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  • Writer's pictureJ.D. King

The Word is Not in Heaven? (Tradition and the Inexplicable Wonders of God)

Updated: Jan 24

In Christian circles, there is a premium placed on traditions and authoritative interpretations. In fact, some seem to prioritize their doctrinal formations over the present-day works of the Holy Spirit. I've witnessed this kind of thinking hundreds of times.

In one service, I prayed for a crippled man to be healed. Due to the mercies of Jesus, he was restored in view of everyone. Nevertheless, someone seated in the room still insisted that miracles ended in the first century. This haughty individual had more faith in his regimented doctrine than in what he had witnessed with his own eyes.

His attitude reminded me of the story of the "Oven of Akhnai" in the Jewish Talmud (Bava Metzia 59b:1).

At one point, ancient rabbis debated whether an oven made from broken pottery was clean or unclean. Some vessels, prior to being cleaned and discarded, had been in contact with a dead body. Leviticus 11:33-35 states that contaminated pottery is impure and must be shattered.

Rabbi Eliezer argued that an oven constructed from shattered pottery fragments that had been cleaned and housed in a new wall of cement shouldn't be regarded the same way as before. Therefore, he insisted that the Leviticus 11 commandment didn't apply. Although he made a compelling case for the use of the oven, the other rabbis disagreed.

Eliezer said that if his determination was right, the carob tree would make it clear. Suddenly, the tree was uprooted and moved 145 feet. But the others dismissed this, saying trees cannot prove anything.

Then he said that the stream would make things clear. All at once, the water began flowing in the opposite direction. Once again, the dissenting rabbis didn't feel this was a legitimate defense.

Then Eliezer said that if his interpretation was right, the consecrated hall where they studied scripture would confirm it. Then the walls started leaning in, and ceiling tiles began to fall, but the rabbis still rejected his claim.

Finally, Rabbi Eliezer declared heaven would prove his point. At once, God spoke and confirmed that the oven was acceptable. Rabbi Yehoshua, however, interrupted the Lord, arguing that men couldn’t rely on a voice from heaven because the word "is not in heaven" (Deut 30:12). He insisted that the authority to determine truth lies with the rabbinical majority, not the voice of God.

As the story continues, Natan, a rabbi involved in this debate, met the prophet Elijah and asked, “What did the Lord do when Rabbi Yehoshua made this declaration?" Elijah said: The Lord smiled and said: “My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me.”

To this day, Rabbi Yehoshua's line "Lo bashamayim hi"—the word is not in heaven—is repeated in rabbinical circles as a reminder of their unique role as truth arbiters.

Sadly, I've noticed a similar attitude among Christians. Today, like in ages past, some imagine—because of doctrinal knowledge or other claims—that they know more than God. Their grasp of the creeds or other ecclesiastical traditions supposedly trumps everything else. What is to be believed is only that which they assert is true.

As I move along in my day-to-day life, I'm reminded that believers are called to align with the goodness and glory of heaven—not to win arguments.

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