Were the teachings of Jesus in basic conflict with Jewish tradition?
previous next

“Were the teachings of Jesus in basic conflict with Jewish tradition?” Ensign, July 1975, 30–31

Were the teachings of Jesus merely different from those of the Jewish religion as practiced at his time, or were they in basic conflict with Jewish tradition?

Avraham Gileadi, instructor in Hebrew and research assistant in ancient scripture at Brigham Young University: The Mosaic law in force at the time of Jesus’ ministry was not rejected by the Savior. To a young man who came to him, and who claimed that he observed all the laws of Moses, Jesus said, “If thou wilt be perfect … follow me.” (Matt. 19:21.) Perfection lay not in forsaking the law of Moses, nor in following it only, but in embracing the higher principles of the gospel that superseded temporal law.

Jesus’ frequent rebuke of the religious leaders of his day consisted not in showing them that their observances had become outdated with his advent or that they were no longer binding. His dispute with the Scribes and Pharisees stemmed from the fact that they insisted on the meticulous performance of temporal laws such as ritual cleanliness, while the weighty laws of love of God and of neighbor remained largely unobserved. Jesus said: “These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt. 23:23.) A Jewish tradition states that it was because of hate between brethren that the temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, in spite of the fact that the Jews of the time were very learned.

Jewish religious learning had regressed into the cold dissection and scrutiny of the letter of the law, while the Spirit of God was denied. The admonition of Jesus that “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27) provides a clear example of the spiritual state of the Jews of his time. This was an admonition that might have been applied to the whole law as well as to the Sabbath.

Jesus observed Jewish customs as well as those commandments in the Mosaic code that were part of the higher law. The atonement of Christ ended the necessity of those performances and ordinances of the Mosaic law that prefigured his sacrifice. Other parts of the law, including the Ten Commandments and precepts such as tithing, remained in effect because they were actually a part of the higher law of the gospel.

Several Mosaic practices such as baptism in water were also contained in the gospel. Strict laws governing hygiene, clean foods, and family and social relationships were neither abrogated by Christ nor abandoned by his Jewish disciples. Rather, ritualistic observance naturally lost its significance as men born of the Spirit would be presumed to keep themselves clean, physically as well as spiritually.

The Savior’s teachings were often in conflict with the Law of Moses, as he sought to restore truths to Israel that it had formerly rejected. From D&C 84:21–27 we learn that the gospel was offered to the children of Israel while in the wilderness, but when they rejected it, the Law of Moses was given instead. Paul said that the gospel was once made available to Israel at Mount Sinai but that it was not “mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (Heb. 4:2.) This is corroborated by a Jewish tradition that explains that a higher law was rejected by Israel at Sinai and that the priesthood was at that time taken from all tribes except the Levites.

The ministry of Jesus was complex. His rejection by the leaders of the Jews made possible his primary mission on earth—the Atonement. Jesus was not a reformer; he was a restorer. The Jewish nation had lost the Melchizedek Priesthood and the higher ordinances and covenants. Jesus restored these things in the establishment of the church in the meridian of time. Since the Jews rejected Jesus, these teachings of the higher law were not adopted, except by a minority of Jews. As a result, the prominence given in the gospel to the spirit of the law, as exemplified by the parables and beatitudes of Jesus, was never incorporated into Judaism.