Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Catholic Verses: Matthew 23:1-3 (Part VII)
02/17/2005 - James WhiteRegular readers of this blog are already well aware of the fact that in almost every instance of apologetic conflict with the various religions of men the issue comes down to either the validity and accuracy of the Bible as the Word of God, or, to the proper exegesis of the text of the Bible itself. And surely that is the case here as well. Let's remember the bar Mr. Armstrong sets for his own position regarding Matthew 23:
Jesus teaches that the scribes and Pharisees have a legitimate, binding authority, based on Moses' seat, which phrase (or idea) cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. It is found in the (originally oral) Mishna, where a sort of teaching succession from Moses on down is taught. Thus, apostolic succession, whereby the Catholic Church, in its priests and bishops and popes, claims to be merely the custodian of an inherited apostolic Tradition, is also prefigured by Jewish oral tradition, as approved (at least partially) by Jesus himself....Thirdly, because they had the authority and no indication is given that Jesus thought they had it only when simply reading Scripture, it would follow that Christians were, therefore, bound to elements of Pharisaical teaching that were not only nonscriptural, but based on oral tradition, for this is what the Pharisees believed. (43-44, 49)We have already pointed to the many problems with the far-reaching attempt of Armstrong to find in the introduction to the announcement of judgment upon the Pharisees its polar opposite. Rather than seeing the main point in Jesus' words (the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and the judgments coming upon them), Armstrong's commitment to Rome helps him to find the opposite: Jesus hasn't gotten around to condemning the Pharisees yet; instead, he starts off lauding them as possessors of divine tradition passed down from Moses himself! The screeching transition into the condemnation of them is hard to imagine, but keeping this text consistent with the surrounding inspired material has never been a high priority of those who interpret via Roman decree.
Very briefly I wish to note that the listing of passages Armstrong provided regarding alleged "oral tradition" include some which simply refer to the passing down of historical incidents or facts, which does nothing more than prove that ancient men kept historical records just as modern men do. History does not have to be inspired to be recorded or referenced. Further, it seems odd to believe that supernatural knowledge could be granted to the writers of Scripture in various portions and yet, when it comes to the NT writers, they must be enslaved to merely human sources. In any case, it is a huge leap to move from "NT writers did not limit themselves to solely the Scriptures as their source of knowledge" (i.e., they knew other books had been written, they knew of history, and they knew of currente events, and used these things in their teaching and exhortation) to "the biblical writers embraced the idea of extra-biblical tradition as inspired and equal to the Tanakh."
As we documented many times in the initial responses to Mr. Armstrong's book, he is unaware of what he must provide on an exegetical basis to substantiate a particular reading of any text, let alone a disputed one. Armstrong is here presenting the simplified version of what has been presented by others, like David Palm, in a more scholarly format (click here for an example). Note that Palm attempted to do what Armstrong only assumes: prove that there is a documentable tradition that is relevant to Matthew 23:2. Palm wrote:
As the first verse of the Mishna tractate Abôte indicates, the Jews understood that God's revelation, received by Moses, had been handed down from him in uninterrupted succession, through Joshua, the elders, the prophets, and the great Sanhedrin (Acts 15:21). The scribes and Pharisees participated in this authoritative line and as such their teaching deserved to be respected.To which I replied:
Regarding the Mishnaic tractate Aboth, it does indeed make the claim that Mr. Palm notes. However, are we to gather from Mr. Palm's citation that he *believes* this claim? It is hard to believe that he actually does---in fact, unless Mr. Palm has undergone a recent conversion to Judaism, I can't possibly see how he could do so. Let's note a few things:
1) The tractate indicates that the Torah was passed down to such individuals as Shammai and Hillel, yet, as students of NT backgrounds know, these two set up opposing schools with different understandings of tradition (should sound familiar!). Who was, in fact, the true recipient of this alleged oral tradition, then?
2) Does Mr. Palm believe that the statements recorded in this tractate reflect oral revelation? Does he agree with Jose ben Johanan of Jerusalem (Mishnah 5 of tractate Aboth) who says that you should not speak much with your wife? Is this "oral tradition" binding and divine in origin? And does he believe that Rabbi Gamaliel (who is likewise listed as a recipient of this divine tradition) was providing oral and binding divine revelation when he said that you should appoint for yourself a teacher so as to avoid doubt, and that you shouldn't make a habit of tithing by guesswork?
3) The authority of this tractate can be cited to support the Corban rule of Matthew 15:1-9. In fact, as Lightfoot discusses in his _Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica_, (II:226-229), entire Mishnaic tractates are devoted to such issues. If Mr. Palm accepts the claims of tractate Aboth, then he is bound to likewise believe that the Lord Jesus erred in Matthew 15 in subjugating the Corban rule, based, as it is, upon the same oral tradition, to the higher authority of Scripture.
4) When did this "oral tradition" pass away? Surely Mr. Palm does not follow it any longer. This presents him with numerous problems. If he says this tradition has passed away, is he not admitting that the apostolic oral tradition can pass away too? Was this tradition infallible? If so, why is it not infallible today? If it became fallible, does it not follow that Roman tradition can likewise become fallible?
These questions are just as applicable to Armstrong as they were years ago in this context. In fact, I asked of Armstrong while reviewing his words,
Further, unless I misread Armstrong, he saw a "prefigurement" of the Roman position in the Jewish one regarding tradition; yet, the Jews claimed their traditions did, in fact, go back to Moses, and yet here it seems Armstrong is admitting that the Jews could be wrong about the very origin of their traditions, and yet Jesus would still find the tradition binding. Does it follow that Rome could admit her traditions do not go back to the Apostles but they are still binding? We are not told.[continued]