"Not Subject to the Law of God?"
Part 7. Historical Reality Concerning What Yeshua and His Followers Believed
To better understand the faith that the Bible teaches, we need to go back to the time of Yeshua and Paul. First century Judaism was dominated by a group called the Pharisees whose affairs and leadership were both supported by, and limited by, the Roman government.
The first issue that must be addressed is the term "Pharisee" itself. A modern dictionary (46) gives two definitions:
Our western culture equates #1 above with #2. Pharisees are "the bad guys," and the beliefs they held were wrong too. After all, didn't "Jesus" call them hypocrites, evil, sons of snakes, etc.? Unfortunately, this view is the product of hundreds of years of anti-Jewish bigotry and stands in contrast with the facts of history and the Bible
Typical examples of Christian teaching in this area can be found in the works of the famous apologist and author, J. Dwight Pentecost, in his famous book, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. In showing how Yeshua taught different doctrine than the Pharisees, and instructed the people to follow His teachings and not theirs, Pentecost supports his argument with the words of two other Christian writers:
Pentecost, quoting J.W. Shepard writes:
"Specimens of these discourses in the Mishna and Gemara (the two sections of the Talmud) show that they were dull collections of disjointed comments on many subjects. Their teachings were narrow, dogmatic, second hand, having no freshness, force, or power to move the heart to emotion or the will to action ... The sermon of Jesus quite to the contrary, with a swift intuitive insight pierced to the depths of the human heart, stirring the concience and moving the will to action. ... Such words of grace fell from His lips, spoken in such a gracious manner, that the world said: "Never man spoke as this man."
Pentecost, quoting Frederick Farrar writes:
Much has been written lately in exaltation of the Talmud. Now the literature to which the general name of Talmud is given, occupies twelve immense folio volumes; and it would be strange indeed if out of this vast encyclopaedia of a nation's literature, it were not possible to quote a few eloquent passages, some beautiful illustrations, and a considerable number of just moral sentiments which sometimes rise to the dignity of noble thoughts. But what seems to me absolutely indisputable, and what any one may judge of for himself, is that all that is really valuable in the Talmud is infinitesimally small compared with the almost immeasurable rubbish heaps in which it is imbedded. (47)
Let's make it clear -- Pentecost, Shepard and Farrar leave no doubt as to the Christian position on the Talmud (the teachings of the Pharisees). They all agree that:
For centuries the Church has held this opinion of the Talmud. Historically, whenever there has been Jewish persecution at the hands of Christians, "Talmud bonfires" were often a common part of the events.
There is a two-fold problem with the common Christian opinion of the writings of the Pharisees:
The Talmud is indeed the quintessential piece of Pharisaic literature, most of it predating Yeshua. Examining some of its teachings and comparing them to the words of the Messiah, (48) we find something quite contrary to what Christianity teaches:
|Teachings of YESHUA the Pharisee (Summaries in italics)||TALMUDIC Teachings of the Pharisees (Summaries in italics)|
|The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. - Mark 2:27||Rabbi Jonathan ben Joseph said: For it is holy unto you; I.e., it [the Sabbath] is committed to your hands, not you to its hands. - Talmud: Yoma 85b|
|Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. - Matthew 25:45||One who betrays his fellow, it is as if he has betrayed God. - Tosefta Sh'vuot, ch. 3|
|Insulting someone is like murder.- Matthew 5:21-22||He who publicly shames his neighbour is as though he shed blood.- Talmud: Bava Mezia 58b|
|But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. - Matthew 5:28||One who gazes lustfully upon the small finger of a married woman, it is as if he has committed adultery with her.- Kallah, Ch. 1|
|That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. - Matthew 5:45||Rabbi Abbahu said: The day
when rain fails is greater than [the day of] the Revival of the Dead,for the Revival of
the Dead is for the righteous only whereas rain is both for the righteous and for the
wicked - Talmud:
|Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. - Matthew 6:1||In the case of the recital of the Shema, since everybody else recites, and he also recites, it does not look like showing off on his part; but in the case of the month of Ab, since everybody else does work and he does no work, it looks like showing off.- Talmud: Berachot 17b|
|But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. - Matthew 6:3||What kind of charity is that
which delivers a man from an unnatural death? When a man gives without knowing to
whom he gives. and the beggar receives without knowing from whom he receives. - Talmud:
|But when ye pray, use not
vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their
||If one draws out his prayer and expects therefore its fulfilment, he will in the end suffer vexation of heart, as it says, Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. - Talmud: Berachot 55a|
|Do not worry about where your food will come from tomorrow, or your drink. - Matthew 6:25-31||Rabbi Eliezer the Great declares: Whoever has a piece of bread in his basket and Says. What shall I eat tomorrow? belongs only to them who are little in faith. - Talmud: Sotah 48b|
|Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. - Matthew 6:34||A parable: [They were] like a man who was kept in prison and people told him: To-morrow, they will release you from the prison and give you plenty of money. And he answered them: I pray of you, let me go free today and I shall ask nothing more! - Talmud: Berachot 9b|
|Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. - Matthew 5:34-37||A righteous yes is a Yes; a righteous no is No. - Talmud: Bava Batra 49b|
|At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. - Matthew 11:25||Rabbi Johanan
said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to
fools and children. - Talmud:
|And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. - Matthew 5:29-30||Come and hear what was taught: Rabbi Tarfon said, If his hand touched the membrum let his hand be cut off upon his belly. But, they said to him, would not his belly be split? It is preferable, he replied, that his belly shall be split rather than that he should go down into the pit of destruction. - Talmud: Niddah 13b|
|But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. - Matthew 23:8||Shemaiah used to say: love work, hate acting the superior, and do not bring thyself to the knowledge of the ruling authority. - Mishnah: Avot 1:10|
|Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. - Matthew 24:44||Even as R. Zera, who, whenever he chanced upon scholars engaged thereon [I.e., in calculating the time of the Messiah's coming], would say to them: I beg of you, do not postpone it, for it has been taught: Three come unawares: Messiah, a found article and a scorpion. - Talmud: Sanhedrin 97a|
|Yeshua taught in a parable
that they can please the king (God) by pleasing one another. - Matthew 25:40
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. - Matthew 25:40
|Rabbi simeon said: if three have eaten at one table and have not spoken thereat words of torah, [it is] as if they had eaten sacrifices [offered] to the dead, for [of such persons] it is said, for all tables are full of filthy vomit, [they are] without the All-Present. But, if three have eaten at one table, and have spoken thereat words of torah, [it is] as if they had eaten at the table of the All-Present, blessed be he, as it is said, this is the table before the LORD. - Mishnah: Avot 3:3|
|Love your enemy. -
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; - Matthew 5:43
|They who are insulted but insult not back; who hear themselves reproached but answer not; who serve out of love and rejoice in their affliction--of them it is written in Scripture: They that love God are as the going forth of the sun in its might. - Talmud: Yoma 23a, Gitin 36b, Shabat 88b|
|Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. - Matthew 5:23-24||If a man said, "I will sin and repent, and sin again and repent", he will be given no chance to repent. [If he said,] "I will sin and the Day of Atonement will effect atonement", then the Day of Atonement effects no atonement. For transgressions that are between man and God the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for transgressions that are between a man and his fellow the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if he has appeased his fellow - Mishnah: Yoma 8:9|
A comparison of the verses in this table (which is by no means exhaustive) reveals;
How then do Christian teachers and authors get away with such false statements as the ones quoted by Mr. Pentecost?
For one thing, who is going to challenge them?
Christians have no need to, as they are comfortable being fed whatever comes from the pulpit that supports what they're told to believe. Jews who do not follow Yeshua certainly have no desire to build a case that supports His Messiahship. Who does that leave to tear away the cloak of deception? Fortunately, God has a remnant, and truth has a way, albeit slowly, of finding its way into view.
Yeshua was a Pharisee
Referring to Yeshua as a Pharisee would sound utterly ridiculous to just about any Christian. Unfortunately, this shows how far removed Christianity is from the historical reality of the Bible, the Messiah and the faith of His earliest followers.
Yeshua did criticize some of the Pharisees for not practicing what they preached, for hypocrisy, and for making the "fences" they placed around the Torah greater than the Torah's commands themselves. (Though there is nothing inherently wrong with making such "fences" as Yeshua did this Himself.) What Christians don't understand is that vehement criticism was common between the various factions within Pharisaism, and was considered a normal part of discourse.
For instance, the Pharisees themselves noted that not all among themselves were good, in fact saying there were "seven types of Pharisees." (49) As for Yeshua calling some of them names such as "sons of Satan," this was not unfamiliar dialogue among religious Jews at that time. The same term was used by the disciples of Rabbi Hillel to describe a disciple of Rabbi Shammai, just before Yeshua's time. (50)
It is critical to note that Yeshua never rebuked the Pharisees for teaching Torah correctly, a good example being Matthew 23:23. Here Yeshua says to them, "It's fine if you want to add things to your lives that you feel bring you closer to God." (Tithing on dill and cumin were not required by Torah). But He then says, you should keep what the Torah says is required first, then do these optional things." Yeshua did not tell them to stop doing Torah -- He told them to do it right.
Yeshua not only quoted and supported Pharisaic teaching, as seen in the chart above, He also upheld the religious authority of the Pharisees. He told the people to obey the Pharisees, as they "sat in Moses' seat," meaning their authority came from God. (Matthew 23:1-3)
When Yeshua spoke, He often was expressing His opinion on an existing interpretation of the Scriptures, supporting someone else's opinion. Much of Judaism's doctrine was "worked out" before Yeshua's time by the Pharisaic schools of Rabbis Hillel and Shammai. For instance, in Matthew 7:12, we find His famous "golden rule":
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."
Yeshua is reiterating what Hillel had taught years before:
"What you do not like, do not do to anyone else; this is the whole Torah and everything else is explanation." (Babylonian Talmud, Shabat 31a)
In most cases, Yeshua upheld the teachings of Hillel (who was the grandfather of Gamliel, who instructed Paul). Hillel's opinions were actually considered more "liberal." On rare occasion, such as His ruling on divorce (Matthew 5:31), Yeshua upheld the teachings of Shammai, which taught more to what may be called "the letter of the Law."
Examples of where Yeshua agreed with Hillel are found in all four of the Gospels (51)
|Critical of tithing of plants grown only for seeds||Matthew 23:23||Ma'asrot 4:5-6|
|Healing by faith on the Sabbath was allowed.||Mark 3:2-4||Tosefta Shabat 7:14|
|Reached out to sinners and taught them||Luke, Ch. 15||Avot D'Rebbe Natan 3:1|
|Allowed the handling of an item on Sabbath for which there was no need||John, Ch. 5||Betzah 26b|
The evidence is overwhelming. The Talmud, when compared to Scripture, shows that Yeshua upheld its Pharisaic teachings. Scripture shows He also upheld the Pharisaic authority in religious matters. When properly understood, (bias aside) His criticism of the Pharisees was within the framework of Pharisaic discussion with them as they were always critical of themselves. (This could best be called "a family argument" - the Talmud is loaded with such a wide array of opinions -- it is known as "arguing for the Kingdom," or, "arguing for the cause of HaShem [God].)
History and the Bible show that Yeshua identified Himself as a Pharisee. In fact, when the Pharisees went out to question John the Baptist about who John was, he said that one among THEM (the Pharisees) was the Messiah to come (John 1:26-27).
Yeshua was a Jew, a rabbi and a Pharisee, who wore tzitzit (Numbers 15:37-41), always upheld Torah, often quoted Talmud, and was Orthodox in His practices.
Is this the "Jesus" of Christianity?
Sha'ul (Paul) was a Pharisee
Returning to Paul, (properly named Sha'ul), he also read, understood, taught, and wrote about the Hebrew Scriptures and the Hebrew Messiah from a Pharisaic Hebrew mindset. Paul was personally taught by Gamliel -- a Pharisee and the head of the Sanhedrin -- probably for the purpose of taking over the Sanhedrin's leadership, which would have made Paul the equivalent of "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."
Paul said he was a "Hebrew of Hebrews," a term that means he was not a Hellenistic Jew (Jews that had largely abandoned much of the Torah in order to be "more accepted" in the Greek/Roman culture they lived in). Scripture shows that none of this changed when Paul became a believer -- he remained a Torah observant rabbi and a Pharisee until the day he died. Twenty years into his ministry for Yeshua, he still identified himself as a Pharisee. (Acts 23:6, 26:5) Once you shake off the anti-Jewish mindset that "Pharisee = bad," then the supposed conflict vanishes.
All of this creates a serious problem for those who wish to understand Paul's epistles today.
How can a Christian, reading Paul's letters, in the 20th century westernized, anti-Torah culture and religion that he has been raised and taught in, understand the deep meanings of Second Temple-period Jewish religious texts, written by a first century Rabbi, Pharisee and advanced Torah expert?
And you wonder why Paul sounds so confusing, hard to follow, and even contradictory to many people who read him. For instance, in the Christian Bible commentary, "The Daily Study Bible Series; the Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians," by William Barclay, it says of Galatians 3:19-22:
"This is one of the most difficult passages Paul ever wrote, so difficult that there are almost three hundred different interpretations of it!" (52)
I would suggest that there are 300 interpretations not-grounded-in-Torah.
Make that 301 with Barclays. He goes on to say that God gave the law for the sake of transgressions. True, but then Barclay says what this means is, "... where there is no law there is no sin. A man cannot be condemned for doing wrong if he did not know that it was wrong." (53) This is a nice sentiment, but not what the Torah, or Yeshua or Paul teaches. God provided sacrifice to make atonement for sins done in ignorance of Torah, thus showing there was sin in ignorance to the Law that needed atoning for. Paul supported Torah when he taught that those ignorant of the Law stand condemned with those aware of it (Romans chapters 1-3).
Oddly enough, in the same Galatians commentary by Barclay, he correctly states that,
"... we have to remember that Paul was a trained Rabbi, an expert in the scholastic methods of the Rabbinic academies. He could, and did, use their methods of argument, which would be completely cogent to a Jew, however difficult it may be for us to understand them." (54)
Peter warned that Paul was hard to understand. Peter also wrote that there would be those who would twist Paul's words to mean something wrong. What kind of people would do that? Peter said these are lawless men (2 Peter 3:17). By "lawless," did Peter mean people who were without Roman law? Of course not. Lawless, in this religious context (understanding Paul's writings and other Scriptures correctly), refers to being without God's Law - the Torah. Peter is saying that those who twist Paul's writings are those who don't have (know/follow) Torah. They will approach these letters, in (often willful) ignorance, and incorrectly interpret them.
This is the legacy of the Christian church. As early as 187, the Christian Bishop Iraneus counted twenty different varieties of Christianity. By the year 384, Epiphanius counted eighty. (55) The lack of grounding in Torah allowed for every heresy to creep in under the guise of "love" and "liberty." The "New Testament" Scriptures warn about this in several places. Of course, no group who thinks they are "right with God," (especially if they are the "dominant voice") would consider themselves to be the false teachers spoken of in these texts.
CONTINUE TO PART 8
Part 1 - The Christian View of "the Law"
Part 2 - The Hebrew View of the Law/Torah and Salvation
Part 3 - What does the "New Testament" Teach About the Torah and Salvation?
Part 4 - Christianity's Difficulty with "the Law"
Part 5 - The Confusing Christian view of the Believer's Relationship to Torah
Part 6 - How Did the Christian View of the Torah Originate?
Part 7 - Historical Reality Concerning What Yeshua and His Followers Believed
Part 8 - Clarifying the Believer's Relationship to Torah
Part 9 - Is This All Really That Big a Deal?
Part 10 - Concluding Thoughts & Footnotes
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