The rock solid foundation of Judaism is the revelation of God and His Torah to 3 million Israelites standing at Mt. Sinai 3328 years ago. This unparalleled event is commemorated and celebrated on the upcoming holiday of Shavuot.
Shavuot, means ‘weeks’ and the holiday is given this name because the revelation at Mt. Sinai took place seven weeks after the Israelites were freed from Egypt. Because this holiday takes place 50 days after Passover, the Christian scriptures refer to it as Pentecost. Pentecost is the Greek word for 50th day.
What is unusual about this holiday is that the Torah only describes Shavuot as a festival of the harvest. The text never connects the holiday to the revelation at Sinai. The connection of Shavuot to the revelation of the Torah is only articulated in the Oral traditions of Judaism.
Many branches of Christianity, especially Evangelical Protestants, insist that there was no Oral Torah given by God at Mt. Sinai and that it was simply an invention of the rabbis. They claim that the only thing revealed at Sinai was a written text.
Of course, champions of “sola scriptura” need to ask themselves how they know that the words we find in our Bible today are actually the words revealed to Moses and the other prophets. How do they know for sure that the words found in the Five Books of Moses were actually received by him through prophesy and that they have been accurately preserved? How can they be certain that Isaiah was a true prophet and wrote the words attributed to him? And if Isaiah did write the book attributed to him, how do Christians today know beyond a shadow of doubt that he received those words as prophesy and didn’t just make them up?
We have an expression in English about some contracts not being worth the paper they are written on. I could produce an IOU in court claiming that someone owes me a million dollars. But that document by itself is useless unless it can be backed up by reliable witnesses who can certify its authenticity.
The prophet Isaiah wrote that the people of Israel are God’s witnesses (43:10, 44:8). We are confident that the scriptures we have today are the words of the prophets recorded in them, and that those prophets are true prophets because the Jewish people, God’s witnesses, testify so.
Yet we have to understand that these very witnesses testify that God revealed information at Mt. Sinai that was not recorded in the Bible. When Christians insist that this Oral Torah is a fabrication – they are repudiating the testimony of God’s witnesses. In that case, if they truly believe that the people of Israel are not to be trusted – how can they accept our testimony about the authenticity of the Bible?
The prophet Zechariah prophesied that in the future, “ten men, of all the languages of the nations, will take hold, they will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you!’” (8:23).
If everything that God revealed can be found in the scriptures, why will it be so important for the world to go to the Jewish people? What will the Jewish people have that can’t simply be found by reading the Bible?
We see that the Jewish people, God’s witnesses, the people entrusted by God to preserve, maintain and accurately transmit His revelation through the generations are vital. The people whose ancestors stood at Mt. Sinai testify that it was 50 days after leaving Egypt that God spoke to them and that the fullness of that revelation was not limited to the texts we have recorded in the Bible.