The Apple Of God's Eye

September 29, 2009

Is "First Day Of The Week" The Same As Sunday?

There is a theory circulated among certain Sunday-keeping groups that Sunday became the Sabbath after the resurrection of Christ. As supposed proof, they mistranslate the original Greek phrase, usually rendered “first day of the week,” as “first of the sabbaths.” They claim that the first Sunday after the resurrection became the first “Christian Sabbath” — and that Saturday was the “Jewish Sabbath.” This idea is absolutely FALSE!

No competent Greek scholars accept such a translation. But let the Bible itself disprove this fable. If the Sunday after the resurrection were the first “Christian Sabbath” — which it never could be — then any Sunday thereafter could not be the “first of the sabbaths,” but would of necessity be either the “second or third … or hundredth of the sabbaths!”

Acts 20:7 recorded of  56 A.D. — 25 years after the resurrection! Yet the same original Greek phrase, translated “first day of the week” in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, occurs here! This could not be the “first of the sabbaths” 25 years after the resurrection — since, by their theory, the first of the “Christian sabbaths” would have already occurred 25 years before the event recorded in Acts 20:7. Obviously the Greek cannot mean what they say it does!

Now turn to I Corinthians 16:2. This letter was written in the late winter of 55 A.D. — almost 24 years after the resurrection — and the same Greek expression occurs here. This certainly was not the “first of the Christian sabbaths!” It would be 24 years too late! The answer is that the only proper idiomatic rendering of the Greek phrase is “first day of the week,” not “first of the sabbaths.”

But, it may be objected, is not the Greek word sάbbaton, translated “week,” the same word often translated “sabbath”? Of course it is, but the inspired Greek word may also mean “week” — because the sabbath determines the length of the week. The Greeks had two words for “week”: hebdomad and sάbbaton. Only the word sάbbaton is used in the New Testament. It comes from the Hebrew word meaning “rest,” “sabbath,” “week,” “seven.”

In Luke 18:12 the Greek word sάbbaton is translated properly as “week,” not “sabbath.” The Jews fasted “twice in a week,” Monday and Thursday, not “twice on a sabbath.” That would be foolish! This verse alone proves that the Greek word sάbbaton may mean “week.”

But there is even more proof. The English expression “first day of the week” comes from two different Greek idioms. In Mark 16:9, the original Greek is prootee sabbάton. It has only one meaning: “first [day) of [the] week.” In this verse sabbάton is the Greek singular possessive form of sάbbaton — and means “of the week.” Prootee means “first.”

But in all other cases (Mat. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2) the Greek word sάbbaton, which may mean either “sabbath” or “week,” is in the plural. The Greek expression translated “first day of the week” is, in these verses, mia toon sabbάtoon. It is an idiom and cannot be translated literally into English. It, too, means “the first day of the week,” but it refers to one particular “first day” — the Sunday upon which the wave sheaf was offered — the Sunday AFTER two sabbaths!

Since the Greek word sάbbaton in these verses is in the plural, it may mean either “weeks,” or “sabbaths.” Professor Sophocles, a Greek scholar, indicates in his Lexicon, p. 43, par. 6, that the expression means “[day number] one after the sabbaths.” Which sabbaths? The first high day or annual sabbath and the weekly sabbath falling within the Days of Unleavened Bread! Here is the proof!

The same plural form — sabbάtoon – is found in the Greek Septuagint translation of Leviticus 23:15. In this verse the Greek for “the morrow after the sabbath” is epaύrion toon sabbάtoon and means idiomatically “the day after the sabbaths.” The Greek translators understood that you begin counting Pentecost from the Sunday after the weekly sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. They used the plural word sabbάtoon, meaning “sabbaths,” to make plain that the Sunday on which the wave sheaf was offered followed BOTH the first annual sabbath AND the weekly sabbath in the Days of Unleavened Bread.

In other words, every New Testament writer was making especially plain which particular Sunday followed the resurrection — the Sunday after the two sabbaths, which in that year fell on Thursday and, of course, Saturday. In all these verses the original Greek, loon sabbάtoon, means idiomatically “AFTER the sabbaths” — and cannot be taken literally to mean “of the sabbaths.” It is a Greek idiom which uses the possessive plural with the meaning of “after.” The Greek translation of Leviticus 23:15 proved it!

Even in Acts 20:7 and I Cor. 16:2, the day referred to was the day the wave sheaf was offered. In 56 A.D., when the events in Acts 20 occurred, the Passover occurred on a weekly Sabbath. The Days of Unleavened Bread extended from Sunday through the following Sabbath. The day of the wave-sheaf offering in that year immediately followed the Days of Unleavened Bread. That was the day Paul preached until midnight — beginning Saturday night immediately after the Festival was over (Acts 20:7).

Those with Luke kept the entire Feast in Phillipi. After the feast, Luke and those with him left Phillipi for Troas (Acts 20:6). Paul left Troas on the day the wave sheaf was offered — before Luke arrived at Troas. Luke does not say “when we came together, Paul preached unto us” — he clearly states “when the disciples come together, Paul preached unto them.” Whenever Luke includes himself he uses the “we” form (Acts 20:6, 13).

Some translations incorrectly insert in Acts 20:7 the pronoun “we.” The overwhelming majority of New Testament Greek manuscripts have “they,” not “we.” The original Greek of Acts 20:13 indicated that Paul “had left arrangements,” prior to Luke’s arrival at Troas, for Luke to proceed in ship to Assos in order to pick up Paul.

I Cor. 16:2 also refers to the day the wave sheaf was offered at Jerusalem — just another indication that what was laid in store was fruit of the field, not money in a church offering-plate! The time those Christians began to harvest was “upon the day after the sabbaths” — upon Sunday after the early-morning offering of the wave sheaf.

This precise history, not usually understood, clearly indicates that the New Testament Church continued to observe the sabbath and the annual festivals God gave, and that they always regarded Sunday as a work day.

Source: Good News, 1958

July 2, 2009

Comparing Denominational Doctrines On The Sabbath

Editors Comment: I found the following information here and thought it was interesting to see what other denominations had to say about the Sabbath and its supposed transfer of authority to Sunday. The results are surprising indeed for those not aware. It makes for a great read.

—————————————————————-

Exodus 20:8-11 [The 4th Commandment]
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God. In it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

Roman Catholic: “Sunday is a Catholic institution, and its claim to observance can be defended only on Catholic principles . . From beginning to end of Scripture there is not a single passage that warrants the transfer of weekly public worship from the last day of the week to the first.”-Catholic Press, Sydney, Australia, August, 1900.

“… you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.” The Faith of Our Fathers, by James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, 88th edition, page 89. Originally published in 1876, republished and Copyright 1980 by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., pages 72-73.

“The Sabbath was Saturday, not Sunday. The Church altered the observance of the Sabbath to the observance of Sunday. Protestants must be rather puzzled by the keeping of Sunday when God distinctly said, ‘Keep holy the Sabbath Day.’ The word Sunday does not come anywhere in the Bible, so, without knowing it they are obeying the authority of the Catholic Church.” Canon Cafferata, The Catechism Explained, p. 89.

“Perhaps the boldest thing, the most revolutionary change the Church ever did, happened in the first century. The holy day, the Sabbath, was changed from Saturday to Sunday. “The Day of the Lord” (dies Dominica) was chosen, not from any directions noted in the Scriptures, but from the Church’s sense of its own power. The day of resurrection, the day of Pentecost, fifty days later, came on the first day of the week. So this would be the new Sabbath. People who think that the Scriptures should be the sole authority, should logically become 7th Day Adventists, and keep Saturday holy.” Sentinel, Pastor’s page, Saint Catherine Catholic Church, Algonac, Michigan, May 21, 1995

Baptist: “There was and is a command to keep holy the Sabbath day, but that Sabbath day was not Sunday. It will however be readily said, and with some show of triumph, that the Sabbath was transferred from the seventh to the first day of the week, with all its duties, privileges and sanctions. Earnestly desiring information on this subject, which I have studied for many years, I ask, where can the record of such a transaction be found: Not in the New Testament – absolutely not. There is no scriptural evidence of the change of the Sabbath institution from the seventh to the first day of the week.” Dr. E. T. Hiscox, author of the ‘Baptist Manual’.

“The Scriptures nowhere call the first day of the week the Sabbath. . .There is no Scriptural authority for so doing, nor of course, any Scriptural obligation.” The Watchman.

“We believe that the law of God is the eternal and unchangeable rule of His moral government.”-“Baptist Church Manual,” Art. 12.

Lutheran: “The observance of the Lord’s Day (Sunday) is founded not on any command of God, but on the authority of the Church.” Augsburg Confession of Faith.

“They [the Catholics] allege the Sabbath changed into Sunday, the Lord’s day, contrary to the Decalogue, as it appears, neither is there any example more boasted of than the changing of the Sabbath day. Great, say they, is the power and authority of the church, since it dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments.” –Augsburg Confession of Faith, Art. 28, par. 9.

Episcopal: “The day is now changed from the seventh to the first day . . but as we meet with no Scriptural direction for the change, we may conclude it was done by the authority of the church.”-“The Protestant Episcopal Explanation of the Catechism.

Presbyterian: “There is no word, no hint in the New Testament about abstaining from work on Sunday. The observance of Ash Wednesday, or Lent, stands exactly on the same footing as the observance of Sunday. Into the rest of Sunday no Divine Law enters.”-Canon Eyton, Ten Commandments.

“God instituted the Sabbath at the creation of man, setting apart the seventh day for the purpose, and imposed its observance as a universal and perpetual moral obligation upon the race.” ­American Presbyterian Board of Publication, Tract No. 175.

“The observance of the seventh-day Sabbath did not cease till it was abolished after the [Roman] empire became Christian,” ­American Presbyterian Board of Publication, Tract No. 118.

Methodist: “It is true that there is no positive command for infant baptism. Nor is there any for keeping holy the first day of the week. Many believe that Christ changed the Sabbath. But, from His own words, we see that He came for no such purpose. Those who believe that Jesus changed the Sabbath base it only on a supposition.”-Amos Binney, Theological Compendium, pp. 180-181.      

Southern Baptist: “The sacred name of the seventh day is Sabbath. This fact is too clear to require argument [Exodus 20:10, quoted] . . On this point the plain teaching of the Word has been admitted in all ages . . Not once did the disciples apply the Sabbath law to the first day of the week,-that folly was left for a later age, nor did they pretend that the first day supplanted the seventh.”-Joseph Judson Taylor, The Sabbatic Question, pp. 14-17,

May 26, 2009

The Truth About Sunday Observance

Why do most observe Sunday as their day of rest? Not because they can prove that they should from the Bible!

“You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday.”

That’s a quote which came from Catholic James Cardinal Gibbons in The Faith of Our Fathers (1917 ed.).

A Catholic study course states: “If we followed the Bible only, we would keep holy the Saturday … Well, did Christ change the day? … We have no record that He did … The Church … transferred the obligation from Saturday to Sunday” (Father Smith Instructs Jackson).

The Catholic church makes no secret that it is responsible for replacing Sabbath keeping with Sunday observance.

And the Protestants? At the time of the Reformation they protested against many teachings of the Catholic church. But few protested against Sunday observance. One of those who did was named Carlstadt. So striking were his writings on the subject that Martin Luther admitted in his book Against the Celestial Prophets: “Indeed, if Carlstadt were to write further about the Sabbath, Sunday would have to give way, and the Sabbath — that is to say, Saturday — must be kept holy.”

But Luther did not want to go to that extent in rocking the ecclesiastical boat of his time. His reasoning, as found in his Larger Catechism, was that “to avoid the unnecessary disturbance which an innovation would occasion, it [the day of worship] should continue to be Sunday” (Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, article “Sunday”).

Martin Luther did not take issue with Sunday observance. The Protestant reformers as a whole accepted the Catholic position on Sunday. This is the real reason Protestants observe Sunday today!

When was Sunday substituted?

It didn’t happen all at once. It was gradual. “For some time it [Sunday] was observed conjointly with the Sabbath, verbal and ritual relics of such observance still remaining in our liturgical books and customs. But as Jewish habits [an admission that the early true Church kept some of the same customs as the Jews] became disused [On whose authority? God’s? No, man’s!] by the gentile [pagan-influenced] churches, this practice [Sabbath keeping] was generally, though slowly, discontinued” (Blunt’s Dictionary of Doctrinal and Historical Theology, article “Sunday”).

Even while the original apostles were alive it was necessary to warn of “certain men … crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4) who were trying to introduce pagan ideas into the Church. Worshiping on the day of the sun was but one of those ideas. Multitudes in the world were being deceived by an expanding counterfeit “Christianity” based on the ancient Babylonian mystery religion.

In the early years of the Church many fraudulent epistles were circulated, masquerading as apostolic letters. Notice how a letter written to gentiles shortly after the turn of the century and attributed to one Ignatius reveals that they, gentiles, were keeping the Sabbath:

“Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner … But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body [a deliberate attempt to water down God’s Sabbath law] … And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day [Sunday] as a festival … the queen and chief of all the days of the week.”

Both days were being kept, but observance of Sunday was being emphasized by Ignatius.

Not all early Catholics, however, favored Sunday observance. Around 230, Catholic Origen wrote to fellow Catholics of the gentile churches in Egypt:

“But what is the feast of the Sabbath except that of which the apostle speaks, ‘There remaineth therefore a Sabbatism’ [Hebrews 4:9], that is, the observance of the Sabbath by the people of God? [Notice how this man understood his native Greek tongue!] Leaving the Jewish observances of the Sabbath, let us see how the Sabbath ought to be observed by a Christian. On the Sabbath day all worldly labors ought to be abstained from. If, therefore, you cease from all secular works, and execute nothing worldly, but give yourselves up to spiritual exercises, repairing to church, attending to sacred reading and instruction … this is the observance of the Christian Sabbath” (Origen’s Opera, Book 2, p. 358).

Council of Laodicea prohibited Sabbath keeping

In 321 the Roman government issued an edict making Sunday a civil day of rest. The paganized, counterfeit “Christian” religion, which was becoming the empire’s dominant religion, supported the edict.

Sabbath keepers were forced to flee the confines of the western Roman Empire. Only in the east did Sabbath keepers remain. Eventually, however, Sabbath keeping was to be stamped out of the eastern Roman Empire as well.

About 365 the Council of Laodicea was called to settle, among other matters, the Sabbath question! One of its most famous canons was the 29th: “Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord’s Day, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found Judaizing, let them be anathema from Christ” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. XIV, p. 148).

The force of the Roman state had already been utilized in 325, after the Council of Nicaea, to confiscate the property and to destroy the lives of any who obeyed God’s command to keep the Passover. So the heavy hand of the state fell upon any who would be faithful in resting on the Sabbath and worshiping God as commanded in the Bible.

Why give such a command if there were no true Christians observing the Sabbath at that time?

Although Sabbath keeping was absolutely prohibited by this council, yet the whole Greek world still continued to attend church services on the Sabbath and work the remainder of the day! Saturday then was observed much as Sunday is observed now!

Public worship on the Sabbath was far from expelled in the churches of the east even four centuries after Christ.

Gregory, Bishop of Nyassa, a representative of the eastern churches, about 10 years after the Council at Laodicea, dared to tell the world: “With what eyes can you behold the Lord’s day, when you despise the Sabbath? Do you not perceive that they are sisters, and that in slighting the one, you affront the other?”

Sunday finally made a rest day

Observance of Sunday as a day of total rest was not strictly enforced for almost two centuries more. We even find Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible, working after the Sunday services several years following the enactments at Laodicea.

But Augustine, around 400, declared: “The holy doctors of the church [not the Bible, but men] have decreed that all the glory of the Jewish Sabbath is transferred to it [Sunday]. Let us therefore keep the Lord’s day as the ancients were commanded to do the Sabbath” (Sabbath Laws, p. 284).

It was the Roman church that sanctioned the Roman Sunday as a rest day, and not merely a secular holiday. It was that church that transferred the law of the Sabbath to Sunday. Another 600 years passed before the last recorded semblance of public worship on the Sabbath was completely extirpated from the eastern churches.

Meanwhile Pope Gregory of Rome, who reigned from 590 to 604, anathematized “those who taught that it was not lawful to do work on the day of the Sabbath” (History of the Popes, vol. II, p. 378).

That stamped the Sabbath out of the churches of the British Isles and the Continent where, according to Webster’s Rest Days, “The Celts kept Saturday as a day of rest, with special religious services on Sunday” (A. Bellesheim, History of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Edinburgh, 1887-1890, i, 86).

That’s the record of history!

Source: The Good News, August 1983

March 27, 2009

First Day Of The Week: Sunday Or Saturday?

There was a theory circulated among certain Sunday-keeping groups that Sunday became the Sabbath after the resurrection of Christ. As supposed proof, they mistranslate the original Greek phrase, usually rendered “first day of the week,” as “first of the sabbaths.” They claim that the first Sunday after the resurrection became the first “Christian Sabbath” — and that Saturday was the “Jewish Sabbath.

This idea is absolutely FALSE! No competent Greek scholars accept such a translation. But let the Bible itself disprove this fable. If the Sunday after the resurrection were the first “Christian Sabbath” — which it never could be — then any Sunday thereafter could not be the “first of the sabbaths,” but would of necessity be either the “second or third … or hundredth of the sabbaths!”

Look at Acts 20:7. The event recorded here occurred in 56 A.D. — 25 years after the resurrection! Yet the same original Greek phrase, translated “first day of the week” in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, occurs here! This could not be the “first of the sabbaths” 25 years after the resurrection — since, by their theory, the first of the “Christian sabbaths” would have already occurred 25 years before the event recorded in Acts 20:7. Obviously the Greek cannot mean what they say it does!

Now look at I Corinthians 16:2. This letter was written in the late winter of 55 A.D. — almost 24 years after the resurrection — and the same Greek expression occurs here. This certainly was not the “first of the Christian sabbaths!” It would be 24 years too late! The answer is that the only proper idiomatic rendering of the Greek phrase is “first day of the week,” not “first of the sabbaths.”

But, it may be objected, is not the Greek word sάbbaton, translated “week,” the same word often translated “sabbath”? Of course it is, but the inspired Greek word may also mean “week” — because the sabbath determines the length of the week. The Greeks had two words for “week”: hebdomad and sάbbaton. Only the word sάbbaton is used in the New Testament. It comes from the Hebrew word meaning “rest,” “sabbath,” “week,” “seven.”

In Luke 18:12 the Greek word sάbbaton is translated properly as “week,” not “sabbath.” The Jews fasted “twice in a week,” Monday and Thursday, not “twice on a sabbath.” That would be foolish! This verse alone proves that the Greek word sάbbaton may mean “week.”

But there is even more proof. The English expression “first day of the week” comes from two different Greek idioms. In Mark 16:9, the original Greek is prootee sabbάton. It has only one meaning: “first [day) of [the] week.” In this verse sabbάton is the Greek singular possessive form of sάbbaton — and means “of the week.” Prootee means “first.” But in all other cases (Mat. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2) the Greek word sάbbaton, which may mean either “sabbath” or “week,” is in the plural.

The Greek expression translated “first day of the week” is, in these verses, mia toon sabbάtoon. It is an idiom and cannot be translated literally into English. It, too, means “the first day of the week,” but it refers to one particular “first day” — the Sunday upon which the wave sheaf was offered — the Sunday AFTER two sabbaths! Since the Greek word sάbbaton in these verses is in the plural, it may mean either “weeks,” or “sabbaths.”

Professor Sophocles, a Greek scholar, indicates in his Lexicon, p. 43, par. 6, that the expression means “[day number] one after the sabbaths.” Which sabbaths? The first high day or annual sabbath and the weekly sabbath falling within the Days of Unleavened Bread!

Here is the proof! The same plural form — sabbάtoon – is found in the Greek Septuagint translation of Leviticus 23:15. In this verse the Greek for “the morrow after the sabbath” is epaύrion toon sabbάtoon and means idiomatically “the day after the sabbaths.” The Greek translators understood that you begin counting Pentecost from the Sunday after the weekly sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. They used the plural word sabbάtoon, meaning “sabbaths,” to make plain that the Sunday on which the wave sheaf was offered followed BOTH the first annual sabbath AND the weekly sabbath in the Days of Unleavened Bread.

In other words, every New Testament writer was making especially plain which particular Sunday followed the resurrection — the Sunday after the two sabbaths, which in that year fell on Thursday and, of course, Saturday. In all these verses the original Greek, loon sabbάtoon, means idiomatically “AFTER the sabbaths” — and cannot be taken literally to mean “of the sabbaths.” It is a Greek idiom which uses the possessive plural with the meaning of “after.” The Greek translation of Leviticus 23:15 proved it!

Even in Acts 20:7 and I Cor. 16:2, the day referred to was the day the wave sheaf was offered. In 56 A.D., when the events in Acts 20 occurred, the Passover occurred on a weekly Sabbath. The Days of Unleavened Bread extended from Sunday through the following Sabbath. The day of the wave-sheaf offering in that year immediately followed the Days of Unleavened Bread. That was the day Paul preached until midnight — beginning Saturday night immediately after the Festival was over (Acts 20:7).

Some translations incorrectly insert in Acts 20:7 the pronoun “we.” The overwhelming majority of New Testament Greek manuscripts have “they,” not “we.” The original Greek of Acts 20:13 indicated that Paul “had left arrangements,” prior to Luke’s arrival at Troas, for Luke to proceed in ship to Assos in order to pick up Paul.

I Cor. 16:2 also refers to the day the wave sheaf was offered at Jerusalem — just another indication that what was laid in store was fruit of the field, not money in a church offering-plate! The time those Christians began to harvest was “upon the day after the sabbaths” — upon Sunday after the early-morning offering of the wave sheaf. This precise history, not usually understood, clearly indicates that the New Testament Church continued to observe the sabbath and the annual festivals God gave, and that they always regarded Sunday as a work day.

February 23, 2009

Between The Testaments, Part 3

From: The Good News Of Tomorrow’s World

September 1971

By Ernest Martin and Harry Eisenberg

In the last installment, we saw how a majority of people were weaned away from their observance of God’s laws by the pressures of the Hellenistic culture. Under the rule of the Egyptian Ptolemies, they became interested in the education and culture of the surrounding nations. Later, under the domination of a cruel Seleucid Syrian king, the Jews revolted against Syria. The revolt was successful, and Hellenism, as a culture of which the Syrians were great exponents, was now discredited.

The priests (those descended from Aaron), many of whom had been leading Hellenists, were looked upon with distrust by many. Now laymen were beginning to make their voices heard in religious disputes. This was the rise of the Pharisees. It was a layman’s party, though some priests also belonged to it.

The Sadducees

No one questioned the right of the priests to officiate in the Temple. But the priests pointed to Deuteronomy 17:8-13 as giving them, and not the lay teachers, the authority to teach and to decide questions pertaining to religion. They and their supporters organized themselves into the party of the Sadducees (name taken from Zadok, the High Priest in Solomon’s day).

The priests as a whole were wealthy. This and their previous support of Hellenism caused the people to mistrust them by and large. Josephus tells us, “The Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side” (“Antiquities of the Jews”, XIII, x, 6).

Lay Teachers Justify the People’s Errors

And yet the main reason for the popularity of the Pharisees and the rejection of the Sadducees was neither the tainted past nor the wealth of the priests. It was in the teachings of the Pharisees themselves. During the period of religious anarchy under Hellenistic rule, the continuity of official teachers of the law had been broken. Hellenism had made its inroads.

Consequently, when the Maccabean War came to an end, and some teachers did think of returning to God’s Law, it was found that “many new customs and practices for which there were no precedents in the traditions of the fathers, and not the slightest indication in the Book of the Law, were observed by the people and considered by them as a part of their religious laws and practices” (Lauterbach, “Rabbinic Essays”, Hebrew Union College Press, Cincinnati, p. 195).

In short, the people had adopted many customs and ideas which were in truth clearly pagan. The best example of these is the belief in the immortality of the soul already mentioned. “The difficulty was to find a sanction in the Torah (the Law) for the new customs and practices which had established themselves in the community …” (Herford, “Talmud and Apocrypha”, Soncino Press, London, 1933, p. 66). The teachers should have shown the people they were sinning (Isa. 58:1). Instead they chose to justify them. This should not seem strange. It was done in Jeremiah’s day (Jer. 23:21-22) and in Isaiah’s (Isa. 30:10).

Pagan Customs Called Jewish!

And yet the Scripture plainly states: “Learn not the way of the heathen” (Jer. 10:2). Consequently, the teachers taught that the new customs the people had adopted were not really pagan — they were actually Jewish!

They reasoned this: “It is hardly possible that foreign customs and non-Jewish laws should have met with such universal acceptance. The total absence of objection on the part of the people to such customs vouched for their Jewish origin, in the opinion of the teachers” (Lauterbach, p. 211). These teachers told the people that it simply was not possible for them, being Jews, to have inherited any heathen custom or practice. They furthermore taught that since the customs were “Jewish,” then they must have been taught by Moses himself. (This is no different from today, when churchgoers by the millions assume that the original apostles observed Sunday, Easter, Christmas and the like.)

“Accordingly, the teachers themselves came to believe that such generally recognized laws and practices must have been old traditional laws and practices adopted by the fathers and transmitted to the following generations in addition to the Written Law. Such a belief would naturally free the teachers from the necessity of finding scriptural proof for all the new practices” (ibid.).

In other words they claimed that these customs, since they were not WRITTEN in the Old Testament, must have been handed down ORALLY from Moses — by word of mouth. Actually, these traditional laws — these oral laws — were not from Moses nor any of the prophets. There is not a single reference in the Scripture that Moses gave the Israelites any oral or traditional laws that were to be transmitted to posterity along with the written Word. The Bible states just the opposite. It plainly says that Moses wrote the whole Law in a book. Notice. “And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were FINISHED …” (Deut. 31:24). There is no such thing as an “oral law of Moses.”

Oral Law Gains Acceptance

The theory of the “oral law” was accepted only gradually — a matter of a few years, rather than months. “The theory of an authoritative traditional law (which might be taught independently of the Scriptures) was altogether too new to be unhesitatingly accepted … the theory was too startling and novel to be unconditionally accepted” (Lauterbach, p. 211 ).

The greater opposition to the so-called “oral law” came from the priests who, as a whole, declared that the Scripture was the only necessary code of laws to obey. “This apparently simple solution offered by the priestly group in the Sanhedrin did not find favour with the lay members of that body” (ibid., p. 209). And, with the passage of time, the lay teachers ultimately came to constitute the majority of representatives in the Sanhedrin. These Pharisaic lay teachers succeeded in convincing the people that they were right and that the priests were wrong.

Some of the people’s fears concerning the priestly Sadducees were apparently valid, however. Many of the priests did become worldly minded and they found worldly politics far more interesting than religion. The Sadducees eventually adopted the belief that there was no resurrection and that angels did not exist (Act 23:8). This was probably a result of the influence of the Greek Epicurean philosophy. It taught that there was no future life of any kind and that man should therefore seek as many physical pleasures in this life as possible, since that was all there was.

New Laws of the Pharisees

Many of the Pharisees came to believe what they were doing was God’s will. “It is certain that they (the Pharisees) regarded themselves as the successors of the prophets, and not merely in fact but by right” (Herford, p. 71). Based on this claimed authority, they adopted a method of teaching what they believed to be laws of God, without any initial reference to Scripture for authority. “Finding no convincing proof for such laws in the Bible, they taught them independently of scriptural proof, i.e., in the MISHNAH-form” (Lauterbach, p. 229).

MISHNAH-form was the name given for laying down laws to be observed, apart from Scripture. This is not to say MISHNAH-form avoided Scripture altogether. But it was only AFTER a law had already been accepted that the Scriptures might be checked for corroboration. Sometimes “affirmation” of a new law was forced from Scriptures totally unrelated to the particular subject. The word MISHNAH is related to the Hebrew root meaning “second” and “study.” MISHNAH-form was the SECOND form that the Pharisees adopted for “STUDY” as opposed to the original form of properly expounding the Scriptures, which was called MIDRASH-form. This older, original form was known as “teaching after the manner of Moses” (“Talmud”, Temurah 156, “Yebamoth” 72b).

MIDRASH-form is based on deducing laws, teachings, legends, etc., from the Scripture. As time went on it too became perverted. “Whenever there was the remotest possibility of doing so, they would seek by means of new hermeneutical rules (rules pertaining to Biblical interpretation) to find in the words of the Torah support for these traditional laws” (Lauterbach, p. 212).

Thus the Pharisees were able to “find” the traditions they were now approving of by twisted interpretations of Scripture. In doing this they still claimed to be using the MIDRASH-form. Ezra is said to have taught in MIDRASH-form when he, and his helpers “read in the book in the law of God distinctly and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8).

There was, however, one major point which Ezra was aware of, but which the Pharisees missed. It is this: God, in the Bible, never contradicts Himself. Malachi, a contemporary of Ezra was inspired to write: “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3: 6). But many of the traditional laws the Pharisees approved of did contradict Scripture. What’s more, many of them even contradicted one another. With the introduction of the new MISHNAH-form, Scripture came to be less relied on than before. New laws, which were not even necessarily traditional, could be enacted.

The Pharisees found the MISHNAH-form to be an important weapon in their conflict with the Sadducees. Laws that were accepted after being handed down in the MISHNAH-form tended to enhance the authority of the Pharisees, since it was SOLELY on their authority that the law was accepted. The very first individual of whom we have any record who began to teach new commandments in the MISHNAH-form, apart from the scriptural basis, was Jose ben Joezer of Zareda.

Jose laid down three new commandments. The first concerned the eating of a certain locust; the second, the blood of slaughtered animals; and the third, the touching of a dead body. In doing this he became known as “Jose the Permitter” (“Talmud”, Abodah Zarah 37b). “Furthermore, Jose is called ‘the Permitter,’ evidently because in all three decisions he permits things that were formerly considered forbidden” (Lauterbach, p. 219).

These new laws of Jose were not customs the people had inherited from Hellenism. “It is therefore evident that these Halakot (rules) … were not older traditional laws transmitted by Jose as a mere witness, but Jose’s own teachings. He was the one who ‘permitted’ and he deserved the name (the Permitter)” (ibid., p. 218). These commandments of themselves were not earth-shaking violations, but they did set a precedent! Eventually others began to set down all sorts of new laws. These are what Jesus called “the commandments of men” (Mark 77).

The Prosbul of Hillel

Many others ultimately followed in the steps of Jose. If the majority of Pharisees agreed on a new decision, it was accepted as the Word of God — even if Scripture taught just the opposite. Of the myriad of new laws laid down, perhaps the best example and the best known is the Prosbul of Hillel. Hillel the Old headed a Pharisaic school in the days of Herod. He was noted for his gentleness and was greatly beloved among the people, but his decisions, nonetheless, were not always in keeping with the Word of God.

For example, “All private loans are automatically remitted at the end of the Sabbatical Year (Deut. 15:2) and hence it became difficult to obtain loans immediately before the onset of that year. In order to avoid hardship and encourage lending, Hillel instituted the “Prosbul” (Greek: “for the court”), which is a declaration made before a court of law by the creditor, and signed by witnesses, stating that all debts due him are given over to the court for collection. Since the remission of loans during the seventh year applies only to individuals but not to public loans, the effect of the Prosbul is to render the individual’s loan public, and it is therefore not remitted” (Werblowsky and Wigoder, “The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion”, art. “Prosbul,” p. 312).

Hillel’s motive was apparently quite practical. And yet the Bible clearly states: “Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD (Eternal) against thee, and it be sin unto thee” (Deut. 15:9).

Rather, God says: “Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when you givest unto him: because that for this thing the Eternal thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto” (verse 10). It was because of rules like the Prosbul that Christ told the Pharisees, “Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matt. 15:6).

Hillel saw that the poor were unable to obtain needed loans and was trying to remedy the situation, but he was not doing it God’s way! God says: “Trust in the Eternal with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). There were many such instances where the Pharisees enacted many new laws, based solely on their own human reasoning in an attempt to make what they thought would be a better way of life. Yet God tells us: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25).

Cause and Effect

The Pharisees’ error was a classic one. Seeing wrong situations, but relying solely on themselves, they attempted to treat the EFFECT rather than the CAUSE. Notice the case of Hillel’s Prosbul. God plainly tells us that the CAUSE of the problem was in the HEARTS of the people (Deut. 15:9). Today too many see the problems besetting mankind. Governments have their solutions and the revolutionary activists have theirs. But all attempt to treat ONLY THE EFFECTS of the problems. None gets at THE REAL CAUSE — which is to be found for the most part in carnal human nature with its greed and pride.

Today, God is treating the cause of man’s ills in some individuals. He is presently changing the hearts of a few. “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them an heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11.19). God’s Law as revealed throughout all of Scripture is indicative of God’s CHARACTER. It is a giving, serving, sharing, concern for the other person as well as the self, and can be summed up by the word LOVE — love first of all toward God and then towards fellowman.

God’s Law shows us exactly how He would live if He were a human being. And this is precisely what Jesus did when He emptied Himself of His divinity and took on human flesh — He never once broke a single law of God. The rise of Pharisaism in the period between the Testaments represented an attempt on the part of these people to keep the Law. But they lacked a clear understanding of their own human nature as revealed in the Scriptures. Notice God’s deeply felt near-lament in Deuteronomy 5:29: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever”!

But “such an heart” was not in them at that time. They had only the human nature that we all naturally possess — the heart that is “… deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9.) Joshua told his generation, “… Ye cannot serve the Lord nor is it in ours.

But man was not left without hope. There was a promise of better things to come. “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deut. 30:6).

The Pharisees as well as the other sects of the period wanted to serve God and keep His commandments. They had, as the Apostle Paul (who well knew) put it, “… a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2). Not aware of the necessity for a change in their own human nature, they found it necessary to change God’s Law. Not that this was done outwardly, but rather by forced interpretations, rationalizations, attempted codifications of laws that are all-encompassing, and new laws that were not admitted always to be new.

By changing the Law, they made it of “none effect.” That is, it did not have the effect that God’s laws should have on those who keep them. Inasmuch as the Pharisees did keep SOME of the laws correctly SOME of the time, it did have SOME good effects. But the overall results that come by living in total harmony with the laws the Creator set in motion simply were lacking. Pharisaic society did not abound with the love of God. You could never convince the Sadducees (with whom they often disputed) that it was otherwise. Nor could you convince the Romans. Nor could you convince the unlearned Jews of that day, whom many of the Pharisees thumbed their noses at with the epithet “am-ha-aretz” (“people of the land” — the term is used in a derogatory sense throughout the Pharisaic writings).

Pharisaic society was filled with strife. When Alexander Jannaeus, one of the Maccabean kings, ruled, the Pharisees were virtually at WAR with him and there was much bloodshed. The Talmud itself is a record of the Pharisees striving among themselves, one with another in religious DEBATES, each one trying to convince the others of the correctness of HIS particular idea, rather than all working harmoniously to seek GOD’S will.

Today, professing Christianity is treading down the same well-worn path the Pharisees mistakingly took. Where is the sect that has not attempted to read its own ideas into the Bible which it professes to obey? And where is the denomination that is truly bearing the fruits of God’s Spirit — love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance? Indeed which one even knows what true love is?

Don’t YOU follow the crowd. DON’T be led down the garden path into religious deception by any who would warp, distort and twist the scripture to their own destruction. As you peruse the pages of your Bible, we encourage you to search the scriptures daily WHETHER THESE THINGS BE SO (Acts 17:11). But by the same token we also ask that you apply the same criterion to all who claim to represent God! Remember, “… if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).

Blog at WordPress.com.