July 22, 2011 by Jason Hood
“Jesus taught them as one having authority and not as their scribes.” (Matt 7:29)
The scribes in this era held that authority was derived from tradition going all the way back to Moses. So the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 6.1.33a) portrays Hillel making pronouncements on a topic all day without earning the affirmation of other rabbis–that is, until he cited previous rabbis who had personally passed these opinions on to him.
The Babylonian Talmud (Bava Metzi’a 58b-59a) tells of a debate between Rabbis Eliezer and Joshua. Eliezer was able to produce multiple miracles, yet he still lost the debate. Tradition, not spiritual power, was the trump card.
The issue for the Rabbis was not “Who has miracles?” but “Who has Moses?”
This may sound naive, but consider the value from the rabbinic perspective. If I’m a scribe, I never have to stake a claim on my own authority (I am humble); I support tradition (I am faithful, not an innovator); and I have a ready-made answer to many of my most pressing question, “What do I believe/do about ________?” (I have security and consistency).
All good and well, unless that authority figure taught that authority was not his alone. And Moses said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen . . . . Whoever will not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, I will hold him accountable.” (Deut 18:15, 19; see Acts 3:22-23, 7:37)