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Bible Commentaries

The Fourfold Gospel

Matthew 23

Verses 1-39


CX.
JESUS’ LAST PUBLIC DISCOURSE. DENUNCIATION
OF SCRIBES AND PHARISEES.
(In the court of the Temple. Tuesday, April 4, A. D. 30.)
aMATT. XXIII. 1-39; bMARK XII. 38-40; cLUKE XX. 45-47.

a1 Then spake Jesus b38 And in his teaching cin the hearing of all the people he said unto athe multitudes, and to his disciples [he spoke in the most public manner], 2 saying, c46 Beware of the scribes, aThe scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: 3 all things whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. [As teachers of the law of Moses the scribes and Pharisees were the only religious guides whom the people had, so they were obliged to follow them as expounders of that law, but they were no means to look to them as living exemplification of that law.] 4 Yea, they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their fingers. [The law itself was a heavy yoke ( Acts 15:10), but these teachers added to the burden of it a vast volume of traditions, but they themselves did not keep these traditions, excusing themselves by inventing subtle distinctions like those in reference to the Corban ( Matthew 15:4-6) and to oaths ( Matthew 15:16-22). See Exodus 13:3-10, Exodus 13:11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21. These were enclosed in a leather case and were fastened to the forehead and left arm. The authority for wearing them was purely traditional, and the practice seems to have arisen from a literal interpretation of Exodus 13:9, Exodus 13:16, Deuteronomy 6:8, Deuteronomy 11:18. The Pharisees made the leather case large, that their righteousness might be more conspicuous], and enlarge the borders of their garments [These were the fringes mentioned in Numbers 15:38, Numbers 15:39. But the Pharisees offended again, even in their obedience, by wearing broader fringes than other people, that they might appear more religious], cwho desire to walk in long robes [This robe was a professional dress, as marked as that worn by priests and kings. It showed that its wearer was professionally religious], a6 and love the chief places at feasts [see Exodus 22:22-24, Deuteronomy 27:19.] a8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your teacher [Christ], and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even the Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. [See pp. 557, 558.] 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted. [See pp. 431, 494, 537. Thus Jesus reproves those who make religion a matter of praise-seeking ostentation, whether they do so by seeking position, or by peculiarity of dress, or by assuming or accepting titles of honor or distinction. This sin of ostentation was the first enumerated sin of the Pharisees.] 13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye enter not in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering in to enter. [Our Lord’s language is figurative and presents the kingdom of God as a house around the door of which the Pharisees have gathered, not entering in themselves, and blocking the way against those who would enter. This they did by their opposition to Jesus. For a similar charge see p. 315.] 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves. [Proselytes here meant are not those converted from heathenism to worship God, but Jews converted to Phariseeism. These become worse than their instructors, because each generation drifted farther from the law and became more zealously and completely devoted to the traditions.] 16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides [Jesus above denounced them for their hypocrisy, but this woe is pronounced upon them for their [608] ignorance and folly], that say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor. [The word "debtor" is here meant to describe one who owes it to himself and to God to keep his oath. The Pharisees graduated oaths according to their own foolish conceptions of the sanctity of the object invoked, so that if the object by which a man swore was not sacred enough, he was not forsworn if he did not keep his oath. Esteeming the gold of the temple more sacred than the temple itself, they held that an oath by the former was binding while an oath by the latter was not. The gold meant is probably the golden ornaments on the temple.] 17 Ye fools and blind: for which is greater, the gold, or the temple that hath sanctified the gold? 18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gift that is upon it, he is a debtor. 19 Ye blind: for which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 He therefore that sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21 And he that sweareth by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22 And he that sweareth by the heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. [Our Lord designed to teach that all oaths were binding. See p. 243.] 23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone. [See p. 313. The anise was used for medical purposes and also for culinary seasoning, so that Pliny says "the kitchen can not be without it." Cummin also was a condiment and a medicine, the bruised seed mixed with wine being used as a styptic, especially after circumcision. It was also used as an ingredient for salves and plasters such as were applied to the ulcers of cattle produced from the bites, grubs, etc., of insects.] 24 Ye blind guides, that strain out the gnat, and [609] swallow the camel! [A proverbial expression, indicating care for little faults and a corresponding unconcern for big ones.] 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full from extortion and excess. [Jesus here compares the Pharisees to a woman who washes the outside of her dishes and leaves the inside unclean. But in describing that inner uncleanness he passes from the figure to the reality, and specifies that it consists of extortion and self-indulgence. They made their outside clean by traditionary ablutions. See pp. 393, 394.] 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also. [Here again the literal peeps through the figurative: a pure inner life makes clean outward conduct.] 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. [Luke records Jesus as having taught this lesson by an exactly opposite figure. See p. 313. There men were contaminated by the touch of a grave because there was nothing outside to notify them of its presence. Here men are contaminated by the same thing because the outside is rendered so white and beautiful that men are deceived into thinking that the inside is harmless.] 29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and garnish the tombs of the righteous, 30 and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye witness to yourselves, that ye are sons of them that slew the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. [See p. 314.] 33 Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell? [See p. 73.] 34 Therefore, behold, I send unto you [610] prophets, and wise men, and scribes: some of them shall ye kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: 35 that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. [See pp. 314, 315.] 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39 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. [See pp. 491, 492.]

[FFG 606-611]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on Matthew 23". "The Fourfold Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tfg/matthew-23.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.