“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” (Matt.23:25-26)
At the beginning of Matthew, chapter 23, in my New American Standard Bible, I find the sub-heading “Pharisaism Exposed”. This type of biased editorializing of the text is common in our English translations. The sub-headings serve to lead the reader towards a foregone conclusion which may or may not accurately represent what follows in the literal text. This is one such case, but it’s hard to discern this without knowledge of the Oral Law as later codified and illustrated in the Talmud.
In the passage above, the point is clear: “Worry about what’s going on inside of you more than how you seem to be viewed by the world and you’ll be on track. To make yourself presentable to the world without dealing with your own internal issues is hypocrisy.” We all can relate, but often, when reading this we position ourselves as co-accusers of the “religious hypocrites” without realizing that we may guilty ourselves!
But, back to the sub-heading, which is my real focus here. It is commonly assumed that the Lord was against the Oral Traditions, or Oral Law of Judaism, and that the Pharisees are the “poster-child” of this rejection. Since Rabbinic Judaism today is the direct descendant of the Pharisees, it is then fashionable and common to utterly reject the rabbis from the conversation concerning scriptural truth. After all, it would seem, the Lord rejected it and denounced it. But did he really?
In truth, what the Lord denounced was not Pharisaism per se, but hypocricy within the movement. After all, the Lord’s theology was clearly in line with the Pharisees. When we take a closer look at the teachings of Yeshua in comparison with the teachings of Pharisaism, we find a different story than the one that the Church tells us.
It turns out that that the Talmud completely agrees with the Lord concerning his chosen metaphor in this passage. Consider the following:
“…earthenware vessels do not become impure from their outer side, i.e., if a primary source of impurity came into contact with the outer side of the vessel, the inside of the vessel does not become impure.” (Talmud, Shabbat 16a, Koren Steinsaltz edition)
We see from the discussion of the Oral Law in the Talmud that Yeshua is not casting aside the tradition of the Jewish sages, but teaching from within it. The point of this teaching of the Lord is not to discredit Pharisaic faith, as the sub-heading in my Bible may suggest, but rather to point out the hypocrisy of insincere religious activity which serves only to impress others.
When perusing the writings of great Jewish rabbis, one finds the same strain of argument: The Law performed devoid of faith and genuine devotion towards God is of no value.
The Church needs to reevaluate it’s position towards the Law and also towards Rabbinic Judaism. Semper Reformanda: “Always Reforming”.