Matthew 23:1 KJV Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
Matthew 23:2 KJV Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
CTR: Sit in Moses’ seat — The Pharisees were the principal sect of the Jews, and our Lord declares them the successors and representatives of the Mosaic Law. Our Lord recognized the scribes and Pharisees as the legitimate instructors of the people, even though he often upbraided them as hypocrites who deceived the people. God had committed to them special responsibilities, blessings, privileges and knowledge.
As the husbandmen, or caretakers, of the Lord’s vineyard, Israel. Representing “orthodoxy” so-called.
Moses still had his seat as Mediator of the Law Covenant, and he was represented by those who came afterwards. To settle disputes, etc., as The Christ will do during the Millennial age.
Barnes:Moses’ seat – Moses was the great legislator of the Jews. By him the Law was given. The office of explaining that Law among the Jews devolved on the scribes and Pharisees. In the synagogues they sat while expounding the Law, and rose when they read it. By “sitting in the seat of Moses” we are to understand authority to teach the Law; or, as he taught the nation by giving the Law, so they taught it by explaining it.
Clarke:The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat – Εκαθισαν. – They sat there formerly by Divine appointment: they sit there now by Divine permission. What our Lord says here refers to their expounding the Scriptures, for it was the custom of the Jewish doctors to sit while they expounded the law and prophets, (Mat_5:1; Luk_4:20-22), and to stand up when they read them.
By the seat of Moses, we are to understand authority to teach the law. Moses was the great teacher of the Jewish people; and the scribes, etc., are here represented as his successors.
Gill: sit in Moses’s seat: not that they were his successors in his office as a legislator and mediator; though the Persic version reads it, “sit in the place and chair of Moses”; but they read his law, and explained it to the people: this post and place, as yet, they kept in the office they were, and were to continue; and the people were to regard them so far as they spoke consistent with the law, until it had its full accomplishment in Christ. The allusion is not to the chairs in which the sanhedrim sat in trying and determining causes, but to those in which the doctors sat when they expounded the law; for though they stood up when they read the law, or the prophets, they sat down when they preached out of them: this custom of the synagogue was observed by our Lord; see Luk_4:16.
PNT: The scribes and the Pharisees. Joined together, because the scribes were mostly Pharisees. Study of the Scriptures would be of comparatively little interest to the indifferent Sadducees. Theologians, from the nature of their pursuits, are in more danger of becoming Pharisees than Sadducees.
Sit in Moses’ seat, as judges and expounders of the law. As a lawgiver Moses spoke in the name of God; as judge and administrator he had successors, with authority to explain what he meant, but not to legislate. Under Roman rule, the function of the Sanhedrin, composed mainly of Pharisees, was limited to this.
Matthew 23:3 KJV All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
Barnes: All, therefore, whatsoever … – That is, all that they teach that is consistent with the Law of Moses – all the commands of Moses which they read to you and properly explain. The word “all” could not be taken without such a restriction, for Christ himself accuses them of teaching many things contrary to that law, and of making it void by their traditions, Mat_15:1-6.
They say, and do not – The interpretation which they give to the law is in the main correct, but their lives do not correspond with their teaching. It is not the duty of people to imitate their teachers unless their lives are pure; they are to obey the law of God, and not to frame their lives by the example of evil people.
CTR:Say, and do not — They were unjust in their dealings with the people.
So filled with a misconception of their proper attitude toward God that they merely banded themselves together to enjoy the divine promises and gave up the remainder of their nation as publicans and sinners.
If any man does not submit his own heart to the leading and teaching of the Lord, he has no authority from him to teach others to do so.
PNT: All things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe. Their official position and authority are respected, because the law was still an element in their teaching. The office did not sanctify the officer. Men’s official utterances are often vastly superior to their lives. The verse has a special application to the Jew’s, still under the Mosaic law, but a wider one in the Christian dispensation. There is always a tendency to Pharisaism in public, especially hierarchical teachers. The extremes of slavish subjection and of revolution, in both church and state, are here forbidden.
Guzik:Whatever they tell you to observer, that observe and do: Jesus says respect is due to the scribes and Pharisees – not because of their conduct, but because they sit in Moses’ seat. They hold an office of authority, ordained by God.
Matthew 23:4 KJV For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
Guzik:They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders: The first accusation against these religious leaders could apply to many religious leaders today. Many still make Christianity a set of burdensome rules to follow.
i. The early church rejected this legalism when it insisted that obedience to the Mosaic Law is not a foundation for the Christian life. Peter told the legalists in Act_15:10 : “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
Heavy burdens: The burden of the religious leaders contrasts sharply to Jesus’ burden. His burden is light, and His yoke is easy (Mat_11:30).
CTR: For they bind — The Roman Catholic clergy use such cords as the confessional, holy candles, holy water, holy burial grounds.
Heavy burdens — Exaggerating the Law, making it burdensome.
The scribes and Pharisees had added to the Law a mass of forms and ceremonies so complex and bewildering that those who attempted a strict observance of them found them extremely burdensome–a yoke of bondage.
Clarke: They bind heavy burdens – They are now so corrupt that they have added to the ceremonies of the law others of their own invention, which are not only burdensome and oppressive, but have neither reason, expediency, nor revelation, to countenance them. In a word, like all their successors in spirit to the present day, they were severe to others, but very indulgent to themselves.
Barnes:They bind heavy burdens … – This phrase is derived from the custom of loading animals. The load or burden is bound up and then laid on the beast. So the Pharisees appointed weighty burdens, or grievous and heavy precepts, and insisted that the people should obey them, though they lent no assistance. The “heavy burdens” refer not here to the traditions and foolish customs of the Pharisees, for Jesus would not command the people to observe them; but they clearly mean the ceremonies and rights appointed by Moses, which Peter says neither “they nor their fathers were able to bear,” Act_15:10. Those rites were numerous, expensive, requiring much time, much property, and laborious. The Pharisees were rigid in requiring that all the people should pay the taxes, give of their property, comply with every part of the law with the utmost rigor, yet they indulged themselves, and bore as little of the expense and trouble as possible; so that, where they could avoid it, they would not lend the least aid to the people in the toils and expense of their religious rites.
With one of their fingers – In the least degree. They will not render the least aid.
JFB:For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them — “touch them not” (Luk_11:46).
with one of their fingers — referring not so much to the irksomeness of the legal rites, though they were irksome enough (Act_15:10), as to the heartless rigor with which they were enforced, and by men of shameless inconsistency.
Robertson: With their finger (tōi daktulōi autōn). A picturesque proverb. They are taskmasters, not burden-bearers, not sympathetic helpers.
PNT: Yea they bind, etc. They so presented the correct law as to make its precepts heavy burdens, like loads, packs on beasts of burden (comp. Act_15:16). The reference is not simply to the traditions they added, but also to the mode of presenting the law itself, as demanding a servile obedience in minute details irrespective of the spirit of the commandment. Imposing such burdens, they did not in the least lighten them by spiritual precept or example. Lange: ‘A fourfold rebuke: 1. they make religion a burden; 2. an intolerable burden; 3. they lay it upon the shoulders of others; 4. they leave it untouched themselves, i.e., they have no idea of fulfilling these precepts in spirit and in truth.’
Matthew 23:5 KJV But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
PNT: But all their works. Their extensive routine of duty was not really religious, but performed with this motive: to be seen of men. Self-righteousness rests on pride, and, inevitably becoming exhibitional, betrays its origin.
For they make broad their phylacteries. Small slips of parchment, on which passages from the law were written, usually worn at time of prayer on the left arm and the forehead. (The custom was derived from a literal understanding of Exo_13:16, and the passages inscribed were four in number: Exo_12:2-10; Exo_13:11-21; Deu_6:4-9; Deu_11:18-21.) The name, from the Greek word meaning to ‘guard,’ was probably suggested by the command of Exo_13:10, where this word occurs. Afterwards the idea of a charm or amulet guarding from danger naturally came in. Making them broad probably refers to the case in which the parchment was kept. The latter was of a prescribed size, as indeed nearly everything connected with their use had been made a matter of Rabbinical rule. As our Lord does not condemn the practice itself, but only its abuse, it has been inferred that He Himself used phylacteries; but this cannot be proven. It is said that the Pharisees wore them constantly, but the common people only at prayers. The accompanying cut shows how they were worn as frontlets. When used on the left arm, the leather thong was made into a little knot of peculiar shape (like the Hebrew letter Yod) near the bend of the arm, and then wound in a spiral line round the arm and to the end of the middle finger. The minute regulations in regard to phylacteries form a curious confirmation of the belittling tendency of formalism. Similar external badges of professed religious feeling have been used in all ages, from the same motives and with the same tendency.
Enlarge the borders of their garments. ‘Of their garments’ is not found in the correct text, but is necessarily understood. In Num_15:38, the Israelites were bidden to wear fringes about their outer garment, fastened to it with a blue ribbon, to distinguish them from other nations, and to remind them of their duty to obey the law. The usage may have existed before that passage attached a symbolical meaning to it. The fringe may have been the ordinary mode of preventing the edge of the robe from unravelling, and the blue ribbon was useful in strengthening the border. The Pharisees, as sticklers for the rigid observance of the law, made these fringes larger than others. All these external badges had proper symbolical meanings. Lange: ‘Blue was the symbolical color of heaven, the color of God, of His covenant, and of faithfulness to that covenant. The tassels themselves signified flowers, or birds; probably pomegranates, and these crimson, and not blue, as the ribbons were. Thus they were remembrancers that fidelity to the covenant should flourish; or they were tokens that the flower of life was love, and that love must spring from faithfulness to the covenant.’ But the Pharisees, however significant their ritualism, murdered Him to whom it pointed. It is a short step from religious pageantry to religious pride. Canstein: ‘Pharisaic folly; elegant Bibles and books of prayer, and no devotion in the heart.’
Barnes:Their phylacteries – The word “phylactery” comes from a word signifying to keep, preserve, or guard. The name was given because phylacteries were worn as amulets or charms, and were supposed to defend or preserve those who wore them from evil. They were small slips of parchment or vellum, on which were written certain portions of the Old Testament. The practice of using phylacteries was founded on a literal interpretation of that passage where God commands the Hebrews to have the law as a sign on their foreheads, and as frontlets between their eyes, Exo_13:16; compare Pro_3:1, Pro_3:3; Pro_6:21. One kind of phylactery was called a “frontlet,” and was composed of four pieces of parchment, on the first of which was written Exo_12:2-10; on the second, Exo_13:11-21; on the third, Deu_6:4-9; and on the fourth, Deu_11:18-21. These pieces of parchment, thus inscribed, they enclosed in a piece of tough skin, making a square, on one side of which is placed the Hebrew letter shin (שׁ sh) and bound them round their foreheads with a thong or ribbon when they went to the synagogue. Some wore them evening and morning; others only at the morning prayer.
As the token upon the hand was required, as well as the frontlets between the eyes Exo_13:16, the Jews made two rolls of parchment, written in square letters, with an ink made on purpose, and with much care. They were rolled up to a point, and enclosed in a sort of case of black calf-skin. They were put upon a square bit of the same leather, whence hung a thong of the same, of about a finger in breadth, and about 2 feet long. These rolls were placed at the bending of the left arm, and after one end of the thong had been made into a little knot in the form of the Hebrew letter yod (י y), it was wound about the arm in a spiral line, which ended at the top of the middle finger. The Pharisees enlarged them, or made them wider than other people, either that they might make the letters larger or write more on them, to show, as they supposed, that they had special reverence for the law.
Enlarge the borders of their garments – This refers to the loose threads which were attached to the borders of the outer garment as a fringe. This fringe was commanded in order to distinguish them from ether nations, and that they might remember to keep the commandments of God, Num_15:38-40; Deu_22:12. The Pharisees made them broader than other people wore them, to show that they had special respect for the law.
Gill: But all their works they do for to be seen of men,…. All their prayers, alms deeds, and fastings, were all done in a public manner, that men might behold them, and they might have applause and glory from them: they sought neither the glory of God, nor the good of their fellow creatures, nor any spiritual advantage and pleasure to themselves, in their performances; they neither attended to moral duties, nor ceremonious rites, nor the traditions of their fathers, any further than they could be seen by men in them, and keep up their credit and esteem among them. Hence,
they make broad their phylacteries: these were four sections of the law, wrote on parchments, folded up in the skin of a clean beast, and tied to the head and hand. The four sections were these following, viz. the “first”, was Exo_13:2 the “second”, was Exo_13:11 the “third”, was Deu_6:4 the “fourth”, was Deu_11:13. Those that were for the head, were written and rolled up separately, and put in four distinct places, in one skin, which was fastened with strings to the crown of the head, towards the face, about the place where the hair ends, and where an infant’s brain is tender; and they took care to place them in the middle, that so they might be between the eyes. Those that were for the hand, were written in four columns, on one parchment, which being rolled up, was fastened to the inside of the left arm, where it is fleshy, between the shoulder and the elbow, that so it might be over against the heart (u). These, they imagined, were commanded them by God, in Exo_13:16 whereas the sense of these passages only is, that the goodness of God in delivering them out of Egypt, and the words of the law, should be continually before them, in their minds and memories, as if they had tokens on their hands, and frontlets between their eyes; but they understood them literally, and observed them in the above manner. These the Jews call “Tephillin”, because they use them in time of prayer, and look upon them as useful, to put them in mind of that duty: they are here called “phylacteries”, because they thought they kept them in the fear of God, preserved in them the memory of the law, and them from sin; yea, from evil spirits, and diseases of the body. They imagined there was a great deal of holiness in, and valued themselves much upon the use of them (w); and the Pharisees, because they would be thought to be more holy and religious, and more observant of the law than others, wore these things broader than the rest of the people;
and enlarge the borders of their garments. These were the fringes which they put upon the borders of their garments, and on them a ribbon of blue, to put them in mind of the commandments, to obey them, Num_15:38. The observance of this law is of so much consequence with the Jews, that they make all the commandments to depend on it (x); and say, that it is equal to them all, and that he that is guilty of the breach of it, is worthy of death (y): they ascribe the like virtue to these fringes, as to their phylacteries, and think themselves much the better for the wearing them; and the Pharisees, because they would appear with a greater air of sanctity and devotion than others, made their’s larger. We (z) read of one Ben Tzitzith Hacceseth, a man of this complexion, who was so called, because his Tzitzith, or fringes, were drawn upon, a pillow; and there are some that say, that the pillow was bore between the great men of Rome: it was drawn after him, not upon the ground, but upon a cloth or tapestry, and the train supported by noblemen, as is pretended. This was one of those, that enlarged the Tzitzith, or fringes, beyond the ordinary size; hence Mark calls it, “long clothing.”
Guzik: All their works they do to be seen by men: The religious leaders were guilty of advertising their righteousness. Both the phylacteries (small leather boxes with tiny scrolls with scriptures on them, tied to the arm and head with leather straps) and the borders of their garments were worn in supposed conformity to the Mosaic Law (Deu_11:18, Num_15:38-40).
b. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments: Naturally, like every person in the flesh, the religious leaders figured that broader phylacteries and larger borders on their garments showed them to be more spiritual. There is virtually no end to the way that man’s depravity cannot pervert God’s commands.
c. They love the best places . . . greetings in the marketplaces: Not content to display their “spirituality,” the religious leaders loved it when people admired their “spirituality.” They coveted the seats of honor at banquets and at the synagogue, and they loved the honoring titles such as Rabbi and father.
Matthew 23:6 KJV And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
JFB: And love the uppermost rooms at feasts — The word “room” is now obsolete in the sense here intended. It should be “the uppermost place,” that is, the place of highest honor.
and the chief seats in the synagogues. See on Luk_14:7, Luk_14:8.
Barnes:The uppermost rooms at feasts – The word “rooms,” here, by no means expresses the meaning of the original. It would be correctly rendered the uppermost “places or couches” at feasts. To understand this, it is necessary to remark that the custom among the Jews was not to eat sitting, as we do, but reclining on couches. The table was made by “three” tables, raised like ours and placed so as to form a square, with a clear space in the midst, and one end quite open. Around these tables were placed cushions capable of containing three or more persons. On these the guests reclined, leaning on their left side, with their feet extended from the table, and so lying that the head of one naturally reclined on the bosom of another. To recline near to one in this manner denoted intimacy, and was what was meant by lying “in the bosom” of another, Joh_13:23; Luk_16:22-23. As the feet were extended “from” the table, and as they reclined instead of sitting, it was easy to approach the feet behind, and even unperceived. Thus, in Luk_7:37-38, while Jesus reclined in this manner, a woman that had been a sinner came to his feet “behind him,” and washed them with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. She stood on the outside of the couches. So our Saviour washed the feet of his disciples as they reclined on a couch in this manner, Joh_13:4-12. Whenever we read in the New Testament of “sitting” at meals, it always means reclining in this manner, and never sitting as we do. The chief seat, or the “uppermost” one, was the middle couch at the upper end of the table. This the Pharisees loved, as a post of honor or distinction.
Chief seats in the synagogues – The seats usually occupied by the elders of the synagogue, near the pulpit. The meaning is, they love a place of distinction. See the notes at Mat_4:23.
Gill:And love the uppermost rooms at feasts,…. Or the first and chief places to sit, or lie down on, at ordinary meals, and especially at large entertainments, where the great ones sat, as in 1Sa_9:22 where Jarchi on the place observes, that by the manner of their sitting, it was known who was the greatest; and this the Scribes and Pharisees affected. With the Romans, the most honourable place was at the upper end of the table: some think it was more honourable to sit in the middle, but the master of the feast sat at the lower end; and to senior men, and who were venerable with age, or excelled in prudence and authority, the first sitting down, and the more honourable place, were given; and when the table was taken away, they used to rise first (a): the middle place was the more honourable with the Numidians (b), and so it seems to be with the Romans (c), and also with the Jews; and this the Scribes and Pharisees loved, desired, sought for, and were pleased if they had not it. It is said (d) of Simeon ben Shetach, a noted Pharisee, about, or rather before the time of Christ, that having fled upon a certain account from king Jannai, he sent for him, and when he came,
“he sat himself between the king and the queen: the king said to him, why dost thou mock me? he replied to him, I do not mock thee, thou hast riches and I have learning, as it is written, “Wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence”, Ecc_7:12. He said to him, but why dost thou “sit between the king and queen?” He replied, in the book of Ben Sira, it is written, “Exalt her and she shall promote thee, and cause thee to sit among princes.” He ordered to give him a cup, that he might ask a blessing; he took the cup and said, blessed be the food that Jannai and his friends eat.”
Thus on account of their wisdom and learning, they thought they had a right to take the upper hand of kings themselves:
and the chief seats in the synagogues; for these were different; the seats of the senior men were turned towards the people, and the backs of them were towards the ark or chest, in which the holy books were put; and these seem to be what the Scribes and Pharisees coveted, that they might be in the full view of the people. And so says Maimonides (e), “How do the people sit in the synagogues?”
“The elders sit, i.e. first, and their faces are towards the people, and their backs are to the temple, or holy place; and all the people sit in rows, and the faces of one row are to the backs of the row that is before them; so that the faces of all the people are to the holy place, and to the elders, and to the ark.”
Robertson: The chief place at feasts (tēn prōtoklisian en tois deipnois). Literally, the first reclining place on the divan at the meal. The Persians, Greeks, Romans, Jews differed in their customs, but all cared for the post of honour at formal functions as is true of us today. Hostesses often solve the point by putting the name of each guest at the table. At the last passover meal the apostles had an ugly snarl over this very point of precedence (Luk_22:24; Joh_13:2-11), just two days after this exposure of the Pharisees in the presence of the apostles.
The chief seats in the synagogues (tas prōtokathedrias en tais sunagōgais). “An insatiable hunger for prominence” (Bruce). These chief seats (Zuchermandel) were on the platform looking to the audience and with the back to the chest in which were kept the rolls of scripture. The Essenes had a different arrangement. People today pay high prices for front seats at the theatre, but at church prefer the rear seats out of a curious mock-humility. In the time of Jesus the hypocrites boldly sat up in front. Now, if they come to church at all, they take the rear seats.
Matthew 23:7 KJV And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
Matthew 23:8 KJV But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
Mark 12:38 TPT Jesus also taught the people, “Beware of the religious scholars. They love to parade around in their clergy robes and be greeted with respect on the street.
Mark 12:39 TPT They crave to be made the leaders of synagogue councils, and they push their way to the head table at banquets.
Mark 12:40 TPT For appearance’s sake, they will pray long religious prayers at the homes of widows for an offering, cheating them out of their very livelihood. Beware of them all, for they will one day be stripped of honor, and the judgment they receive will be severe.”
Guzik: Beware of the scribes: The scribes were the “Bible Scholars” of Jesus’ day. They were entrusted with preserving, learning, and teaching the Word of God to the world. These are the men that the people of God should have been able to trust, but Jesus says instead they should beware of the scribes. The scribes represent a complete contrast to the picture of how a disciple should be – as a servant, as a child, as one carrying a cross. Jesus says that we should notice what they do as well as what they say.
i. Beware the scribes, because they like to wear their long robes. The scribes were men of leisure, who watched while others work.
ii. Beware the scribes, because they love greetings. They demand recognition from others in their walk with God, and love the “image” of a holy man.
iii. Beware the scribes, because they love the best seats in the synagogue and at feasts, showing they demand the “perks” of status and privilege.
iv. Beware the scribes, because they devour widows’ houses. They sin against the weak and vulnerable, but excuse it because they are so “spiritual.” In that day, a Jewish teacher could not be paid for teaching – but he could receive “gifts.” Apparently, many scribes used flattery and manipulation to wrangle big gifts from those who could least afford to give them – such as widows. The Jews of Jesus’ day taught that teachers were to be respected almost as much as God; they said that they deserved more honor and respect than any other people in life. They taught that the greatest act someone could do is give money to a teacher. Of course, it was the teachers themselves who taught this!
v. Beware the scribes, because they for a pretense make long prayers. Their relationship with God is far more show than substance. The scribes thought they were more spiritual because of their long prayers; but Morgan says that when a man is away from his wife, and the journey is short, the letters are short. The farther he is from his wife, the longer the letters become. Morgan said that some people must be a long way from God because their prayers are so long!
b. These will receive a greater condemnation: As in Mar_6:11, Jesus presents the idea of a greater condemnation – that some will receive a worse judgment, a worse condemnation, than others will.
Russell: Beware — If any find in themselves the enumerated characteristics, he should flee from the sin as he would from a contagious disease.
Of the scribes — Doctors of the Law–in our own times, Doctors of Divinity.
The more one knows, the more of a scribe he is, the greater will be his condemnation if the characteristics here set forth by our Lord are his.
In long clothing — Long robes of profession. If one finds himself greatly influenced by the opinion of others respecting his clothing, let him beware.
Love salutations — If one finds in himself a self-seeking, a selfish disposition to grasp the best for himself on all occasions, and loves public praise and recognition, titles, etc., let him beware.
Benson:Beware of the scribes — See that ye do not imitate their hypocrisy, or imbibe their principles, and be on your guard against their insidious counsels and designs. There was an absolute necessity for these repeated cautions of our Lord. For, considering the inveterate prejudices of these scribes against him and his doctrine, it could never be supposed that the common people would receive the gospel till these incorrigible blasphemers of it were brought to just disgrace. Yet he delayed speaking in this manner till a little before his passion, as knowing what effect it would quickly produce.
Which love to go in long clothing, &c. — Here our Lord assigns the reason why he bid his disciples beware of imitating them. They were excessively proud and arrogant, as was plain from their affected gravity of dress, from the anxiety which they discovered to get the principal seats at feasts, and all public meetings, as things belonging to them, on account of their superior worth, and from their courting to be saluted in the streets with particular marks of respect, and to be addressed with the sounding titles of rabbi, father, and master; thinking such public acknowledgments of their merits due from all who met them. To this their excessive pride the Jewish teachers added an unbounded covetousness and sensuality, which did not suffer the substance even of widows to escape them. For the evangelist informs us, that they devoured widows’ houses, possessing themselves of their property by various acts of deception, and lived luxuriously thereon.
And for a pretence — To cover their crying immoralities; made long prayers — With a great show of piety, hoping thereby to engage the esteem and confidence of others, that they might have the greater opportunity to injure and defraud them.
These shall receive the greater damnation — Their complicated wickedness, particularly making their pretended piety a cloak to their covetousness and luxury, shall cost them dear; and they shall be more dreadfully punished than if they had never prayed at all, nor made any pretences to religion. See notes on Mat_23:1-14.
Gill: And greetings in the markets,…. They used to stroll about the markets, being public places, where there was a great concourse of people, on purpose to be taken notice of before multitudes, with singular marks of respect; as stretching out the hand, uncovering the head, and bowing the knee:
and to be called of men Rabbi, Rabbi; because of their great authority, and largeness of their knowledge: the repetition of the word Rabbi, is not made in the Vulgate Latin, nor in the Syriac, Arabic, Persic, and Ethiopic versions, nor in Munster’s Hebrew Gospel, but is in all the Greek copies, and very justly; since it was usual in the salutations of them, to double the word. It is reported (f) of R. Eleazar ben Simeon, of Migdal Gedur, that having reproached a deformed man he met in the road; when he came to the city where the man lived,
“the citizens came out to meet him, and said to him, peace be upon thee, רבי רבי מורי מורי, “Rabbi, Rabbi, Master, Master”; he (Eleazar) said to them, who do you call “Rabbi, Rabbi?” They replied to him, he who followed thee: he said unto them, if this be a Rabbi, let there not be many such in Israel.”
The Jews pretend, that king Jehoshaphat used to salute the doctors with these titles; though they forget that they were not in use in his time, as will be hereafter observed: they say (g),
“whenever he saw a disciple of the wise men, he rose from his throne, and embraced and kissed him, and called him, אבי אבי רבי רבי מרי מרי, “Father, Father, Rabbi, Rabbi, Master, Master”.”
Where you have the three different words used by our Lord in this and the following verses, by which these men loved to be called, and he inveighed against; nay, they not only suggest, that kings gave them these honourable titles, and they expected them from them, but even they liked to be called kings themselves. It is said (h) of R. Hona arid R. Chasda, that as they were sitting together, one passed by them,
“and said to them, “peace be to you kings”, עליכו מלכי שלמא, “peace be to you kings”: they said to him, from whence does it appear to thee, that the Rabbins are called kings? He replied to them, from what is written, “by me kings reign”, &c. They said to him, from whence hast thou it, that we are to double or repeat peace, or salutation to kings? He answered them, that R. Judah said, that Rab said from hence, 1Ch_12:18. “Then the spirit came upon Amasai”, &c.”
This title began but to be in use in the time of our Lord, or a very little while before: none of the prophets had it, nor Ezra the Scribe, nor the men of the great synagogue, nor Simeon the Just, the last of them; nor Antigonus, a man of Socho, a disciple of his: and it is observed by the Jews themselves (i), that
“the five couple are never called by the name of Rabban, nor by the name of Rabbi, only by their own name.”
By whom are meant, Joseph ben Joezer, and Joseph ben Jochanan; Joshua ben Perachia, said to be the master of Jesus of Nazareth, and Nittai the Arbelite; Judah ben Tabai, and Simeon ben Shetach; Shemaiah and Abtalion; Hillell and Shammai. The sons, or disciples of the two last, first took these titles. Rabban Simeon, the son of Hillell, thought by some to be the same Simeon that had Christ in his arms, is (k) said to be the first that was called by this name; and it is also observed by them (l), that Rabban was a name of greater honour than Rabbi, or Rab, and that Rabbi was more honourable than Rab; and to be called by a man’s own name, was more honourable than any of them. The Karaite Jews make much the same complaint, and give much the same account of the pride and vanity of the Rabbinical doctors, as Christ here does; for so one of them says (m);
“The Karaites do not use to act according to the custom of the wise men among the Rabbans, to make to themselves gods of silver, and guides of gold, with this view, להקרא רב, “to be called Rab”; and also to gather wealth and food to fulness, &c.”
CTR: Rabbi, Rabbi — Gradually coming to regard their position as an office rather than a service, and seeking each other’s companionship in councils as clergymen.
Roman Catholics are expected to address their clergy, “Your Reverence,” and treat them as superiors in every respect, as holy men, whom to offend might jeopardize eternity.
When Protestant denominations began, they were so full of the spirit of Christ they claimed no high-sounding titles, but were merely John Knox, Martin Luther, etc.
A prominent characteristic of the Beast, copied by the Image, is the honoring of the special class, the clergy, with special titles and honors.
Be not ye — Those in position as elders in the Church.
We have no evidence that the early Church ever regarded the apostles as lords in the Church, or that the apostles ever assumed such authority and dignity.
Called Rabbi — Doctor, Reverend, etc. These hinder some even of God’s true servants from faithfulness.
In the voluntary association of the consecrated, there is no imperial authority, and no lording over God’s heritage should be permitted.
One is your master — Teacher, Schoolmaster, Director, Supervisor, Caretaker, Instructor. One is your truly reverend Lord and Instructor, even Christ.
We should not follow man, nor man-made creeds or systems. Individual study of the Bible seems indispensable, but we must not ignore the aids to Bible study which God has providentially furnished.
All ye are brethren — Without official titles or peculiar garb; not lords of God’s heritage.
Comrades, fellows, associates; not clergy and laity. Members in particular of the Body of Christ. The apostles were more important brethren than we are; still we are brethren.
Clarke:To be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi – רבי רבי, i.e. My teacher! my teacher! The second rabbi is omitted by several excellent MSS., by most of the ancient versions, and by some of the fathers. Griesbach has left it in the text, with the note of doubtfulness.
There are three words used among the Jews as titles of dignity, which they apply to their doctors – Rabh, Rabbi, and Rabban; each of these terms has its particular meaning: rabban implies much more than rabbi, and rabbi much more than rabh.
They may be considered as three degrees of comparison: rabh great, rabbi greater, and rabban greatest. These rabbins were looked up to as infallible oracles in religious matters, and usurped not only the place of the law, but of God himself.
But be not ye called Rabbi – As our Lord probably spoke in Hebrew, the latter word rabbi, in this verse, must have been in the plural; but as the contracted form of the plural sounds almost exactly like the singular, the Greek writer would naturally express them both in the same letters.
None of the prophets had ever received this title, nor any of the Jewish doctors before the time of Hillel and Shammai, which was about the time of our Lord; and, as disputes on several subjects had run high between these two schools, the people were of course divided; some acknowledging Hillel as rabbi, – infallible teacher, and others giving this title to Shammai. The Pharisees, who always sought the honor that comes from men, assumed the title, and got their followers to address them by it. See on Mat_19:3 (note).
One is your Master – Instead of καθηγητης, guide or leader, (the common reading here, and which occurs in Mat_23:10), the famous Vatican MS., upwards of fifty others, and most of the ancient versions, read διδασκαλος, master. The most eminent critics approve of this reading and, independently of the very respectable authority by which it is supported, it is evident that this reading is more consistent with the context than the other, – Be not ye called Masters, for one is your Master.
Even Christ – Griesbach has left this out of the text, because it is wanting in many of the most excellent MSS., versions, and fathers. Mill and Bengel approve of the omission. It might have been brought into this verse from Mat_23:10. Our Lord probably alludes to Isa_54:13, All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.
Ye are brethren – No one among you is higher than another, or can possibly have from me any jurisdiction over the rest. Ye are, in this respect, perfectly equal.
Barnes:Greetings in the markets – Markets were places where multitudes of people were assembled together. They were pleased with special attention in public places, and desired that all should show them particular respect.
Greetings – Salutations. See the notes at Luk_10:4.
To be called Rabbi, Rabbi – This word literally signifies great. It was a title given to eminent teachers of the law among the Jews; a title of honor and dignity, denoting authority and ability to teach. They were gratified with such titles, and wished it given to themselves as denoting superiority. Every time it was given to them it implied their superiority to the persons who used it, and they were fond, therefore, of hearing it often applied to them. There were three titles in use among the Jews – Rab, Rabbi, and Rabban – denoting different degrees of learning and ability, as literary degrees do among us.
Be not ye … – Jesus forbade his disciples to seek such titles of distinction. The reason which he gave was that he was himself their Master and Teacher, They were on a level; they were to be equal in authority; they were brethren; and they should neither covet nor receive a title which implied either an elevation of one above another, or which appeared to infringe on the absolute right of the Saviour to be their only Teacher and Master. The direction here is an express command to his disciples not to receive such a title of distinction. They were not to covet it; they were not to seek it; they were not to do anything that implied a wish or a willingness that it should be appended to their names. Everything which would tend to make a distinction among them or destroy their parity – everything which would lead the world to suppose that there were ranks and grades among them as ministers, they were to avoid. It is to be observed that the command is that they were not to receive the title – “Be not ye called Rabbi.” The Saviour did not forbid them giving the title to others when it was customary or not regarded as improper (compare Act_26:25), but they were not to receive it. It was to be unknown among them. This title corresponds with the title “Doctor of Divinity” as applied to ministers of the gospel; and, so far as I can see, the spirit of the Saviour’s command is violated by the reception of such a title, as really as it would have been by their being called “Rabbi.” It makes a distinction among ministers. It tends to engender pride and a sense of superiority in those who obtain it, and envy and a sense of inferiority in those who do not; and the whole spirit and tendency of it is contrary to the “simplicity that is in Christ.”
Robertson:Salutations (aspasmous). The ordinary courtiers were coveted because in public. They had an itch for notice. There are occasionally today ministers who resent it if they are not called upon to take part in the services at church. They feel that their ministerial dignity has not been recognized.
But be not ye called Rabbi (humeis de mē klēthēte Rabbei). An apparent aside to the disciples. Note the emphatic position of hūmeis. Some even regard Mat_23:8-10 as a later addition and not part of this address to the Pharisees, but the apostles were present. Euthymius Zigabenus says: “Do not seek to be called (ingressive aorist subjunctive), if others call you this it will not be your fault.” This is not far from the Master’s meaning. Rabbi means “my great one,” “my Master,” apparently a comparatively new title in Christ’s time.
Benson: Be not ye called rabbi — Do not affect those titles of reverence and respect which give too much honour or authority to man. The Jewish doctors were called rabbis, fathers, and masters, by their several disciples, whom they required both to believe implicitly what they affirmed, without asking any further reason, and to obey unreservedly what they enjoined, without seeking for any further authority. But our Lord here teaches his apostles, and their successors in the ministry of the gospel, that they were to be very different from these Jewish teachers. They were to decline being called rabbi, because the thing signified by the term belonged solely to their Master, in whom the whole treasures of divine knowledge and wisdom are hid; and who, for that reason, is the only infallible teacher of his church; and also, because they owed none of their knowledge to themselves, but derived it entirely from him, in which respect they were all brethren, and on a level. And they were to call no man father upon earth — To consider no man as the father of their religion, that is, the founder, author, or director of it; to look up to no man with the reverence wherewith a child should regard a father, or so as to yield an absolute subjection to his will and pleasure, or be absolutely swayed and governed thereby; because one was their Father who is in heaven, the source, as of their being, so of all their blessings, and especially of their religion; the fountain and founder of it; the life and Lord of it. Our Lord adds, Neither be ye called masters — Gr. καθηληται, leaders, or guides. That is, of the judgments and consciences of men, because, says he, one is your Master, even Christ — The infallible instructer and guide of his church in all matters of faith and practice; commissioned by his Father to reveal his will, and teach all that is needful to be known, believed, or done, in order to salvation; whose apostles even were only to be regarded as his ministers and ambassadors, and only to be credited because, by their gifts and miraculous powers derived from him, they manifested that they taught men those things which he had commanded, and by his Spirit had revealed to them. Thus our Lord, the more effectually to enforce this warning against an unlimited veneration for the judgments and decisions of men, as a most important lesson, puts it in a variety of lights, and prohibits them from regarding any man with an implicit and blind partiality as teacher, father, or guide. Upon the whole, the things forbidden are, 1st, a vain-glorious affectation of such titles as these, the ambitious seeking of them, and glorying in them; 2d, that authority and dominion over the consciences of men, which the Pharisaical doctors had usurped; telling the people that they ought to believe all their doctrines, and practise all their injunctions, as the commands of the living God.
Matthew 23:9 KJV And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Barnes: And call no man your Father … – This does not, of course, forbid us to apply the term to our real father. Religion requires all proper honor to be shown to Him, Exo_20:12; Mat_15:4; Eph_6:1-3. But the word “father” also denotes “authority, eminence, superiority, a right to command, and a claim to particular respect.” In this sense it is used here. In this sense it belongs eminently to God, and it is not right to give it to people. Christian brethren are equal. Only God has supreme authority. He only has a right to give laws; to declare doctrines that shall bind the conscience; to punish disobedience. The Jewish teachers affected that title because they seem to have supposed that a teacher formed the man, or gave him real life, and sought, therefore, to be called father. Christ taught them that the source of all life and truth was God, and they ought not to seek or receive a title which properly belongs to him.
CTR: Call no man your father — Papacy violates this command directly.
One is your Father — A very emphatic statement of our dear and close relationship to God.
Clarke: Call no man your Father – Our Lord probably alludes to the Ab, or father of the Sanhedrin, who was the next after the nasi, or president. See on Mat_20:21 (note). By which he gives his disciples to understand that he would have no Second, after himself, established in his Church, of which he alone was the head; and that perfect equality must subsist among them.
Gill: And call no man your father upon the earth,…. Not but that children may, and should call their natural parents, fathers; and such who have been instrumental in the conversion of souls, may be rightly called by them their spiritual fathers; as servants and scholars also, may call those that are over them, and instruct them, their masters: our Lord does not mean, by any of these expressions, to set aside all names and titles, of natural and civil distinction among men, but only to reject all such names and titles, as are used to signify an authoritative power over men’s consciences, in matters of faith and obedience; in which, God and Christ are only to be attended to. Christ’s sense is, that he would have his disciples not fond of any titles of honour at all; and much less assume an authority over men, as if they were to depend on them, as the founders of the Christian religion, the authors of its doctrines and ordinances; and to take that honour to themselves, which did not belong to them; nor even choose to be called by such names, as would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them, and take off of their dependence on God the Father, and himself, as these titles the Scribes and Pharisees loved to be called by, did: and who were called not only by the name of Rabbi, but Abba, “Father”, also: hence we read of Abba Saul, or “Father” Saul (n); Abba Jose ben Jochanan, a man of Jerusalem (o), Abba Chanan (p), Abba Chelphetha, a man of the village of Hananiah (q); Abba Gorion (r), and others; and this name was לשון כבוד כמו רבי, “a name of honour, even as Rabbi” (s), and of great authority: the wise men are said to be אבות הכל, “the fathers of all” (t), to whom all gave heed, and upon whom all depended, as so many oracles. There is a whole treatise in their Misna, called Pirke Abot, which contains some of the oracles, and peculiar sayings of these “fathers”, the Misnic doctors, and which are preferred to the writings of Moses, and the prophets. In this sense, and upon this score, our Lord inveighs against them, and cautions his disciples against giving or taking all such titles, in such sense. “For one is your Father, which is in heaven”; who is so, both by creation and adoption, and is possessed of all paternal authority; and is to be honoured and obeyed by all; from whom all wisdom and knowledge is derived, and who has the care and government of all in heaven and in earth.
Robertson: Call no man your father (patera mē kalesēte hūmōn). Jesus meant the full sense of this noble word for our heavenly Father. “Abba was not commonly a mode of address to a living person, but a title of honour for Rabbis and great men of the past” (McNeile). In Gethsemane Jesus said: “Abba, Father” (Mar_14:36). Certainly the ascription of “Father” to pope and priest seems out of harmony with what Jesus here says. He should not be understood to be condemning the title to one’s real earthly father. Jesus often leaves the exceptions to be supplied.
JFB: And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven, etc. — To construe these injunctions into a condemnation of every title by which Church rulers may be distinguished from the flock which they rule, is virtually to condemn that rule itself; and accordingly the same persons do both – but against the whole strain of the New Testament and sound Christian judgment. But when we have guarded ourselves against these extremes, let us see to it that we retain the full spirit of this warning against that itch for ecclesiastical superiority which has been the bane and the scandal of Christ’s ministers in every age. (On the use of the word “Christ” here, see on Mat_1:1).
Matthew 23:10 KJV Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
Gill: Neither be ye called masters,…. Or guides and leaders; not but that, the ministers of the word are in a sense such; it is their business to lead and direct souls to Christ, to guide their feet in the way of peace, and to go before them, as examples to them, in word, in conversation, faith, and purity; but then they are to guide them according to the word of God, and not their own dictates; and teach them to observe the rules, and obey the ordinances of Christ, and not what are of their own inventing and prescribing; and to enforce the authority of their great Lord and Master, and not their own; and direct men to a dependence on Christ, as head of the church, who is the one Lord, as his faith is one, and his baptism one also: “for one is your master, even Christ”; which is said before, in Mat_23:8 but being a matter of so much importance to the honour of Christ, and men being so apt to set up for masters themselves, in opposition to him, or in conjunction with him, or above him, it was necessary to repeat it; for in an authoritative sense he is the one, and only master of the assemblies.
CTR:Called masters — Neither give nor receive titles of any kind. No marks or badges of distinction or flattering homage of any kind may be tolerated in the body of Christ.
One is your Master — No matter what may be the relative importance of some, only the one Lord and Head is to be recognized.
Robertson: Masters (kathēgētai). This word occurs here only in the N.T. It is found in the papyri for teacher (Latin, doctor). It is the modern Greek word for professor. “While didaskalos represents Rab, kathēgētes stands for the more honourable Rabban, ̇bōn” (McNeile). Dalman (Words of Jesus, p. 340) suggests that the same Aramaic word may be translated by either didaskalos or kathēgētes.
PNT:Leaders. Higher than ‘Rabbi,’ leaders of sects, etc.
Matthew 23:11 KJV But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
Matthew 23:12 KJV And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
Guzik: 3. (Mat_23:11-12) The way of Jesus: service and humility.
He who is greatest among you shall be your servant: In the flesh, we determine greatness by how many people serve and honor us. In Jesus, we determine greatness by how we serve and honor others.
i. Since Jesus truly was the greatest among them, He spoke of Himself as a servant. Unfortunately, for the most part the church has imitated the style of the scribes and Pharisees more than the style of Jesus.
b. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted: This promise is absolutely true, but sometimes needs the measure of eternity to make itself known.
Luk 14:11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
Mark 10:44 MKJV And whoever of you desires to become first, he shall be servant of all.
Russell: Servant of all — Or greatest servant. No other lesson requires to be so carefully learned by the Lord’s people as this lesson of humility.
Esteem such very highly for their service’ sake. (1Th_5:13) It was not their own greatness that was to be considered but God’s favor.
The chief positions in the kingdom would be given along the lines of meritorious service. Each would have the opportunity to strive for the chief position by striving to render service to the others.
The selfishly ambitious who seek honor rather than service will be disappointed. The saying, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted; and he that exalteth himself shall be abased” (Luk_14:11), is seen to be the statement of a philosophical principle of divine law. In his kingdom, self-seekers would have the lowest place.
Benson: And servant of all — Let him serve his brethren in all the offices of humility, condescension, and kindness. In other words, If any man desire to be the greatest person in my kingdom, let him endeavour to obtain that dignity by preferring others in honour, and by doing them all the good in his power. This he said, to signify that in his kingdom, they who are most humble and modest, and zealous in doing good, shall be acknowledged as the greatest persons.
Guzik: Of course, Jesus is the greatest in the kingdom. So when He said last and servant, He was really describing Himself – and He accurately expressed His nature. He was truly first, yet made Himself last of all and servant of all for our sake.
Jesus challenges us to be last of all. The desire to be praised and to gain recognition should be foreign to a follower of Jesus. Jesus wants us to embrace last as a choice, allowing others to be preferred before us, and not only because we are forced to be last.
For application of verse 12 see the following verses where he “abases” those who exalt themselves.
Matthew 23:13 KJV But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Barnes:Woe unto you – You are guilty, and punishment will come upon you. Jesus proceeds to state wherein they were guilty. This most eloquent, most appalling, and most terrible of all discourses ever delivered to mortals was pronounced in the temple, in the presence of multitudes. Never was there more faithful dealing, more terrible reproof, more profound knowledge of the workings of hypocrisy, or more skill in detecting the concealments of sin. This was the last of the Saviour’s public discourses; and it is a most impressive summary of all that he had ever said, or that he had to say, of a wicked and hypocritical generation.
Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven – Note, Mat_3:2. They shut it up by teaching false doctrines respecting the Messiah; by binding the people to an observance of their traditions; by opposing Jesus, and attempting to convince the people that he was an impostor, thus preventing many from becoming his followers. Many were ready to embrace him as the Messiah, and were about entering into the kingdom of heaven – that is, the church – but they prevented it. Luke says Luk_11:52 they had taken away the key of knowledge, and thus prevented their entering in – that is, they had taken away the right interpretation of the ancient prophecies respecting the Messiah, and thus had done all that they could to prevent the people from receiving Jesus as their Redeemer.
Guzik: The eight woes.
These woes stand in contrast to the eight beatitudes of Mat_5:3-11. Jesus speaks harshly here, but this is not the language of personal irritation, but of divine warning and condemnation.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Literally, the word “hypocrites” refers to an actor, someone playing a part. Jesus exposes the corruption covered by the pretty religious exterior.
b. You shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: The religious leaders kept people from the kingdom by obscuring God’s word with human traditions, and by denying Jesus. Empty religion and legalism do the same thing today.
You neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in: It is bad for someone to not enter into heaven themselves, but it is far worse to prevent another from going in (Mat_18:6).
CTR:Woe unto you — True love was the cause of the anger–love for truth, love for God and love for the people who were being deceived by the error. Jesus was full of the love of God, but he spoke most emphatically against evil-doers. How differently the Lord’s rebukes affected his loving disciples and the proud Pharisees. It is as much the duty of the Body of Christ now to point out present hindrances to growth–the teachings, theories and influences of the nominal church–as it was for Jesus to do so.
And Pharisees — Jesus called out no one of them by name, but merely denounced them as a class.
The word means “God’s holy people.”
Hypocrites! — It is much the same today: an outward veneer; a drawing near with the lips while the heart is far from him; busy with fashion, dress, pleasure and money-making idolatries, if not with grosser sins.
Ye neither go in — The elder son would not go in (Luk_15:28) to greet the returned prodigal. “The publicans and sinners shall go into the kingdom before you.” (Mat_21:31)
By their course of action they say, Bring us no new unfoldings of truth, however beautiful.
Neither suffer ye them — Objecting to his telling the poor prodigals anything about the love of God and his willingness to forgive them and to welcome them back home again.
Seeking by every means in their power to obstruct and counteract the Lord’s teaching. Seeking to prevent the Lord’s sheep from recognizing the Shepherd.
By false teachings and misrepresentations, putting darkness for light and light for darkness.
Pharisee: Thayer Definition: A sect that seems to have started after the Jewish exile. In addition to OT books the Pharisees recognised in oral tradition a standard of belief and life. According to Josephus they numbered more than 6000.
From ὑποκρίνω, to separate gradually; so of separating the truth from a mass of falsehood, and thence to subject to inquiry, and, as a result of this, to expound or interpret what is elicited. Then, to reply to inquiry, and so to answer on the stage, to speak in dialogue, to act. From this the transition is easy to assuming, feigning, playing a part. The hypocrite is, therefore, etymologically, an actor.
Very graphic. The preposition means before, or in the face of. They shut the door in men’s faces.
Robertson:Ye shut the kingdom of heaven (kleiete tēn basileian tōn ouranōn). In Luk_11:52 the lawyers are accused of keeping the door to the house of knowledge locked and with flinging away the keys so as to keep themselves and the people in ignorance. These custodians of the kingdom by their teaching obscured the way to life. It is a tragedy to think how preachers and teachers of the kingdom of God may block the door for those who try to enter in.
Against (emprosthen). Literally, before. These door-keepers of the kingdom slam it shut in men’s faces and they themselves are on the outside where they will remain. They hide the key to keep others from going in.
Matthew 23:14 KJV Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Guzik: (Mat_23:14) The religious leaders steal from the vulnerable.
You devour widows’ houses: They stole widows’ houses in the name of good business and “stewardship”, and made long prayers for the sake of big donations.
CTR: Devour widows’ houses — By taking advantage of circumstances to buy them cheaply at forced sale. By some technicality of the Law; and because they had no natural protection. The sin of selfishness, avarice, indicates a lack of the Spirit of the Lord.
Gill:for ye devour widows’ houses; that is, the goods in the houses of such as were left with fatherless children, and but little to support them; who being left alone, and none to advise them, and being weak, and prone to superstition; these greedy dogs, as Isaiah calls them, who could never have enough, easily imposed upon them, wormed them out of all their substance, stripped them bare of the necessaries of life, prevailed on them to sell their houses and goods, and bestow them on them; or got their little estates into their hands, pretending to take care, and dispose of them for them, to their advantage:
and for a pretence make long prayers: as if they were very holy, good men; or pretended that the substance of these widows, which they got into their hands, was for their long prayers for them; or they made long prayers for them in return for their substance. Maimonides (x) says, that
“the ancient saints, or good men, used to stay an hour before prayer, and an hour after prayer, ומאריכם בתפלה שעה and “prolonged”, or “held an hour in prayer”:”
and this being three times a day, nine hours every day, as is observed in the Talmud (y), were spent in this manner; and on this account they got the character of very devout and religious men, and hereby covered all their avarice, rapine, and oppression of the poor: but God will not be mocked;
therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation; both on account of their plundering and distressing the poor, the widows, and the fatherless; and also because of their hypocrisy in doing this under the cover of religion and holiness.
Barnes:Devour widows’ houses – The word “houses” is used here to denote “property” or possessions of any kind. You take away or get possession of the property of widows by improper arts and pretences. This was done in two ways:
1. They claimed a very exact knowledge of the law and a perfect observance of it. They pretended to extraordinary justice toward the poor, friendship for the distressed, and willingness to aid those who were in embarrassed circumstances. They thus induced “widows” and poor people to commit the management of their property to them as guardians and executors, and then took advantage of them and defrauded them.
2. They put on the appearance of great sanctity, and induced many conscientious but credulous women to give them much, under pretence of devoting it to religious purposes.
Long prayer – Their prayers are said to have been often three hours in length. One rule among them, says Lightfoot, was to meditate an hour, then pray an hour, and then meditate another hour – all of which was included in their “long prayers or devotions.”
Damnation – Condemnation. The word here probably refers to future punishment. It does not always, however. It means, frequently, no more than “condemnation,” or the divine disapprobation of a certain course of conduct, as in 1Co_11:29; “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh “damnation” to himself;” that is, he that eateth and drinketh in an unworthy manner disorderly, not with reverence – is guilty, and his conduct will be disapproved or condemned by God referring solely to the impropriety of the manner of partaking of the Lord’s supper, and not at all to the worthiness or unworthiness of the person. See the notes at that place. Compare Rom_14:23.
For a pretence – For appearance or show; in order that they might the better defraud poor people. They would not be condemned for “making” long prayers, but because they did it with an evil design. Public prayers should, however, be short, and always to the point. A man praying in a Sunday school should pray for the school, and, usually, not for everything else.
Matthew 23:15 KJV Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
Guzik: 4. (Mat_23:15) The religious leaders led their converts on the wrong path.
You travel land and sea to win one proselyte: Zeal in evangelism does not prove that a person is right with God. These religious leaders went to great lengths in their evangelism, but they brought people to darkness, not light.
- Paul had the same idea in Rom_10:2, where he observed that some of the Jewish people of his day had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
When he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves: In this respect, the religious leaders were similar to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses today. They were courageous and energetic messengers, but with a false message.
CTR:Ye compass sea and land — With your missionary activity. Judaism was not without success, for the whole civilized world was beginning to respect it; and to its holy feasts came devout men yearly out of every nation. (Act_2:9) The fault lay not in the zeal, but in the false ideas by which the zeal was inspired, which evidently was, in great measure, sectarian pride rather than love.
Make one proselyte — One convert to your false and, therefore, injurious, doctrines.
Twofold more — Would they not be two-fold more fit for destruction than they were in their original heathen superstition? The Jewish proselyte is far worse than before they touched him. Less likely to receive Christ as their Redeemer than if left in heathen darkness.
The evil consisted in the false ideas which they spread among the Gentiles, teaching that circumcision and the keeping of Moses’ Law justified to life, thus missing the main point of the Law, to point to Christ.
The child of hell — Greek, gehenna, destruction, the second death.
Meyer: These repeated woes may be translated, Alas for you! Our Lord with unfailing accuracy indicates the inevitable doom which such conduct as that of the Pharisees and scribes must incur. He forewarned them that they could expect nothing in the dread future but the judgment of Gehenna-the metaphor being taken from the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where fires were kept burning to consume rubbish and refuse.
Clarke:Compass sea and land – A proverbial expression, similar to ours, You leave no stone unturned; intimating that they did all in their power to gain converts, not to God, but to their sect. These we may suppose were principally sought for among the Gentiles, for the bulk of the Jewish nation was already on the side of the Pharisees.
Proselyte – Προσηλυτος, a stranger, or foreigner; one who is come from his own people and country, to sojourn with another. See the different kinds of proselytes explained in the note on Exo_12:43 (note).
The child of hell – A Hebraism for an excessively wicked person, such as might claim hell for his mother, and the devil for his father.
Twofold – the child of – The Greek word διπλοτερον, which has generally been translated twofold, Kypke has demonstrated to mean more deceitful. Απλοῦς is used by the best Greek writers for simple, sincere, απλότης for simplicity, sincerity; so διπλοῦς, deceitful, dissembling, and διπλόη, hypocrisy, fraudulence, and διπλοτερον, more fraudulent, more deceitful, more hypocritical. See also Suidas in Διπλοη.
Dr. Lightfoot, and others, observe, that the proselytes were considered by the Jewish nation as the scabs of the Church, and hindered the coming of the Messiah; and Justin Martyr observes, that “the proselytes did not only disbelieve Christ’s doctrine, but were abundantly more blasphemous against him than the Jews themselves, endeavoring to torment and cut off the Christians wherever they could; they being in this the instruments of the scribes and Pharisees.”
Barnes: Twofold more the child of hell – That is, twice as bad. To be a child of hell was a Hebrew phrase, signifying to be deserving of hell, to be awfully wicked. Compare the notes at Mat_1:1. The Jewish writers themselves say that the proselytes were “scabs of Israel,” and “hindered the coming of the Messiah” by their great wickedness. The Pharisees gained them either to swell their own numbers, or to make gain by extorting their money under various pretences; and when they had accomplished that, they took no pains to instruct them or to restrain them. They had renounced their superstition which had before somewhat restrained them, but the Pharisees had given them no religion in its place to restrain them, and they were consequently left to the full indulgence of their vices.
Matthew 23:16 KJV Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
Guzik: 5. (Mat_23:16-22) The religious leaders made false and deceptive oaths.
Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing: Out of obedience to God’s word, they would not swear by the name of God (Exo_20:7). But they constructed an elaborate system of oaths – some of which were binding and some were not – a way of making a promise while keeping your fingers crossed.
Barnes: It is nothing – It amounts to nothing – it is not binding.
The gold of the temple – Either the golden vessels in the temple – the candlestick, etc.; or the gold with which the doors and other parts of the temple were covered; or the gold in the treasury. This, it seems, they considered far more sacred than any other part of the temple, but it is not known why.
He is a debtor – He is bound to keep his oath. He is guilty if he violates it.
JFB:Woe unto you, ye blind guides — Striking expression this of the ruinous effects of erroneous teaching. Our Lord, here and in some following verses, condemns the subtle distinctions they made as to the sanctity of oaths – distinctions invented only to promote their own avaricious purposes.
which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing — He has incurred no debt.
but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple — meaning not the gold that adorned the temple itself, but the Corban, set apart for sacred uses (see on Mat_15:5).
he is a debtor! — that is, it is no longer his own, even though the necessities of the parent might require it. We know who the successors of these men are.
Gill: which say, whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; meaning either that it was no sin to use such an oath, or it was not binding upon a man: he might choose whether he would abide by what he swore by the temple he would do; and thus they ignorantly, and wickedly encouraged vain swearing and perjury. It was usual with them to swear by the temple: take an instance or two.
But whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is guilty; or is bound, or is a debtor, to make good his oath; he cannot be excused, but must be obliged to fulfil it; or if he does not, he is guilty of perjury. This is to be understood not of the gold that covered any part of the temple; nor of the golden vessels in it; but of the gold, or money, or gifts which were offered for the service of the temple: and the sense is, that whosoever swore by “Korban”, and that this, or that should be as “Korban”, he should not go back from it; he was obliged to give it. This showed the covetous disposition of these men, who made nothing of oaths that were swore by the temple; but those that were made by the “Korban”, or the gifts of it, were binding, because their interest was in it; it was for their gain.
Matthew 23:17 KJV Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
Gill: Ye fools, and blind,…. That argue after so ridiculous a manner, that make use of such thin sophistry, that everybody may see through it; who must be stupid and sottish to the last degree, and their minds foolishly blinded with avarice; as to please and satisfy themselves: with so poor a distinction; that would by no means serve them, but make against them:
for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? The temple, to be sure: for that was the seat of the divine majesty; built for him to dwell in, and in which he took up his residence; and was dedicated to his service, and in it was divine worship performed unto him. The temple was sanctified by the presence of God in it; and the gold sanctified by the temple, being devoted to the service of it: whatever holiness it had, it had it from the temple, and therefore the temple must be greater than that; and consequently it must be most extravagantly ridiculous and foolish in them, to make oaths by the gold of the temple, and gifts dedicated to its service, and on that score sanctified by it, more binding and sacred than such as were by the temple itself.
Barnes: The temple that sanctifieth the gold – To sanctify is to make holy. The gold had no holiness but what it derived from the temple. If in any other place, it would be no more holy than any other gold. It was foolish, then, to suppose that that was more holy than the temple, from which it received all the sanctity which it possessed.
Matthew 23:18 KJV And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
Matthew 23:19 KJV Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
Barnes: The altar – The altar of burnt-offerings, in the court of the priests. See the notes at Mat_21:12. It was made of brass, about 30 feet in length and breadth, and 15 feet in height, 2Ch_4:1. On this altar were offered all the beasts and bloody oblations of the temple.
The gift that is upon it – The gift or offering made to God, so called because it was devoted or “given” to him. The gift upon this altar was always beasts and birds.
Gill:Ye fools, and blind,…. This is very justly repeated, since this is no less an instance of their folly, blindness, and stupidity. In three copies of Beza’s the word “fools” is not; nor is it in the Vulgate Latin, nor in Munster’s Hebrew Gospel; but the Syriac, Arabic, Persic, and Ethiopic versions have it:
for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? The gift, or offering, before it was devoted to sacred use, and brought, and laid upon the altar, was common, had no ceremonial sanctity in it, and might be put to any use; but when it was brought, and laid upon the altar, it became holy; for, according to the law, whatever touched the altar, and indeed all, or any of the vessels of the sanctuary, was holy, Exo_29:37. Christ speaks the sense of the law, and their own traditions, and in their own language, and argues from the same to the confutation of them: חמזבח מקדש, “the altar”, they say (u), “sanctifies” that which is fit for it; that is, that which is proper to be offered up upon it:
“as the altar sanctifies that which is fit for it, so the ascent unto it sanctifies; and as the altar, and the ascent, sanctify what is fit for them, so the vessels sanctify; the vessels for liquids sanctify the liquids, and the dry measures sanctify the dry; the vessels for liquids do not sanctify the dry, nor the dry measures sanctify the liquids; the holy vessels, which are bored, (or broken,) when they do the service they used to do, when whole, sanctify, if not, they do not sanctify; nor does anything sanctify but in the sanctuary.”
Now, since this is a clear case, that the altar sanctifies the gift, and not the gift the altar, our Lord’s question is, which is the greater? A man that has the least share of common sense will easily see, that the altar must be the greater: wherefore these scribes and Pharisees must be wretchedly stupid to give out, that an oath made by the altar was not binding, when one that was made by the gift, or
Korban, was binding; seeing the gift, or offering, received its sanctity from the altar: hence, of the two, an oath made by the altar should be more sacred and obligatory than one made by the gift.
Matthew 23:20 KJV Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
Gill: Whosoever therefore shall swear by the altar,…. Not that Christ allowed of swearing by the altar, or by the temple, or by heaven, or by any creature, animate or inanimate; for such swearing is elsewhere disapproved of by him, and forbid, but if a man did swear by the altar, he ought to know, and consider that he not only
sweareth by it, but by all the gifts, and offerings that are brought, and laid upon it,
and by all things thereon; whatever gifts and sacrifices are offered upon it; which, by being put there, become holy, as the altar itself: so that he that swears by the altar, swears also by the gifts of the altar; and consequently, according to their own traditions, such oaths must be binding.
Clarke: Whoso – shall swear by the altar – As an oath always supposes a person who witnesses it, and will punish perjury; therefore, whether they swore by the temple or the gold, (Mat_23:16), or by the altar or the gift laid on it, (Mat_23:18), the oath necessarily supposes the God of the temple, of the altar, and of the gifts, who witnessed the whole, and would, even in their exempt cases, punish the perjury.
Matthew 23:21 KJV And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
Barnes:Him that dwelleth therein – That is, God. The temple was his house, his dwelling. In the first, or Solomon’s temple, he dwelt between the cherubims in the most holy place. He manifested himself there by a visible symbol, in the form of a cloud resting on the mercy-seat, 1Ki_8:10, 1Ki_8:13; Psa_80:1.
Guzik: He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it: Jesus reminds us that every oath is binding, and God holds the oath-maker to account, even if they excuse themselves.
PNT: By the temple. This oath, which they did not consider binding (Mat_23:16), is now traced back to God Himself.
That dwelleth therein. God came into the temple of Solomon with visible glory (1Ki_8:11-12); nothing is affirmed or denied in regard to the second temple. The Pharisees professed to teach on matters pertaining to God, and forgot the meaning of these very things.
Matthew 23:22 KJV And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
PNT: By heaven, the great temple of God, hallowed by the presence of God enthroned there. The sum of the whole is: Every oath is by God; hence make no distinctions between oaths; ‘swear not at all’ (chap. Mat_5:34). These verses really refer, not only to swearing, but to truthfulness, in word and act; they forbid those false distinctions used to palliate the crime of lying.
Gill: sweareth by the throne of God; for heaven is God’s throne, where he sits, and, in an eminent manner, displays the glory of his majesty:
and by him that sitteth thereon, by God himself. Thus swearing by anything that has any relation to God, is implicitly swearing by him; and therefore ought to be considered as binding, as if he was expressed in it; since an appeal cannot be made to things inanimate, nor indeed to any creature, but to God, the searcher of hearts.
Matthew 23:23 KJV Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
CTR: Hypocrites! — The Lord passed by the criminality of murderers and thieves as insignificant compared with the hypocrisy of this class.
Ye pay tithe — The Law which says “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mat_22:39) is more important than the giving of tithes. They were great sticklers for the various features of the letter of the law.
Of mint and anise — The very smallest of seeds, for an outward show.
Have omitted — To ignore the claims of human brotherhood is meanly selfish and inhuman.
Gill:Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,…. Christ returns to the former epithets he had very rightly given to these men, and very pertinently repeats them here; and which are confirmed by the instances of their conduct and practice here alleged, which abundantly show their hypocrisy and deceit; since they were very strict in observing some outward things, which gave them credit with the people, and especially the priests and Levites, some little trifling ceremonies and traditions of their elders, whilst they neglected internal religion, and those things which were of the greatest moment and importance:
for ye take tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin; which ought not commanded by the law, they were obliged to by the traditions of the elders. Mint is an herb well known, and has its name in the Greek from its sweet smell; on account of which the Jews used to spread it on the floors of their synagogues (y). This was one of the herbs that was subject to the law of the seventh year (z), and is mentioned with those which were to be tithed (a). The Ethiopic version, instead of mint reads “hyssop”; and which also was an herb that was obliged to be tithed (b). “Anise” is a seed also well known, and which the Jews call שבת, and of which they often observe, that it is subject to tithing, both seed, herb, flowers, or stalks (c): instead of this Munster’s Hebrew Gospel has פיגם, “rue”; and which, in the Misna (d), is mentioned along with mint, as it is by Luk_11:42 and said to be one of the things the Pharisees gave tithe of; though in their oral law it is reckoned among the things that are free from tithe (e): and therefore this must be a sort of work of supererogation to give tithe of that, which they were not obliged to. “Cummin” is a sort of anise; its seed is much like fennel seed, and which pigeons are very fond of: mention is made of it in Isa_28:25 and is reckoned with figs, dates, carobes, or Egyptian figs, and rice, which were obliged to be tithed (f), and was what was also bound to the offering of the first fruits to the priest (g). Christ mentions these particular herbs and seeds, as a specimen of what they paid tithes of. In Luke, it is added, “and all manner of herbs”: for, according to the traditions of the elders, they were in general subject to tithes: and it is a common saying or maxim of the Jews, that the tithing of corn is from the law, but ירק דרבנן מעשר, “the tithing of herbs is from the Rabbins” (h): it is a constitution of their’s, and not of Moses:
and have omitted the weightier matters of the law. The distinction of the commandments of the law into lighter and heavier, or weightier, to which Christ here refers, is frequent with the Jews. When one comes to be made a proselyte, they acquaint him with some of מצות קלות, “the light commands”, and some of מצות חמורות, “the heavy”, or “weighty commands” (i). So again, they paraphrase the words in Isa_33:18 “where is the scribe?” he that numbers all the letters in the law. “Where is the receiver?” who weighs the “light” things, וחמורין שבתורה, and “heavy”, or “weighty things in the law” (k). Again (l),
“in the words of the law there are some things “light”, and some things “heavy”, or “weighty”:”
but those weighty things they omitted, and regarded those that were light; yea, that had no foundation in the law at all: and no wonder, since, in the place last cited, they say (m), that
“the words of the Scribes are all of them “weighty” and that the sayings of the elders are more “weighty” than the words of the prophets.”
The things our Lord refers to, and instances in, are as follow;
judgment, mercy, and faith. “Judgment” may mean the administration of justice in courts of judicature; the putting in execution good judgments, righteous laws and statutes; protecting and relieving the injured and oppressed, and doing that which is right and equitable between man and man: but, on the contrary, these men devoured widows’ houses, and oppressed the poor and fatherless. “Mercy” includes all acts of compassion to the distressed, relieving the necessitous, distributing to their wants, and showing all kindness and beneficence to the poor and needy; which the scribes and Pharisees very little practised, being a set of cruel, hard hearted, and covetous persons. “Faith” may not only design faithfulness in a man’s keeping his word and promise, and fidelity to a trust reposed in him; but also faith in God, as the God of providence, and as the God of grace and mercy; believing in his word and promises, and worshipping him, which the law requires; and the rather this seems to be intended, because Luke, instead of “faith”, puts “the love of God”, which faith includes, and works by, and is the end of the commandment, arising from faith unfeigned: so that Christ instances in the weightier matters of both tables of the law, which these men neglected, and the latter, as well as the former; not believing the revelation of the Gospel, nor the Messiah, who was promised, and prophesied of by God, in the writings of the Old Testament:
these ought ye to have done: more especially, and in the first place, as being of the greatest use and importance:
and not to leave the other undone; meaning either the lighter matters, and lesser commands of the law; or even their tithes of herbs: if they thought themselves obliged to them, Christ would not dispute the matter with them; if they thought fit to observe them, they might, so long as they did not interfere with, and take them off from things of greater moment. But alas! these men preferred the rituals of the ceremonial law, and the traditions of the elders, above the duties of the moral law; and reckoned that the latter were nothing, if the former were wanting; for they (n) Say, that
“the words of the Scribes, are more lovely than the words of the law.”
And also (o), that
“he that profanes the holy things, and despises the solemn feasts, and makes void the covenant of Abraham our father (circumcision), and behaves impudently towards the law (ceremonial), although the law and good works are in his hands, he has no part in the world to come.”
The Persic version renders the words thus; “these ought ye to do, and not them”; as if it was our Lord’s sense, that they ought to observe the weightier matters of the moral law, and not regard their tithing of herbs, and other traditions of, their fathers.
Clarke:Ye pay tithe of mint, etc. – They were remarkably scrupulous in the performance of all the rites and ceremonies of religion, but totally neglected the soul, spirit, and practice of godliness.
Judgment – Acting according to justice and equity towards all mankind. Mercy – to the distressed and miserable. And faith in God as the fountain of all righteousness, mercy, and truth. The scribes and Pharisees neither began nor ended their works in God, nor had they any respect unto his name in doing them. They did them to be seen of men, and they had their reward – human applause.
These ought ye to have done, etc. – Our Lord did not object to their paying tithe even of common pot-herbs – this did not affect the spirit of religion; but while they did this and such like, to the utter neglect of justice, mercy, and faith, they showed that they had no religion, and knew nothing of its nature.
Barnes:Cummin – A plant of the same genus, like “fennel,” and used for similar purposes. These were all herbs of little value. The law of Moses said that they should pay tithes of the “fruits of the earth,” Deu_14:22. It said nothing, however, about herbs. It was a question whether these should be tithed. The Pharisees maintained, in their extraordinary strictness, that they ought. Our Saviour says that they were precise in doing small matters which the law had not expressly commanded, while they omitted the greater things which it had enjoined.
Judgment – Justice to others, as magistrates, neighbors, citizens. Giving to all their just dues.
Mercy – Compassion and kindness to the poor and miserable.
Faith – Piety toward God; confidence in him. Faith in God here means that we are to give to him what is his due; as mercy and justice mean to do to people, in all circumstances, what is right toward them.
These ought ye to have done – Attention to even the smallest points of the law of God is proper, but it should not interfere with the “higher” and more important parts of that law.
Matthew 23:24 KJV Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
Vincent’s: Strain at (διυλίξοντες)
διά, thoroughly or through, and ὑλίζω, to filter or strain. Strain at is an old misprint perpetuated. Hence the Rev. correctly, as Tynd., strain out. Insects were ceremonially unclean (Lev_11:20, Lev_11:23, Lev_11:41, Lev_11:42), so that the Jews strained their wine in order not to swallow any unclean animal.
The rendering is feeble. It is drink down (κατά); gulp. Note that the camel was also unclean (Lev_11:4).
Barnes: Which strain at a gnat … – This is a proverb. There is, however, a mistranslation or misprint here, which makes the verse unmeaning. “To strain” at a “gnat” conveys no sense. It should have been to strain out a gnat; and so it is printed in some of the earlier versions, and so it was undoubtedly rendered by the translators. The common reading is a “misprint,” and should be corrected. The Greek means to “strain” out by a cloth or sieve.
A gnat – Hence, the proverb. See Calmet’s Dict., art. “Gnat.” It is used here to denote a very small matter, as a camel is to denote a large object. “You Jews take great pains to avoid offence in very small matters, superstitiously observing the smallest points of the law, like a man carefully straining out the animalculae from what he drinks, while you are at no pains to avoid great sins – hypocrisy, deceit, oppression, and lust – like a man who should swallow a camel.” The Arabians have a similar proverb: “He eats an elephant, and is suffocated with a gnat.” He is troubled with little things, but pays no attention to great matters.
Gill: who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel: the Syriac and Persic versions read the words in the plural number, gnats and camels. The Jews had a law, which forbid them the eating of any creeping thing,
Lev_11:41 and of this they were strictly observant, and would not be guilty of the breach of it for ever so much,
“One that eats a flea, or a gnat; they say (p) is מומר, “an apostate”;
one that has changed his religion, and is no more to be reckoned as one of them. Hence they very carefully strained their liquors, lest they should transgress the above command, and incur the character of an apostate; and at least, the penalty of being beaten with forty stripes, save one; for,
“whoever eats a whole fly, or a whole gnat, whether alive or dead, was to be beaten on account of a creeping flying thing (q).
To this practice Christ alluded here; and so very strict and careful were they in this matter, that to strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel, became at length a proverb, to signify much solicitude about little things, and none about greater. These men would not, on any consideration, be guilty of such a crime, as not to pay the tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and such like herbs and seeds; and yet made no conscience of doing justice, and showing mercy to men, or of exercising faith in God, or love to him. Just as many hypocrites, like them, make a great stir, and would appear very conscientious and scrupulous, about some little trifling things, and yet stick not, at other times, to commit the grossest enormities, and most scandalous sins in life,
PNT: Strain out the gnat,i.e., to filter wine, so as to avoid swallowing a gnat. The common version may have been intended to express this, but more probably contains a misprint. The saying is proverbial; this straining actually took place to avoid defilement (Lev_11:20; Lev_11:23; Lev_11:41-42). The same custom obtains among the Buddhists.
And swallow the camel, i.e., indulge in the greatest impurities. The camel was one of the largest of the impure animals forbidden for food. (Lev_11:4 : it did not divide the hoof.) Besides to swallow it, would be to eat blood and what was strangled. What was impossible literally, is only too possible figuratively. The reality of Pharisaic sin exceeds the figure.
Matthew 23:25 KJV Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
Matthew 23:26 KJV Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Guzik: 7. (Mat_23:25-26) The religious leaders are impure both inside and out.
You cleanse the outside of the cup: Many are satisfied with a superficial cleansing, and the appearance of righteousness before others. God looks for a true cleansing, so we can be clean before God and man.
PNT: Ye cleanse the outside of the cupand of the dish. The ‘cup’ and ‘dish’ refer to drink and meat, the enjoyment of life. They would give a formal legal purity to sinful gratification. On the Pharisaical washings of pots and cups, see Mar_7:8.
But within they are full from extortion and excess. ‘From,’ i.e., in consequence of, by means of, more fully explained, the means for their gratification came ‘from rapacity;’ the mode despite its outward legality was ‘excess.’ Men often fancy themselves religious, because they conform to some standard of outward morality; while they really gain their wealth by wrong-doing, and spend it in self-gratification.
Thou blind Pharisee. ‘Blind,’ failing to see that the great matter should come first.
Cleanse first. Begin with inward purity.
That the outside thereof may become clean also. Outward morality is very important, but it naturally follows purity of heart. The former without the latter is not real morality.
CTR: Clean the outside — The cleansing of our minds is far more important than the cleansing of our flesh. We might succeed measurably in cleansing the flesh while the mind might still be impure.
Clarke:Ye make clean the outside – The Pharisees were exceedingly exact in observing all the washings and purifications prescribed by the law; but paid no attention to that inward purity which was typified by them. A man may appear clean without, who is unclean within; but outward purity will not avail in the sight of God, where inward holiness is wanting.
Extortion and excess – ‘Αρπαγης και ακρασιας, rapine and intemperance; but instead of ακρασιας, intemperance, many of the very best MSS., CEFGHKS, and more than a hundred others, the Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Slavonic, with Chrysostom, Euthym., and Theophylact, have αδικιας injustice, which Griesbach has admitted into the text instead of ακρασιας. The latter Syriac has both. Several MSS. and versions have ακαθαρσιας, uncleanness; others have πλεονεξιας, covetousness; some have πονηριας, wickedness; and two of the ancients have iniquitate, iniquity. Suppose we put them all together, the character of the Pharisee will not be overcharged. They were full of rapine and intemperance, injustice and uncleanness, covetousness, wickedness, and iniquity.
Robertson: From extortion and excess (ex harpagēs kai akrasias). A much more serious accusation. These punctilious observers of the external ceremonies did not hesitate at robbery (harpages) and graft (akrasias), lack of control. A modern picture of wickedness in high places both civil and ecclesiastical where the moral elements in life are ruthlessly trodden under foot. Of course, the idea is for both the outside ektos and the inside (entos) of the cup and the platter (fine side dish). But the inside is the more important. Note the change to singular in Mat_23:26 as if Jesus in a friendlier tone pleads with a Pharisee to mend his ways.
Barnes:The cup and the platter – The drinking-cup and the dish containing food. The Pharisees were diligent in observing all the washings and obligations required by their traditions. See the notes at Mar_7:4.
Full of extortion and excess – The outside appeared well; the inside was filled with the fruit of extortion, oppression, and wickedness. The meaning is, that though they took much pains to appear well, yet they obtained a living by extortion and crime. Their cups, neat as they appeared outward, were filled, not with the fruits of honest industry, but with that which had been extorted from the poor by wicked arts. Instead of “excess,” many manuscripts and editions of the Greek Testament read “wickedness.”
Cleanse first that which is within the cup and the platter – Let them be filled with the fruits of honest industry, and then the outside and the inside will be really “clean.” By this allusion to the cup and platter he taught them that it was necessary to cleanse the heart first, that the external conduct might be really pure and holy.
Gill:Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,…. Our Lord cannot be thought to bear too hard upon these men, nor does he continue this character of them, and denunciations of woe against them, without a reason:
for ye make clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. The allusion is to their traditions about washing their cups and pots, and brazen vessels; see Mar_7:4 which they strictly observed. In their oral law is a whole tract, called “Mikvaot”, which gives rules about the places where they washed, the things to be washed, and the manner of washing them; about which they were very nice, pretending to much outward cleanness, but had no regard to inward purity. Christ’s sense is, that they took much pains, and were very careful, that the cup they drank out of, and the platter, or dish they ate out of, should be very clean; when at the same time, the food and drink that were within them, were got by oppression and rapine; by devouring widows’ houses, by making undue claims upon, and extorting unjust sums from the fatherless, the poor, and the needy; and were abused by them, to luxury and intemperance. In like manner the Jews themselves say of hypocrites (w),
“They make show of a pure and clean soul, but under it lies hid a leprosy: they are like to “vessels full of uncleanness”; they are outwardly washed with the water of fraud and craftiness; but whatsoever is within, in the midst or them, is unclean.
The Vulgate Latin version of the text, instead of “excess”, reads “uncleanness”, and so does Munster’s Hebrew Gospel: many copies read “unrighteousness”. Excess is thought to be a sin the Pharisees were not guilty of, though they were of extortion, injustice, and uncleanness,
Thou blind Pharisee,…. Well might Christ call such an one a blind Pharisee, who was so scrupulously careful to cleanse his cup and platter; and yet made no conscience of filling them with what was gotten in an unjust way, and so defiled himself and them:
cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also: get food and drink in an honest way, remove all extortion and oppression out of thine hands, and luxury and intemperance from thy table; and so shall the outward cleanness of thy cup and dish, be no reproach unto thee, or testimony against thee, of thine hypocrisy. So the great concern of all men should be, inward purity; that their hearts be purified by faith in the blood of Christ, and sprinkled from an evil conscience by the same; that principles of grace and holiness be formed in them by the Spirit of God; and then their outward lives and conversations being influenced thereby, will be honourable and agreeable to their professions. Otherwise, an external reformation, or an outward show of holiness, and bare pretensions to it, without internal grace, will never be of any avail in the sight of God.
Wesley: Ye build the tombs of the prophets – And that is all, for ye neither observe their sayings, nor imitate their actions.
Matthew 23:27 KJV Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
Matthew 23:28 KJV Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Matthew 23:27-28 TPT “Great sorrow awaits you religious scholars and Pharisees—frauds and imposters! You are nothing more than tombs painted with fresh coats of white paint—tombs that look shining and beautiful on the outside, but within are found decaying corpses full of nothing but corruption. 28 Outwardly you masquerade as righteous people, but inside your hearts you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Guzik: 8. (Mat_23:27-28) The religious leaders have the appearance of good, but without spiritual life in the inner man.
You are like whitewashed tombs: Before Passover, it was the custom of the Jews of that time to whitewash the tombs in the city of Jerusalem so that no one would touch one accidentally, thus making themselves unclean. Jesus says these religious leaders are like these whitewashed tombs – pretty on the outside, but dead on the inside.
b. You also outwardly appear righteous to men: God is never fooled by what we show on the outside. He sees what we actually are, not what we appear to be to other men.
CTR: Whited sepulchres — Outwardly clean, but inwardly full of death, corruption, uncleanness, unholiness. Today many are outwardly Christians, but inwardly skeptics; covetous, extortionate, unjust.
Benson: Wo unto you, for you are like whited sepulchres — Here we have the seventh wo. Dr. Shaw, (Trav., p. 285,) gives a genial description of the different sorts of tombs and sepulchres in the East — concluding with this paragraph — “Now all these, with the very walls of the enclosure, being always kept clean, white-washed, and beautified; continue to this day to be an excellent comment upon Mat_23:27.” The scribes and Pharisees, like fine whited sepulchres, looked very beautiful without, but within were full of all uncleanness, and defiled every one who touched them. This was a sore rebuke to men who would not keep company with publicans and sinners for fear they should have been polluted by them!
Gill:Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,…. It is much these men could bear to hear themselves so often called by this name; and it shows great courage in our Lord, so freely to reprove them, and expose their wickedness, who were men of so much credit and influence with the people:
for ye are like unto whited sepulchres; or “covered with lime”, as the Syriac, Arabic, and Persic versions, render it. For the Jews used to mark their graves with white lime, that they might be known: that so priests, Nazarites, and travellers, might avoid them, and not be polluted with them. This appears from various passages in their writings:
“The vineyard of the fourth year, they marked with clods of earth, and an uncircumcised one with dust, ושל קברות בסיד, “and graves with chalk”, mixed (with water) and poured (on them (x).)
Of this marking of the graves, the reason of it, the time and manner of doing it, Maimonides (y) gives us this account:
“Whoever finds a grave, or a dead carcass, or anything for the dead that defiles, by the tent he is obliged to put a mark upon it, that it may not be a stumbling to others; and on the intermediate days of a feast, they go out from the sanhedrim, to mark the graves.–With what do they mark? בסיד ממחה, “with chalk infused” in water, and poured upon the unclean place: they do not put the mark upon the top of the unclean place, (or exactly in it,) but so that it may stand out here and there, at the sides of it, that what is pure may not be corrupted; and they do not put the mark far from the place of the uncleanness, that they may not waste the land of Israel; and they do not set marks on those that are manifest, for they are known to all; but upon those that are doubtful, as a field in which a grave is lost, and places that are open, and want a covering.
Now because when the rains fell, these marks were washed away, hence on the first of Adar (February) when they used to repair the highways, they also marked the graves with white lime, that they might be seen and known, and avoided; and so on their intermediate feast days (z): the reason why they made use of chalk, or lime, and with these marked their graves, was because it looked white like bones (a); so that upon first sight, it might be thought and known what it was for, and that a grave was there: hence this phrase, “whited sepulchres”:
which indeed appear beautiful outward; especially at a distance, and when new marked:
but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness; worms and rottenness, which arise from the putrefied carcasses, and are very nauseous and defiling,
Matthew 23:29 KJV Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
Matthew 23:30 KJV And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Matthew 23:29 TPT “Great sorrow awaits you religious scholars and Pharisees—frauds and imposters! You build memorials for the prophets your ancestors killed and decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors murdered. Matthew 23:30 TPT Then you boast, ‘If we had lived back then, we would never have permitted them to kill the prophets.’
Guzik: 9. (Mat_23:29-36) The religious leaders honor dead prophets, but murder the living prophets.
You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous: They professed to venerate the dead, but they rejected the living. In doing so, they show that they really are the children of those who murdered the prophets in the days of old (you are sons of those who murdered the prophets).
i. We express the same thought when we think. “I wouldn’t have denied Jesus like the other disciples did.”
Popular NT: And garnish the tombs of the righteous, those considered especially saintly. ‘The prophets,’ the higher class, are represented as lying for a long time in unknown, perhaps dishonored, graves. The so-called ‘tombs of the prophets’ are still pointed out near the Mount of Olives on the road from Jerusalem to Bethany.
Benson: Wo unto you, because ye build the tombs of the prophets — Here we have the eighth and last wo. “By the pains they took in adorning the sepulchres of their prophets, they pretended a great veneration for their memory; and, as often as their happened to be mentioned, condemned their fathers who had killed them, declaring that if they had lived in the days of their fathers, they would have opposed their wickedness; while, in the mean time, they still cherished the spirit of their fathers, persecuting the messengers of God, particularly his only Son, on whose destruction they were resolutely bent.”
Ye build the tombs of the prophets — And that is all, for ye neither observe their sayings nor imitate their actions.
Barnes: Ye build the tombs of the prophets – That is, you build sepulchres or tombs ever the prophets that have been slain. This they did professedly from veneration and respect for their character. This is often done at the East at the present day, and indeed elsewhere. Among the Muslims it is a common way of showing respect for any distinguished man to build a tomb for him. By doing this, they profess respect for his character and veneration for his memory. So the Pharisees, by building tombs in this manner, professedly approved of the character and conduct of the prophets, and disapproved of the conduct of their fathers in killing them.
And garnish … – That is, adorn or ornament. This was done by rebuilding them with more taste, decorating them, and keeping them neat and clean. The original word means, also, to show any proper honor to the memory of the dead, as by speaking well of them, praying near them, or rearing synagogues near them in honor of their memory.
And say … – This they professed to say by rebuilding their tombs. They also, probably, publicly expressed their disapprobation of the conduct of their fathers. All this, in building and ornamenting tombs, was a profession of extraordinary piety. Our Lord showed them it was mere pretence.
CTR:We would not — Nevertheless our Lord and the apostles were treated worse by them than were the prophets by their fathers.
Clarke: We would not have been partakers – They imagined themselves much better than their ancestors; but our Lord, who knew what they would do, uncovers their hearts, and shows them that they are about to be more abundantly vile than all who had ever preceded them.
Matthew 23:31 KJV Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
Guzik: Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt: Jesus prophesies about how these leaders will complete the rejection of the prophets their fathers started by persecuting His disciples, whom He will send to them.
Gill:Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves,…. Or “against yourselves”, as the Syriac reads; for what they said was a plain acknowledgment, and a full confession, what their fathers had done, and whose offspring they were; and from whom better things were not to be expected; since they were their fathers’ own children, and of the same temper and disposition with them:
that ye are the children of them that killed the prophets. They plainly owned, that their fathers killed the prophets, and that they descended from them; though they meant not so much to reproach, their ancestors, as to give themselves a greater character; yet it did not with those, that knew them; not with our Lord: for as their own words testified against them, that they were a seed of evildoers; their practices showed them to be of the same spirit and principles with their progenitors.
Clarke:Ye be witnesses – Ye acknowledge that ye are the children of those murderers, and ye are about to give full proof that ye are not degenerated.
There are many who think that, had they lived in the time of our Lord, they would not have acted towards him as the Jews did. But we can scarcely believe that they who reject his Gospel, trample under foot his precepts, do despite to the Spirit of his grace, love sin, and hate his followers, would have acted otherwise to him than the murdering Jews, had they lived in the same times.
Benson:And say, We would not have been partakers, &c. — Ye make fair professions, as did your fathers. Wherefore ye be witnesses, &c. — By affirming that if you had lived in the days of your fathers you would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets, ye acknowledge that ye are the children of them who murdered the prophets. But I must tell you, that you are their children in another sense than by natural generation; for though you pretend to be more holy than they were, you are like them in all respects; particularly in that you possess their wicked, persecuting spirit, and cover it by smooth words, thus imitating them, who, while they killed the prophets of their own times, professed the utmost veneration for those of past ages.
Barnes: Ye be witnesses unto yourselves – The emphasis, here, lies in the words “to yourselves.” It is an appeal to their conscience. It was not by their building the tombs that they were witnesses that they were the children of those who killed the prophets; but that, in spite of all this pretence of piety, under all this cloak of profession, they knew in their consciences, and were witnesses to themselves, that it was mere hypocrisy, and that they really approved the conduct of those who slew the prophets.
Children of them … – Resembling them; approving their conduct; inheriting their feelings. See the notes at Mat_1:1. They not only showed that they were descended from them, but that they possessed their spirit, and that, in similar circumstances, they would have done as they did.
Matthew 23:32 KJV Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Matthew 23:31-32 TPT But your words and deeds testify that you are just like them and prove that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started!
Barnes: Fill ye up, then … – This is a prediction of what they were about to do. He would have them act out their true spirit, and show what they were, and evince to all that they had the spirit of their fathers, Compare the notes at Joh_13:27. This was done be putting him to death, and persecuting the apostles.
The measure – The full amount, so as to make it complete. By your slaying me, fill up what is lacking of the iniquity of your fathers until the measure is full; until the national iniquity is complete; until as much has been committed as God can possibly bear, and then shall come upon you all this blood, and you shall be destroyed, Mat_23:34-35.
Wesley: Fill ye up – A word of permission, not of command: as if he had said, I contend with you no longer: I leave you to yourselves: you have conquered: now ye may follow the devices of your own hearts. The measure of your fathers – Wickedness: ye may now be as wicked as they.
Robertson: Fill ye up (plērōsate). The keenest irony in this command has been softened in some MSS. to the future indicative (plērōsete). “Fill up the measure of your fathers; crown their misdeeds by killing the prophet God has sent to you. Do at last what has long been in your hearts. The hour is come” (Bruce).
Parable of the Tenants
Matthew 21:33-41 KJV Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: 34 And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. 35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. 37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. 38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. 39 And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. 40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? 41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
Luke 11:47-51 KJV Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. 48 Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. 49 Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: 50 That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; 51 From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.
Matthew 23:33 KJV Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Of Hebrew origin ([H1516] and [H2011]); valley of (the son of) Hinnom; gehenna (or Ge-Hinnom), a valley of Jerusalem, used (figuratively) as a name for the place (or state) of everlasting punishment: – hell.
Total KJV occurrences: 12
Guzik: Serpents, brood of vipers: This phrase has the idea of “family of the devil.” These religious leaders took an unmerited pride in their heritage, which was really of the devil, not of Abraham.
i. This is all pretty tough stuff. Why did Jesus utter such scathing rebukes? Because He loved these men. These men were the farthest from God and they needed to be warned of coming judgment. What Jesus really wanted was their repentance, not their judgment.
Hawker: Here are no less than eight solemn woes denounced upon the very men who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. And what made the woes more terrible, they were pronounced by One that was meekness itself. And what is, if possible, yet more awful, the same Almighty Judge, who cannot err, in the close of this solemn denunciation, calls them by the several names which mark their character, and explains the whole: Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? That is, ye cannot escape it. The phrase is a stronger way of expressing a thing, by way of question, than if in so many words the thing was said. We have a similar method of speech by the Apostle. How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation. Heb_2:8. That is, we cannot escape. See also Mar_8:36.
Popular NT: Ye serpents, ye brood of vipers, etc. Comp. the similar language of John the Baptist (chap. Mat_3:7). That was the first, and this the last recorded address to the unchanged Pharisees. John had said: ‘who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come,’ our Lord speaks to them, as obdurate: how shall ye escape the judgment of hell, i.e., the judgment which condemns to hell, Our Lord speaks as Judge.
CTR:Ye serpents — This was not retaliation against something they had said to him.
Generation of vipers — Greek, gennema, race.
How can ye escape — Unless you change your course.
Not the poor, degraded outcasts of society, but the most strict religionists, the most popular and refined theologians of their day–having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. He perceived in them so much dishonesty and hardness of heart that he prophesied that they would have a hard time to reform character, even under the favorable conditions of the Millennium.
Not that they were already doomed to it, but rather that, from their present attitude and course, they were in great danger of it.
When a course is adopted and persistently followed, when conscience is stifled, when reason and Scripture are perverted to selfish ends until the heart is deceived and judgment overcome–who can predict the repentance of such a one? Those who cultivate a spirit of opposition to righteousness are trifling with a dangerous propensity to evil which will render it next to impossible for them to turn back to righteousness and truth.
Each violation of conscience weakens character. Character weakened, degraded, can be reconstructed only with proportionately great difficulty. Every step in the direction of willful blindness and opposition to the truth makes return more difficult, and the wrongdoer more and more of the character God abhors.
Damnation of hell — Judgment of Gehenna, destruction, second death.
They were wickedly resisting God’s grace and such a course, if pursued, must eventually end in condemnation to the second death, Gehenna.
Clarke:Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers – What a terrible stroke! – Ye are serpents, and the offspring of serpents. This refers to Mat_23:31 : they confessed that they were the children of those who murdered the prophets; and they are now going to murder Christ and his followers, to show that they have not degenerated – an accursed seed, of an accursed breed. My old MS. translates this passage oddly – Gee serpentis, fruytis of burrownyngis of eddris that sleen her modris. There seems to be here an allusion to a common opinion, that the young of the adder or viper which are brought forth alive eat their way through the womb of their mothers. Hence that ancient enigma attributed to Lactantius: –
Non possum nasci, si non occidero matrem
Occidi matrem: sed me manet exitus idem
Id mea mors faciet, quod jam mea fecit origo
Cael. Firm. Symposium, N. xv
I never can be born, nor see the day,
Till through my parent’s womb I eat my way
Her I have slain; like her must yield my breath;
For that which gave me life, shall cause my death
Every person must see with what propriety this was applied to the Jews, who were about to murder the very person who gave them their being and all their blessings.
Matthew 23:34 KJV Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
Matthew 23:34 TPT “For this reason I will send you more prophets and wise men and teachers of truth. Some you will crucify, and some you will beat mercilessly with whips in your meeting houses, abusing and persecuting them from city to city.
Barnes: I send unto you prophets … – Jesus doubtless refers here to the apostles, and other teachers of religion. Prophets, wise men, and scribes were the names by which the teachers of religion were known among the Jews, and he therefore used the same terms when speaking of the messengers which he would send. “I send” has the force of the future, I “will” send.
Some of them ye shall kill – As in the case of Stephen Act_7:59 and James Act_12:1-2.
Crucify – Punish with death on the cross. There are no cases of this mentioned; but few historical records of this age have come down to us. The Jews had not the power of crucifying, but they had power to deliver those whom they condemned to death into the hands of the Romans to do it.
Shall scourge – See the notes at Mat_10:17. This was done, Act_22:19-24; 2Co_11:24-25.
Persecute … – See the notes at Mat_5:10. This was fulfilled in the case of nearly all the apostles.
PNT: Therefore behold I send unto you. Comp. Luk_11:49. ‘Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them,’ Here Christ, having already spoken as Judge, says, ‘I send.’ He is ‘the wisdom of God.’ ‘Therefore;’ because they were determined to go on in the way of their fathers, and were to be left to do so. The sending of messengers of salvation, the multiplication of privileges, hastens the doom of the hardened. A fact in history as well as a declaration of God’s word.
Prophets, and wise men, and scribes. Names applied to the Old Testament messenger’s and teachers; here applied to New Testament messengers, whom Christ as Head of the Church would send. From Luk_11:49, we infer that there is also a reference to 2Ch_24:19. The Old Testament teachers had been treated in the same way, and the prediction indicates that they too had been sent by Christ. ‘Prophets’ probably refers to Apostles; ‘wise men’ to those specially endowed by the Holy Ghost, like Stephen; and ‘scribes’ to those mighty in the Scriptures such as Apollos. But there is no necessary distinction, for Paul belonged to all three classes. On the treatment of the Christian messengers, see Act_5:40; Act_23:19; Act_26:11
Matthew 23:35 KJV That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
CTR: Upon you may come — The penalty for. Of that age, that generation, God would require expiation. Let us not confuse these national and generational judgments with individual judgments. In no way involves future retribution of the people of that generation. Then they will not be judged nationally, nor as a generation, but be held individually responsible for their own conduct.
The righteous blood — To square accounts for the wrong deeds done by mankind not due to Adamic weakness. The “wrath to the uttermost” which came upon Jerusalem squared up the account so far as the past was concerned.
Similarly the remaining accounts of the world will be squared during the great time of trouble. The Lord keeps a very strict account of the world’s affairs, and every injustice cries out for vengeance, retribution, penalty.
Israel being a typical people, we expect similar things upon the closing generation of this Gospel age. All the blood of God’s holy ones, from the beginning of the Gospel age, will be required of the present generation in the “great time of trouble such as never was.” (Dan_12:1)
When Babylon’s fall is complete, after God’s people have come out of her, then in her overthrow will be found “the blood of the prophets and of saints and of all that were slain upon the earth.” (Rev_18:24)
Righteous Abel — Who typified Isaac, Jacob, spiritual Israel and the wheat class.
Not that Cain will be excused from further responsibility after his children suffered, for it would be as unjust to let the real culprit go unpunished as it would be to punish him and his children for the same sin.
Matthew 23:35 TPT As your penalty, you will be held responsible for the righteous blood spilled and the murders of every godly person throughout your history—from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, whom you killed as he stood in the temple between the brazen altar and the Holy Place.
Barnes: Upon the earth – Upon the land of “Judea.” The word is often used with this limitation. See Mat_4:8.
Righteous Abel – Slain by Cain, his brother, Gen_4:8.
Zacharias, son of Barachias – It is not certainly known who this was. Some have thought that it was the Zecharias whose death is recorded in 2Ch_24:20-21. He is there called the son of Jehoiada; but it is known that it was common among the Jews to have two names, as Matthew is called Levi; Lebbeus, Thaddeus; and Simon, Cephas. Others have thought that Jesus referred to Zecharias the prophet, who might have been massacred by the Jews, though no account of his death is recorded. It might have been known by tradition.
Whom ye slew – Whom you, Jews, slew. Whom your nation killed.
Between the temple and the altar – Between the temple, properly so called, and the altar of burnt-offering in the court of the priests. See the plan of the temple. Mat_21:12.
Clarke: But it is objected, that this Zachariah was called the son of Jehoiada, and our Lord calls this one the son of Barachiah. Let it be observed,
1. That double names were frequent among the Jews; and sometimes the person was called by one, sometimes by the other. Compare 1Sa_9:1, with 1Ch_8:33, where it appears that the father of Kish had two names, Abiel and Ner. So Matthew is called Levi; compare Mat_9:9, with Mar_2:14. So Peter was also called Simon, and Lebbeus was called Thaddeus. Mat_10:2, Mat_10:3.
2. That Jerome says that, in the Gospel of the Nazarenes, it was Jehoiada, instead of Barachiah.
3. That Jehoiada and Barachiah have the very same meaning, the praise or blessing of Jehovah.
Some think that our Lord refers, in the spirit of prophecy, to the murder of Zacharias, son of Baruch, a rich Jew, who was judged, condemned, and massacred in the temple by Idumean zealots, because he was rich, a lover of liberty, and a hater of wickedness. They gave him a mock trial; and, when no evidence could be brought against him of his being guilty of the crime they laid to his charge, viz. a design to betray the city to the Romans, and his judges had pronounced him innocent, two of the stoutest of the zealots fell upon him and slew him in the middle of the temple. See Josephus, War, b. iv. chap. 5. s. 5. See Crevier, vol. vi. p. 172, History of the Roman Emperors. Others imagine that Zachariah, one of the minor prophets, is meant, who might have been massacred by the Jews; for, though the account is not come down to us, our Lord might have it from a well known tradition in those times. But the former opinion is every way the most probable.
Between the temple and the altar – That is, between the sanctuary and the altar of burnt-offerings.
2 Chronicles 24:20-22 KJV And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you. 21 And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD. 22 Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, The LORD look upon it, and require it.
Wikipedia: Origen suggested that the Zechariah mentioned in Matthew 23:35 as having been killed between the temple and the altar may be the father of John the Baptist.
The Gospel of James, a 2nd-century apocryphal work, recounts that, at the time of the massacre of the Innocents, when King Herod ordered the slaughter of all males under the age of two in an attempt to prevent the prophesied Messiah from coming to Israel, Zechariah refused to divulge the whereabouts of his son (who was in hiding), and he was therefore murdered by Herod’s soldiers. This account is also present in subsequent Eastern Orthodox tradition.
Matthew 23:36 KJV Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
Barnes: Upon this generation – The destruction of Jerusalem took place about forty years after this was spoken. See the next chapter.
CTR:Verily I say — Not Jehovah, but Jesus, Adonai, for the Father “hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” (Joh_5:22; John 5: 27) Because the judgment is in my hands.
All these things — The trouble at the end of the Jewish dispensation was a type, a parallel, of the great trouble coming at the end of this dispensation. For sins other than those of heredity, willful sins, there will be satisfaction rendered in the great time of trouble.
Come — Greek, heko, signifying “to have come, be here”, not future tense, but present.
Upon this generation — Greek, genea, people living contemporaneously. The one in which our Lord lived. Fulfilled about 37 years later when civil strife and hostile invaders accomplished the fearful recompense. The generation addressed by our Lord had much advantage every way over its predecessors, and failed to profit thereby. As it had more advantages than all previous generations combined, so its punishment is equivalent to the punishment visited upon past transgressions all combined.
Because the chief light of each age comes at its close, and sinners against such light are worthy of more severe judgment.
JFB: Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation — As it was only in the last generation of them that “the iniquity of the Amorites was full” (Gen_15:16), and then the abominations of ages were at once completely and awfully avenged, so the iniquity of Israel was allowed to accumulate from age to age till in that generation it came to the full, and the whole collected vengeance of heaven broke at once over its devoted head. In the first French Revolution the same awful principle was exemplified, and Christendom has not done with it yet.
PNT:All these things shall come upon this generation. Referring to the fearful calamities to come upon the Jewish people culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem, about forty years afterwards. The punishment was a national one, to be executed in this world upon that generation, ‘as the last in a progressive series of such hypocrites and persecutors.’ National judgments are often thus delayed and suddenly executed. But the individuals of the last generation received no more than their just due, nor of the former less: since another world [age] completes the individual punishment. The Jews were the nation chosen for the manifestation of God’s mercy, and having repeatedly rejected Him and His messengers, this generation which rejected His Son became the vessels of His wrath.
Matthew 23:37 KJV O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Guzik: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem: Luk_19:41 tells us that Jesus wept as He looked over the city of Jerusalem, contemplated its coming judgment, and said these words. Jesus wanted to protect them from the terrible judgment that will follow their rejection of Him.
i. It is written that Jesus wept two times: here, at the pain of knowing what would befall those who reject Him, and at Lazurus’ tomb, weeping at the power and pain of death.
PNT: Luke (Luk_13:34-35) inserts this lamentation at an earlier point of the history. It was probably uttered twice, if but once, on this occasion, when it was peculiarly fitting. Comp. also Luk_19:41-44, where we find another lamentation over the city on His triumphant progress towards it.
CTR: Jerusalem, Jerusalem — The ancient city of Jerusalem suffered 32 wars in all, was stormed and taken seven times, and was twice totally despoiled.
How often — For three and a half years he had been declaring that the Kingdom of God was at hand; and six months in advance, John the Baptist had similarly preached.
Even as — Greek, hon tropon, in like manner.
Under her wings — For safety.
And ye would not — Having stumbled through unbelief. Unworthy! Unappreciative!
It is not for us to mourn that they were not ready, but rather it is for us to realize that the plan of God was not thwarted or hindered by their unreadiness.
Gill: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,…. The metropolis of Judea, the seat of the kings of Judah, yea, the city of the great king; the place of divine worship, once the holy and faithful city, the joy of the whole earth; wherefore it was strange that the following things should be said of it. The word is repeated to show our Lord’s affection and concern for that city, as well as to upbraid it with its name, dignity, and privileges; and designs not the building of the city, but the inhabitants of it; and these not all, but the rulers and governors of it, civil and ecclesiastical; especially the great sanhedrim, which were held in it, to whom best belong the descriptive characters of killing the prophets, and stoning them that were sent by God unto them; since it belonged to them to take cognizance of such who called themselves prophets, and to examine, and judge them, and, if false, to condemn them (h); hence that saying of Christ, Luk_13:33 which goes before the same words, as here, “it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem”: and who are manifestly distinguished from their “children”: it being usual to call such as were the heads of the people, either in a civil or ecclesiastic sense, “fathers”, and their subjects and disciples, “children”: besides, our Lord’s discourse throughout the whole context is directed to the Scribes and Pharisees, the ecclesiastic guides of the people, and to whom the civil governors paid a special regard,
Benson: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem — The Lord Jesus having thus laid before the Pharisees and the Jewish nation their heinous guilt and impending ruin, was exceedingly moved at the thought of the calamities coming upon them. A day or two before he had wept over Jerusalem; now he bewails it in the most mournful accents of pity and commisseration. Jerusalem, the vision of peace, as the word signifies, must now be made the seat of war and confusion: Jerusalem, that had been the joy of the whole earth, must now be a hissing, and an astonishment, and a by-word among all nations: Jerusalem, that had been a city compact together, was now to be shattered and ruined by its own intestine broils: Jerusalem, the place that God had chosen to put his name there, must now be abandoned to spoilers and robbers. For, 1st, As its inhabitants had their hands more deeply imbrued in the blood of the prophets than those of other places, they were to drink more deeply than others in the punishment of such crimes:
Thou that killest the prophets, &c. And, 2d, Jerusalem especially had rejected, and would persist in rejecting the Lord’s Christ, and the offers of salvation made through him, and would persecute his servants divinely commissioned to make them these offers. The former was a sin without remedy; this a sin against the remedy.
How often would I have gathered thy children, &c. — See the wonderful grace, condescension, and kindness of the Lord Jesus toward those who he foresaw would in two or three days maliciously and cruelly imbrue their hands in his blood! What a strong idea do these tender exclamations of our Lord, which can hardly be read without tears, give us of his unparalleled love to that ungrateful and impenitent nation! He would have taken the whole body of them, if they would have consented to be so taken, into his church, and have gathered them all, (as the Jews used to speak of proselytes,) under the wings of the divine majesty. The words, how often would I have gathered, &c.,mark his unwearied endeavours to protect and cherish them from the time they were first called to be his people, and the following words, declarative of the opposition between his will and theirs, but ye would not, very emphatically show their unconquerable obstinacy in resisting the most winning and most substantial expressions of the divine goodness. Thus does the Lord Jesus still call and invite perishing sinners.
Matthew 23:38 KJV Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
PNT: Your house, the temple, which is no longer God’s house, but yours. Desolate, a spiritual ruin to be followed by temporal ruin. Our Lord shortly afterwards (chap. Mat_24:1) left the temple, as a sign that this had taken place.
CTR: Your house — The Jewish nation. The house of servants. Up to this time the Lord had blessed and more or less used the priests, Levites, Doctors of the Law and the Pharisees.
Unto you desolate — The favor which has been exclusively yours is now withdrawn
“Even today do I declare that I will render double unto thee.” (Zec_9:12)
The utter destruction of that nation as a people, as a result of their rejecting and crucifying the King.
The Jewish age ended with the death of Christ, when he gave them up, weeping over them. There, at Jesus’ death, a new age began–the Christian age or Gospel dispensation.
Abandoned by the Lord during this Gospel age.
As soon as spiritual Israel was begun, the earthly was set aside; yet the first opportunity for membership in spiritual Israel was given to that people.
Rejected at the time of the crucifixion, but all the period from then down to their utter destruction in AD 70 was the period of testing to that people.
Symbolized when the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from top to bottom.
Benson: Behold, your house — The temple, which is now your house, not God’s; is left unto you desolate — Forsaken of God and his Christ, and sentenced to utter destruction. Our Lord spake this as he was going out of it for the last time.
Matthew 23:39 KJV For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Guzik: You shall see Me no more till you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus here reveals something of the conditions surrounding His Second Coming. When Jesus comes again, the Jewish people will welcome Him as the Messiah saying, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
i. It will take a great deal to bring Israel to that point, but God will do it, and Israel will welcome Jesus back – even as Paul said in Rom_11:26 : And so all Israel will be saved.
Benson: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, was the cry of the believing multitude when Jesus made his public entry into Jerusalem a few days before. Hence, in predicting their future conversion, he very properly alluded to that exclamation by which so many had expressed their faith in him as the Messiah. This was the last discourse Jesus pronounced in public, and with it his ministry ended. From that moment he abandoned the Jewish nation, gave them over to walk in their own counsels, and devoted them to destruction. Nor were they ever after to be the objects of his care, till the period of their conversion to Christianity should come, which he now foretold, and which also shall be accomplished in its season.
CTR:Henceforth, till — That day when.
The great Millennial day when all the world is to be blessed, when the “glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” (Isa_40:5)
Ye shall say — From the heart. As prophesied by David in Psa_118:26.
Indicating that when that day shall come the blindness of natural Israel shall be turned away.
At his second coming as the King of glory.
Blessed is he — “The stone which the builders refused is become the Head stone of the Corner!” (Psa_118:22, Psa_118:26)
JFB: till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord — that is, till those “Hosannas to the Son of David” with which the multitude had welcomed Him into the city – instead of “sore displeasing the chief priests and scribes” (Mat_21:15) – should break forth from the whole nation, as their glad acclaim to their once pierced, but now acknowledged, Messiah. That such a time will come is clear from Zec_12:10; Rom_11:26; 2Co_3:15, 2Co_3:16, etc. In what sense they shall then “see Him” may be gathered from Zec_2:10-13; Eze_37:23-28; Eze_39:28, Eze_39:29, etc.
Clarke: Till ye shall say, Blessed – Till after the fullness of the Gentiles is brought in, when the word of life shall again be sent unto you; then will ye rejoice, and bless, and praise him that cometh in the name of the Lord, with full and final salvation for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. See Rom_11:26, Rom_11:27.