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Is Judaism the Law of Moses? (part 14)

This fourteenth and final installment reveals why the Jews knew the Old Testament
was not to be all of Scripture — and why the Jews
rejected Jesus as the Christ when they knew better!



IN THE last installment we discovered I that Christ recognized the authority of the Scribes and Pharisees when they sat in "Moses Seat" — and that "Moses' Seat" represented the authority that God vested in Moses. After Moses, God exercised His authority in the Old Testament Church through judges, then high priests and finally the Sopherim, under Ezra and Nehemiah.

By the time of Christ, the authority in the Old Testament Church had been usurped by the Pharisees and scribes — who were mostly laymen, not priests. The priests, of course, performed the temple rituals, but the authority in the Church was exercised by others. Even though God did not choose the laymen to exercise the authority of His government over the people, He nevertheless allowed them to remain in office. And as long as they were allowed to remain "in Moses' Seat," they were to be obeyed when they spoke with authority.

The KEY to this enigma is made plain in Scripture. The scribes and Pharisees usually spoke in their own name — not in the name of Moses. That is why the New Testament constantly states that Jesus taught with authority, "not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:28-29). They did not teach with authority unless they came together as the Great Beth Din — the Great House of Judgment — to make binding decisions in Moses' name on the whole community. In other words, the authority vested in the scribes and Pharisees had nothing to do with the daily speculations of the scribes — which they knew they had no authority to teach. When the Great Beth Din had to make decisions for the entire community, Jesus told his disciples in the Old Testament Church: "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do . . ." (Matthew 23:2, 3).

But what if the scribes and Pharisees should err in a decision? Were the people to obey them then? Of course! "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do!" ordered Jesus! It was God's responsibility to judge those in the Great Beth Din, not the people's. The point is this: as long as God allowed them to exercise that authority, they were to be obeyed. If God removed them — as He later did, then the people were to follow that new authority which God installed in their place — to carry out His Government.

Now take an actual example of what did happen just before New Testament times — and notice what God required of His people!


Power to Bind and Loose

Those in Moses' Seat had authority to make binding decisions regarding the observance of Scripture commands. For example, in the Scripture is the command that every seventh year all debts are to be cancelled (Deut. 15:1-8). God specifically commanded that no one should refuse to lend to a poor brother when the year of release draws near (verses 9-10). But, about fifty years before the birth of Christ there were so many Jews disobeying this command that when the sixth year would come around, the poor people who needed to borrow money to bring in their crops (or buy goods) for that working year were forced to go without the necessary money. Virtually no one would loan out their money in the sixth year.

Because the majority of people who had money would not obey the spirit of the Law and love his neighbor properly (Deut. 15:9), the Great Beth Din temporarily suspended the necessity for all debts to be released in the seventh year.

This enactment was not for the benefit of the rich. It was for the benefit of the poor who needed to have, and could now borrow, the money in order to earn a living. As long as the Great Beth Din commanded such a decision it was as if Moses himself had made it. Even the disciples were obliged to obey this decision of the Great Beth Din, for Christ told them to obey all things whatsoever they bid you observe.

Such a decision, however, would not have had to be given by Moses. The reason should be obvious. Moses had both civil and religious power to command individuals to loan money to the less fortunate in the sixth year, if he thought it necessary. However, in the days of Christ, and just before, the civil jurisdiction was not in the hands of the Great Beth Din — the Romans were in control. Unlike Moses, the Great Beth Din had only religious authority over the people, not civil authority. And the Romans, who had no sympathy with the Law of God, favored the position of the creditor who refused to loan money in the sixth year. This prompted most of the Jews who had money to disregard the Law of God. Because the Great Beth Din had no authority to force the people to obey it, the Great Beth Din, for the sake of the poor who needed the money in the sixth year, temporarily suspended the release of credit in the seventh year until such a time in the future when they could regain their proper civil authority. However, the people who were desirous of serving God were encouraged to maintain this Law and voluntarily release their creditors.

This particular resolution of the Great Beth Din was not an independent teaching of the Pharisees or a commandment of men. Schurer tells us that this authoritative decision, among others, was "a registered declaration" of the type which "were deposited among the archives at Jerusalem" (The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, sec. II, vol. 1, p. 363).

The decisions from the Great Beth Din which affected national policy, such as the above decision, were officially entered in the authoritative archives in Jerusalem. These decisions were not the ordinary trivial commandments of the disagreeing schools of the Pharisees which voiced independent opinions, but were far more important — these were from Moses' Seat!

Take another example.

About four years before the destruction of Jerusalem, in about 66 AD., there were eighteen decrees issued by the Jewish Great Beth Din which became mandatory for all Jews to observe. These decrees — issued after great strife in the Court — were entirely anti-Gentile in every way. They demanded complete separation of the Jews from the Gentiles. See Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. I, p. 239.

One of these decrees made it a sin to offer a sacrifice to God on behalf of the Roman Emperor. This repudiation of the Emperor was tantamount to a declaration of war with Rome. And, four years later the Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

To enact the eighteen decrees against contact with the Gentiles, it became necessary for the leaders of both the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai to assemble together in order to make these decisions appear to have the authority of Moses. Either School alone did not have power to make such authoritative decisions for all Jews, they only had authority among members of their own groups. But, when the eminent scribes and Pharisees assembled in the capacity of the Great Beth Din, the decisions were reckoned as being from Moses' Seat and were mandatory for all Jews.

This situation is very similar to what God's Church faces today. There are some areas in the southern United States, and also in South Africa, where human governments prohibit whites from assembling together each Sabbath with Negro brethren. Today is little different from apostolic days just before the destruction of Jerusalem!


Government in the New Testament Church

Christ told the disciples even before His death and resurrection that among themselves they were to exercise God's government in His New Testament Church. Notice Matthew 18:15-20.

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church [the authorities in the Church]: but if he neglects to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

This was exactly the same procedure used by those Jews who were sitting in Moses' Seat — in the Great Beth Din. Remember how Christ said that the scribes and Pharisees who were sitting in Moses' Seat were binding upon the people heavy burdens which were grievous to be borne? (Matt. 23:4) Jesus' disciples did not seat themselves in this authority. Christ put them there because they had been tried and tested. They qualified to sit in positions of authority in the New Testament Church. Just like those in Moses' Seat, in the Old Testament Church, they were to have power to bind or to loose!

Notice another of Jesus' commands: "Again I say unto you, that if TWO of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that ye shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. FOR WHERE TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED TOGETHER IN MY NAME, there I am in the midst of them."

When the apostles heard Christ give that remarkable statement, they knew exactly what He meant! He was clearly telling His ministers that they were to carry out Christ's Government over the Church.

The wording of Matthew 18:18-20 is in itself proof of this. The Jews leave us historical evidence which shows that it took TWO or THREE members of the Great Beth Din to form a quorum before any binding decision could be made. See Baba Bathra, 160a. The bare minimum to form a quorum was TWO, but the Great Beth Din always endeavored to have at least THREE present before binding decisions were enacted. Christ gave His disciples this same requirement.