Keep What Moses Says!
By Ross Nichols
I have been very busy, and I can only hope that my schedule allows me the time to keep up
with the numerous postings that the members of this list generate. One of the things which I have been working
on lately is an article on Matthew 23. I am posting the general idea of that article for your consideration.
I appreciate your comments.
In 1995 I was engaged in a thorough study of the Hebrew text found within a Jewish Polemical treatise by one, Shem
Tob Ben Isaac Ben Shaprut. As most of you know, this work has gained popular attention thanks to the work of Dr.
George Howard at the University of Georgia. He has published two editions of this work, both of which contain
the Hebrew text of Matthew as well as Dr. Howard's translation and a much helpful commentary. While working through
the Hebrew transcription of Dr. Howard's work, I discovered an interesting variant reading which I think many of
you will find very thought provoking.
The reading found in Matthew 23:2-3, as we have received it from the Greek text raises many questions for those
who desire to follow the words of (Yahshua). Scholars have been puzzled over this passage for some time since
it does not seem to fit within the framework of Matthew's theology. In 1995, Mark Alan Powell wrote an interesting
and informing piece for JBL entitled, "Do and Keep What Moses Says'. (JBL 114/3 (1995) 419-435).
Matthew 23:2 as it comes to us from the Greek, "The Scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses' seat..
Whether taken literal or metaphorical, the "seat of Moses' is generally understood to represent authority
to teach Moses. In Greek Matthew, the Scribes and Pharisees sit upon the seat of Moses, and so most interpretations
assume that they are the inheritors of this authority - a fact which even (Yahshua) seems to admit.. According
to the Greek text, (Yahshua) follows His own admission of the authority of these leaders with a charge for His
disciples to follow the teachings of these Jewish leaders. This passage, BTW, is often used by those who point
Christians to modern Judaism and the rabbis as the possessors of the true authority to teach Moses.
Matthew 23:3a continues,..all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, do and observe:
Based upon the above reading, it would appear that (Yahshua) did in fact demand that his followers adhere to the
teachings of the rabbis. It seems by the words which follow that the only real problem with these leaders was
that they were hypocrites (Mt 23:3ff). This however will not work when Matthew is considered as a whole. Matthew's
(Yahshua) does NOT agree with the teachings OR the actions of these leaders! In fact, He assigns the words of
Isaiah 28:13-14 to these leaders; cf. Mt. 15:8.
According to Matthew's (Yahshua), the religious leaders 'teach commandments of men which make void the commandments
of (Yah)' (15:6). Their teachings are plants which will be uprooted (15:3), since they were not planted by (Yah),
but by an enemy (13:37-39). Their teachings placed emphasis on human ordinances which affected the outer man while
leaving the inner man untouched (23:25-28). They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel (23:24). (Yahshua) considered
the teachings of these leaders to be leaven, which left unchallenged would leaven the whole (16:11-12). The leaders
erred, because they knew not the Scriptures (22:29) [ed: this was the Sadducees]. Their traditions had led them
away from true loyalty, truth, and faithful-ness - the weightier matters of Torah (23:23). Indeed, these leaders
practiced what they preached! The problem according to Matthew's (Yahshua) was that they preached the wrong things.
MATTHEW 23:2-3 from Shem Tob's Matthew (the Hebrew):
Upon the seat of Moses the Pharisees and Sages sit, but now all which HE will say to you, keep and do, but THEIR
ordinances and deeds do not do because they say and do not.
The Hebrew of Shem Tob's Matthew allows for a clear distinction to be made between what HE (Moses) says and what
THEY (religious leaders) say. The Hebrew clearly is in the singular (he will say) as opposed to the Greek plural
(they will say). Two of the nine
manuscripts which Howard used in his translation have retained the singular. The old Latin ff2 also reads singular
It is my opinion that this fits well within the interpretive framework of Matthew's theology and provides a sensible
solution to the difficulty which has puzzled scholars for some time now. Matthew's (Yahshua) did not, nor would
he demand that his followers obey the commandments of men over the commandments of (Yah). Keep what Moses says,
but not what the Pharisees and Sages say. This is not to say that everything that modern Judaism espouses is wrong.
I think that goes without saying. The point is that (Yahshua) did not tip his hat to what became modern Judaism.
He pointed to Moses and the prophets, and anyone who lined up with them!
Thanks for your time.