Matthew 23:1-2 (The Chair of Moses)

What is meant by the “chair of Moses” in Mat 23:2?  Cf. Ezr 7:6,25, Mal 2:7 and think: although God had given His “great and glorious” law (Isa 42:21) that was “holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12) through Moses to the Jews, by what means did they actually come to know and understand it, even when Moses was still alive?  See Exo 18:19-22, Deut 4:5, 5:27.  After Moses had died, would the people have all had their own copy of the law, or were they necessarily even all able to read?  Even if they could, like today, would they necessarily have immediate or full understanding of its principles and requirements for how it applied to the changing circumstances of their daily lives?  What then was necessary?  See Deut 17:9-11; cf. Neh 8:2-3,7-8, Mal 2:7.

Was it necessarily the case that the scribes and Pharisees had “seated themselves” upon the chair of Moses, as if they were out of order because they had taken it upon themselves, or was it more the case that they were simply seated on the chair of Moses because of their education in the law of Moses?  Note: there is actually no grammatical justification for the NAS “have seated themselves”; the tense used is the aorist, not the perfect, and the sense of the active voice of the verb used is not reflexive for which we would expect the middle voice; nearly all other versions translate it simply as “the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat”, communicating the simple unbiased fact that by virtue of their education and understanding of the law they were seated on the chair of Moses.  Shall we then suppose that Jesus understood or viewed the “chair of Moses” as some ecclesiastical office or seat of power to be sought for after the pattern of the world?  Cf. the “chair” of a committee or department, which is typically a position of service, not one of power and authority.  The NLT translation “official interpreters of the law of Moses” also miscommunicates that Jesus here acknowledges an official office of final authority for interpreting the law.

Notice that the Greek word for “chair” is kathedra; what theological principle of the Roman Catholic church derives from this word?  Note: the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was defined as official church teaching in 1870, and states that when the pope speaks ex cathedra, i.e., “out of the chair” of the apostle Peter (meaning “in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians) he is preserved from the possibility of error.  In 1950 it was by speaking ex cathedra that the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary[1] was declared to be an official article of faith for the Roman Catholic church.  In what way is there an element of truth that God will not allow the true Church to go astray?  See Mat 16:18; cf. Mat 24:24 and think: is it possible for God’s truth to not prevail?  However, does that mean that any one person or group of people may not go astray and find themselves outside of the true Church?  I.e., is it the case that one cannot go astray because he is in the true Church, or rather, is it the case that one knows he is in the true Church because he has not gone astray?  Cf. Phm 1:23-24, 2Ti 4:10, 1Jo 2:18-19.  From the very example where the term ex cathedra comes to us, should we suppose that those who speak out of the chair of Peter are any less fallible or prone to spiritual error than the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus is here denouncing?  Were the Jews whom God called out of Egypt preserved from error in spite of His promises to establish them as His chosen people?  Cf. Exo 32:1-8.  By what means may one know that he is a part of the true ekklesia (church, called out ones) and not going astray?  See 1Jo 2:3-6, 3:7-10; cf. Mat 7:16-20.  Why are those who suppose they cannot be deceived the most likely to be deceived, while those who suppose they can be deceived are less likely to be deceived?  Think: Does not the very nature of deception preclude one from knowing he is deceived?  See also Luk 21:34, Act 20:28-31, 2Pe 3:17.

 


1. I.e., that Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory”.  For, having been preserved by God from original sin by her immaculate conception (formally defined in 1854) and kept from personal sin throughout her life by God’s grace, unlike other Christian saints she was able to enter heaven in bodily form before the general resurrection.  Many believe she never died, though the Roman Catholic church leaves this an open matter.  Others, including the Eastern Orthodox church, believe she died, was resurrected 3 days later, and then assumed into heaven like Jesus.

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