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Do oral traditions have any authority?

We occasionally receive questions about how we should view other claimed religiously authoritative sources. Jean B., U.S., wrote in response to Two trees, one root:

Your work does not explain the Jews belief in re-incarnation, you may have to check with your colleague Jonathan Sarfati (who is Jewish), to affirm this is true, but Rabbinical thought affirms that if a soul is cut short from completing its mission on earth then G-d sends the soul back in a later life. I know Christians will challenge this as they think the Jews are finished with and their view is superseded by a superior Christian point of view. But every spiritual giant of the time , both during the giving of the OT (Moses) and the affirming of it (The Prophets) and including Jesus and Paul, all agree that the OT is absolutely inspired, but the OT to them is both the written Torah (we know as our OT) and the oral Torah, which was eventually written down as the Talmud.

Christians will accept the OT but not the Talmud, even though both Jesus and Paul accepted it as the inspired word of God. Try finding Jannes and Jambres who Paul writes about without using the Talmud, and it is here in the Talmud where you will find many teachings that Jesus taught about (torments, Abraham’s bosom etc) and here that you will find about re-incarnation. Which also is the core of Hinduistic belief, but contained in Judaism first. It’s almost the same as Islam that takes its lead from Judaism as well. Any views on this please?

Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:

There are a lot of misconceptions in your email. I can’t speak for modern Jewish or Kabbalistic thinking, but the Scriptures do not give any indication of reincarnation. See Was reincarnation removed from the Bible?

Paul citing Jannes and Jambres does not make the Talmud inspired by God any more than him citing the Greek philosophers to the pagans in Athens makes them inspired by God. And Jesus’ own words condemn those who would put the traditions of the elders at the same level or above Scripture. See Matthew 15:1ff. In some cases, we can compare his teachings and actions with the Mishnah and deduce that He was condemning some particular oral teachings. In any case, the Talmud is quite scathing of Jesus in places, so there is no way that Paul or Jesus would have considered it inspired!

The idea of an oral Torah is not contained in the Old Testament itself. There is an emphasis on the written word in God’s revelation. And that is not trivial or accidental—see Why did God give us a book?.

Many philosophies that say that God gave more than the Scriptures use other ‘revelations’ as an excuse to disregard His actual Word, the Scriptures. Hebrews 9:27 states that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”.

The Scriptures clearly teach that this life is the only one we get—that’s why it’s so important. God’s Word tells us how to live a godly life and have a relationship with God. None of us lives a perfectly righteous life; we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). Even our own conscience testifies against us that we have sinned (Romans 2). Because God is perfectly good, His own nature demands perfect justice, which He will carry out on the last day.

But because God is also perfectly loving, He desires to show mercy by saving many people from the penalty their sins deserve. God the Son became incarnate, i.e. took on human nature, in the Person of Jesus Christ. He lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, then He took on the penalty for our sins when he died on the cross. His Resurrection on the third day proved that His sacrifice was accepted as payment for sins. Now whoever turns to Him trusting for the forgiveness of sins can be assured that their sins were paid for at the cross, and that Jesus’ righteousness is applied to them. So God is shown to be perfectly just and perfectly loving and merciful at the same time.

This is also necessarily an exclusive claim. God provided such a great salvation for us, and it is the only way to be saved. Imagine the insult to the very Son of God if there were another way to come to God other than through Him! If our feeble attempts at a worldly righteousness could be credited to us, or if the blood of sacrificed animals could take away sin, why would the Son of God have to be slain?

In a way it is understandable that some look for other revelations, because Scripture confronts us with our sin and our powerlessness to save ourselves. It is comforting to think that maybe those who die might have another chance, but it is a false comfort. Rather, the Bible gives us a true basis for hope and comfort. It says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). And “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13).

Will you trust in Christ alone to save you? Those who do find Him to be completely sufficient.

Published: 12 May 2018

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