The Oral Law and it's connection to Jesus
August 14, 2018
by Barry Fike
The Oral Law and its connection with Jesus
By Barry Fike
Most Christians are not aware of the Oral Law in Judaism. While we know about the Mt. Sinai experience and the Ten Commandments, the rest of the law that’s written down in Leviticus and the rest of the Pentateuch (first five books of the OT known as the written law), we are unaware of the commentaries that are written to comment on the Law in different social settings. As we looked at in my last blog, these commentaries are considered as sacred as the written law since they continue to elaborate and make cognizant the written law in a variety of social structure over a number of ages.
The names of these works commonly known as Oral Law are as follows:
Mekilta – (measuring vessel or a thing that is measured) an exegetical commentary on most of the book of Exodus.
Sifra – (a book) exegetical commentary on the whole book of Leviticus.
Sifre – (books) is rabbinical rulings and commentary on large portions of Numbers and Deut.
Even this didn’t exhaust all of the words that existed in the third century. There is also Gemara, which was the commentary on the Mishnah(an authoritative collection of exegetical material embodying the oral tradition of Jewish law and forming the first part of the Talmud). This allows us to know how they interpreted that particular passage, or how they saw it, and what they thought about it. The Gamara, plus the Torah, equaled the Talmud. There are two Talmuds- Babylonian Talmud - compiled by Jewish scholars in Babylon (completed 500 A.D.). This Talmud is a gigantic sea of information. It consists of 2 and a half million words spread over 5894 folio pages (10 ½ by 14”). Jerusalem Talmud – compiled by Jewish scholars in Palestine (400 A.D.). 574 folio pages and 10 times smaller than the Babylon Talmud. Today the Babylonian Talmud is the focus of Jewish religious education. Today to study it, or to be illuminated by it, is the goal of every young Orthodox Jewish man. The scholars of the Talmud are looked upon just as the hero is looked upon in the secular world.
One familiar with this material can see references in the Gospels to these works continuously. As we continue our study and eventually get into the text of the Gospels, this will be noted.
The Oral law is also divided into two divisions: Haggadah– (to tell or to relate) Parables, allegories, similies, homily, etc. This word comes from a root word which means to draw out or to tell. This is the non-legal portion of the Oral Law. Its purpose was not to state what was forbidden or permitted, what is pure or impure, etc. but it includes history, narrative, story, legend, fables, poetry, prayers, parables, proverbs, allegories, metaphors, hyperboles, analogies, similes, etc. As is stated about Jesus, “…and He did not speak to them without a parable.” Mark 4:34 This is not a legal textbook or legal digest but is moral and ethical instruction about personal faith and the ways of God! Jesus had all of this vast literature from which to draw and used it on a continual basis. He is the Haggadic teacher without peer! Remember, Haggadah is moral and ethical instruction about personal faith and the ways of God. It strives to teach man how to live in harmony with God and his fellowman. Its fundamental purpose is to reach out and to touch the heart of man in order that he might know the creator of the world and to adhere to his ways. In Jesus’ day, up to 70 A.D., the main concentration of the Rabbis was on Haggadah, and the common man loved Haggadah because of its practical nature. He was strengthened and encouraged by it. It was spiritual nourishment that fed his soul. The Rabbi that could draw the people to God that they might know his presence and feel his power was highly esteemed. People would follow such a teacher and many would crowd to him and follow after him because his parables were intimately related to the religious heritage, culture, language, agricultural life and social concerns of the Jewish people during the second Temple period. Being a master of Haggadah, Jesus’ masterful use of the parable helps to account for his popularity and success. Jesus’ parabolic teachings captured the imagination and the heart of the people.
The second division is called Halachah. Halacha (“to walk or to go) is the "way" a Jew is directed to behave, encompassing civil, criminal and religious law. Law, legal pronouncements/this was the way in which one is to walk and is used to refer to the whole legal system in Judaism. This includes the 613 written commandments of the Torah and all of the legal rulings and decisions of the Rabbis found in the Oral Law. Very seldom did Jesus have anything to say about Halachah. Only after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. did there come a renewed interest in Halachah because of the decisions dealing with the question, what do we do now that the Temple is gone?
Once one understands these divisions, it’s understandable that when Jesus is questioned by the lawyers and scholars of the law it’s a Halachaic question. Jesus would turn the tables on them (at times literally) and use more of a Haggadic approach making the question applicable to the common man rather than splitting hairs of theology in dealing with questions of eating grain and healing on the Sabbath. The reason for the public’s love of Jesus is because he made the law applicable on practical measures which is the reason for the exclamation: “The temple guards answered, “No human has ever spoken like this man.” John 7:46 At other times the general population would state: “He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Matt. 7:29 Jesus knew how to reach the Jewish populace of his day and time by using the resources available to any Rabbi of the first century. Haggadah was the tool and using it in relationship to the miracles he performed, and the example he showed them, he reached thousands of Jewish believers and deepened their faith in God, his kingdom, and the Messiahship that he claimed. As Jesus stated: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Matthew 15:24