When the Pharisees Sat on the Seat of Mosheh

Posted by on Jun 12, 2022

There was a time in the first century Judea, when the Pharisees usurped upon the domain of the Levites and the judges, and a new term was largely used to denote the authority the Pharisees usurped: “the Seat of Mosheh”, as it appears in the opening of Chapter 23 of Matthew.

But what does “the Seat of Mosheh” mean because the text goes on to include even the command to do whatever the Pharisees say? One cannot argue that if the Messiah has told us to observe and do whatever the Pharisees demand from us, we must do. And let this not be a cause of wonder to us, for it is indeed written, “whatever they say to you to observe, observe and do”.

But let us suspend this question for a moment and raise another problem: why did the Messiah so severely condemn the Pharisees for sitting on the Seat of Mosheh, i.e., sitting on his authority, since he has told us to obey them?

The Seat of Mosheh the Pharisees sat upon was an actual seat of authority.

The Seat of Mosheh the Pharisees sat upon was an actual seat of authority.

In finding answers to these questions, we will explain a certain obscure passage which occur in Matthew 23.

It is the object of this work to seek the answers to these questions. This work has also a second object to explain, namely, why the Messiah had to condemn the Pharisees.

The reader has therefore to expect that the subjects mentioned in this introduction will be diligently explained in the entirety of their contexts.

Who sits on the Seat of Mosheh?

Mosheh was the greatest prophet, statesman, leader, and mediator between YHVH and the people, Israel had ever had. Mosheh was all in one. In his righteousness Mosheh exceeded the righteousness of Noach, Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov combined. YHVH spoke of Mosheh His servant,

I speak with him mouth to mouth, and plainly, and not in riddles.  (Num 12:8)

The expression “mouth to mouth” implies that the words which Mosheh spoke have been given to him directly from the mouth of YHVH, as though breathed into him. On this authority the Pharisees were sitting; they were sitting on the Seat of Mosheh.

About this Mosheh Yeshua spoke to the people around him, saying,

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the Seat of Mosheh. All therefore whatever they say to you to observe, observe and do. But do not do after their works, for they say and do not. (Mat 23:1-3)

These words were addressed to the disciples and the crowds that had gathered around Yeshua. But do we see anything odd in the text above?

This translation is correctly rendered from Greek. Regrettably, this translation, like others which we have written upon, is not easy to read and extremely inaccurate. According to such a rendering, Yeshua told his followers to obey whatever the Pharisees would say, but not to do what they do.

Or to put it in another way, Yeshua told them not only to observe but also to do what the Pharisees had command them. And in the same breath he continued: “but do not do after their works”.

These two verses create a huge controversy as to what exactly the Messiah was teaching and why.

Yeshua seems to contradict himself. In the entire Chapter 23, Yeshua condemns the teachings and practices of the Scribes and Pharisees and calls them hypocrites and snakes; he warns of their leaven that can spoil the whole lump, but in the very beginning he has commanded — all they command you observe and do.

If the Messiah wanted to be consistent, he should have said: The scribes and the Pharisees do not sit on the Seat of Mosheh. All therefore whatever they say to you to observe, do not observe and do, for they say and do not.

How they “fixed the contradiction

Much ink has been spent by theologians and commentators to make the text work. Unwilling to admit the theological problem in Greek, they have failed to see the textual one because they all believe in the primacy of Greek. They have tried to explain the obvious contradiction thus: even though the Pharisees were hypocrites, all they say the laity is to observe and do, because they have the authority of Mosheh by sitting on his Seat.

But those interpreters who advance this view are under the necessity of explaining as to why the Messiah called the Pharisees “hypocrites” and “serpents”.

If their view makes even a little sense, it creates more problems than it solves, as we will explain below.

Did Yeshua create confusion in his followers? Because one thing is certain in this chapter: none of them asked him the question, “Are you saying that we must do all the Pharisees say, even though you condemned them as hypocrites? And how should we understand, “Do whatever they say, but do not do according to their works? “

Or perhaps, there is something in the text of these two verses we do not understand.

But what we do understand is that, ironically, according to the Greek text, the Christians today still must listen to the Rabbis and whatever they say they, the Christians, must do even though the Rabbis do not believe Yeshua is the prophet Mosheh invoked upon the children of Israel to await. Can we rethink this?

The Hebrew Messiah spoke Hebrew

We know that the Hebrew Messiah spoke Hebrew to the Hebrews, not Greek. As we live in the end of days, the knowledge has increased, as spoken in Daniel, and today we are given to have the Hebrew manuscripts of Matthew, Hebrews, and Revelation. By comparing the Hebrew texts to Greek, the reader, who diligently studies the Scripture from Hebraic perspectives and seeks the truth deep into the text, can see that the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts are not in favor of Greek. This controversy we have explained in Gap in the Fourteen Generations in Yeshua’s Genealogy and elsewhere.

But how can these basics help us understand the words of Yeshua?

In Hebrew, the phrase “he says” is yomar, while “they say” is yomru. The only difference is the addition of the extra letter vav in yomru, which could have been easily misread in a rendering from Hebrew to Greek.

In contrast, in Greek, the difference between “he says”, eipei, and “they say”, eiposin, cannot be mistaken in the translation. Therefore, it seems we have a textual problem here.

Returning to our verses of controversy, in the Hebrew text of Matthew aka Shem Tov Hebrew Matthew, by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995, page 113, we indeed find the word יאמר yomar, “he says” instead of יאמרו yomru, “they say”, as it should appear in Greek if it were correctly translated. The difference is small in the text: the Hebrew letter ו vav, is added [perhaps by mistake], but in theology, the difference is huge.

In theology, it the whole situation sounds like this: the Pharisees have usurped the Mosaic authority, and therefore, whatever they say is authoritative, because they sit on the Seat of Mosheh. Hence, the Pharisees demanded that men should respect their office regardless.

We have thus cleared this textual controversy and now we can read Mat 23:1-3 anew. Let us see what Yeshua taught the people and his disciples. We will read the same passage this time from the Shem Tov Hebrew Matthew (the words in parenthesis are added by the present author for clarity only):

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Mosheh (they have Mosaic authority). Therefore, all that he (Mosheh) says (yomar) to you, diligently do. But do not do according to their ordinances (Hebrew, takanot, laws added to Torah) and their precedents (Hebrew, ma’assim, legal acts), for they say (they follow Mosheh), and do not do (what Mosheh said to do). (Shem Tov Hebrew Mat 23:1-3)

Remarkably, in Hebrew Matthew 23:16, Yeshua called the Pharisees “chairs of the blind …” evidently referring to Mat 23:1, the seat of Mosheh they have usurped, while Greek reads, “blind guides”. We read from Hebrew Matthew thus,

Woe to you, chairs of the blind who say that he who swears by the Temple is not obligated but he who vows by anything which is set apart to the building of the Temple is obligated to pay, mad and blind men, which is greater, the Temple or that which is set apart to the Temple? And, whoever swears by the altar is not obligated, but whoever swears that he will make an offering is obligated to give it. (Shem Tov Hebrew Mat 23:16)

Thus, it will be clear to the reader that the perception of corruption among the Pharisees is expressed by the phrase “chairs of the blind”. These “blind chairs” were teaching that one could swear falsely in almost everything and still be free of guilt as long as he had not used the Set-apart Name of the Creator.

With these explanations, we see that this teaching of Yeshua is consistent with the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Shem Tov Hebrew Mat 5:33-37), where he speaks against those who swear falsely by anything: by the heaven, by earth, by Jerusalem.

In support of our reading, we will read again from the Hebrew manuscript of Matthew. Notice the difference in the Greek text which has omitted the important word “in vain”, 

Again, you heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to Yehovah”*. But I say to you, do not swear in vain at all^, neither by the heaven, because it is Elohim’s throne; (Shem Tov Hebrew Mat 5:33-34)

*See Lev 19:12, Num 30:2, Deu 23:21

^ Greek reads, “do not swear at all” implying the prohibition against taking an oath.

The intelligent reader will notice that here Yeshua wanted the people to return to the Torah of his Father after their “blind seats”, the Pharisees, while sitting on the Seat of Mosheh, i.e., usurping his authority, led them astray by the innumerous commands of men. This crucial moment, however, is totally lost in Greek.

And indeed, no more awful words were ever spoken to any religious leaders than the words Yeshua spoke to the “blind chairs” in Chapter 23, as he began his criticism with the next verse,

For they demand and set forth great burdens, which the shoulders of men are not able to bear; but they themselves even with their finger are not willing to move. (Shem Tov Mat 23:4)

What is the “heavy burden” that the pharisees had laid on men’s shoulders”?

Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew 15:1-9 explains:

Then the sages and the Pharisees came to Yeshua and said to him, “Why do your disciples transgress the reforms (takanot) of the elders by not washing their hands before eating?”* And Yeshua said to them, “And why do you transgress the words of Elohim for the sake of your reforms (takanot)? … Woe, hypocrites! Look, Yeshayahu prophesied of you, saying (Isa 29:13), “Thus says YHVH: Because this people draw near with their mouth and has honored Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me and their reverence toward Me is the erudite commandments of men”.

* See Berakhot 60b. The reforms (Hebrew, takanot) are the laws the Pharisees demanded from the people to do as if they were the commands of YHVH. These takanot were later compiled in the Talmud, or the so-called “Oral Law”.

Although this may appear surprising to many who believe in the primacy of the Greek, a conclusion follows naturally from the plain words of the Hebrew text of Matthew. After all the Hebrew Messiah spoke Hebrew to the Hebrews.

Who translated the Gospel of Matthew?

Why did the translators feel it was necessary to render yomar as eiposin, as this would not agree with the language employed here? From the grammar in Hebrew, we can see that the rendering in Greek is incorrect.

But who then translated the Gospel of Matthew into Greek?

We have approached this issue diligently and found the answer that should surprise even the greatest proponent of the Greek primacy: Eusebius of Caesarea, who is considered the first historian of Christianity. He wrote in Church History, Book 3, Chapter 39:16 quoting Papias, the following,

But concerning Matthew, he (Papias) writes as follows: So, then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able. CHURCH FATHERS: Church History, Book III (Eusebius)

Therefore, according to Eusebius, Matthew wrote the first gospel in the Hebrew language, and then various translators interpreted them from Hebrew into Greek as best they could.

Another source is Irenaeus,

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church. CHURCH FATHERS: Against Heresies, III.1 (St. Irenaeus)     

These some of testimonies of the “Church Fathers” who did not hesitate in hinting to us that Matthew wrote the Gospel in Hebrew language, which later was translated into Greek.

It is the present author’s opinion that not only the Gospel according to Matthew was written in Hebrew, but also the other writings (perhaps, except for some letters of Shaul), and then they were translated into Greek by people (why not even by the disciples themselves), who had little or insufficient knowledge of Greek.

If this is the case, then it explains the bad Greek in Revelation and even serious errors in Matthew, which we have explained in other writings on the matter.

Where did the Greek primacy come from?

The teaching of Yeshua concerning the blind chairs who sit on the Seat of Mosheh is reminiscent of the teaching concerning the tax coin in the preceding Chapter 22:20-21: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to Elohim what is Elohim’s”.

The idea in both teachings remains the same: if it is Caesar’s coin, give it to Caesar. If it is the Seat of Mosheh, then do what Mosheh has said. And Mosheh taught the Torah and nothing less.

We will reiterate that this teaching of Yeshua is consistent with all he teaches us. According to the Hebrew text of Matthew, Yeshua the Messiah is perfectly clear on this issue. He taught the disciples to listen to and do all that Mosheh taught (that is Torah), as the context dictates it.

However, the Greek text, which is accepted by the Church as the Textus Receptus (“received text”), creates confusion and paradox in the contradictory command: “observe and do, but do not do”. According to it, Yeshua taught his followers to do all the Pharisees had commanded them to do, even without questioning them.

Note: In 1516, the first printed edition of the Greek “New Testament” was published by Erasmus. This Greek text would be known as the Textus Receptus. This first edition was based solely on six manuscripts, while later editions used ten. None of these Greek manuscripts were complete which made Erasmus translate many portions of Revelation from Latin Vulgate back into Greek. This Textus Receptus served as “evidence” by which the Christianity embraced the primacy of the Greek text, and which later served as the basis for the King James’ Version. From this KJV many other translations of the Protestant churches sprang.

Ironically, the professional pastors today, or as Yeshua calls them in John 10:11-13 “hirelings”, do exactly what they read in the translations. Like the Pharisees they sit on the seat of authority and therefore, all that they say the laity must do. For more insight on this, refer to the article, Is there any place for professional priesthood today?

They teach that the Torah of YHVH has been done away with contrary to what Yeshua teaches on the issue; they have replaced the Creator’s appointed times with counterfeits; they have created their own traditions and doctrines and collect the “Levitical tithes” every Sunday morning. And they, like the Pharisees, take pride in their titles and are very intolerant to any criticism of their man-made teachings. Read more about Mat 23:5-12 in the article Do not be called “Rabbi”.

“The Oral Law” of the Rabbis

In order to clarify these legal issues in their entirety, we must initially make some inquiries in the Rabbis’ own words: the Mishnah, which served as the basis for the creation of the Talmud, “the Oral Law”.

Ezra the scribe, who is considered the founder of Judaism (see Ezr 7:10, 25; Neh 8:2-9), upon the return from the Babylonian exile forced the Jews to expel the foreign [unconverted] wives they had taken with them from Babylon (Ezr 10:2, 10), and since then no polygamy has ever been seen in Israel.

Moreover, Israel was done with the idolatry, too. After the Jews returned from exile, they became so jealous over the Torah that the Rabbis went even further to create “fences around the Torah” (the Talmud), so that no Jew would even come close to breaking the laws of YHVH. We find references to the “Oral Law” in the Apostolic Writings in which Yeshua drew a distinctive line between the Torah of His Father and the “tradition of men”.

We should recall that according to the Rabbis (the Rabbis are the theological descendants of the Pharisees), “the Oral Law” had been given to Mosheh orally at Mount Sinai (hence “Oral Law”). According to the Rabbinic tradition, the laws of the Mishnah (the Rabbis call the Talmud “Torah”) have the same authority as the five books of Mosheh (the Written Law). We could not disagree more.

But we should not err to conclude that all traditions of the Rabbis are wrong and contrary to the Torah. To be objective, we need to say that many of them give further explanations of the laws of the Torah, while many others are just “fences”. But even though these teachings of the Rabbis are good and explain many difficult to understand passages in the Torah and in the Prophets, they are just that: teachings. It will be wrong to call them “Torah”.

Neither should we err to say that all Pharisees were corrupted. We just need to recall Nikodemus, who secretly believed that Yeshua was the one Mosheh spoke of, or the Pharisees who joined the sect within Judaism called the Way after the one who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light”.

It was this “Oral Law” that Yeshua challenged the Pharisees to, for they burdened the people with many man-made observances not written by Mosheh. This is why we see all these disputes between Yeshua and the Pharisees, who sit on the Seat of Mosheh claiming his authority.

But Yeshua also challenged the Sadducees. We should recall that Yeshua did not have disputes with the Sadducees, who saw only the Written Torah, as the sole Word of YHVH, but with the Pharisees, who invented the Oral Law. All that Yeshua disputed with the Sadducees was the resurrection of the dead because they did not believe in it.

By laying out all these factors, the faithful readers of Time of Reckoning Ministry need no reminding that they should become more skeptical of those who speak with certainty in the matter of who is authorized to sit on the Seat of Mosheh.

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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!