Saturday, September 12, 2009

What does it mean to sit on Moses' seat?

“[Mt 23:2] is normally taken to mean to have authority to interpret for people the demands of the Mosaic Law. But this is difficult, given the fact that the same people to whom the sitting is applied are identified soon after in v16 (cf. 15:14) as ‘blind guides.’ Powell identifies ten different approaches to dealing with this tension, but as he clearly shows, none is satisfactory…So, what is the force intended by ‘sit/sat in the seat of Moses’? According to Powell,

Jesus may be simply acknowledging the powerful social and religious position that [the scribes and Pharisees] occupy in a world where most people are illiterate and copies of the Torah are not plentiful. Since Jesus’ disciples do not themselves have copies of the Torah, they will be dependent on the scribes and the Pharisees to know what Moses said…In light of such dependence, Jesus advises his disciples to heed the words that the scribes and Pharisees speak when they sit in the seat of Moses, that is, when they pass on the words of the Torah itself.

We might say that the scribes and Pharisees were walking copies of the Law. What they did with it might be suspect, but not their knowledge of it. They could be relied on to report the Law of Moses with care and accuracy,” J. Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 2005), 922-23.


  1. Here's a thread from a few years ago, in which David King and I cite some patristic comments on the passage. See, also, Irenaeus in Against Heresies, 4:12:4.

  2. Hi Jason,

    How are you finding threads from Eric's old board on When I try using it, I can see the main page, but when I try to click on a thread, I just get a page saying "not in archive".

    I ask because I remember asked you about extra-scriptural accounts of Jesus and His miracles, but I didn't get a chance to save it before the board went under.

  3. Mathetes,

    Some pages have come up for me, and others haven't. I've had the same experience with other web sites when I use You can try navigating your way back to the thread you're looking for from the thread I linked above.

    But if the subject you're interested in is "extra-scriptural accounts of Jesus and His miracles", I've addressed that subject here in the past. See, for example, this thread.

  4. Thanks for the tips, Jason, I'll check it out. I remember your article was kind of interesting because you mentioned someone named Quadratus, who reported knowing people who had been healed by Jesus. It was interesting, because I had never heard that line of evidence before. Anyways, I'll check out those articles...thanks!

  5. Mathetes,

    Quadratus lived in the first half of the second century, and Eusebius quotes something he wrote in a work that's no longer extant:

    "But the works of our Saviour were always present, for they were genuine:— those that were healed, and those that were raised from the dead, who were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were also always present; and not merely while the Saviour was on earth, but also after his death, they were alive for quite a while, so that some of them lived even to our day." (Church History, 4:3:2)

    Papias refers to some miracles of the apostolic era not recorded in scripture (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:9). Ignatius makes an apparent reference to the resurrection of Matthew 27:52-53 that includes information not found in Matthew's gospel, suggesting that he may have had access to some other source on the issue (Letter To The Magnesians, 9). I cite other relevant material in my Triablogue article linked above.

    If you're including fulfilled prophecy in the category of Jesus' miracles, then more examples of extra-Biblical sources could be cited. There's corroboration of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem in the emperor Hadrian's desecration of the birth site, Justin Martyr's reference to a record of the birthplace in the Roman archives, etc. Even something as non-controversial as the timing of Jesus' life or His crucifixion has prophetic implications, and there are many Christian and non-Christian sources who refer to such things. You might be interested in my article on fulfilled prophecy here.