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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 23

 

 

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Introduction

Matthew 23. Condemnation of Scribes and Pharisees.—This long denunciation appears to have come from Q. Mk., reading it there, epitomised it in three verses (Matthew 12:38 ff.), Lk. (Luke 11:37-52) abbreviated by omitting points unsuited to Gentile readers. Mt. has probably expanded the original; there are passages which suggest the latter half of the first century rather than the time and thought of Jesus: e.g. Matthew 23:10 recalls the exhortations of Paul, and Matthew 23:15 reflects the activity of Judaisers in Paul's day, even if we do not follow Loisy in seeing in it (as in Matthew 23:9; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15) a veiled attack on Paul himself, who "compassed land and sea" to make converts. Though Lk. puts the arraignment at an earlier stage of the ministry and in Galilee, it is more accurately placed here. It would seem that Jesus now realised the impossibility of any agreement or reconciliation with the authoritative exponents and leaders of Judaism, and gave vent to His indignation at their shortcomings and wrongdoing. We have seen how Mt. has been preparing for this denouément. Montefiore thinks the greater portion of the diatribe "is unjustly ascribed to Jesus"; "in its unhistoric violence it overreaches itself" (cf. p. 666). The terms "scribe" and "Pharisee" are almost interchangeable. Most of the Scribes were Pharisees, though of course most of the Pharisees were not Scribes. The chapter falls into three parts: (1) Matthew 23:1-12, (2) Matthew 23:13-32, (3) Matthew 23:33-39.


Verses 1-12

Matthew 23:1-12. Warnings to the People and the Disciples.

Matthew 23:2 f. Loisy regards this as an interpolation (by a Judaising redactor) out of harmony with the attack that follows. Holtzmann thinks it is Mt.'s, breathing special respect for the Law, like Matthew 5:17 ff., but irreconcilable with Matthew 15:3-14. But, as Pfleiderer puts it, we must "admit that in the attitude of Jesus towards the Mosaic Law different expressions which cannot be reconciled stand side by side, the most natural explanation of which may be found in a change of mood." Cf. p. 667.—sit: lit. "sat." Plummer suggests that at the end of the verse we should supply "when they taught you to observe the Law."

Matthew 23:4. By minute ordinances (e.g. rules for Sabbath keeping) they make life a burden for others, but give no help towards removing them or making them more tolerable.

Matthew 23:5. phylacteries (lit. amulets, the Gk. translation of Heb. tephillin, lit. prayers), small square leather cases strapped on the forehead and the left arm (Deuteronomy 6:8*). Each contained four passages from the Law (Exodus 13:1-16. Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21), written on four strips and one strip of parchment respectively.—borders the tassels of plaited or twisted threads on the four corners of the simlah or Jewish shawl-like upper garment. Matthew 23:8-12 seems specially addressed to the disciples. With Matthew 23:11 f. cf. Mark 9:35; Mark 10:44, Matthew 20:26.


Verses 13-32

Matthew 23:13-32. Seven Woes.—Seven is a sacred number and often used in Mt., as in OT (cf. especially Isaiah 5) and Rev. "The first three treat of Pharisaic teaching, the last three of Pharisaic character, the fourth is transitional."—i.-iii. The Scribes refused to accept the preaching of Jesus, and deterred others from accepting it (Matthew 23:13; cf. Luke 11:52). While they are thus eager to prevent Jews from becoming Christians, they are keen to make converts either from the Gentiles to Judaism, or, more probably, from Jews to Pharisaism, and such converts become excessively Pharisaical (Matthew 23:15); they make casuistical and perverse distinctions with regard to oaths which subvert men's notions of truthfulness and honour (Matthew 23:16-22).—iv. They are scrupulously careful about minute ceremonial detail, but lax in fundamental moralities (cf. Luke 11:42). Note that Jesus does not attack the Law.—v.-vi. While insisting on ritual cleanliness and the appearance of a good life, they are really given to extortion and avarice, like a cup or a tomb, fair on the outside, filthy within (Matthew 23:25-28; cf. Luke 11:39-41; Luke 11:44).—vii. They pay great homage to the martyred prophets, but do their best to martyr John and Jesus, the prophets of their own day (Matthew 23:29-36).

Matthew 23:14. An interpolation from Mark 12:40.

Matthew 23:16. Ye blind guides: in place of the usual "Scribes and Pharisees." Perhaps something about heaven and the throne (corresponding to Matthew 23:22) has been left out here.—he is a debtor=the oath is binding. With Matthew 23:16-22; cf. Matthew 5:33-37.

Matthew 23:23. anise: better "dill"; cummin resembles caraway. The three little herbs were used in cookery and medicine.

Matthew 23:24. strain out, not "at"; the reference is to the fear of swallowing an "unclean" insect in a drink. Note the humour of "swallow a camel" (Glover, The Jesus of History, p. 49.)

Matthew 23:25. full from: i.e. as the result of avarice; the food and drink may be ceremonially clean while morally tainted because dishonestly obtained.

Matthew 23:27. Tombs were whitewashed on the 15th of Adar (just before the Passover, the time when Jesus was speaking), that passers-by might not become polluted through inadvertently touching them.

Matthew 23:29. The seventh woe is linked with the sixth by the word "sepulchres." The honour shown to the graves of the prophets is sheer hypocrisy, for the Pharisees are not only lineally but morally descended from the murderers.

Matthew 23:32. Fill up: the variant "You will fill up," though it has good authority, is an attempt to soften the irony.


Verses 33-36

Matthew 23:33-36. A Last Warning.—With Matthew 23:33 cf. the Baptist's words, Matthew 3:7.

Matthew 23:34. Luke 11:49*.

Matthew 23:35. Abel: Genesis 4:8.—Zachariah: 2 Chronicles 24:20 ff. The reference is thus to all the martyrdoms recorded in the Heb. Scriptures, of which 2 Chronicles 13 the last book. Zachariah was really the son of Jehoiada; Mt. (or a glossator) says "son of Barachiah" (Lk. omits) through confusing Zachariah with the prophet (Zechariah 1:1). Josephus (Wars, IV, Matthew 23:4) tells of a Zachariah, son of Baruch, who was murdered in the Temple during the siege of Jerusalem for plotting to betray the city to Vespasian. But it is almost impossible to suppose that this is the incident here referred to. The murder of Zachariah, son of Jehoiada, lay heavy on the Jewish conscience; they regarded Nebuchadnezzar's capture of Jerusalem as retribution for it (JThS, xiii. 408).


Verses 37-39

Matthew 23:37-39. Lament over Jerusalem (Luke 13:34 f.*).

Matthew 23:37 may be part of the utterance ascribed by Jesus to the "Wisdom of God." If not, Jesus is referring not so much to His earlier visits to Jerusalem as to His desire (when in Galilee) to come to the mother city and fold its people into discipleship and protection in the coming judgment.

Matthew 23:38. your house: i.e. the Temple, symbolising the city and the nation. The Divine Presence, rejected in Jesus, is deserting Israel. They will see Jesus next when He returns as the heavenly Messiah.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Matthew 23:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/matthew-23.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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