This eleventh installment brings us to time of Jesus — and explains how the Jews attempted to justify their human traditions.
WE CONTINUE with the story of the Pharasaic doctrines. Their teachings represent by far the major part of Judaism and its beliefs in Jesus' day. The other sects were of much less prominence during the time of Christ, and after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the other sects virtually disappear from Judaism. The most important denomination to study is Pharisaicism — the heart and core of Judaism. We found in previous chapters that the Jews originally used Scripture to interpret Scripture. This was and is the only method to use for a proper understanding of God's Word. We today are told to use this very method if we are to understand the true doctrines of God. See Isaiah 28:9, 10. With the introduction of the so-called traditional laws of the elders by the Pharisees, a NEW method of teaching had to be used in order to teach these new laws. The Scripture could no longer be used to teach the new traditional laws for there was no indication of them in the Word of God. The Jews therefore adopted what has become known as the "Mishnah-form."
The Mishnah-Form of Teaching
The word "Mishnah," in Hebrew, means literally "second!" The Mishnah-form of interpretation means "the second-form." The true Scriptural form was to the Jews the "firstform" or the one used by Moses and the prophets. But all of the traditional laws of the Pharisees were accepted by appealing to the new Mishnah-form. When the Mishnah-form was used, it was not necessary to appeal to Scripture for proof; the authority of the teacher or teachers who issued new commandments independent of Scripture was assumed sufficient to consider them to be the Word of God.
Mishnah-Form of Interpretation Used Sparingly — At First!
The first use of the Mishnah-form by the Pharisees was in their acceptance of the so-called traditional laws the customs inherited from Hellenism. The Pharisaic leaders were forced to recognize these new customs as proper religious practices, for they knew the people would not give them up. The Pharisees did not first invent the Mishnah-form and then use it to teach the traditional laws. Just the opposite occurred. The acceptance of the new customs from Hellenism, without any Scripture proof, brought the Pharisees to realize they were teaching IN A NEW FORM NOT PREVIOUSLY USED. The Pharisees recognized that they had begun to use a new method of teaching by accepting the traditional laws without Scripture proof. "FINDING NO CONVINCING PROOFS FOR SUCH LAWS IN THE BIBLE, THEY TAUGHT THEM INDEPENDENTLY OF SCRIPTURAL PROOF i.e. IN THE MISHNAH-FORM" (Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays, p. 229). Though all the Pharisees agreed that the traditional laws had to be accepted, many of them were reluctant about perpetuating the new form of teaching. Many of the early Pharisees thought that the use of the Mishnah-form was proper in admitting the traditional laws into the religious requirements of the Jews, but they did not want to see its indiscriminate use in the future. It was obvious that the use of this new form could bring about multitudes of new traditions — all of them without Scripture proof. The inevitable happened! Instead of the Mishnah-form being discarded after the traditional laws had been brought to the place of divine law, its use was increased. You will remember that Joseph ben Joezer, called "the Permitter," issued three new laws which were completely devoid of Scripture proof. These three laws were enacted by using the Mishnah-form! His laws were the first ones to be enacted after the traditional law became a part of Pharisaic belief. Lauterbach tells us that many of the Pharisees did not appear overly enthusiastic when Joseph ben Joezer introduced his teaching in the new Mishnah-form. "When he [Joseph ben Joezer] used new methods of interpretation for the first time, his colleagues hesitated to follow him..." (Rabbinic Essays, p. 228). The Pharisees knew full well that it was wrong to use the so-called Mishnah-form for making laws. Even though they had all accepted the customs of the heathen, by using this form, some of them balked at making further laws without any Scripture backing at all. However, this reluctance did not last long! The very fact that the Pharisees considered themselves as having the spirit of prophecy — having the power to teach the current will of God, gave them incentive to further utilize this new teaching occasionally, especially since they had the precedent of Joseph ben Joezer. Thus, after the time of Joseph ben Joezer, we find the Mishnah-form being used more and more as time progressed. These subsequent teachings of the Pharisees were termed "traditions of the elders." By the time of Christ, the Pharisees had developed the Mishnah-form so extensively that they were teaching for doctrines hundreds of commandments of men without the slightest backing of Scripture (Mark 7:7). "THEY INSISTED THAT THEIR DECISIONS MUST BE ACCEPTED AS AUTHORITATIVE..." (Rabbinic Essays, p. 235). If anyone would oppose them, such as the Sadducees or other groups, when the Pharisees taught their laws independently of Scripture proof, the Pharisees would haughtily maintain that they did not need the Scripture to back them up. They felt they could teach in the Mishnah-form any time they pleased and needed no Scripture proofs for their teachings. It is difficult to believe that men who claimed to be the servants of God would resort to such deductions. But the Pharisees did! And today there are many church denominations claiming to be Christian which do THE VERY SAME THING. There are millions of people, calling themselves Christian, who feel they do not have to keep the Words of the Bible, but rather must obey the words of their religious leaders who teach many doctrines completely contrary to the Bible. There are millions of people in the world today who are no better than the Pharisees. Many church denominations today use the same Mishnah-form of interpretation (not using the Scripture for their doctrines), just like the Pharisees did before and during the days of Christ. Christ condemned the Pharisees for teaching as true doctrines the commandments of men (Mark 7:7). The Jews then — as many now — knowingly taught their new laws and commandments "on the authority of their own reason and conscience, and not by seeking their authority in the written text [the Bible]" (ibid., p. 70). If we are the children of God, we had better be obeying EVERY word of God as Christ commanded (Matt. 4:4). The Pharisees had their chance to follow the Scriptures before they accepted the customs of the people that had been inherited from Hellenism. But to please the populace as a whole, they adopted the new customs and rejected the Word of God which commanded them not to do such things (Jer. 10:1-4). The Word of God was rejected, and in its place was instituted the religion of Judaism. Lauterbach tells us why the Pharisees had to practically abandon the older method of teaching that was used by Ezra, Nehemiah and the Sopherim — termed the Midrash-form. Notice what he says: "The exclusive use of the Midrash-form threatened to endanger the authority and teachings of the Pharisees. These apprehensions caused the Pharisaic teachers to make more extensive use of the Mishnah-form and in some cases even to prefer the same to the Midrash-form. For to give all the halakic teachings [new laws] of the Pharisees in the Midrash-form as based on Scripture WOULD HAVE EXPOSED THESE TEACHINGS to the attack of the Sadducees" (ibid., p. 231). In other words, the Sadducees, who were mainly priests and maintained that all teaching should be dependent upon Scripture, could easily counter the Pharisees as long as they taught in the Midrash-form of trying to appeal to Scripture. So, the Pharisees taught in the Mishnah-form which did not have to rely upon the Scripture for support.
Pharisees Used Scripture at Times
The Pharisees would, at times, it is true, make reference to certain scriptures that might seemingly give support to their independent teachings. In doing so, the Pharisees became notorious for their methods of forcing the Scripture to teach what they wanted it to teach. When they endeavored to use the Scripture, the Pharisees would, in almost every case, have to stretch the plain meaning in order to make it mean something entirely different from the actual meaning. Using this forced method of appealing to Scripture opened them up to further attacks by their opponents, and it is not surprising that appealing to the Scripture became unpopular with the Pharisees. "If the Pharisees arrived at a certain decision by means of a new interpretation, the Sadducees COULD ALWAYS dispute that decision by refuting the scriptural proof offered for it. IT WAS POSSIBLE for them to argue that the Pharisaic interpretation was unwarranted and that the scriptural passage DID NOT MEAN WHAT THE PHARISEES TRIED TO READ INTO IT... THE PHARISEES WERE WELL AWARE THAT SOME OF THEIR INTERPRETATIONS WERE RATHER FORCED, AND THAT THEIR OPPONENT'S ARGUMENTS AGAINST THESE INTERPRETATIONS WERE SOUND" (ibid., p. 232). This method of reading into the Scripture what it clearly did not teach was a method of interpretation inherited from Hellenism during the period of the religious anarchy. In a book published by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, entitled "Hellenism in Jewish Palestine," by Dr. Saul Lieberman, new, startling information confirms this. Dr. Lieberman states that the Greek Law Colleges taught their students the art of twisting the law according to the required aim and purpose (ibid., p. 63). During the religious anarchy, many Jews attended these schools. The Greeks took great pride in being able to make a law teach what in reality it did not teach. The Pharisees used this same method! "THEY [the Jews] WOULD CERTAINLY NOT HESITATE TO BORROW FROM THEM [the Greeks] METHODS AND SYSTEMS WHICH THEY COULD CONVERT INTO A MECHANISM FOR THE CLARIFICATION AND DEFINITION OF THEIR OWN TEACHINGS" (ibid., p. 64). Lieberman informs us that "RABBINIC LITERATURE ABOUNDS IN SUCH ARTIFICIAL AND FORCED INTERPRETATIONS" (ibid., p. 63). He cites an example from the Talmud that illustrates how forced interpretations of the Scriptures were used. An example is recorded in Sanhedrin 17a. It states that one prominent Rabbi insisted that no individual could be admitted to the Sanhedrin UNLESS HE WAS ABLE TO PROVE FROM THE SCRIPTURE THAT REPTILES WERE CLEAN. Of course, the Scripture plainly states that all reptiles are unclean (Lev. 11:41-42). The reason that such fallacious interpretations were required of the Rabbis was to see if members of the Sanhedrin were skilled enough in the Law, so they could, if necessary, twist the plain meaning of the Law to meet any requirement of a particular case. Another Rabbi, using the same illustration, thought that a man was not qualified to sit in the Sanhedrin unless he could give a hundred arguments for declaring a reptile clean or unclean. The Rabbis reasoned that a person who could accomplish such a task was qualified to sit in judgment over others, because, if necessary, adequate grounds for acquittal could be given in any case (ibid., p. 63). This deceptive skill enabled them also to EFFECTIVELY give false grounds for CONDEMNING THE INNOCENT, as they did in the case of Jesus Christ!
Pharisees Admit They Left the Teaching of Moses
The Pharisees were well aware that they were leaving the religious teachings delivered by Moses and the Prophets. Records are found in the Jewish Talmud which register many statements of the early pre-Christian Pharisees. Notice that their own words are a witness to the fact that they were well aware that they were leaving the ways of Moses. In a book of the Talmud called Temurah, in section 15b, we have the statement of one eminent Pharisee. It reads as follows: "All the teachers who arose in Israel from the days of Moses until the death of [last days of] Joseph ben Joezer STUDIED THE TORAH AS MOSES DID, BUT AFTERWARDS THEY DID NOT STUDY THE TORAH AS MOSES DID." The statement could hardly be plainer. This is a clear admission that the Pharisees, beginning with the days of Joseph ben Joezer DID NOT STUDY AND TEACH AFTER THE MANNER OF MOSES. The Pharisees, from this time (160 B.C.) stopped teaching the Word of God as had Moses! The Pharisees KNEW they were departing from the truth. They KNEW that they were enacting new commandments which had not the slightest hint of authority in the Law of Moses! Pharisaic Judaism, with its innumerable man-made commandments, was never the religion of Moses! Judaism represents a departure from the religion of Moses, and the Pharisees themselves candidly admit it. Let us notice another example from the Talmud. Another statement, in Yebamoth 72b, concerns one Eleazar, the son of Pedat, who happened to use a Scripture text to refute the personal opinion of his opponent, another Pharisee, on a particular question. The opponent, endeavoring to repudiate the son of Pedat in front of the other Pharisees, answered with these words: "I see that the son of Pedat STUDIES IN THE MANNER OF MOSES." Notice the plain implication here! If a person used the Scripture to prove or to disprove a particular point of doctrine, he was contemptuously accused of teaching IN THE MANNER OF MOSES — as Moses did! The Pharisees were fully conscious of the seriousness of the actions they were taking. They actually knew better! But they went ahead with their designs to teach without any Scriptural support. "The teachers who introduced the conception of the Unwritten Torah [the traditional laws]... WERE QUITE AWARE OF THE EXTREME GRAVITY OF THE STEP THEY WERE TAKING" (Herford, Talmud and Apocrypha, p. 113). No wonder Christ rebuked the Pharisees so strongly. "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." (Matt. 23:13) "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves." (Matt. 23:15)
Pharisees Enact Multitudes of Commandments Without Scripture Support
By the time of Christ, the Pharisees had made new commandments numbering into the thousands. They dealt with every phase of religious life among the Jews. Christ said that these COMMANDMENTS OF MEN were so burdensome that they were extremely difficult to bear, and in fact, many of them were impossible of fulfillment (Matt. 23:4). (We will see what some of these man-made commandments were, in later installments.) To show you how multitudinous they were, we need only turn to the Jewish Talmud. The English translation of the Talmud, which contains the major part of the independent teachings of the Pharisees, is a huge work numbering 34 volumes. Some of the laws recorded in the Talmud were enacted after the time of Christ, but the majority were in existence during New Testament times. Even the Judaism of modern times is based upon these Pharisaic laws. The modern orthodox section of Judaism adheres almost completely to these laws recorded in the Talmud.
The Rabbis, one — to four-hundred years after Christ, did not dare discuss the origin of the traditional laws nor how the Pharisees came to teach without using the Scripture. These later Rabbis knew quite well where the traditional laws had come from, but they did not want the lay people to know that these laws, which had been falsely taught to the lay people as coming from Moses, were not originally from Moses at all. It would have been disastrous to Judaism to teach that the traditional laws were really not from Moses and that the commandments of the Pharisees were nothing more than the commandments of men, because THE WHOLE FOUNDATION OF JUDAISM rested on these fallacious laws. Thus, among the 34 volumes of the English translation of the Talmud wherein are recorded these traditional laws, there is no mention whatever of how these traditional laws came to be accepted. "The history of the development of the Mishnah-form REFLECTS UNFAVORABLY upon the TRADITIONAL CHARACTER of the Pharisaic teachings. THIS IS THE REASON FOR THE TALMUDIC SILENCE ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF THE MISHNAH-FORM" (Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays, p. 248). From this, we should have no difficulty in understanding why thousands of Jews were brought to the truth of Christianity in the First Century. They were told the truth about the laws of the Pharisees by the true ministers of Christ. Once the Jews came to a knowledge of the truth in this matter, many of them abandoned the commandments of men for the truth of God. This is one of the main reasons the Pharisees, and the later Jews, had such an abhorrence for Christianity. The acceptance of Christianity meant the rejection of the teachings of the Pharisees in Judaism, and a return to God and His commandments. In the next installment we will see how the Pharisees thought to ANNUL some of the laws of God, when it suited their purpose.