I would like to expand, momentarily, on a thought with which I closed the last installment in this series. Mr. Armstrong is right to say that the text does not provide us with a direct listing of what the Pharisees did or did not teach when speaking in the synagogue. That can only be determined on the basis of other texts, if at all (and I believe such texts as Matthew 15 do tell us a good bit about that). But is it truly a “gratuitous” assumption on my part, based upon sola scriptura to believe that there is no warrant here for believing that the text is relevant to an establishment of some second source of divine authority in the views of the Lord Jesus? I firmly believe so, and once again the grounds for this is not a gratuitous assumption, but that wonderful thing called context. As I pointed out originally, these words are the introduction to a lengthy pronouncement of woe and judgment upon the scribes and Pharisees. As we will see, Armstrong is forced, in his attempt to force Matthew 23 into his theological mold, to speak of how indebted the early Christians were to the Pharisees, and to in essence speak positively about them. And while one may well say positive things about Pharisees in various contexts (I would argue the issue of their traditions would not be one of those contexts), this passage in Matthew 23 is singularly contradictory to such a discussion. The fact of the matter is that Armstrong’s comments do not flow from the text at all. His position does not start with a recognition of the context of the text being examined. Instead, he clearly proceeds from the position demanded of him by Rome. The fact that these words must be heard in a condemnatory, not congratulatory, context, must be kept in mind. And when we do this, we see that the fact that these men sat in positions of leadership within the people of God only increases their guilt. This theme will build to a crescendo in the following verses.
Secondly, White’s assumption that Jesus is referring literally to Pharisees sitting on a seat in the synagogue and reading (the Old Testament only) — and that alone — is more forced and woodenly literalistic than the far more plausible interpretation that this was simply a term denoting received authority.
Of course, my whole point (and this is clear when the sections DA did not include are read with the citation) is that Jesus is addressing synagogue worship and the position the Pharisees have taken in that worship. The disciples (and the crowds, v. 2) would know to what He referred by the mere reference to Moses’ seat, and to the primary functions in synagogue worship of that seat. It was a position of honor to read from the Word of God, and Jesus’ admonition is to do what they tell you in that context, but not to do what they practice. If Armstrong wishes to expand Moses’ seat beyond the role it had in the synagogue and include within it some kind of “received authority” including the ability to bind men to extra-scriptural traditional teachings (which is, after all, what Armstrong is driving at), some explanation must be offered for why Jesus specifically limits their authority as He does. He tells His disciples and the crowds not to do what they do. Well, what do they do? The rest of Matthew 23 tells us. In essence, they were hypocrites (v. 28). And what was one of the main ways they demonstrated their hypocrisy? Matthew 15:1-8 tells us: the binding of extra-biblical traditions upon men’s backs in contradiction to the Word of God. So, if Jesus told His disciples and the crowds that they should not “do according to their deeds,” is He not telling them that they must examine those deeds by some standard and judge them to be wanting? And what is that standard? The answer is clear. That is why I said Jesus was not telling the crowds to quit the synagogue or begin a revolution by throwing the Pharisees out, but He was freeing them from the ungodly control the Pharisees had over the “am ha’aretz,” the “people of the land,” who were told by the Pharisees that unless they acted and lived like them, they would never have the grace of God. No, Jesus says, for they are hypocrites, and He is about to pronounce an entire series of woes upon them. [continued]