[b-hebrew] oral Torah

Harold Holmyard hholmyard at ont.com
Fri Jun 23 19:04:32 EDT 2006

Dear John,

HH: None of these references below have to imply an oral law as 
something that exists in addition to Scripture and has equivalent 
authority. However, I can see why you might have looked at some verses 
that way.

> Here is a small, and my no means exhaustive list of references to an 
> Oral Law:
> *Deuteronomy 12:21* (212) /If the place which the L ORD thy God hath 
> chosen to put his name there be too far from thee, then thou shalt 
> kill of thy herd and of thy flock, which the L ORD hath given thee, as 
> I have commanded thee , and thou shalt eat in thy gates whatsoever thy 
> soul lusteth after./

HH: This can refer back to food laws about which animals of the herds 
can be eaten.

> *Malachi 2:7* (941) /For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and 
> they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the 
> L ORD of hosts./

HH: The Levites were God's appointed instructors in the law. They also 
served as those who gave decisions from the Lord in difficult legal 
cases. The problem with such cases, requiring the Lord's assistance at 
times, was that some lack of clarity existed as to how they should 
proceed. This could be due to the particulars of the case. This fact 
does not necessarily suggest that new law was being promulgated. 
However, it might be that priests at the central worship site, and 
national judges, had a better knowledge of the Mosaic law than did 
people living in the towns.

> *Psalm 44:1* (601)* */To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, 
> Maschil. We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, 
> what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old./

HH: This is not oral law. This is simply people giving witness to what 
they had seen and heard of God's activities, or to what they had learned 
from others who had.

> *Psalm 78:1-5* (619) /Maschil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my 
> law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. {2} I will open my 
> mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: {3} Which we 
> have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. {4} We will not 
> hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the 
> praises of the L ORD , and his strength, and his wonderful works that 
> he hath done. {5} For he established a testimony in Jacob, and 
> appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they 
> should make them known to their children:/

HH: The word "law" at the beginning should be "instruction," really, as 
it is in many modern translations. The psalm itself is the "law," and it 
is not law at all but instruction through historical witness. Here are a 
few translations:

HCSB Ps 78:1 My people, hear my instruction; listen to what I say.

NRSV Psa. 78:1  Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
        incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

NIV Psa. 78:1  O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my 

> And for those who are Christian:
> *2 Thessalonians 3:6* (1179) /Now we command you, brethren, in the 
> name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every 
> brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he 
> received of us./

HH: Paul spoke at a time when the New Testament had not been written in 
full or collected. Of course, oral instruction was key. But whatever was 
essential was put into the New Testament to be passed on to succeeding 

> Another concept which is valuable is that to debate a topic doesn't 
> equate to contempt or rejection of the topic of debate. Just like many 
> debate the meaning and application of the Bible, this doesn't mean 
> that the parties involve reject the Bible. Just because Jesus debated 
> about the Oral Law does not equate to His rejection of it.

HH: But he did reject oral tradition whenever it intertfered with 
obedience to the word of God. So tradition was not sacrosanct but was 
open to criticism:

Matt. 15:3  Jesus replied,  "And why do you break the command of God for 
the sake of your tradition?

Matt. 15:6b Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your 

Matt. 15:9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught 
by men.'"

Matt. 15:12  Then the disciples came to him and asked,  "Do you know 
that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?"
Matt. 15:13  He replied,  "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not 
planted will be pulled up by the roots.
Matt. 15:14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a 
blind man, both will fall into a pit."

> Upon reading the Mishnah/Talmud, one quickly realizes the intensity to 
> which the Pharisees debated among themselves about the Oral Law. These 
> debates can get quite heated. One that comes to mind is the debate 
> between the school of Hillel and Shamia over the recitation of the 
> Shema. The texts records the school of Hillel stating that those who 
> follow the halacha after the school of Shamia will have bad things 
> happen to them! Now mind you that these are all Pharisees who hold to 
> the existence and validity of the Oral Law.
> So just because you have Jesus debate with other Pharisees doesn't 
> mean that Jesus rejected the Oral Law, nor does it mean that Jesus 
> wasn't a Pharisee Himself. Also the similarities between Jesus' 
> teachings and Hillel teachings doesn't necessarily mean that Jesus' 
> saying were attributed to Hillel, but rather that maybe Jesus was part 
> of the Hillel flavor of Pharisaism - or rather one of the sub-sect 
> which predominantly followed Hillel over Shamia.
> 2nd Temple Period Judaism should really be called "Judaisms" because 
> of the richness of the polydoxy of the time. Hence the conflicts 
> between Jesus and the Pharisees doesn't necessarily equate to the 
> traditional understanding that Jesus was an anti-Pharisee, but rather 
> a Pharisee Himself engaged in the type of religious debate which was 
> commonplace to occur amongst the Pharisees themselves.

HH: If Jesus had been a Pharisee, the NT would have told us, as it did 
with Paul. Jesus warned others against the Pharisees, and he warned the 
Pharisees to their face, though he loved them as he loved everyone:

Matt. 3:7  But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to 
where he was baptizing, he said to them:  "You brood of vipers! Who 
warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

Matt. 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that 
of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not 
enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matt. 16:12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard 
against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the 
Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matt. 23:13  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you 
hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You 
yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Matt. 23:15   "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you 
hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and 
when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Matt. 23:23   "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you 
hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices -- mint, dill and cummin. 
But you have neglected the more important matters of the law -- justice, 
mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without 
neglecting the former.

Matt. 23:25   "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you 
hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they 
are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Matt. 23:27   "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you 
hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the 
outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything 

> Actually the issue of the Oral Law is pertinent to the focus of the 
> forum - let me explain.
> The word <#BT> which is usually translated as "Sabbath" according to 
> the Oral Law can also be translated as week. Hence in regards to the 
> placement of Pentecost this becomes an important factor.
> Also in Amos 6:3 this word is usually translated as "seat" as in "seat 
> of violence" where the plain translation (and as it is translated in 
> the LXX) is "false Sabbath"
> So I guess maybe the topic of the Oral Law and Oral Tradition (both 
> Jewish and Christian) does have an important place in regards to the 
> translation of the text as translations are heavily influenced by both.

HH: It is true that translation is not immune to the influence of the 
theology of the translators. It is really unavoidable, to some degree. 
But currents of interpretation are not equivalent to an oral law from God.

Harold Holmyard

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