What often puzzles the novice reader of the New Testament gospel accounts is the open conflict that repeatedly took place between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders of the day. How could it be that Christ found such fault with their teachings—“beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees”—while at the same time acknowledging that the scribes and Pharisees occupied “Moses’ seat”? This apparent dichotomy has led many Christians to assume that the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees were in fact the first-century guardians of the revelation given to Moses at Sinai, and that Jesus opposed the religionists at every turn because He came to “nullify” the Mosaic Law and replace it with grace.
Clearly, such a position places Jesus sharply at odds with Moses. But was Jesus really in conflict with Moses—or did He have a particular axe to grind with those Jewish religionists who only made a pretense of following Moses? The fact is, most Christians naively believe that the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were the legitimate representatives of the “religion” of the Old Testament—a belief not supported by history or Scripture!
Fully upholding Moses and the written Torah, Christ stated: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). In one of His many encounters with the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus indicated that they were the ones in conflict with Moses, actually guilty of misappropriating the prophet’s name: “There is one who accuses you, even Moses…. And if you do not believe his writings, how shall you believe My words?” (John 5:45-47). Showing that they only made a pretense of following Moses, Jesus reproved them, saying, “Did not Moses give you the Law, and [yet] not one of you is [genuinely] practicing the Law?” (John 7:19). Moreover, on several occasions Christ upbraided the Pharisees for “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.” He said, “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, so that you may observe your own tradition” (Mark 7:7-9; also Matt. 15:3).
Is it possible that first-century Pharisaism—which, as this book will show, is universally acknowledged by Jewish scholars as having been the prototype of Rabbinical Judaism—did not at all reflect the heart and spirit of the Old Testament? Could it be that the true “religion” God revealed first through Abraham and then codified through Moses—which is actually a way of life defined by God’s laws and commandments—had over centuries been buried by sages under a mountain of Jewish tradition? And if Pharisaism was not reflective of the teachings of Moses and the Scriptures, then how did such a religion arise in Judah? How and when did the Jews lose sight of the simple Hebraic way of life defined by the Old Testament? That such fundamental differences existed between the teachings of Jesus and what the apostle Paul would later call the “Jews’ religion” (Gal. 1:13-14) begs the question: Was first-century Jewish religion a corruption of the ancient way of life God had given to the children of Israel through Moses? And what of modern-day Judaism—is it not simply a continuation of that same religious system of the Jews’ own devising?
In a rather telling comment, historian Paul Johnson writes that there “have been four great formative periods in Jewish history: under Abraham, under Moses, during and shortly after the Exile, and after the destruction of the Second Temple. The first two [under Abraham, then Moses,] produced the religion of Yahweh”—that is, the true way of life defined by God’s laws and commandments—“the second two developed and refined it into Judaism itself” (A History of the Jews, pp. 83-84; emphasis added). Johnson admits here that Judaism dates from the time just after the Babylonian Exile, and differs from what he calls the original “religion of Yahweh” formed under Abraham and Moses. Typical of scholars, however, Johnson suggests that Judaism is an improvement over the way of life given through the written Torah—as if God’s Law needed to be “developed and refined.”
As this book will show, this is precisely the carnal mindset that anciently led to the development of Judaism’s centerpiece—the so-called “oral law.” With a similar perspective, American rabbinical scholar Stephen S. Wise has stated, “The [Jews’] return from Babylon … [marked] the end of Hebrew-ism and the beginning of Judaism” (The Other End of the World, Roger Rusk, p. 182). Ernest L. Martin, widely recognized for his scholarly research on Judaism, writes: “History shows—and the Jews themselves admit—that their religion had drifted far away from the simple doctrines of Scripture, commonly called the ‘Old Testament.’ The Jews had modified God’s law and even instituted laws and commandments of their own which were, in many instances, diametrically opposite of the precepts of Moses” (Is Judaism the Religion of Moses?, p. 1; emphasis added).
Again, did Jesus really have a problem with Moses and the Law, or was He simply dealing straightforwardly with the hypocritical religionists of His day? To paraphrase Matthew 16:12, Christ might just as well have warned His disciples to “beware of the religion of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” identifying the precursor to Judaism for what it really was—a deeply flawed humanly-devised religious system. As this book will show, this Jewish system of religion evolved over centuries, based on a so-called “oral law” allegedly given to Moses along with the written Torah. Over time, this “oral law”—which Jesus called “traditions of men”—grew into a vast code of detailed rules and regulations. Ultimately, the “oral law” was published as the Babylonian Talmud—the undisputed authority for Judaism.
In Exploring the World of the Jew, John Phillips writes that while Jewish life had for centuries revolved around the written Torah, by the first century AD the Law had been “buried beneath vast accumulations of tradition and encrusted with enormous deposits of human interpretation. The Torah itself has been largely superseded in Judaism by the Talmud. The five books of the Torah can be written out in 350 pages. The Talmud takes up 523 books printed in 22 volumes” (p. 55; emphasis added).
Phillips adds: “The Torah is clear and concise, part of the inspired Word of God. The Talmud is wordy, rambling, argumentative, inconsistent, sometimes witty, sometimes boring, sometimes brilliant, sometimes inane. The laws of the Talmud constitute cold concrete poured over Jewish life and hardened by time into a rigid prison for the soul…. [For the Jew] the chief instrument of … blindness to biblical truth has been the Talmud” (pp. 55 and 57; emphasis added).
Michael Hoffman has spent decades researching the Jews’ religion. He concludes that “everything about Orthodox Judaism is either a distortion or a falsification of the Old Testament because it is based on … traditions that void the Old Testament…” (Judaism Discovered, p. 145). Jesus Himself noted that the Jews’ orally-derived traditions had a nullifying effect on the Scriptures (Mark 7:13). Arguing that Judaism only poses as the “religion” of Moses, Hoffman adds: “Talmudic texts can be minefields of deception and pits of derangement and bogus reasoning as befits those who would replace the Bible with their own authority. Most of the laws of the religion of Judaism have no biblical warrant; they contradict and nullify the Word of God” (p. 146; emphasis added). Indeed, Judaism’s predecessors had to violate the Scriptures in order to reject Jesus—for the Scriptures testified of Him as the Messiah (John 5:39).
As this book will demonstrate, it was precisely because of the Jews’ denial of the Scriptures as the exclusive revelation of God that the religion of Judaism developed. The prophet Hosea had already warned of those who would reject true knowledge (Hosea 4:6), and the apostle Paul appropriately described Pharisaic Jews as those who possessed a zeal for God, but one that was not based on true knowledge (Rom. 10:2).
Ultimately, it was the Jews’ rejection of Jesus that sealed their fate. With a hardness of heart that had long been prophesied, they would remain shackled to a humanly-contrived, burdensome “code of law”—a worksbased pseudo-righteousness (Rom. 9:31-33). Paul, however, makes it clear that the Jews’ unbelief will one day be resolved. He states that “God did not repudiate His people whom He foreknew” (Rom. 11:2). He goes on to reveal that a “partial hardening of the heart has happened to Israel” and that, in time, “all Israel shall be saved” (verses 25-26).
Emphatically, Judaism is the product of carnal thinking, developed by those who, as we will see, completely missed the spirit and intent of the written Torah. Without question, the idea that Judaism is the consummation of the “religion” of the Old Testament makes a mockery of Scripture and turns truth upside down. It’s time we understood—and righted the truth.