The Value of Rabbinism for New Testament Study
1 See Jacob Neusner A History of the Mishnaic Law of Damages: Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity, 5 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 1983–1985). This is one publication among many that Neusner put out in regards to early rabbinism and its impact on first-century Judeo-Christianity.
2 A helpful essay on the matter is David Instone Brewer, “The Use of Rabbinic Sources in Gospel Studies,” Tyndale Bulletin 50, no. 2 (1999): 281–98.
3 Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic, Dictionary of Jewish Words (Philadelphia: JPS, 2006); Judaism 101, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.jewfaq.org/;
BY CORY MARSH
Since the 1980s, there has been much discussion regarding the value of rabbinic study in connection to New
Testament exegesis. It was during this period that Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner (who is credited with publishing well over 900 books) released his seminal series on rabbinic studies.1 Neusner’s groundbreaking study
soon circulated throughout academia, causing exegetes of all stripes to have to wrestle with the question of
ancient rabbinism’s validity concerning New Testament study. 2
While in no way presuming to be the final word on the matter, this
article will briefly discuss and evaluate the value of rabbinism as
it relates specifically to the Jewish background of the New Testa-
ment. The argument advanced is that any noncanonical literature
used in assisting New Testament exegesis is to be handled with
extreme caution, including rabbinical texts. More narrowly, rab-
binic insights, while helpful when constructing a historiography
relating to post-temple and post-Biblical periods, has limited
value when it comes to New Testament study. The main reason
for this is that too many changes occurred in Judaism after the
first century, changes that would preclude today’s Bible student
from gleaning decisive answers that may shed further light on
the New Testament.
What Is Rabbinism?
Perhaps the best way to address the question of rabbinism’s
value to the New Testament (NT) is to simply define the term.
Yet it is exactly here where a problem first emerges: there is no
definitive definition. This is conceivably the reason that The Dictionary of Jewish Words, Judaism 101, and even the authoritative
The Jewish Encyclopedia have no entry for the word. 3 Its meaning
is either assumed or thought of being fraught with too many