Jesus and the Oral Torah: Did Jesus Wear Phylacteries?

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The Gospels attest to the fact that Jesus had tassels on the four corners of his outer robe (Matt. 9:20; 14:36; Mark 6:56; Luke 8:44). Although there is no explicit evidence in the Gospels, we have reason to suggest that he also may have worn phylacteries.

Jesus and the Oral Torah: Tithing

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Tithing is a biblical commandment set forth in Leviticus 27:30-33, Deuteronomy 14:22-29 and Deuteronomy 26:12-14. Most Christians would probably agree that Jesus observed this commandment since the New Testament clearly states, “having been born under the Torah, he committed no sin” (Gal. 4:4; 1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15). However, the question is, did Jesus observe the commandment to tithe as it was interpreted in the Oral Torah? The biblical commandment was to tithe only on grain, wine and oil. The sages extended this commandment to include tithing on “anything used for food.”

Matthew 5:17: “Destroy” the Law

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When a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture, he would say, “You are canceling (or, uprooting) the Torah!” In other words, “You are so misinterpreting Scripture that you are negating or canceling part of it.” Needless to say, in most cases, his colleague strongly disagreed. What was “canceling” the Torah for one teacher was “fulfilling” it for another.

Jesus and the Oral Torah: The Unutterable Name of God

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The original understanding of the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exod. 20:7), was that one must keep one’s vows when swearing by God’s name. Israel’s ancient sages eventually came to interpret this commandment to mean using the LORD’s name lightly or frivolously. To avoid the risk of employing the divine name irreverently, the sages ruled that one should not utter it at all.

Jesus and the Oral Torah: Blessing

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Jesus apparently attached great importance to the Oral Torah (unwritten in his day), and it seems he considered it to be authoritative. When Jesus admonished his disciples to “do and observe everything they [the scribes and Pharisees] command you” (Matt. 23:3), he was referring to the Pharisees’ oral traditions and interpretations of the Written Torah. The Written Torah itself could not have been in question, for it was accepted by all sects of Judaism, and Jesus himself said, “Heaven and earth would sooner disappear than one ‘yod’ or even one ‘kotz” from the Torah’ (Matt. 5:18).

Jesus and the Oral Torah: Written and Oral Torah

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Torah has always been the focus of rabbinic teaching. Unfortunately, the Hebrew word “torah” is usually translated in English simply as “law,” which has created the impression that it has to do only with commandments. This is not the case at all. The Torah was given by God as a guideline for a whole way of life. A better translation would be “God’s instructions.”

Jesus’ “Harvest” Saying

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Although Christians often associate parables exclusively with Jesus, rabbinic literature reveals that this form of expression was well established as an instructional tool among Israel’s first-century teachers. The fact that Jesus used parables to teach is evidence that he was a characteristic sage functioning in a world of sages. Jesus’ efforts were directed toward bringing more and more people under God’s reign—or, in the rabbinic parlance he used, getting them into the “Kingdom of Heaven.” That was what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 9:37-38. Although he used different words, Jesus stressed the same points as the rabbinic saying in m. Avot 2:15: 1) although difficult, the work of the Kingdom of Heaven is all-important, and, 2) God is interested in the urgent completion of the work.

Was Jesus a Confirmed Bachelor?

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The commandment “Be fruitful and multiply” has always been strongly emphasized in Judaism, both today and in the first century. It is therefore surprising that Jesus, who in every other way observed the commandments, did not marry—at least the New Testament gives no indication that he had a wife or children.