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What is Moses’ seat?

Moses’ seat

The term Moses’ seat is found in Matthew 23, where Jesus pronounces woes against the Jewish religious leaders. In verses 1–3, He says to His disciples and the crowd around them, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

The biblical background for Jesus’ mention of Moses’ seat is found in Exodus 18:13: “The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.”

A “seat” in this context is a place of authority. It is similar to our modern metaphorical use of the word bench. A judge may be said to “occupy the bench,” and the word bench may even be used as a substitute for the judge, as in “the ruling from the bench.”

In Jesus’ day, the teachers of the law and Pharisees continued in the footsteps of Moses in that they were the interpreters and enforcers of the law. In that way, they are said to “sit in Moses’ seat.” They may not have held the same official position or authority as Moses, but they still had a great deal of authority in Israel at the time. If someone wanted to know what Moses would say about something, he would consult an expert in the Law of Moses—a Pharisee or a teacher of the law. What Moses said was binding, so anyone who was in the position to tell people what Moses said was himself in a position of great authority.

In Matthew 23, Jesus points out that, even though what these leaders say may be correct, they do not practice what they preach. So Jesus tells the people to listen to what they say and respect their position, but not to follow their example. With this instruction, Jesus honors Moses, the law, and spiritual authority even as He confronts the hypocrisy of the teachers and interpreters of the law.

After saying what He said about those who sit in Moses’ seat, Jesus pronounced seven woes against those religious leaders. He was arrested and crucified later the same week.

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What is Moses’ seat?
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This page last updated: May 25, 2022