Why do Christians accept the Jewish belief that the Hebrew Bible is the Word of God, but not accept the Oral Torah which the Jewish people believe also represents the Word of God?

"According to traditional Judaism, the Oral Law must have been disseminated at the same time as the Written Torah because certain Torah commandments contained in the Pentateuch would be indecipherable without a separate explanatory codex and, presumably, God would not demand adherence to commandments that could not be understood." - Excerpt from the Wikipedia page

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    Does Judaism even have an established definition of what oral law (תורה שבעל פה) is? – user900 May 22 '14 at 7:22
  • One way to answer this question is by attacking the validity of the history of parts of the Oral Torah - that is the parts that was obviously added after Christ. The way the question is phrased means that Wikipedia has to be proved wrong. That is a mammoth task. So how can the question be answered? – gideon marx May 22 '14 at 8:46
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    Which Christians are you talking about and who's perspective are you looking for? I don't think that all Christians reject the oral Torah. However I don't know of any denominations which promote it either - maybe Messianic Judaism? Your question needs scope definition. – The Freemason May 22 '14 at 14:02
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    Because it rejects the Divinity of Jesus Christ. – user May 24 '14 at 16:10
  • As much as the Torah? – The Freemason May 29 '14 at 3:26

At the time of Christ, the largest proponents of the Oral Law were the Pharisees. On multiple occasions, the Pharisees caught Jesus breaking some of the Oral Laws and confronted Him about it in order to discredit His ministry. Jesus responded by calling the Oral Law "traditions of men". He taught that they were not only unnecessary to follow, since they were not from God, but that some of them were actually counter-productive. He said that some of their Oral Laws contradicted God's laws which are enshrined in the Torah. Since Jesus, himself, denounced the Oral Law, it should be unsurprising that Christians would do so as well.

For instance, in the following two passages, the Pharisees confronted Jesus because he was breaking the Oral Laws regarding the washing of your hands before eating (these oral hand-washing laws were written down, a couple of centuries later, in the Mishnah).

Matt 15:1-9 (NASB)

Then some Pharisees and scribes came to 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? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”

Mk 7:1-13 (NASB)

The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”


Christianity is based on the Hebrew Bible, but not directly on Judaism. Christians don't accept the Hebrew Bible because Judaism does, but because they have decided for themselves that it is inspired. Judaism accepts the Oral Torah/Mishnah/Talmud etc, but Christians have decided that they do not (as do some Jews for that matter). I can think of three big reasons why:

  1. In general Christians are sceptical that the Oral Law came from Moses at all. Just because the Jews believe it did doesn't mean it's true. If God wanted us to have it then it would've been written down closer to the time.

  2. The law it presents appears inconsistent with the character of the written law of the Torah. It is legalistic and perverts the purposes of the Torah. This is shown by...

  3. When Jesus interacted with it in the Sermon on the Mount he criticised it heavily. Jesus "did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets" (Matt 5:17) but he totally demolished the traditions of Judaism - which later became the Mishnah and Talmud. So for example:

    You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! (Matt 5:43-44, NLT)

    The teachers of the law had taken the command 'Love your neighbour' (Lev 19:18) and added 'hate your enemy' to it, but this is against the character of the law. Jesus told us that the true will of God is that we love our neighbours and our enemies.

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    To the downvoter, can you please explain what you think could be improved in my answer? – curiousdannii May 22 '14 at 23:21
  • What makes Christians believe that the first five books of the Bible are the Written Torah written by Moses, then, if not Jewish tradition? – Gregory Magarshak May 23 '14 at 3:42
  • Are you asking why Christians think the Pentateuch is inspired or why (most) Christians think it was written by Moses? – curiousdannii May 23 '14 at 3:49
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    Well many Christians don't think he wrote it. Those who do would rely on internal evidence and Jewish tradition. But authorship isn't very important, especially when books are formally anonymous (unlike Paul's letters for example.) What I was trying to say is that Christians don't think the Old Testament is inspired purely because Judaism thinks it's inspired. The Christian canon is independent, even though it overlaps. – curiousdannii May 23 '14 at 4:14
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    @gideon marx just because Jews now reject a charge doesn't mean it's not true. Jesus said that it was true in his time. – Gregory Magarshak May 23 '14 at 14:09

Based upon a few comments, I have copied my blogpost entry. It is an excerpt from my book Our Jewish Roots.

When HaShem (God) dictated the Torah to Moses, that Written Law, or Torah She’bi-khetav, made God’s laws known to His people. This Truth, in all its glorious revelation, was to provide the Jewish people with instructions for daily living, how to celebrate their holidays, and the ways in which they should worship their Creator.

The Torah is also unambiguous on the behaviors that should be avoided and gives clear directions for atonement of sins committed. Although the Written Law was considered complete, traditional Jewish teaching is that Moses also received a second set of laws called Torah She’bi-al peh: the Oral Law. Accompanying the Written Law, the Oral Law gave the finer details on how the Written Law was to be fulfilled. For instance, work was forbidden on the Sabbath but the people needed to know, more specifically, what constituted “work.” Thus, the need for the Oral Law. This Oral Law, then, was given to Moses who gave it to Joshua. Joshua, then, told the Elders and the Elders then told the Prophets. This transmission took place during the First Temple Era and spanned the approximate years of 950 to 586 B.C.

By the time of the prophet Ezra, around 490 B.C. in the early second temple era, a group of Levites would be at the side of the scribe and priest giving an oral interpretation to what was being read from Torah She’bi-khetav. It was also during this time of the Great Assembly that the oral law was collected and eventually, with the destruction of the second temple, put into an outline form known as the Mishnah. The Mishnah was completed in 188 A.D. and was meant to provide a means for students of the Torah She’bi-khetav to better remember the holy book. With time the need for more in-depth analysis of the Mishnah grew and resulted in a work of explanations called gemara. Together, the gemara and the Mishnah make up what is called the Talmud.

Catholics, too, have always believed that the bible is the word of God, And, like the Chosen People, Catholics have relied on other sources to deepen their understanding of Scripture, knowing full well that nothing could ever add to Scripture or detract from Scripture but only shed light upon it. We, as Catholics, believe and trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us, individually and collectively, in knowing God fully through His word. Indeed, the Church, being guided by the Spirit, existed before the New Testament and had to rely on the oral transmission of the life of Christ before the Holy Spirit guided different people to record these accounts. And then, again, the Holy Spirit was relied upon to gather and determine which works would become the New Testament.

Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit has been at work in the development of both the New Testament and in its teaching. Like our Jewish ancestors, we recognize that God, through His Spirit, deems certain people more capable of this task than others. This isn’t to say that the average lay Catholic does not have an informed opinion about Scripture but that we look to the Magisterium as the final authority. We do, we should, and we do well to diligently study Scripture.

In the early years of the Church, local communities were each led by a bishop whose job it was to give a faithful, and Spirit led, transmission of Christ’s life and His work. Along with passing on the faith, Bishops were expected to defend it and work towards the unity that Christ intended. Today, lay Catholics continue to delve into the Word of God, learning and exploring the holy writings that intimately connect us to our Creator. But Catholics also recognize the role that the Pope and Bishops play in edifying, for us, the Word of God. We are blessed to turn to papal encyclicals, the Catechism, and numerous letters and documents that cover a vast array of topics from abortion to family matters to work to war. Just like the Jewish people turn to the Talmud to deepen their understanding of Torah, we turn to these sources with the same intention. Believing that Christ did not leave us bereft, we have trusted in the Spirit’s guidance of our Magisterium and will continue to do so in the millennia ahead as we eagerly await His return.

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    It would be much better if you answered the question directly rather than linking to a blog post you wrote today. – curiousdannii May 22 '14 at 11:00
  • Thanks for the suggestion; however, I didn't write that blog today. I posted it today because it seemed relevant. It is an excerpt from a book I wrote a few years ago and it seemed rather long to put on the StackExchange site but I hoped was able to give some connection between the Catholic faith and the Oral Torah. – Bezalel Books May 22 '14 at 12:56
  • @curiousdannii I have copied the information as an answer. – Bezalel Books May 22 '14 at 14:10
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    @TheFreemason I have copied the information as an answer. – Bezalel Books May 22 '14 at 14:11

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