Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Messiah and His Miracles

The Conflict over the Oral Law

The Damascus Gate in Jerusalem
We now examine Messianic righteousness and compare it with Pharisaic righteousness.
In contrast to Pharisaic righteousness, Messianic righteousness had a narrow gate.  Only those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah could enter.   His followers were on a firm foundation: “Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock”.[1] 

Messianic righteousness was a narrow way, a way of faith and love. 

A way of faith: “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”.[2]  

And a way of love: “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”[3]; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”[4].

Stage of Interrogation (Continued)

Returning now to the stage of interrogation, delegates from the Sanhedrin were required to observe the life and ministry of the claimant, and if they thought any action or teaching was questionable they could voice their concerns.  When dealing with Jesus of Nazareth, the objections of the Sanhedrists were almost exclusively in the area of the oral law, with questions concerning the Sabbath the most frequent, since they had given ‘Sabbath keeping’ such a high profile.  The fourth command of the decalogue had been expanded by hundreds of additional rules and regulations regarding Sabbath observance to cover most eventualities.  For example, the Shabbat section in the Mishnah begins with the detail of those acts of transporting objects from one domain to another, some of which violate the Sabbath.  It reads:

1:1 A. [Acts of] transporting objects from one domain to another [which violate] the Sabbath

(1) are two, which [indeed] are four [for one who is] inside,

(2) and two which are four [for one who is] outside.

B.How so?

I    C. [If on the Sabbath] the beggar stands outside and the householder inside,

D.[and] the beggar stuck his hand inside and put [a beggar’s bowl] into the hand of the householder,

E. or if he took [something] from inside it and brought it out,

F. the beggar is liable, the householder is exempt.

II  G.[If] the householder stuck his hand outside and put [something] into the hand of the beggar,

H. or if he took [something] from it and brought it inside,

I.the householder is liable, and the beggar is exempt.

III J. [If] the beggar stuck his hand inside, and the householder took [something] from it,

K. or if [the householder] put something in it and he [the beggar] removed it,

L. both of them are exempt.

IV M. [If] the householder put his hand outside and the beggar took [something] from it,

N. or if [the beggar] put something into it and [the householder] brought it back inside,

O. both of them are exempt.[5]

Jesus condemned this legalism with the words, “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”[6]  At the time of Jesus, questions as to what is proper on the Sabbath constantly occupied the minds of the legalists.  If a Pharisee was asked, “Why did God make Israel?” it was likely he would have replied, ‘To honour the Sabbath’.  In Pharisaism, the Sabbath was personified as the Queen of Israel and the Bride of YHWH.

Each of the synoptics records the incident when Jesus’ hungry disciples plucked the ears of corn to provide sustenance.   Since it was on the Sabbath, the investigating Sanhedrists raised it as an issue: “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”[7]  The Pharisees themselves would not normally walk through a field in case they accidentally uprooted a wayward stalk of grain, thereby becoming guilty of reaping on the Sabbath.

Jesus responded to the question by giving pertinent examples from the T’nach.  The first was of David who, when in need, ate of the bread that by law was reserved for the priests. The second was of the priests themselves whose work substantially increased on the Sabbath because of the higher number of offerings.  Neither the actions of David, nor the activities of the priests, received the disapproval of the interpreters of the law. Jesus took the first example from the period of David’s rejection, when the officers of a dying dynasty were hounding him. The selection of this event seems to suggest that Jesus knew already that the Sanhedrin would officially reject Him.  The second example related to the killing of sacrificial lambs in the Temple as sin offerings, a parallel of some significance.   However, the coup-de-gras was the claim of the Messiah that, “the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath”;[8] again driving home the point that He was more than Messiah.  By this time, it was clear that Jesus was not going to support the Pharisees and endorse the oral law. 

While the delegation involved in assessing His Messianic credentials were mostly Pharisees, there were others on the Sanhedrin that had an interest in the investigation and decision.  They were the Chief Priests - Sadducees who rejected the immortality of the soul, and attributed all human activity to free will and none to providence. Because they did not believe in the resurrection, they expected neither reward nor punishment after death.  Therefore, with no restraint placed on their actions by their religious beliefs, they exercised power, not for the good of the nation, but for their own individual gain. Influenced by Greek culture, they cultivated good relations with Rome.  They were not interested in any Messiah, other than one who would improve their power base in the nation.  Jesus rejected their Epicurean lifestyle, their corrupt ‘business’ practices and their defective doctrines.  At the beginning of His public ministry, He upset more than just the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple.  He had made it clear that if He were confirmed as Messiah He would ‘clean up’ the Temple, and Annas, Caiaphas and the chief priests could expect to lose their lucrative business.  This meant that Jesus would not get their support!

More Next Time

[1] Matt.7.24
[2] Matt.5.30-33
[3] Matt.5.44
[4] Matt.22.37-40
[5] Shabbat 1.1 (Mishnah)(translated by Jacob Neusner – see Bibliography)
[6] Matt. 23:24
[7] Matt.12.2; cf. Mk.2.24; Lk.6.2
[8] Matt.12.8; cf. Mk.2.28; Lk.6.5

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Messiah and His Miracles (Continued)

The Conflict over the Oral Law (Continued)

It is proper and pertinent to draw attention to the phrase, “but I say to you”. The Messiah chose His words with great care, because He was formally announcing what was opposite to the teaching of the Tanaim and therefore unacceptable to the Pharisees.  The oral law, identified in the Bible as “the tradition of the elders”, relied on precepts handed on from one generation to another.  For example the Mishnah records the words of R. Joshua: “I have a tradition from Rabban Yohanan b. Zakkai, who heard it from his master, and his master from his master, as a law revealed to Moses at Sinai”.[1] But in the case of Jesus He was standing on His own authority as Messiah.   Furthermore, in His office as Messiah He was declaring that He had the authority to interpret the law.  There is also, in this phrasing, that element which implied deity, for the sub-text is that He was the giver of the law and therefore needed none other beside Himself to interpret it.

The sermon began with consideration of the inner life.  The blessed are the poor in spirit, the ones that mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart and those that hunger and thirst after righteousness.  Chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel returns to the theme of the inner life.  For example, the matter of giving alms: “When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”[2]  Then the matter of praying: “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father … in the secret place”.[3] Then the Messiah turns to the subject of fasting: “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place”.[4]  

These were declared in sharp contrast to the hypocritical righteousness of the Pharisees that emphasised outward observances, hence the warnings.  In respect of alms-giving: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So … do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honoured by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.[5]  And regarding praying: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”[6]  And then in respect of fasting: “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”[7]  The actions of the hypocrites were, according to the Messiah, designed only to impress others.

Who are the hypocrites Jesus had in mind?  At this time, He identified, by implication, the Scribes and Pharisees, those guardians of the oral law, but after His official rejection, He named and shamed them: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honour Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me”“.[8] Then the seven times repeated, “woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites![9] There the Lord described them as fools and blind guides.  On occasion, He coupled the Pharisees with the Sadducees;[10] and sometimes with the Herodians,[11] indicating that they too were hypocrites

In the same discourse, Jesus taught that Pharisaic righteousness had a wide gate.[12]  As has already been mentioned, they taught that all Israelites have a share in the world to come.[13]  Yet, even they would exclude some.  “And these are the ones who have no portion in the world to come: He who says, the resurrection of the dead is a teaching which does not derive from the Torah, (2) and the Torah does not come from Heaven; and (3) an Epicurean.”[14]  This section effectively excluded the Sadducees.  A later inclusion seems directed at Jesus, “and those who whisper over a wound and say, ‘I will put none of the diseases upon you which I have put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you’ (Ex. 15:26)”.[15] Notwithstanding the exceptions, Pharisaic doctrine pronounced almost all Jews ‘safe’, it had a gate wide enough to take almost every Jew ever born.

Jesus further taught that Pharisaism was a broad road – only outward conformity was required.  However, it was a way of works, done publicly, which would only bring the praise of men.[16] It was a way that seemed right but led to destruction.[17] The man that followed the way of the Pharisees would have built his house on sand, a foundation that could not hold it. Paul, the great expositor expressed it thus: “they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God”.[18]

The Pharisees were also guilty of judging, finding specks in the eyes of others, when they had planks in their own eyes.[19]  The condemnation pronounced by the Messiah was absolute. They claimed to speak for God but were, in fact, false prophets.  They claimed to be the shepherds of Israel but were guilty of decimating the flock like wolves.[20] They pretended to be righteous people, living righteous lives, and bearing righteous fruit, but were, in fact, corrupt trees bearing evil fruit.[21] They practiced lawlessness,[22] an amazing charge considering that they imposed additional laws on the population.  Implicit in the condemnation of the Messiah is the understanding that the imposition of the oral law undermined the Torah.

More Next Time

[1] Eduyyot 8.7 A (Mishnah)
[2] Matt.6.3,4
[3] Matt.6.6
[4] Matt.6.16
[5] Matt.6.2
[6] Matt.6.5
[7] Matt.6.16
[8] Matt.15.1,7,8
[9] Matt.23.13,14,15,23,25,27,29
[10] Matt.16.3
[11] Matt.22.18
[12] Matt.7.13
[13] Sanhedrin 10.1.A (Mishnah)
[14] Sanhedrin 10.1C,D (1),(2),(3) (Mishnah)
[15] Sanhedrin 10.1.F (Mishnah)
[16] Matt.6.2,5,16
[17] Matt.7.13
[18] Rom.10.3
[19] Matt.7.1ff
[20] Matt.7.15ff
[21] Matt.7.17
[22] Matt.7.23

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Messiah and His Miracles (Continued)

Conflict over the Oral Law (Continued)
(2) The Sermon on the Mount

Jesus addressed the teaching of the Pharisees in the Sermon on the Mount.  They taught that apart from certain identifiable renegades, all Israelites “have a share in the world to come”.[1]  Therefore, to be born a Jew was sufficient qualification for entry into the coming kingdom.  This is why the Jews of Jesus time would fall back on the defence, “we are Abraham’s children”.[2] The doctrine of the Pharisees was not designed to provide entrance into the kingdom of God, but rather to provide a righteousness that would gain status in the kingdom of God.  It was a righteousness based on works with no regard to faith.  The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7, is the teaching of the Messiah in contra-distinction to the teaching of the Sanhedrists.  His main thrust is to encourage true righteousness, and reject hypocritical righteousness.  The key text is, “I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven”.[3]  His position is clear. It is not enough to be born a Jew. And hypocritical, Pharisaic righteousness does not count.  Pursue another kind of righteousness: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”[4]

This discourse of the Messiah included examples of the oral law which the Pharisees obeyed with outward, mechanical obedience, which were then contrasted with what is really required - a heart  obedience to the true Torah.  “It was said by them of old time”, or “it hath been said”, are the formulae used to introduce the oral law.[5] 

Matthew 5.21-26 gives the first comparison: “You have heard that it was said (the oral law) to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’”  The Scribes and Pharisees taught that you were only guilty when the act was committed, but Jesus said, “I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”.  Jesus taught that murder is premeditated and that the sin is committed when the act is planned.  God marks the premeditation, therefore Jesus taught, “agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.”   In other words, murder in the heart will count against you at the bar of God.

The second comparison is in vv.27-32:  “You have heard that it was said (the oral law) to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery’”.  The Scribes and Pharisees taught that you were only guilty when the act was committed.  “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.  Jesus taught that adultery is also premeditated and that the sin was committed when the act was planned.   Therefore, deal with lust quickly – metaphorically pluck out the eye and cut off the hand – lest at the bar of God it drags you down to hell.  This, of course, is the context of the Messiah’s word on divorce, for He continued (first quoting the oral law), “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.[6]  The desire of the adulterer to put away his wife is the context of this word of the Messiah designed to protect a very vulnerable group in Jewish society.

Jesus gave three more examples contrasting the righteousness of the oral law with true righteousness.   The first of the three, it is better to have heart obedience to God than the outward performing of vows (vv.33-37). The second, it is better to have a generous heart when dealing with your fellow man, rather than follow legalism and seek “an eye for an eye”.  The third example then challenged His hearers to rise yet higher still and follow the example of the Father and “love your enemies”.

More Next Time:

[1] Sanhedrin 10.1 (Mishnah)
[2] cf.Matt.3.9; John 8.33; Lk.16.24
[3] Matt.5.20
[4] Matt.6.33
[5] Matt.5.21,27,33,38,43 (KJV)
[6] Matt.5.31,32