The oral law is very big in Rabbinic Judaism. They believe that when the Lord gave the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai, he gave an oral tradition as well. This was to run in conjunction with the written Law. The written Torah is what we have in the Bible, and the oral tradition is found in the Mishnah and Gemara, which together make up the Talmud. As a result, Jewish “halacha”, or how to walk, is jointly based on the written and oral law.
The case for an oral law can be made because the instructions of God was all oral before Moses wrote anything down. All biblical history and genealogies were passed down from Adam to Moses. David’s plans for the Temple were given to him by God (1 Chr 28.11-19) but they were not written down in the Law of Moses, or the written Torah, but eventually these made their way into the written Scriptures. Oral law helped preserve the Scriptures that we have today through the scribes called the Masoretes. Yeshua agreed with some of the oral tradition like praying before he ate and going to the Synagogue and disagreed with other oral laws by telling the paralytic to carry his pallet on the Sabbath (John 5.10-11) and various hand-washing regulations (Mark 7.1-13). These oral laws were passed down through the various sages and scholars in Jewish history.
This tendancy towards oral law is not just found in Judaism. Christianity has their own oral tradition. So, how does a believer in Yeshua approach these things when there are contradictory issues going on in the Scriptures. First and foremost, we do not have a human lawgiver (Isa 33.22). Deut 4.2 says that we are not to add to (Judaism says the oral law is in addition to the written) or detract from (Christianity detracts by saying “the Law has been done away with”) the word that the Lord commanded Israel. If God wanted fences around the Torah he would have put them in.
Exo 24.2-12 says that Moses recounted “all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances” to the people. In Josh 1.8 it says that we are to meditate on the book of the law day and night and to do “all that is written in it. ” Heb 9.19 says “For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the law (Torah)” he ratified it with the blood of calves. There is no hint of an oral law.
The King in Israel was to write a copy of the Law for himself and it was to be with him at all times. He was to read it and make rulings from it and he was to observe all the words written within it (Deut 17.14-20). Hilkiah found the written Law, not oral, in the Temple. If there was an authoritative oral law in Josiah’s day there is no indication of it here. It was the written law which God used to work spiritual revival (2 Chr 34.14-30). Joshua read all the words of Moses that he had written down and “there was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read” (Josh 8.31-35). Ezra read all the words of the Law (Ezra 8.1-18).
The Lord tells Joshua to keep and do all that was written in the book of the law of Moses. If there was an oral law with the same authority, why didn’t he tell him to obey that also (Josh 23.6-8). Paul says that all that was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, no hint of an oral tradition there either (Rom 15.4).
The obvious conclusion is this. We don’t need “experts” trained in oral law to explain the Word of God. Each generation is to follow the written law as it applies and not with a fixed, oral tradition (Deut 30.11-13; 31.9-13). I Cor 4.6 says that we are not to exceed what was written in the Torah. The Torah was given to restore balance in any given situation. Yeshua found no problem with the oral law when it provided helpful insights or it had explanations of the written Torah.
Many times when the words of the oral Torah are examined, it sheds more light on the words in the written Torah and the intended meaning. But, a believer in Yeshua should not accept the authority of the oral law. But, that doesn’t mean that there is no value to it. As we said before, Yeshua followed some of it. This is not an exhaustive case presented here against a divinely inspired oral law, but this should give some good food for thought.
We should not, however, consider the instructions of the rabbi’s in the oral law as the only way to do things. But, some of it can be helpful as long as it does not violate that which is already written in the Scriptures.