Answering the alleged “95 Catholic Verses” – #s 25 & 26: The Authority of Sacred Tradition? – Part 3

Today, we will continue with our response to Dave Armstrong and his book, “The Catholic Verses,” in which the Catholic apologist presents ninety-five Bible verses or passages that allegedly validate Catholicism and are claimed to “confound” Protestants.

Citing the two passages below, Armstrong makes the case for “oral and extrabiblical tradition in the New Testament”:

#25) “And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” – Matthew 2:23 (RSVCE)

#26) “Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.'” – Matthew 23:1-3 (RSVCE)

Beneath these two passages, Armstrong writes, “Catholics believe that the tradition found in the Bible also includes an oral component. The reference in Matthew 2:23 – “He shall be called a Nazarene” – cannot be found in the Old Testament, yet it was passed down by the prophets. Thus a prophecy, which is considered to be God’s Word was passed down orally rather than through Scripture. Likewise, Matthew 23:1-3: 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.” – pp. 43-44.

There’s no doubt that Matthew 2:23, with its reference to a prophecy that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene, has its difficulties. Nowhere in the Old Testament is there such a recorded prophecy. Evangelical Bible scholars offer two plausible explanations:

  • Messiah as the “shoot” or “branch” –  The words for “branch/sprout” and “Nazareth” are extremely similar, in both Hebrew and Aramaic, hence Matthew could have been referring to such prophecies as Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”
  • Messiah as the despised and rejected one – We know from John 1:46 that Nazareth had a negative reputation among the Jews: “Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” There’s a possibility Matthew could have been referring to such prophecies as Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

To claim that Matthew was referencing an unwritten, prophetic oral tradition as Armstrong does is fanciful speculation without any foundation whatsoever.

In Matthew 23:1-3, the apostle refers to the scribes and Pharisees as sitting in “Moses’ seat” and Armstrong presents this statement as extra-Biblical revelation by which Jesus was recognizing the tradition/claims of the scribes and Pharisees to Mosaic succession. In contrast, evangelical Bible scholars suggest that “Moses’ seat” probably refers to the seat in the synagogue from which the Law (i.e., the writings of Moses) and the Prophets were read by the presiding rabbi. From this passage, Armstrong attempts to extrapolate parallel justifications for Roman Catholicism’s elaborate hierarchy and its claim to apostolic succession, but once again we find him grasping at straws. Jesus was simply encouraging his disciples and those in the crowd to listen to the Pharisaic rabbis’ readings of the Law and the Prophets, but not to follow their practices.

While Armstrong points to Matthew 2:23 and Matthew 23:1-3 as irrefutable “Catholic verses” and examples of Scripture-sanctioned oral and extra-Biblical traditions that set a precedent for Catholicism’s “Sacred Tradition,” we find instead that these verses do nothing of the sort.

For this post, I am indebted to the articles below:

What prophecy is Matthew 2:23 referring to regarding Jesus being a Nazarene?

A Response to David Palm’s Article on Oral Tradition from This Rock Magazine, May, 1995

14 thoughts on “Answering the alleged “95 Catholic Verses” – #s 25 & 26: The Authority of Sacred Tradition? – Part 3

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, brother! I knew this project was going to “get me off my chaise lounge” and doing a good amount of research, which was why I delayed doing it for so long, but it’s proven to a blessing. I was pleased that I’ve made it through over one-quarter of the 95 verses/passages already. But this morning, out of curiosity, I counted the remaining verses/passages and there’s actually a total of 109. That’s very strange when the book advertises 95 (to match the number of Luther’s theses he nailed to the church door). Well, looks like I’ll be at this for even longer!

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  1. Good post. I take Matthew 2:23 propechy to refer to the branch prophecies since the Hebrew “nazer” seems to be what’s being referenced. It seems to be the best explanation. By the way did he quote any extra biblical written source for that “oral tradition?” I ask because in scholarly sources it’s not enough to to say oral tradition but one must also cite some written reference even if the content of tradition is mentioned in passing…otherwise it can too subjective quickly

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    1. Thanks, and thanks for weighing in on Matthew 2:23. No, Armstrong doesn’t cite any scholarly source for his claim that the verse refers to an extra-Biblical oral tradition. I googled “Matthew 2:23 oral tradition” and I see the interpretation Armstrong presents as fact has quite a lot of enthusiastic support at Catholic Answers/EWTN-type sites. However, I see one of conservative Catholicism’s favorite Bible commentators, Scott Hahn, favors your interpretation from his notes in his Gospel of Matthew commentary.

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      1. Thanks! I was thinking that this self-serving interpretation of Matthew 2:23 as an oral tradition is probably of very recent origin and guessed that Hahn might have been the culprit but he proved me wrong.

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    1. Thanks a lot for the encouraging words, Crissy! Yes, it is the Lord who opens blind eyes to the Gospel of grace woven throughout the entire Bible. The unsaved religious like Armstrong read the Bible and conclude salvation must be merited.

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