Zechariah Chapter XXVII
The Institution of the Sanhedrin is Further Evidence of an Oral Law
The precedent of a Sanhedrin or a council of seventy elders was set by Moses and confirmed by a "Skekinah" appearance at the public installation. The structure was not an addition of "the traditions of men" but was instituted under the direction of God. The group was initially privately set apart at Mount Sinai. Notice the following Scriptures:
(Ex. 24:1) And he said to Moses, Come up to the Lord, you, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off. These were the men who "saw God" but were not officially "ordained" there. That must be the meaning of the confusing detail in Ex. 24:11 where the seventy "saw God" but "upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand." They were appointed but not installed.
This council was later ratified and ordained by God to make decisions for the daily and ongoing life of the nation. The constitution, order, and method of succession of this group is not outlined in the Scripture. If it was God-ordained there must have been an oral explanation of its constitution. See the precedent of their ordained authority in the next verses:
(Num. 11:16) "And the Lord said to Moses, Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them to the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with you. 11:17 And I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take of the spirit which is on you, and will put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you bear it not yourself alone.
This installation was confirmed with the appearance of the "Skekinah" which all the people saw and which indicates divine approval of the institution.
(Num. 11:24) And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. (11:25) And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the spirit that was on him, and gave it to the seventy elders: and it came to pass, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.
Thus, the Sanhedrin was added under Divine command and with oral instructions from the Messenger of Sinai. The instructions for their order and succession, although oral, were as authoritative as the written Law of Moses. The Sanhedrin continued until and beyond the apostolic period. For our purpose of better understanding Zechariah and his immediate future, this means that when the "Great Synagogue" met in the Golden Age of the "Silent Years" it was the sitting of the Sanhedrin.
This means that the Sanhedrin carried forward with them a divine authority when they properly carried out their function. Therefore, when the Sanhedrin met as the Great Synagogue in the days of Ezra, when the Jewish nation was the undisputed Zion of God, " the apple of his eye," and the Sanhedrin closed the canon of the Old Testament, we would have to conclude that the closing of the canon was done under inspiration of Divine Authority.
Christians are actually aware of some of the oral laws which governed the Sanhedrin, which they have heard and perhaps repeated. Most preachers have quoted and transmitted the "oral law" to others. Just as the Jew they take the "oral law" for granted without demanding the source. For instance in the trial of Jesus, it is commonly understood that the Sanhedrin was not allowed to convene at night for a trial. The Law of Moses contains no constitution for the Sanhedrin. The constitution and conduct of the Sanhedrin was a part of the "oral law" given at Sinai and during the years of wandering. The Sanhedrin tried Jesus and found him guilty but did not pass a sentence until first light of the next day (Luke 22:66-71). Although they transgressed their own constitutional "oral law" by trying Jesus at night, they tried to keep the law by waiting until dawn to reconvene the Sanhedrin and render the verdict. Most Christians are aware of this transgression of the "oral law" by the Sanhedrin.
As we are attempting to show, the Mishnah is the compilation of traditions containing the "oral law," thus, the Mishnah should contain the legal procedures for trial of capital crimes, and it does. Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy--a capital crime. There would have been no doubt in the minds of the Sanhedrin that this was a capital crime. The procedure for the Sanhedrin to follow was preserved in the Mishnah, thus:"In non-capital cases they hold the trial during the daytime and the verdict may be reached during the night; in capital cases they hold the trial during the day time and the verdict must also be reached during the daytime. In non-capital cases the verdict, whether of acquittal or of conviction, may be reached the same day; in capital cases a verdict of acquittal may be reached on the same day, but a verdict of conviction not until the following day. Therefore trials may not be held on the eve of a Sabbath or on the eve of a Festival-day."*
* Mishnah: Sanh. 4:1
We will leave to the reader the many extensive conclusions that are possible on illegal procedures by the Sanhedrin in the trial of Jesus; and the implications of transgressing the timing of the trial and verdict set by the "oral law." The next day (although the day had legally begun at the preceding 6 P.M.) was the eve of the Sabbath, hence the hastiness in going to trial on the night before the eve of the Sabbath. They could not have held the trial the next day, Friday, which was the eve of the Sabbath, because they could not reach a verdict until the following day and that would be the Sabbath.
What we are attempting to show here is not how the Sanhedrin broke their own laws of procedure but rather the reality and validity of an "oral law," given by The God of Sinai at the same time that Moses was receiving statutes and judgements which were written down. The fact that Christians know the "oral law" just discussed is a confirmation of the existence of that law. They know the law but are not aware of the source. Most Christians are not aware at all of the content of the Mishnah. Most do not know that the Jewish sages did their best to preserve, in written form, as many of the oral traditions as possible and codify them, and by 180 C.E. produce a written document of the oral traditions which contain the "oral law" given on Mt. Sinai. This document is the Mishnah.
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