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Do Christians obey Jewish Leaders

Matthew 23:3  

Rabbi, teacher, Messiah, Jesus, Yeshua, obey

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It is a quirk of old Koine Greek that the spelling of some Greek verbs in the 2nd person plural, active, imperative conjugation are IDENTICAL to the spelling in the 2nd person plural, active indicative conjugation. This is true of the Greek: tereite and poieite (observe and do). If the ramifications of that are not obvious please read on.

For those who may not be familiar with the imperative and indicative moods, let me briefly state the difference.  This is important to correctly understanding the text of Matthew 23:3.

Let's take the verb "run" with a 2nd person, masculine, singular subject ("you", Greek verbs inherently include whether the subject is singular or plural and whether it is in the first, second or third person).

The translation of "run" in the imperative mood would be: "Run!" This means that someone is exhorting or commanding the other person to run.

The translation of "run" in the indicative mood would be: "You run." This means that someone is observing that the other person is running, i.e. "You run to the store" whereas the imperative would be "Run to the store!"

That's the difference. As mentioned before though, there is no difference in the spelling of the 2nd person plural, active indicative vs. imperative.  So in a written document one must decide based on the context which is intended by the author.

Every translation of which this author is aware decided to translate Matthew 23:3 in the imperative mood, as though Messiah is exhorting the multitude and his disciples to observe and do all whatsoever the scribes and Pharisees command them to do.

Looking at the context of this exhortation there is no other redeeming quality attributed to the scribes and Pharisees. "they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (vs. 4) "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in" (vs 13). Are these good reasons for "whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do"? They appear to indicate the opposite.

 

The text following "but do not do according to their works", reinforces it, because "all their works they do to be seen by men" (vs 5). Nothing in the text reinforces a command to do what the scribes and Pharisees tell them. In fact Messiah tells His students that He alone is their teacher. "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ" (vs. 10). It is difficult to reconcile this and also the verbal dressing down given to these leaders with a command to do whatever they say. In fact, in referring to "the Christ", Jesus/Yeshua is indicating that the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15-19 had come and was available. He was to be obeyed. "Him you shall hear" (Deu 18:15c).

 

So, since there is another possibility, what happens if we translate tereite and poieite (observe and do) in "whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do" as the indicative?

 

"Therefore, all whatsoever they tell you to observe, you observe and do; but, do not do after their works, for they say and do not do."

The translation using the indicative has Messiah acknowledging the fact that the multitude and his very own disciples observe and do all whatsoever the scribes and Pharisees tell them to observe. This could be expected, since the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. He then exhorts that the multitude and his own disciples should not do after the works of the Pharisees and scribes because the Pharisees and the scribes often talk good talk yet themselves do not do.

This translation highlights the difference between a "command" and an "observation" --- between the imperative mood and the indicative mood. The command (imperative mood) enjoins the multitude and disciples to obey the scribes and Pharisees; the observation (indicative mood) acknowledges that the multitude and disciples typically obey the scribes and Pharisees.

 

Although Messiah acknowledged that His students typically follow the instruction of the scribes and Pharisees, He warned that their instruction did not lead to entrance into the kingdom of heaven, "For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men". (vs. 13b) This statement is not in accord with a command to do whatever they say.

There is good reason to believe that the people typically obeyed the instruction of their leaders. The leaders did sit in Moses seat and carried the authority of Moses to interpret the Laws of God (Ex 18:13, Mat 23:2). Lacking any higher authority their practice of obeying the scribes and Pharisees is understandable. However, based on the statements that follow, it seems unlikely that Messiah expected the people to carefully follow the instruction of the scribes and Pharisees. Since there is another option; and "One is your Teacher, the Christ" (vs. 10b), it seems more in accord with the text to think that Yeshua was simply acknowledging their practice but warning against blindly following the leaders example. Instead, Messiah was available and He should be their teacher.

 

Peter didn't seem to hesitate for long when deciding whether or not to obey the Jewish leaders in Acts 5:29. He rebuffed the High priest and apparently the Sanhedren (vs. 27).