Teaching as Torah the Talmud of Men

Okay, I know those probably aren’t the exact words of Jesus. (He wasn’t speaking English, after all.)

But I wonder if that’s what his listeners heard.

The Torah, as I recall from freshman Bible class, is the law given by God to Moses – much of it in narrative form. Then there’s the Tanakh, which recorded a lot of other oral traditions of law and history. There’s the Mishnah, a sort of commentary on the preceding. Finally, there’s the Talmud, a kind of super-commentary which was intended to illuminate and expand upon all of those teachings.

I don’t know whether all Jews see them as equal – and there are a lot of different views within Judaism – but there does seem to be a consensus that the Torah came from God and that good men wrote the Talmud. (In fact, I think that the Babylonian Talmud generally receives preference as older and more authoritative when a conflict with the Jerusalem Talmud is perceived.)

Probably some Christians somewhere make the same distinction between the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, but I’m not one of them. I believe in God’s inspiration through His Holy Spirit, and a deep purposeful truth within each volume of the Biblical canon.

What I don’t believe is that the messages within them all carry equal weight in our lives and our walk with God. And I don’t believe that the commentaries written about them carry equal weight – with each other, or with scripture. And I don’t believe that the articles written about the commentaries written about scripture … well, you get the picture.

So when we teach something – and we really pound the pulpit about it – is it generally something that is Torah or Talmud?

When we tell someone the story of Jesus; describe His compassion for others; repeat His teaching about our relationships with God and others; relate His sacrifice as the ultimate innocent for our guilt – do we really have to pound the pulpit? Isn’t The Story powerful enough that it persuades all by itself, though told with the gentlest of tone and the most timid of sociability?

And when we really want to persuade someone of our “rightness” on a particular question of doctrine that does not immediately “sell” itself by its intrinsic qualities, isn’t it then that we find ourselves proof-texting and cross-referencing and committing assault and battery on an innocent lectern?

Isn’t it then that we are tempted to generalize, exceptionalize, rationalize, extemporize and categorize? When the “truth” isn’t so simple, so obvious, so heart-wrenching and will-breaking?

Maybe that’s because what we’re defending is a tradition of men and not necessarily of God.

Jesus wasn’t fond of men’s traditions that took priority over – or contradicted – God’s teaching. He said it nullifies our worship. He said it puts our lips in a different segement of life from our hearts.

He said it was teaching the commentary as if it were the law itself.

That sounds like a really dangerous mistake to me.

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13 thoughts on “Teaching as Torah the Talmud of Men

  1. “Isn’t The Story powerful enough that it persuades all by itself”Amen to that. First off, thanks for the history lesson and I was thinking on similiar lines of what jettybetty said. I get confused myself, and can have a tough time drawing a line in the sand of what is from God and what is of man. How do you make the distinction especially when we form our traditions from our own interpretation of scripture?

  2. “Probably some Christians somewhere make the same distinction between the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, but I’m not one of them. I believe in God’s inspiration through His Holy Spirit, and a deep purposeful truth within each volume of the Biblical canon.”I stand squarely behind your right to your belief, all I ask is don’t send me to hell because I have not been convinced. I don’t believe you are one who would; but I also know there are many who would gladly do so. Inspiration is mentioned twice in the bible, and neither refer to the new testament, I am open to be convinced, by verse.

  3. Laymond, I believe at least one instance that you refer to is < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=62&chapter=3&verse=16&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">I Timothy 3:16<> … and I’m not so sure that Paul is restricting his definition of “scripture” to the Old Testament there. Peter, at least, felt that Paul’s letters were scripture (see < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=68&chapter=3&verse=16&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">2 Peter 3:16<> … and while this may not convince you, you can be absolutely sure that I will not send you to hell!(It’s not my job. There’s Someone much better qualified to judge than me, and I try very hard to leave it up to Him!)But, just as I don’t expect for the author of a book to put his or her byline on each paragraph or even chapter, I don’t expect the Holy Spirit to autograph each one in scripture. To me, the fact that the individual authors largely did not seek to be credited for their writing points to their humility and their desire for God’s Spirit to be recognized as the Author.jp and jettybetty … I’m going to try to carve out some time to address what I see as tradition and what is scripture … and why. (And you could probably do the same thing, and my list wouldn’t necessarily match yours, and quite likely God would still love us as His children and yearn to have us at home with Him.)But as a general rule, if scripture doesn’t directly address an issue, or leave a really clear principle that’s applicable to it, then an issue is <>extra-scriptural<>. Hopefully, more about that later.shannon, you have my deepest sympathy.Even though I work at and faithfully attend a church that is making progress in drawing nearer to God, I too sat through that sermon a little over a week ago.

  4. Keith-I was speaking of 2nd Timothy 3:16.2:Tim:3:15: And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.16: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:And;Job:32:8: But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.If we read 2:Tim:3:15 we see paul could only be talking of the Old Testament. He said from a child you have known the Holy Scripture. How could the letter just recieved have been known fron a child.? and therefore included in the scriptures known for many years?

  5. Because of the miracle of being able to listen on-line, I too sat thru the same sermon. Keith, your response was kind and loving, but very much to the point. Tradition comes from man, not from God. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!” He also told them the words of Isaiah applied to them “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men”. When you love your heritage more than you do the mission, something is wrong.Love you brother!DU

  6. This reminds me of J.D. Bales saying “That Bible I’ve been reading sure has shed a lot of light on this Commentary we all use.”

  7. Keith I wrote a whole post just for you on inspiration read it and show me where I am wrong- I love to read your blog you get right to the meat in the sandwich.

  8. Laymond, am I to understand that you believe that only Old Testament scripture is “God-breathed” or inspired; and that once Jesus began teaching, that is the only way that the Holy Spirit now inspires? Because that is a very interesting point of view. And disturbing.Hypothetically, one could use that point of view to discount anything said in the New Testament that was not a direct quote of Jesus because it would not be inspired by God. Anything extrapolated from Jesus’ teaching would not be inspired, and therefore could be viewed as not valid. It’s just be “wisdom.” And, well, my “wisdom” is as good as your “wisdom” or Paul’s or Peter’s, then – by that line of thinking.No, even if there were only two claims of inspiration in scripture (and I believe David’s psalms supply many, many more implications of it), just two would be enough to cover it for me.Why would God permit uninspired works to be included in the canon? Why would they be there if there were not God’s wisdom and its value in each one? I can’t believe God stopped working in people’s lives or for the preservation and promulgation of His gospel just a few years after Jesus ascended. I think He still works through us, inspires us, speaks through us – and while our words may not carry the same weight of value or inspiration, they contain the power to persuade peoples’ souls through the Story.

  9. I believe Christ in all he said, He told the Apostles he would guide them with a comforter in all things, I am sure that included the writing of the gospels.you wrote;Why would God permit uninspired works to be included in the canon? People ask the question “Why” about many things God allows. Things neither you nor I have the answer to. If we could always answer that little question “Why” we would make Solomon look like a nincompoop.

  10. I completely agree Keith.Christ does not offer a new start, but a new heart. He does not offer a new set of laws to keep, but the new heart He gives is stamped with the divine nature so that the born again one is predisposed to obey the law of God.Not many traditions move us toward God. Most move us away from Him.

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