How The Experts In The Law Made The Simple Complicated

When our nation was founded we had relatively few laws. Over time, unfortunately, that has changed. Now we have a superabundance of laws. Why? What happened? I suspect the Bible offers a clue. Consider this passage.

Mark 7:1-13 Good News Translation (GNT)

The Teaching of the Ancestors()

1 Some Pharisees and teachers of the Law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. 2They noticed that some of his disciples were eating their food with hands that were ritually unclean—that is, they had not washed them in the way the Pharisees said people should.

(3 For the Pharisees, as well as the rest of the Jews, follow the teaching they received from their ancestors: they do not eat unless they wash their hands in the proper way; 4 nor do they eat anything that comes from the market unless they wash it first. And they follow many other rules which they have received, such as the proper way to wash cups, pots, copper bowls, and beds.)

5 So the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law asked Jesus,
Why is it that your disciples do not follow the teaching handed down by our ancestors, but instead eat with ritually unclean hands?

6 Jesus answered them,
How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! You are hypocrites, just as he wrote:

These people, says God, honor me with their words,
but their heart is really far away from me.
7 It is no use for them to worship me,
because they teach human rules
as though they were my laws!

8 You put aside God’s command and obey human teachings.

9 And Jesus continued, You have a clever way of rejecting God’s law in order to uphold your own teaching. 10 For Moses commanded,
Respect your father and your mother, and,
If you curse your father or your mother, you are to be put to death. 11 But you teach that if people have something they could use to help their father or mother, but say,
This is Corban (which means, it belongs to God), 12 they are excused from helping their father or mother. 13 In this way the teaching you pass on to others cancels out the word of God. And there are many other things like this that you do.

Israel was a theocracy. As the interpreters of scripture, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law formed part of Israel’s legal establishment. Because the Law empowered them, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law faced a great temptation, and too many succumbed. Instead of seeking to please God, over the centuries the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, and other such men had added their own teachings on top of the Old Testament, obscuring God what had intended.

Jesus Condemned The Experts In The Law

Because the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law loved their own traditions more than what scripture actually said, Jesus condemned them. Matthew records Jesus’ most scathing denunciation in Matthew 23. In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounced seven woes upon Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Here is the last woe.

Matthew 23:29-31 Amplified Bible (AMP)

29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you build tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,30 Saying, If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have aided them in shedding the blood of the prophets.

31 Thus you are testifying against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.

Because His words are 2000 years old, we have lost some of the cultural context. However, MATTHEW 23. SEVEN WOES TO THE PHARISEES provides a good explanation of what Jesus said.

Consequence For Today

The United States is not Israel, and we do not have a theocracy. Nonetheless, the character of man has not changed. Just as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law desired praise and power, our leaders also desire praise and power. Just as the Old Testament condemned those men who would lord over other men, the founding documents of our nation — because they were rooted in Christian beliefs — limited the ambitions of our leaders. Yet just as the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law added their own teachings on top of the Old Testament, our leaders, mostly lawyers, have piled their own desires and wants onto our founding documents, largely obscuring their original intent.

What distinguishes what God desires from desires of power-hungry men? God wants us to love Him. Instead of requiring us to love Him, however, God would have us demonstrate our love for Him by showing our love each other. Thus, His laws merely restrict us from showing disrespect for Him and hurting each other. On the other hand, power-hungry men demand that we love them; the power-hungry insist upon our praise and our obedience to their desires.  Instead of merely making it illegal for us to hurt each other, the power-hungry publish laws that direct us to live our lives in accordance with their desires.

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