As mentioned in my prior post, recently on my Facebook page, a Hebrew Christian began taking exception to positions I hold while expressing a wide range of views contrary to the kind of Messianic Judaism I favor. I told him I was going to take his objections and statements and respond to them one by one on my blog. This blog post is the first of what will be a considerable series involving lots of work. Still, this series will illustrate the contrast between a certain brand of Messianic Jewish conviction and what I term the Hebrew Christian position. While Hebrew Christians see the proper home for Jesus believing Jews to be in the Church, Messianic Jews insist on a deeper engagement with Jewish community and therefore form Messianic synagogues and even participate in synagogues in the wider Jewish world. My interlocutor is Mr Koenig. His comments were part of a Facebook informal discussion, not an article or even a blog, so don't expect his rhetoric to be polished, which is something he is well capable of under other circumstances. He imagines that many of my views would be pretty standard for Jewish believers who attend churches, as opposed to messianic congregations, and for evangelical scholars and commentators, and that my view may be common in messianic congregations at this point, but likely would be viewed critically at any evangelical seminary like Dallas or Talbot. I think he is right in his assessment, although there are evangelical scholars whose findings definitely support this Messianic Jewish perspective. Early on our discussion involved the text in Matthew 23 which reads as follows:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. (Matthew 23:1-3 ESV)
To this passage, Mr. Koenig said,
So you want to pound on Jesus saying the rabbis are in Moses's seat, and we must do what they say to do. But you want to pick and choose and reject the rabbinic glosses that are just silly, like keeping separate dishes based on a command that just says not to boil a kid in its mother's milk, or perhaps Corbin rules that are just a loophole to avoid honoring mother and father. But then you must think Jesus only wanted us to one [obey?] the rabbis when the rabbis' teaching meets some extrinsic standard. But then why did Jesus say do what they say when what they say is biblical. Maybe you are trying to place too much weight on that one somewhat obscure saying. If it means what you say, then why should there be caveats and carve outs where the rabbis are obviously wrong? Also, how could the apostle john say later that we don't need anyone to teach us, since we have the annointing of the spirit within us, if really we do need the rabbis to teach us and interpret the law for us, and tell us how, in effect, we are to follow Jesus.
In response to his accusations, I see at least four issues:
Today I will begin answering the first question, and for the most part I will be summarizing the excellent article on this passage by Dr. Rabinowitz, "Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse Their Halakhah?" while adding some comments of my own. The text from Matthew 23:2-4 is especially remarkable in view of Yeshua’s conflict with the Pharisees and Scribes throughout the gospel of Matthew. However, this very disparity is a sign of the authenticity of the passage because when copyists or other corrupt biblical texts it is generally in the direction of harmonizing the text in question with other texts with which it appears to be dissonant. However, this text was and remains dissonant with the common understandings of other Matthean texts about the role of the Torah, and the vact that it has survived so long as a beacon to many and a bone of contention to others, can only be due to Divine foresight. If this were a corrupted text its rough ages and dissonance would have been smoothed out long ago. Let's examine first, what is the seat of Moses? Four possbilities have been offered:
Rabinowitz favors the first interpretation. Archaeologisits have found five stone seats facing the congregation where the teacher might teach from have been found in five different locales both in the Land and in the Diaspora. Likely there were many other such seats made of wood which have long since become dust, but these ancient relics remain as mute testimony to the reasonableness of this interpretation. The second option, even though figurative, coalesces with the first. Yes, there was an actual seat, "the Seat of Moses" in synagogues where authorized teachers sat to teach Torah, and one could speak of the Pharisees sitting in Moses' Seat as a metaphor for this role.
I would add that this idea has echoes that have remained to this day. In Muslim culture, imams sit on a chair near a pillar of the mosque to teach while their students sit on the floor. This is "the teaching chair." The Universities of Europe picked up on this custom, so that from Medieval times to the present day, we speak of people holding "the Chair of Jewish Studies" or "The George Eldon Ladd Chair of New Testament Theology" etc. Why do we refer to "chairs?" Because of the association with this ancient Middle Eastern custom of teachers sitting in chairs associated with their authority to teach.
Finally, in the Roman Catholic world, when the Pope makes binding doctrinal pronouncements, he is said to be speaking "ex cathedra." The Catholic Encyclopedia to be found at the website www.newadvent.org fills us in: "Literally ‘from the chair’, a theological term which signifies authoritative teaching and is more particularly applied to the definitions given by the Roman pontiff. Originally the name of the seat occupied by a professor or a bishop, cathedra was used later on to denote the magisterium, or teaching authority. The phrase ex cathedra occurs in the writings of the medieval theologians, and more frequently in the discussions which arose after the Reformation in regard to the papal prerogatives."
The third choice, that the chair was a place where the Torah itself was placed, has its proponents as chairs have been found with holes to hold the wooden rollers of the Torah. However, in the arhaeological examples used to support this theory, these holes are not evenly spaced and the model is underrepresented in the archaeologcial data. In fact, it is first attested to in the 16th century, and for these reasons is of dubious value. Rabinowitz views the fourth position to be even less likely, that is, that “’the Seat of Moses’ is a metaphor used by Jesus to describe the Pharisees’ role within the synagogue. . . . ‘their social position as people who control accessibility. They are the ones who know and are able to tell others what Moses said.’” (Mark Powell, “Do and Keep What Moses Says [Matthew 23:2-7], JBL 114 . Rabinowitz says that this is implausible because it is “unlikely that Matthew’s messianic community would be completely dependent upon the Pharisees for their access to the Scriptures." After considering all the possible positions, Rabinowitz says, “We return to our earlier assertion that the Seat of Moses was a physical piece of synagogue furniture upon which authorized teachers of the Torah sat." And as we said earlier, the parallel and ancient custom found in the Muslim world and in the Roman Catholic world, as well as in university practice make this to be an entirely reasonable and credible likelihood.
Interpreting this text requires one to determine “how Jesus can command the disciples to do what The Pharisees command and then issue a blistering vitriol against them for their hypocrisy and false reaching.” Rabinowitz considers three important interpretations represented in the literature.
Rabinowitz rightly suggests that all of the foregoing views are “driven by a set of unwarranted and negative presuppositions about Pharisaic Judaism, Furthermore, these intepretations fail to provide a logical basis for the commands in verse 3. We still do not know why the disciples should observe whatever the scribes and Pharisees thell them.” I would underscore what he said about "unwarranted and negative presuppositions about Pharisaic Judaism. This is the default position of Christian theologizing even in the conservative evangelical world. I cannot remember ever hearing a Christian preacher or teacher on religious radio speak about the Pharisees and their Judaism except in a negative manner. The evidence is overwhelming that this is the default position. Rabinowitz concludes that “a more straightforward reading of this verse [is] in order. We know that the seat of Moses was an actual chair in the synagogue where authorized teachrs of the Torah sat. when Jesus states that the Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses, he means this both literally and figuratively. Taken at face value, and when read in conjunction with verse 3a, this verse seems to suggest that the scribes and Pharisees where authorized and legitimate teachers of the Torah” (429-430). He further states that the verb form ekathisan (seated) functions like a Semitic stative perfect and should be understood as “the scribes and Pharisees have sat down and they are still sitting there."
Rabinowitz suggests three issues to be dealt with in answering this question.
While the concession argument has some merit, it fails to resolve its tension with Jesus’ command to obey the Pharisees in whatever they tell us to do. Similarly, why would Yeshua direct the disciples to obey those whose authority he rejects.
His command to do what the Pharisees teach invokes Deut 17:11, the very text upon which the authority bof the Sanhedrin, the Sages, and later rabbis is based. In verse 11, Moses instructs the Jewish people to submit to the legal rulings of the priest or the judge of each generation: According to the terms . . .' of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or to the left.’
Jesus’ command to do and keep whatever the Pharisees say clearly echoes this text, and it is simply untenable to imagine that his choice of words is accidental. Similarly it is untenable to imagine that the oral society to which he was speaking did not “get” the association he was drawing. Despite how disappointing and vexing it is for some to even imagine that Jesus is endorsing the authority of the rabbis to instruct His disciples in Jewish life, the text is stubbornly explicit, and the allusion to Deuteronomy 17:11 seals the issue and its interpretation.
Several scholars take Yeshua’s words here to be ironic, actually sarcastic. In this case, Yeshua means the opposite of what he is saying: he means “I suppose you could say that the Pharisees sit in Moses Seat: but, oh yeah, don’t do what they say, for God’s sake!” This is how Jeremias and D. A. Carson see it—as biting sarcasm. But such scholars confuse “irony” with “exaggeration.” While Yeshua may be exaggerating when he says “all things” he is not denying the imperative to obey what the Pharisees teach. In irony, on the other hand, he could be doing that. An exaggeration is essentially true, even if overstated. Jesus is here overstating, that is, exaggerating, when he says that we are to do all things they tell us to do, but on the basis of what else he has said up to this point, it makes no sense to imagine that he was dismissing the relevance and authority of the rabbis’ teaching. He strongly adheres to the opposite. Rabinowitz puts it nicely for us,
The Pharisees were guilty of false teaching and hypocrisy but they were not guilty of usurping their position as Israel’s authoritative teachers. The disciples are to follow the teaching of the Pharisees in principle, but they are not to follow a particular teaching that clearly contradicts the expressed or implied intent of Scripture. The “point” Matthew wishes to make is that the multitudes and disciples should practice what the Pharisees tell them, but they should not practice all that the Pharisees actually do.
Some authorities categorically reject that Yeshua could have been speaking of the halakha and the oral tradition. Robert Banks, in Jesus and the Law, insists that Jesus draws a sharp distinction between Torah and rabbinic halakha, and presents Jesus “in unrelieved opposition” to the latter. Robert H. Stein also insists that the disciples were to obey the Older Testament Law but not the oral traditions. But Rabinowitz asks, and I agree, if such a bifurcation is possible. “Can exegesis so neatly separate application and practice?" I would add that this sharp division between Oral Law and written Law is alien to the Jewish way of thinking.
Years ago, I. Howard Marshall, prominent evangelical scholar spoke at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. I don’t remember the topic, but I do remember challenging him on a statement he made. He represented the apostles as engaged in a “Back to the Bible” kind of movement. In my question, I responded, “Aren’t you retrojecting back onto the apostles post Reformation categories?” He gave some sort of answer, to which a prominent academic at Fuller said to me, “Your question was better than his answer.” And it was. And as Rabinowitz reminds us, “Jesus did not say, ‘practice what they say about what is written’; he said ‘practice what they say.’” Jesus’ own practice of the oral tradition adds additional weight to his intending at least some halakhic traditions in his category of “what they say.”
Even though Matthew presents Yeshua differing with the Pharisees on matters of interpretation, his gospel nevertheless presents Yeshua as adhering to the halakha of his day. Rabinowitz says, "[Douglas] Moo is most certainly correct when he states that ‘the verdict that there is no evidence that Jesus kept any of the oral law cannot be sustained.’” I would go further and state that Yeshua was essentially halachically observant, and differed with the authorities not on the propriety of halachic living but on some of the interpretations they favored, especially where he saw their intepretations violating the Great Commandment to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and the one like it, to love our neighbor as ourselves. It was when he perceived the balance between these two commandments to be awry that Yeshua differed, and sometimes strongly. I will continue this and get to Mr Koenig's other questions listed at the top of this blog in a subsequent posting. Stay tuned. But first a concluding comment.
When I discussed this text with Mr Koenig on my Facebook page he dismissed the text as "difficult" and "obscure." What makes the passage "difficult" is not that it is obscure: it is easy to understand. What makes it "difficult" is that it clearly contradicts the prevailing understanding of other texts. An "obscure" text is one like the one in 1 Corinthians where Paul speaks of some people "baptizing for the dead." This is a strange and obscure text because there is nothing else to relate it to and we don't know what he is talking about. But this Matthew text is very clear. That it appears to contradict prevaliling understandings of other texts is one of its strongest recommendations. Eldon Epp and Gordon Fee in their Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism tell us that in figuring out whether a text in the Bible is accurately recorded, "The reading is less likely to be original that shows a disposition to smooth away difficulties." In other words, in textual criticsm, difficult texts that do not harmonize with what we are used to are more likely to be reliable because doctoring of texts takes place when people try and smoothe out apparent discrepancies. I would say the same in matters of doctrinal progress: it is only by questioning prior understandings that we grow. I consider it unwise to only search the Bible for corroborations of what I already think I understand. Here we are discussin the difference between deductive reasoning (looking for corroboration of prior conclusions) and inductive reasoning (being open to the text challenging prior assumptions and certitudes). I absolutely favor the latter. I will say though that on the other hand, Mr Koenig has a point, that we are obliged to consider texts against the background of other texts. And the Bible is stuffed with texts wherein Jewish faithfulness to God is linked to obedience to Torah commands. This is not a minor teaching, it is a foundational assumptions of the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets. But it doesn't stop there: obdience to Torah is greately extolled in the Newer Testament as well, as in this same Book of Matthew, where Yeshua says this:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)
What do we do with this text? Is this too "obscure and difficult?" And Luke/Acts is at pains to repeatedly emphasize Torah obedience as a mark of Jewish piety under the New Covenant, from the beginning of Luke/Acts, with Zechariah and Elizabeth walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, to the end of the book with Paul attesting to the Jewish elders in Rome that he had never violated Jewish custom, and everything in between. We repeatedly see Torah obedience as characteristic of the Messianic Jewish piety, including that of the Apostle to the gentiles. And this emphasis recurs again and again in the book, as in the case of Stephen's martyrdom speech where he critiques his executioners for having receive the Torah as given by angels and not having kept it. When all of these emphases are added together, from Matthew's Yeshua, from Luke/Acts, and the entire Older Testment, we have a context where our interpretation of the text in Matthew 23:1-3 is entirely appropriate and indeed "sound doctrine." What if the exegetical tradition of dismissing Jewish Torah obededience as passé and irrelevant is what is obscure and difficult. What then?
You are mentioned here: http://roshpinaproject.com/2014/10/02/chabad-rebbe-1991-eat-on-yom-kippur-moshiach-is-here-2/#comment-97895
I love the concluding use of the Messianic "proof text" of Matthew 5:17-19. This passage clearly states that those that don't keep even the least commandments and teach other the same WILL be called least in the kingdom of heaven. As there will be no remembrance of sin (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17), then clearly, these individuals will indeed be present in the kingdom of heaven.
It seems that the article misses a few other important points:
1. Jesus was speaking to the crowds - which constitute his primary audience - AND to his disciples:
Matthew 23:1 - "Then the Jesus spoke to-the crowds and to his disciples,"
2. Jesus always spoke to the crowds in parables:
Matthew 13:34 "The Jesus spoke all these-(things) in parables to-the crowds, and separate-from parable he-was not speaking to-them; v35 In-which-case the-(thing) having-been-said through the prophet might-be-fulfilled, saying, I-shall-open my mouth in parables: I-shall-blurt-out (things)-having-been-and-still-hidden from casting-down of-(a)-world."
3. Therefore, Matthew ch 23 is a parable (as is Matt. 5:17-19).
4. Jesus is speaking before the cross, to Jews, and there is no New Covenant in effect at this time (Hebrews 9:16-17; Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 10:19-20). As Jesus is still fulfilling the law, then his message at this time would likely reflect that.
Of course, God permitting, you may hear Jesus preaching the Gospel in Matthew 5:17-19, that is, those (future to Matt.5) that do not "keep" the least of the commandments are those that are in a New Covenant relationship with YHVH, and they will be called "Least" in the kingdom of God.
Jeremiah 31 :34 and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least) of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.
This is a good study area!
Despite proof texts you might adduce, YEshua did not ALWAYS speak in parables to the crowds. And even IF Mat 23 and the Matt 5 text were parables that would not mean they were obcure and impossible to understand. The only people who could not understand his parables were those with no mind to do what He said. "Parable" is not synonymous with "hard to understand and could mean just about anything."
Your argument in #4 ignores that the Gospel of Matthew was written AFTER the cross and resurrection and was intended for communal instruction on the will of the Messiah for the community at the time of its distribution.
You are overly segmenteed in your thinking, in my opinion, taking a hyper dispensational approach to the text, as if what He said prior to the cross could not apply to after the cross. That is truly stretching it under any circumstances.
Hello Rabbi Dauermann. Thanks for your teachings on this blog.
You wrote: "An 'obscure' text is one like the one in 1 Corinthians where Paul speaks of some people 'baptizing for the dead.' This is a strange and obscure text because there is nothing else to relate it to and we don’t know what he is talking about."
Please, would you consider the following explanation on this text?
1. Paul is a Jewish Rabbi in the 1st. century, living a Torah observant life.
2. At the time, the Temple is standing in Jerusalem.
3. Therefore, being in a state of ritual purity is truly important and necessary when entering and performing certain acts within the Temple in Jerusalem.
4. A human corpse is a well known source of impurity.
* "Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them." Numbers 19:11-13 NIV
5. We can understand how difficult life is for a man or woman to be ritually impure, having to stay away of beloved ones for seven days: "Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening." Numbers 19:22 NIV
6. To a non Sadducee Torah observant person living in the 1st. century, preparing a dead person's body for burial is very important, because that body will be resurrected on the last day.
* "Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again'. Martha answered, 'I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day'. John 11:23-24
* "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day". John 6:39 NIV
* "Aware of this, Jesus said to them, 'Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her'." Matthew 26:10-13 NIV
* "Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb." Luke 23:50-56,Luke 24:1 NIV (The women were there in order to know where Yeshua's body was buried, and then went to prepare spices and perfumes in order to prepare Yeshua's body later on, on a working day. That is the reason the women went to Yeshua's tomb on the first day.)
7. Getting rid of ritual impurity because of touching a human corpse was very difficult, because it involved not only a normal immersion in a pool of water (mikvah), but also using ashes of the red heifer. (Numbers 19:1-10)
8. So all this is base for Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 15. "Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?" 1 Corinthians 15:29 NIV
Why bother with all this ritual of preparing a body with spices, having to become ritually impure and being away from family and friends for seven days, having to perform an immersion using a special treated water with the ashes of the red heifer IF that body is not going to be resurrected?
But now, Yeshua has shown us the path! He is leading us to the Olam Ha-Ba, the world to come! "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. "For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man." 1 Corinthians 15:20-21 NIV
So, Paul is not talking about a baptism related to John the Baptist's baptism for repentance, nor a baptism related to converting to 'christianism'...
The simple matter is that translations of the scripture to English, Spanish, and so on, are misleading in several ways, and also Greek language didn't have enough specific words for describing the different types of immersions required in Judaism, so the term "baptizo" is applied in most cases.
I think that the phrase "baptizing for the dead" should be read as "having to perform an immersion in a mikvah because of the need to prepare the dead's bodies for that glorious day of resurrection".
That's fascinating and inventive but is also obscure. I have never heard of it and since no commentator I know of arrived at the same conclusion, this only proves my point. The meaning of the text is so obscure it requres GREAT creativity to even guess what it might possibly mean.
Thanks for your reply Rabbi. I would like to continue this conversation with you, if you don't mind, on the following:
About the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), would you please consider what could be the motives for the Priest and the Levite to avoid that man that was left half dead by the thieves? Were they so much hard hearted not to help a fellow that is laying down? What were they thinking?
Apparently, Alfredo, you were engaged in some serious consideration of the laws of purity five years ago when you submitted your responses to Stuart's article. Considering that you applied that thinking, rather well in my opinion, to the 1Cor.15 passage, I'm surprised that you didn't recognize a similar impact to those who passed the injured Samaritan in Lk.10. They were, in all likelihood, on their way to the Temple and were concerned about maintaining ritual purity. The consequences that they would have had to weigh were that they would be prevented from fulfilling any normal Temple responsibilities for a week of re-purification process. Now, Rav Yeshua's view was that the aid to such a victim should have outweighed such considerations; and he used the better example of an impure Samaritan to shame their behavior and emphasize that the principle of "pikua'h nefesh" (caring for a life) should outweigh the normal pattern of maintaining purity even to serve in HaShem's temple. That's an halachic principle consistent with Pharisaic teaching of that era and since that time.
Well said and an interesting perspective. Thank you.
Have you perchance seen any commentary during the past five years since Alfredo's posting, Stuart, that has given any consideration to the 1Cor.15 discussion of the resurrection and specifically to Rav Shaul's "obscure" reference to "baptism for (because of, in relation to) the dead"? Were you at that time familiar with any commentators who had addressed that obscure mention in that passage? Somehow, it seems to me unlikely that it would occur to any prior Christian commentator to consider that Rav Shaul was referring to the praxis of Jewish ritual purity, because the notion of a "radical new perspective on Paul" had not yet had much if any opportunity to address such a passage -- which is the primary reason it would have seemed obscure. Nonetheless, to me it seems fairly obvious now as the only reasonable and fitting explanation -- now that Alfredo has been sufficiently creative and inventive to notice it. I wonder if anyone else has managed to publish anything on the subject since that time? I would think this hypothesis worthy of at least a footnote in any more formal consideration of the passage and the subject of resurrection.