Jesus & Judaism

(2) Jesus

and Judaism


The Jews displayed an exalted belief in God and a commendable practical understanding of moral behaviour based on the teaching in the Law and the prophets. Their religion far surpassed that of surrounding nations and should command our respect. Jesus, himself Jewish, taught his followers to live according to the principles underlying the Law and the prophets.

Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.                                                          (Matthew 5:17-19)

It might be thought from this that Jesus endorsed the teaching and practice of the religious leaders of his day. But he added:

... I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

                                                                                    (Matthew 5:20)

Basic to Jesus’ teaching was the ‘Golden Rule’: Treat other people as you would like to be treated. He saw this as the essence of God’s intention in the Old Testament.

Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.                                                 (Matthew 7:12 RSV)

Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets.

                                                                        (Matthew 7:12 GNB)

For this reason Jesus objected when he saw the Law applied in a manner which overruled the principle of caring for other people.


Exceeding the Righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees

Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath day because doing good to others is a more important principle than simply not working. He did not mind being touched by people who were ill because he regarded showing compassion as more important than ritual cleanliness. He moved among outcasts like tax gatherers and prostitutes. The Pharisees objected:

“Why does your teacher eat with such people?” Jesus replied, Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ ”         (Matthew 9:11-13 GNB)

Jesus showed a concern for people which seemed conspicuously lacking among the Pharisees who opposed him. By his actions and his teaching he rejected many of the rules taught by the religious leaders, such as attitudes to vows, to ritual washings and to the manner of keeping the Sabbath. Jesus did not criticise Judaism as such, but the way in which the Law was understood and applied by many of those in power.

He emphasised the spirit rather than the letter, the attitude behind the action, not merely the action itself. His hardest words were reserved not for those who found the Law difficult to keep but for those who, by insisting on their rigid standards of interpretation, did not come to God acceptably themselves nor allow others to reach Him.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.                (Matthew 23:13)

Jesus endorsed the teaching of the Law and the prophets, but he saw beyond the interpretations made in his own day and opened up for Jews and Gentiles alike “a new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20).


Jesus Spoke with Authority

After the major exposition of his teaching in Matthew 5-7, it was observed:

... when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.                                                                    (Matthew 7:28-29)

We believe that Jesus as the Son of God spoke with God-given authority, revealing God’s will by his example and by his teaching. He lived a sinless life, showing God’s original intention for the human race before sin entered the world. In the context, therefore, of Jesus’ rejection of the applications made by the scribes and the Pharisees, his attitude towards women merits particular study.

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