Zechariah Chapter XXVIII

Further Evidence of "Oral Law" Extending Through the New Testament Period

Chapter XXVIII

The Lost Books

There are authoritative statutes and laws given before the ten commandments were written on the stone tablets on Sinai. These laws may have been later written in the Pentateuch but we do not have the book as Moses wrote it.

Ex. 24:3 "And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord has said will we do. (Ex. 24:4) And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. (Ex. 24:7) And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people; and they said, All that the Lord has said will we do, and be obedient."

As already said, we do not know what happened to this book. It is not the Pentateuch; however, it is called the Book of the Covenant in Ex. 24:7. There are other books of similar nature mentioned in the Scriptures. These are not as important to our discussion, however, which only is an attempt to show the validity of the existence of an authoritative "oral Law." This "oral Law" would have been nailed to the cross with the other statutes that were given on Mt. Sinai since they were dependent on and were extensions of the Law of Moses.

New Testament Examples Of Christians Observing the "Oral Law"

Albert Barnes' notes on Mt. 15:2 outline the general belief of Jews that the "oral law" accompanied the written law.* He, as other commentators, seems doubtful about the validity of that "oral law" because Jesus spoke against the "traditions." He calls the "Talmuds" (sic) a record of these "pretended laws." But Jesus did not condemn the concept of "oral law" itself, only the addition of precepts that took precedence over the Law of Moses and negated God's Law. The multiplicity of obscure and sometimes trifling judgments in the Talmud confuses, but does not abolish, the validity of an original "oral law" which was respected by Jesus and the apostles when it functioned as it was designed. It was designed to facilitate performing the ordinances of the Law of Moses in the proper "manner." It was also designed to suppliment the narrative with accurate historical facts that had been left out of the Old Testament.

* Barnes, Albert; Barnes Notes on the New Testament; Complete in one volume; Kregel Pub. Grand Rapids, 1966. pg. 71

There are other incidents recorded in the New Testament, besides those of the Passover and the trial of Jesus by the Sanhedrin noted above, giving strong evidence that Christian Jews took for granted that an authoritative "oral law" accompanied the written law. James the brother of Jesus of Nazareth and Paul the apostle were both practicing Jews while at the same time recognizing that the ordinances of Moses and the customs handed down in the "oral law" were not to be bound on the Gentiles. Evidences of Paul's personal continuation in keeping the Law and the oral traditions have caused consternation in Christian commentators because it seems to be a contradiction of Paul's clear understanding that the Law of Moses, and, therefore, the accompanying "oral law," was abrogated by the crucifixion of Jesus the Nazarene. It should not cause that difficulty. It is simply a fact that Christianity was still living in a Jewish House and the "bands" had not yet been broken between Judah and Israel. See notes on Zec. 11:14.

Paul's Education in Oral Law

That Paul was well schooled in the "oral law" is attested to by his own writings. He speaks of himself as being very Jewish. He says he was "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee." (Phip. 3:5)

The leading Pharisee in that time was Gamaliel. He is an important link in the chain of transmission of the "oral law." He is spoken of by Luke as being a well known doctor of the Law who made decisions that moderated the angry Sanhedrin when the apostles were brought before them. He is called, in Acts 5:34, "a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people." He would have been a teacher of the "oral law."

The apostle Paul speaks of himself as an expert in the "oral law" in Gal. 1:14, where he says he "profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." He had gone as a child to Jerusalem to study and advance under the tutelage of Gamaliel, the chief Rabbi of his day according to the Mishnah.* Paul said in Acts 22:3 "I am verily a Jew, born in Tarsus, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers." Under Gamaliel he did not study the Law of Moses but, as he says, "the law of the fathers" and "the perfect manner" of the "oral law" in which he says he was "advanced beyond his equals."

* Mishnah: Aboth 1:16

Gamaliel, under whom the Apostle Paul studied, is one of the links of the chain which carried forward the "oral law" from Mt. Sinai to the Mishnah. He is listed in the Mishnah as having received the "oral law" from Hillel and Shammai, who lived just before the beginning of the Christian era. He then passed it to his son Simeon who, as an old man, passed it to Judah, the Patriarch, the compiler of the written Mishnah.* Thus there is only one generation between the "oral law" which was current in the apostolic period and its being recorded in the Mishnah.

* Mishnah: See Aboth; 1:1 to 2:2

Paul's Vow Governed by Oral Law

Paul's personal observance of both oral and Mosaic ordinances are recorded in Acts. One occasion speaks of the vow he had which could only be completed by offering a sacrifice, and some say, presenting the shorn hair, at the Temple in Jerusalem.* In Acts 18:18 it is recorded that, "Paul then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea; for he had a vow." The Mishnah passages cited above imply that the hair was brought with the prescribed offering. This may have been for evidence that the vow had actually been performed for the prescribed number of days. In the case mentioned next in Acts 21, which is not the same vow as in Acts 18, the hair would have been shorn at the end of seven days, which was probably the minimum number of days required for the person who accompanied those having made the original vow, and therefore their hair would be with them to be presented in the Temple.

* Mishnah: Kidd: 2:9; and Naz: 2:5,6 and 4:5,7.

Paul and James Collaborated to fulfill Oral Law

In Acts 21 James asks Paul to dispel the false rumors that circulated about Paul speaking against the law and his not personally keeping the Mosaic Law and the oral traditions associated with it. James said that informants say, (what James knows to be untrue,) "that you teach all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs." The accusation therefore includes not keeping either the Law of Moses or the "oral law." James wanted this false rumor squashed and what better way than for Paul to publicly help men complete the vow they had on them. Here is where the "oral law" is validated. James asks Paul to perform the necessary rituals, which are not recorded in Moses Law and could only have been learned by Paul "at the feet of Gamaliel." Hervey, in his comments, confirms this when he says,

"what was the particular form by which a person who wished to associate himself with others under a Nazaritic vow did so (sic) is not known; nor how long before the expiration of the vow such association must be made."*

Thus only the "oral law" would guide Paul in the ritual observance he agreed to perform. James says that if Paul did this it would prove "that those things, whereof they were informed concerning you, are nothing; but that you yourself also walk orderly, and keep the law." To "walk orderly" means to follow the order and manner of the "oral law," and "keep the law" means to also keep the ordinances of the Law of Moses. If Paul could not do both in a good conscience he would not have done so. Thus both Paul and James, as well as Luke, confirm the valid authority of the existing "oral law." However James adds: "touching the Gentiles who believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing." But Paul and James observed both Moses and the "oral law."

* Exell & Spence; op. cit.; Hervey, A.C., Commentary on Acts, Vol 18; pg. 174

Paul Used Oral Law to Suppliment Old Testament History

In 2 Timothy 3:8 Paul calls the names of the magicians who opposed Moses before Pharoah. These names come only from Oral Law or Oral Tradition and in 2 Timothy Paul and (for those who believe in inspiration) the Holy Spirit verified the accuracy of the Oral Tradition in the following words. 8Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
Jamison Fawsett and Brown quote Antenicean Theodoret who saw the same thing:

"'Jannes . . . Jambres--traditional names of the Egyptian magicians who resisted Moses (Ex 7:11,22), derived from "the unwritten teaching of the Jews" [THEODORET]'"

Therefore Theodoret knew of the existence of the Oral law.

After Christianity left the "Jewish House" the "oral law" was altogether forgotten. To the Jew, however, who has not accepted the Messianic mission of Jesus, the "oral law" was continued even though the Mosaic law was discontinued out of necessity brought on by the destruction of the Temple. For fear that the "oral law" would be lost the sages searched the collective memory of the nation, after the destruction of the Temple, for every conceivable judgement and anecdote that would shed light on the "manner" in which the Law of Moses was observed. Thus every Rabbinic precept, precedent, or principle, no matter how contradictory it might be to the rest, was collected so that nothing would be inadvertently lost, and then the collection was committed to written documents. The resulting codification of the oral traditions, which are extensions of the Law of Moses, was completed in Tiberius in the late second century and is called the Mishnah, which simply means the "teaching." The next chapter attempts to give a short history and explanation of the Mishnah.

Return to Commentary Directory

Go Back to Moellerhaus Homepage