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]