Jewish Literature in New Testament Times
The Purpose and Heart of the Law
What was the Purpose of the Ten Commandments?
has many purposes for everything He does. Some of His purposes are obvious, such
as revealing His holiness to man, how God wants to be treated, and how man needs
to treat his fellow man. These are the righteous standards of God that have
transformed Western Culture and are the basis for civil and moral law throughout
Western Society. One of the primary purposes of the Law was to declare what is
right and what is wrong. What God will bless or what God will condemn in
personal or collective behavior.
But as we look deeper into God's word He has given us many hints and glimpses
in the Old Testament about why He gave the law to man and direct revelation to
His Apostles in the New Testament concerning the lessons He wants man to gain
from the Law.
The Apostle Paul declared directly in Romans why the law was given:
Rom 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those
who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may
become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be
justified in His sight,
If anyone tries to obey the law with their entire heart and be honest before
God, they would inevitably fail miserably, have their pride broken and feel
their guilt before God. To break the human spirit of its pride and create a
broken heart before God was the deepest purpose of the Law.
Ps 51:16, 17 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
a broken and a contrite heart-- these, O God, You will not despise.
David learned this lesson painfully, as we all must, and recorded it in Psalm
51. How could David say that God did not desire sacrifice? It is amazing after
all we have learned about the demands of God in the sacrificial system. Yet God
desires an honest and humble heart willing to worship Him in spirit and truth.
When Jesus came to His own people Israel, He found two types: those that had
learned this lesson of brokenness, and those who resisted it in human pride.
John 1:11-12 "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as
many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to
those who believe in His name"
Two Types of People
When Jesus came to Israel there were two kinds of people. There were:
- Those who had been broken by the Law and were humbled by it. They knew
they were condemned under it and found Him to be a source of redemption and
a savior which they longed for.
- Those that thought they were living by it yet were hardened by it.
They were proud of their standing before God and felt entitled and had a
position. Believing that they were first in the Kingdom of God and deserved
to be honored by God.
The Jewish religious leaders which Jesus referred to as "the Jews,"
constantly trying to condemn Jesus because He would not submit to their oral
traditions and the writings of the Rabbis. The leaders attempted to maintain a
sort of ritualistic and devoted lifestyle that would guarantee them entitlement
and a position in heaven. They had missed the entire point of the Law. When they
saw Jesus violating their traditions and associating with certain people that
were considered by them as "unclean"
they were appalled:
Matt 9:11-13 And when the Pharisees saw it, they
said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and
sinners?" When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no
need of a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means:
'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous,
but sinners, to repentance."
Jesus came to them and said to them: 'Go and learn what this means,
"I desire mercy and not sacrifice."
They didn't get it. They didn't get what
the Law was ultimately supposed to teach. That they were sinners and that they
needed a Savior. Notice that when they said "Why does your Teacher eat with
tax collectors and sinners?"
they were implying that they were sinless.
Jesus, in essence, told them to go away and learn their own Torah and then come
back when they learned the meaning of the Law and what its ultimate purpose was
- that they were not well but needed a Physician. That they were not righteous
but were desperately wicked. The Sermon on the Mount was given ultimately to
humble all men before the perfect standard of what God calls "good."
So there are two roads that run through this earth. One is pride and one is
humility. God gives grace to the humble but He resists the prideful. Those who
had been broken by the Law flocked to Him because He offered them hope. They
knew they were sick and that they needed the great Physician. They had gotten
the lesson of the Law, which was that all fall short of the glory of God, and
all are sinners and only those that walk by faith in God will be justified in
His sight. Those that accept the free gift.
Two Roads to Heaven
So there are two ways to receive salvation according to Scripture:
- Live a perfect life which only the Son of God did.
- Admit that you're fallen and that you need a Savior
So the Law was designed to bring us to brokenness. Not that we are to give up
trying to pursue the Law. The Law is inherently good. It teaches us the image of
God. It shows us His holiness. He wants us to try to obey it with all our hearts
but only those who try to obey with all their hearts find that their best effort
is going to fall far from the mark. Not just a little short but far from the
mark. And that humble heart that becomes broken under the weight of God's
standard of perfection becomes intensely hungry for the blood of Jesus Christ
that brings perfect acceptance and salvation.
The Law and the New Testament
Most Christians would agree that certainly the Pharisees were in error thinking
that they could live out the Law perfectly. The error of thinking that they were
justified by God because of their righteous works. No one can approach God by
their works. But we can make the same mistake as the Pharisees by assuming that
now, because we have the Spirit of God indwelling us, are walking in perfect
sanctification. But the Scripture clearly teaches that we are conformed into His
image from glory to glory and that it is a lifelong process. Even though we have
the Spirit of God in us there is still trench warfare between our fallen nature
the flesh and our spiritual nature (Gal 5). These two natures within us are
continually warring against one another and change is a lifelong process that
comes little by little and one area of our life at a time.
None of us walk in perfection and we desperately need to walk in humility.
This is a big thing with God seeing that He hates "a haughty look." We
can become New Testament Pharisees by thinking that we are not in need of the
mercy of God anymore because we are now in some way sinless and performing many
But God will show us our weakness. He showed Paul his weakness in 2Cor 11. Paul
had to learn the same lesson, that it is by his weakness that he could ever
learn the strength of God. So may we side with those who, as in the Sermon on
the Mount, mourn and yet are comforted, who are the poor in spirit and yet see
the Kingdom of God, who consider themselves unworthy, broken and in need of
daily cleansing and daily forgiveness and who never claim a righteousness of
their own, not even an earned righteousness through sanctification or a
righteousness of making choices, even our choices need the grace of God, we're
all fallen, and need to humbly come before God and ask for His mercy daily and
be grateful for the salvation He paid for.
When we understand the purpose of the Law and we gain experiential knowledge of
our own fallenness and our desperate need for God's grace, our character begins
to take on the nature of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit begins to birth in
our lives and we become people not of entitlement, believing God owes us a
reward for our righteousness, but people of gratefulness, thankful to God for
the riches of His mercy.
Luke 17:10 "So likewise you, when you have done
all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants."
John 10:34 "Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law.."
Rabbinical Literature and Second Temple Judaism
Rabbinic Writings, The Mishnah, and the Talmud. During the first century A.D.
the Pharisaic rabbis created many commentaries on the Torah. When Jesus began
his ministry He attacked the Pharisees for putting their traditions above the
word of God. All the writings and commentaries of the first two centuries A.D.
were compiled and organized into a collection by a man named Judah Hanasi around
200 A.D. forming a collection called the Mishnah. The Pharisaic rabbis were
known as the "Tannaim" which in Hebrew is translated teachers, and these men
were the teachers who regulated the law. There was another collection of their
commentary which was much smaller, it was known as the Tosefta which in Hebrew
means "enlargement". The later commentaries on the Mishnah were made by
Brief Historical Background
The Jews and Torah
The Holy Scriptures
The Apocryphal Literature
The Oral Law
The Tractates of the Mishnah
The Palestinian Talmud
The Babylonian Talmud
The Purpose and Heart of the Law
- A Heart Message
Rabbinical Writings Chart
The Persian Period 430-332 B.C.
The Greek Period 331-167 B.C.
The Period of Independence 167-63 B.C.
The Roman Period 63 B.C. to the time of Christ
The Old Testament Canon
The Text of the Old Testament
The Aramaic Language
The Great Synagogue
Preparation for Christ