Yeshua's Authority In Relationship to Biblical Law

The Torah is the terms of the covenant between God and His redeemed people. It was given, not just to Moses, but to an entire people at Sinai nearly 3500 years ago. It was God’s initial self-disclosure of His holiness and righteousness to an entire people group.

Although the word messiah literally means “anointed one,” its connotation is that of king. It is a reference to the one who will bring all of Israel (and the entire world) into submission under a central authority. The king of Israel is required to write for himself a copy of the Torah in order to remember that he doesn’t have authority over the Torah, but that the Torah gives him his ruling authority and he must rule within its parameters — those parameters established at Sinai by the Creator of the Universe. Deuteronomy spells out these terms: And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:18–20).

Just a few chapters before this, we are given a few of the parameters which would be among those which would determine if Jesus (or any person) met the qualifications of a prophet or leader of Israel:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst (Deuteronomy 13:1–5).

In a nutshell, any individual who taught the Children of Israel anything other than to “walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice,” was to be considered a false prophet and one who came to test the fidelity of the Children of Israel. If anyone came preaching and teaching in a manner which sought to make the Children of Israel “leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk,” he was to be executed without mercy; he was indeed a false prophet. If Jesus repealed any of the laws of the Torah — either personally or through instruction to his disciples — he would immediately be disqualified as both a prophet and as the Messiah of Israel.

Even though all authority in heaven and on earth was his, he was still bound to the authority of his Father. He taught his disciples that, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” 1 Although he was given ultimate authority on the earth, he does not have the authority to undermine anything of his Father’s doing. His authority was not one which was in competition with his Father. His judgments and rulings could not be contrary to that of his Father, nor could he issue new decrees which would render that of his Father’s obsolete or irrelevant. In other words, he did not have the authority to make adultery, idolatry, murder, theft, or any other prohibition within the Torah an acceptable behavior. 2 This would have been contrary to the very nature of his Father’s holiness. However, we often interpret his teachings in ways which depict him as a rebellious son working to undo the legislation set in place by his Father.

For instance, in Mark 7 we read of an encounter Jesus has with the Pharisees over ritual hand washing and whether or not bread can become a source of spiritual contamination if it comes in contact with unwashed hands (particularly one’s own hands). In this passage, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for negating the commandments of Scripture by their adherence to the traditions of men. He said, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (verse 9). As Christians, we read these words with righteous indignation. We jeer at the Pharisees for their audacity in allowing their traditions to supersede the Scriptures. Yet when we read, “thus he declared all foods clean,” (verse 19) — adding and modifying words to make it say something which doesn’t exist in the Greek manuscripts, as most of our English translations have done — we have made the conclusion of this story say that Jesus is even more hypocritical than the Pharisees he is rebuking. Aaron Eby of First Fruits of Zion puts it this way: “By simultaneously criticizing people’s neglect of the Torah and confidently abrogating it himself, he [Jesus] would make himself into the worst kind of hypocrite, God forbid.” 3

The same is true of the apostles. The authority of a disciple cannot supersede that of his teacher — Jesus. Jesus reminds us of this when he says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” 4 Therefore, when this authority is passed down it is an entrustment, not a transfer of ownership. It is in this sense that Jesus began imparting his authority to his disciples. He first began by sending out the seventy-two. Luke records that he “appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.” 5 We know he sent them out with some of his authority, because when they returned to report to him they replied that even demons had submitted to them. Jesus responds by saying, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.” 6

Next, he did the same with the twelve, sending them out in the same manner, “two by two, and gave them authority over the un-clean spirits.” 7 Why did he do this? Because he was training them to handle the authority he would eventually pass on to them. They would fully represent him after his ascension. As the Talmud says, “A man’s agent is equivalent to himself.” 8 After his resurrection, he also gave them authority to forgive sins: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:21–23).

Just as Moses invested this authority into Joshua before he departed, Jesus passed it to his disciples before his ascension. Unfortunately, however, this chain of authority has been abused and broken. There has also been confusion as to the extent of this authority. According to many of the denominations within Christianity, apostolic forerunners and church leadership have the ability to revoke biblical decrees and commandments issued by Jesus, himself. But remember, if Jesus cannot alter the Torah, neither can his disciples. Jesus never gave his apostles the authority to rule against the Scriptures. Their only authority is in regard to “binding” and “loosing,” based on their interpretation of the words of authority which have already been recorded for us within the Holy Scriptures. It is in this context which we must understand all of Scripture, particularly the Apostolic Scriptures (the “New Testament”) and the teachings of the Apostle Paul.

  • 1. John 5:19
  • 2. Unfortunately, however, this premise — that Jesus has repealed the Torah of his Father and replaced it with anew Law of grace where the Torah is no longer the standard by which sin is defined — has been supposed for nearly the last two thousand years by Christian apologists who are both unfamiliar with Torah and misunderstand Paul’s letters which seek to explain the means by which non-Jews come to faith in relationship to a previous system by which Jewish conversion was the assumed methodology.
  • 3. Quotation from Aaron Eby in an online dialogue.
  • 4. Matthew 10:24
  • 5. Luke 10:1
  • 6. Ibid. vs. 18–19
  • 7. Mark 6:7
  • 8. b.Berachot 34b