Scriptures, how are we to put this into practice? Many congregations nowadays have an overloaded schedule of readings already, caused by the addition of a third reading, taken from the Apostolic Scriptures, to the readings of the Sabbath morning service. From a traditional halachic viewpoint, a third reading during Shacharit causes certain technical inconveniences. It is problematic, for instance, to recite the traditional Haftarah blessings. These blessings indicate that the reading section of the service is concluded. Adding a third reading is a denial of this and requires the abrogation or modification of these blessings and the introduction of new ones specifically relating to the apostolic readings. It also demands for some corresponding modifications in the concluding blessings of the entire reading section, when the Torah Scroll is returned to the Aron HaKodesh.

Another question that has to be answered is: Is it possible to develop a consistent program of reading all Scripture, and yet to be faithful to the format of the liturgical year by having the passages read in their proper seasons? Naturally, this particularly applies to the readings from the Gospels, since Messiah’s life is the spiritual centre or axis of the entire orbit of the liturgical year. Diverse congregations try to find tenable solutions for this problem. The following outline is a detailed proposal for your consideration. As is obvious, it has its own presuppositions, some of which may not be shared by all Messianics.

At Messianic613 we favour a liturgical model which includes the celebration of the Lord’s Supper at the evening services of Shabbat, New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), and the major annual festivals. According to a long-standing Christian tradition in these eucharistic services two passages of the Apostolic Scriptures are read — which by their traditional names are called the “Epistle” and “Gospel” readings.

We discovered that the practice of having the Apostolic Scriptures read in the evening service has the advantage of not overburdening the Sabbath morning service with additional readings. Due to the Torah and Haftarah readings, and the Mussaf prayers, this service is already of considerable length.

The first problem we had to solve was: How should we read the Torah, in a one-year or a three-year cycle? Since both traditions have their ancient roots as well as their specific merits, we have sought to combine them and have found the following solution. During the Shmittah– or Sabbath-years we follow the annual cycle of Orthodox Judaism. During the six normal years we follow the triennial cycle. Thus we have always two triennial cycles alternated by an annual cycle. This solution has the merit of giving a distinctive mark to the Shmittah-years. Below we’ll see that it also has certain advantages as an architectural principle for ordering the remainder of the scriptural readings.

For the Haftarah reading we propose a schedule of reading all the prophetic books in sequence. Now, because the prophets are a large body to read, it is obvious that this cannot be done in one year on a weekly basis. We have made a timeframe of seven years, based on the twofold division we find in the prophetic books: the former or early prophets (i.e. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), and the later prophets (i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) which are concluded by the so called 12 minor prophets (i.e. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). The former prophets are to be read as Haftarot during the first triennial Torah cycle, the later prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, during the second triennial cycle.

This solution left us with the question what to do with the minor prophets. For during the Shmittah years the traditional Haftarot are read.

The next problem for us was how and when to read from the other Scriptures, the Writings or Ketuvim. After some trial and error we developed the proposal to read from these Scriptures during the Sabbath and festival Minchah services. Several of the Books of the Ketuvim already have an annually fixed season of public reading. According to this the Book of Canticles should be read during Passover, Ruth at Shavuot, and the Lamentations of Jeremiah at Tisha B’Av. The Book of Ecclesiastes is to be read during Sukkot, and Esther is the Megillah to be read at Purim. If we add to this that it is appropriate to read the Book of Daniel during Chanukah (at Maariv), the books that remain are Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. From these the Psalms can be excluded from public reading, however,  since they are already used in the liturgy as the main hymnal. We have developed a format for the daily Shacharit and Minchah services in which the Book of Psalms is used in a manner that follows its traditional division into thirty sections, according to the maximum of days of the Jewish month. The Psalms are thus recited or sung in a monthly cycle. And in the Maariv services of Shabbat and Yom Tov Psalms are used as intermediate hymns between the Epistle and Gospel readings.

According to the chiastic structure of the Writings as found in the Jewish canonical order, it would be proper to have Proverbs and Job read at Minchah during the first triennial Torah cycle, and Ezra-Nehemia and Chronicles during the second triennial Torah cycle. This leaves open the question what to read during the Sabbath Minchah service of the Shmittah year. Our suggestion would be to insert the minor prophets here

Now about the reading schedule of the Apostolic Scriptures. In order to follow the liturgical year and to have the reading sections in harmony with the major festive seasons (Yamim Tovim) of Messiah’s birth (at Sukkot), his death and resurrection (at Pesach), and the outpouring of the Ruach HaKodesh after his Ascension (at Shavuot), the readings from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles have to be divided over the two halves of the year. Our proposal is to read each year one of the Gospels in a lectio continua during the first half of the year (from Shabbat Bereisheet to Pesach), thus covering Messiah’s earthly life, and to read the Acts of the Apostles during the second half of every year (from Shavuot to Rosh HaShanah), thus covering Messiah’s post-resurrection activity. The seven Sabbaths of the Omer can be used to repeat important Gospel lessons (e.g. the parables of the Kingdom in the Gospel of Mathew) in preparation of the festival of Shavuot. We intend the Yamim Tovim to keep the privilige of having their own distinctive readings and on these days the lectio continua schedule is to be interrupted. However, the normal Shabbat readings should properly lead up to the major feasts and from one festive season to next.

The above made alternation between the triennial and annual Torah cycles can be used as a key for allotting the Gospels their place in our liturgical framework. The main distinction in the Gospels is between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. This would suggest that the Gospel of John should be read during the Shmittah years and that the three Synoptic Gospels should be read in tune with the triennial cycle. This results in two cycles of readings from Matthew, Mark and Luke successively, alternated with a year in which the Gospel of John is read. In this manner each Gospel has its own years of reading.

The reading of the Epistles allows for a similar division. The Epistles can be divided in three sections: the general Epistles and Hebrews, the earlier Epistles of Paul, and the later or prison Epistles of Paul. According to this division each group of Epistles can be assigned to one of the synoptic Gospels: The general Epistles, including Hebrews, to the Gospel of Matthew; the early Epistles of Paul to the Gospel of Mark, and the prison Epistles of Paul to the Gospel of Luke.

The only remaining book which has yet to find a place is the Apocalypse of John. I suggest its reading as replacing the Epistle reading during the Shmittah year, thus accompanying the reading of the Gospel of John.

While it is clear that this whole schedule is not a necessary consequence which follows from undisputed and universally accepted principles, yet we think that it should be given due weight and consideration. It shows both simplicity and elegance in combining the two demands of having all of Scripture read and of having an order of reading which is in harmony with the seasons of the liturgical year.

It remains to be seen of course whether this schedule is practical enough to maintain and whether its details can be ordered in such a manner as to establish sensible connections between the diverse cycles of reading interfering with each other. Will it be possible to have the four readings — Epistle, Gospel (or Acts), Torah, and Haftarah — occuring on any given Sabbath to illuminate each other under the conditions of a lectio continua? We hope to explore this question further in our efforts to develop a truly messianic liturgy.

The Oral Torah and the Messianic Jew

 

Moshe received Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets. And the prophets handed it on to the men of the Great Assembly…

 (Pirkei Avot 1:1)

 

by Reb Yhoshua

[Note of Messianic613: This article has formerly been published on an Orthodox Jewish site that later on seems to have disappeared from the web. Since then, we have unsuccessfully tried to contact the author and ask him permission to republish his valuable article. As we are quite willing to obtain this permission, we invite the author to contact us. On his request we will immediately remove the article, if he has objections against a republication in general or on Messianic613’s Weblog specifically. We also invite our readers to inform us if they should know the author’s whereabouts on the webpdf-version is available by the following link:  Yhoshua — The Oral Torah and the Messianic Jew1 After clicking on the image in the new window that opens the pdf document appears.]

Messianic Jews tend to take the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone, very seriously. A quick count of the number of Messianic translations of the Bible can demonstrate the Messianic Jewish love of Scriptures. There is The Com-plete Jewish Bible, the Living Scriptures, The Scriptures, and many more. It is re-markable that a group of New Testament believers who number only in the hun-dreds of thousands has produced so many translations, not to mention commentar-ies, on the Bible. Messianic believers have even gone where mainstream Christian scholars have not by producing New Testament translations that use both historical and extrapolated Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts as their source texts. These translations are invaluable in understanding Jesus’ more difficult teachings, many of which can only be properly understood in the context of the Semitic languages they were spoken in.[1] The Church is deeply indebted to Messianic believers for their scho-lastic efforts. Messianics have born a lot of fruit because of their reliance on Scrip-ture alone, but with that commitment has come a difficulty understanding some of the precious things that they have inherited from their parent religion.

The doctrine of the Oral Torah is one of the defining beliefs of traditional Judaism. Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon (Maimonides) included it among his Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith, [2] all of which a Jew must believe in order to be religiously identified with the people of Israel. Most Messianic Jews reject it as mere tradition, but for Orthodox Jews, it is the backbone of halakha, Jewish Law. It is the flesh on the liv-ing frame provided by the Pentateuch. In his introduction to Mishnah Torah Maimon-ides wrote, “All the precepts which Moses received on Sinai were given together with their interpretation.”[3] Contrary to the perception of many Messianic believers, the Oral Torah is not believed by Orthodox Jews to be the collective teachings of the Rabbinical Sages. Traditional Judaism holds that it was divinely revealed to Moses, and passed down to the sages by word of mouth until it was partially codified by Yhudah HaNasi, who gathered it into the Mishnah.[4] Further codification was resisted at first. The oral Torah was meant to be oral. But when it became clear that the transmission process was decaying even more, Rav Ashi gathered the tradition into the Gomorrah.[5] Together the Gomorrah and the Mishnah comprise the Talmud, the modern embodiment of the Oral Torah. The Talmud, however, is not simply a book filled with laws. It was written in very compact language that was designed to keep the Oral Torah largely oral. Nobody can study the Talmud on his own, and the proc-ess of passing the teaching on from teacher to student is still an important part of the transmission of the Torah.[6]

For Messianic Jews, the idea of an enigmatic tradition slipping beneath the radar of history and appearing suddenly and dramatically in the form of the Mishnah seems unlikely. Their disbelief is not unprecedented. There was controversy in Judaism it-self concerning the Oral Torah centuries before Jesus was even born. In the first century, the Sadducees and Boethusians denied its very existence. Named for Zadok and Boethus, two students of the famous Talmudic rabbi Antigonus of Sokho, the two sects were created when their founders broke away from Pharisaism because of a misinterpretation of Antigonus’ famous statement, “Do not be like servants who serve their Master only for reward, but be like servants who serve their master not just to receive a reward. And let the fear of Heaven rest on you.”[7] Zadok and Boethus understood Antigonus’ teaching to mean that there was no afterlife, and they re-jected belief in eternal reward. They reasoned that their teacher had abandoned belief in the afterlife because the dogma of eternal reward and punishment did not appear in the written Torah. As a result, they also rejected any other doctrine that was not clearly found in the Five Books of Moses. The Oral Torah fell into that cate-gory.[8] By the time of Jesus, most of the priests and aristocrats were Saducees, but the general public tended to align itself with the Pharisees and remained uninter-ested in the sect.[9]

The Karaite sect of the eighth century also rejected the validity of the Oral Torah, though they voiced allegiance to the entire Hebrew Bible, which the Saducees and Boethusians did not. The Karaites resembled modern Torah observant Messianic Jews in a lot of ways. They called themselves, “Followers of the Bible,” and they rejected many of the same traditional Jewish practices Messianic Jews reject now: shekhita, the ritual slaughtering of cattle; separation of meat and dairy; and the au-thority of rabbinical decrees.[10] Though European Karaites won themselves many more civil rights than their traditional counterparts, they were completely ejected from the Jewish community. Today there are only a few thousand Karaites living in small communities in the State of Israel.

Messianic Jews typically take a stand beside the Saducees and Karaites and hold that the written Torah interprets itself. Among those Messianic groups that believe the written Torah remains intact even today, the rejection of the Oral Torah, second only to a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, is the defining difference they see between themselves and traditional Judaism.[11] There are a few exceptions. Dr. Michael Brown shocked many of those who listened to his tape series, Let’s Get Truthful, a rebuttal of Rabbi Singer’s famous anti-missionary tape series, Let’s Get Biblical, when he re-fused to engage Rabbi Singer over the issue of the Oral Law. Brown conceded the point by simply saying, “There’s something to the Oral Law.”[12] Other Messianic leaders have also taken the minority view. Dr. Stern, former Jews for Jesus board member and popular translator of the Jewish New Testament and Complete Jewish Bible, gave limited support to the idea of an Oral Torah in his Messianic Jewish Manifesto. “There could never have been a time when tradition of some sort was not a neces-sary adjunct to the written Torah,” he writes. “For the written Torah simply does not contain all the laws and customs needed to run a nation.”[13] Despite the respect af-forded these two scholars within the Messianic Jewish community, their views are not widely accepted. For the most part, Messianic Jewish leaders are resistant and even hostile to the notion that G-d gave Moses anything other than the written text of the Pentateuch at Mount Sinai.

On the opposite pole from Brown and Stern’s accepting positions are the views of vehemently anti-Oral Torah Messianic Jews. One Messianic Jew is reported to have asked an unnamed rabbi, “If you are not a missionary, then why have you rabbis lawlessly wrested authority from the kohanim and are now missionizing Jewish peo-ple away from the faith squarely founded on true Biblical, apocalyptic Torah Judaism as taught by the Jewish Bible?”[14] In addition to the position that the Oral Torah is a result of a rabbinical highjacking of the Jewish faith, others have contended that it is the result of superstitions carried back to Israel from the Babylonian Exile, or a result of, “Inflated ideas of rabbinic authority…motivated by self-aggrandizement and po-litical ambitions.”[15]

There are, of course, calmer voices. Most Messianic Jews view the Oral Torah as simply a mistaken doctrine of traditional Judaism. They are not willing to accept it, but neither are they prepared to level incendiary accusations at those who hold to it. An interesting centrist position among Messianic Jews is that an Oral Torah was given at Sinai, but was meant only for that generation. It was not meant to be bind-ing forever, and its usefulness lasted only a short while.[16]

The matter of the Oral Torah is obviously important and controversial. Different stances on the issue divide the Messianic community and cause additional bitterness between Messianic believers and traditional Jews. What is needed is an objective study of the issue. Any number of factors can cause believers to resist or accept the idea irrationally. Some may reject the Oral Torah simply because the idea is foreign. Most Messianic Jews come to Messianic Judaism from mainstream Protestantism. To a Protestant, the notion that another authority exists beside scripture is high heresy. While many Messianic believers are willing to risk ridicule for believing the written Torah still provides a valid and holy way of life, few are willing to take a stand that would send them careening so far out of the mainstream that their neighbors would begin to whisper cult. Another reason for rejecting the Oral Torah without a hearing would be what psychologists call Entrapment. Entrapment is a process that takes place when a person grows more and more committed to an idea simply because they have sacrificed something for the cause. Many of the more extreme anti-Oral Torah Messianic believers may not be capable of questioning their stance because, after they have stood so firmly against the Oral Torah doctrine, it would be too emo-tionally traumatic for them to rationally consider recanting.

There is an opposite extreme as well. There are those Messianic believers who feel that by accepting the Oral Torah they will intern be accepted by mainstream Juda-ism. Some have fantasies of the State of Israel suddenly granting all Messianic Jews the Right of Return once they all accept the authority of the Oral Torah. Visions of believers in Jesus walking down Ben Yehudah Street in Israeli army uniforms and yarmulkes cloud their eyes and interfere with their capacity to see the merits of rea-soned arguments against the doctrine. In the end, however, the issue should not be about the acceptance of Protestantism or Orthodoxy, but about which train of thought is correct. G-d is truth, and nothing false can ever get one closer to Him, even if it does make life easier. If the truth is to be found, it can only be through searching for it in the pages of history and the Bible.

1. History of the Oral Torah

Historians do not agree on how or when the doctrine of an Oral Torah entered Juda-ism. Though some claim it only arose after the Babylonian exile, there is substantial evidence to the contrary. The apocryphal book Tobit was regarded as Scripture by many Jews, until it was officially rejected and cast out of the canon by a Rabbinical decree in 90AD,[17] and it is still a part of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bibles. Tobit is an adventure story set shortly after the fall of the Northern Kingdom, and it contains some of the earliest references to the Oral Torah in non-canonical, non-rabbinical, Jewish literature. There are references to the duty to bury the dead[18] (Tobit 1:17) as well as the ban on digging or burying the dead on festivals[19] (Tobit 2:4). Neither of these mitzvos[20] appears in the Pentateuch, but are important acts of piety in the Oral Tradition. There are also references to demons, and to marriage contracts.[21] Neither of these appears in their traditional form in the written Torah, but also became important parts of later Judaism. Because the heroes of Tobit are first generation exiles from the Northern Kingdom, the creation of the Oral Torah tradi-tion had to have taken place before the exile of the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC.

The Qement, a group of Ethiopian Jews, also testify to the antiquity of an Oral Torah doctrine in ancient Judaism. The Qement practice a paganistic form of Judaism that resembles the biblical description of the idolatry of the Northern Kingdom. According to Ethiopian tradition, they, as well as the Falashas, another tribe of Ethiopian Jews, are the products of an encounter between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba around 950BC. Though the Qement violate many parts of the Torah, they still retain a few vestiges of Judaism. Among their practices is a form of slaughter known as shekhita, a butchering technique not directly mentioned in the Pentateuch, but de-scribed in the Oral Torah.[22] If an animal is not slaughtered in this manner, the Qement will not eat it.

Finally, digs at the sight of the Essene community of Qumran, near the Dead Sea, have unearthed tefillin, or phylacteries, made exactly as they are prescribed in the Oral Torah. In eleventh century France, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzakhi (Rashi) and his grandson Rabbenu Tam, inheritors of the Pharisaic tradition, both claimed to be the latest link in the direct line of the Oral Torah’s transmission from Moses. They dis-agreed, however, on the manner in which phylacteries should be made. Rashi in-sisted that four passages from the Torah be inserted into the phylacteries in a cer-tain order; Rabbenu Tam reversed the order of the last two parchments. Some of the phylacteries found at Qumran were made according to Rashi’s description, and some according to Rabbenu Tam’s. There were no other variations. The discovery of the Qumran phylacteries proved that Rashi and Rabbenu Tam were, in fact, the re-cipients of an oral tradition at least a thousand years old.[23] The discovery of the phy-lacteries also proved that the Pharisees and the Essenes, two very different Jewish sects, shared a common extra-biblical tradition explaining, “You shall bind them a signs upon your hands.” (Duet. 6:8)

But all of the historical evidence simply demonstrates early Hebrew apostasy if there is no trace of the Oral Torah in the Bible. Certainly, the Hebrews were guilty of other forms of religious perversion very early on. They molded the golden calf even as the Torah was being transmitted. It is very possible that the concept of the Oral Torah is just another example of their reprobate hearts going astray.

The formation of a degenerate tradition would have needed to happen very early in the biblical period of Jewish history to affect the Ethiopian Jews, Tobit, and the Essenes. The earliest example of an extra biblical tradition being used by a group of Jews is the example of the Qement and shekhita, dating the development of this example from the Oral Torah to the tenth century BC at the latest. Several hundred years had passed since the revelation at Mount Sinai. Outside of Scripture, history offers very few records of Israelite life before then, so there are limits to the useful-ness of a historical search for the Oral Torah. Records simply do not go back far enough to confirm or deny its existence. If conclusive evidence for or against the Oral Torah is going to be found, it must be found in scripture.

Unfortunately, a scriptural search for the Oral Torah is very difficult. Until Saducean Judaism developed, Jews in the early Rabbinical Period referred to the Written and Oral Torahs collectively as “The Torah.”[24] There is no reason to believe the ancient Israelites would not have done the same. If it is assumed they did, then every verse that admonishes Israel to follow the Law becomes a proof text for the Oral Torah. If it is assumed they did not, then the opposite becomes true. Further, it would be futile to search the Pentateuch for examples of commands from the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah’s very nature would exclude their presence in the Pentateuch.

Scripture can shed light on the issue in two ways. If examples can be found of the Jewish people being condemned for following the extra-Biblical practices found in the Oral Torah, or if there are passages that say clearly that Moses only received text from G-d, then it can be assumed there is no valid Oral Torah. On the other hand, for the Bible to support the belief in the Oral Torah, it would have to be dem-onstrated that Scripture contains either examples of righteous people practicing pre-cepts from the oral Torah religiously, or passages that refer specifically to an oral tradition being given to Moses alongside the written Torah.

A problem arises with this approach, however. What is Scripture for us was not Scripture for any of the heroes of the Bible. Obviously when Jesus spoke with his contemporaries about Scripture, he did not quote from the Gospel of Matthew or the Epistle of James. These were not written yet. Likewise, the only Scripture in the times of any of the Old Testament characters was the Pentateuch. Acceptance of any other authoritative writings began only after the Babylonian exile. Therefore, if the Bible describes King David acknowledging a portion of the oral tradition, it would be anachronistic to believe that King David was doing so because a similar practice was mentioned in Joshua. The book of Joshua was not Scripture during the reign of King David. If characters in both Joshua and 1 Samuel mention a certain practice not found in the Pentateuch, they are not drawing on each other’s authority, but on an extra-biblical source known to both of them. With those guidelines in mind, it should be possible to begin the Scriptural search for some clue regarding the existence, or non-existence, of an oral tradition from Moses.

2. Oral Torah In the Old Testament

When looking in the Old Testament for proof texts for or against the oral Torah, the immediate evidence seems damning. One encounters several verses in the Torah itself that apparently condemn the idea of an accompanying tradition. “Moses wrote down all of HaShem’s words,” (Ex. 24:4) and, “You shall not add to what I command you or take away from it, but guard the commands of HaShem your G-d that I give you today.” (Duet. 4:2). Together these verses seem to make it clear that there is no oral Torah. There is also the testimony of Joshua, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel….” (Joshua 8:35). If Joshua read every word that Moses commanded, then there could not have been an oral tradition that accompanied the written Word. Nothing oral can be read. Very early in the Old Testament, the very idea of an oral Torah seems to be debunked.

The case, however, is more complicated than it at first appears. Deuteronomy 4:2, “You shall not add to what I command you,” cannot be taken as proof against the oral Torah. The oral Torah is not believed to be a legislated addition to the text, but a divinely revealed clarification. If it is, then “What I command you…” would include those details that were not written down. “Moses,” however, “Wrote down all of HaShem’s words;” (Ex. 24:4) and could not have committed any special details to memory to be passed down later. But the Torah does not specify whether at that time Moses recorded every word in the entire Torah, or just all of the words that had been spoken to him until then. Many more commandments were given to Moses after Exodus 23, and Moses could not have written them all down at that point. The verse still provides for the possibility of an Oral Torah.

However, the conjunction and can also mean then in Hebrew. If the verse is trans-lated, “Then Moses wrote down all of HaShem’s words,” it could be understood as an introductory sentence beginning the tale of how Moses came to transcribe every-thing HaShem said to him, and the verse would again become proof that he did not receive an oral Torah. There is room for doubt in either direction.

Joshua 8:35 also leaves room for doubt. In context, it can’t be clear what is meant by, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel.” (Joshua 8:35) Joshua 8 tells the story of what happened when Joshua divided Israel and stood six of the tribes on Mount Gerizim and the other six on Mount Ebal. The narrative states that, “He read all the words of the Teaching, blessings and curses, according to all that is written in the book of the Teaching.” (Josh 8:34)[25] The people were commanded in Deut. 27:11-26 to stand on the two mountains and listen to the teachings concerning the rewards for obedience and the punishments for disobedience. Thus, when the Bible says, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read,” it cannot be certain whether there was not a word of all that Moses commanded in the Torah, or whether there was not a word of all that Moses commanded to be read (Deut 27:11-28:68), that Joshua did not read before all of Israel. The evidence against the oral Torah is not so damning that it does not leave reasonable doubt.

There seems to be a possibility that there was an oral Torah, but the possibility is not enough to prove its existence. There is also some evidence that it did not exist. Exodus 24:4 and Joshua 8:35 can still be interpreted to condemn the belief that Moses received anything on Sinai besides a written text. Is there any evidence that he did receive an oral tradition?

There are many examples of Biblical characters following and advising others to fol-low commandments that are not specifically mentioned in the written Torah. The Torah commands, “A woman is not to wear men’s clothing, and a man is not to put on women’s clothing, for whoever does these things is detestable to HaShem your G-d.” (Duet 22:5 CJB)[26] The Hebrew is more ambiguous than its English translation, and the word translated clothing more accurately means gear or equipment.[27] The oral Torah understands men’s equipment to include not only masculine clothing, but also weapons and war implements.[28] Women were forbidden to even carry swords or armor, and were certainly excluded from military service.[29] Two famous, biblical hero-ines apparently received a similar tradition. Deborah, the only female judge, held near absolute power in Israel for over forty years (Judges 4:4-5 and 5:31); but when it was time to fight against Israel’s enemy, Sisera, she called on a man, Barak, to lead the troops. Barak, however, refused to go to war unless Deborah went with the army. She reluctantly agreed, but prophesied, “HaShem will hand Sisera over to a woman.” Though Deborah accompanied the army, she wouldn’t go into combat, and sent Barak in her place. (Judges 4:14) Barak routed Sisera’s army, and Sisera was forced to flee on foot to friendly Kenite territory. Jael, the Hebrew wife of a Kenite named Heber, offered Sisera sanctuary.[30] Once he fell asleep, she killed him. Though Sisera was running from a battle, and was undoubtedly heavily armed, Jael felled him with a tent peg rather than his sword. (Judges 4:21)

The prophet Samuel also demonstrated a knowledge and acceptance of the oral To-rah. According to the written Torah, sacrifices were not permitted anywhere but at the Tabernacle. (Lev 17:1-5) The oral Torah, however, allowed several leniencies for different eras.

Before the Tabernacle was erected, the High Places were allowed…. When the Tabernacle was erected, the High Places were banned…. They came to Gilgal, [and] the High Places were allowed…. They came to Shiloh, [and] the High Places were banned…. They came to Nob and Gibeon, [and] the High Places were al-lowed…. They came to Jerusalem, and the High Places were banned and never allowed again.
(Mishnah Zebahim 14:4-8)

Scripture seems to be much more stringent. After the Tabernacle was erected the written Torah does not seem to endorse the High Places at all. (Lev 17:8-9) One of the most startling proofs that an oral Torah existed is that the prophet Samuel con-tinued to sacrifice at the High Places after the Tabernacle had been built. When Saul first met Samuel, Samuel was preparing a sacrifice at one of the High Places. (1Sam 9:12-13) Later in Israel’s history, Israel would be strongly rebuked for sacrificing at such cult sites, but because the Tabernacle was not at Shiloh or Jerusalem, the text of 1 Samuel seems to defer to the oral Torah, and allows the apparent transgression to pass without comment. The Bible’s lack of rebuke is surprising in the light of Le-viticus‘ warning, “When someone from the community of Israel or one of the for-eigners living with you offers a burnt offering or sacrifice without bringing it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to sacrifice it to HaShem, that person is to be cut off from his people.” (Lev. 17:8-9) The only explanations possible are that either a leni-ency existed that was not mentioned in the written text of the Pentateuch, but was ordained by G-d and known to Samuel; or that Samuel was spiritually severed from Israel on the same day that he met Saul. Because Samuel continued to serve G-d and Israel for many more years, it is doubtful that he had been spiritually cut off from his people.

The special exemption that Samuel took advantage of is not the only case of a bibli-cal hero benefiting from a leniency in the oral Torah. The kingship of King David, and thus of the Messiah, was also only possible through a traditional softening of the written Torah’s rigor. The written Torah makes it clear that, “No A’moni [Ammonite] or Mo’avi [Moabite] may enter the assembly of HaShem, nor may any of his descen-dants down to the tenth generation ever enter the assembly of HaShem.” (Deut 23:3) Mo’avi, the Hebrew word for Moabite, is in the masculine. In Semitic lan-guages, the masculine form of a word is usually the neuter form as well. Mo’avi would normally be seen as referring to all Moabites, both male and female; but the oral Torah interprets the word Moabite, in this case, in the more narrow sense of only Moabite men. Moabite women, it says, may convert at any time. Ruth, the grandmother of David, was the most famous beneficiary of the oral Torahs special dispensation to Moabite women. If there were no oral Torah, King David would not have been considered an Israelite.

Some have made the claim that David would have been considered an Israelite through Boaz even though Ruth was a Moabite.[31] There is a common misconception that, biblically, Jewish ethnicity was passed through the father, and the Rabbis changed the system of reckoning because it cannot always be certain who a baby’s father is. Dr. Brody writes, “Biblically a person is Jewish if his father was a descen-dant of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.”[32] This just isn’t so. The matriarchs are often used to prove that Judaism was passed patrilinealy. They came from non-Jewish house-holds, but their children were considered Jewish because the children’s Fathers were Jewish.

It is hard, however, to find a criterion by which the matriarchs were any more or less Jewish than their husbands. Hagar also confuses the issue. She did not have a line-age any more or less tainted than Sarah, but her child was considered a Gentile. Before the Sinai experience, the written Torah is simply not clear on the issue; nor does it clarify its stance in later chapters. In the Torah, being Jewish in the early years of the Patriarchs was not a matter of being part of a chosen people, but of being a chosen individual. Even among twins, one could be Jewish and one not, as in the example of Jacob and Esau. According to Chazal[33] however, the oral Torah has always taught that minhag, tribal affiliation within Israel, is determined patrilinealy; but whether an individual is Jewish or not has been reckoned matrilinealy since the revelation at Sinai. Scripture shows that this was Ezra’s understanding.

When the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian exile, Ezra demanded that the men who had intermarried send away their foreign wives and the children that had been produced by their illegal unions. (Ezra 10:3) It is hard to understand why Ezra would demand that Jewish children be sent to live in an idolatrous culture unless, of course, they weren’t truly Jewish. Moreover, Ezra’s stance is said to be, “In accor-dance with the Torah.” (Ibid.) The written Torah never says that the children of for-eign women and Israelite men are foreigners; nor does it demand that men divorce their foreign wives. The only Torah that Ezra could be acting in accordance with would be an oral one. The same Oral Torah the Apostle Paul obeyed when he cir-cumcised Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman and a Gentile man. (Acts 16:2)

The prophet Jeremiah also made a ruling that demonstrates a Scriptural belief in the oral Torah. Keeping the Sabbath was very important in Jeremiah’s day. Today’s common practice of simply avoiding activities that feel like work was not sufficient in his era. Desecrating the Sabbath was a breach of civil as well as religious law in an-cient Israel, and was considered a capital offence. (Ex 31:14) For public harmony, the laws of the Sabbath had to be clearly defined. The Pentateuch forbade certain activities: lighting fires (Ex 35:3), leaving one’s dwelling (Ex 16:29), and gathering sticks (Num. 15:32-36); but it left the definition of work strangely ambiguous. Some feel that this was done purposely, to allow for individual interpretation; but the oral Torah clarifies the issue with a list of 39 categories of forbidden labor. The oral To-rah interpreted, “Keep my Sabbaths and venerate my sanctuary,” (Lev. 19:30) to mean that the Israelites were responsible for keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day, and building the tabernacle on weekdays. Thus, it reasoned, the 39 categories of work that were uniquely necessary to build the tabernacle were the types of labor forbidden on the Sabbath. It is a very strange form of reasoning, and one of the oddest categories enumerated in the oral Torah is the thirty-ninth form of forbidden labor – carrying an object from a private domain to a public domain and vice versa.[34] As peculiar as the rule is, the prophet Jeremiah rebuked Israel for breaking it. “If you value your lives…don’t carry anything out of your houses on Shabbat.” (Jer. 17:22) In all the passages in the Pentateuch regarding the Sabbath, none of them ever forbids carrying objects out of one’s dwelling. The ban on the thirty-ninth form of forbidden work is found exclusively in the oral Torah. According to the book of Jeremiah, however, Jerusalem was destroyed for violating this oral tradition. “But if you will not obey me and make the Shabbat a holy day and not carry loads through the gates of Jerusalem on Shabbat, then I will set its gates on fire; it will burn up the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched.” (Jer. 17:27)

There is more evidence for an oral tradition dating back to the early Old Testament era. The most common examples of the Old Testament acknowledging the oral To-rah’s authority are also the most commonly over looked. They occur so many times, that it is almost never noticed that the Five Books of Moses never mention them. It is often forgotten that the written Torah never instituted either the calendar or the Temple.

3. The Calendar

After the Communist party took control of Russia, the government immediately de-cided it was time to bring the newly formed Soviet Union in step with the rest of the world. One of their first acts was to abolish the archaic Julian calendar, which Russia had been using since Orthodox Christianity took hold, and replace it with the Gregor-ian calendar, which had been in use in the rest of the world for centuries. The change immediately improved the Soviet Union’s capacity for interaction with the rest of the world. Banking was easier. A Soviet businessman did not have to write a different date on a check drawn on a foreign bank anymore. Diplomacy was simpli-fied. Russian embassies no longer had to arrange conferences using two different calendars. The Soviet Union was now literally keeping in time with the rest of the world. There was a minor draw back, however. Red October, the anniversary of the Revolution, had not taken place in October according to the Gregorian calendar. It had happened in November. The Soviets changed the date accordingly, but kept the old name. Much to the amusement of the rest of the world, until the fall of the So-viet Union, the Soviet government celebrated a holiday called Red October at the beginning of every November.

For the ancient Hebrews, a calendar change was not so simple. Accurate time keep-ing was a matter of life and death. Holidays, appointed times to meet with G-d, were set for specific dates. If the Israelites celebrated Yom Kippur, the only day the High Priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, on the wrong day the High Priest would die when he entered the most sacred area of the Tabernacle. Keeping the holidays at the right times was an urgent necessity, and unauthorized calendar re-form was out of the question. There was a problem, however. While the written To-rah gave clear dates as to when the holidays were to be observed, it gave no indica-tion on how to calculate those dates. It gave no system for tracking the months or even the years. It would be easy to assume that when G-d spoke of the first day of the seventh month (Lev 23:23), he was imposing a date on an already existing cal-endar; but the Hebrew calendar does not resemble any calendar in use in the area at that time.

The Hebrew calendar used by Jews today isn’t the same as the one used by their biblical counterparts. The modern Jewish calendar is a mathematical clock invented when the great Sanhedrin realized the Christian emperor, Constantanius, was going to forcibly disband it.[35] Today’s calendar was designed to keep the holidays from creeping out of their proper seasons until the year 2240AD.[36] The biblical calendar was much more complex.

In the ancient world, there were four methods that peoples used to calculate time: by the sun (solar), by the moon (lunar), by the stars (stellar), and arbitrarily. The Hebrew calendar used all four methods. The days were calculated according to the sun, and the weeks were set to a seemingly arbitrary seven-day cycle.[37] The months were determined by the phases of the moon, and the year was set according to the Zodiac’s rotation. It was so necessary for the months to stay timed with the proper astrological sign, the Sanhedrin had the power to declare an extra month when the months started to misalign. For ancient Jews, the Zodiac had a G-d given purpose apart from its pagan corruption. It taught them about the holidays.

Because the ancient Egyptians worshiped sheep, and abhorred shepherds (Gen. 46:34), when G-d freed Israel from slavery, he did it in the month of Nissan. On the first night of Nissan, Aries, the lamb, appears on the eastern horizon and ascends through the sky the entire month.[38] G-d ordered the enslaved Jews to wait until the fourteenth of Nissan, the day Aries, the god of the Egyptians, had ascended to the zenith, to slaughter the Passover lamb. (Ex. 12:18-21) When the Egyptian god was apparently at its most powerful, the Jewish slaves slaughtered its earthly representa-tion; and the Jewish G-d slaughtered the Egyptian firstborn in mockery of their fertil-ity god’s alleged power. The imagery was so powerful and important that the calen-dar allowed for the insertion of an extra month right before Nissan if Passover wasn’t going to correlate with the ascent of Aries.

The spring festivals weren’t the only ones that required synchronism with the Zodiac. According to Jewish tradition, Tishrei, the month of the fall holidays, was when G-d judged mankind every year.[39] As with Nissan, Tishrei was heralded by a sign in the sky. Libra, the scales, ascends on Rosh Hashanah to warn the world that its deeds are being weighed.[40]

None of these unique features of the Hebrew calendar, such as the added month in leap years or the number of days in each month, are mentioned in the written To-rah; and they are all so unique that it is clear that G-d did not set the holidays ac-cording to a previously existing calendar. Yet all the Biblical characters followed the Hebrew calendar when they celebrated the feasts. If there was no oral Torah given to Moses, then the Hebrew calendar was invented by men very early in Israel’s his-tory, and the holidays have been off schedule since the conquest of Canaan. Not one of the prophets or kings or, most importantly to the Messianic believer, Jesus him-self, could have possibly observed the holidays correctly if the calendar in use was different from the calendar ordained by G-d.

4. The Temple

The Temple too was a product of the oral Torah. The written Torah never acknowl-edges Jerusalem as the proper place for worship, and only briefly mentions that the L-rd will someday chose a special place for Himself. (Lev. 18:6) Only the oral Torah identifies the chosen place as Jerusalem, yet David knew where he wanted to build the Temple. The written Torah also gives detailed instructions for how to build G-d’s sanctuary. It was to be a tent erected by the priests. Even if one assumes that David knew through prophecy that Jerusalem was the place the L-rd had chosen, there is no provision in the Torah for a permanent structure to replace the Tabernacle. It was forbidden to add or detract from the commands that G-d gave to Moses (Duet. 4:2), and Moses never wrote down any plan for the Tabernacle to be permanently folded up and put away. If G-d did not pass his plan to someday have a Temple on to Moses, than all of Israel’s worship from the reign of Solomon on was invalid. Be-cause Jesus frequented the Temple, Messianic Jews, as believers in Jesus as sinless, can be sure this too was clearly not the case.

5. The Oral Torah in the New Testament

For Messianic Jews, there is no higher authority than Jesus, himself. Becoming like Jesus is one of the life goals of every Messianic Jew. In the matter of the oral Torah, committed Messianic Jews must follow Jesus just as in every other matter, to be doctrinally consistent. Because of his frequent altercations with the Pharisees, the alleged keepers of the oral tradition, many assume that Jesus did not follow the Oral Torah. It is easy to overly simplify Jesus’ relationship with Pharisaic Judaism by anachronistically projecting modern Protestant doctrine into the New Testament. Scholars, however, have noticed that, “The teachings of Jesus show the closest affinity to that of the Pharisees.”[41] The fact that Jesus also had differences with the Sadducees, the virulent anti-Oral Torah sect, is often downplayed; as is the fact that whenever he disagreed with them, it was because he held to a doctrine found only in the oral Torah – resurrection from the dead.[42] As in the Old Testament, the New Testament’s view of the Oral Torah is much more complicated than is commonly assumed.

Jesus and his disciples clearly held to at least some of the oral Torah. Jesus warned his disciples against making their tefillin wide. (Mt 23:5) Tefillin are leather boxes containing scripture verses that are worn by observant Jewish men in accordance with Deut 6:8, “Tie them [the commandments] on your hand as a sign, [and] put them as frontlets between your eyes.” Most Christians take the verse figuratively. Dr. Daniel Botkin, a respected Messianic leader and publisher of Gates of Eden maga-zine, understands the commandment to be metaphorical as well. “Since there is no actual instructions to make leather boxes,” he writes. “It is highly doubtful that this commandment really means, ‘Thou shalt make for thyself little leather boxes to strap upon thy hand and thy head when thou prayest.’”[43] Dr. Botkin also points out that the Karaites, too, abandoned the literal interpretation of the mitzvah. However, abandon is the most accurate term for their decision not to follow the custom. Their practice of not wearing tefillin was unique, and not an outgrowth of a previously existing be-lief. Before the destruction of the second Temple, Judaism split into over twenty different sects, or according to some opinions, 200, and all of them wore tefillin. Tefillin were worn so universally among Jews that the Sadducees, who rejected the oral Torah, never thought to question their validity. Even some modern Messianic Jewish scholars accept the practice. Dr. Stern, in his Complete Jewish Bible, trans-lates Duet. 6:8, “Tie them on your hand as a sign, put them at the front of a head-band around your forehead.”

Jesus also seems to have regarded the oral Torah’s interpretation of the written pre-cept as the correct one, otherwise it would be difficult to explain why he would criti-cize hypocrites for making tefillin wide when, without an Oral Torah, they really should not have made them at all. Many would assert that it is not wrong to wear tefillin, only unnecessary.[44] However, while it is certainly not wrong to wear leather boxes as a fashion statement, Deut 4:2 makes it very clear that making up unauthorized religious requirements is forbidden. Jesus was not afraid to tell the Pharisees when he thought their customs were man made (Mt 15:7), but he did not condemn them for wearing tefillin. When he commented that the cases should not be made wide, he acknowledged that they should be made, albeit smaller than some of his contemporaries made them. He also acknowledged his acceptance of at least that portion of the oral Torah.

Jesus and his disciples also held a standard of kashrut, proper eating, that was con-sistent with the Oral Torah. For ancient Jews eating was a religious act, and the early Judeo-Christian believers were no different. The awesome sanctity of eating was so ingrained in the minds and heart of the early believers that even though Paul downplayed it by saying, “Now food will not improve our relationship with G-d – it will be neither poorer if we abstain nor richer if we eat;” (1Cor 8:8) three of the four commandments that the Jerusalem Council insisted all believers observe immediately upon becoming Jesus believers dealt with food. (Acts 15:20&29; 21:25) Two of these came from the oral Torah: not to eat things sacrificed to idols,[45] and not to eat things strangled.[46] The written Torah does not forbid either of these types of food, yet Jesus, in Revelation, is portrayed as strongly rebuking the communities of Perga-mum and Thyatira for breaking the ban on their consumption. (Rev 2:14 & 20) The authority of the Oral Torah in the lives of early Messianic believers cannot be doubted when half of the commands the Jerusalem council required of Gentiles were from the Oral Torah.

Jesus also demonstrated a belief in the oral traditions in his most beloved set of teachings – the Sermon on the Mount. More than a few biblical scholars have noticed that the morality demanded by Jesus in Matthew 5-7 far exceeds that which is writ-ten in the five Books of Moses. The Decalogue forbids adultery; Jesus forbids adul-terous thoughts. The decalogue forbids murder; Jesus forbids anger. Many see this as an example of Jesus’ higher calling, but few acknowledge the question his words create. If Deuteronomy 4:2 forbids adding to the commandments, wouldn’t Jesus be sinning by demanding so much more than the written Torah asks, something com-pletely inconsistent with Christian and Messianic theology?

It is easy to dismiss the question by relying on the doctrine that Jesus was G-d and reasoning that as such he could do anything he wanted. Such reasoning ignores that Christian and Messianic doctrine also maintains that he was the Son of G-d, and a man bound by his Father’s law. Nobody would suggest that if Jesus murdered some-one it would not be a sin. Thousands of protesters gathered in front of movie thea-ters when they believed The Last Temptation of Christ suggested he had committed sexual sins with Mary the Magdalene. Everybody understands that if Jesus could do whatever he liked without it being counted a sin, the claim that he was sinless would be meaningless. It is a basic New Testament teaching that when Jesus walked the earth he was perfectly obedient to G-d’s will. That obedience would have to include not adding to the Torah. (Deut 4:2)

Yet if G-d only gave Moses the Written Torah, the Sermon on the Mount would not, as Christianity and Messianic Judaism clearly hold, be a sterling example of Jesus’ brilliance and authority. It would be a demonstration of his sinfulness in violating Deut. 4:2. His claim to be anything more than a mere sinner would be condemned by his most cherished teachings. However, careful study reveals startling similarities between Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount teachings and teachings Jews believe had been passed down orally from Moses. If Jesus was teaching from an authoritative oral revelation given to Moses, then he did not disobey G-d by adding to His word during the Sermon on the Mount.

Many scholars have struggled with Jesus’ teaching, “You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ And I tell you that a man who even looks at a woman with the purpose of lusting after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mat 6:27) It seems to demand something impossible of men, something the written Torah never asked. Even Jewish scholars have questioned its source. Conservative Jewish Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes concerning Jesus’ words, “Judaism’s attitude is that the deed, not the thought, is what counts. That’s why the Seventh of the Ten Commandments legislates, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’”[47] However, Jesus was not arbitrarily adding an unnatural stringency to the Torah; he was teaching from a tradition Moses received at Sinai, “Not only is he who sins with his body considered an adulterer, but he who sins with his eye is also considered one.”[48]

Jesus’ comments, “If your right eye makes you sin, gouge it out and throw it away…If your hand right hand makes you sin, cut it off and throw it away,” (Mat 5:29-30) have also tormented readers for thousands of years. Some, understanding that vv. 27-30 are all teachings on lust, have suggested Jesus condoned castration. Origen, for example, castrated himself to fulfill Jesus’ command. Nietzsche too as-cribed to Origen’s interpretaition when he mocked the verse by saying, “It is not precisely the eye that is meant.”[49] Unfortunately for Origen, neither he nor Nietzsche was familiar with rabbinical literature.

Jesus certainly didn’t mean for his followers to emasculate themselves. G-d forbade the Israelites to subject even their animals to painful castration. (Lev. 22:24) Men-tion of cutting off one’s hand within the context of a teaching on lustful thoughts and improper glances was simply a quote from the oral Torah, “The hand that fre-quently touches [the genitals]…in the case of a man, should be cut off.”[50] Jesus was using the same hyperbole with his audience that G-d used with Moses to communi-cate the sinfulness of masturbation. It is extremely unlikely that he ever intended for any kind of amputation to take place.

Jesus’ ideas on prayer mirror those in the oral Torah, as well. He taught his disciples not to babble when they prayed (Mat. 5:7), and advised them to never stop praying for something they really needed. (Luke 18:1-6) What Jesus called babbling, Chazal labeled calculating, purposely making one’s prayers long so that they would be an-swered. Calculating, or babbling, was forbidden by the Oral Torah;[51] and just as Jesus advised his disciples to continue asking G-d for what they wanted, the oral Torah commanded the Israelites, “If a man realizes that he has prayed and not been an-swered, he should pray again.”[52]

6. The Oral Torah Then and Now

It is clear that early believers believed in an Oral Torah. Jesus taught from it during the Sermon on the Mount, and the Apostles commanded even Gentiles to keep por-tions of it. When rumors circulated that Paul had apostatized from the Torah, the other apostles took measures to confirm he had not been, “Telling them [Jewish believers] not to have b’rit-milah for their sons and not to follow the traditions.” (Acts 21:21 emphasis added) But was the oral Torah Jesus and his disciples ascribed to the same as the one modern Judaism possesses. It would be very nice if it were. As complicated as the Talmud is, at least it is in writing and still very much extant. If the Talmud is the embodiment of the tradition Moses received at Sinai, it is in exis-tence today, and available for study. If the earliest believers knew of an Oral Torah different from the one that is preserved in the Talmud, then Messianic Jews are faced with the very difficult project of recovering it.

Some Messianic Jewish leaders have already suggested that option. “A Messianic Jew who realizes that the Torah still is in force under the New Covenant ought to be full of questions,” writes Dr. Stern. “One can imagine creating a body of New Testa-ment case law much like the Talmud, the Codes and Responsa of Judaism.”[53] Is there such a need?

Spiritually speaking, the easy route never seems to be the proper, or even the avail-able one. The road is always hard and the gate is always narrow. (Mat.) With the Oral Torah, the case is the same. There is considerable evidence that though Jesus and his disciple did believe in an Oral Torah, it was not the Oral Torah, i.e. the one embodied in the Talmud. Jesus’ Oral Torah seems to have possessed explanations the Talmud lacks, and to not have had ones the Talmud does.

Immersion is one such example. Jesus approached John by saying, “Let it be this way now, because we should do everything righteousness requires.” (Mat 3:15) There is no commandment in the written Torah to be immersed for the remission of sins, nor does the Talmud possess such a mitzvah. Why Jesus and John felt that righteousness required immersion is a mystery for many modern scholars. Jews of the time, including the Pharisees, Essenes, and Saducees, required periodic immer-sions in a mikvah, a body of naturally gathered rainwater; but the immersion was only for the removal of ritual impurity, and had to be repeated. Outside of the early Messianic community, no first century Jewish sect practiced a ritual involving a one-time immersion for the cleansing of sins. The Talmud does mention a story that may indicate where the idea came from. According to legend, after Adam and Eve sinned and were evicted from Eden, they stood in a river up to their necks to remove the stain of sin. Also, a proselyte to Judaism was said to be a new person when he im-merged from the mikvah. Naturally, because he was a brand new person, all of his previous sins were expiated. However, this was only true of Gentiles coming into the Jewish faith. For Jews to try to reap the same reward from the mikvah would have been an innovation.

If the examples of Adam and Eve and proselytes were the sources for John and Je-sus’ idea of immersion for the remission of sin, than it would still be possible for the Oral Torah they knew to be identical with the one that is preserved today. What’s more, because Jesus believed himself sinless, his immersion could not have been for repentance. There is a passage in the Talmud that indicates Jesus’ immersion was not for remission of sins and not an innovation without precedent. According to the Oral Torah, a King should be anointed at a river so that his reign would be long like the river itself.[54] If John saw his immersion of Jesus as a way of recognizing Jesus as king, then the immersion was done in a manner keeping with Oral Torah. Immersion for the remission of sins, however, was either the result of a reinterpretation of the significance of the mikvah, or the product of a tradition separate from the one pre-served in modern Judaism. It is unclear which was the case. The difference be-tween the Messianic communities’ understanding of the Mikvah and the traditional understanding is not great enough to preclude the possibility that they are both the product of the same oral tradition.

The significance given to immersion by the early believing community is not the only example of an early Messianic practice diverging from its Pharisaic counterpart only enough to point to a possible difference in the core tradition. The manner in which the early Messianic believers accepted new comers to the faith was done largely in accordance with the Oral Torah as preserved in the Talmud. Pharisaic Judaism too immersed new comers before accepting them as members of the community. Unlike traditional Judaism, however, the early Messianic community did not demand that Gentile new comers become circumcised, a necessity according to the Talmud. How-ever, there were opinions even within Pharisaic Judaism that circumcision was un-necessary for people wanting to join the community; and James’ reluctance to make Gentile believers circumcise themselves may have also been due to another aspect of the oral Torah – Gentiles were not to be allowed to become circumcised and con-vert after the Messiah came, and James firmly believed he had.

There are, however, passages that make it clear that the Oral Torah Jesus and the apostles knew was not the one that the Talmud embodies. Jesus’s concept of what was permitted on the Sabbath was different from what the Talmud preserves as the law. Jesus did not seem to consider plucking grain one of the forms of work forbid-den on the Sabbath. (Mat. 12:1-8) He also seemed to regard human well-being, not just human life, as a cause for breaking the Sabbath.[56] That compassion would take precedent over the Sabbath seems obvious to most people, but the issue is not just one of compassion. It is certainly one of tradition. The Pharisees, too, were con-cerned with compassion; but the controversy was over which acts were truly com-passionate.

Christianity maintains a belief in a spiritual world and a physical world. Judaism and other ancient religions, such as Hinduism, blur the line between the two. The physi-cal world is not seen as a separate reality from the world of the spirit, but as the spirit world’s exposed edge that pokes through into the realm of our perceptions. When the Pharisees forbade healing on the Sabbath (except in the case of mortal danger), they were not saying that the Sabbath was more important than curing human suffering. They were holding to a tradition that taught that the damage done in the spiritual world by breaking the Sabbath would, in the end, create more human suffering than waiting until after Shabbat to cure a person would.

Of all the differences between the New Testament and the Talmud, perhaps the most interesting is Jesus’s words to the Pharisees, “Which one of you wouldn’t raise his sheep from a hole on Shabbat?” Rescuing the sheep would be a violation of the Sabbath according to modern Jewish law.[57] The verse seems to indicate that even the group of Pharisees Jesus was speaking to held a different tradition than the one pre-served in modern Judaism.

That different groups would have different versions of the Oral Torah is absolutely consistent with the doctrine. If a tradition is passed on from generation to genera-tion it is only natural for the transmission to result in discrepancies. Judaism solved the problem by reasoning that whatever the majority of people received as the tradi-tion was probably closer to the original than the minority view. Even in Judaism, it is accepted that the majority was not always correct. Sometimes, the majority believed G-d gave Moses an interpretation he had not. However, even when this was the case, the majority was still followed. Otherwise, the minority would always believe the majority was wrong, and continue practicing according to its opinion. Sects and schisms would appear, and the survival of the Jewish people would be threatened. Because the sages believed that the Judaism’s survival was more important than being correct on every single aspect of the Torah, the majority was always followed, even when it was known to be wrong.[58] Jesus’ view, as well as that of those Pharisees who would have rescued the sheep, was a dissenting opinion. Deut. 7 makes it clear that after the law was codified as it is today, it is a Torah requirement to keep it.

7. Conclusions

It is clear that there was an Oral Torah given at Mount Sinai. Tribes separated from Judaism since the first Temple period keep parts of it, and righteous members of the exiled Northern Tribes observed at least a segment of it. The Judges and Prophets made it a part of their lives, and the Apostles even instructed Gentile new comers to the fledgling Messianic faith to keep two of its commands. But what is its relevance for Messianic believers today?

For those who accept that the New Testament never abrogated the older one, it is clear that they should keep the Oral Torah with as much devotion as they observe its written counterpart. It is one Torah, given by the same G-d. Until the Saducees arose to question the validity of the oral half, righteous Jews simply referred to both pieces as, “The Torah.” (Pirkei Avot 1:1) With the scriptures so clear, it seems Bibli-cally mandated that Jews of every ilk to follow its teachings.

Jesus told his disciples, “The Torah teachers and the P’rushim [Pharisees]…sit in the seat of Moses. So whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don’t do what they do, because they talk but don’t act.” (Mat 23:2-3 JNT) The particular Pharisees Jesus was talking about mouthed Pharisaic doctrines while swallowing widows houses and praying for show. (Mat 23:14) It would seem that it is their negative actions, not their traditionalism that he condemned; their works not their beliefs. Even when he chastises them for being extra scrupulous with their tithes while neglecting mercy and justice, he tells them, “You should do the latter without neglecting the former.” (Mat 23:23) He was not opposed to their acts of piety, but to the hypocrisy some of them displayed. Should Messianic Jews practice the Oral Torah as passed down by the Pharisees even though it does not appear to be the one Jesus knew?

The differences between the two aren’t great. Jesus and his disciples appear to have shared a common tradition with the Pharisees regarding kashrut, tefillin, and moral-ity. On the Sabbath that they diverge; but only on the issue of whether the Sabbath should be violated to protect human life or also to enrich it. However, if they clearly diverged over the Sabbath, where did they differ that we no longer know about? Perhaps it is time for the code of New Testament Case Law that Dr. Stern spoke of to be written. In any case, Messianic Jews must begin the process of education. “Any scribe who becomes a scribe for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a something that brings forth new treasures with the old,” Jesus said. (Mat. 13:52) Messianic Judaism needs a few such scribes.

_________________

[1] David Blivin and Roy Blizzard, Jr. Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, (Shippensburgh, Pa: Destiny Image Publishers, 1994), p67

[2] Maimonides, Commentary to Mishnah, (Sanhedrin ch. 10). Maimonide does not use ‘Oral Torah’ in his Ani Maamin. It is universally accepted that Principles eight and nine refer to both the Written and Oral Torahs.

[3] Isadore Twersky. A Maimonides Reader. (New York: Luhrman House, Inc. 1972), p35

[4] Ibid p36

[5] Ibid p37

[6] Jacob Neusner, An Invitation to the Talmud. (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1973), Foreward p.xi

[7] Pirkei Avos 1:3 

[8] Reuban Kaufman. Great Sects and Schisms in Judaism. (New York: Jonathan David Publishers.), 1967. P24

[9] Josephus. Antiquities XVIII. 1, 4

[10] Kaufman, Sects, pp40-42.

[11] Carol Calise. “Messianic Judaism versus Rabbinic Judaism” (www.bethemanuel.com/messj.htm)

[12] Dr. Michael L. Brown. Let’s Get Truthful, tape l

[13] Dr. David H. Stern, Messianic Jewish Manifesto. (Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1991) p148

[14] Anonymous, How to Point to Moshiakh In Your Rabbi’s Bible, (Artist’s for Israel International, 1995).   

[15] Dan Levine, “Is the Oral Torah Binding for Jewish Believers in Jesus?” Gates of Eden, Jul-August 2000, vol 6 No.4, p. 18. In keeping with the Gates of Eden copyright policy all Gates of Eden articles sited will be reproduced in their entirety as endnotes. Letter to the Editor are sited under Fair Use.     Daniel Botkin has bimonthly publication, Gates of Eden. For a sample issue, write to PO Box 2257, East Peoria, IL 61611-0257

[16] Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz, Torah Rediscovered. (Lakewood, Co: First Fruits of Zion, 1996), p. 87.

[17] James Beasley, An Introduction to the Bible. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991) pp. 55-56.

[18] Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5

[19] Mishnah Shabbos 7:2

[20] Mitzvots are good deeds or commandments.

[21] Marriage Contracts, or ketubot, are not a part of the Oral Torah, but were instituted as part of a rabbinical decree meant to protect women from frivolous divorce. The custom seems to have had its origin much farther back than the decree and is universally known among the scattered Jewish communities. See Babylonian Talmud, Ketubos 39b

[22] Graham Hancock. The Sign and the Seal. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.)  p. 246.

[23] Hosit, “Teffilin”, The Encyclopedia Judaica.

[24] See Pirkei Avos 1:1 where the oral Torah is simply called, “The Torah.”

[25] I have translated the Hebrew word, Torah, as Teaching rather than Law. Not only is this a more accurate translation, it also helps illustrate the ambiguity present in the meaning of the Hebrew text.

[26] Stern, Complete Jewish Bible. (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. 1998). Here and elsewhere, where Stern translates the tetragramaton A/donai­, it is rendered HaShem.

[27] W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981) p. 1485.

[28] Women’s gear was defined as feminine clothing, hair dye, cosmetics, and anything women usually use to beautify themselves. On a recent trip to Jerusalem, a sales clerk informed the author that men are permitted to dye their hair unnatural colors such as pink and blue because this is not considered ‘beautifying’. The author was able to confirm this with several lower level yeshiva students, but not with a rabbi or higher-level scholar. One yeshiva rebbe flatly denied it, and his opinon should be followed. Piercings are permitted wherever the prevailing culture considers them gender appropriate and there is no risk of infection. 

[29] Theodore Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament. (New York: Harper and Row, 1969) pp. 316-318.

[30] Judges does not specifically say that Jael was a Hebrew, but her name is Hebrew for “The L-rd is G-d,” and it is hard to see why a native Kenite would have a Hebrew name or attack a needy ally.

[31] It is inaccurate to say that Ruth was a Moabite. While she was certainly born a Moabite, it is clear that she converted to Judaism and became fully Jewish. Evidently she had converted when she married Naomi’s son, or she would not have been allowed to marry Boaz under the law of Halitzah (Deut 25:5-10) as Israelite men were not permitted to take foreign wives. (Ezra 9:2)[32] Harold Brody, “Who is a Rabbi, Who is a Jew,” Petah Tikvah. (Rochester, NY)

 

[33] Chazal is a Hebrew acronym for Our Sages of Blessed Memory, and is used to refer to the sages of the Talmud.

[34] Mishnah Shabbos 7:2. The Mishnah forbids carrying anything from one domain to another. The classes of domains are more complex than the simple difference between private and public property. For example, everything within a walled city is considered one domain; however, apartments in an apartment building are different domains.

[35] Anonymous, “The New Moon and the Power of Judaism” sited from: (www.beingjewish.com/yomtov/chodesh/newmoon.html 

[36] 2240AD is the year 6000 on the Hebrew calendar, the date the Rabbis calculated as the latest the Messiah could possibly come. They expected him to restore the Sanhedrin’s power to declare the beginning of the months and the leap year, and they didn’t bother adding more features to the calendar to fortify it indefinitely against seasons’ creeping. The average Hebrew year is .0046 days longer than the average solar year; so the holidays will creep out of their proper seasons in 6880AD.

[37] The seven-day, biblical week is so common today that few people realize how arbitrary it is. The Bible reports that it’s length is in memory of creation (Gen. 2:1-4 & Ex 20:11), but other cultures, which did not share a belief in the biblical creation account, used other periods for their week. The Roman week had eight days, some Africans use five days, and the Yoruba week lasts sixteen days. Anthony Aveni, Empires of Time. (New York: Basic Books, Inc. 1989), p107

[38] Gad Erlanger, Signs of the Times: The Zodiac in Jewish Tradition. (New York, NY: Feldheim Publishers, 1999), p. 27.

[39] Edward Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah. (Shippensburgh, PA: Treasure House, 1994.), p. 105.

[40] Erlanger, p. 121.

[41] Wilson, Abraham. P. 40.

[42] The Talmud says that the resurrection from the dead actually does appear in hidden form in the written Torah. Daniel (Dan 12:2) also contains references to resurrection, however, the canon of the Old Testament past the Torah (called the Nakh in traditional Judaism) is the product of a Rabbinical Injunction made in 90AD, and can’t be considered authoritative in an argument that took place c.28 AD. In any case, in Jesus’ time, the Nakh was considered holy only by Pharisees, and was much larger than the present day Hebrew Bible. The “Bible” of Pharisaism in Jesus’ time was very similar to the Catholic Old Testament, which is why the Sadducees mocked the book of Tobit (Tob 3:8), a book in the Pharisaic canon, when they attacked Jesus for holding to the hope of resurrection, a Pharisaic doctrine. (Mt 22:23-28; Mk 12:18-22)

[43] Dr. Daniel Botkin, “Magic Squares, 666, & The Mark of the Beast,” Gates of Eden, vol. 6 no.2, March-April 2000, p. 13.

[44] Botkin, “Magic Squares, 666, & The Mark of the Beast.” p. 13. 

[45] Mishnah Avodah Zorah 2:3

[46] Mishnah Chullin 1:2. If the disciples at the Jerusalem synod used ‘strangled’ in the same way Chazal did, they actually forbade meat slaughtered with all but the sharpest knife and greatest care.

[47] Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom. (New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc., (1994), p. 136.

[48] Leviticus Rabba 23:12

[49] Robert Sheaffer, The Making of the Messiah. (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991),  p. 17.

[50] Mishnah Nidah 2:1.

[51] Babylonian Talmud, Berekhot 32b.

[52] Babylonian Talmud, Berekhot 32b.

[53] Stern, Manifesto, p. 158.

[54] Tosefta, Sanhedrin 4:10.

[55] Babylonian Talmud, Yebemos 46a and b.

[56] Compare Mat. 12:12 and Talmud, Shabbos 132a.

[57] Stern, Manifesto, p. 112.

[58] Talmud, Bava Metzia 59b.

 

 

About the Author
Reb Yhoshua is a man of very small stature, and fancies himself the Yiddishe Martha Stewart, without the insider trading. He is author of several articles on Messianic Judaism and its relationship to Torah and history, and is translator and author of The Illuminated Tikkun Chatzos, which nobody has ever read except himself.
He liked it.

The Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture

 

 

Divine revelation has many aspects, and doesn’t only consist in the Bible. It consists of actions of G’d in the history of mankind, in the calling of the Patriarchs, in the constitution of the nation of Israel, in all the institutions and laws of the Torah, including the very important institution of the Sanctuary and everything belonging to it. Finally and ultimately this revelation centers in the person of Messiah, the perfect Man and the complete embodiment of the Torah and the prophets, the one and only Mediator with G’d. All this belongs to the divine revelation. This revelation thus includes much more than only Scripture.

 

Why then is Scripture so important that many of us would adhere to the formula of the Reformation: Scriptura sola? It may be asked: Is it really of fundamental importance if there are so many ways G’d by which has revealed himself to mankind?

 

I think Scripture is of fundamental importance, and that is necessary for us even to confess its full inspiration, and — as a consequence — to affirm its inerrancy. I think it also possible to understand and affirm the rallying cry of the Reformation “Scriptura sola ” in a way that is relevant and applicable to our situation today as Messianics. 

 

The necessity to confess the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture stems from the fact that it is only by Scripture that the other means of divine revelation just mentioned were guarded and kept secure and intact in the course of salvation history. All these relevatory facts, instructions, institutions and doctrines are known to us nowadays by no other means than Scripture. Scripture alone is the safe ark that leads us through the storms of time to the coast-land of eternity. Now, it has been asked why I so strongly insist on this being so for us, if it be admitted that this was not so for believers of all times.

 

Let me begin to say that from the time on that the divine revelation became written, this written word was regarded as an expression of G’d himself and thus as inspired, even if this was not expressed in a theoretical doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy. We know in what words the tables of the covenant were described, as written by the hand of G’d. In the times of Moses and the first phase of Israel’s history however there was something that can be called “divine government”. The priesthood was in possession of divine assistance in the Urim and Tummim, there was the Real Indwelling in the Tabernacle and the Temple (the Shechinah). The people of G’d was governed and guided by HaShem in a very direct way, as is known from many stories in the first books of the Bible. There were many means whereby G’d revealed himself in the national institutions of Israel and whereby the faithful could know the will of G’d. Beside that, there was at times the warning voice of the prophets when the nation corrupted itself and went astray.

 

After the installation of human kings, and so much the more after the Babylonian captivity a number of these things ceased. In the second Temple there was no longer a Shechinah, and the Urim and Tummim were lost. Direct divine guidance already ceased before the captivity. After some time even the prophetic voice ceased. Maleachi was the last prophet. Only Scripture and a number of oral traditions — including traditions about Scripture interpretation — remained. Thus we see that the content of revelation was more and more concentrated in Scripture.

 

Then came the important events of the movement of John the Baptist, the earthly ministry of Messiah Yeshua, the great outpouring of the Ruach HaShem and the subsequent events recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. During this time revelation again occurred by a living voice and visible divine guidance. The ministries of Messiah and his Apostles were accompanied by signs and marks of authority such as miracles. It was the time of the Kingdom offer to the nation of Israel. This period lasted until about 40 years after the crucifixion. When the great refusal of the nation became fixed (cf. Acts. 28) gradually all that remained of the ancient institutions came to an end in the terrible events that followed: the first Jewish war, the destruction of the Temple, the second Jewish war, the destruction of Jerusalem, the Roman exile. Everything was destroyed, except Israels bare existence and its Scriptures.

 

At the council of Yavne, where the survivors of the first Roman war fled after the first war with Rome, a lot of decisions were taken. All references to a suffering Messiah were stricken from the Jewish liturgy, the birkat haminim was instituted, the Septuagint was condemned, and the canon of Scripture was formalized. This formalization was not a big issue. There were nearly no debates, except for the inclusion of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. Practically, in the life of the nation, the canon was already fixed generations before.

 

We see that at this council a lot of wrong and anti-Messianic decisions were taken together with the decision about the canon of Scripture. In the Christian councils between the third and fifth centuries we see a parallel development. Here were also a host of wrong decisions and doctrines dogmatized. At the same time however the question of the canon of the Apostolic Writings was settled — after very little debate compared with the other doctrinal matters — at the African Synods of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397 & 419). In the same manner as in the Judaism of Yavne, the formalization of the Christian canon was not a big issue, and in the life of the Church the matter was already practically settled generations before. The Christian Church did however not accept the decision of the council of Yavne. It considered instead the Septuagint to be the true canon of the “Old Testament”. This was not corrected before the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church thereupon fixed her Septuagint-based canon at the council of Trent.

 

What should we conclude from this? Should we regard the traditional Christian canon as simply the product of Roman Catholicism?

 

My answer would be that the canonization history — of which I have given only a very elementary and incomplete sketch — shows that the canons of traditional Judaism and of traditional Christianity were not decreed or imposed by councils and synods. They existed long before, and were merely formalized by these colleges. The canons of both communities already were practically fixed, and were accepted without much quarrels and disputes, because of the strength of the respective traditions. Tradition was the main argument here. And I think we should view this process of tradition as the means whereby the Ruach of G-d preserved the content of G-d’s revelation to the succeding generations.

 

Why should we view this tradition of the canon as lead by the Ruach haKodesh, as “sacred” in a sense, if we reject so much other Christian traditions? Should we not question the whole thing again, and re-open the canon question?

 

I think this is neither needed nor wanted, for several reasons. After the rejection of Messiah and his Kingdom offer, and after the subsequent catastrophes the Jewish nation — and not to forget the Jewish Messianic Community — went through, there was left no other trustworthy source of revelation left in Judaism then the documents of Scripture and some orally transmitted traditions. Likewise in the Messianic Community at that time there existed no longer a living voice of the Apostles or of elders and overseers appointed by them. Only Scripture, and perhaps some oral traditons.

 

The formation of Catholic Church in the following centuries changed the whole basic structure of the divine religion by the putting aside of the Torah and by the speculative innovations in christology. Yet the Catholic Church maintained throughout the ages the “New Testament” as the core revelational content of her own whole superstructure. And when the NT was rediscovered, and a first attempt was made to consider it on its own merits, by faithful Christians at the times of the Protestant Reformation, it appeared to be a deadly weapon against Catholicism. In the later stages of Reformation history the same NT was used by some XVIIth and XIXth century divines to teach from it the future restoration of Israel, against the mainstream of Protestantism. And in our days it is used by our own movement to teach Christians to return to Torah observance as the real fulness of the messianic lifestyle.

 

All this shows abundantly, as an illustrated history, that the Apostolic Writings cannot be considered to be a product of Catholicism. When the tradition- and interpretation layers of Catholicism and Protestantism are gradually removed from the human mind, these Writings appears to be in harmony with the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach. I think a better conclusion of this whole complicated history is that the NT documents of revelation were kept intact by divine protection, and needed only the serious attention they deserved from their adherents to regain full actual significance. And that should be a first reason not to attack or criticize the Apostolic Writings.

 

A second reason why we shouldn’t attempt to criticize these Writings or to reconsider the canon question is simply that we are wholly unable to do so. We have at present no other source of divine revelation that can be used and critically compared with the Apostolic Writings, except of course the Tanach. But it is not at all sure whether there exists any real tension between the Tanach and the AW. This may well be only a matter of interpretation. And we should deserve to be called ungrateful fools if we dared to throw away parts of the very texts by which we rediscovered the life and work of the Jewish Messiah and the relevancy of Torah.

 

This second reason gives ground for introducing the axiom that the AW be not in conflict with or contradictory to the Tanach. This axiom of course cannot be proved — which is according to the nature of axioms — and thus shouldn’t be considered as something to be proved at all. It should instead be considered as a necessary religious presupposition of our faith and theology, and as a basic principle of interpretation. Why should this axiom be accepted? If we interpret the AW under the presumption of this axiom, it is assured beforehand that the AW can never be explained in a way that conflicts with the Torah, without having to take recourse to such drastic and irreversible operations as revising the text.

 

If under the guidance of this axiom there should appear difficulties that cannot be solved at all, we should follow the ancient Jewish rule for unsolvable problems and say that we wait for the return of Eliyahu the prophet to solve the difficulty in the future. In other words, we should live within the constraints of the historically accepted decisions concerning the canon of Scripture and not revise them, but wait until a new clearly divinely legitimated leadership will reappear in Israel and new light will be thrown on our difficulties.

 

A third reason why we shouldn’t attempt to revise the Apostolic Writings is that we cannot build in this question on the results of modern critical historic research. We can never be sure enough of these results to allow them to interfere in such weighty matters as revising a sacred text, other than by means of textual criticism, which is a harmless manuscript discipline. However, to allow redaction criticism and other congenial disciplines to determine earlier “sources” or to detect “redactional falsifications” of later generations is useless in this question. It is not at all sure that these earlier and hypothetical sources indeed exist, and still less sure whether these sources are divinely inspired. There is nothing against inspired texts having sources and antecedents that were not inspired at all.

 

This third reason may be given a more fundamental and philosophic turn.

I think it a basic biblical thought that divine revelation not only occurred to make known to us the way of salvation, to lead us from this word to that which is to come. Revelation also occurred to give us a fundamental new orientation in this world affected by sin and its corruptions, an orientation that was gradually lost by mankind after the fall. That means that divine revelation is important for all domains of our life. If we have begun to return to the Torah we may already feel the force of this principle. By implication divine revelation is also relevant for the life of the sciences and for scholarship in all its domains. The Bible affords us basic orientations not only in matters of theology, but also in physics and geology, (natural) history, economics, and so on. A proper domain of scholarship can only to its own harm consider itself as “autonomous”, as independent from the divine revelation contained in Scripture.

 

It is easy to see from this that if we allow a special science or domain of scholarship to criticize Scripture, we inadvertently elevate that domain of learning to a position of indepence from Scripture. And above that, we give this special science a religious status, because we elevate it above the central documents of our religion. That means that in reality by so doing we don’t criticize religion or Scripture by science or scholarship at all.  No, we criticize religion by means of another religious instance, a domain of learning that is was elevated by ourselves to a pseudo-religious status — and in this manner was turned into a pseudo-science as for instance the evolution theory. Such an elevation of “science” above Scripture is essentially nothing else but apostasy  and idolatry.

 

From the foregoing we may detect why the slogan of the Reformation: Scriptura sola — properly understood — is still important for us. The Reformers didn’t say by this slogan that religion had to entirely free from tradition and human authority. They knew quite well that this wasn’t possible. By their “sola Scriptura” they wanted to free Scripture from a specific train of tradition: Roman church tradition. They didn’t knew that they had to interpret Scripture in the light of Jewish tradition. They had just the intuition that the Roman tradition was wrong, and that is was to be removed. They wanted Scripture to speak for itself. That was their point. I think that this message of the Reformers is still relevant for us and for keeping our religious freedom. We have to avoid two forms of religious absolutism: the absolutism of Papal and Church authority on the one hand, and the absolutism of Orthodox Rabbinic authority on the other. Both are incompatible with a truly messianic lifestyle. The one forces us to give up the Torah, and the other forces us to renounce Yeshua and the Apostolic Writings. We cannot subject to either tradition. This of itself implies that our only sure refuge to escape these absolutisms is the Written word. It is all we have in our hands and our only safeguard against all attacks of the enemy. It can be a great comfort for us to know that it was also the only safeguard of our Lord and Saviour in his temptation by the evil one (cf. Mt. 4:1-11).