Summary: Jesus and the Old Testament Law - PowerPoint slides to accompany this talk are available on request – email:


What do we mean by the Law?

What was the attitude of Jesus to the Law?

What should be my attitude to the Law?



• Silly UK Laws Quiz - True or False.

• PowerPoint slides available on request.

• TRANSITION: The passage I have been asked to speak about this morning;

• Is all about the Law.

• Obviously not U.K. silly laws;

• But the religious laws of the Jewish people.

(1). What do we mean by Law?

• The expression ‘The Law’ that we read in the gospels;

• Had up to four different meanings at the time of Jesus.

• To the religious leaders and the Jewish people;

• Would have understood ‘The Law’ in one of four different ways.

• (1). They used it to mean the Ten Commandments.

• (As listed in Exodus chapter 20)

• (2). They used it to mean the first five books of the Bible.

• (The Torah or the Pentateuch, which to the Jew is the most important part of the scriptures).

• (3). They used the phrase ‘The Law and the prophets’ to mean the whole of Scripture;

• (What we would call the Old Testament).

• (4). They used it to mean the Oral or the Scribal Law,

• In the time of Jesus it was the last meaning that caused the confusion,

• Because among the religious leaders this was their preference!


• The Oral or the Scribal Law was introduced;

• To protect God’s Law and to stop people breaking it;

• e.g. You older folk will remember;

• When we had open coal fires and they had a fire guard in front of them.

• The idea was children might touch the fireguard by accident or ignorance;

• But the guard prevented them from actually touching the fire itself.

• In the same way the religious leaders built a guard around the Law,

• They added their own rules and regulations to protect it.

• These rules were known as the Oral/Scribal law.

• The idea being people might break their rules;

• But those rules would guard them from actually breaking God’s Law.

The problem with the Oral/Scribal Law was:

• These started out as secondary to the Law of God;

• But overtime the scales tipped and they became not just equal;

• But often superseded the Law of God.

• e.g. To God’s one law, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy",

• The religious leaders added rule upon rule upon rule…

• The Mishnah (The Mishnah, the first written record of the Oral Law,)

• Listed 39 different categories of work that was forbidden on the Sabbath,

• e.g. They taught that you should not look in a mirror on the Sabbath;

• Because you might be tempted to pluck out a grey hair and that would be reaping.

• e.g. It was unlawful to wear any jewellery or ornaments on the Sabbath,

• Since this might be construed as carrying a burden.

• e.g. It was fine to spit on a rock on the Sabbath, but you could not spit on the ground,

• Because that made mud and mud was mortar, and that was work.

• And sadly the rules got sillier and pettier as time went on.

• e.g. You were allowed to eat radishes on the Sabbath,

• But you were warned against dipping them into salt;

• Because you might leave them in the salt too long and pickle them;

• And this was considered to be Sabbath-breaking.

• The Pharisees actually had discussions as to how long it took to pickle a radish.

• In summary:

• To the religious leaders, ‘The Law’ to them was the Oral or the Scribal Law;

• This they prioritised for themselves and for the people.

• But to Jesus ‘The Law’ was ‘The Law of Moses and the Prophets’ (our Old Testament);

• This was the Law he chose to follow, to obey and to teach.

In fact Jesus seemed to deliberately break their Oral/Scribal man made rules:

• Not once did Jesus ever broke any of the Laws of Moses.

• But he constantly, intentionally broke the Scribal, the Oral Law.

• Especially those man-made rules relating to the Sabbath.

• i.e. He would heal people on the Sabbath.

• (Mark chapter 3 verses 1-78)

• i.e. He told people to pick up their mats on the Sabbath – to carry a burden!

• (John chapter 5 verse 8)

• i.e. He spat on the ground and mixed mud & spittle and placed it on a blind men’s faces

• (John chapter 9 verse 6);

• According to their oral tradition this was considered work.

• i.e. He allowed his disciples (Matthew 12 verses 1–8);

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