‘Seated themselves in the seat of Moses’ means they interpreted Scripture
Q. There are some teachers who say that Matt 23.1-2 means that we should be following what the Orthodox Rabbi’s teach when it comes to halakah.
What is your opinion on this. I see many believers in Yeshua putting themselves under what these Rabbi’s teach and they use this verse to prove it.
A. Let me try and give some insight into this verse and hopefully it will help you in seeing the true intent of this verse.
In verse 1 He mentions the “scribes and the Pharisees” because they were the two main groups that came nearer to the truth than the Saduccees and some of the other groups.
The Pharisees gave the literal and the traditional sense of the Scriptures and the others didn’t.
So, He addresses these groups because the majority of the people followed what they said.
When it says that they have “seated themselves in the seat of Moses” it means that they interpreted Scripture.
They read and explained the Torah to the people and this phrase is referring to teaching because that was done “sitting down” (Luke 4.16-20) and this is not saying that they had legislative power.
This has to do with having the right to read and interpret Scripture.
When it says in v 2 “all that they tell you you do and observe” it doesn’t mean we have to follow all their teachings and oral traditions.
It simply means that when they give an interpretation be alert and obey what they are saying unless it disagrees with the Torah.
The mistakes people make with this verse is they think that Yeshua is saying that the Rabbi’s should be followed no matter what they say and it isn’t true.
The Rabbi’s teach that you must obey them even if what they say isn’t true. They think they have the authority based on Deut. 17.8-13 but there is a problem with that.
First, Deut. 17.8-13 is talking about the courts, not interpretations.
Second, when Deut. 17.9 was written they had a High Priest with the Urim and Thummim who could consult the Lord directly for a clarification so that is why you went and consulted him if there was a problem.
Third, where it says to consult the judge (Deut 17.9) and these were appointed by the people (Deut.16.18).
That’s why if a person didn’t listen to what the High Priest or the judge said they could be put to death.
These verse do not apply to the Rabbi’s today. Who says the Rabbi’s of today are judges?
Yeshua had some serious things to say about the Scribes and Pharisees of His day and he certainly didn’t obey many of the oral traditions of the Rabbi’s (the case of hand-washing for example).
The teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees, in most cases, was seen as an enemy of the Faith.
He said that their teachings were plants that would be rooted up (Mt 15.13). Also that their teachings were planted by the enemy (Mt 13.37-39).
He said that these teachings affected the outer man but left the inner man untouched (Mt 23.25-28). He also said their teachings are leaven and if left unchallenged would leaven the whole (Mt 16 6-12).
So, to follow the teachings of the Rabbi’s today and to use Mt 23.1-2 to justify it is wrong and it doesn’t give the meaning to what Yeshua was saying.
He is talking about the teachers of His day who “sit” and teach and that if what they say is correct we should listen to them.
If what they say contradicts the Scriptures we are never obligated to obey it, This applies to any teaching we hear, not just from the Rabbi’s. If a Messianic or Christian minister is teaching things not in line with the Scriptures, then we are not obligated to obey it.
The Rabbi’s in Judaism today are not the spiritual leaders of a believer in Yeshua and it would be wrong to put yourself under their authority. I have known many who have and eventually get to the point of denying that Yeshua was not only God but the Messiah.
What they will do is get you to doubt the New Testament Scriptures and once that happens it won’t be long before you deny everything it teaches. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we can’t get insight and information from rabbinical books and teachings because their is a wealth of information available to help with our understanding, but it is not a good thing to use the words of Yeshua, especially in this verse, to justify following these Rabbi’s and putting ourselves under their authority.