Updated: Oct 17, 2018
What value is Jewish Oral Tradition to Modern Christians?
As a child I was taught that Scripture alone was authoritative or true. If it wasn't in the Bible, it wasn't relevant. As I grow in knowledge, I find that perhaps we need to reassess what is important to us as we understand the gospel and study. We are of a religion born of Jewish roots, our Savior a Jew himself. Wouldn't it make sense to try to understand the things that he understood, to know the things He knew about His own religious traditions and history? There are so many Christian questions about the Old Testament that have answers within the oral Jewish Tradition.
Protestants are not a people of oral tradition as the Jews and the Catholics are. We reformation/sola scriptura people are ignorant of the fact, or understandably choose to ignore it because of its foreignness to us. We know the Bible is reliable for solid truth, and don't feel the value of studying other sources. However it is important to acknowledge all the folks who wrote the New Testament had an understanding of many things that we don't culturally (even referencing them in the NT), because they knew Jewish oral tradition, as well as other books that were held as somewhat authoritative or important, or at least popular.
For example, in the New Testament book of Jude, the author mentions the message of Enoch. The Book of Enoch was written within the last two centuries before Christ, and details certain events surrounding the flood, as well as some harrowing prophecy for those who turn away from the faith. (Disclaimer - I know this information from studying about the book, not reading it first hand; I want a proper frame of understanding from teachers smarter than I am before trying to decipher it myself).
Enoch has a few interesting stories within that answer some of the questions that nag at Christians today.
- Why was God "sorry" that He made man?
- Who were the "sons of God" in Genesis?
- Why did God really have to flood the Earth; isn't it worse now than it was then?
- Why are there no demon possessions in the Old Testament, but a large many of them in the New Testament?
A short synopsis of the events in Enoch that relate to Noah and flood (which starts in Genesis 6:1):
If you read in Genesis just before the flood story, you see that "the sons of God" mated with the "daughters of man". These unions birthed beings that were hybrid angel/humans, and they were awfully wicked. In response to this horrible act of disobedience and with the spread of supernatural wickedness roaming the Earth, God flooded the Earth.
With a study of Enoch, common confusions are brought some light. Maybe God wasn't so sorry He had ever made His precious creation, regretfully wishing He never had created us as I have so often gathered from the verse in Genesis (unfortunate for our ease of interpretation, the Scriptures gives this heavy notion one harrowing sentence with no other context besides the full message of the Gospel that God rejoices over us always and paid for our offenses in Christ). Maybe God regretting making Man meant that He was angered by the angels that had made women their wives or had sex with women, creating a species of people that He had never intended. Being that these new people were half rebellious angel, they brought awful misery in the form of wickedness and crime upon the people God loved so much, and also included them into all manner of painful sin. They had to go, along with the people who had been tainted by them. It was a heartbreaking matter for Our Heavenly Father all together.
The implications run farther than just in Genesis. Many Christians are bewildered by the fact there are no demons in the Old Testament as there are in the New. Much of Jesus' ministry was expelling demons from the people they tortured.
I always wondered, how could an angel - fallen or not - inhabit a human body, if they had bodies capable of reproducing (as in the flood story)? Maybe they can either way, but I found an interesting answer in the book, "Minding the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus" by Matthias Henze.
He believes that the souls of the drowned angel/people are the demonic spirits/souls that torture us today. They hate us, as they are part human with our wants and desires and our reflection of God, but they will never see Heaven. They can inhabit us, because they are part human soul.
I haven't finished his book yet, but Henze has some interesting resolutions to the common questions that bounce around small groups today.
I'm still in the process of learning many things and increasing my Biblical knowledge and proper application. Its a lifelong study for sure. I am still working out what place the Talmud (the written down version of the oral Jewish tradition) should have in my faith. Its a particularly prickly cactus to tackle; within it are stories that Jesus would have known, and perhaps unnoticed by me, mentioned or nodded to in His messages. Other parts of the Talmud are commentary that discredit Our Lord Jesus, as the Jewish people are still waiting for a Messiah. I know all of this from reading about the Talmud, and not actually reading it - it is huge and I want to tackle it with some discerning foreknowledge whenever I do crack it open). There is important water within, but we have to pull out the prickly parts that stick our faith in Jesus. (* The reason being, the Talmud was finally written down after the resurrection of Jesus, but includes ancient stories of the Jewish people - it spans many periods of belief and thought, before and after Christ, some ancient teachings that Jesus would have considered truth, and some more modern teachings that condemn Christianity.)
Armed with a solid grip on Christian Theology, people of the Church can feel confident in researching the oral traditions of the Jewish people and finding that there are many interesting Biblical details to be found there. These pieces of history and tradition can enhance our overall understanding of the Heart of God and the understanding of the world our Jesus lived, healed, and preached within, as long as our faith in Jesus is solid and we pray for guiding discretion.
Peace to you, and keep checking over here with me for more content about Christian life, including family ministry, Biblical interpretation, history, life application, and abiding in Jesus. For questions or comments, email me firstname.lastname@example.org
ABIDE IN JESUS
- Amberlin Harrison