Answered by Brother Michel Lankford
It’s a critical question to answer, because Messiah makes a pretty incredible statement:
As It Is Written: ““For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20 NASB95)
Now let us ponder this for a moment. The scribes and Pharisees were the absolute trop religious authorities in Israel at the time. They were the most educated. They were the go-to guys. The were the elite Bible school Graduates. They were the top lawyers, legal, and biblical experts of the day in Israel at the time. In spite of all of those outstanding academic and religious credentials, Yahshua/Jesus (ישוע) the Messiah specifically said that we must do BETTER than they do in walking in righteousness; because, unless we do BETTER than they do in performing Righteousness, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is Messiah saying this now. It does not get any more serious that to have an attitude, a characteristic, or a behavior that could prevent you from entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. Since we must surpass and do BETTER scribes and Pharisees in performing Righteousness to get into heaven. It now becomes crucial to understand what the scribes and Pharisees were doing WRONG. We need to make certain that we don’t copy their mistakes, if we are going to have any real chance of surpassing them in Righteousness.
Matthew 5:20, Matthew 16:6
And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6 NASB)”For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20 NASB)
- In order to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must overcome the leaven and the practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
So, What Was the Leaven of the Pharisees?
(Here are some CRUCIAL examples)
I’ll try to keep this short. However, in order to understand the leaven of the Pharisees, we must understand what the Pharisees and RABBINICAL Judaism (NOT Biblical Judaism) teaches in general.
“If there are 1000 prophets, all of them of the stature of Elijah and Elisha giving a certain interpretation, and 1001 rabbis giving the opposite interpretation, you should incline to the majority, and the law is according to the 1001 rabbis, and not according to the 1000 prophets, only from the rabbis who are men of logic and reason.” (From Rambam’s Introduction to the Mishnah)”My son! Be careful concerning the rabbinical decrees even more than the Torah… The Torah contains prohibitions, but everyone who violates a rabbinical decree is worthy of death.” (Eirivin 21b; the Judaic Classics Library- The Soncio Talmud).”… And even on the view that precepts cannot mollify each other, that applies only to a biblical precept with another biblical precept, or with a rabbinical precept to other rabbinical precepts, but in the case of a conflict or contradiction between a scriptural and a rabbinical precept the rabbinical precept shall nullify the scriptural one.” (From the Babylonian Talmud 115a)”Whosoever disobeys the rabbis deserves death, and will be punished by being boiled in hot excrement in hell.” (Erubin 21b.)”A Rabbi debates G’d and defeats Him. G’d himself admits that the Rabbi won the debate.” (18-Baba Mezia 59b.)”When a Jew murders a Gentile, (“a Cuthean,”) there is no death penalty. What a Jew steals from a Gentile he may keep.” (Sanhedrin 57a).
To explain the countless heresies in the oral rabbinical teaching tradition of the elders would take thousands of hours. Suffice it to say there are many such heresies which go 100% CONTRARY to written Scripture. We have described some, but by no means all of the heresies and what the rabbis called the law, but what was 100% contrary to written Scripture
To summarize just a few of these Rabbinical heresies:
- They believed that all non-Jews are not true human beings but are merely animals and lower life forms
- They believed salvation was supposedly IMPOSSIBLE for anyone who is not a native born Hebrew Israelite. Converts were supposedly all second-class citizens who could not truly be saved.
- They believed that it is okay to murder and steal from a Gentile without sinning or incurring any penalty. There are many such crimes that rabbinical Jews believe they are permitted to commit against Gentiles throughout the Talmuds.
- Rabbis have the authority to debate against YHWH, and can defeat YHWH in the debate.
- They believe that rabbinical rulings and traditions have more authority than the written Scriptures.
- They believe that anyone who disobeys or violates a rabbinical teaching stands condemned.
- It’s important to note that all of these rabbinical teaching tradition of the elders and many more like them are 100% contrary to the Written Scriptures, (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32; Joshua 1:7-9; Psalm 119; 1 Corinthians 4:6). All such teachings were ONLY passed down orally from one generation to the next until they were finally written down in about 1600 A.D.
- The Pharisees came to erroneously believe by tradition and constant practice over hundreds of years that their SPOKEN rabbinical teaching tradition of the elders demonstrated above was supposedly part of the Law of YHWH, and the spoken rabbinical teaching tradition of the elders was allegedly even more important than the written Scriptures, according to them.
- Messiah openly declared that He upheld ONLY the authority the WRITTEN Scriptures as having real authority, (Matthew 5:17-20; Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13; cf. Acts 5:29). We know this because there are NO jots or tittles in the spoken Hebrew. Jots and tittles ONLY exist in WRITTEN Hebrew. Therefore, Messiah was upholding the authority of ONLY the written Scriptures. That’s one of the reasons they wanted Him killed.
- So, that’s the short version of the leaven of the Pharisees which we must avoid or overcome, in order to inherit the Everlasting Kingdom, (Matthew 5:20).
Note: This is why Whole Testament Believers diligently seek to reject traditions imposed by men and religious leaders, whenever any such tradition violates a written Commandment of Scripture. We uphold the WRITTEN Scripture, and NOT Christian or religious tradition as having the ultimate authority.
These are the types of beliefs that were in in rabbinical Judaism from the time of the captivity in Babylon, until the time of Messiah, and even to the present day. When a RABBINICAL Jew of the first century referred to, “The Law,” they would often MIX the teachings of the Talmud and the Mishnahs exemplified above, together WITH any part of written Scripture that suited their purposes. The thing is, that the RABBINICAL Jews, [NOT Biblical Jews] would refer to all of these ideas along with the Scriptures AS IF they were the SAME thing. They would regularly refer to ALL of this as, “The Law.”
An Example from My Own Life
Let me give the clearest example that I can: I was brought up Catholic. For a long time I wrongly believed that praying the rosary every day would be part of what CAUSED and supposedly GUARANTEED my salvation. I was trying to get saved by obeying the Catholic version of, “The Law;” even though obeying my understanding of “The Law,” was actually causing me to DISOBEY written Scripture, [Matthew 6:7–8].
Years later, I now become born again. I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and I get BIBLICALLY SAVED. I start praying and studying my Bible, because I want to please my Heavenly Father, and my Savior. In the process I come across Matthew 6:7-8. Jesus is specifically teaching the direct OPPOSITE of the type of practice that is normally done when one prays rosary. So I now have a decision to make. Am I going to obey what SCRIPTURE and Messiah says to do, or am I going to obey church teaching and church tradition, trusting in “Church Law,” to save me? So, let’s say that I decide to obey what the BIBLE says to do, and so I do not do the rosary anymore.
With this new revelation and understanding that salvation DOES NOT come through obeying Church Law, I might write a letter to my fellow Catholics saying, “You are not going to be saved by doing the “Works of the Law.” They would understand my figure of speech, because they were brought up the same way around the same time that I was. Would I be telling them not to pray? Of course not. Would I be telling them not to use the Lord’s teaching prayer? Of course not. They would know in context that I was saying, don’t pray the rosary with the expectation that obeying “Church Law” is going to CAUSE or GUARANTEE your salvation. Many would understand that I was bringing them back to obeying WRITTEN Scripture, and NOT to follow church tradition invented by man; and not to expect Church Law to save them. That is EXACTLY what Paul was doing when he said that we would not be saved or justified by “Works of the Law.” He wasn’t saying don’t obey written Scripture. He was saying don’t depend on the rabbinical system to cause or to guarantee your salvation. Go back to honoring what WRITTEN Scripture teaches, and NOT traditions of men. That’s what Paul was actually teaching.
Paul Was NOT Teaching AGAINST Keeping the WRITEN Old Testament
When Paul was talking about not being, “Justified by the works of the Law,” Paul was NOT telling people to DISOBEY the Commandments of God in WRITTEN Scripture. He was telling people, ‘Don’t think that you’re going to be justified with God by obeying a combination of religious law, a mixture of Scripture, and traditions of men. In other words, Paul was saying to FOLLOW what is WRITTEN in Scripture as the ultimate authority, but DO NOT follow rabbinical traditions of men, especially when those traditions are VIOLATING WRITTEN Scripture. That’s what Paul was truly trying to teach. Now, it is all well and good to make this assertion, but can we prove it? Yes, yes, we can. What follows is a SUMMARY of those proofs. This does not include all of the great details. It is intended only as a summary to get you started doing your own research. However, it should be enough to establish the case:
- Paul specifically told his protégé Timothy to CONTINUE in the Old Testament Scriptures that he had learned since he was young, (2 Timothy 3:14-17). At the time Paul wrote his letters, there was no compiled New Testament. The New Testament was not compiled until at least 300 years later. So, when Paul told Timothy to CONTINUE in the Scriptures that he had learned since he was young, by necessity, he could ONLY be referring to the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul did not tell Timothy to stop doing the Old Testament. He told Timothy to CONTINUE doing those Scriptures. That is CRUCIAL. If Grace truly means that we were no longer supposed to obey the Old Testament Scriptures, then WHY did Paul give Timothy the direct OPPOSITE instruction?
- Paul affirms the NECESSITY of the Old Testament Scriptures for new generations of believers, (see Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). You can’t have it both ways. You cannot claim on the one hand that ALL the Scripture is valid to train us in all righteousness, and to equip us for every good work, but on the other hand claim that much of it is abolished, and should not be honored anymore. That would be ridiculous on its face. If it’s profitable to train us in righteousness, and necessary to equip us for every good work, then it cannot be rightly be abolished at the same time.
- Paul himself DENIES teaching against Torah
- Acts 25:7-10
- See Acts 28:17-21
- Acts 24:14-16
- Paul SAID:
“I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.”“I have done no wrong to the Jews”“I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers”I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.“I always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.”
IF Paul was truly teaching that believers in Messiah could now BREAK and not keep YAHWEH’S ETERNAL Laws & Commandments “under Grace,” EVERY ONE of the statements Paul made that shown above would be a LIE.
I say that Paul wasn’t teaching against keeping God’s Commandments, because Paul said he wasn’t. Modern Christians are in a serious theological conundrum here. You have Paul the apostle openly declaring that he was NOT teaching AGAINST the Commandments of God in WRITTEN Scripture. If Paul was telling the truth, that means that Christians are misunderstanding and misrepresenting Paul when they say that he was teaching against keeping the Commandments of God, despite the fact that Paul said this was NOT what he was teaching. There is a serious dilemma here. If modern Christians have understood the Scriptures correctly, that would mean that Paul obviously LIED when he testified about what he believed and practiced and preached. IF Paul WERE a LIAR, then he would not even be saved, let alone an apostle, (see Revelation 21:8); On the other hand, IF Paul the apostle told the TRUTH about what he believed, practiced, and preached, that means that modern Christianity has misread, has misinterpreted and is misapplied what Paul was teaching in his letters, because modern Christians are basing their theology on something that Paul said he was NOT teaching. I believe Paul is a legitimate apostle. I believe he told the truth. At the same time, that also means that he was not teaching against keeping the commandments of God in written Scripture, contrary to what most modern Christians have been led to believe.
- The apostle Paul openly stated that not subjecting ourselves to God’s Law, is a sign of being carnal minded. It is NOT a work of Grace (Romans 8:5–8).
- Paul declared that before we were born again, we were lawless, but he also said that after we are born again we should not continue to walk in lawlessness any longer, (Romans 6:19).
- The apostle Paul openly stated that believers are REQUIRED to SEPARATE ourselves FROM Lawlessness, in order to be accepted by God as His child (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1). The New Testament clearly teaches that Holiness and sanctification is required in order for us to see God , (Hebrews 12:14). That makes holy separation a Salvation issue, even according to the New Testament.
- Paul gave us a definition of Grace in (Titus 2:11–15). Even according to Paul, the Grace of God is there to help us OVERCOME Lawlessness. Grace did not come to make lawlessness okay, or to promote more lawlessness. When Christians continuously claim that we should not obey God’s Commandments because of God’s Grace, they are denying and contradicting what Paul said that we were supposed to teach about Grace.
- The Bereans believed Paul AFTER searching the Old Testament daily to see if what Paul was saying was true, (Acts 17:10-12). The New Testament wasn’t even compiled till 300 years after this time. Moreover, the Bereans were not believers yet, so they would not have accepted any New Scriptures, if it contradicted what they already had in any case. The point is that the Bereans came to believe Paul’s testimony after searching the Old Testament daily, which is all they had. IF Paul were preaching against keeping the Old Testament, as many Christians assume today, then how did the Bereans come to believe Paul’s teaching after searching the Old Testament Scripture? There is not a chance that Paul was teaching what Christians assume that he was. It’s not even remotely possible.
- PLEASE Consider this CAREFULLY: It is Paul the Apostle of Grace himself who wrote to Christian congregations in the New Testament. In many of his letters, Paul repeatedly warns Christians to repent and to walk correctly. He warns them to walk correctly before God, so that they would not face the wrath of God that is to come on the children of DISOBEDIENCE. Beloved, please THINK. Use your Spirit controlled mind and do not be carnal minded. Beloved, if obeying Biblical Instructions no longer matters because we are, “Under Grace,” then WHY does Paul the, “Apostle of Grace,” repeatedly WARN Christians in the New Testament to REPENT and to walk correctly so that we can avoid the WRATH of YHWH, which is coming upon the, “Sons of DISOBEDIENCE?” If obeying YHWH does not matter under grace, then WHY did Paul even bother to give such warnings to the Christian saints, in the, “New Testament”? Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 2:1-3; Ephesians 5:1-7; Colossians 3:1-7; cf. Romans 6:13-15, 19; cf. Romans 8:5-8; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; cf. Philippians 2:12-16; 1 Corinthians 9:25-27). Grace CANNOT mean that we should not obey Biblical instructions. Paul was writing to Christians. He was not writing to unbelievers. If obeying YHWH truly didn’t matter under Grace, everyone of those Instructions within Paul’s letters would not be necessary. You are kidding only yourselves.
- The New Testament clearly warns us that we need to be careful not to twist and to misunderstand Paul’s letters, but Christians twist Paul’s letters to promote lawlessness anyway, (see 2 Peter 3:14-18).
- The CONTEXT Issue: Wherever it APPEARS that Paul was teaching that we do not have to obey God anymore; it only appears that way because we are misunderstanding and misinterpreting Paul’s writings. Wherever we see that it appears that Paul is teaching us not to obey the commandments of written Scripture, within the surrounding verses you will usually see at instruction NOT to follow TRADITIONS OF MEN, (i.e. Colossians 2:1-8). On the surface, it would APPEAR that Paul is teaching people not to honor the Old Testament Commandments usually see instructions not follow traditions of men such as the Sabbath and the Feast Days of YHWH. The problem is that Paul SPECIFICALLY Said that he was NOT teaching against the Commandments in WRITTEN Scripture. Therefore, it would be wrong for us to assume that he was. Therefore, we must ask, “Since Paul was NOT teaching AGAINST obeying Written Scripture, then exactly WHAT WAS Paul trying to say. Well, in this case Colossians 2:8 in the context of the rest of the passage gives us the answer:
As It Is Written: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8 NASB95)
He was clearly teaching, “Don’t follow traditions of men. He was not saying, don’t follow the Bible. That is an important distinction to keep in mind. You will find that the same thing holds true every time that it APPEARS that Paul was teaching that we are not justified by the law. He is referring to not thinking that we would be justified by following rabbinical religious law. He’s not saying don’t obey the Scriptures. Paul was actually trying to teach people how to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees. He wasn’t telling people to disobey written Scripture. That is a critical difference.
It’s Time to Check Ourselves
(Here are some questions to consider)
- Do I really treat the Bible and what it says as the ultimate instruction manual for how I should live my life?
- When I am making a decision about following a religious tradition, do I consult the Scriptures to make certain that what I am doing does not violate a Commandment of God? Or, am I content and satisfied to continue doing something because habit and church tradition tells me that it’s okay to do those things?
- Am I following more of what Scripture teaches us to do, or am I following traditions and customs and religious rules that were invented by human beings more? If I think that I’m okay because I’m following Christian tradition, and I don’t regard what Scripture actually says to do, then I would be REPEATING the sins of the Pharisees, I would NOT be SURPASSING them in Righteousness. According to Messiah, that approach to life is exceedingly DANGEROUS.
May YHWH Almighty give us Grace to be on the alert and to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Help us to obey the Scriptures more faithfully, and to forsake any religious tradition imposed by man whenever those traditions cause us to violate a Commandment of God. Omein.
Brother Michel Lankford