Adam Clarke Commentary
The character of the scribes and Pharisees, and directions to the people and the disciples to receive the law from them, but not to follow their bad example, Matthew 23:1-7. The disciples exhorted to humility, Matthew 23:8-12. Different woes pronounced against the scribes and Pharisees for their intolerance, Matthew 23:13; rapacity, Matthew 23:14; false zeal, Matthew 23:15; superstition in oaths and tithes, Matthew 23:16-23; hypocrisy, Matthew 23:24-28. Their cruelty, Matthew 23:29-32. Their persecution of the apostles, etc. Their destruction foretold, Matthew 23:33-36. Christ‘s lamentation over Jerusalem, Matthew 23:37-39.
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, (Matthew 5:1; Luke 4:20-22), and to stand up when they read them.
All therefore whatsoever - That is, all those things which they read out of the law and prophets, and all things which they teach consistently with them. This must be our Lord‘s meaning: he could not have desired them to do every thing, without restriction, which the Jewish doctors taught; because himself warns his disciples against their false teaching, and testifies that they had made the word of God of none effect by their traditions. See Matthew 15:6, etc. Besides, as our Lord speaks here in the past tense - whatsoever they Have commanded, ὁσα ειπωσιν , he may refer to the teaching of a former period, when they taught the way of God in truth, or were much less corrupted than they were now.
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.
All their works they do for to be seen of men - In pointing out the corruptions of these men, our Lord gives us the distinguishing characteristics of all false teachers, whether Jewish or Christian.
1.They live not according to the truths they preach. They say, and do not, Matthew 23:3.
2.They are severe to others, point out the narrowest road to heaven, and walk in the broad road themselves. They bind on burdens, etc., Matthew 23:4.
5.They love and seek public respect and high titles, salutations in the market-place, (for they are seldom in their studies), and to be called of men rabbi - eminent teacher, though they have no title to it, either from the excellence or fruit of their teaching. When these marks are found in a man who professes to be a minister of Christ, charity itself will assert he is a thief and a robber - he has climbed over the wall of the sheepfold, or broken it down in order to get in.
Phylacteries - φυλακτηρια , from φυλασσω , to keep or preserve. These were small slips of parchment or vellum, on which certain portions of the law were written. The Jews tied these about their foreheads and arms, for three different purposes.
1.To put them in mind of those precepts which they should constantly observe.
2.To procure them reverence and respect in the sight of the heathen. And
3.To act as amulets or charms to drive away evil spirits.
The first use of these phylacteries is evident from their name.
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.
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.
One is your Master - Instead of καθηγητης , guide or leader, (the common reading here, and which occurs in Matthew 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 Matthew 23:10. Our Lord probably alludes to Isaiah 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.
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 Matthew 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.
Neither be ye called masters - Καθηγηται , leaders. God is in all these respects jealous of his honor. To him alone it belongs to guide and lead his Church, as well as to govern and defend it. Jesus is the sole teacher of righteousness. It is he alone, (who is the word, light, and eternal truth), that can illuminate every created mind; and who, as Savior and Redeemer, speaks to every heart by his Spirit.
Your servant - Διακονος , deacon. See on Matthew 20:26 (note).
Whosoever shall exalt himself, etc. - The way to arrive at the highest degree of dignity, in the sight of God, is by being willing to become the servant of all. Nothing is more hateful in his sight than pride; to bring it into everlasting contempt, God was manifest in the flesh. He who was in the likeness of God took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man, and humbled himself unto death. After this, can God look upon any proud man without abasing him? Spiritual lordship and domination, ecclesiastical luxury, pomp, and pride, must be an abhorrence in the sight of that God who gave the above advices to his followers.
Ye shut up the kingdom - As a key by opening a lock gives entrance into a house, etc., so knowledge of the sacred testimonies, manifested in expounding them to the people, may be said to open the way into the kingdom of heaven. But where men who are termed teachers are destitute of this knowledge themselves, they may be said to shut this kingdom; because they occupy the place of those who should teach, and thus prevent the people from acquiring heavenly knowledge.
Wo unto you, scribes - I think the fourteenth and thirteenth verses should be transposed. This transposition is authorized by some of the best MSS., versions, and fathers. The fourteenth is wanting in the BDL., and in many others of inferior note, as well as in several of the versions. Griesbach has left it out of the text, in his first edition; I hesitated, and left it in, thus transposed. I am happy to find that a more extensive collation of MSS., etc., afforded proof to that eminent critic that it should be restored to its place. In the second edition, he has transposed the two, just as I had done. The fifteenth reads best after the thirteenth.
Ye devour widows‘ houses - On this subject I am in possession of nothing better than the following note of Dr. Whitby.
Now this being only a hypocritical pretense of piety, must be hateful to God, and so deserve a greater condemnation.”
Long prayer - For proofs of long prayers and vain repetitions among Jews, Mohammedans, and heathens, see the notes on Matthew 6:7.
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 Exodus 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 .
Whosoever shall swear by the gold - The covetous man, says one, still gives preference to the object of his lust; gold has still the first place in his heart. A man is to be suspected when he recommends those good works most from which he receives most advantage.
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, (Matthew 23:16), or by the altar or the gift laid on it, (Matthew 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.
Whoso shall swear by the temple - Perhaps it is to this custom of swearing by the temple, that Martial alludes, lib. xi. epist. 95.
This word probably comes from היכל יה (heical Yah), the temple of Jehovah. This seems a better derivation than אם חי אלהים (im chai Elohim), as God liveth, though the sound of the latter is nearer to the Latin.
By him that dwelleth therein - The common reading is κατοικουντι , dwelleth or Inhabiteth, but κατοικησαντι , dwelt or Did inhabit, is the reading of CDEFGHKLM, eighty-six others; this reading has been adopted in the editions of Complutum, Colineus, Bengel, and Griesbach. The importance of this reading may be perceived by the following considerations. In the first Jewish temple, God had graciously condescended to manifest himself - he is constantly represented as dwelling between the cherubim, the two figures that stood at each end of the ark of the covenant; between whom, on the mercy seat, the lid of the ark, a splendor of glory was exhibited, which was the symbol and proof of the Divine presence. This the Jews called שכינה (Shekinah), the habitation of Jehovah. Now the Jews unanimously acknowledge that five things were wanting in the second temple, which were found in the first, viz.,
2.The holy spirit of prophecy;
5.The שכינה (Shekinah).
As the Lord had long before this time abandoned the Jewish temple, and had now made the human nature of Jesus the Shekinah, (see John 1:14, the Logos was made flesh, εσκηνωσεν , and made his tabernacle - made the Shekinah, - among us), our Lord could not, with any propriety, say that the supreme Being did now inhabit the temple; and therefore used a word that hinted to them that God had forsaken their temple, and consequently the whole of that service which was performed in it, and had now opened the new and living way to the holiest by the Messiah. But all this was common swearing; and, whether the subject was true or false, the oath was unlawful. A common swearer is worthy of no credit, when, even in the most solemn manner he takes an oath before a magistrate; he is so accustomed to stake his truth, perhaps even his soul, to things whether true or false, that an oath cannot bind him, and indeed is as little respected by himself as it is by his neighbor. Common swearing, and the shocking frequency and multiplication of oaths in civil cases, have destroyed all respect for an oath; so that men seldom feel themselves bound by it; and thus it is useless in many cases to require it as a confirmation, in order to end strife or ascertain truth. See the note on Matthew 5:37.
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.
Blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. - This clause should be thus translated: Ye strain out the gnat, but ye swallow down the camel. In the common translation, Ye strain At a gnat, conveys no sense. Indeed, it is likely to have been at first an error of the press, At for Out, which, on examination, I find escaped in the edition of 1611, and has been regularly continued since. There is now before me, “The Newe Testament, (both in Englyshe and in Laten), of Mayster Erasmus translacion, imprynted by Wyllyam Powell, dwellynge in Flete strete: the yere of our Lorde M.CCCCC.XLVII. the fyrste yere of the kynges (Edwd. VI). moste gracious reygne.” in which the verse stands thus: “Ye blinde gides, which strayne out a gnat, and swalowe a cammel.” It is the same also in Edmund Becke‘s Bible, printed in London 1549, and in several others. - Clensynge a gnatte. - MS. Eng. Bib. So Wickliff. Similar to this is the following Arabic proverb: He eats an elephant and is choked by a gnat.
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.
For ye are like - Παρομοιαζετε , ye exactly resemble - the parallel is complete.
Whited sepulchres - White-washed tombs. As the law considered those unclean who had touched any thing belonging to the dead, the Jews took care to have their tombs white-washed each year, that, being easily discovered, they might be consequently avoided.
Even so ye also - appear righteous unto men - But what will this appearance avail a man, when God sits in judgment upon his soul? Will the fair reputation which he had acquired among men, while his heart was the seat of unrighteousness, screen him from the stroke of that justice which impartially sends all impurity and unholiness into the pit of destruction? No. In the sin that he hath sinned, and in which he hath died, and according to that, shall he be judged and punished; and his profession of holiness only tends to sink him deeper into the lake which burns with unquenchable fire. Reader! see that thy heart be right with God.
Ye build the tombs of the prophets - It appears that, through respect to their memory, they often repaired, and sometimes beautified, the tombs of the prophets. M. De la Valle, in his Journey to the Holy Land, says, that when he visited the cave of Machpelah, he saw some Jews honoring a sepulchre, for which they have a great veneration, with lighting at it wax candles and burning perfumes. See Harmer, vol. iii. p. 416. And in ditto, p. 424, we are informed that building tombs over those reputed saints, or beautifying those already built, is a frequent custom among the Mohammedans.
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.
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.
Fill ye up then - Notwithstanding the profession you make, ye will fill up the measure of your fathers - will continue to walk in their way, accomplish the fullness of every evil purpose by murdering me; and then, when the measure of your iniquity is full, vengeance shall come upon you to the uttermost, as it did on your rebellious ancestors. The 31st verse should be read in a parenthesis, and then the 32d will appear to be, what it is, an inference from the 30th.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers - What a terrible stroke! - Ye are serpents, and the offspring of serpents. This refers to Matthew 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: -
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.
Wherefore - To show how my prediction, Ye will fill up the measure of your fathers, shall be verified, Behold, I send (I am just going to commission them) prophets, etc. and some ye will kill, (with legal process), and some ye will crucify, pretend to try and find guilty, and deliver them into the hands of the Romans, who shall, through you, thus put them to death. See on Luke 11:49 (note). By prophets, wise men, and scribes, our Lord intends the evangelists, apostles, deacons, etc., who should be employed in proclaiming his Gospel: men who should equal the ancient prophets, their wise men, and scribes, in all the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit.
Upon the earth - Επι της γης , upon this land, meaning probably the land of Judea; for thus the word is often to be understood. The national punishment of all the innocent blood which had been shed in the land, shall speedily come upon you, from the blood of Abel the just, the first prophet and preacher of righteousness, Hebrews 11:4; 2 Peter 2:5, to the blood of Zachariah, the son of Barachiah. It is likely that our Lord refers to the murder of Zachariah, mentioned 2 Chronicles 24:20, who said to the people, Why transgress ye the commandments of God, so that ye cannot prosper? Because ye have forsaken the Lord, he hath forsaken you. And they conspired against him and stoned him - at the commandment of the king, in the court of the house of the Lord. And when he died, he said, The Lord look upon and require it: 2 Chronicles 24:21, 2 Chronicles 24:22.
1.That double names were frequent among the Jews; and sometimes the person was called by one, sometimes by the other. Compare 1 Samuel 9:1, with 1 Chronicles 8:33, where it appears that the father of Kish had two names, Abiel and Ner. So Matthew is called Levi; compare Matthew 9:9, with Mark 2:14. So Peter was also called Simon, and Lebbeus was called Thaddeus. Matthew 10:2, Matthew 10:3.
2.That Jerome says that, in the Gospel of the Nazarenes, it was Jehoiada, instead of Barachiah.
4.That as the Lord required the blood of Zachariah so fully that in a year all the princes of Judah and Jerusalem were destroyed by the Syrians, and Joash, who commanded the murder, slain by his own servants, 2 Chronicles 24:23-25, and their state grew worse and worse, till at last the temple was burned, and the people carried into captivity by Nebuzaradan: - so it should also be with the present race. The Lord would, after the crucifixion of Christ, visit upon them the murder of all those righteous men, that their state should grow worse and worse, till at last the temple should be destroyed, and they finally ruined by the Romans. See this prediction in the next chapter: and see Dr. Whitby concerning Zachariah, the son of Barachiah.
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.
Shall come upon this generation - Επι την γενεαν ταυτην , upon this race of men, viz. the Jews. This phrase often occurs in this sense in the evangelists.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem -
1.It is evident that our blessed Lord seriously and earnestly wished the salvation of the Jews.
2.That he did every thing that could be done, consistently with his own perfections, and the liberty of his creatures, to effect this.
5.That the reason was, they would not be gathered together under his protection: therefore wrath, i.e. punishment, came upon them to the uttermost.
From this it is evident that there have been persons whom Christ wished to save, and bled to save, who notwithstanding perished, because they would not come unto him, John 5:40. The metaphor which our Lord uses here is a very beautiful one. When the hen sees a beast of prey coming, she makes a noise to assemble her chickens, that she may cover them with her wings from the danger. The Roman eagle is about to fall upon the Jewish state - nothing can prevent this but their conversion to God through Christ-Jesus cries throughout the land, publishing the Gospel of reconciliation - they would not assemble, and the Roman eagle came and destroyed them. The hen‘s affection to her brood is so very strong as to become proverbial. The following beautiful Greek epigram, taken from the Anthologia, affords a very fine illustration of this text.
Τεκνοις ευναιας αμφεχεε πτερυγας
Αιθερος ουρανιων αντιπαλος νεφεων.
Μητερες, ορνιθων εργα διδασκομεναι
This epigram contains a happy illustration, not only of our Lord‘s simile, but also of his own conduct. How long had these thankless and unholy people been the objects of his tenderest cares! For more than 2000 years, they engrossed the most peculiar regards of the most beneficent Providence; and during the three years of our Lord‘s public ministry, his preaching and miracles had but one object and aim, the instruction and salvation of this thoughtless and disobedient people. For their sakes, he who was rich became poor, that they through his poverty might be rich: - for their sakes, he made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross! He died, that They might not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus, to save their life, he freely abandoned his own.
Behold, your house - Ο οικος , the temple: - this is certainly what is meant. It was once the Lord‘s temple, God‘s Own house; but now he says, Your temple or house - to intimate that God had abandoned it. See the note on Matthew 23:21; see also on Luke 13:35 (note).
Ye shall not see me - I will remove my Gospel from you, and withdraw my protection.
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 Romans 11:26, Romans 11:27.
1.For their unwillingness to let the common people enjoy the pure word of God, or its right explanation: Ye shut up the kingdom, etc., Matthew 23:13.
2.For their rapacity, and pretended sanctity in order to secure their secular ends: Ye devour widows houses, etc., Matthew 23:14.
8.For their pretended concern for the holiness of the people, which proceeded no farther than to keep them free from such pollutions as they might accidentally and innocently contract, by casually stepping on the place where a person had been buried: and for their affected regret that their fathers had killed the prophets, while themselves possessed and cultivated the same murderous inclinations: Ye - garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been, etc., Matthew 23:29, Matthew 23:30.
It is amazing with what power and authority our blessed Lord reproves this bad people. This was the last discourse they ever heard from him; and it is surprising, considering their wickedness, that they waited even for a mock trial, and did not rise up at once and destroy him. But the time was not yet come in which he was to lay down his life, for no man could take it from him.
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