Matthew 23 King James Version (KJV)

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Here Rabbi Yeshua describes a standard encounter at the Ekklesia (synagogue in the Hebrew, church in English). Since the time of the Babylonian captivity, and perhaps before, the Judean believers gathered together on the Sabbath day (Saturday in English) and studied the Torah. At this gathering, an elder would read from the words of the Torah (called the Torah portion even today) and sit in an ornamented chair called “Moses's seat”. Then the men of the group would discuss or midrash the text and discuss what they considered the meaning of the words to be and how they applied to the life of people living then. This process brings the men of Israel together fulfilling proverb 27:17 "Iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."


Unfortunately, over time no new thoughts were discussed in the synagogue. Instead of considering new understandings of the words of Moses, the elders of the Pharisees would simply tell the congregation how the text should be interpreted. This interpretation, or oral tradition, grew into the Mishnah and Talmud we know of today. This enforced Halakha practice lead to divisions and sects like the school of Hilel and Shammai: both Sanhedrin members during the reign of Herod. Rabbis became more interested in their favorite commentator on the Torah than the Torah itself. Pharisee rabbis accused men who disagreed with the standard interpretation as bringing the word of God to no effect. Yeshua echos this accusation back in Mark 7:13, “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”

Rabbi Yeshua, as the living Torah, took great offense at the practice of teaching the traditions of the elders of Israel instead of allowing the men of Israel to explore the Torah. So he told his followers to listen to the Pharisee when he spoke the words of Moses while sitting in the seat of Moses, but to ignore the Pharisee when he stood and told the congregation what the passage meant.


A well known Hebrew translation of Matthew, called Shem Tob's Matthew, gives us a clear description of what Yeshua wanted when it came to dealing with Pharisees, "The Pharisees and sages sit upon the seat of Moses.  Therefore, all that he (refering to Moses) says to you, diligently do, but according to their reforms (takanot) and their precedents (ma'asim) do not do, because they talk but do not do."  These takanot and ma'asims make up the traditions of the elders of Israel.


Looking to the words spoken by Yeshua in Matthew 22:32 we can see he wants the Torah thought of as a living entity. The Torah is alive and lives in the living people walking the word.  The Torah shall not be added to or taken away from by the thoughts and traditions of dead men:

I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."


The Apostle Paul, who dealt with mixed groups of Jews and non-Jews constantly, reiterated this idea in his 1st epistle to the Thessalonians saying:, “19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Just as the pharisees and scribes in the synagogue had stifled the spirit of the word of God by locking it into long held traditional practices, people in the church in Thessalonica had troubles making sense of being believers in Messiah Yeshua without falling into Jewish traditions. Paul reminds us to take a great interest in what the prophets have said, to check and cross check every saying someone has concerning the word, and to remember the word of God as good above all else. Remember as Yeshua said in Mathew 19, “17 Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”


On a final note, concerning the church of Thessalonica, in Acts 17 we see them mentioned, “10And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” We must be like those Bereans and scrutinize the word of God to understand what our place in God's word and the intentions of people who come to us as messengers from God.