Moses' Seat - Does It Support Tradition?

Mat 23:2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
Mat 23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

This is a passage that Catholics are likely to quote in support of Tradition, saying it is the only verse in the Bible that mentions Moses' Seat. On the face of it, it appears to be supporting the authority of the Scribes and Pharisees to teach orally to the people. The Scribes, who were educated in reading and writing, presented themselves as the great authorities on interpreting scripture, while the Pharisees were the spokesmen for the unwritten oral law or tradition. Let's take a closer look at what this passage is saying in context-

Mat 23:1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
Mat 23:2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:

What is this referring to? In a symbolic sense, sitting in Moses' seat means teaching from the books of Moses, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible:

Exo 18:13 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.
Exo 18:14 And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?
Exo 18:15 And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God:
Exo 18:16 When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.

So while the phrase need not indicate a literal chair, archeologists have confirmed that a stone chair has been found in ancient synagogues (in Hamath, Chorazin, En-Gedi and Delos) next to where the law was kept. When reading from scripture, the reader would apparently sit in that chair and read the law to the congregation in judgment.

Mat 23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

The reader (in this case a scribe or Pharisee) would exhort the people to be keepers of the law of Moses, obviously. Jesus here is saying that what ever scripture (Moses' seat) they read from and bid the people to observe, that the people should observe. That supports the principle of Sola Scriptura, not unbiblical Tradition. Catholics would have you believe that being in "Moses' seat" gave one the authority to proclaim anything at all, scriptural or not, and the people would have to obey the one in Moses' seat as though God Himself had spoken every word. But note that the scribes and Pharisees themselves are branded here as nothing more than hypocrites. They piously read from the scriptures, but did not observe and carry out what the scriptures said, and Jesus tells the people not to follow their example. Yet Catholics will suggest that this type of person was to be strictly obeyed in whatever unscriptural proclamation they made despite their hypocrisy.

Mat 23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
Mat 23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
Mat 23:6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
Mat 23:7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

In addition to their hypocrisy, they abused their authority imposing senselessly strict and burdensome requirements on the people and made no effort to ease them. They put on a great show of their "authority" over the laity, and piety, and dressed accordingly. They put on a terrific and impressive show and take great advantage of the influence their office affords them.

Mat 23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
Mat 23:9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Mat 23:10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

They are called father, Rabbi, teacher,.... When we should all call each other brothers (and sisters) in Christ.

Mat 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
Mat 23:12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

We should all be humble servants to each other.

Mat 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Not only do they reject the Gospel truth from scripture themselves, but they deem as "heretics" and persecute those who do believe and teach the truth from scripture and try to make it available to everyone. These "fathers" of the church in fact shut heaven to people because of their false Traditions and apostate doctrines, such that the truth is lost.

Mat 23:14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

They prey on the widow (extort money in conjunction with services for the dead), and make great pretence of long prayer. Under the guise of piety, they rob the vulnerable, not just of money, but of truth. The condemnation of these false teachers is about as strong as any proclaimed in the Bible, and it is condemnation from Jesus Himself!

Mat 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

And how do they do that? They corrupt the convert with their false doctrines, and Traditions till they no longer know the truth.

Who after reading this passage in context will defend Tradition with it? What were the Scribes and Pharisees doing that is so strongly condemned? They read from the books of Moses (in his seat) when teaching in the synagogue, but then proceeded to levy their own burdensome unbiblical laws and doctrines (Traditions) on the people, corrupting them and leading them astray, such that the Gospel message was lost or incomprehensible. And this was accompanied by great and splendid shows of holiness and piety.

This passage applies today as much as it did in the time of Jesus. What leaders of the Christian church today are called "father", and dress so they are instantly recognizable as "holy men", and engage in long sessions of impressive ritual and prayer? They sell their authority over the laity first, and then their apostate doctrines and Traditions, until you are blind to the truth from scriptures.

Who does this apply to today? The answer should be obvious. They are as easily recognized today, by those who know the truth, as they were in the time of Jesus Christ. Today they claim Peter's Chair, the one in the Vatican, as their seat of authority, rather that Moses' Seat. They look to pronouncements spoken ''ex-cathedra", (symbolic for from Peter's Chair) for their infallible doctrines, not to scripture only. They elevate their Tradition to equality with scripture, even proclaiming their Tradition essential to salvation. They are leading people astray, and as a result, are strongly condemned by Jesus in Matthew 23.

I ask you, what could be more clear?

A Catholic Rebuttal by Mario Derksen