It is the traditional Orthodox Jewish view that the Torah is the only part of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) that is breathed out by God; in other words, that the Torah is the direct revelation – the only direct revelation – from the Ruakh HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit).
The Jewish hashkafah (perspective) of the Jewish Bible differs significantly from the Christian perspective. The Jew says that only the Torah is all from God, and the rest of the Jewish scriptures is a melange of man and God. Jewish denominations differ on which parts are more of man and less of God. Christian denominations also differ on which parts are from God, which from man. In this discussion – and in all my others, the Christian view I hold is the view of Paul (Shaul – his Hebrew name), the Apostle, who wrote: “All Scripture is breathed out by God (theopneustos in the original Greek) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This view is called the “fundamentalist” view. “Scripture” in Paul’s context is the Jewish scriptures.
Like his teacher, Rabbi Gamaliel, the Elder, and like the typical Yeshiva student or teacher of Jewish tradition, he reasoned (Greek dialegomai), he dialogued with people. “He reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks (Acts 18:4); and when “he came to Ephesus, he entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews” (Acts 18:19).
From Paul’s perspective (which is also mine), the traditional Orthodox Jew has a lean view of scripture while the Christian has a fat view (not merely because the one book has more pages than the other). Both will defend their view through thick and thin. An indignant Jew present at Paul’s gatherings might very well have railed at him: “Your fat fundamentalist Bible is thick and so are you.”
Jesus went much farther in overstepping the Torah. After His resurrection (which, at first, his disciples found to incredible to believe), Jesus meets two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus who don’t recognise him. When eventually they do recognise Him, he tells them how foolish they were not to understand what he had been trying to tell them all the months or years he was with them before His crucifixion. He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
It is significant that for Jesus, the Torah was not the only pure divine revelation, which Jesus said only began with Moses (Torah). For Jesus, all the Jewish scriptures were God-breathed as they were later for Paul, whom the other Apostles acknowledged as a faithful ambassador of Jesus. So, “Scripture” in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament refers to the whole Tanakh as God’s pure Word.
The Tanakh has a tripartite structure: Torah (five books of Moses), the Prophets and the Writings. Conservative and traditional Orthodox Judaism (which are distinct movements within Judaism) both hold the view that only the Torah is a direct revelation from God, and, therefore, is more relevant than the Prophets and the Writings.
What is the traditional Orthodox Jewish view?
“…to the fundamentalist Christian – says Rabbi Simchah Roth – the whole of the Bible (and specifically what he terms the ‘Old Testament’) is the directly revealed word of God; while ancient Jewish tradition has ascribed that quality to the Torah, which is not true of the prophets and writings.”
Barry Freundel expresses a similar opinion. In his “Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s response to modernity, p. 11, he says” “While the prophets and the Writings also contain revelations from God, these do not achieve the level of the Mosaic revelation, and, as we have said are not sources of law. Rather they tell us a history, exhort to follow God’s commands, and offer understanding of the human condition.”
I find this hierarchical structure of revelation highly spurious. Consider the beginning of Jeremiah, one of the Prophets:
*I have emphasised relevant sections)
1 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. 2 The word of the LORD came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, 3 and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.
The Call of Jeremiah
7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.
9 Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
This is obviously direct revelation, that is, breathed out by the Ruakh Hakodesh (the Holy Spirit). In the Prophets, there are literally thousands of “Thus says the LORD” and variations such as “the Word of the LORD.” What else are these but direct revelations from the Holy One of Israel? There is no hierarchy in God’s Word, because there is no hierarchy in God, where one part of Him is holier and more significant than another. His Word is One.
The “Prophets” is one long loud wail of judgement to come and exhortations to the unfaithful wife (Israel) to return to her “husband” (Hashem). The vocal chords belong to the Prophet, the voice to God. One of the reasons why a Jew becomes a Christian is because he sees that the “Prophets” is God’s voice. How did I come to see that Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and all the prophets, the whole of the Tanakh was God-breathed? Was I more “open” to God? No, no, not at all. I came the same way Jeremiah came:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart.
By the grace of Christos (Messiah).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8), which is another way of saying “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit ( רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה ruakh khadasha) I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel, 36:26).
Jews regard this view of grace as “pagan.” As one Jew said to me: “If you are a Jew, according to Halachah (Jewish law), your “saved by grace” will not help you one tittle either. Sorry to tell you this. You are following a very distorted, pagan belief.” (See my “Faith, freedom and the very dead”).