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Jesus and Jewish Laws


The Jews by and large had a varied understanding of the Law. It could be the ten commandments, the Pentateuch, the law and the prophets, or the oral and scribal laws. The laws that Jesus objected to were in this fourth class of laws that were the interpretative laws of the scripture scholars.

The Jewish scholars derived 613 laws based on the first five books of Moses. “We learn from the Talmud, Makkot 24a, there were 613 mitzvot stated to Moses in the Torah, consisting of 365 prohibitions corresponding to the number of days in the solar year, and 248 positive mitzvot corresponding to the number of a person’s limbs” (https://mag. rochester.edu/exhibitions/rochester-rabbis-respond/).

Such laws were burdensome for the people, and they lacked the genuine spirit of God, the lawgiver. Since there were 613 laws, a Scribe asked Jesus: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” (Mk 12:28). On another occasion, Jesus rebuked the Scribes, “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them” (Lk 11:46).

Jesus came to fulfil the law by bringing to the fore the genuine spirit behind the God-given laws. He summarized the Old Testament teachings thus: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Mt 22:37- 40). Jesus said to the Pharisees and Scribes, “‘How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, ‘Any support you might have had from me is qorban’ (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother. You nullify the word of God in favour of your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many such things’” (Mk 7:5-13). Thus, Jesus purified the contaminated religion of the time with better values. He did not go against the Law and the prophets. Besides, he redefined the Mosaic laws and prophetic teachings, and perfected them by instituting a new Israel, the Church.

Jesus negated the contemporary views on each law and redefined them with Godly intentions behind such teachings. He did not negate the ancient doctrines, but the teaching and practices of the Jewish leaders manipulating the laws and presenting them as of divine origin. According to Jesus, God’s righteousness differs from human view. God judges by actions and the intentions that trigger them.


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