As has already been noted, a number of Jewish writings have been presented to help illustrate the thoughts and opinions of some rabbis at the time of Jesus. There is a tendency among some scholars today to believe that some rabbis copied the teachings of Jesus without giving Him credit. However, they fail to recognize that many righteous rabbis lived at the time of Jesus, and like Jesus, they too, were interested in living lives honorable to God. Naturally, they would have made comments similar to those of Jesus, because they and He based their instructions on the Hebrew Bible. The classic example is the Eighteen Benedictions, of which a shortened form is found in Matthew 6.
08.03.01.Q1 Are all rabbinic writings reflective of the time of Jesus?
Clearly the answer is “no,” and that makes discernment of those writings all the more challenging. Critics have often stated that the Mishnah and Talmud were written centuries after Jesus and, therefore, are not trustworthy sources for two reasons:
- Many evangelical scholars today believe these writings idealize what first century Judaism should have been like and, therefore, are historically inaccurate.
- Some beliefs of the Jews changed over time toward a Christian perspective and, therefore, these two writings are historically inaccurate.
What critics fail to acknowledge is that many of the Jewish teachings were taught centuries before they were recorded, as these were passed down orally from generation to generation. In fact, many originated before the time of Jesus. The portrait of the Jewish people has so often been stigmatized in a negative manner, that the very idea some Jews were righteous and sincere about God seems to be foreign to some scholars. Mary and Joseph were righteous not only when Jesus was born, but throughout their entire lives and were faithful to Old Testament teachings. And so were many others, including rabbis. Therefore, it should not be surprising that some New Testament and Jewish writings are similar. An example is this: This writer has often asked students what is the first word they think of when discussing the Pharisees. The answer is almost always the same – hypocrites. Yet only a small percentage of the 6,000 Pharisees were the leaders of the sect who confronted Jesus. There were many variations within the world of Pharisees, as illustrated by the differences between the two major rabbinic schools of theology: those of Rabbi Hillel and those of Rabbi Shammai.
. See Appendix 18.
. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 8, Session 2.
. See the video 02.02.01.V “The Significance of Inter-Testamental Writings: By Dr. Douglas Finkbeiner.
. While there is an element of truth to this statement, for the most part, both views are inaccurate perceptions.
. See video 02.02.16.V where Messianic Rabbi Dr. John Fischer discusses Jewish writings and why they are important in understanding the New Testament.