therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them. Matthew 23:3
They – You may want to digest this one sitting down. Open your favorite English Bible to this passage. Notice that Yeshua is giving instructions about the necessity of observing Torah. If we read this verse in English or in Greek, it appears as if Yeshua is telling His disciples to follow the commands of the rabbis, but not to do them in hypocritical ways. This is the usual standard interpretation of the verse. It is still a difficulty for those who have been taught that the Torah doesn’t apply to Christians, but once you see the real place of the Torah, it looks as if Yeshua is also encouraging compliance with the teachings of the rabbis. In this case, that would mean the teachings of the oral Torah and the additional instructions provided by rabbinic thought.
But there’s just one tiny, tiny problem. Nehemia Gordon investigated this Greek text by comparing it to a Hebrew text of the gospel of Matthew preserved by a 14th Century Spanish Jew named Shem-Tov Ibn Shaprut. Textual investigation of this copy demonstrates that it faithfully retains the wording of an original Hebrew gospel of Matthew. That conclusion is further substantiated by remarks of the early Christian church fathers and considerable analysis of the Hebrew syntax and grammar of Matthew’s account. When we sort through all the scholarly examination, we discover that the Hebrew text of this verse doesn’t read “all that they tell you.” The verse in Hebrew says, “Therefore, all that he says to you, do and observe, but according to their reforms and their precedents do not do, because they talk but they do not do.” In other words, Yeshua is telling His disciples to stick with Moses. Do what the Torah tells you to do, but don’t follow the opinions, additions, reforms or patterns established by the rabbis.
This is a very big deal! It provides evidence that supports what we already know about the teaching of Yeshua. He called the people back to God’s Word. He wasn’t as much a reformer as He was fundamentalist. Over and over, He points back to the Hebrew Scriptures as the only source of faith and practice. His commentary on Scripture always returns to God’s original intention. We see it in His remarks on marriage and divorce, on tithing, on the treatment of enemies and on the purpose of Israel’s calling. Now, in this Hebrew gospel of Matthew, we find strong support for single Torah observance. Life is to be lived by the Book, not by the accumulation of theological opinion that surrounds the Book.
For those who recognize the fundamental place of Torah in the life of the believer, this is clarifying news. Many other passages come into focus. Even Paul’s remarks take on a new emphasis. For those who have not crossed the gap between Torah and “grace,” this discovery might take some of the pressure off. Either way, isn’t it nice to know that our Savior was a Biblical conservative? Gives us direction, doesn’t it?
Topical Index: Torah, seat of Moses, Shem-Tov, Matthew 23:3