We are going to discuss the Sanhedrin in the First Century and how those rulings are seen today in Judaism and by many messianic teachers. We are going to disagree with much of how the authority of the so-called Oral Law should be applied. We have a whole teaching about the authority of the Oral Law and its origins on this site.
We know that the Passover lamb was to be slain on the 14th of Nisan. But, we already have a controversy about Yeshua on this. How could Yeshua have a Passover Seder on the night before? We know he was on the cross on the 14th, so that means his meal with the talmidim had to be the night before. There is a collection of “additions” to the Mishnah called the Tosefta. In tractate “Pisha” which means “Pesach” or Passover it says you can slay a Passover lamb on the 13th by designating it as a Passover lamb. However, you can’t roast it. So, at the beginning of the meal you designate it as a Passover lamb. Some say that is what Yeshua does in Luke 22.15.
However, this verse does not mean that. Yeshua is merely saying he desired to eat the Passover with them, but he won’t be able to because he will be dead. He is not saying it was that meal, that night! Passover wasn’t till the next night. Yeshua knows it will be impossible to do so later. This is an example of an oral law that violates the written Torah, and people try to make it look like Yeshua followed that nonsense. The Scriptures do not teach an authoritative Oral Law.
Following 200 A.D. a ruling came out about the time of a man named Yehudah Ha Nasi, that the Mishnah and Tosefta were closed. Again, the Mishnah is a collection of rulings by the Sanhedrin (“Sages”) on how to walk in the Torah according to the Pharisees. The Tosefta means “additions” of things not in the Mishnah. Teachers during this period of the Mishnah and Tosefta were called “Tannaim” or “teachers.” Between the period of 200 A.D and 500 A.D. we have teachers who were called Amoraim. There is another commentary on the Mishnah called the Gemara (study) that is compiled. There is not a “Gemara” on the Tosefta.
Eventually, eating the Passover early was not allowed anymore. This brings up the question, if the Mishnah and Tosefta are divinely inspired, how can it be discarded? The truth is, Yeshua did not eat a passover meal at what is called the “Last Supper.” This can be proved many ways.
Many will justify following the Sanhedrin in the Messianic Movement by saying the movement is divided. God is moving among the non-Jews and turning them to the Torah. With that comes confusion. There is a variety of teachings on things like the calendar, festivals, kosher, halakah and other things. In a movement you will have growing pains and with that will come many questions and issues. So unity is needed and following an oral tradition would bring unity. However, the oral law is not divinely inspired and it was not given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Besides, it has been written down for centuries, so it isn’t even oral anymore. It does not have the same status as the written Torah, no matter what people say. The same mindset and statements the rabbis have used for centuries to say what they rule is part of what Moses said on Sinai isn’t even agreed upon by all the rabbis. It is the same mindset the Catholic Church uses to justify their doctrine of Apostolic Authority.
So, lets go to the verses that seem to establish a “Sanhedrin.” This will be controversial in itself. The word Sanhedrin is Greek and it means “sitting together.” This seems to indicate a Greek origin of this concept, not Hebrew. Its origin can be traced to 200 B.C., but the rabbis will say it started in Exodus 18. However, there is no mention of this body in the Tanak.
Exo 18.13-23 is one verse used to say this is where the Sanhedrin began. The “judges sit” and the person being judged would stand (18.13). Zech 3.1 says that Joshua the High Priest was standing before the Lord. The courts in the American justice system is set up like this. The accused stands, with the prosecutor on the right. However, there is nothing in these verses that tell us this is a Sanhedrin. It does establish courts and judges to help Moses decide cases, with certain qualifications for judges listed in verse 21.
Num 11.16 clearly shows there was no Sanhedrin up to this point or we wouldn’t have had to choose 70 people. This verse is used to say this was a Sanhedrin. We read of 70 elders who went up to Sinai with Moses (Exo 24.1). But they were selected for that reason, for that particular time. They did not continue as a distinct body called a Sanhedrin. The people in Num 11.16 were elders (Exo 3.16) who were among the elders. The Lord will put his Ruach upon those 70 elders and they will assist in governing and making decisions (Judges 18.21). The number 70 is the number that the Sanhedrin Gedolah will use in later times. Yeshua sent out 70 talmidim to minister in Luke 10.1.
Deut 16.18-20 says that judges were to be appointed along with officers (Shoterim) in all their towns. This again shows that there was not a continuous Sanhedrin, otherwise there would be no need to appoint new people. In addition, these judges were in the towns, scattered like our judges today. There was no mention of a “central” Sanhedrin at this time.
Deut 17.8-13 is a used to show that believers are to follow the rulings of the Sanhedrin today, even if it is wrong, which we would totally disagree with. Who says the rabbis and the sages that made up the Sanhedrin are the “Levitical priests or the judge” spoken of here? Exo 18.19-22 gives the hierarchy, with a person at the top who are getting a direct word or answer from the Lord (we will see this coming up). You had a priest with the Urim and Thummim, and Moses could go himself directly to God when this was written. There is no indication that this situation was going to stop once they entered the land, but we know it did. Later on, there were prophets who could give an answer from God. That is why if a person did not listen to their ruling, they were to be put to death.
This is NOT the the system that developed later, beginning during the Hasmonean Period. The first, historical record of a Sanhedrin was during the time of Aulus Gabinius, a Roman statesman, general and supporter of Pompey. He organized five “sanhedrins” in 57 B.C. to deal with religious matters (Josephus). By this time, the Sanhedrin was an invention of the rabbis, scholars and sages. But there were no prophets or an Urim and Thummim that could go directly to God, like in Deut 17.8-13. They say they do not need to listen to Heaven in a midrash in Bava Metzia 59b. This idea runs contrary to what Peter told the Sanhedrin in Acts 5.27-29.
In Num 27.15-23, Joshua has some of the authority of Moses put on him. He was to stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his command, they shall go out and at his command they shall come in. This included all the people. This is not the system set up by the rabbis, based on Deut 17.8-13. The use of the Urim and Thummim is alluded to in 1 Sam 10.22, 14.41, 2 Sam 5.23. The Urim and Thummim were lost when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem (Sotah 9.10; Yoma 21b,; Tamid 65b). In Ezra 2.63 and Num 7.65, it says that individuals who were unable to prove priestly origins during the return were to wait until a priest was in possession of the Urim and Thummim that had been rediscovered. This shows that the Urim and Thummim had been lost by that time.
In Part 20, we will pick up here.