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Matthew 23:2-3 in Hebrew Matthew

In this passage, Jesus in the Greek text tradition of Matthew tells His followers to do everything the Pharisees tell them:

(2) Saying "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:  (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." (Matt. 23:2-3, KJV)

But Jesus had often said the Pharisees made of "none effect" the Law by their traditions (Matt. 15:6), and they put burdens on the people that are too difficult to bear which are not in the Law.

Thus, Christian scholars concur there is something wrong and implausible in this statement attributed to Jesus. J.C. Fenton says "It is really difficult to believe Jesus commanded obedience to the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees." (J.C. Fenton, Saint Matthew (Pelican: 1963) at 366.)

Of the same opinion are W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr. in Matthew (T&T Clarke: 2000) at 270.

Fenton speculates a pro-Pharisaical party made this addition to Matthew's Gospel.

But it turns out if "they" was "he," then the verse makes perfect sense with other statements made by Jesus. The Lord would be saying you are to follow what "he" -- Moses says -- but not follow 'them' - the Pharisees. This then fits the similar message in Matthew 5:17-19.

And we find this "he" is what the Hebrew Gospel has instead of "they," proving once more that the Hebrew Matthew is more authentic.

Nehemiah Gordon is a Hebrew scholar in Israel. Gordon was asked by a Christian to look at the Hebrew Matthew. This was the Shem Tov Matthew which Professor Howard published in Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, first in 1985. Gordon found that Professor Howard's interpolation of "they" not "he" appears in the better manuscript copies of the Shem-Tov. Gordon explains that it is "he" in the original Hebrew in those manuscripts of the Shem-Tov. And Gordon says this points to Moses not the Pharisees as to whom Jesus was telling us to obey. Here is how Nehemiah Gordon corrected this passage:

“The Pharisees and sages sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore, all that he* [i.e., Moses] says to you, diligently do, but according to their reforms [i.e., additions] and their precedents [i.e., examples used to justify conduct], do not do because they talk but they do not do [Torah].” Hebrew Matt. 23:2-3 (translation by Nehemiah Gordon).

*In the Greek Matthew, it says ‘all that they say, do.”

Nehemiah Gordon pointed out that this comports with the Christian commentators who find it anomolous that Jesus would instruct Christians to obey the Pharisees:

Most Christian scholars simply admitted that Yeshua could not have meant for his disciples to obey the Pharisees but were unable to offer any plausible explanation of the fact that the book of Matthew attributes these words to him. (Nehemiah Gordon, The Hebrew Yeshua vs The Greek Jesus (Jerusalem: Hilkiah Press, 2006) at 30.)

Nehemiah Gordon also sees that James shared Jesus's antipathy for the extra burdens that the Pharisees imposed on the Gentiles. For James, this included circumcision when it was not required of Gentiles under the Law in Leviticus 12. Nehemiah Gordon says that some followers of Christ may have misunderstood Jesus, and wanted to follow the Pharisees' notion of circumcision of Gentiles which is not required in Leviticus 12. So Gordon says the following:

"One possible exception is Acts 15:5. This passage may refer to the desire of the Pharisaic faction among Yashua's followers to impose Pharisaic laws and traditions upon all 'believers.' This was opposed by James (Ya'akov) who instead recommends four basic laws to start off new believers and explains that the rest of the commandments can be ascertained by simply hearing the Torah of Moses read in the synagogue every Sabbath (Acts 15:20-21). Of course, anyone learning the commandments by hearing the Torah read would not be subject to the laws of the Pharisees which are absent from the written Torah." (Nehemiah Gordon, Hebrew Yeshua v. Greek Christ (Jerusalem: 2006) at 30.)

Thus, Gordon sees a congruence between James's decision and Jesus's view on the Pharisees. James refused to follow the Pharisaical teaching that Gentile converts to Judaism had to be circumcised.

Again, there are multiple reasons why the Hebrew Matthew, particularly the one revealed by Professor Howard, is superior to the Greek translation which we are reading. Even so, a Hebrew scholar like Nehemiah Gordon has provided key translation corrections to Professor Howard's rendition. Or at least Gordon paid attention to manuscripts of the Shem-Tov which read more congruently with Jesus' warning to us not to follow the Pharisees' teaching.