The Three “I”s, Part 2 – Inspiration and Authority

A Sefer Torah, the traditional form of the Heb...
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In Christianity, Scriptural inspiration is pretty much a binary proposition:  It’s either inspired or it ain’t.  And if it’s inspired, it must all be inspired equally, right?  After all, “All Scripture is inspired by God (lit. “God-breathed”) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2Ti. 3:16f).

In this mindset, whatever Scriptures were given last are actually given the greatest weight and authority.  Since all Scriptures are inspired equally, it follows that whatever came last is God’s final word on the matter.  Thus the writings of Paul are curiously sometimes given greater weight than the words of Yeshua Himself.  Rabbi Derek Leman noted this early in his walk with Yeshua, and found it curious.

And indeed, we should find it curious–and dangerous.  It is the core mistake that opens the door to all manner of false prophets and apostles.  After all, if God could come along and override what He had said in the days of Yeshua’s disciples, why couldn’t He do it again in our own day?

Judaism has a more layered approach to Scriptural inspiration:  The most foundational level of Scripture, and that which carries the highest authority, is the Torah, followed by the prophets, followed by the writings (the psalms, proverbs, and some of the latter historical books).  This does not mean that the “lesser” books are less inspired or less revered–the Song of Solomon was called the Queen of the Tanakh by Rabbi Akiva, for example–but it does mean that a “lesser” book cannot be read in such a way that overrides a more authoritative book, though they will, of course, help us to grow in our understanding of those more authoritative books.

The Scriptures themselves suggest such a layered approach to inspiration and authority.  When the authority of Moses was challenged by Aaron and Miriam–a priest and a prophetess, respectively–the Holy One answered them:

The LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the door of the Tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward.  He said, “Hear now my words. If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known to him in a vision. I will speak with him in a dream.  My servant Moses is not so. He is faithful in all my house.   With him I will speak mouth to mouth, even plainly, and not in riddles; and he shall see the LORD’s form. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses?”  (Num. 12:5-8)

In other words, the things that the later prophets only knew by riddling verse and difficult-to-comprehend visions, Moses was given clearly.  Therefore, if we think we see a contradiction between the Torah and a later prophet, we are to assume that we have misunderstood the later prophet’s riddling vision, not the Torah’s plain presentation of the Holy One’s will.  Ergo, when we see Jeremiah and Amos declaring that God despises the Feasts, we should not interpret this as a change in the Law, but as a response to the misuse of the Feasts by men of uncircumcised hearts.

The New Covenant Scriptures have a similar three-fold structure:  At the top level of authority are the Gospel accounts, the words, deeds, and teachings of the Prophet like Moses–indeed, of the very Word and Torah made incarnate.  The second two levels, the equivalent of the Prophets and Writings, are somewhat more difficult to discern, but for the sake of illustration, let us suggest that the Revelation and the letters written by original members of the Twelve (1-3 John, 1 & 2 Peter) would stand in the place of the Prophets and the other Epistles, written by those who were not chosen as among the Twelve (Paul, Acts, Hebrews, James, and Jude) would stand in the place of the Writings.

Of course, our nice, neat categories begin to experience difficulties when we begin comparing the Tanakh to the Sh’lechim (the writings of the Emissaries, or Apostles; i.e., the New Testament).  On the one hand, all of the Apostolic authors cite the Torah and the previous prophets for direction and authority; that would suggest that they stand in a position of lesser authority.  On the other hand, the Twelve–like Moses–were taught “mouth-to-mouth” by the Sh’khinah of the Holy One in their midst.  That would suggest that they too were more than prophets, having received plainly what the prophets received only in imagery (John 16:25-29, Php. 2:6-8).

Regardless of how one understands the precise relationship between the Twelve and the Prophets, one thing is clear:  While Rabbi Sha’ul, aka the Apostle Paul, was very clear that his own call and authority was not given to him by the Twelve (Gal. 1:1), nevertheless, his calling and authority was certainly not greater than theirs.  Or, to put it in an org chart:

My Christian brethren might wonder why I put the Jewish Assemblies under the Rabbis in authority.  Simply put, because we are taught in Scripture to do so.  Yeshua Himself told us to follow the rulings of the Pharisees (Mat. 23:3), and when Paul writes, “Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God” (Rom. 13:1), do we think for one moment that he meant only the pagan, Roman authorities, and not the duly-appointed authorities of the Jewish people?

Therefore, if one is going to call one’s self a Messianic Jew and say that he or she considers himself or herself part of the Jewish people, then that person must be willing to follow Jewish societal and authoritative norms as long as those norms do not contradict the Scriptures, whether those held universally by our people or those given to us by the Messiah and His immediate disciples.  This does not mean that we regard the rabbis on par with Inspired Scripture, but that we recognize their authority as given by Scripture.

Only when we recognize the correct lines of authority that the Holy One has given us can we avoid the errors of the last two thousand years in which Paul has become the last word on any subject and Paul’s writings were seen as setting the authority of the earlier Scriptures aside in favor of a “new law.”  When, on the other hand, we look at Paul as one having only a derived authority, and that less than the previous Scriptures, we realize that he cannot have contradicted or changed the Torah without himself being an apostate and heretic–and therefore, we interpret his writings in such a way that compliments and explains the earlier Scriptures rather than conflicting with an annulling them.


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