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  1. JESUS DEMANDED THE DEATH PENALTY

    “Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,
    “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

    Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?
    For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ [Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy. 5:16] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[Exodus 21:17; Leviticus. 20:9]

    But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

    “‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.

    They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’[ Isaiah 29:13]”
    Matthew 15:1-9.

    PHARISEES/RABBIS & THE DEATH PENALTY

    Conceived as a divinely revealed document, the Torah could not be altered by the hands of men. But this legislation was harmonized with the Torah through a similar technique of midrashic probing which discovered in the Torah itself the sanctions for change.

    Occasionally the old law was merely circumvented so that, in a technical sense, its mandate remained intact. This is illustrated by Hillel’s reform which did away with the cancellation of debts every seventh year, as provided for in Deuteronomy. 15:1–3. This law proved a serious barrier to the development of Jewish trade and commerce. People refused to extend credits and loans for fear that their debts would not be repaid before the general cancellation time. Hillel’s remedy, called prosbul, was the execution of a document which designated the court as the collection agent, and stipulated that the usual law of debt cancellation on the Sabbatical year shall not apply to this particular loan. The court was not included in the provisions of the Biblical law and was, therefore, technically free to carry on collections until the complete liquidation of the debt.7

    It was similarly through the circumvention that the rabbis reformed the Biblical code of criminal law. There had developed among the rabbis a strong abhorrence of capital punishment. The Bible, of course, recognized a wide variety of crimes for which the death penalty was to be inflicted. Instead of abrogating the Biblical law, the rabbis circumvented it. They limited capital punishment to circumstances which made it practically inoperative. They ruled out all circumstantial evidence, no matter how convincing. They went beyond the Biblical requirement of two eye-witnesses to the crime. The two witnesses were expected to have warned the culprit of the criminality and legal consequences of his projected act; and the criminal was expected to have defied the warning with the assertion that he refuses to be deterred by them!8

    But the midrash, through an ingenious technique of reinterpretation, discovered sanctions for the formal abrogation of old laws as well. Thus the law which decrees that a criminal be punished “an eye for an eye” (Exodus. 21:24) was shown to be but an application of the general principle that the punishment must be proportionate to the crime. For, as one rabbi explained, suppose a blind man injured the eye of another person, how shall the law be applied? Clearly there was only one way—compensation; the Biblical injunction is carried out by making the compensation commensurate with the injury. The new legislation universalized this rule of compensation. The Biblical application of the principle was taken as contingent and therefore dispensable, but the principle itself lived on in the new law.

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    • Yes I am familiar with this commentary,”The Wisdom of the Talmud,” written by Ben Zion Bokser in 1951.

      I am not sure why you posted someone else’s commentary. Can you tell me what your point is, please?

      It seems that you are perhaps saying that the Law of God was never supposed to be changed or amended. but Jesus is claiming authority to change what was written.

      We often see Jesus saying, “you have heard that it was written… but I say to you…”

      By Jesus saying this, He is claiming that His authority is greater than the Laws of Moses. This is why Jesus was so offensive to the Pharisees, the doctors of the law. The problem was that Jesus is Yahweh-God, the Logos, who created the Laws of Moses and Gave them to Him on the Mountain, in the first place.

      Jesus often said that His authority was greater than all others and that what He has said will never pass away. He also said that He did not come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it. In Jesus’ coming to earth as the Messiah, He perfectly fulfilled all of the requirements of Moses law, by becoming the One perfect sacrifice that removed all sin for all time.

      Jesus has the authority to establish and change, if He chooses, any law. Instead, He comes to tell us what the true meaning of the law is and to explain it to us. One of the prophecies of the Messiah is that He will elevate the law and clarify it for the world.

      On the Sabbath, the traditions of the Elders prohibited a person from rescuing an animal who was trapped, or to help a sick or dying person. No work could be done on the Sabbath; therefore, the work that someone might do to help another person or an animal in distress was prohibited. Jesus told the Pharisees that the purpose of the law of God was to benefit man and not to make his life more miserable.

      Mark 2:27 And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

      After the scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus for not instructing His disciples how to properly wash their hands before eating, Jesus tells these men:

      Matthew 15:3-7 “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites!”

      The verses of Scripture Jesus was quoting from were laws commonly known to the leaders of Israel:

      Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”

      Deuteronomy 27:16 “Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ”

      Proverbs 1:8 My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother…

      The English verb, cursed, used here in Matthew 15:3-7 is too restrictive in defining the true meaning intended. The Greek word that was originally used in this text was kakologeo, which means to insult, to speak evil of, or to revile.

      When Jesus said, “but you,” the meaning is quite emphatic. Jesus was stating that they had neglected their responsibilities required by the word of God because of their closely-guarded traditions. The purpose of the law of God required children to care for their parents in their elderly years. Because of the traditions held by the leaders of Israel, they had negated the word of God. The money that could have been used to care for and support their parents could be dedicated to God, called korban. Under this tradition, a person could use the money that had been dedicated to God for their own personal use while withholding it from their parents. In essence, it was a legal loophole that allowed people to escape the responsibility of caring for aging parents.

      When the scribes and Pharisees condemned Jesus and His disciples for not washing properly before eating—a law that God had never given—Jesus informs them that their contrived law of korban had made the laws of God ineffective.

      This Halakic tradition created a law that commanded the washing of hands while eliminating the need to care for the needs of their aging parents.[1]

      Jesus condemned these leaders of Israel for their hypocrisy and, in doing so, fulfilled the words of this prophecy from Isaiah 29:13. It is clear that Isaiah was writing about the men who were now standing before Jesus, condemning Him for not keeping their traditions, while breaking the law of God by the same traditions. In doing so, the words of Isaiah’s prophecy were fulfilled:

      “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men…”

      The true intent of God’s law was to change our hearts and bring us to repentance. We would then become humble, gentle people who would love the Lord and other people. By understanding God’s heart for people, those who would come into an awareness of His word would develop the same kind of heart that God has. Instead, men instituted their own laws, which they hold higher than the words of God, and put heavy burdens on the lives of people. The people then vainly worship and follow God because they do not understand Him nor what the purpose of His laws were in the first place.

      This is the common flaw of religion in the present world. People go to church and follow the traditions of that particular church they attend, without any knowledge of what God has really said in His word. Many of the leaders of the Christian church today are not teaching what the Bible says. Instead, they are teaching what the current traditions of men are. As a result, the worship that people offer to God is empty and meaningless to themselves and to God.

      One of the purposes of the Messiah coming to earth was to clearly define the true meaning of God’s law.

      Isaiah 42:21 The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will exalt the law and make it honorable.

      We see this principle demonstrated repeatedly by Jesus in His confrontations with the Pharisees and other leaders of Israel.

      (Jesus speaking) “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

      You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

      You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

      Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.

      Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

      You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

      You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:17-48 (UKJV)

      The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy is found in Matthew 5:17-48. As Jesus takes the leaders of Israel through a list of 7 points in the Law of God, He tells them:

      “You have heard that it was said… But I say to You…”

      The Pharisees had developed their own interpretation of the law of God, which was described as their traditions.

      Jesus informs the leaders of Israel that their understanding of the law was not correct. In saying this, He was elevating His authority above all other authority. Only God has the right to make laws and the ability to correctly interpret those laws. This is a seldom-noticed section of scripture that really speaks to the true identity of Jesus. By stating, “but I say to you,” Jesus is claiming that He is God, the architect of all laws.

      Isaiah writes that upon the arrival of the Messiah, He will clearly define and explain what the true meaning of God’s law is. Perhaps none of the elders of Israel, who had read this verse of prophecy, really understood its correct meaning. It certainly appears that Isaiah was describing the law as being misunderstood, until the arrival of the Messiah; He would exalt the law and make it honorable.

      It was not until Jesus arrived as the Messiah and spoke these words to the Pharisees, that anyone correctly understood their intended meaning. By His authoritative exposition of the scriptures, Jesus identified Himself as the author of these laws.

      The Pharisees had interpreted the law of God as external. Jesus brought us to an awareness that God is most interested in the inner person, the heart, where the will and the emotions reside.

      A man may never commit adultery in his life; but all men, at some point, have looked at a woman with lust. Most people will not take the life of another human being, but Jesus said that to be angry with a person in our heart is the same as committing the physical act of murder.

      Everything we do begins within our heart. As we think, our emotions are stirred deep within us. Many times, long before a person ever carries out an action, he has already contemplated what he will do within his heart. There are occasions when a person has not taken time to consider his actions and simply reacts during a particular event. Even what appears to be impulsive actions often have come from a prior moment, when a person has pondered and considered what they wanted to do when provoked.

      God looks at the heart first to see why we say and do things before judging our actions. It is not enough to be righteous externally. We must endeavor to change our heart and also make it obedient.

      This should have come as no surprise to the leaders of Israel. Upon the establishment of David’s throne, God chose a man who did not appear, to most people, to be anyone special. God, however, was looking past the physical appearance and into the heart.

      1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

      The knowledge that God is looking into our heart in determining His judgment of our actions will either give us a great deal of comfort or cause us tremendous despair.

      For the person who has a heart after the Lord and genuinely wants to please Him, this will come as good news. No matter how much we may love the Lord, we will always fail to be the person externally that we hope to be. Our sin nature will often cause us to fail; and when we do, we become discouraged. To know that the Lord looks past our failures and sees into our heart, understanding that we genuinely want to please Him, this knowledge can be a great source of comfort and encouragement.

      Conversely, the person who is trying ever so diligently to do all the right things outwardly, while in his heart he is not really interested in pleasing the Lord—to discover that God looks at the heart, this knowledge will cause considerable discomfort. If the Lord can see into our heart, then we cannot fool Him. He knows when we are sincere and when we are just going through the motions without a true heart of love for Him.

      One of the wonderful accomplishments of Jesus while He was here on the earth was to show us who God really is—to open our eyes to His true intent and purpose for creating the laws He instituted.

      The Pharisees loved to exercise judgment in cases of adultery, Sabbath breaking, hand washing, and defilement with sinners. However, they neglected the greater requirements of the law: justice and mercy. Jesus taught that the heart of God’s law is mercy. The laws of God were made to be a blessing and a help to man, not a burden and a curse.

      People who have been trapped in a repeated cycle of sin carry such a heavy burden of guilt in their heart. What they need is a way out. They need someone who can forgive their sins and give them a new start. The person who is trapped in a vicious cycle of physical or emotional abuse in their marriage does not need to be told that they must endure that abuse for the rest of their life. They need mercy.

      Jesus taught us, as the Messiah, the true intent of all the laws of God. No one had even a glimpse of what the law really meant until Jesus came and explained it to us. There has never been another human being like Jesus who so thoroughly explained to us what God’s purposes were, when He spoke to us concerning God’s law.

      In Jesus’ words in the New Testament, we see the fulfillment of all of the Messianic prophecies that were written in the Old Testament.

      Thank you for sharing this commentary by Bokser.

      [1] The collective body of religious laws for Jews, including biblical law (the 613 mitzvot) and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.

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