Saturday, August 10, 2013
http://www.ed-nelson.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=64 Blashphemy in the First Century: Part One Due to the size of this article, it is divided into two parts Did Yeshua (Jesus) Ever Speak the Name “Yahweh”? A Study of Matthew 27:57-67 by Ed Nelson (www.ed-nelson.com) The question whether Yeshua (Jesus) spoke the name Yahweh is commensurate with the question of whether He, according to his critics, committed blasphemy. These two questions go together. Due to the first century Jewish understanding of blasphemy as speaking the ineffable Name, i.e, by law, the unutterable Name outside prescribed boundaries, if He did one, then, in the eyes of his judges, He did the other. Yeshua (Jesus) charged with blasphemy. A careful, historical and textual study of Matthew 27:57-67 is required where Yeshua (Jesus) was charged with blasphemy by Caiaphas, the high priest, and condemned to death by the Sanhedrin. What does the biblical text say? Those who had seized Yeshua [Jesus] led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. . . Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Yeshua [Jesus] so that they might put Him to death. They did not find [any], even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Yeshua [Jesus] kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Yeshua [Jesus] said to him, “You have said it: nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see ‘the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!” Then they spat in his face and beat Him with their fists. And others slapped Him and said, “Prophesy to us, You Messiah. Who is the one who hit You?” What did Yeshua (Jesus) say? Obviously, Yeshua (Jesus) said something in the presence of the high priest and Sanhedrin that, to a person, they judged to be blasphemy. The spoken offense went beyond the pale of tolerance, according to the judges, and was worthy of the death penalty. He met universal condemnation for how He answered Caiaphas. What did He say? How did He so badly violate Jewish prohibitions to deserve the death penalty? From Matthew’s account, as we have it from Greek manuscripts, it is not obvious. Yet, the gravity of what He said was so legally binding that the accusation by the two witnesses became secondary. Because of what the judges heard from the lips of Yeshua (Jesus), their witness was moot. They were dismissed from the court. The accusation made by the two witnesses. Without the two witnesses, the court session would not have occurred. The Sanhedrin was not pressing charges against Yeshua (Jesus). Others were. We should look at the original charge made by the two accusers. Their accusation initiated the process that proved fatal for Yeshua (Jesus). The two accusers began the trial by saying: “This man stated,” ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The phrase, “the temple of God,” is in bold letters to feature the depth of the accusation. At question for us to consider is whether the charge was about Yeshua (Jesus) saying the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days, or, more dreadful, was it how Yeshua (Jesus) referred to the temple as “the temple of God.” To be specific, did He actually say, ‘the temple of God,” or did he use the common phrase of the Prophets, “the temple of Yahweh”? If in any way Yeshua (Jesus) spoke the ineffable Name, breaking the legal tradition of the elders imposed upon Jewish people, lawfully, the accusers could not repeat what He said to the court. They could not say “the temple of Yahweh” without condemnation by the Sanhedrin. Instead, they would have to say “temple of God” if He had said “temple of Yahweh,” thus hinting at what He said with a euphemism. At the time, the word “God” (Elohim) was a euphemism for the name Yahweh. If they inferred that Yeshua (Jesus) said “temple of Yahweh,” then the seriousness of the charge escalated dramatically, favoring the death penalty. First century Jewish law, with exceptions, considered the voicing of the Tetragrammaton to be an act of blasphemy punishable by death. Consider the court process of the Sanhedrin for a charge of blasphemy by three witnesses: The blasphemer is punished only if he utters (the Divine) Name [i.e., YHWH]. R. Joshua ben Karcha said: The whole day (of the trial) the witnesses are examined by means of a substitute for the Divine Name, thus, “May Jose smite Jose.” When the trial was finished, the accused was not executed on this evidence, but all persons were removed (from court), and the chief witness was told, “state literally what you heard,’ thereupon he did so, (using the Divine Name). The judges then arose and rent their garments, which rent was not to be resewn. The second witness stated, ‘I too have heard thus,” (but not uttering the Divine Name), and the third says: ‘I too heard thus.’ (Mishnah. Talmud, Sanhedrin 55:b-56a) Evidence for saying “the temple of Yahweh.” What grounds do we have to understand that Yeshua (Jesus) said “temple of Yahweh” instead of “temple of God”? The answer is that the phrase “temple of God [Elohim]” was not even close to common Jewish speech. In the Old Testament (Tanakh), the phrase, “temple of Yahweh” (heychal Yahweh) is found at least 21 times (cf. 1 Samuel 1:9; 2 Kings 18:16; 2 Chronicles 26:16 Ezra 3:6; Haggai 2:15; Zechariah 6:12, et al). Never is the phrase “the temple of God” found or implied in the Hebrew Bible. Another word for “temple” was “house.” The Hebrew Bible, indeed, does use the phrase “house of Yahweh God” or the shorter form, “house of God” (bayith Elohim). But, again, the temple was never called in the Hebrew Bible “the temple of God [Elohim].” Further, neither the Talmud, nor even the mystical writings of the Zohar, refers to the temple as “the temple of God.” Only in the Midrash, Exodus Rabbah IX:13, is any reference found in the Judaic Classics Library of the phrase, “the temple of God,” and it was written long after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70: On this account did God avenge Himself on the city with fire that shall not be quenched night nor day for ever; and because they [sc. the wicked State, Rome] burned the Temple of God … Compare this solitary in the Midrash Rabbah to its other 42 references to “the house of God,” one of the two proper ways of referring to the temple. The other, of course, was “the temple of Yahweh,” a banned phrase through the first century by the Sanhedrin. The Old Testament (Tanakh) references “the house of God” 182 times, the New Testament five times, the Talmud 41 times, and the medieval Zohar 24 times. Why is this fine distinction of the use of “the temple of Yahweh” and “the house of God [Elohim]” versus “the temple of God” so important in this trial before the high priest and the Sanhedrin? Because a ban was placed by the Sanhedrin on speaking the name of Yahweh, and the witnesses dared to accuse Yeshua (Jesus) of saying the ineffable Name. For this necessary and revealing reason, Yeshua’s (Jesus’) accusers attributed to his lips the phrase “temple of God” instead of the proper phrase, “temple of Yahweh,” or “house of God.” Yeshua (Jesus), to be proper, and He was, would have said “temple of Yahweh” or “house of God [Elohim],” but not the artificial and unlikely phrase, “the temple of God” as he was accused of saying. Before the ban on speaking the name of Yahweh. Before the time of the first century a general ban was imposed on speaking the name Yahweh. To vocalize the name of Yahweh was deemed illegal by the elders of post-exilic times. By the first century to speak the outlawed Name bore the threat and practice of the death penalty. Of course, the ban did not originate in the Torah, the Prophets or the Writings (the Tanakh, or Old Testament). No ban in any form was in effect during the time of these writings up to the Babylonian exile. Spelled out by four Hebrew consonants—Yod, He, Waw, He—as YHWH, it is popularly known today as the Tetragrammaton, or in ancient tannaitic times, as Shem ha-Meforash (“the distinctive Name”) and, its apparent synonym, Shem ha-Meyuhad. By actual count, the name Yahweh occurs 5,410 times in the Old Testament (Tanakh), not counting its abbreviated saying of “Yah,” the appendage of “Yah’ to popular Hebrew names, and its combination in the name Yahweh Tzava’oth (“Yahweh of hosts”). Yahweh Tzava’oth occurs 260 times, and with the addition of “God,” four more times. Adonai—rendered as “Lord” in English—became the accepted substitute for the name of Yahweh after the Babylonian exile. As late as the Chronicler, the pronunciation of the name Yahweh was so common to the people that he saw no need to hide the name of Yahweh with a euphemism. As a matter of record, he did not even use the appellation Adonai in his writings, not once. Adonai does occur in the Hebrew Bible. 134 times it stands alone. Mainly it is used in combination with the name Yahweh. The name Yahweh occurs 310 times after Adonai and five times before it. Of this 315 times, the bulk appear in Ezekiel (227 times). Adding all these occurrences together, the name Yahweh occurs 5,989 times in the Old Testament (Tanakh) of the Bible. To wit, by the external evidence of history and the internal evidence of the Scriptures, up to the Babylonian exile, the name of Yahweh, indeed, was voiced in daily worship, witness and conversation, as well as being written in documents for reading aloud. No one knows exactly when the ban began on speaking the ineffable Name. Speculation is that it began during the Babylonian exile of Israel to protect the name from pagans. Scant evidence is in place to verify this purpose, but no doubt the roots for the ban did originate in Babylon. Erecting a “fence” around Torah and the Name. Early after the exile, evidence is available, especially in the Masorah and Talmud, to show that a ban on speaking the name of Yahweh was in place to some degree, but not uniformly so. This came later. But an effort, indeed, was in place to erect a “fence” (protective bounds) around the Name simultaneous with the effort to build a “fence” around the Torah, and its covenantal sign, the Sabbath. These two things happened together. In Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers Moses received [qibel] the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it [mesarah] to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders, [the Elders] to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it [mesaruah] to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; develop many disciples; and make a fence [seyag] for the Torah. The “fence-building” commitment of the Great Assembly introduced a new process unfamiliar to Moses, Joshua, the Elders and the Prophets. Because it was a departure from simply transmitting the Torah to the next generation, it took time to conceive, write and implement. The interlinear translation of the Schottenstein edition of Pirkei Avos footnotes the Hebrew word for “fence”—seyag: A fence [protective bounds] for the Torah. Enact provisions and cautionary rules to safeguard against transgression of the laws of the Torah itself. For example, the Rabbis forbade even the handling of certain utensils on the Sabbath (muqtzeh), lest one use them to perform a labor forbidden by the Torah. Rules and regulations began to be imposed incrementally by the Great Assembly and its successor, the Sanhedrin, to erect the “fence” around Torah, its covenant sign, the Sabbath, and around the name of Yahweh. During the time span after 538 BC, when Cyrus the Great gave permission for Jews to return to their homeland, throughout the first century, the work of the Great Assembly, and its successor, the Sanhedrin, fostered a ban on the name Yahweh, determining that it should be deemed legally ineffable, i.e., unutterable for the covenant people of God. According to Talmudic tradition, the legal justification for rendering the Name ineffable was because of unruly people, i.e., Torah breakers: The … Name used to be entrusted to all people. When unruly men increased, it was confided to the pious of the priesthood. (Talmud, Kiddushin 71a) Restricted use of speaking the name of Yahweh may have begun in the later years of the exile, but it was a post-exilic legal invention. About 300 B.C., the name Yahweh usually was not pronounced in its original form except by priests. For a time, anyone on the Temple grounds may give greetings using the name Yahweh. And they ordained that an individual should greet his fellow with [God’s] name, in accordance with what is said, “And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem; and he said to the reapers, ‘YHWH be with you!’ And they answered, ‘YHWH bless you’ (Ruth 2:4). (Talmud, Berachoth 9:5) In time, this practice was outlawed. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Tanakh which was accomplished around 250 B.C. Whether the Septuagint originally contained the name of Yahweh or simply the euphemisms as in its present form is debatable. However, the Septuagint translators paraphrased Leviticus 24:16 to conform to the ban of the Name. This indicates that the ban existed by the time the Septuagint was being translated. A proper translation of the Hebrew text reads: “And anyone one who blasphemes [naqav] the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death.” The Septuagint translators, in light of the ban, paraphrased the text to mean something different: “And he that names the name of the Lord, let him die the death.” The Septuagint, therefore, aided the enforcement of the ban among Greek-speaking Jews by appearing to be an authentic translation of the written Word of God in Hebrew. The slight of hand by the translators reinforced the legal “fence” around the Name. Each morning it was customary for the Levites in the temple to sing from Psalm 44:23, “Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, Yahweh? Awake, do not reject us forever.” According to the Mishnah, “Yochanan the high priest … abolished the ‘wakers.’” Why? Because their voices “sounded like blasphemy.” In the effort to build a “fence” around the name of Yahweh, a legal redefinition of blasphemy became part of the process. The lawmakers appealed to Leviticus 24:15-16 to warrant the prohibition against the Divine Name being spoken. Hardly did the Scripture support the ban except by reinterpretation. You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If anyone curses [qalal] his God [Elohim], then he will bear his sin. Moreover, the one who blasphemes [naqav] the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes [naqav] [the] Name, shall be put to death.” Never mind the historical context of this Scripture and its original purpose. To build a legal “fence” required a legal defense of the name of Yahweh with some biblical merit, though trifling at best. The laws of the Great Assembly and, later, the Sanhedrin, shored up the poorly contrived biblical basis. The threat of the death penalty helped enforce the new rules in Jewish society. Leviticus 24:15-16, meanwhile, was reinterpreted to fit the desired result. By the first century, the “fence” around the Holy Name excluded both euphemisms and attributes of the name of Yahweh. In the Talmud, Rabbi Meir is quoted on the matter: But the Sages maintain: [Blasphemy] with use of the ineffable Name, is punishable by death: with the employment of substitutes, it is the object of an injunction [but not punishable by death]. (Talmud, Sanhedrin 56a) Pronunciation of the name Yahweh by the temple priests, even with the centuries-long practice of voicing the Tetragrammaton in the Shema, gradually fell into disuse. According to Talmudic tradition, “from the time Simon the Just died [the traditional expression for the beginning of the Hellenistic period] … thereafter his brothers, the priests, forbore to pronounce the Name in the priestly benediction” (Talmud, Menachoth 109b). Any direct reference to the name of Yahweh was erased with the exception of the ten utterances of the Name by the high priest in the temple on the Day of Atonement, i.e., Yom Kippur (Tosefta, Yoma, ii. 2; Yoma 39b). This practice continued to the last years of the temple (Yerushalem Talmud, Yoma 40a, 67). Today, the ban remains intact within Judaism. This is well illustrated by reading Leviticus 24:15-16 from the JPS (1985) English version of the Tanakh. Key words indicated by the italics below are modifications to the original intent of the text: And to the Israelite people speak thus: Anyone who blasphemes his God shall bear his guilt; if he also pronounces the name LORD, he shall be put to death. The whole community shall stone him; stranger or citizen, if he has thus pronounced the Name, he shall be put to death. The Hebrew Bible does not support the translation of the words “pronounces” or “pronounced.” This reinterpretation is a direct result of the post-exilic ban against speaking the name of Yahweh. The name Yahweh, per custom, is rendered in capital letters, “LORD,” a euphemism for Yahweh. The original context where a man was found cursing the name of Yahweh as the basis of blasphemy becomes inconsequential in light of the ban. Blasphemy became defined as the pronunciation of the name of Yahweh for any purpose, including worship and witness. Such was the rigid “fence” built around the name of God. His name was outlawed from homes, schools and government. Now that we know what blasphemy is according to the ban, the question arises as to what constitutes blasphemy according to the Bible. What is blasphemy? Not until an incident occurred in the desert after the exodus of Israel from Egypt, did the common Hebrew words qavav and naqav come together to define blasphemy. The defining story is in Leviticus 24:10-16. The son of an Israelite woman whose father was an Egyptian went out into the camp of Israel. There, in a conflict with another man, he uttered a curse against Yahweh. The alarming incident was reported to Moses, the son was arrested and judgment was issued. The man was sentenced to death for blasphemy of the name of Yahweh. From these two words we get an adequate understanding of blasphemy, namely, uttering with clear intention a curse against the name of Yahweh. Understanding key Hebrew words in Leviticus 24:10-16. In Leviticus 24:11 are two words for “curse,” i.e., a spoken judgment against someone for being or doing evil—qavav and qalal. The son of the Israelite woman uttered a curse against [qavav – “blaspheme”] the Name and cursed [qalal]. So they brought him to Moses. (Now his mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.) The first word, qavav (“to utter a curse against”) is generally translated “blaspheme” in most English Bibles. It has nothing to do with pronouncing the Name as the JPS (1985) Tanakh renders the verse. Clearly, from the context of the Hebrew language, the word refers to the evil intent of the human heart vocalized against Yahweh. In a curse, God is judged by the curser for perpetrating and doing evil. The disturbing and distressing act condemns the Holy One of Israel as an Evil One. Such was and remains the true nature of blasphemy according to the Bible. The blasphemy was judged severely, even death by stoning. In this critical passage of Leviticus 24:15-16 shown in its Hebraic literary form, Moses explained his judgment. Frame [Yahweh said:] “You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, Reverse concentric symmetry A ‘If anyone curses [qalal] his God [Elohim], then he will bear his sin. B And anyone who blasphemes [naqav] the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death. B¹ All the congregation shall certainly stone him. A¹ The lien as well as the native, when he blasphemes [naqav] [the] Name, shall be put to death.’” The weight and emphasis of this literary structure is upon the first and last statements represented by the letters A and A¹. The middle lines B and B¹ reflect the content of the passage back to its extremities. Critically important to learn from the Hebraic structure and style is that A and A¹, the main points, reinforce the biblical Hebraic definition of blasphemy as cursing Yahweh’s name, i.e., as bringing a personal judgment against Him as one who perpetrates and does evil. Of the above Scripture, the wording in Hebrew” for “blasphemes [the] Name is naqvo-shem (“blasphemes-name Yahweh”), from the words naqav (“blaspheme”) and shem (“name”). Another word for blasphemy, thus, appears—naqav. In this story in Leviticus 24, three words convey the act of blasphemy—qavav, qalal and naqav. The two Hebrew words for “curse” are qavav and qalal, as previously noted. Unlike these two words, however is naqav. This word does not mean “to curse.” But, in this passage, they are all treated by context as synonyms. Besides “to blaspheme,” the Hebrew word naqav has others shades of meaning that give us a richer, deeper picture of how the word is used in this passage. The first time it is found in the Bible, it means “to designate,” “stipulate” or “name” something specifically. In Genesis 30:28, Laban said to Jacob: “Name [naqav] me your wages, and I will give it.” The idea “to name,” in this case, to name a price, is to be specific, precise and intentional. In Numbers 1:17 Moses “designated” the heads of the divisions of Israel. The designations were intentional (cf. 1 Chronicles 12:31; 16:41; Ezra 8:20). The working idea is to “name” or “mark” a select or chosen group with intent to separate and “distinguish” from the others. Such was the choosing of Israel from among the nations as Yahweh’s covenant people. The power of the word is that it calls something out, designating it specifically. Or it sets something up in a precise manner to be differentiated from the others. No wonder the word was used in a variety of ways where distinction and accuracy were desired, including the field of engineering. Drilling a hole in a chest for collecting funds in 2 Kings 12:9 is the same word. In this case, it meant “to bore” [naqav] a hole in a precise manner for a specific purpose. What was bored, the wooden chest, was distinguished and designated for a certain purpose—to collect funds for the temple’s repair. The word naqav also means “to pierce”—to pierce something, or someone, with a spear or stave by deliberate intent. The one pierced is a designated target, distinguished from the others. The target person or thing is marked to be pierced by a spear or stave. Such is the effect of a wanted poster for a criminal on the loose. The criminal is a “marked” man for capture. The prophet Habakkuk (3:13-14) describes Yahweh’s premeditated force against evil as being like a spear that “pierces.” The evil is identified and designated as the target of his wrath: You went forth for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You struck the head of the house of the evil to lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah. You pierced [naqav] with his own spears the head of his throngs. If the word naqav means “to designate, to specify, to target precisely, to distinguish from among others,” why is the word naqav also a word used for “blaspheme”? What do we make of Leviticus 24:16 where the command is given, “And whoever blasphemes [naqav] the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death”? The answer lies with the intent of the heart of the one cursing God. We understand it by context in this story about cursing Yahweh. The cursing, as shown by the two words qavav and qalal, is a personally pronounced judgment against Yahweh as being evil. The word naqav shows that the curse is a “designation’ of Yahweh as evil—thus the Holy One is called “the Evil One.” It is intentional and deliberate. The choice of the word naqav shows the all-sided conviction of the one cursing towards Yahweh. No repentance is sought for his or her actions. Nor is there a glimmer of hope of the apostate person ever desiring to repent. Such is the way of the apostate. In Hebrews 6:4-6, the writer of the letter admits as much: For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and [then] have committed apostasy, [it is] impossible to renew them again to repentance, since [i.e., by their apostasy] they again [i.e. repeatedly] crucify to themselves [i.e., in their own minds condemn] the Son of God and put Him to open shame. They almost never desire to repent. The heart of the apostate is one who sees and declares Yahweh and his work as evil. He is a blasphemer with a cold heart towards God. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the apostle Paul spoke of a future time when apostasy would become prevalent: “Let no one in any way deceive you, for [it will not come] unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction …” He signaled a time when God’s judgment would come methodically and swiftly upon the earth when mankind would no longer seek repentance. For to repent, for them, would be to acknowledge Yahweh as the true and Holy One of Israel. The exorbitant cost of the post-exilic ban. By defining blasphemy biblically, we see that a major distortion in the interpretation of the Torah, Prophets and Writings (the Tanakh) occurred during and after the Babylonian exile. The “fence” around the Torah did a disservice rather than a service to the people of Israel. Likewise, the “fence” around the name Yahweh was a disservice to Israel and the world. Blasphemy was no longer the uttering of a curse against Yahweh as being or doing evil. With the protective “fence” built around the Torah and the name of God, to speak the name Yahweh became a grave offense. The name of God—Yahweh—once revealed to Israel’ patriarchs and matriarchs, was driven from Jewish society. In the name of self-righteous reverence, his Name became hidden to the people. His name was rejected and expelled from conversations in homes, while walking along the road, from government offices and the public square. The Shema, though spoken dutifully, was cloaked in substitute words for the holy Name. The priests in the temple silenced their voices, speaking only in euphemisms and allusions. The scribes and teachers of the Torah cultivated a new order of learning by inference and indirectness without a revelatory relationship of God according to his Name. The prophets were dead. None remained to say, “Thus says Yahweh.” Yeshua (Jesus) clearly understood the demeaning of Yahweh’s historical and personal revelation to Israel as persisting among his people’s leaders, both in the temple and synagogue. Nevertheless, He had a devoted sense of mission to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) to offer them the kingdom of God. Many followed Him. Blasphemy was no longer the uttering of a curse against Yahweh as being or doing evil. With the protective “fence” built around the Torah and the name of God, to speak the name Yahweh became a grave offense. The name of God—Yahweh—once revealed to Israel’ patriarchs and matriarchs, was driven from Jewish society. In the name of self-righteous reverence, his Name became hidden to the people. His name was rejected and expelled from conversations in homes, while walking along the road, from government offices and the public square. The Shema, though spoken dutifully, was cloaked in substitute words for the holy Name. The priests in the temple silenced their voices, speaking only in euphemisms and allusions. The scribes and teachers of the Torah cultivated a new order of learning by inference and indirectness without a revelatory relationship of God according to his Name. The prophets were dead. None remained to say, “Thus says Yahweh.” Yeshua (Jesus) clearly understood the demeaning of Yahweh’s historical and personal revelation to Israel as persisting among his people’s leaders, both in the temple and synagogue. Nevertheless, He had a devoted sense of mission to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) to offer them the kingdom of God. Many followed Him. Blasphemy was no longer the uttering of a curse against Yahweh as being or doing evil. With the protective “fence” built around the Torah and the name of God, to speak the name Yahweh became a grave offense. The name of God—Yahweh—once revealed to Israel’ patriarchs and matriarchs, was driven from Jewish society. In the name of self-righteous reverence, his Name became hidden to the people. His name was rejected and expelled from conversations in homes, while walking along the road, from government offices and the public square. The Shema, though spoken dutifully, was cloaked in substitute words for the holy Name. The priests in the temple silenced their voices, speaking only in euphemisms and allusions. The scribes and teachers of the Torah cultivated a new order of learning by inference and indirectness without a revelatory relationship of God according to his Name. The prophets were dead. None remained to say, “Thus says Yahweh.” Yeshua (Jesus) clearly understood the demeaning of Yahweh’s historical and personal revelation to Israel as persisting among his people’s leaders, both in the temple and synagogue. Nevertheless, He had a devoted sense of mission to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) to offer them the kingdom of God. Many followed Him. The distorted definition of blasphemy imposed by the ban on speaking the name Yahweh was costly to the people of Israel. Regretfully, too, the ban was costly to the nations dependent on Israel to be to them the light of revelation of the name of Yahweh. How should we compare the post-exilic period unto the time of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus)? The prophet Jonah serves the purpose well. He was anti-Gentile, and vigorously so. The great sin of Jonah was his fleeting attempt to hide the name of Yahweh from the Gentile city of Nineveh. He was afraid they would hear and repent according to the Name. He fled, but unsuccessfully from his assignment. Even upon his successful mission to Nineveh with Nineveh repenting, he complained to Yahweh. What was his complaint? When you compare Jonah 4:1-3 in light of Exodus 34:6-7 where the name of Yahweh is declared along with his attributes, the issue Jonah had against Yahweh becomes clear. The attributes of the name of Yahweh was the heart and soul of his message to Nineveh about repentance. He refused to go and tell Nineveh about the attributes of Yahweh’s name. This sin was the same sin of the Great Assembly and, later, the Sanhedrin as shown in their legal efforts to diminish and hide the holy Name from each other and the world. The cost for quarantining and hiding the name of Yahweh from within Israel and from the world took a costly toll on Israel and an exorbitant cost for Yahweh. The cost for God? He sent his Son Yeshua (Jesus) as the supreme price of heaven to put the name of Yahweh on display within the house of Israel. To see Him was to see the Father. He was to call God’s people to repentance, to beckon them to turn back to Yahweh. The cost for Israel was enormous. Though it claimed to be Torah observant, actually it was observant of the “fence” around the Torah, its covenantal sign, the Sabbath, and the name of God. The “fence” became the Law. Torah observance within Jewish society from the post-exilic times unto today is almost always “fence” observance. Substitution of the “fence” for the authentic Torah is another dreadful form of what is called “replacement theology,” this time replacing the Torah with the “fence” around it. Yeshua (Jesus) offered Israel its only hope to escape its self-imposed “fence” worldview and hermeneutic for decision-making. In Matthew 5:17-18 his words are preserved: Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fill them up. He became the fullness of the written Torah in human flesh, offering the Torah of Messiah to all who received Him. His mission to the lost sheep of Israel had this in focus all the time. As many as received Him, they became children of God (cf. John 1:12). What does the Torah say about the Name? Does it restrict its use or ban it as “the fence of Torah” does? In the Torah is the story of Yahweh delivering Israel out of Egypt. At one point in the drama, Yahweh addressed Pharoah through Moses: But, indeed, … I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you my power and in order to proclaim my name through all the earth. (Exodus 9:16) According to Yahweh, his name is to be declared, not banned, nor outlawed or hidden. The Rabbinical precept that the Name should be “hidden” and “kept secret,” as taught by Talmudic tradition (cf. Pesach 50a; Kiddushin 71a) is braced against the Torah precept that the Name should be “proclaimed through all the earth.” The Great Assembly and, later the Sanhedrin, produced a tradition of reading euphemisms in place of the name Yahweh when reading the Bible. The text was even altered in places. For example, the four-letter name YHWH was changed in the Hebrew Masoretic text to Adonai 134 times. These deliberate alterations of the biblical text were recorded in the Masorah (cf. 107:15, C. D. Gingsburg edition). The Great Assembly, and later, the Sanhedrin assumed unlawful authority over the Bible—that is, they put in place an injunction against Yahweh’s own word. In advance, Moses, who received the Torah, warned Israel about adding and taking away from the Torah: “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2) “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to nor take away from it [the Torah]. (Deuteronomy 12:32) What did the Prophets teach about speaking the Name of God? Isaiah proclaimed the words of Yahweh: “My people shall know my name” (Isaiah 52:6). No euphemism was implied, no substitute name desired by Him. He not only seeks to dwell among his people so that they may be his people and He their God, but He desires his people to know Him by his name. The prophet Jeremiah, likewise, declared the word of Yahweh to Israel: “Therefore behold, I am going to make them know—this time I will make them know my power and my might. And they shall know that my name is Yahweh” (Jeremiah 16:21). Jeremiah, further, prophesied the day that the people of Israel would be under powerful influence and illusion to forget the name Yahweh. In Jeremiah 23:21-27, Yahweh speaks about this turn of events: I did not send [these] prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have announced my words to my people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds … Is there [anything] in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even [these] prophets of the deception of their own heart who intend to make my people forget my name …? Zephaniah anticipated a future day where the name of Yahweh would be called upon by the people of God because of the words Yahweh spoke to him: “For then I will give to the peoples purified lips that all of them may call on the name of Yahweh” (Zephaniah 3:9). The original composition of the Great Assembly after the Babylonian exile included prophets according to tradition. Assumed to be among the prophets were three who wrote books of the Bible: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Did they support the ban on pronouncing the name Yahweh? The answer is no, they did not. A ban would be unacceptable to them. Listen to the prophet Malachi: Then those who feared Yahweh spoke to one another, and Yahweh gave attention and heard. And a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear Yahweh and who esteem his name. (Malachi 3:16) What about the Writings? The Psalms tell the story. And those who know your name will put their trust in You, for You, Yahweh, have not forsaken those who seek You...” (Psalm 9:10) Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known my name. (Psalm 91:14) Let them praise Your great and awesome name. Holy is He. (Psalm 99:3) My mouth will speak the praise of Yahweh, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever. (Psalm 145:21) Let them praise the name of Yahweh, for His name alone is exalted. His glory is above earth and heaven. (Psalm 148:13) Under the oppressive measures of erecting a “fence” around the Torah and the name of Yahweh, the people of God gradually lost their vital relationship with Yahweh. His last three prophets—Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi died. No prophets arose again until the coming of the Messiah. Perilous times to mention the ineffable Name. Historical evidence shows that if anyone, whether Yeshua (Jesus) or not, spoke the name Yahweh during the first century, if accused by two or three witnesses, his or her life was imperiled by the court. Practicality warrants that no one would utter the name of God publicly during the first century. It was too risky. The question arises, then. Why would Yeshua (Jesus) do it as He was so charged before the Sanhedrin? If, at some later date, his disciples spoke the Divine Name, why would they do it? To speak the ineffable Name was surely done at one’s own peril. We would be safe to say that before the ministry years of Yeshua (Jesus), He did not mention, at least publicly, the banned Name. His parents taught Him to be observant as they were observant of the Torah. Of course, the Torah did not banish the name of God from being spoken. But they taught Him also to be observant of the legal yoke of the “fence” imposed on them by the “fence” around the Torah, around its covenantal sign, the Sabbath, and around the name of God. Yeshua (Jesus) was both Torah observant, and, at least for most of his life, “fence” observant. During his ministry, Yeshua (Jesus) constantly addressed the abuses of the “fence.” For Him, it was an unwarranted and untenable yoke upon God’s people. Instead of the Great Assembly transmitting the Torah, Prophets and Writings faithfully to the next generation, the entrusted group of 120 men reinterpreted and misapplied it. They violated it, substituting for it a new tradition for Israel. The Great Assembly, for Yeshua (Jesus), departed from the ancient path given by Yahweh to the Patriarchs and Moses. Yeshua (Jesus) made searing statements recorded dutifully in the Gospels that addressed the weighty abuses of the Scriptures by the heavy yoke of the post-exilic tradition of the elders: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and “you will find rest for your souls.” For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30) He severely criticized the blindness of the Pharisees and scribes in following and preserving the tradition of “fencing” the Torah: Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Yeshua [Jesus] from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? … And [by this] you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. (Matthew 15:1-3, 6; cf. Mark 7:1-5) The apostles chaff under the heavy yoke of the “fence.” After the death, resurrection and ascension of Yeshua (Jesus) to heaven, and upon the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the festival of Shavuoth (Pentecost), the apostles began to call the people of Israel and, significantly with Peter and Paul, to call the Gentiles to receive the kingdom of God. The apostle Peter, seeing that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon believing Gentiles, chaffed under the oppressive yoke imposed by the Great Assembly and, later, the Sanhedrin. He called the people back to their roots in the Torah, Prophets and Writings away from the tradition of the elders. In regard to the admission of Gentiles into the fellowship of believers in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), he said: And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. And He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Yeshua [Jesus], in the same way as they also are. (Acts 15:8-11) Peter remained Torah observant, but not “fence” observant. Later, the apostle Paul reminded the Galatians of his zeal for the tradition of the elders before Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) was revealed to him enroute to Damascus: For you have heard of my former manner of life among the Jews, how I used to persecute the assembly of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing among the Jews beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13-14) He then explained his persuasion for the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) and, in different letters, the fullness of Messiah’s revelation anticipated in the Scriptures apart from the “fenced” tradition of his fathers. In matters pertaining to the “fence” around Torah, circumcision, the Sabbath and other matters, he saw it as a genuine barrier to receiving the revelation of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) as the physical fullness of Torah. Paul remained Torah observant, but not “fence” observant. The end of the mission—to Jerusalem! Yeshua (Jesus) met with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi in Galilee. The occasion became the linchpin between his Galilean ministry and his last days ministry in Jerusalem. After this event, Yeshua walked his last journey to Jerusalem with his disciples. There he would be put to death. At this meeting with the Twelve, the question arose as to the identity of the Messiah: Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Yonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Messiah. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. (Matthew 16:16-21) At this time He set his face towards Jerusalem for Passover (cf. Luke 9:51). Setting for Yeshua’s (Jesus’) statement about the temple. Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Yeshua (Jesus) went to the temple. He found the temple being desecrated by money changers selling their sacrificial animals in the Court of the Gentiles. “Stop making my Father’s house a place of business,” he said to them (cf. John 2:16). The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of his body. (John 2:18-21) Possibly the two accusers of Yeshua (Jesus) were among the moneychangers, for they were merited as being eyewitnesses. Yeshua’s two accusers were dismissed. With a biblical understanding of blasphemy, we return to the portion of text in Matthew 27:63-65 where Yeshua (Jesus) was being accused by two witnesses of blasphemy. The two eyewitnesses of Yeshua’s declaration about the temple had given testimony. As shown earlier, the charge was blasphemy for saying, “the temple of Yahweh.” The time for questioning Him arose. The high priest, Caiaphas, took the lead: And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Yeshua [Jesus] said to him, “You have said it: nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see ‘the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!” Something radically happened in the way Yeshua (Jesus) answered the query. It immediately evoked the charge of blasphemy by the high priest and a call by the Sanhedrin, all eyewitnesses, for his death.
To say that Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth and, later, his apostles were uncomfortable with the accepted authority of Jewish traditional law (qabbalah) in their day is an understatement. For Him, it was the acid in his voice, a constant irritant in his throat and the testing of his life. Seldom was He not far from decrying its pervasive influence upon the minds and decisions of the nation’s religious authorities—Sadducees, Pharisees and their scribes. At the end of three and a half years of public ministry, He fell victim to its legal judgment, suffering the death penalty for breaking its nouveau definition of blasphemy His apostles, as adamant as He against the oppressive yoke of post-Mosaic traditional law, followed Him, all paying the supreme sacrifice, but one—the apostle John. All were severely put to the test for their uncompromised and unrelenting conviction against the supreme authority given to the traditional law of the elders, particularly where it overrode the original intent of the Word of God. To them, traditional law (qabbalah) was not of divine origin or sanction. To the elders of Israel it was esteemed so highly it was equivalent to divine law and, at times, countermanded it. Yeshua and his many followers were highly supportive and observant of the teachings of the Torah, Prophets and Writings (the Old Testament or Tanakh). To them it was the written Word of God and must be read, studied and obeyed according to its original intent, not to be reinterpreted to sanction other perspectives. Themselves all Jews, they were not inclined towards accepting the authority granted to traditional, post-Mosaic law, laws made by men that erected a “fence” around the Scriptures. They were particularly incensed by the way its authority was accepted as equal to the Torah, Prophets and Writings—the Word of God. By the time of the first century, the Torah was undergoing redefinition and acceptance to include the law of the elders—oral tradition and any written collections of it. Even today in modern Judaism, the post-Mosaic laws preserved in the Talmud, especially the Mishnah, are typically called “Torah,” along with the biblical Torah. Yeshua and his apostles stood firmly against equating the voices of men, even the wisest of the sages, with the Word of God. What is the Torah? The Torah is the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In Hebrew, the five books are named, in order, Bereshith, Shemoth, Vayikra, Bamidbar, and Devarim, each book deriving its name from the initial, dominant word of each book. The narrative covers the beginning of the world to the choosing and separating of Israel from among the nations as Yahweh’s chosen people. Within it are 613 commandments. Regrettably, in most English Bibles and commentaries it is termed “Law.” To call it “Law” is a disservice. Half of its pages are family stories of Israel’s ancestors. Though English translators hardly ever render the five books according to its biblical name, we should make a determined effort to read the word as “Torah” where it applies. To refer to the Torah as “Law” misleads the unwitting Bible student to believe the Torah is a five-volume law book and that the faith of Israel is all about a legal code of ethics. Neither is true. The word “Torah” comes from the Hebrew word for “instruct” and literally means “instruction, teaching.” Hardly is the word “instruction” equivalent to “law.” Actually, biblical Hebrew used other words to describe law, most notably the word din. The written Torah was “the instruction” of Yahweh to Israel given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. He wrote it during the forty years immediately after the congregation of Israel gained freedom from Egyptian slavery. Because the fledgling nation of Israel was to be a light of Yahweh to all the nations in fulfillment of its national calling, the Torah was given by Yahweh to help the people live appropriately before Him, each other and the nations. The Torah, therefore, was Yahweh’s colorful, life-illustrated “instruction” to Israel for daily life and conduct (halakah), including its mission to be a light to the nations. What is “traditional Jewish law”? The “tradition, or “traditional law,” is separate from the Torah, even though the strong tendency within Jewish society is to include it with the Torah as a larger embodiment of its instruction. It added new laws and interpreted in new ways the prescriptions of the Torah. Called in Hebrew, qabbalah, which means “reception, tradition,” traditional law emerged after the Babylonian exile ended. A flurry of laws were made by the Great Assembly (500-300 B.C.) and, later, its successor, the Sanhedrin, to erect and enforce a protective “fence” around the Torah to keep the Jewish people from disobeying it. These laws are sometimes referred to as the post-Mosaic laws—i.e., they were laws and dictums made by Jewish sages to govern the “walk” (halakah) of Israel. These post-Mosaic, post-exilic lawmakers were effusive in law-making, creating laws for almost every imaginable human situation in life, from the most intimate to the sublime. Whereas the Torah was much more limited in its scope of commandments, practically nothing was outside the scope of one or more of their laws. By reading the voluminous Talmud (which embodies much of the oral tradition—the Mishnah—and its commentary, the Gemara,), and the two volume Tosefta (another collection of laws), you come to understand the overwhelming capacity of the post-Mosaic court system to “bind or loose” the Jewish people. Mostly, however, they “bound” them to what became an unbearable legal yoke. The finest literary construction and summary of the Jewish code of law and ethics is Maimonides’ 14-volume, Mishneh Torah, written near the end of the twelfth century. “He condensed the entire Jewish lore contained in the Bible, the Mishnah, the two Talmuds, the midrashic literature, and the responsa of the Geonim (Teshuvoth ha-Geonim)” (Philip Birnbaum, Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts, Hebrew Publishing Company, Rockaway Beach, NY, 1979, p. 402). The making of laws to protect the Jewish people from violating the Torah, it seemed, saw no end during the Persian, Greek and Roman periods. This legal code, established and reinforced by the court system, by the first century became the time-honored “tradition” of Jewish life. Such legal observance was deemed “Torah observance,” though, in fact, it was Torah observance according to traditional law, the legal “fence” around the Torah. Traditional law became another slave master for Israel. The history of ancient Israel is the repeating story of slave masters and freedom from them, only to return to them again and again. The Jewish people came out of Egypt resolved to not serve another slave master like Pharaoh. Yet, at during their forty years of wandering in the Sinai Peninsula, many were willing to surrender their freedom, choose a leader from among them, and return to their Egyptian slave quarters. But a more pervasive desire for an imaginary slave master held sway over them well before their Egyptian enslavement. This desire was to believe in and serve idols—the false gods of pagan lore. The story is traceable to Rachel, the wife of Jacob, who kept the idols of her home when she fled with her husband from Laban. At Mt. Sinai when Yahweh gave the Torah to Moses, with notable exceptions among the Levites, the redeemed people of Yahweh turned from Him, their liberator, to their hand-crafted golden image of a calf which they declared to be “Elohim.” The emotional and irrational captivity of Israel to idol worship proved more difficult to escape than any Pharaoh. The desire for paganism lingered pervasively throughout the history of ancient Israel. After two separate exiles for idolatry, the Assyrian and, later, the Babylonian exile, a new resolve to avoid the trappings of idolatry emerged. After the Babylonian exile ended with the decree of Cyrus, in their new found freedom in the post-exilic world, the nation, again, resolved to not be under another slave master. In short time, however, in their official determination to avoid idolatry, the leaders organized a Great Assembly of 120 elders. Their mission was three-fold as outlined in the opening words of Perkei Avos (i.e., Ethics of the Fathers): “Be deliberate in judgment, develop many disciples and make a fence (seyag) for the Torah” (1:1). The last of the three purposes—“to make a fence for the Torah”—ensnared the new “fathers” of Israel and the nation as a whole. In their zeal to protect Israel from disobeying the Torah and returning to idolatry, they developed an unbearable legal code that was imposed uniformly on the Jewish people with dire consequences for any breaches. Then they treated it, spoke of it and revered it as if it were divine law equivalent to the Torah. The new laws added to, and, at times, took away from the ancient way of knowing and observing Torah. The people of God had another slave master. Compounding it, they considered their new slave master to have the legal weight of divine law. No idol was needed. Legal words and enforcement of them became the “divine instrument” in their hands. Yeshua (Jesus) and his apostles did not hold the traditional law of these fathers in divine esteem. Some laws had merit, but assigning them the weight of the divine Torah was unconscionable to Yeshua and his followers. They knew it was counter productive and destructive to the purpose for which Yahweh called and established the nation of Israel. Of course, their lives would be imperiled for their outspoken view. Yeshua’s (Jesus’) complaint about the “fence for the Torah.” During his ministry, Yeshua (Jesus) constantly addressed the abuses of the Torah, Prophets and Writings caused by the growing web of human laws to fence in the Word of God, including its covenantal sign, the Sabbath, and the ban on speaking the name of his Father, Yahweh. His wonders and miracle stories often addressed these abuses in some way. For Him, the “fence” imposed by the Great Assembly and, later, the Sanhedrin, was an unwarranted and untenable yoke upon God’s people. The Scriptures should be enough. The addition of traditional law (qabbalah) opened the way for another slave master, not one of foreign imperial might, but of their own making. He saw the voluminous legal work of “fencing the Torah” done by the Great Assembly as a departure from truth and the practice of it. The members of the Great Assembly had created a new order of rules for Torah observance in striking conflict with the spirit of the Torah, Prophets and Writings. The new yoke was not the yoke of the kingdom of Yahweh, but a heavy yoke too hard to bear individually or as a chosen nation. Yeshua (Jesus) preferred the ancient Torah, not the new one. Each morning devout Jewish men intentionally put on the yoke of traditional law through a series of recitations. Two key recitations are expressed in the statements qabbaloth ol malchut shamayim (“receiving [the] yoke of [the] kingdom of heaven”) and qabbaloth ol ha-mitzvuoth (“receiving [the] yoke of the commandments”). Yeshua (Jesus), though familiar with these twin statements, did not recite them. He was the giver of the kingdom of Yahweh, not the receiver.. Instead, he offered an alternative to the unbearable yoke of tradition: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and “you will find rest for your souls.” For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30) In another biblical narrative, Yeshua (Jesus) sternly criticized the Pharisees and scribes in accepting (qabbaloth) and fostering the traditional law (qabbalah) of “fencing” the Torah. Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Yeshua [Jesus] from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? … And [by this] you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your traditional law [qabbalah]. (Matthew 15:1-3, 6; cf. Mark 7:1-5) This is a remarkable statement in contrasts. Yeshua’s disciples did not observe the fence of laws around the Torah, at least not on an authoritative level where it was more important to obey these manmade laws than the Word of God. The Pharisees and scribes, however, neglected the Word of God, excusing it with new laws that allowed them to circumvent the Torah, Prophets and Writings for their own benefit. Which was better: to obey God or man? This was the question of the day for Yeshua and his disciples (cf. Acts 5:29). One of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) famous twin parables, often misinterpreted and misapplied, addressed this issue. The first parable concerns sewing new cloths on old cloths. The second parable addresses the putting of new wine into old wineskins. Most today, it seems, teach that “the new wine” that figures in the parable is better than “the old wine.” Yeshua did not. Luke’s Gospel (5:30-39) preserved the larger context where the last line spoken clinches the case for the preference of “the old wine” in “the old wineskin”: The Pharisees and their scribes [began] grumbling at his disciples [for violating traditional law], saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Yeshua [Jesus] answered and said to them, “[It is] not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And they said to Him, “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the [disciples] of the Pharisees also do the same [in keeping with traditional law], but yours eat and drink [disobeying post-Mosaic traditional law].” And Yeshua [Jesus] said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” And also He was telling them a parable [in this regard]: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. Otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new [wine]. For he says, ‘The old is [what is] good.’” In effect, Yeshua (Jesus) told the Pharisees and their scribes that He and his disciples preferred “the old wine” in “the old wineskin” that is divine wine above their “new wine” in their “new wineskin” that is conceived, enacted and enforced by man. In both parables the Pharisees and their scribes were the advocates of “the new cloth” and “the new wine.” How so? The last of the two parables is clearest for it explains the first parable as well. What, then, is the obvious application of the old wine since it was the better of the two choices, according to Yeshua (Jesus)? Like the new cloth, the new wine was counter productive and destructive, rending apart the old wineskin. The old wineskin of Torah did not need the new wine of traditional law poured into it. New wine was suitable only for new wineskins. Meanwhile, the new wine that redefined Torah observance was destroying the old wineskin of Torah and should be emptied out. The Pharisees and scribes, with great skill, had redefined Torah observance as obedience to the oral tradition of laws passed down by the Great Assembly and enforced by the Sanhedrin. of God. Under present conditions, reflected in the state of affairs of the Jewish state, the people of Israel were torn by the internal pressure of the new wine poured into their old wineskin and could not sustain it forever. What was the old wine but the revelation of Yahweh in history as the Living Torah from the beginning, including but not exclusive to the giving of the written Torah at Mt. Sinai. The Torah from the beginning was the Messiah Yeshua with his eternal commandment to love God and love one another. In 1 John 2:7, among other places, one of Yeshua’s apostles, namely John, taught the same thing. He taught that the old commandment, i.e., “the old wine,” as Yeshua termed it, was presented to the world “from the beginning” without regard to nationality. In his careful wording, John pushes past the giving of the written commandments at Mt. Sinai, and well past the Noachide laws, to the beginning of creation by using the Hebrew word bereishith (“in-beginning-of”). The same word is the first word of the Hebrew Bible. This is what he wrote: Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had in-beginning-of [bereishith] [i.e., Yahweh’s revelation as the Word in Genesis 1]. What is “the old commandment”? John answers it in the following verses 9-11—to live or walk in “the Light of the world” from creation, namely, Yeshua (Jesus). To do so, you must receive (qabbalah) Him as the light and demonstrate Him as reflectors of his light through loving others and, thereby, loving God. John does not violate ancient Hebrew understandings of Scripture at all. When the “new wine of the fence around the Torah” was imposed on Israel, the Great Assembly pushed “the old commandment” from the beginning of time forward in time a bit to Mt. Sinai, missing the point of Yahweh’s revelation in history altogether. They fenced the cosmic and historic events of Yahweh’s revelation out, fencing Him in along with the Torah, concealing Him from the people of God, hiding his Name. This new wine that “fenced” the Torah was self-destructive for the chosen people of Yahweh. Let it belong elsewhere in new wineskins, but not among the chosen people Israel as the new Torah observance. The apostles chaff under the heavy yoke of the “fence.” The disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) continued his teachings to call the lost sheep of Israel to repentance, to return to Yahweh and belong to his kingdom. After the death, resurrection and ascension of Yeshua (Jesus) to heaven, and upon the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the festival of Shavuoth (Pentecost), the apostles began to call the people of Israel (and, after a time, to call the Gentiles) to receive the light-weight yoke of the kingdom of God. The apostle Peter, seeing the Holy Spirit poured out upon believing Gentiles, chaffed under the oppressive yoke imposed by the Great Assembly and, later, the Sanhedrin. In prophetic character, he called the Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) back to their ancient roots written in the Torah, Prophets and Writings away from the post-Mosaic, post-exilic laws that misled the nation. He saw traditional law (qabbalah), as his Master did, in conflict with the purposes of Yahweh. The heavy yoke, in his own words, “put God to the test.” He expressed his genuine concern to Jewish believers given to the accepting of traditional law for handling questions and issues of life where God’s Word should be the authoritative word. For example, in regard to the admission of Gentiles into the fellowship of believers in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), he said: And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. And He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke [traditional law] which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Yeshua [Jesus], in the same way as they also are. (Acts 15:8-11) Peter remained Torah observant in the Messiah, but transitioned away from the laws regulating Torah observance as following the “fence of the Torah” as he, likely, was taught from childhood. Later, the apostle Paul reminded the Galatians of his former zeal for the tradition [qabbalah] of the elders before Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) was revealed to him: For you have heard of my former manner of life among the Jews, how I used to persecute the assembly of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing among the Jews beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13-14) He then explained his persuasion for the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). In matters pertaining to the “fence” around Torah, including the covenant signs of circumcision and the Sabbath, and the ban on speaking the Name, he saw it as an unbiblical barrier to receiving the revelation of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) as the fullness of Torah in flesh. Consider what he wrote to the Galatians in 4:9-5:1 about slavery to the Torah observance demanded by traditional law. He contrasts it with legitimate observance of Torah in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), the ancient and true order of Torah observance from the beginning. Bracketed words explain the context and are not part of the biblical text. Bold lettering is for showing emphasis: But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years [according to the post-exilic rules of observing the “fence” around Torah]. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain … So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? They eagerly seek you, not commendably, [i.e., the advocates of the post-exilic rules of observing the “fence” around Torah regarding circumcision, Sabbath and the Name]. And they wish to shut you out [of your true faith in the Messiah] so that you will seek them. My children, with whom I am again in labor until Messiah is formed in you—but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. Tell me, you who want to be under Torah [as defined by the rules of the “fence” around Torah imposed by the Great Assembly and Sanhedrin], do you not listen to the [true] Torah? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is metaphorically speaking, for these [women] are [illustrations of] two covenants: one from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves. She is Hagar. Now this “Hagar” is Mount Sinai in Arabia [where the written Torah was given] and corresponds to the present Jerusalem [where the “fence” of Torah is practiced], for she is in slavery with her children i.e., present Jerusalem modified Torah observance to conform to the yoke of traditional law]. But the Jerusalem above is free [from this yoke of slavery]. She is our mother … And you brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him [who was born] according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman [i.e., follow the true Torah given to Moses and found in the persons of the Messiah Yeshua].” So then, brothers, we are not children of [the covenant of] a bondwoman, but of the [covenant of] free woman. For freedom Messiah set us free [from the post-Mosaic order of Torah observance]. Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Paul remained Torah observant in the Messiah, but was no longer “fence” observant as he once taught and enforced as an apostle (shaliach) of the Sanhedrin. Supreme authority of traditional law (qabbalah) seen as “tempting God.” The resistance of Yeshua and his disciples to the post-Mosaic traditional law was predicated on what they knew: the authority granted to traditional law and its enforcement was the same as tempting Yahweh. Opinion did not matter about its virtues or lack thereof. Only truth mattered, and the supreme authority granted to traditional law came down on the wrong side. In the apostle Peter’s reasoning to admit Gentiles into the body of fellowship with believing Jews, he declared that the heavy yoke of traditional law “put God to the test” (Acts 15:10). What did he mean? The Aramaic Peshitta forms the sentence this way: “And now, why do you tempt God by putting a yoke on the necks of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we could bear?” To test God is to tempt God—to strive against Him to see if He will respond, if at all. The Hebrew word for “test” or “tempt’ is nasa. At the root of the word is the idea “to lift up,” in this case, to lift up and set a standard for trial, for testing. It appears in Exodus 17 when the congregation of Israel is freshly delivered from Egyptian slavery and is found in the desert thirsting for water. “The people strived [nasa – tested] Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” They wanted him to be tested at a higher standard than themselves. Moses reminded them that he was not the one they were testing. He asked, “Why do you test [nasa] Yahweh?” (17:2). Moses was then threatened by stoning. The people ignored his warning and tested God anyway. In an act of deliverance for Moses, Yahweh instructed him to take his rod and strike the rock at Horeb. When he did, water gushed forth, enough to supply the water needs of the congregation of Israel. Moses “named the place Massah and Meribah because of the striving of the sons of Israel, and because they tested [nasa] Yahweh, saying, “Is Yahweh among us, or not?” (17:7). It is like saying, “We are facing a crisis here in the desert. Now would the real Yahweh stand up?” When Moses gave Israel the Shema for daily recital (Deuteronomy 6:4), he told them to teach the Torah to each new generation and to stay away from idols. Then he said, “You shall not put Yahweh your God to the test, as you tested [Him] at Massah” (6:16). When Satan tempted Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), he “said to him, “… It is written, ‘You shall not put Yahweh your God to the test [nasa]” (Matthew 4:7). When Peter addressed the Jewish congregation of believers in Jerusalem regarding the admittance of Gentiles into the fellowship, he warned them that they were at risk in tempting God. His statement evoked the story of Israel in the desert when the congregation raised up a standard against Yahweh for Him to prove Himself to their satisfaction. They were the judges, He was the judged. To raise a standard against Yahweh was to put Him on trial. Yahweh, in the eyes of the congregation, had to prove Himself to justify his claim to be the God of Israel. In the case at Massah, the people demanded that He prove Himself that He was able to sustain the people He redeemed out of Egypt. Otherwise, their loyalties were elsewhere. In the case of Peter’s statement, the congregation was putting Yahweh to the test on the basis of the authority of traditional law to prove Himself again, this time to justify his right to pour out his Spirit on Gentile believers too. Peter saw it as untenable and dangerous situation for the Jewish believers in Messiah, and so warned them. They built their case against the Gentile believers, and, thus, against Yahweh by “lifting up” (nasa) traditional law to a higher standard than God’s word and Spirit in action. Indeed, this was the sorrowful state of affairs in the first century. Yeshua and his apostles addressed it, and faced consequences for it. Meanwhile, during the early growth of new believers in Messiah after his death, resurrection and ascension, the gospel was freeing Jewish people from the yoke of slavery of traditional law (qabbalah). The prophets replaced by the scribes. After the Babylonian exile, the culmination of laws upon laws to put a fence around the Torah became known as traditional law. The legislative work soon ceased the message of the prophets. The prophets replaced by the scribes. After the Babylonian exile, the culmination of laws upon laws to put a fence around the Torah became known as traditional law. The legislative work soon ceased the message of the prophets. Scribes (sofrim) replaced the prophets. The learned scribes scrupulously made copies of the Scriptures, interpreting them according to their hermeneutic, teaching them to the people. With their propensity for extremely detailed laws, their vast legal work became a heavy yoke on the people of God. With the rise of authority bestowed on their work, elevating it to the level of Torah and the Prophets, the scribes put Yahweh to the test. The fact of the matter, with dependency on traditional law as the primary source of reference to justify or disqualify practically anything, history shows that prophets ceased. Though three prophets (perhaps Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi) may have been part of the original group, along with Ezra, with the rise of the Great Assembly and, later, the Sanhedrin, prophets had no share. The last of the prophets died off with the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s temple. They were gone from the Great Assembly in just one generation. With the restrictive legal code being put in place precept upon precept, any new prophets, if they arose, likely would have met the ire of the elders. Like with John the Baptist, they would have come out to watch and judge, not participate in repentance (cf. Matthew 3:7-10). They would have subjected to trial any prophecy the prophets may have spoke just as they did Yeshua (Jesus) and his apostles. With their set of post-exilic laws, they had become the higher standard for Israel, working against Yahweh. Their higher standard, the qabbalah, also banned the name of “Yahweh,” banishing his Name from among the people. What could a prophet say anyway. Surely they could not say, “Thus says Yahweh,” without suffering the death penalty. Then came Yeshua (Jesus). In his corrective message to the lost sheep of Israel, He reminded them of the validity of the Torah, the Torah from the beginning of creation, which was his self-disclosure in history. He was the fullness of everything Moses wrote, once hidden but now revealed. He explained: Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill [i.e., fill it up]. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Torah until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18) Yeshua (Jesus) was not a replacement of the Torah. He was the living Torah in flesh. Though rejected by tradition-keepers, nevertheless He was Yahweh’s standard bearer. To test Him was to test Yahweh. Observing and obeying Him is the fullness of Torah observance, always was and always will be. He will appear again, this time as conquering King and Judge of righteousness. In the end, his standard is the only one that matters.