Saturday, May 31, 2008

Luther & the Seat of Moses



I came across a blog entry from a Roman Catholic commenting on my blog post, Who Sent the Reformers to Reform the Church. I didn't open the comments on that entry because it was simply a cut-and-paste presentation of a CARM discussion (anyone could've gone over to CARM and commented had they wanted to). Commenting on Luther's Sermon for Pentecost Tuesday, this Catholic asserted:

Attempting to understand Luther can, at times, be quite difficult, for Luther is not always consistent with himself. I find his treatment of Matt. 23:2-4 to be somewhat muddled; Luther wrote:

So much for the call into the office. But Christ is not speaking of that here; for something more is required, namely, that no rival or supplementary doctrine be introduced, nor another word be taught than Christ has taught. Christ says in Mt. 23:2-4: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens too grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” Although these of whom Christ here speaks were regularly appointed, yet they were thieves and murderers; for they taught variations from Christ's teaching. Christ reproves them in another place, in Matthew 15:3, where he holds up before them their traditions and tells them how, through their own inventions, they have transgressed the commandments of God, yea, totally abolished them. We have also many prophets who were regularly appointed and still were misled, like Balaam, of whom we read in Num. 22; also Nathan, described in 2 Sam 7:3. Similarly many bishops have erred. (Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. III, p. 375 – Baker Book House reprint – no date.)

Our Lord sure seems to defend the ‘official’ teachings of the “scribes and the Pharisees” who “sit on Moses’ seat”, for he admonishes his listeners with: “all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe”. Luther sure seemed to ‘wink’ at Christ’s counsel concerning those in authority during his revolt…

I do admit that understanding Luther can indeed be difficult at times, but this is not one of those instances. I'm actually quite surprised any would argue in favor of the Pharisees (even a Roman Catholic) especially after Reading all of Matthew 23. When Christ says to obey the Pharisees in everything they tell you, the statement must be qualified. Luther rightly pointed out earlier in Matthew 15 Christ chastises their teachings. In Matthew 15:6, Christ states the Pharisees "nullify the word of God for the sake of [their] tradition." In Matthew 15:14 Christ exhorts his hearers to leave them, they are blind guides. Obviously, taking Matthew 23:2-4 at face value and concluding Jesus defended all the teaching of Jewish religious leaders is an error excusable for someone new to Christianity, but inexcusable for someone familiar with the Bible. Luther did not "wink" at authority. Rather, he held the Papacy to the ultimate authority, and the above section bears this out: "no rival or supplementary doctrine be introduced, nor another word be taught than Christ has taught," "Christ reproves them in another place, in Matthew 15:3, where he holds up before them their traditions and tells them how, through their own inventions, they have transgressed the commandments of God, yea, totally abolished them," "Similarly many bishops have erred."

John Gil insightfully pointed out for Mathew 23:3, "This must be restrained to things that were agreeable to the chair of Moses, in which they sat, to the law of Moses, which they read and explained, to other parts of Scripture and truth in general; for otherwise many of their glosses and traditions were repugnant to the law, and ought not to be observed, as appears from Mat. 5:1. "


As to Luther's views on the "seat of Moses," many quotes exist. Below are two quotes:

To begin with, we must know that those who are sent speak the Word of God provided that they adhere to their office and administer it as they received it. In that event, they surely speak the Word of God. Christ said of the Pharisees: They “sit on Moses’ seat” (Matt. 23:2). Those who occupy the seat of Moses are sent, and you must listen to them if they preach what Moses taught. But if their preaching is at variance with Moses, if they digress from Moses and violate the command given them and do not comply with it, then you should not follow them. A king’s ambassador or emissary discharges his duty when he abides by his master’s order and instruction. If he fails in this, the king has him beheaded. Thus it may well be that a person is called into an office and occupies this office, but still is a scoundrel. A king demands that his order be executed and that one neither add to it nor subtract from it. We see that when a person is called, he is invested with an office. If such a person preaches in conformity with the duties of his office, that is, if he preaches the Word of God, on which the office rests, all is well; if not, then the words apply to him: “Beware of false prophets!” (Matt. 7:15). If he is faithful to his office and preaches the message of his office, then all is proper. Previously John had also said that man can do nothing unless it is given him from above (John 3:27). [LW 22:483]

"...Matthew 23[:2-3], where the Lord says, “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you.” “Here, here,” they say, “we have authority to teach what we think to be right.” I reply: If that is what Christ means, then we are in a sorry plight. Then every pope might create more new laws, until the world could no longer contain them all... What does it mean to sit in Moses’ seat? Let us ask, what did Moses teach? And if he were still sitting in his seat today, what would he be teaching? Beyond a doubt, nothing but what he taught of old, namely, the commandments and word of God. He has never yet uttered any doctrine of men. Rather as almost every chapter shows, he spoke what God commanded him to speak.

It follows, then, that he who teaches something different from Moses does not sit in Moses’ seat. For the Lord calls it Moses’ seat, because from it the doctrine of Moses should be spoken and taught. The same meaning is contained in the words which follow, where the Lord says, “But do not do what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” [Matt. 23:3-4].

See, here he takes their works to task, because they lay many laws beyond the doctrines of Moses on men’s shoulders, laws which they themselves will not touch. And afterward he says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools. For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?” [Matt. 23:16-17]. Is it not clear enough here that Christ condemns their man-made doctrines? He can, therefore, not have sanctioned them by speaking of sitting in Moses’ seat; else he would have contradicted himself. Therefore Moses’ seat must mean no more than the law of Moses, and the sitting in it no more than the preaching of the law of Moses.

This is what Moses himself said of his seat and doctrine, in Deuteronomy 3[4:2], “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it”; and in Deuteronomy 13[12:32], “Do only that which I command you; and do not add to it or take from it.” In Moses’ seat they would have had to teach these doctrines too. Therefore Moses’ seat cannot put up with the doctrines of men." [LW 35: 148-149]

9 comments:

David Waltz said...

Hello James,

Thanks for responding to my comments. I think perhaps you are missing the point; if the people of Jesus day were clearly able to discern when those you sat in Moses Chair were adding to the Scriptures, would that not imply that they really didn’t need their commentary? What is the point? Why listen to them at all; why not just go to the Scriptures themselves?


Grace and peace,

David

Saint and Sinner said...

I did a post on this issue:

http://contra-gentes.blogspot.com/2007/09/alfred-edersheim-on-matthew-15-and.html

To quote Alfred Edersheim, a Rabbinic Jew who converted to Christianity (a Presbyterian):

"Jewish tradition traced, indeed, the command of washing the hands before eating - at least of sacrificial offerings - to Solomon, acknowledgment of which ‘the voice from heaven’ (Bath-Qol) had been heard to utter Prov. xxiii. 15, and xxvii. 11"

In other words, these "Traditions" which Christ calls traditions of men (the very one mentioned by Edersheim above is the one addressed in Mt. 15) were believed by the scribes and Pharisees to have been handed down from God to some important prophet and down through some line orally, just like Roman Catholic tradition claims.

Michael L. Brown has written and almost completed his series of books on answering Rabbinic Jewish arguments against Christianity. The arguments used by Rabbinic Jews are the exact same as those used by Roman Catholics. In fact, his last volume in the series will deal specifically with the arguments from the Talmud and other "Tradition texts".

David Waltz said...

Hello SS,

Thanks for the response (and the link).

Since I reject (with most post-VII scholars) constitutive tradition (i.e. the notion that the original deposit of faith was “partly in Scripture and partly in Tradition”; also rejected by Trent but not understood by post-Trent theologians), but rather, affirm the material sufficiency of the Scriptures, this following point from your link, (and probably the most contentious) is not applicable:

>> So, in summary, the Jews believed that their ‘Tradition’ was:
a.) Received as Divine revelation by King Solomon and passed down from him orally to the Rabbis. In fact, Jews today call it the “Oral Torah”:>>

Note the words of the following, non-Catholic patristic scholar:

“The principle of sola Scriptura, too, can no longer be considered divisive in the same way that it once was. Many Roman Catholics concede that the post-biblical tradition of the Church is not to be regarded as a second source of revelation alongside Scripture, but only as the process by which a revelation contained completely in Scripture is being made explicit; and they are trying to prove that the Tridentine decrees at least did not exclude this position.” (Jaroslav Pelikan, Development of Christian Doctrine – Some Historical Prolegomena, p, 10.)


BTW, I have Michael L. Brown’s first four volumes; did not know that a fifth one was coming out. Do you know the projected date of its release?


Grace and peace,

David

James Swan said...

David,

No, I didn't miss the point, you have gone on to make another point.

Quite frankly, the answers to this recent question should be fairly obvious. Please simply state the point you intend to make without invoking the Socratic method.

Also please let me know if we will be leaving the subject of Luther and venturing elsewhere. I have a strong suspicion that the road we're about to travel will have nothing to do with your original post about Luther's inconsistent presentation of Matt. 23:2-4, and Luther's ‘winking’ at Christ’s counsel.

David Waltz said...

Hello James,

You wrote:

>> No, I didn't miss the point, you have gone on to make another point.

Quite frankly, the answers to this recent question should be fairly obvious. Please simply state the point you intend to make without invoking the Socratic method.

Also please let me know if we will be leaving the subject of Luther and venturing elsewhere.>>

Me: I disagree. My point is that Luther is not being consistent. You think he is. If an individual can correct an authority via personal interpretation, that authority no longer has authority. There is a massive difference between one with greater authority (Jesus Christ) correcting a lesser authority (those who sat in Moses Chair), and an individual correcting the lesser authority. That’s my point; quite a simple one IMHO—certainly don’t see how Socrates comes into play…

Grace and peace,

David

Kepha said...

Mr. Waltz, you write:

"My point is that Luther is not being consistent. You think he is. If an individual can correct an authority via personal interpretation, that authority no longer has authority. There is a massive difference between one with greater authority (Jesus Christ) correcting a lesser authority (those who sat in Moses Chair), and an individual correcting the lesser authority."

Didn't Catherine of Siena, who is a lesser authority than the pope (to use your terminology), correct the pope for not returning to Rome? And, further, isn't Paul's rebuke of Peter often used with this account as biblical precendent for such actions? Or, did this used to be the case but has since given way to a developed papal theology?

David Waltz said...

Hello Kepha,

IMHO, I think you are conflating multiple spheres of authority into one. For instance, for Paul to correct Peter, when Peter’s personal actions were contrary to his own apostolic teaching, is different than if Paul contradicted say the teachings found in 1 Peter and/or the apostolic proclamations of Peter in Acts.

What this is telling me is that the personal views and actions of an individual which lie outside ones sphere authority, can be questioned; and this without calling into question that individual’s ACTUAL authority.


Hope this helps,

David

James Swan said...

If an individual can correct an authority via personal interpretation, that authority no longer has authority

Which infallibly defined verses or dogmas during Luther's time did Luther correct via his own "personal interpretation"?

There is a massive difference between one with greater authority (Jesus Christ) correcting a lesser authority

Kepha nailed you on this with Peter/Paul example, according to an RCC paradigm.

There was no complete dogma on the indulgence when Luther posted the 95 Theses. There was no official doctrine as to the effect of the indulgence upon Purgatory- hence, Luther acted just like Paul did with Peter. Recall:

My point is that Luther is not being consistent. You think he is. If an individual can correct an authority via personal interpretation, that authority no longer has authority

David Waltz said...

Hello again James,

You posted:

>> Which infallibly defined verses or dogmas during Luther's time did Luther correct via his own "personal interpretation"?>>

Me: None. But I fail to see how that is relevant.

>>There is a massive difference between one with greater authority (Jesus Christ) correcting a lesser authority

Kepha nailed you on this with Peter/Paul example, according to an RCC paradigm.>>

Me: ??? Luther was part of the RCC teaching Magisterium The “Peter/Paul example” is an example of equal authority.

>>There was no complete dogma on the indulgence when Luther posted the 95 Theses. There was no official doctrine as to the effect of the indulgence upon Purgatory- hence, Luther acted just like Paul did with Peter.>>

Me: Was Luther excommunicated for his concerns over “the effect of the indulgence upon Purgatory”? Was that a large enough issue for Luther to revolt against his bishop and proceed on to establish a schismatic church?


Grace and peace,

David