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.