And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men… (Isaiah 29:13, English Standard Version)
Or as the Jews themselves translated this verse in the Greek Septuagint Version: And the Lord has said, This people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and they honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: but in vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men. (Brenton translation. If you read Greek, that underlined phrase is: μάτην δὲ σέβονταί με διδάσκοντες ἐντάλματα ἀνθρώπων καὶ διδασκαλίας.)
“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. (Jeremiah 8:8).
He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?… So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” (Matthew 15:3, 6-9)
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19).
From the above quotations, it can be seen that the Hebrew prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah did not think much of what passed for “the Law” (Torah) among the Jews. Isaiah said that what was taught as “Law” was in fact “the commandments of men” (or the Jews’ “fear of God” was learned from “a commandment taught by men”); while Jeremiah said that the Law of God did not exist among the Jews, because the lying pen of the scribes had turned the Law into a lie.
Jesus clearly agreed with them, because he said that the Pharisees and scribes “broke” and “made void” God’s Law by their traditions and teachings. He also quoted Isaiah’s statement that what they taught was “the commandments of men” rather than the Law of God.
Yet it is very frequently asserted that Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5 about every bit of “the Law” remaining inviolate until heaven and earth pass away means that nothing of Moses’ Law found in the Bible will ever pass away until the end of the world (until all be ‘fulfilled’, at any rate)! (And most certainly the “Law of Moses” found in the Bible was among the commandments and doctrines taught by the scribes and Pharisees, as well as their interpretations and expansions of “the Law” which we today know as the Talmud). How could Jesus be teaching that he did not come to break – but rather to “fulfill” – the “Torah” which the Jews had, when Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jesus on other occasions, all said that the “Torah” in the Jews’ possession was not the “Law of God” but the lying commandments of men?
The answer, of course, is that when Jesus spoke (in Matthew 5) of “the Law”, he was not speaking of “the Torah” as the Jews knew it (whether that be the so-called “Law of Moses”, or the Law of those who “sit in Moses’ seat”). He was speaking of the true law of God which existed and was known long before the so-called “Law of Moses” came into being, and is universal and spiritual. This was the law which the Levites and scribes had distorted and mutilated into lying commandments of men.
So Jesus was saying that he certainly had not come to destroy God’s Law – no, the Jews had done a fine job of that already; he came to restore God’s law to its perfection. God’s law certainly will never pass away; but much of the so-called “Law of Moses” and the law of those “who sit in Moses’ seat” would most assuredly pass away, because such laws actually violated God’s law! It’s true, of course, that bits and pieces of the true “Law of God” still existed within that which passed for “the Law of Moses”, and perhaps more than just a bit of truth still existed in “the prophets”. The spiritually discerning can no doubt pick out those ‘gems of truth’; and Jesus willingly recognized them and promoted them (“you shall love the LORD your God… and your neighbor as yourself” for instance). Nevertheless, most of the laws and traditions of Judaism were at the very least inadequate, and at worst were outright lies falsely claimed to be God’s Law.
So when Jesus said (Matthew 5:19): Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven, he was referring not to the “Law of Moses” and the “traditions of the elders”; rather he was referring to his own restoration and perfecting of the true Law of God which he proceeded to give in the remainder of Matthew 5, and chapters 6 and 7.
In the rest of chapter 5, Jesus deliberately contrasted the true “torah” of God with the written and oral laws of Judaism. He said that the laws about murder and adultery were inadequate because they focused on the outward act; whereas God is more concerned with the thoughts and intents of the heart.
According to Jesus, the law permitting divorce was outright contrary to the Law of God, except for the cause of “fornication” or “sexual immorality”. The same was true concerning the swearing of oaths: whereas the Mosaic Law allowed such oaths and insisted that one be sure to keep his oaths (depending, though, on what one swears by – see Matthew 23:16-22), Jesus said the true Law of God was that one should not swear any oaths. Whatever went beyond a simple “yes” or “no” was of the evil one!
Also contrary to God’s Law was the famous “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” found in the written Law of “Moses”. According to Jesus’ restoration and perfecting of God’s Law, the truth is that one should “turn the other cheek”.
Then notice in verse 43 a law having two parts: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ “Love your neighbor as yourself” is certainly in the written Law (Leviticus 19:18), but people sometimes say that “hate your enemy” is not; it’s only in the “traditions” (known today as the Talmud). Technically that is true; but those “traditions” simply summarized what the written “Law of Moses” most definitely taught. Consider, for instance, Deuteronomy 23:3 and 6 – No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever… You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.That can certainly be correctly summarized by “hate your enemy”.
Consider also Deuteronomy 7:1 and 2 – When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you…and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. Certainly the scribes were very accurate in summarizing such a statement as “hate your enemy”. In other places the instruction to “devote them to complete destruction” is even more emphatically stated by saying to kill everything breathing: men, women, children, and animals. Joshua’s total destruction of the people of Jericho is one instance of a Biblical account of such total destruction.
Jesus Christ simply repudiated such commandments, and said that instead God’s Law is (Matt. 5:44-48): But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This statement not only repudiates the “hate your enemies” portion of the Judaic law; it repudiates the “love your neighbor” portion also, as it appears in the written and oral law of the Jews. Leviticus 19:18 says: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. Obviously, “neighbor” is the equivalent of “the sons of your own people”; so the scribes and elders of the Jews were quite accurate in explaining that this didn’t apply to “Gentiles”. But Jesus said: if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? In the famous story of the “Good Samaritan”, of course, Jesus emphatically extended the commandment to “love your neighbor” far beyond the Jewish limitation of “the sons of your own people” or “your brother” (to the exclusion of the “Gentiles”). In the teaching of Jesus Christ, such distinctions as “Jew” and “Gentile”, “male and female”, “slave” and “free” lose all significance when it comes to love and laws of justice.
When Jesus said that not even the least part of the Law would perish until heaven and earth pass away, he most certainly was not talking about the laws of Judaism (the “Law of Moses” and the “Law of those who sit in Moses’ seat”)! He was talking about the true Law of God which the Jews had done their best to destroy with their “lying pens”, but which he was restoring and bringing to perfection.