The Council of My Nation – Law and Chosenness – Christian Objections to the Oral Law

E. Christian Objections to the Oral Law
We now move on to those Christian objections directed against the Jewish belief in the unwritten teachings of Moses. This group of Christians recognize the eternal validity of the Law of Moses. These people accept that the Law of Moses in its entirety is incumbent upon all Jews at all times. Their difference with Judaism lies in their rejection of those teachings of Moses which are not recorded in the Five Books. The basis of this rejection is rooted in the doctrines of the Evangelical Church which posits that there is no source of divine guidance outside of the pages of scripture. Evangelical Christians believe that all the instruction that God intended for mankind is contained within the pages of scripture.

The odd thing about this doctrine is that it is non-scriptural. There is no verse in scripture which states that all divine instruction must be contained within scripture to the exclusion of any other source. The principle that these biblicists consider axiomatic – “sola scriptura” (- solely scripture) – has no basis in scripture. On the contrary, the scriptures repeatedly emphasize the need for living teachers.

When Moses came down from the Mountain of Sinai, he had in his hands the two tablets upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:29), and nothing more. But God had told him much more (Deuteronomy 5:28). The rest of the commandments were told to the people orally. In fact, the two tablets were not available for public reading. They were stored in the Ark of the Covenant which was kept in the holy of holies – a place which was accessible to no one but the high priest on the Day of Atonement. During the 40 years under Moses’ leadership the process of studying the Law was intense. It was necessary to appoint a leader for every ten men in order to guide them in matters of the Law – necessitating more than 60,000 teachers for a nation of 600,000 (Exodus 18:13-26). During these 40 years the scriptures record only two personal violations of the Law (Leviticus 24:11, Numbers 15:32). It is clear that the nation as a whole observed the Law without having seen a written word. The observance of the Law took root amongst the Jewish people through the spoken word. It was only shortly before Moses died that the Five Books of Moses were put into writing (Deuteronomy 30:9). After the Law was put into writing the people still needed living teachers for guidance. The entire tribe of Levi – approx. 4% of the nation – were not given any agricultural lands (Numbers 18:24, Deuteronomy 18:1). They were supported by the tithes of the nation and their role was the teaching of the Law (Leviticus 10:11, Deuteronomy 17;9,18, 21:5, 33:10, 1Chronicles 26:32, 2Chronicles 17:8, 31:4, Nehemiah 8:7). When the nation strayed from God, the scriptures point to the lack of a teacher as one of the factors precipitating this period of disobedience (2Chronicles 14:3). The scripture tells us that the living teachers were influential components in the national waves of repentance (Judges 5:9, 2Chronicles 17:7-9, 31:4, 35:3, Nehemiah 8:7). The Evangelical notion, where the individual turns to his printed KJV bible for guidance and to nowhere else, cannot be supported by the same KJV bible. For scripture is unequivocally clear that the nation requires a class of living teachers in order to guide them in the application of the Law.

This Evangelical doctrine which rejects all extra-scriptural teaching, is untenable from another angle. The canon of scripture precedes scripture. In order to have scripture one must acknowledge the authority of the society that canonized and preserved the scriptures. The same body of people who gave us scripture, also give us the unwritten teachings of Moses.

If we are to dismiss the testimony of our nation concerning the Law, then why should we accept our nation’s testimony concerning scripture?

To the Jew, the acceptance of scripture and the rejection of the nation’s legacy is an exercise in self-contradiction.In order to fully appreciate the weight of these questions, it will be necessary to elaborate upon them at some length. We hope to be able to accomplish this in the second section of this work. For now we hope to address the specific arguments that Christianity presents in support of her rejection of the legacy of the Jewish nation.

1. The completeness of the Written Law
There are certain passages in scripture which at first glance seem to indicate that the written Torah is complete in that it contains the entirety of Moses’ teachings. These passages are to be found in the Five Books where a list of commandments is preceded by “these are the statutes and commandments” suggesting that those teachings that are recorded constitute the exhaustive list of that which the Jewish people must observe (Leviticus 26:46, Deuteronomy 4:44,45, 12:1). Similarly we find that when the prophets refer to the Law of Moses they speak of “that which is written in the book” – again implying that the “book” contains the totality of the teachings of Moses (Joshua 1:8, 23:6, 1Kings 2:3, 2Kings 17:37, 22:13, 2Chronicles 34:21). How can we then accept a teaching of Moses that is not recorded in the Five Books if the scriptures seem to indicate that the Five Books contain all of Moses’ teachings?

This Christian objection is rooted in a misunderstanding of the role of the unwritten teachings of Moses. The Five Books of Moses are indeed complete in that they record every single one of the commandments that God gave us through Moses. The unwritten teachings of Moses do not introduce any laws that are not already transcribed in the Five Books. The role of the unwritten teachings is to define those laws and to preserve the spirit of those commandments that are listed in the Five Books.

The role of the Five Books of Moses can be compared to a teacher’s roll book or to a map. The name of every student will be recorded in the book and the name of every village will be transcribed on the map. Some descriptive comments may be appended to any of these transcriptions. But the teacher does not know the student unless he actually met the student, and the traveler cannot truly know the village unless he visits it. The roll book and the map are complete documents. Each records every item that ought to be recorded. But the knowledge gained by personal interaction with the individual students or with the geographical locations, give life and color to the words recorded in the respective documents.

The same applies to the legacy of the Jewish people. Moses speaks of the Sabbath in his Five Books.

But what is the Sabbath? What is the personality of the Sabbath and what is her spirit? (Psalm 119:24 indicates that each one of the commandments possesses a distinct character). Is it the Sunday of the Puritans, the Saturday of the Adventists, or the Shabbat of Rabbinical Judaism?

They all lay claim to the same name, but they are as far apart from each other as east is from west. It is the legacy of the nation which brings the Sabbath to life for us and helps us know her as we would know a friend.

We return to the objection presented above. Is the Five Books of Moses a complete book? It certainly is in that it contains all of the commandments of Moses. But the legacy of the Jewish people is still necessary to provide identification and to flesh out the character of each of the commandments recorded in the book.

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