The Truth About Matthew 23:2-3

First, let us quote Matthew 23:2-3 from the King James Version of the Bible, then the same Scripture from the New Revised Standard Version:

(Mat 23:1-3 KJV) "Then spake Yahshua to the multitude, and to his disciples, {2} Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: {3} All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not."

(Mat 23:1-3 NRSV) "Then Yahshua said to the crowds and to his disciples, {2} "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; {3} therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach."

The following discourse on Matthew 23 was taken from an email exchange between two Brothers in the Faith. Their names are "Darrell" and "Chris," so I will use these names to show who is speaking. It was forwarded to several other Brothers in the Faith almost a year ago.

Darrell: The Jewish Talmud was written by Jewish Rabbis out of their love for the Scriptures and their desire to obey it.

Chris: Greetings, Darrel, et al, in the Matchless Name of Yahshua! This response is offered after much prayer and meditation. The New Testament soundly refutes this statement as does the Old Testament record (Jer. 5:1-4), and the historical record as well. Study about the Council of Jamnia. Learn about Masoretic treachery, intentional change and destruction of Scripture by studying about the Vorlage text and the Samaritan Pentateuch (Jer. 8:8-10).

Darrell: They were humans as all of us are, therefore they made their share of mistakes in interpreting Scripture, just as many Christian and Yahwist commentaries do (Rom. 3:10; Rom. 3:23).

Chris: They have gone beyond errors of interpretation. They have outright falsified Scripture. You, Darrell, should know this better than many. You have written and been published regarding their Babylonian "ineffable" doctrine. Read Jeremiah 8:8-10, study as I have noted above, and learn.

Darrell: Their intent was to build a fence around the commandment to go beyond what the Scriptures say, to keep from violating it, not to nullify it.

Chris: That's what they say. They also say Yahshua is not Mashiach. They also say much more vile things of Him than that. They also say don't pronounce His Names…and they falsify His Names as well. The list goes on and on and on ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Also, you know as well as I do about the Scriptural injunction AGAINST going "beyond what the Scriptures say." Yahshua said that they in fact did nullify the Word (Matt. 15:6-9; Mark 7:6-13) by their 'oral torah' tradition!

Darrell: Their talk was good, even according to Yahushua (Matthew 23:2-3).

Chris: No, Darrell, according to Yahshua in Matthew 21:12 through chapter 25 and including 23:2-3 and the entirety of the Scriptural record on this subject, their talk was not good.

Will you be open-minded to "HaDevar Et Ha Elohim" (the Word of the Almighty One) and let Ruach H'Kodesh guide you into His Truth? Following is a detailed Scripturally based examination of Matthew 23:2-3.
Context, context, context. CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING!

In Matthew 23 Yahshua speaks with regard to the Pharisees as follows:

Eight times "Woe unto you."
Eight times as to hypocrisy.
Five times as blind.
Two times as fools.
One time as serpents.
One time as vipers.

The serpent reference is a colloquialism actually referring to "cunning" as in "sneaky and underhanded." Yahshua therefore followed along with His colloquial use of serpent to identify them as of the dangerous, poisonous "vipers" variety of serpents.

This is the immediate context of Matthew 23. There is no endorsement of the Pharisees at all. This is consistent with the Scriptural record. Yahshua soundly, roundly and repetitively reprimanded, renounced, and ridiculed the Pharisees with Matthew 23 being an excellent summation of the totality of the Scriptural record on this subject.

The Pharisees are mentioned almost 100 times in the Gospels. The vast majority of these references deal with some area of conflict with Yahshua. It is similarly shown in the book of Acts with regard to instances of the Pharisees and their interaction with the followers of Yahshua. There were some goodly Pharisees as in the examples of Nicodemus and Gamaliel, but the evidence of the New Testament reveals that the majority were not genuine, and in fact were prideful men who by and large met disagreement to them with wicked intentions.

The general context of Matthew 23 encompasses Matthew 21:12 through all of Matthew 25 with regard to the Pharisees and the religious hierarchy of the time. It starts off with Yahshua displacing them physically, then disquieting them mentally and emotionally, and finally quieting them vocally just prior to Matthew 23. They were SILENCED before Him.

What was their response at the end just prior to Matt. 23?

"And no man was able to answer Him a word, neither durst any from that day forth ask Him any more."

The very next words of Scripture are significant.

"THEN spake Yahshua to the multitude, and to His disciples."

Yahshua spoke with regard to those He had just brought to silence. More accurately, He had brought them to be silent of their own volition. He had thoroughly trounced on their understandings, and revealed them to be without understanding in the Scripture of which they held themselves to be masters!
They wrongfully sought preeminence over Yahshua, then sought wrongfully for preeminence over His followers in the book of Acts, and still seek such preeminence over His children today just as wrongfully as ever before from both within and without the camp!

It is in this context that Yahshua said, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat…" 'Moses' seat is only mentioned this one time in Scripture. This brings up an important question for consideration:

What is "Moses' seat" and what is its significance?

The ones of whom I have asked this question generally offer no response. Those who have answered it are in agreement with one of the foremost recognized authorities on first century Judaism, Joseph Good, also a leading figure for the Temple Faithful movement.

Good told me that "Moses' seat" signified the position of authority for Judaism from which to make rulings. His answer is in agreement with all those who have answered my query on this point. I asked him for references to confirm this and he had none. Neither has any other offered references on this point.

Subsequent to this, I then queried Good as to how his answer squared with the unanimity of the historical record that the Pharisees did not gain the position of authority for Judaism until after the sacrifice of Yahshua. He had no answer. I suggested he re-examine Matthew 23:2-3 with this in mind.

What, then, is "Moses' seat"? Archaeologists have confirmed that a stone chair has been found in ancient synagogues (in Hamath, Chorazin, En-Gedi, and Delos) next to where the law was kept. It would seem apparent that the Mosaic Torah readings to the congregation would be done from there, hence "Moses' seat."

This makes sense of the passage within the fullness of both the immediate and general context.

"All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say and do not." (Mat. 23:3).

The reader (in this case identified as a scribe or Pharisee) would exhort the people to be keepers of Torah. Yahshua is therefore saying that the Torah portion is the authority, and warning against the exposition by the Pharisees from such readings. Yahshua had just thoroughly demonstrated their understanding to be totally lacking in the passage prior to this. He then launched into a tirade against the Pharisees and scribes to drive the point home!

This passage in context therefore supports the principle of Sola Scriptura, (Scriptures Only) and trounces the notion of unbiblical tradition i.e. "oral torah" and its written counterpart, the Talmud!

Return again to Matthew 23:3. "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not." The word translated "observe" in this verse is the Greek "tereo" [Strong's 5083; to guard (from loss or injury, prop. by keeping the eye upon; and thus differing from 5442, which is prop. to prevent escaping; and from 2892, which implies a fortress or full military lines of apparatus]. This is not speaking of what to "practice" but of "watching" as in "watch carefully."

The admonition of Yahshua is to guard from loss or injury against the Word of Torah that is read by the Pharisees by keeping a close eye upon these woeful, hypocritical, blind, foolish, poisonous serpents! It is specifically NOT an admonition to follow what the Pharisees say about it (prevent escaping from), nor is it an admonition to hold firmly (as a fortress) to what they say about it. This verse is a warning against the Pharisees teachings which is consistent with the previous two chapters as well as the rest of this chapter and the two chapters following!

Examine the Aramaic of Matthew 23:3:

"…so all they word to you to guard, guard and work." (from "Aramaic New Covenant: A Literal Translation and Transliteration.")

The Aramaic Scriptures are older than the Greek, closer to the Hebrew language of that day, and in fact the common dialect of the first century dweller in the land of Israel. The Aramaic Scriptural record also conveys the idea of "to guard" rather than "to practice."

This is also consistent with the entirety of the Scriptural record. In Matthew 16:6, Mark 8:15, and Luke 12:1 Yahshua warned against "the leaven of the Pharisees" which is specifically identified in Matthew 16:12 as "the doctrine of the Pharisees." Their doctrine is their teaching!

In Matthew 15:13-14 the Pharisees were specifically singled out as "blind leaders" and those who follow them as "blind." Yahshua pronounced that they would all together "fall into the ditch."

Just prior to this Yahshua addressed Pharisees and consigned to them these words of the prophet Isaiah:

"Forasmuch as this people draw near with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men" (Isaiah 29:13).

Yet again the "oral torah" tradition of the Pharisees was condemned and they with it! The Matthean scribe records Yahshua condemning the Pharisees teachings from their "oral torah" tradition in Matthew 15:6. These teachings are then identified as plants that will be uprooted in Matthew 15:13 because they were not planted by the Father. Their planting is therefore by an enemy, which is identified by Yahshua in Matthew 13:37-39.

Matthew 15:1-20 is a demonstration of how Yahshua neglected and ignored "oral torah" traditions.

Yahshua also noted condemnation upon the Pharisees because they "trusted in themselves," were self-righteous, and exalted themselves over non-Pharisees (Luke 18:9-14).

In conclusion, return again for a final time to Matthew 23:2-3, looking this time to the "Shem Tov" English translation by Professor George Howard that was shared with us by Elder Silvio Soto:

"The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever he [referring back to Moses] bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their [the Pharisees] works: for they [Pharisees] say, and do not."

Elder Soto made note with regard to this translation, "Consider this and see if you think it has any merits." Yes, Elder Soto, this rendering is consistent with the entirety of the Scriptural record.

Darrell: But their walk fell short.

Chris: Indeed.

Darrell: How many of us fall short in the same way? If we judge too harshly while falling short ourselves, we will be judged in the same measure. This is the warning to the Pharisees because they harshly judged others. Their own judgment of destroyed them as well. Be careful lest we do the same by our judging of them (Yahudim).

Chris: My judgment is of careful discernment by "HaDevar Et Ha Elohim" (The Word of the Almighty One) through Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit).

Prayerfully submitted in loving regard for Yahshua and His children.

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 here.
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.


Ross Nichols

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