Jesus & 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.
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
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.
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.
you wish that men would do to you, do so to them: for this is the law and the
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.