Zechariah Chapter XXVI
"Oral Law" and Traditions
The study of the Oral Law, from Sinai forward, was always a legitimate pursuit of religious students. However that part of God's revelation on Mt. Sinai became more important and mysterious to the growing academies during the "Silent Years." In fact it became paramount in their study and then the resulting traditions of men, growing out of attempts to extend the "oral law," often made void the law itself. This was Jesus' complaint. Jesus did not complain about the existence of the "oral law" itself; after all he created it. We will offer some discussion here to acquaint the reader with the concept of the "oral law" and hope it will help you to apply it to better understand the Judaism of the Golden Age and the new Judaism without the Temple.
In the Old Testament there are many references to historical events, stories said to be documented, details of the tabernacle, of Temple service, conversations that Moses had with God on Mt. Sinai, etc., that are referred to but not recorded in the Scriptures. These traditions that were shared orally were part of the oral heritage of the nation. Let us notice the facts that show "oral law" as being an accepted part of the lives of people mentioned in the Scriptures.
In the making of the tabernacle the size and shape of many items is not sufficiently described in Exodus to reproduce them; however God told Moses in Ex. 25:9, "According to all that I showed you, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all its instruments, even so shall ye make it." And again in Ex. 25:40 "And look that you make them after their pattern, which was shown you in the mount." There would have to be an oral description given to the workmen if they were to produce the items according to the pattern. The written description in the Pentateuch is not sufficient for reproduction of size and shape. This oral description is said to have been handed down to the next generation by the seventy elders.
Another example of insufficient information without an oral explanation is the preparation and observance of the passover. Keeping the feast according to a strict pattern would not be possible without an oral tradition of details not found Ex 12, Deut. 16, or elsewhere in the Mosaic record. The fruit of the vine, present in the passover, and drunk at the passover by Jesus, is not mentioned in the Mosaic record. Without an oral tradition the validity of using fruit of the vine or "tiyrosh" in the Passover could not be established. The tradition required four cups of wine at spaced intervals in the passover.* By drinking the fruit of the vine, which is still a part of Jewish observance, at the passover, Jesus confirmed the validity of the oral law.
* Mishnah: Pes. 10:1-7.
Unleavened bread and bitter herbs are mentioned, but what kind of herbs are not detailed in the Law of Moses. These are defined in the Mishnah.*
* Mishnah: Pes. 2:6.
In the Mosaic Law there are times that the word "manner" means "kind" or "like," as "no manner of blood" "any manner of beast" etc. There are other times when this word means "according to the prescribed custom." In this light, in Ex. 21:9, "after the manner of daughters," what is the "manner of daughters"? And in Lev. 5:10 "burnt offering, according to the manner," and in Lev. 9:16 "burnt offering, and offered it according to the manner;" In just what manner was the burnt offering offered? In Num. 9:14 "according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner of it," we have already explained that we have a record of the ordinance but not of the "manner." This clearly marks the presence of an "oral law" understood by Moses, the writer of the Book of Numbers. In Num. 15:24 the offering for the sin of ignorance has its own manner for the "drink offering, according to the manner." And in Num. 29 there is a different manner for a great many different kinds of offerings. What was the manner or prescribed form for the offering of these sacrifices? Some "manners" of course are given but not all. Only the additional explanation of the traditions that were given them by Moses would contain an authoritative explanation, to the priests by preceding priests, of the proper forms to perform and the "manner" to pass on to the next generation.
Thus there is much evidence that a coincident oral explanation existed to accompany the Law of Moses, and that "oral law" was handed down by those to whom it was committed.
Return to Commentary Directory
Go Back to Moellerhaus Homepage