(D) Many of the Scribes were Sadducees. Mat 23:2 and Moses' Seat

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Luke 20:27 [NKJV], “Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to [Him] and asked Him,
Luke 20:28, saying: ‘Teacher, Moses wrote to us [that] if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.’” [Speech continues through verse 33]
Luke 20:34 [Response to the Sadducees], “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.” [Speech continues through verse 38]
Luke 20:39, “Then some of the scribes answered and said, ‘Teacher, You have answered well.’
Luke 20:40, But after that they dared not question Him anymore.”

From verse 39 it is clear that scribes had been there all along, and from verses 27 and 40 it is clear that these scribes were Sadducees. In fact the Sadducees would not have asked Him this sensitive question if Pharisees had been present because that would have immediately sparked a heated debate between the two groups over their difference on this issue.

Acts 23:9 makes it clear that some scribes were Pharisees. Hence scribes included some Sadducees and some Pharisees.

On page 22 of Bar-Ilan we find the following paragraph: “Most of the scribes of the end of the Second Temple period whose genealogy is known were priests: Yosef (T. Shabbat 13:11), Yohanan (P. T. Maaser Sheni 5:4, 56c), Beit Kadros (T. Menahot 13:19), Josephus and others. It is clear that during the time of the Temple, priests, some of whom were scribes, used to manage the Temple property, contributions and gifts in addition to annual tithes (Neh 13:13; T. Shekalim 2:14-15; Josephus, War 6:387-91). The Temple as the official cultural-religious center was also the center of the knowledge of reading and writing, and because of that the priests in charge of the Temple were evidently responsible for the preservation of the Tora, its copying in general and the scribal profession in particular.” Thus in the view of Bar-Ilan, a historical expert in the realm of scribes and priests in the first century, we see the priests in charge of the Temple and the scribes heavily
represented by priests. Some writers have been unaware of the
representation of priests among the scribes and have given a distorted picture of Mat 23:2.

Acts 5:17 [NKJV], “Then the high priest rose up, and all those who [were] with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation.” This shows the chief priests to be included within the Sadducees at that time, although it is unclear how many Sadducees might be from outside the priesthood.

Thus, when we see Mat 23:2 [NASB], “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses”, the scribes are mentioned first, and they have a major representation from among priests, which were seen to be closely equated with or within the Sadducees. Hence Matthew is not excluding the Sadducees from Moses’ seat, and the mention of Scribes (which includes Sadducees) comes first. There are three primary biblical functions of the Levitical priesthood. The first concerns the performance of the sacrificial system including personal counseling with those who bring sacrifices for personal reasons (such as to atone for their sins) and rituals at the sacred altar for the holy days, the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the daily sacrifices. The second concerns teaching the law to the people, which is shown in Mal 2:7 and Heb 7:11. The third concerns the prominent role of the priests and Levites throughout the court system of Israel according to the law of Moses (Deut 17:9; 19:17; 21:5). Thus the priests were to officiate at the holy altar, teach the people, and judge legal cases.

Let us consider the meaning of “Moses' chair or seat” from Mat 23:2. Moses did have the supreme role in the first primitive court of one judge in Israel. In Ex 18:13-26 we see the role of Moses as the civil judge rather than in the role of communicating the law to the people. Ex 18:13 has the expression “Moses sat to judge the people”. This sitting implies a chair or seat of office for judging. The Hebrew word shaar, Strong's number 8179, is normally translated gate, but it sometimes means “court”. Deut 16:18 [NKJV], “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates [courts]...”

Amos 5:15 [NKJV], “Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate [court]”. On page 1045 of BDB the second meaning of this word is “space inside gate, as public meeting-place, market”, and within this category, BDB later adds “where elders, judges, king, sat officially”. Examples of sitting in the gate (meaning court) include Gen 19:1; Ruth 4:1-2; II Sam 19:8; I Ki 22:10; II Chr 18:9; Est 2:19, 21; Job 29:7; Prov 31:23; Jer 38:7. The advice of Moses' father-in-law in Ex 18:13-26 was a pyramid structure of judges, but in Num 11:16-17, 24-25 this pyramid structure was replaced by a flat structure (equal authority) of 70 men from among the elders of the people.

See the prior chapter titled, “Authority of the Levitical Priesthood from the Tanak” for more detail on this. At the end of the 40 years in the wilderness, more details about the future court system were revealed in Deuteronomy, where Deut 17:9; 19:17; 21:5 show the prominent role of the priests and Levites throughout the court system of Israel according to the law of Moses.

From biblical examples, Moses' chair or seat sensibly means the official seat from which civil case judgment comes, a judicial function, not a legislative function. This is neither the changing of existing laws, nor the legislation of new laws, but the application of existing laws to specific cases in dispute between relevant parties who seek to bring their case to a civil court. Priests would not consider their procedures to be under the jurisdiction of a civil court. Civil justice of disputes does not include the methods and rules whereby the priests carried out their functions, which were not civil disputes in nature. This reasoning only considers the context of the Tanak applied to Mat 23:2, so the question remains as to whether, in the first century, an expanded jurisdiction existed for the main Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, in which it is assumed that Moses' seat was exercised. In a religious society certain aspects of civil laws must be derived from the law of Moses as it was understood in their day, but the question remains concerning whether the central Sanhedrin had a legislative function at all. The Sanhedrin will have to be discussed in more detail.