Should We Follow the Rabbis? Pt 7

By now we are way into this discussion. You really should take the time to read Parts 1-7 if you haven’t. This is a summary and discussion of a paper by Dr. Mark Kinzer delivered to the 2003 Hashivenu forum. Part 1 has a link to the original paper.

Having argued in Part 6 that Yeshua’s attitude toward Pharisaic tradition was basic acceptance with prophetic correction, we now turn to the next part of Dr. Kinzer’s paper. Dr. Kinzer asks, what did Yeshua say about ongoing halakhic authority (authority to make rulings for communal standards of Torah observance) for the Yeshua-community?

To answer this, Dr. Kinzer first looks at the Parable of the Tenants (Matt 21:33-46, Mk 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19). Yeshua clearly condemns the “chief priests, scribes, and elders,” which means the Sanhedrin. He says the vineyard will be taken from them and given to another ethnos, meaning “people” or “group.” Typically this is taken in supersessionist form (replacement theology) that God is removing his election of Israel and giving it to a new nation or people — the church. Some, based on Mark and Luke’s version, would see this as Rome, in the sense that Rome will rule (destroy) the Temple. Yet, ethnos can also mean a group, a voluntary association.

Dr. Kinzer suggests that possibly it could mean the rabbis, or the rabbis as well as the leaders of the Yeshua community.

To get from point A to point B, it is necessary to factor in several other Matthew texts. Matthew 18:18 clearly grants halakhic authority to the leaders of the Yeshua-movement (at the very least, to the twelve). Matthew 23:1-3, then, grants that authority to the Pharisees.

Let me quote Matthew 23:1-3 in full, since these verses get very little attention in many Christian theologies:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”

Compare Matthew 23 to Deuteronomy 17:10: “Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you.”

It would seem that Yeshua grants that the Pharisees, in some unexplained relationship with the rulings of the leaders in the Yeshua-movement, have halakhic authority. Dr. Kinzer argues that “seat of Moses” was a reference to the high court of Israel (Deut. 17:10) that carried Mosaic authority. [Note: Dr. Kinzer rightly observes that Matthew never explains how the leaders in the Yeshua-movement can have authority at the same time as the Pharisees. A simple theory: the Yeshua community corrects when rabbinic/Pharisaic authority goes against certain principles, such as Gentile inclusion and the priority of love.]

Dr. Kinzer goes on to make some good points. He argues that Luke-Acts is quite favorable to the Pharisees. [Note: I cannot agree that Luke 17:20-21 means the kingdom of God is in the Pharisees’ deovtion to Torah. I think Yeshua means he represents the kingdom in his own person.] He gives a convincing answer why Matthew speaks more harshly about the Pharisees than Luke: it is because Matthew is the most Pharisaic book, and proximity leads to prophetic correction.

Significantly, Dr. Kinzer discusses six characteristics of Matthew that align its approach with Pharisaism:
1. Matthew views the leadership of the Yeshua-community as scribal (Matt 13:52 and 23:34).
2. Its leadership is halakhic, binding and loosing, meaning issuing rulings on practice (Matt 18:18).
3. Matthew shows some similarities to later rabbinic traits, such as using kingdom of heaven in place of kingdom of God.
4. Matthew uses topical organization (like the Mishnah) rather than chronological, like Mark and Luke.
5. Matthew uses numerical patterns (five discourses, ten mighty deeds, etc.).
6. Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer resembles synagogue liturgy more than Lukes (”on earth as it is in heaven”).
7. Matthew makes a point of affirming Pharisaic authority (Matt 23:1-3).

As Dr. Kinzer says, these affinities make for an intriguing conclusion: Matthew envisions the Yeshua-community as parallel in many ways to the Pharisees.

Dr. Kinzer then suggests that Messianic Judaism can follow Matthew’s example. As he patterned a community on the lines of Pharisaic tradition (with correction) so we can pattern a community on rabbinic authority (with correction).

Well, if that isn’t provocative, what is? This thesis goes against so many assumptions. Dr. Kinzer is calling for the Jewish, Torah-observant wing of the Yeshua-community to be more rabbinic. He shows that the rabbis are a legitimate authority in Torah according to Deuteronomy and Matthew. Here are some questions:

1. If you disagree, how would you argue with Matthew 23:1-3, Deuteronomy 17:10, and the whole Pharisaic program of Matthew?
2. If you agree, what should we do about it?
3. What are some areas in which the Yeshua-community will need to add corrective to rabbinic authority?


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Judaism, Mark Kinzer, Messianic Jewish, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Should We Follow the Rabbis? Pt 7

  1. shoshana says:

    After all is said and don, what does Yah has to say on the subject of rabbinical authorithy? I know there are other places in scriptures that talk about it but I went to my favorite book, Isaiah, Yesha’Yahu, and found 44: 25 “…I drive back the sages and make their wisdom look silly…” and again in 56:10 “(Israel’s) watchmen are, all of them, blind; they don’t know anything. They are all dumb dogs, unable to bark, lying there dreaming, loving to sleep. Greedy dogs, never satisfied-such are the shepherds, unable to understand:…” Those are pretty harsh words but that is what Yah said through one of his prophets about sages. I know there is more but I was just reading Isaiah this morning and thought I should bring up these scriptures.

  2. Shoshana:

    Thank you for your comment. It is an important one. I’m glad you gave me the opportunity to answer this objection.

    It is important to use Bible verses in context and you are not doing that. Isaiah 44:25 is not talking about rabbis. It is talking about the leaders of Israel (at the time of the return from exile) who were leading the people astray. The fact that the verse uses the word “sages” does not mean it refers to the rabbis, who lived much later and are not the subject matter of Isaiah at all.

    Also, please do me a favor. In Jewish conversations, we do not use God’s name directly. Even if you disagree, please respect our wish to follow the customs.


  3. Derek:

    This is excellent. Again, my only problem is your seeming exclusion of non-Jews from Torah. If we are to provide gentle correction to the Rabbinic tradition, I think one important one is to correct their ridiculous Noachide movement and bring all Believers together, completely tear down the wall of partition, and have one Torah for all Believers.

  4. Adam:

    No point playing coy. You know very well that I agree with the rabbis on this and not with the Hebrew Roots movement. The Torah is for Israel though many of its commands are universal. Nonetheless, Torah itself indicates dietary law is only for Israel (Deut 14:21) as is Sabbath (Exod 31:13). I will not debate this with you here, as it is not the point.


  5. Daniel says:

    I would be slow to adopt a system that was spoken poorly of by both Yeshua and Shaul.
    Yeshua scolded the Pharisees for teaching the commandments of men as if they are doctrines from the Torah (Mat 15:9). In fact, Yeshua in general warns against the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The context and intent of the seat of moses comment is that the Torah of Moses should be followed, because that is what is taught from the seat of Moses. As it says in Exodus 18:13-16, “Moses sat to judge the people, and…make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.” It is discouraged in Mathew 23:3 to follow the works of the sages (meaning the commandments decreed by men).
    Read the account of Mathew 15 where Yeshua and his disciples do not wash their hands according the the prescribed manner of the elders, and how his response is to point out that the tradition of the elders transgresses Torah.
    Ephesians calls these commands “the enmity” and “wall of separation”, clarifying that while Yeshua was alive he taught abolition of them.
    Galations 4 speaks of observance of Pharisaic times and seasons, which Rav Shaul seems to worry about saying, “I fear I have labored for you in vain.” In fact, he calls these things “elemental things of this world” which you should not turn back to.
    There are more examples, and it seems to me to paint a consistent picture against the elevation of Rabbinic decrees.


  6. Pat:

    I’m not sure you read the series of articles because you seem to avoid interacting with points I already made about them. You say, for example, that the opponents of Yeshua accused HIM AND his disciples of not washing hands. I made a big point that in Mark 7 they ask why SOME OF Yeshua’s disciples do not wash hands. In other words, apparently, Yeshua and some disciples did.

    You make a few worthy arguments here. Could Yeshua have meant that the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat merely in the sense of keeping Torah? Here is why I think that interpretation falls short: the need to keep Torah was universally accepted and self-evident. There was no need for Yeshua to say such a thing.

    The commands that create enmity in Ephesians are not likely the Pharisaic commands for purity in the home, as you imply. More likely they are temple regulations (e.g., court of Gentiles) and rules against table fellowship.

    All I am saying, Pat, is do not be too sure that the collection of verses and your predisposition against rabbinic tradition makes a sound argument. Be open-minded.

    Finally, and this is vital: IT IS A GOD-COMMANDMENT not a human commandment that Israel must follow the Torah-rulings of the judges (Deut 16 and 17). That also was clear in my articles.

    I hope you will respond and we can continue the discussion.


  7. RobinRuth says:

    The Sabbath was set apart the day after Adam was created and Eve made. It was set apart then. Yes, Shabbat is a gift and a reminder, a tear off ticket, a window of the world to come. A sign of the covenant between G-d and Israel, and a weekly holy convocation set apart for the Most High. Why would the day of Shabbat only be for Israel, when it was the culmination of creation before for there were Hebrews or Israel? The covenant is set apart for the Children of Israel, the Children of G-d, then and now, grafted in children, both natural and wild grafted into the root. Just my ramblings.

  8. Robin:

    There are a number of back articles on the blog that explain why the Sabbath is something special between Israel and God (see Exod 31:13). I might suggest that you get my Paul Didn’t Eat Pork book if you aree really interested in the subject (

    The Torah represents itself as a document for Israel, though it has implications for the nations as well. Deut 14:21, an Israelite can sell unclean meat to a Gentile. Exod 31:13, Sabbath a sign between God and Israel. Etc.

    Genesis 1-3 does NOT represent Sabbath as a command or even mention the Sabbath. It says God rested, which is the same root word from which Sabbath comes.

    People who think believing in Yeshua makes them essentially Jewish are denying many of God’s promises for his people, Israel (replacement theology), and are ignoring or trying to reinterpret New Testament passages like Acts 15 and Romans 14 that clearly teach Gentiles are not under Torah in the same way as Jews.


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