Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Matthew 3:7

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Baptism;   Hypocrisy;   Minister, Christian;   Pharisees;   Repentance;   Reproof;   Sadducees;   Viper;   Wicked (People);   Scofield Reference Index - Pharisees;   Sadducees;   Thompson Chain Reference - Denunciations;   Evil;   Generation, Evil;   John the Baptist;   Palliation-Denunciation;   Pharisees;   Plainness of Speech;   Sadducees;   Sects, Jewish;   Sin;   Speech;   The Topic Concordance - Baptism;   John the Baptist;   Repentance;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Baptism;   Pharisees, the;   Reproof;   Sadducees, the;   Titles and Names of the Wicked;  
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Viper;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Baptism;   John the baptist;   Prophecy, prophet;   Snake;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Anger;   Baptize, Baptism;   John the Baptist;   Messiah;   Motives;   Nahum, Theology of;   Sadducees;   Wrath of God;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Baptism ;   Church;   Holy Ghost;   Hutchinsonians;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Generation;   John the Baptist;   Pharisees;   Sadducees;   Viper;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Generation;   Sadducees;   Viper;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Luke, Gospel of;   Matthew, the Gospel of;   Trinity;   Viper;   Wrath, Wrath of God;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Anger;   Anger (Wrath) of God;   Generation;   John the Baptist;   Jordan;   Medicine;   Mss;   Pharisees;   Serpent;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Anger;   Animals;   Asceticism (2);   Generation;   John the Baptist;   Logia;   Luke, Gospel According to;   Nunc Dimittis ;   Old Testament (Ii. Christ as Student and Interpreter of).;   Sadducees;   Serpent;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Generation;   John the Baptist;   Viper,;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Kingdom of christ of heaven;   Kingdom of god;   Kingdom of heaven;   Levi;   Viper;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Sad'ducees;   Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types - Asp;   Flee;   Viper;  
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Encampment at Sinai;   John, the Baptize;   Jesus of Nazareth;   Kingdom or Church of Christ, the;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Baptism (the Baptist Interpretation);   Baptism (Lutheran Doctrine);   Matthew, the Gospel of;   Retribution;   Serpent;   Viper;   Kitto Biblical Cyclopedia - Baptism;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Anger;   Baptism;   Christianity in Its Relation to Judaism;   Sadducees;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Pharisees - A very numerous sect among the Jews, who, in their origin, were, very probably, a pure and holy people. It is likely that they got the name of Pharisees, i.e. Separatists, (from פרש pharash, to separate), from their separating themselves from the pollution of the Jewish national worship; and hence, the word in the Anglo-saxon version is, holy persons who stand apart, or by themselves: but, in process of time, like all religious sects and parties, they degenerated: they lost the spirit of their institution, they ceased to recur to first principles, and had only the form of godliness, when Jesus Christ preached in Judea; for he bore witness, that they did make the outside of the cup and platter clean - they observed the rules of their institution, but the spirit was gone.

Sadducees - A sect who denied the existence of angels and spirits, consequently all Divine influence and inspiration, and also the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees of that time were the Materialists and Deists of the Jewish nation. When the sect of the Pharisees arose cannot be distinctly ascertained; but it is supposed to have been some time after the Babylonish captivity. The sect of the Sadducees were the followers of one Sadok, a disciple of Antigonus Sochaeus, who flourished about three centuries before Christ. There was a third sect among the Jews, called the Essenes or Essenians, of whom I shall have occasion to speak on Matthew 19:12.

Come to his baptism - The Ethiopic version adds the word privately here, the translator probably having read λαθρα in his copy, which gives a very remarkable turn to the passage. The multitudes, who had no worldly interest to support, no character to maintain by living in their usual way, came publicly, and openly acknowledged that they were Sinners; and stood in need of mercy. The others, who endeavored to secure their worldly interests by making a fair show in the flesh, are supposed to have come privately, that they might not be exposed to reproach; and that they might not lose their reputation for wisdom and sanctity, which their consciences, under the preaching of the Baptist, told them they had no right to. See below.

O generation of vipers - Γεννηματα εχιδνων . A terribly expressive speech. A serpentine brood, from a serpentine stock. As their fathers were, so were they, children of the wicked one. This is God's estimate of a Sinner, whether he wade in wealth, or soar in fame. The Jews were the seed of the serpent, who should bruise the heel of the woman's seed, and whose head should be bruised by him.

Who hath warned you - Or, privately shown you. Τις υπεδιξεν - from υπο, under, and δεικνυμαι, to show. Does not this seem to allude to the reading of the Ethiopic noticed above? They came privately: and John may be supposed to address them thus: "Did any person give you a private warning? No, you received your convictions under the public ministry of the word. The multitudes of the poor and wretched, who have been convinced of sin, have publicly acknowledged their crimes, and sought mercy - God will unmask you - you have deceived the people - you have deceived yourselves - you must appear just what you are; and, if you expect mercy from God, act like the penitent multitude, and bring forth Fruit worthy of repentance. Do not begin to trifle with your convictions, by thinking, that because you are descendants of Abraham, therefore you are entitled to God's favor; God can, out of these stones (pointing probably to those scattered about in the desert, which he appears to have considered as an emblem of the Gentiles) raise up a faithful seed, who, though not natural descendants of your excellent patriarch, yet shall be his worthy children, as being partakers of his faith, and friends of his God." It should be added, that the Greek word also signifies plain or ample information. See on Luke 6:47; (note).

The wrath to come? - The desolation which was about to fall on the Jewish nation for their wickedness, and threatened in the last words of their own Scriptures. See Malachi 4:6. Lest I come and smite the earth הארץ את (et ha -arets, this very land) with a curse. This wrath or curse was coming: they did not prevent it by turning to God, and receiving the Messiah, and therefore the wrath of God came upon them to the uttermost. Let him that readeth understand.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Pharisees and Sadducees - The Jews were divided into three great sects - the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. In addition to these, some smaller sects are mentioned in the New Testament and by Josephus: the Herodians, probably political friends of Herod; the Galileans, a branch of the Pharisees; and the Therapeutae, a branch of the Essenes, but converts from the Greeks. The three principal sects are supposed to have originated about 150 years before Christ, as they are mentioned by Josephus at that time in his history. Of course nothing is said of them in the Old Testament, as that was finished about 400 years before the Christian era.

I. The Pharisees were the most numerous and wealthy sect of the Jews. They derived their name from the Hebrew word Pharash, which signifies to set apart, or to separate, because they separated themselves from the rest of their countrymen, and professedly devoted themselves to special strictness in religion. Their leading tenets were the following: that the world was governed by fate, or by a fixed decree of God; that the souls of men were immortal, and were either eternally happy or miserable beyond the grave; that the dead would be raised; that there were angels, good and bad; that God was under obligation to bestow special favor on the Jews; and that they were justified by their own conformity to the law. They were proud, haughty, self-righteous, and held the common people in great disrespect, John 7:49. They sought the offices of the state, and affected great dignity. They were ostentatious in their religious worship, praying in the corners of the streets, and seeking publicity in the bestowment of alms. They sought principally external cleanliness, and dealt much in ceremonial ablutions and washing.

They maintained some of the laws of Moses very strictly. In addition to the written laws, they held to a multitude which they maintained had come down from Moses by tradition. These they felt themselves as much bound to observe as the written Law. Under the influence of these laws they washed themselves before meals with great scrupulousness; they fasted twice a week - on Thursday, when they supposed that Moses ascended Mount Sinai, and on Monday, when he descended; they wore broad phylacteries, and enlarged the fringe or borders of their garments; they loved the chief rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues. In general, they were a corrupt, hypocritical, office-seeking, haughty class of men. There are, however, some honorable exceptions recorded, Acts 5:34; perhaps, also, Mark 15:43; Luke 2:25; Luke 23:51; John 19:38-42; John 3:1; John 7:50.

II. The Sadducees are supposed to have taken their name from Sadok, who flourished about 260 years before the Christian era. He was a pupil of Antigonus Sochaeus, president of the sanhedrin, or great council of the nation. He had taught the duty of serving God disinterestedly, without the hope of reward or the fear of punishment. Sadok, not properly understanding the doctrine of his master, drew the inference that there was no future state of rewards or punishments, and on this belief he founded the sect. The other notions which they held, all to be traced to this leading doctrine, were:

1.That there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8; and that the soul of man perishes with the body.

2.They rejected the doctrine of fate or decrees.

3.They rejected all traditions, and professed to receive only the books of the Old Testament. They were far less numerous than the Pharisees, but their want of numbers was compensated, in some degree, by their wealth and standing in society. Though they did not generally seek office, yet several of them were advanced to the high priesthood.

III. The Essenes, a third sect of the Jews, are not mentioned in the New Testament. They differed from both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were Jewish monks or hermits, passing their time little in society, but mostly in places of obscurity and retirement. It is not probable, therefore, that our Saviour often, if ever, encountered them; and this, it is supposed, is the reason why they are not mentioned in the New Testament. They were a contemplative sect, having little to do with the common business of life. The property which they possessed they held in common. They denied themselves, in a great measure, the usual comforts of life, and were exceedingly strict in the observance of the duties of religion. They were generally more pure than the rest of the Jews, and appear to have been an unambitious, a modest, and retiring sort of people. The two sexes were not in company except on the Sabbath, when they partook of their coarse fare (only bread and salt) together. They practiced dancing in their worship. Few of them were married; they were opposed to oaths, and they asserted that slavery was repugnant to nature. In regard to doctrine, they did not differ materially from the Pharisees, except that they objected to the sacrifices of slain animals, and of course did not visit the temple, and were not, therefore, likely to come into public contact with the Saviour. They perpetuated their sect by proselytes, and by taking orphan children to train up.

The other sects of the Jews were too insignificant to demand any particular notice here. It may be said of the Jews generally that they possessed little of the spirit of religion; that they had corrupted some of the most important doctrines of the Bible; and that they were an ignorant, proud, ambitious, and sensual people. There as great propriety, therefore, in John‘s proclaiming to them the necessity of repentance.

Generation of vipers - Vipers are a species of serpents, from 2 to 5 feet in length and about an inch thick, with a flat head. They are of an ash or yellowish color, speckled with long brown spots. There is no serpent that is more poisonous. The person bitten by them swells up almost immediately, and falls down dead. See Acts 28:6. The word “serpent,” or “viper,” is used to denote both cunning and malignancy. In the phrase “be ye wise as serpents” Matthew 10:16 it means be prudent, or wise, referring to the account in Genesis 3:1-6. Among the Jews the serpent was regarded as the symbol of cunning, circumspection, and prudence. It was so regarded in the Egyptian hieroglyphics. In the phrase “generation of vipers” Matthew 12:34, the viper is the symbol of wickedness, of envenomed malice - a symbol drawn from the venom of the serpent. It is not quite certain in which of these senses the phrase is used in this place. Probably it is used to denote their malignancy and wickedness.

Wrath to come - John expresses his astonishment that sinners so hardened and so hypocritical as they were should have been induced to flee from coming wrath. The wrath to come means the divine indignation, or the punishment that will come on the guilty. See 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Matthew 3:7

Wrath to come.

I. The meaning wrapt up in John’s message.

1. Danger. Future retribution has become to many a kind of figment.

2. The importance of confession.

3. The necessity of a renewal of heart. “Behold the Lamb of God!”

II. The baptist’s astonishment at his own success. What was the secret of his power? Character of John’s life, and his hearers. A ministry of terror-different from Christ’s. Men felt he was real-secret of all success. The classes of men on whom his influence told (Luke 3:1-38.). Neither of these isms will satisfy the conscience. (F. W. Robertson.)

I. That there is wrath connected with the government, character, and dispensations of God. God has made all men. Hence they must be governed by His laws. Obedience must be enforced by sanctions. Man has broken the law. Reward therefore has become inapplicable to man. God is “ angry with the wicked every day.” The facts of history bear this out-war, famine, disease. Nature speaks the same truth.

II. That the wrath thus connected with the character and government of God is reserved especially. For the future.

III. That men ought most earnestly to seek for a refuge from this wrath. “Flee from the wrath to come.”

1. If it overtakes you, you are lost for ever.

2. You should do this because the means are given for avoiding it.

IV. That it devolves upon those who occupy public stations in the church, earnestly to beseech men to flee prom this wrath to come.

1. By warnings.

2. By encouragements. (J. Parsons.)

I. Whither are we to flee?

II. From what are we to flee?

III. How and when are we to flee,

1. Now. Opportunities pass away like clouds.

2. Earnestly. For Divine displeasure pursues us.

3. Looking to Jesus. Eager for relief (Psalms 123:1-4.). (Anon.)

Never did any preacher address to his hearers a more startling question than this

I. The objects from which we are warned to flee, and in what flight from it consists.

1. As sinners we are exposed to wrath. Wrath against sin required by Divine holiness. Manifold revelations of the wrath of God. Declarations of Scripture (Numbers 12:9; Psalms 7:11; Romans 1:18). In the cross we behold the clearest and most awful evidence of His determination to punish sin. Yet it is “wrath to come” (Ecclesiastes 12:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 20:11-12; Revelation 20:15). Is it surprising that we should be exhorted to escape?

2. The flight enjoined. There must be anxiety, hope and promptitude.

II. To “flee from the wrath to come” is supremely important. Its terrors. Shortness of the period allowed for our flight. If we perish, it will be aggravated by reason of the abundant provisions made for our escape.

1. Hear the voice of warning.

2. Flee to Christ the only refuge.

3. Be in earnest. Keep close to the place of shelter. (John Johnson, M. A.)

This wrath is

I. Divine;

II. Deserved;

III. Unmingled;

IV. Accumulated;

V. Eternal. (Bradley.)

A warning

In former days, when a military company was to be called out, the notice delivered to each of the members was called “ the warning.” An officer, who was a Christian, having given the warning to a young man, was playfully accosted by another young man, who was not a member of the company, with a question, “Have you not a warning for me too?” The officer replied, “Yes, I have a warning for you: I want you to flee from the wrath to come.” This unexpected reply proved an arrow from the Lord’s quiver, and to it the young man ascribes his conversion. (Anon.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Matthew 3:7". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them, Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Pharisees ... were a very wealthy, zealous, and powerful sect among the Jews. They were proud, conceited, worldly, and vigilant enemies of our Lord; and yet they were the leaders among the ancient Jews and doubtless had many fine and commendable qualities which tend to be obscured by the fact that they opposed the work of Christ. Ledlow lists seven distinct classes of Pharisees, as follows:

(1) The Shoulder Pharisee who wore all his good deeds on his shoulder and did his alms to be seen of men (Matthew 6:5); (2) The Wait-a-Little Pharisee who always suggested something else to do first. Of this type was the man who when asked to follow Christ said, "Suffer me first to go and bury my father" (Luke 9:59,60); (3) The Bruised Pharisee who was too pious to look upon a woman and who shut his eyes when one approached, which caused him to stumble into a wall and be bruised or cut; (4) The Pestle and Mortar Pharisee who walked with his head down in mock humility, also called the Hump-Backed Pharisee; (5) The Ever-Reckoning Pharisee who kept a ledger of good deeds and bad deeds in an effort to balance accounts with himself; (6) The God-Loving Pharisee, the noblest of the group; and (7) The Timid Pharisee who was the schizophrene of his day. It was probably to this latter class that Jesus addressed his warning that no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).[4]

Sadducees ... constituted another powerful sect, though not as large as the Pharisees. They were the crass materialists of their day, denying the existence of angels or spirits and refusing to believe in the resurrection. They made fun of the idea of heaven as seen from the question propounded in Matthew 22:23ff. Although they were mortal enemies of the Pharisees, they made common cause with them against Christ. Their difference with the Pharisees, however, was always close to the surface. See Acts 23:8.

Ye offspring of vipers ... The total corruption of the Jewish leaders of that day is seen in this passage. John's vehement denunciation of these wicked men is exceeded only by the far greater condemnation heaped upon them by Christ. Their corruption was an open shame, known to all, denied by none, and justly deserving the words of condemnation uttered against them both by John and by the Christ.

The wrath to come ... could mean either of two things, or perhaps both. It might refer to the overflowing of God's wrath against the Jewish nation because of their rejection of Christ and culminating in the overthrow of their temple and religious system in the year 70 A.D. by the conquering armies of Vespasian and Titus. It might also refer to the final overthrow of the wicked in hell. In this context, there is no reason why the passage should not refer to both, since both were "to come"!


[4] W. F. Ledlow, Jesus and His Method (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House), pp. 200-202.

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

But when he saw many of the Pharisees,.... This being the first place in which mention is made of the Pharisees and Sadducees, it may not be amiss to give some account of them once for all, and to begin with the Pharisees, and first with their name. Some derive this word from פרץ pharatz to "divide", to "make a breach", from whence Phares had his name Genesis 38:29 so JeromF21Trad. Heb. in Gen. fol. 72. D. Tom. 3. , who observes, that

"the Pharisees, who separated themselves from the people as righteous persons, were called "divisi, the divided."'

And inF23Adv. Luciferian. fol. 49. K. Tom. 2. so Tertullian. praescript. Haeret. c. 45. another place,

"because the Pharisees were "divided" from the Jews on account of some superfluous observations, they also took their name from their disagreement.'

OrigenF24Comment. in Joan. p. 115. Ed. Huet. seems to refer to this etymology of the word, when he says,

"the Pharisees, according to their name, were διηρημενοι τινες και στασιωδεις, certain divided and seditious persons.'

And true it is, that this sect often meddled with the affairs of the government, and were very ambitious of being concerned therein. JosephusF25De Bello Jud. l. 1. c. 5. sect. 2. observes of queen Alexandra, that she governed others, and the Pharisees governed her; hence, though they were in great esteem with the people, they were rather dreaded than loved by the government. Others derive this name from פרש "Pharas" to "expand", or "stretch out"; either because they made broad their phylacteries, and enlarged the borders of their garments; or because they exposed themselves to public notice, did all they could to be seen of men, prayed in the corners of the streets, had a trumpet blown before them when they gave alms, chose the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, greetings in the markets, and to be called of men "Rabbi": all which to be sure are their just characters. Others derive it from the same word, as signifying to "explain" or "expound"; because it was one part of their work, and in which they excelled, to expound the law; but this cannot be the reason of their general name, because there were women Pharisees as well as men, who cannot be thought to be employed in that work. The more generally received opinion is, that this name is taken from the above word, as signifying to "separate"; because they separated themselves from the men and manners of the world, to the study of the law, and to a greater degree of holiness, at least in pretence, than other persons. They were strict observers of the traditions of the elders; are said, to hold both fate and free will; they owned the resurrection of the dead, and that there were angels and spirits, in which they differed from the Sadducees. Or rather they have their name from פרס, which signifies "a reward"; they being stiff defenders of the doctrine of rewards and punishments in a future state, which the Sadducees denied. The Talmudic writersF26T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 14. 2. & Sota fol. 20. 3. Bab. Sota, fol. 22. 2. eight sorts are reckoned in Abot R. Nathan, c. 37. fol. 8. 4. say, there were "seven" sorts of them, and if it would not be too tedious to the reader, I would give the names of them; and the rather, because some of them seem to tally with the complexion and conduct of the Pharisees mentioned in the scriptures. There were then,

1. פרוש שיכמי the "Shechemite Pharisee", who does as Shechem did; is circumcised, not on God's account, or for his glory, or because circumcision is a command of his, but for his own profit and advantage, and that he may get honour from men.

2. פרוש ניקפי "the dashing Pharisee"; who walks gently, the heel of one foot touching the great toe of the other; and scarce lifts up his feet from the earth, so that he dashes them against the stones, and would be thought hereby to be in deep meditation.

3. פרוש קיזאי the "Pharisee letting blood"; who makes as if he shut his eyes, that he may not look upon women, and so runs and dashes his head against the wall, till the blood gushes out, as though a vein was opened.

4. פרוש מדוכיא the "depressed Pharisee"; who went double, or bowed down, or as others render the phrase, "the mortar Pharisee"; either because he wore a garment like a mortar, with the mouth turned downwards; or a hat resembling such a vessel; so that he could not look upward, nor on either side, only downward, or right forward.

5. פרוש מה חובתי ואעשנה the Pharisee, that said, what is my duty and I will do it? the gloss upon it is, teach me what is my duty, and I will do it: Lo! this is his excellency, if he is not expert in the prohibitions and niceties of the commands, and comes to learn; or thus, what is more to be done and I have not done it? so that he shows himself, or would appear as if he had performed all.

6. פרוש יראה "the Pharisee of fear"; who does what he does from fear of punishment.

7. פרוש אהבה "the Pharisee of love"; who does what he does from love; which the gloss explains thus: for the love of the reward of the commandment, and not for the love of the commandment of his Creator; though they say of all these there is none to be beloved, but the Pharisee of love.

When this sect first began, and who was the first author of it, is not easy to say; it is certain there were great numbers of them in the times of John the Baptist, and of Christ, and for some time after. The Jews sayF1T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 60. 2. , that when the temple was destroyed the second time, the Pharisees increased in Israel.

Next let us consider the Sadducees, who they were, and from whence they sprung. These have their name not from צדיק "Saddik righteous"F2So Epiphanius contr. Haeres. l. 1. Haeres. 14. Hieron. Comment. in Matt. c. 22. l. 3. fol. 30. M. Tom. 9. , or צדק "Sedek righteousness", being self justitiaries; for though they were, yet this would not have distinguished them from the Pharisees, who were likewise such; but from צדוק Sadok or Saduk, a disciple of Antigonus, a man of SochoF3Abot R. Nathan c. 5. fol. 3. 1. Sepher Cosri orat. 3. fol. 187. 2. & R. Juda Muscatus in ib. Maimon. in Pirk. Abot. c. 1. sect. 3. Juchasin. fol. 15. 2. Ganz. Tzemach David. par. 1. fol. 20. 2. & Bartenora in Misn. Judaim, c. 4. sect. 6. . The occasion of this new sect was this; Antigonus, among the instructions he gave to his scholars, had this saying;

"be not as servants who serve their master for the sake of reward; but be ye as servants that serve their master not for the sake of reward, and let the fear of God be upon you.'

Which, when Sadok and a fellow scholar, whose name was Baithos, or Baithus, heard, not rightly understanding him, concluded that there was no future state of rewards and punishments; which notion they broached and had their followers, who from the one were called Sadducees, and sometimes from the other Baithuseans: these men held the Scriptures only, rejecting the traditions of the elders; they denied fate, and ascribed all to free will; they affirmed that there is no resurrection of the dead; that the soul dies with the body; that there is no future state after this life, and that there are neither angels nor spirits. Now when "John saw" or observed "many" of both these sects "come to his baptism"; not merely to see it administered, led thither by the novelty of the thing; but to submit to it, to which they might be induced by that very great character of a very holy good man, which John had got among the people; and they were desirous of being thought so too, and therefore desired to be baptized by him; but he knowing the men and their manners,

said unto them; addressed them in a very severe style, quite contrary to their expectation, and the opinion the people had of them,

O generation of vipers! It seems their parents before them were vipers, and they their offspring were like them, in hypocrisy and malice. The viper appears very beautiful outwardly, but is full of poison; it looks harmless and innocent, as if it neither could nor would do any hurt, its teeth being hid, but is a most deadly and hurtful creature: so these men, though they made specious pretences to religion and holiness, yet were full of the deadly poison of hypocrisy, malice, and error. A very disagreeable salutation this must be to men, who were desirous of being reckoned very religious, and who boasted of, and trusted in, their being the seed of Abraham; when they were the children of the devil, the seed of the old serpent, and the offspring of the worst of men, and in whom was verified the proverb, like father like son. John proceeds and asks, saying, "who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" who has suggested this to you? from whom have ye received this hint? who has pointed out the way to you to escape divine vengeance, or the ruin which will quickly come upon you? for by

wrath to come is not meant hell fire, everlasting destruction, from which baptism could not save them; but temporal calamity and destruction, the wrath which in a little time came upon that nation to the uttermost, for rejecting the Messiah, and the Gospel dispensation; from which they might have been saved, had they given credit to Jesus as the Messiah, though only with a bare assent; and had they entered into the kingdom of heaven, or Messiah, the Gospel dispensation, by receiving its doctrines, and submitting to its ordinances, though only externally.

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Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

2 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

(2) There is nothing that shuts up the way of mercy and salvation from us so much as the opinion of our own righteousness does.
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them — astonished at such a spectacle.

O generation of vipers — “Viper brood,” expressing the deadly influence of both sects alike upon the community. Mutually and entirely antagonistic as were their religious principles and spirit, the stern prophet charges both alike with being the poisoners of the nation‘s religious principles. In Matthew 12:34; Matthew 23:33, this strong language of the Baptist is anew applied by the faithful and true Witness to the Pharisees specifically - the only party that had zeal enough actively to diffuse this poison.

who hath warned you — given you the hint, as the idea is.

to flee from the wrath to come? — “What can have brought you hither?” John more than suspected it was not so much their own spiritual anxieties as the popularity of his movement that had drawn them thither. What an expression is this, “The wrath to come!” God‘s “wrath,” in Scripture, is His righteous displeasure against sin, and consequently against all in whose skirts sin is found, arising out of the essential and eternal opposition of His nature to all moral evil. This is called “the coming wrath,” not as being wholly future - for as a merited sentence it lies on the sinner already, and its effects, both inward and outward, are to some extent experienced even now - but because the impenitent sinner will not, until “the judgment of the great day,” be concluded under it, will not have sentence publicly and irrevocably passed upon him, will not have it discharged upon him and experience its effects without mixture and without hope. In this view of it, it is a wrath wholly to come, as is implied in the noticeably different form of the expression employed by the apostle in 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Not that even true penitents came to John‘s baptism with all these views of “the wrath to come.” But what he says is that this was the real import of the step itself. In this view of it, how striking is the word he employs to express that step - fleeing from it - as of one who, beholding a tide of fiery wrath rolling rapidly towards him, sees in instant flight his only escape!

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This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

John Lightfoot's Commentary on the Gospels

7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

[And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees.] To attempt a history of the Pharisees and Sadducees, after so many very learned men, who have treated of their original, manners, and institutions, would be next to madness: we will briefly touch at a few things, and those, perhaps, less obvious.

1. That the Pharisees do not derive their name (as some would have it) from the word which signifies to expound is sufficiently evinced by this, that there were women-Pharisees as well as men. "R. Joshua saith, A religious man foolish, a wicked man crafty, a woman-Pharisee, and the dashing of the Pharisees [against the stones], destroy the world." Those things are worthy observing, which are spoke by the Babylonian Gemarists on that clause, A woman-Pharisee. "The Rabbins teach. A praying [procax] maid, a gadding widow, and a boy whose months are not fulfilled, these corrupt the world. But R. Jochanan saith, We learn the shunning of sin from a maid, and the receiving of a reward from a widow. 'The shunning of sin from a maid'; for R. Jochanan heard a certain maid prostrate on her face thus praying; Eternal Lord, thou hast created Paradise, thou hast created hell also, thou hast created the righteous, and thou hast created the wicked: let it be thy good pleasure that I be not a scandal to men. 'The receiving of a reward from a widow'; for there was a certain widow, who, when there were synagogues nearer everywhere, she always resorted to the school of R. Jochanan to pray: to whom R. Jochanan said, O my daughter, are there not synagogues at hand round about you? But she answered, Will there not be a reward for my steps [or, for my journey hither]? for [the tradition] saith, These destroy the world, as Joanna, the daughter of Retib."

...[O]ne Gloss [says] a maid given to prayer, or a maid of many prayers. By another it is rendered, a maid given to fasting: losing her virginity by fasting.

A gadding widow they call her, "who always goes about from place to place to visit her neighbours"; they are the words of the Gloss. "And these corrupt the world, because they are no other but bawds and sorceresses, and yet they pretend sanctity."

"Joanna the daughter of Retib [the Gloss also being witness] was a certain sorceress widow, who, when the time of any child's birth drew near, shut up the womb of the child-bearing woman with magic arts, that she could not be delivered. And when the poor woman had endured long and great torments, she would say, 'I will go and pray for you; perhaps my prayers will be heard': when she was gone, she would dissolve the enchantments, and presently the infant would be born. On a certain day as a hired man wrought in her house, she being gone to a woman's labour, he heard the charms tinkling in a pan; and, taking off the cover, the charms presently came out, and strait the infant is born; and hence it was known that she was a witch."

I have therefore cited these passages, not only that it may be shown that there were women-Pharisees, and so that the name is not take from interpreting or expounding, but that it may be observed also what kind of women, for the most part, embrace Pharisaism; namely, widows and maids, under the veil of sanctity and devotion, hiding and practising all manner of wickedness. And so much we gain of the history of the Pharisees, while we are tracing the etymology of the word.

II. That the Pharisees therefore were so called from the word signifying separation, is more commonly asserted, and more truly; and the thing itself, as well as the word, speaks it. So that by a word more known to us, you might rightly call the Pharisees, Separatists; but in what sense, has need of more narrow inquiry. The differences of the Jewish people are to be disposed here into diverse ranks: and, first, we will begin with the women.

1. It were an infinite task to search particularly, how their canons indulged (shall I say?) or prescribed the woman a freedom from very many rites, in which a great part of the Jewish religion was placed. How numberless are the times that that occurs in the Talmudic pandect, "Women, servants, and children, are not bound to these things. Women, servants, and children, are not bound to recite their phylacteries, nor to wear them. The Passovers of women are at their own will." And, not to dwell upon things that are obvious, let this one serve instead of many: "A certain matron asked R. Eleazar, Why, when Aaron sinned in making the golden calf, the people are punished with a threefold death? He answered, Let not a woman be learned beyond her distaff. Hircanus his son said unto him, Because no answer is given her in one word out of the law, she will withdraw from us three hundred tenth cori yearly. To whom he replied, Let them rather go and be burnt, than the words of the law be delivered to women."

From hence it appears that the women that embraced Pharisaism did it of their own free will and vow, not by command: which the men-Pharisees also did.

2. Pass we from the women to the men; and, first, to the lowest degrees of men in the distinction relating to religion; namely, to them whom they ordinarily called illiterate, and the people of the earth, or the plebeians. Of them, thus the Gemara in Sotah newly cited: "One reads the Scriptures, and recites the Misna, and yet he waits not upon the scholars of the wise men; what of him? R. Eleazar said, This is one of the people of the earth. R. Samuel Bar Nachmani saith, Behold, this is an illiterate man. R. Jannai saith, 'Behold, this is a Cuthean.' R. Achabar saith, 'Behold, this is a magician.'" And a little after, "Who is the people of the earth? R. Meith saith, 'He that recites not his phylacteries morning and evening with his prayers.' But the wise men say, 'He, whosoever he be, that lays not up his phylacteries.' Ben Azzai saith, 'He who hath not a fringe on his garment.' R. Jochanan Ben Joseph saith, 'He that instructs not his sons in the doctrine of the law.' Others say, 'He who, although he read the Scriptures, and repeats the traditions, yet attends not on the scholars of the wise men, this is, the people of the earth [or the plebeians]. Does he read the Scriptures, and not repeat the tradition? Behold, this man is illiterate.'" The Gloss upon the place speaks thus, "The people of the earth are they of whom there is suspicion of tenths and cleanness": that is, lest they tithe not rightly, nor take care aright concerning cleansings. And the illiterate person is "more vile than, or inferior to, the people of the earth." Compare that, John 7:49, "this people that knoweth not the law is cursed."

The colleagues or associates, and scholars of the wise men, were opposed to these vulgar persons. Under the title of scholars of the wise men are comprehended all that were learned and studious: under the title of religious, as well learned as unlearned. There were some of the learned whom they commonly called colleagues of the Rabbins; who as yet were candidates, and not preferred to the public office of teaching or judging. The thing may be illustrated by one example: "Do the colleagues enter in to appoint the new moon? R. Hoshaia said, When I was a colleague, R. Samuel Ben R. Isaac led me in to the appointment of the new moon, but I knew not whether I were of the number or no." And a little later; "Do the colleagues [or fellows] go in to intercalate the year? Let us learn this from the example of Rabban Gamaliel, who said, Let the seven seniors meet me in the chamber. But eight entered, 'Who came in hither,' saith he, 'without leave?' 'I,' answered Samuel the Little."

In this sense the word a colleague, differs nothing from a scholar of a wise man, in that both signify a student and a learned man. But the word a colleague, hath a wider sense, denoting all such who have more professedly devoted themselves to religion, and have professed a more devout life and rule than the common people, whether they were learned or unlearned, whether of the sect of the Pharisees, or of the Sadducees, or some other. Hence you have mention of a religious Samaritan, and of a religious baker. And the phrase seems to be drawn from Psalm 119:63; "I am a companion of all those that fear thee": They take upon them the habit of religion. See the Babylonian Talmud in Avodah Zarah in the Gloss. That distinction also is worthy of consideration, of The greater and the less religious.

Yet the word seems sometimes to be appropriated to the Pharisees, as being men who, above all others, put on a splendidly cloaked religion, which appears enough from the history of the Gospel. So, perhaps, is that to be understood, The religious Galileans purify: that is, as the Gloss explains it, "They cleanse their wine and their oil for a drink-offering, if perhaps the Temple may be built in their days." Which, nevertheless, the Aruch citing, thus explains them, The religious eat their common food in cleanness. By which very thing the Gloss defines Pharisees; To the Pharisees; that is, to them that eat their common food in cleanness. Behold, how the word religious, and Pharisees, are convertible terms; and how this was the proper notion whereby a Pharisee was defined, "That he ate his common food in cleanness": that is, that he washed his hands when he ate.

III. We must not think that Pharisaism arose altogether and at once, but it was long a-conceiving, and of not fixed form when it was brought forth. The same may, in a manner, be said of this, which is of the traditions: both these and that were the issue of many years. The traditionarians do refer the first conception of the Traditions to the times of Ezra. But how many centuries of years passed before the birth of this whole monster was full ripe? In like manner, the first seeds of Pharisaism were cast long before its birth; and being now brought forth, was a long time growing, before it came to maturity; if so be any can define what its maturity was.

We observe presently, that the foundations of Sadduceeism were laid in the days of Ezra, before there were any Sadducees: in his days also, I suspect, the foundations of Pharisaism were laid long before there were any Pharisees. For, since the Pharisees were marked with that title because they separated themselves from other men, as more profane; and since, in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, it was the great care, and that a holy care too, to separate the seed of Israel from the heathen inhabitants of the land, to wit, the Samaritans, the Ashdodites, the Moabites, &c., not much after; some men, arrogating too much for themselves, took occasion hence of separating themselves from the men of the Israelitic seed, as too profane, and very unfit (alas!) for their communion. Which very thing we experience in our present Separatists. For when the Scripture commands Christians that they communicate not "with unbelievers, with those who are without," &c., that is, with heathens; some do hence make a pretence of withdrawing themselves from the assemblies of Christians: by what right, by what foundation, let themselves look to it.

We shall not trace the time wherein the name of Pharisee first arose; this is done by learneder men: and therefore let it be enough to have observed that only. After once this pretence of religion was received, "that it was a pious matter to separate a man's self from the common people," superstition increased every day, which served for a stay and patronage to this sect and separation. For when they had espoused a religion so supercilious, that they commonly said, "Stand off, I am holier than thou" (which was also foretold by the prophet with an execration, Isaiah 65:5), and that they place the highest sanctimony in this, to withdraw themselves from the common people, as profane; it was certainly necessary to circumscribe, and to put themselves under a more austere rule and discipline, that they might retain the name and fame of religious person in other things besides that separation, that argued so much pride and arrogancy. Hence the troubles about tithings and washings arose, and increased age after age: hence sprang the frequent fasting and prayers, the cares of the phylacteries, fringes, and other matters without number: so that (a thing fatal to Separatists) this sect, at last, was crumbled into sects, and a Pharisee was, in a manner, the same to a Pharisee, that the people of the earth was to a Pharisee.

Both Talmuds reckon seven sects of Pharisees, and so does the Aruch: which it will not be irksome to describe with their pencil, that the reader may see to what a degree of madness this sect was come, as well as to what a degree of hypocrisy. The Pharisees are seven:

1. A Shechemite Pharisee. This [Pharisee] does as Shechem Where the Gloss is, "Who is circumcised, but not for the honour of God." He carrieth his precepts upon his shoulders: that is, as the Aruch explains it, "wood to make a booth [in the feast of Tabernacles], or something of that nature."

2. A Pharisee struck or dashing. Who dasheth his feet. The Gloss is, "He who walketh in humility, the heel of one foot touching the great toe of the other: nor did he lift up his feet from the earth, so that his toes were dashed against the stones." The Aruch writes, "Who withdrew himself a great way off, that he might not press upon men in the ways, and dashed his feet against the stones." Strike me (or surround me), and yet I will perform the command.

3. A Pharisee that lets out his blood. "He strikes out his blood against the walls." The Gloss is; "He shows himself such a one as if his eyes were hoodwinked, that he might not look upon a woman; and hereupon dashed his head against the walls, and let out his blood." The Aruch writes, "He so pressed up himself against the walls, that he might not touch those that passed by, that by the dashing he fetched blood of himself."--"He performed one precept, and one duty, and struck out blood at each."

4. A Pharisee of the mortar. The Aruch thus describes him; "He went in a loose coat, resembling a mortar with the mouth turned downwards. So he, with his loose garment, was straiter above and broader below." In the Jerusalem Talmud he is called "who saith, I withdraw whatsoever is mine and fulfil the command."

5. "The Pharisee which saith, Let me know what my duty is, and I will do it." "I have done my duty, that the command may be performed according to it." The Aruch thus; "As though he should say, There is no man can show me wherein I have transgressed."

6. A Pharisee of fear: such was Job.

7. A Pharisee of love: Among all these, none is worthy to be loved but the Pharisee of love: as Abraham.

Whether Pharisaism ran out into any of these sects in the days of the Baptist, we dispute not. Let it be granted, that the best and the most modest of that order came to his baptism: the best of the Pharisees certainly were the worst of men. And it is so much the more to be wondered at that these men should receive his baptism after that manner as they did; when it was highly contrary to the rule of the Pharisees to converse among the common people, of whom there was so great a concourse to John; and highly contrary to the doctrine of the Pharisees, so much as to dream of any righteousness, besides that which was of the works of the law, which the doctrine of John diametrically contradicted.

The original of the Sadducees, learned men as well Jews as Christians, do, for the most part, refer to one Zadoc, a scholar of Antigonus Socheus; which Antigonus took the chief seat in the Sanhedrim after the death of Simeon the Just. Of him thus speaks the tract Avoth: "Antigonus of Socho received traditions of Simeon the Just. He said, Be not as servants, who wait upon their master for the sake of the reward; but be ye like servants who wait upon their master not for the sake of the reward: but let the fear of the Lord rule you."

"This wise man (saith Rambam upon the place) had two scholars, Zadoc and Baithus; who, when they heard this from their master, said among themselves, when they were gone away. Our master in his exposition teacheth us that there is neither reward nor punishment, nor any expectation at all [for the future]: for they understood not what he meant: therefore, they mutually strengthened one another, and departed from the rule, and forsook the law: and some company adhered to both. The wise men, therefore, called them Sadducees and Baithusees." And a little after; "But in these countries, namely in Egypt, they call them Karaites, but Sadducees and Baithusees are their names among the wise men." See also the Avoth of R. Nathan.

Yet that raiseth a scruple here: "At the conclusion of all prayers in the Temple they said, for ever. But when the heretics brake in and said, There was no age but one, it was appointed to be said, for ever and ever, or from age to age." Upon these words thus the Gloss; "In the first Temple they said only, 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for ever.' But when the heretics brake in and said there was no age but this, Ezra and his consistory appointed that it should be said, for ever and ever, or from age to age, to imply there is a double world [this, and one to come], to root out of the heart the opinion of those that deny the resurrection of the dead."

Take notice, reader, that "there were some who denied the resurrection of the dead in the days of Ezra," when as yet Zadoc, the father of the Sadducees, was not born. After Ezra, and his great synagogue (which endured many a year after Ezra was dead), sat Simeon the Just, performing the office of the high-priest, for the space of forty years: and Antigonus Socheus, the master of Zadoc, succeeded him in the chair of the Sanhedrim. So that although the Sadducees, with good reason, do bear an ill report for denying the resurrection, and that was their principal heresy; yet that heresy was, when as yet there were no heretics, called by the name of Sadducees. To which, perhaps, those words do agree (which sufficiently taste of such a heresy), "Ye have said, It is in vain to serve God," &c., Malachi 3:14.

It is not, therefore, to be denied that the Sadducee-heretics were so named from Zadoc; but that the heresy of the Sadducees, concerning the resurrection, was older than that name, one may suppose not without reason; nor that that cursed doctrine first arose from the words of Antigonus, illy understood by Zadoc and Baithus, but was of an ancienter original, when as yet the prophets Zecharias, Malachi, and Ezra himself, were alive, if that Ezra were not the same with Malachi, as the Jews suppose. Therefore I do rather think that heresy sprang from the misunderstanding of the words of Ezekiel, chapter 37; which some understanding according to the letter, and, together with it, seeing no resurrection, dreamt that there would be none afterward. And this doctrine increased, and exalted itself into a sect; when, at length, Zadoc and Baithus asserted that it was so determined out of the chair by their master Antigonus, the president of the Sanhedrim.

When I fetch the rise of the Sadducees not much after the death of Simeon the Just, that does not unseasonably come into my mind, which is mentioned by the Talmudists, that the state of things became worse after his death. "All the days of Simeon the Just, the scape-goat had scarce come to the middle of the precipice of the mountain [whence he was cast down], but he was broken into pieces: but, when Simeon the Just was dead, he fled away [alive] into the desert, and was eaten by Saracens. While Simeon the Just lived, the lot of God [in the day of expiation] went forth always to the right hand: Simeon the Just being dead, it went forth sometimes to the right hand and sometimes to the left. All the days of Simeon the Just, the little scarlet tongue looked always white; but when Simeon the Just was dead, it sometimes looked white and sometimes red. All the days of Simeon the Just, the west light always burnt; but when he was dead, it sometimes burnt and sometimes went out. All the days of Simeon the Just, the fire upon the altar burnt clear and bright; and, after two pieces of wood laid on in the morning, they laid on nothing else the whole day: but when he was dead, the force of the fire languished in that manner that they were compelled to supply it all the day. All the days of Simeon the Just, a blessing was sent upon the two loaves and the show-bread, so that a portion came to every priest, to the quantity of an olive at least; and there were some others to whom something remained after they had eaten their fill: but when Simeon the Just was dead, that blessing was withdrawn, and so little remained to each, that those that were modest withdrew their hands, and those that were greedy still stretched them out."

For more info on Pharisees and Sadducees see "Sketches of Jewish Social Life," chapters 13. Among the People, and with the Pharisees, 14. The "Fraternity" of Pharisees and 15. Relation of the Pharisees to the Sadducees and Essenes, and to the Gospel of Christ by Alfred Edersheim.

[Generation of vipers.] I. Serpents,, chapter 23:33. Not so much "the seed of Abraham," which ye boast of, as "the seed of the serpent," "O, the Antichrist, the Opposer, 2 Thessalonians 2:4. A nation and offspring diametrically opposite, and an enemy to that seed of the woman, and which was to bruise his heel."

II. Hence, not without ground, it is concluded that that nation was rejected and given over to a reprobate sense, even before the coming of Christ. They were not only a generation, but an offspring of vipers, serpents sprung from serpents. Nor is it wonder that they were rejected by God, when they had long since rejected God, and God's word, by their traditions. See that Matthew 13:13-15, 1 Peter 2:10, "Ye were not a people."

There was, indeed, a certain remnant among them to be gathered by Christ: and when that was gathered, the rest of the nation as delivered over to everlasting perdition. This is that remnant of the apostle, Romans 11:5, which then was, when he writ those things; which then as to be gathered, before the destruction of that nation.

[To fly from the wrath to come.] These words respect the very last words of the Old Testament, "lest I smite the earth with a curse," Malachi 4; and denote the most miserable destruction of the nation, and now almost ready to fall upon them.

The receiving of John's baptism signed and fenced those that received it from the ruin that was just coming. To this belongs that of St. Peter, Epistle 1, chapter 3:20, 21: in that manner as Noah and his sons were by water delivered from the flood, "so also baptism now, the antitype of that type, saveth us" from the deluge of divine indignation, which in a short time is to overflow the Jewish nation. Think here, if those that came to baptism brought not their little ones with them to baptism: when, by the plain words of the Baptist, those that are baptized are said to "fly from the wrath to come?" that is, 'the wrath of God,' that was not long hence to destroy the nation by a most sad overthrow.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
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Lightfoot, John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "John Lightfoot Commentary on the Gospels". 1675.

People's New Testament

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The two principal religious sects. The first originated in the time of the Maccabees, and were a kind of Jewish Puritans, but had in the Savior's time degenerated into a set of formalists, who paid far more attention to outward forms than to inner life. They were scrupulous in observing ceremonies, very orthodox, but were filled with spiritual pride. From an early period of Christ's ministry they opposed him. The other principal sect of the Jews, the Sadducees, derived their name from Sadduc, the founder of the sect; were irreligious, sensual and skeptical. They were materialists, and denied "angel, spirit, or the resurrection of the dead." Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests, were Sadducees.

Generation of vipers. The guilty, corrupted race had become a generation of vipers; not only poisoned, but poisonous, hateful to God, hating one another. The viper is hateful, full of hate, and dangerous.

Who hath warned you? Malachi (Malachi 3:2; Malachi 4:5) had predicted the wrath to come. John's question expresses doubt of their sincerity.

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.
Original work done by Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "People's New Testament". 1891.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

The Pharisees and Sadducees (των Παρισαιων και Σαδδουκαιωνtōn Pharisaiōn kai Saddoukaiōn). These two rival parties do not often unite in common action, but do again in Matthew 16:1. “Here a strong attraction, there a strong repulsion, made them for the moment forget their differences” (McNeile). John saw these rival ecclesiastics “coming for baptism” (ερχομενους επι το βαπτισμαerchomenous epi to baptisma). Alford speaks of “the Pharisees representing hypocritical superstition; the Sadducees carnal unbelief.” One cannot properly understand the theological atmosphere of Palestine at this time without an adequate knowledge of both Pharisees and Sadducees. The books are numerous besides articles in the Bible dictionaries. I have pictured the Pharisees in my first (1916) Stone Lectures, The Pharisees and Jesus. John clearly grasped the significance of this movement on the part of the Pharisees and Sadducees who had followed the crowds to the Jordan. He had welcomed the multitudes, but right in the presence of the crowds he exposes the hypocrisy of the ecclesiastics.

Ye offspring of vipers (γεννηματα εχιδνωνgennēmata echidnōn). Jesus (Matthew 12:34; Matthew 23:33) will use the same language to the Pharisees. Broods of snakes were often seen by John in the rocks and when a fire broke out they would scurry (πυγεινphugein) to their holes for safety. “The coming wrath” was not just for Gentiles as the Jews supposed, but for all who were not prepared for the kingdom of heaven (1 Thessalonians 1:10). No doubt the Pharisees and Sadducees winced under the sting of this powerful indictment.

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

The Pharisees were a very ancient sect among the Jews. They took their name from a Hebrew word, which signifies to separate, because they separated themselves from all other men. They were outwardly strict observers of the law, fasted often, made long prayers, rigorously kept the Sabbath, and paid all tithe, even of mint, anise, and cummin. Hence they were in high esteem among the people. But inwardly, they were full of pride and hypocrisy. The Sadducees were another sect among the Jews, only not so considerable as the Pharisees. They denied the existence of angels, and the immortality of the soul, and by consequence the resurrection of the dead.

Ye brood of vipers — In like manner, the crafty Herod is styled a fox, and persons of insidious, ravenous, profane, or sensual dispositions, are named respectively by him who saw their hearts, serpents, dogs, wolves, and swine; terms which are not the random language of passion, but a judicious designation of the persons meant by them. For it was fitting such men should be marked out, either for a caution to others, or a warning to themselves.

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.
Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

The Fourfold Gospel

But when he saw many of the Pharisees2 and Sadducees31 coming to his baptism, he said unto them4, Ye offspring of vipers5, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

  1. Pharisees and Sadducees. Josephus tells us that these two leading sects of the Jews started about the same time in the days of Jonathan, the high priest, or B.C. 159-144. But the sentiments which at that time divided the people into two rival parties entered the minds and hearts of the Jews immediately after the return from the Babylonian captivity. These returned Jews differed as to the attitude and policy which Israel should manifest toward the neighboring heathen.

  2. Pharisees. Some contended for a strict separation between the Jews and all pagan peoples. These eventually formed the Pharisee party, and the name Pharisee means "the separate". Originally these men were genuine patriots and reformers, but afterwards the majority of them became more formalists. As theologians the Pharisees represented the orthodox party, and were followed by the vast majority of the people. They believed (1) in the resurrection of the dead; (2) a future state with rewards and punishments; (3) angels and spirits; and (4) a special providence of God carried out by angels and spirits. As a sect they are said to have numbered six thousand at the time of Herod's death. They were the patriotic party, and the zealots were their extreme section. They covered an extremely selfish spirit with a pious formalism, and by parading their virtues they obtained an almost unbounded influence over the people. By exposing their hypocrisy, Jesus sought to destroy their power over the multitude, and incurred that bitter enmity with which they pursued him in death.

  3. Sadducees. But certain other of the captives who returned from Babylon desired a freer intercourse with the pagans, and sought to break away from every restraint which debarred therefrom. These became Sadducees. They consented to no other restraint than the Scriptures themselves imposed, and they interpreted these as laxly as possible. Some take their name to means "the party of righteousness", but more think it comes from their founder, Zadok, and is a corruption of the word Zadokite. Zadok flourished 260 B.C. His teacher, Antigonus Sochaeus, taught him to serve God disinterestedly--that is, without hope of reward or punishment. From his teaching Zadok inferred that there was no future state of rewards or punishment, and on this belief founded his sect. From this fundamental doctrine sprang the other tenets of the Sadducees. They denied all the four points held by the Pharisees, asserting that there was no resurrection; no rewards and punishments hereafter; no angels, no spirits. They believed there was a God, but denied that he had any special supervision of human affairs (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). They were the materialists of that day. Considering all God's promises as referring to this world, they looked upon poverty and distress as evidence of God's curse. Hence to relieve the poor was to sin against God in interfering with his mode of government. Far fewer than the Pharisees, they were their rivals in power; for they were the aristocratic party, and held the high-priesthood, with all its glories. Their high political position, their great wealth, and the Roman favor which they courted by consenting to foreign rule and pagan customs, made them a body to be respected and feared.

  4. He said unto them, etc. John spoke principally to the leaders, but his denunciation indirectly included the multitude who followed their leadership.

  5. Ye offspring of vipers, etc. See Acts 23:8.

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J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "The Fourfold Gospel". Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.

Abbott's Illustrated New Testament

The Pharisees and Sadducees were two prominent religious sects among the Jews. The Sadducees maintained the doctrine that the soul of man perishes with the body.

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Abbott, John S. C. & Abbott, Jacob. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Abbott's Illustrated New Testament". 1878.

Scofield's Reference Notes


So called from a Heb. word meaning "separate." After the ministry of the post-exilic prophets ceased, godly men called "Chasidim" (saints) arose who sought to keep alive reverence for the law amongst the descendants of the Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity. This movement degenerated into the Pharisaism of our Lord's day-- a letter-strictness which overlaid the law with traditional interpretations held to have been communicated by Jehovah to Moses as oral explanations of equal authority with the law itself. (cf. Matthew 15:2; Matthew 15:3; Mark 7:8-13; Galatians 1:14).

The Pharisees were strictly a sect. A member was "chaber" (i.e. "knit together,") Judges 20:11 and took an obligation to remain true to the principles of Pharisaism. They were correct, moral, zealous, and self-denying, but self-righteous Luke 18:9 and destitute of the sense of sin and need Luke 7:39. They were the foremost prosecutors of Jesus Christ and the objects of His unsparing denunciation (e.g.); Matthew 23:13-29; Luke 11:42; Luke 11:43


Not strictly a sect, but rather those amongst the Jews who denied the existence of angels or other spirits, and all miracles, especially the resurrection. They were the religious rationalists of the time Mark 12:18-23; Acts 5:15-17; Acts 23:8 and strongly entrenched in the Sanhedrin and priesthood; Acts 4:1; Acts 5:17. They are identified with no affirmative doctrine, but were mere deniers of the supernatural.

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Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on Matthew 3:7". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". 1917.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Ver. 7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees] Two leading sects among the Jews, but notable hypocrites, yet pressing to the ordinances. (Joseph. B. J.; Ant. 13:17) A Doeg may set his foot as far within the sanctuary as a David, and let him. He may be caught, as those warrant officers sent to apprehend our Saviour, as Saul’s messengers coming to Naioth were turned from executioners to prophets. "Come" (saith Latimer) "to the holy assemblies, though thou comest to sleep; for God, perhaps, may take thee napping."

He said unto them, O generatian of vipers] Or adders, which are outwardly specious, inwardly poisonous: so are all hypocrites a mere outside, but God will wash off their paint with rivers of brimstone. Of the viper it is said, that when he hath stung a man he makes haste to the water, and drinks, or dies for it. So did these Pharisees to baptism, hoping by the work done to avoid the wrath to come. But a man may go to hell with baptismal water on his face, unless with the water of baptism he have grace to quench the fiery darts of the devil: as that holy virgin, whereof Luther reports, that she beat back Satan’s temptations with this only argument, I am a Christian. {a} The enemy quickly understood (saith he) the virtue of baptism, and the value of that vow, and fled from her. There are those who boast and bear themselves bold on their Christendom; but hath not many a ship, that hath been named Safeguard and Goodspeed, miscarried at sea, or fallen into the hands of pirates. This generation of vipers conceited themselves to be Abraham’s seed: so do many of the serpent’s seed today, because of their baptism; but all in vain, unless they walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, Romans 4:12. The old serpent hath stung them, neither is there any antidote for such but the flesh (not of the biting viper, but) of the slain Messiah, foreshadowed by the brazen serpent. See Isaiah 27:1. God hath promised to break for us the serpent’s head, who hath so deeply set his stings in us; yea, with his sore and great and strong sword, to punish Leviathan, that piercing serpent, and to slay the dragon that is in the sea.

Who hath forewarned you] Who hath privily and underhandedly, as it were, shown you ( υπεδειξεν, clanculum indicavit et admonuit), and set you in a course of avoiding the danger that hangs over your heads as by a twined thread? The wrath of God is revealed from heaven, and hell hath enlarged herself, and even gapes for you: who gave an inkling thereof, and sent you hither for help? &c.

From the wrath to come] Called the damnation of hell, Matthew 23:33, which hath torments without end and past imagination. For "who knoweth the power of thine anger?" saith David. "Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath," Psalms 90:1; that is, as I conceive it, let a man fear thy wrath never so much, he is sure to feel a fair deal more thereof than ever he could have feared. When but a drop of God’s displeasure lights upon a poor soul in this present world, what intolerable pain is it put to! "The spirit of a man may sustain his infirmity," saith Solomon, Proverbs 18:14, q.d. some sorry shift a man may make to rub through an outward affliction, and to bear it off by head and shoulders, "but a wounded spirit who can bear?" q.d. the stoutest cannot possibly stand under it: there is no proportion between the back and the burden; it is able to crush and crack the mightiest among us. Judas chose a halter rather than to endure it: and well he might, when as Job (with whom God was but in jest, in comparison) preferred strangling and any death before such a life, Job 7:15. But all this, alas, is but present wrath, and nothing at all to the "wrath to come," a phrase of speech that involves and carries in it stings and horrors, woe, and, alas, flames of wrath and the worm that never dieth, trembling and gnashing of teeth, seas of vengeance, rivers of brimstone, unutterable and insufferable tortures and torments. We read of racking, roasting, hanging, stoning, putting men under harrows of iron and saws of iron, scratching off their flesh with thorns of the wilderness, pulling their skins over their ears, and other exquisite and unheard of miseries that men have here been put unto; -but { ετυμπανισθησαν, Hebrews 11:35} what is all this to the wrath to come? not so much as a flea biting, as a prick with a pin, or smart blow with a finger; no, though a man should go through a thousand cruel deaths every hour his whole life throughout. Oh, bless and kiss that blessed Son of God that bore for us the brunt of this insupportable wrath, even "Jesus that delivered us from the wrath to come," 1 Thessalonians 1:10; and shun sin, that draws hell at the heels of it. Is it nothing to lose an immortal soul, to purchase an everliving death?

{a} Legitur de quadam sancta virgine quae quoties tentabatur, non nisi baptismo suo repugnabat, dicens brevissime, Christiana sum. Intellexit enim hostis statim virtutem baptismi et fidei, et fugit ab ea.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

A perplexing, disagreeable situation:

v. 7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Matthew includes the members of both sects in one and the same category of unworthy intruders. The Pharisees excelled especially in their insistence upon outward observance of the Law and the traditions of the elders, and the Sadducees were rationalists that rejected all the inspired writings but the books of Moses. In either case their religion was nothing but a thin veneer of form and show of pomp, without the assent of the heart. All the more reprehensible, then, is their affront in appearing at John's baptism, where repentance, change of heart, was the primary demand. It may have been partly curiosity, partly fascination, since they could not remain indifferent to a movement which had assumed such proportions, that brought them to John. At any rate, they came upon the scene, they appeared at the place where John was baptizing. But their reception at his hands was anything but pleasant. "Generation of vipers" is the epithet he applies to them, offspring of serpents, imbued with the nature of the slimy, stinging reptiles. It is an outburst of intense moral aversion that causes him to shrink from, and openly denounce, these visitors as both deceitful and malicious, Psa_140:3; Isa_14:29; Isa_59:5; Psa_58:4. It seemed indeed as though they were fleeing from the wrath to come by making application for entrance into the Kingdom, but there is every reason for distrusting their sincerity. It is impossible to escape from the wrath which will bring upon hypocrites the holy, penal justice of God, and thus the punishment itself, Rom_1:18; Eph_2:3.

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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". 1921-23.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Matthew 3:7. Pharisees A Jewish sect so called from a Hebrew word signifying separated, or set apart, because they distinguished themselves from the rest of the Jews, by pretending to a greater degree of holiness and piety than the generality of them did; and by some particular observances. The Sadducees were another Jewish sect, so named from Sadoc, the founder of it. The most authentic account of these sects may be seen in Josephus, Antiq. b. xviii. c. 1. and Jewish War, b. ii. c. 8. All writers of Jewish antiquities describe them largely, but none better than Dr. Prideaux, Connect. vol. 2: p. 335 and the editors of the Prussian Testament, in their excellent introduction, which is translated into English, and well deserves the perusal of all who would thoroughly understand the New Testament. It is manifest from St. John's reproof of these Pharisees and Sadducees, that they did not come to his baptism with true faith; or else that they fancied that baptism could procure them the remission of their sins. See Luke 7:29. Matthew 21:25; from which passages it appears, that the Pharisees in general did not receive the baptism of John. it is also evident, from Luke 3:7 that there were among the multitude some personsof no better dispositions than the Pharisees, since the Baptist gives them the same reproof, calling them, ye brood of vipers, as the words may be rendered. "As to this term of reproach, I take the reason of it," says Dr. Heylin, "to be as follows:—Itis a probable conjecture, that men (quatenus animals) have each a peculiar resemblance to some peculiar species of animals; which may be the reason why Jesus is called the Lamb of God, or the Divine Lamb; and his disciples, or those who are in such a state as renders them capable of becoming such, are named sheep; as on the other hand, the politic Herod is called a fox; and persons noted for an insidious, ravenous, profane, or sensual disposition, are called respectively, serpents, dogs, wolves, and swine; which terms, when they occur in the Gospel, are not the random language of passion, and 'calling names,' as we speak; but a judicious designation of the persons meant by them; for it was fitting that such men should be denoted by their proper signature, either for a caution to others, or a warning to themselves. The Baptist had probably both these ends in view, when he called these Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers. As they were persons of a public character, it was proper that the world should be informed what kind of men they were, to prevent the infection of their bad example; and upon their own account, it was proper to describe them to themselves, and denominate them (mere animal-men as they were, 1 Corinthians 2:14.) by their animal properties; because, being already hardened in the use of religious ordinances, if they were not thus roughly dealt with, and alarmed by a true sense of their dangerous condition, they would probably abuse baptism, as theyhad other holy institutions, to quiet their consciences, which were now somewhat awakened, and struck as with a panic fear, upon the general concourse to the preaching of St. John."—From the wrath to come, means not only from the Gehenna, chap. Matthew 5:29 but also from the dreadful calamities which were ready to fall on the Jewish nation.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

Here we have the entertainment which John gave to his unexpected auditors, the Pharisees and Sadducees, which came to hear him, and to be baptized by him.

He gives them first a quick and cutting compellation, O generation of vipers!

Next a sharp and severe reprehension, Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

It was matter of wonder and admiration to see such men turn proselytes.

Note thence, That the condition of proud Pharisees, pretending and false-hearted hypocrites, though it be very dangerous, yet is not hopeless and desperate; and their salvation, though very improbable, yet must not be despaired of as impossible: and accordingly, the Baptist having given them a smart reproof, subjoins a seasonable exhortation, Bring forth fruits meet for repentance; as if he had said, Do not satisfy yourselves with a bare profession of repentance, but let us see the fruits of repentance in your daily conversation.

Learn thence, that sincere repentance is not a barren thing but constantly brings forth the fruits of holiness answerable to its nature. As the body without the spirit, and as faith without works is dead also.

Observe farther, How he enforces his exhortation with a necessary caution; Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father, &c.

As if he had said, Trust not to your outward privilages, and glory not in them, flatter not yourselves, that because you are Abraham's seed and the only visible church, that therefore the judgments of God will not reach you; for God can out of the obdurate Gentile world, who now worship stones, raise up a people to himself, and take them into covenant with himself, and cast you all out, who have Abraham's blood running in your veins, but nothing of Abraham's faith in your hearts, nor of his obedience in your in your lives.

Now from St. John's plain-dealing with these hypocritcal Pharisees, we learn, That it is the duty, and ought to be the endeavour of the ministers of Christ, to drive hypocrites from their vain confidence who do constantly bear up themselves upon their external privileges, in the enjoyment of which they promise themselves a freedom from the judgments of God. Think not to say within yourselves, We have, &c.

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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. 1700-1703.

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

7. φαρισ. καὶ σαδδ.] These two sects, according to Josephus, Antt. xiii. 5. 9, originated at the same period, under Jonathan the High Priest (B.C. 159–144). The Pharisees, deriving their name probably from פָּרַשׁ, ‘he separated’ ( διὰ τὴν ἐθεχοπερισσοθρησκείαν, Epiph. Hær. xvi. 1, vol. i. p. 34), took for their distinctive practice the strict observance of the law and all its requirements, written and oral. They had great power over the people, and are numbered by Josephus, as being, about the time of the death of Herod the Great, above 6000. (Antt. xvii. 2. 4.) We find in the Gospels the Pharisees the most constant opponents of our Lord, and His discourses frequently directed against them. The character of the sect as a whole was hypocrisy; the outside acknowledgment and honouring of God and his law, but inward and practical denial of Him: which rendered them the enemies of the simplicity and genuineness which characterized our Lord’s teaching. Still among them were undoubtedly pious and worthy men, honourably distinguished from the mass of the sect; John 3:1; Acts 5:34. The various points of their religious and moral belief will be treated of as they occur in the text of the Gospels.

σαδδουκαίων] Are said to have derived their name from one Sadok, about the time of Alexander the Great (B.C. 323): but more probably, as stated by Epiphanius, Hær. xiv. 1, vol. i. p. 31, ἐπονομάζουσιν ἑαυτοὺς σαδδουκαίους δῆθεν ἀπὸ δικαιοσύνης τῆς ἐπικλήσεως ὁρμωμένης· σεδὲκ γὰρ (whence the adjectival form, צַדִּיק, see Genesis 6:9; Genesis 18:25 a(21). fr.) ἑρμηνεύεται δικαιοσύνη. They rejected all tradition, but did not, as some have supposed, confine their canon of Scripture to the Pentateuch. The denial of a future state does not appear to have been an original tenet of Sadduceism, but to have sprung from its abuse. The particular side of religionism represented by the Sadducees was bare literal moral conformity, without any higher views or hopes. They thus escaped the dangers of tradition, but fell into deadness and worldliness, and a denial of spiritual influence. While our Lord was on earth, this state of mind was very prevalent among the educated classes throughout the Roman empire; and most of the Jews of rank and station were Sadducees.

The two sects, mutually hostile, are found frequently in the Gospels united in opposition to our Lord (see ch. Matthew 16:1; Matthew 16:6; Matthew 16:11; Matthew 22:23; Matthew 22:34 : also Acts 4:1); the Pharisees representing hypocritical superstition; the Sadducees, carnal unbelief.

ἐρχομένους] as they came. It would appear here as if these Pharisees and Sadducees came with others, and because others did, without any worthy motive, and they were probably deterred by his rebuke from undergoing baptism at his hands. We know, from Luke 7:30, that the Pharisees in general ‘were not baptized of him.’ ἐπί denotes the moral direction of their purpose, not merely motion towards: as in ΄ενέλαον στἐλλειν ἐπὶ τὰν ἑλέναν, Eur. Iph. Aul. 178,—and similar expressions; cf. Bernhardy, Syntax, p. 252 f., where many examples are given. Some interpret it in a hostile sense, ‘to oppose his baptism,’ as in ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ θήβας: but this is manifestly inconsistent with the context.

τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς] The reference of John’s ministry to the prophecy concerning Elias, Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5 (Mark 1:2), would naturally suggest to men’s minds ‘the wrath to come’ there also foretold. It was the general expectation of the Jews that troublous times would accompany the appearance of the Messiah. John is now speaking in the true character of a prophet, foretelling the wrath soon to be poured on the Jewish nation.

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Matthew 3:7. The Pharisees (from פָּרַשׁ, separavit, the separated ones, διὰ τὴν ἐθελοπερισσοθρησκείαν, Epiphanius, Haer. i. 16) received, besides the law, also tradition; taught the doctrine of fate, without, however, denying the freedom of the will; of immortality, and that in the case of pious persons, in pure bodies; of good and evil angels, and were, in all the strictness of external righteousness, according to law and statute, the crafty, learned, patriotic, and powerful supporters of the degenerate orthodoxy. The Sadducees(381) recognised merely the written law, and that not only of the Pentateuch, but of the whole of the O. T., although according to the strict exposition of the letter, and to the exclusion of tradition; they denied the existence of higher spirits, of fate and personal immortality, and adhered to a strict code of morals; they had less authority with the people than the exclusive orthodox Pharisees, against whom they formed a decided party of opposition, but had much influence over men of rank and wealth. The strictly closed order of Essenes, in its separation from the world and the temple, as well as in its ascetic self-satisfaction and self-sanctification, the quiet separatistic holy ones of the land, connected together by community of goods, and under obligation, besides, daily to perform holy lustrations, kept themselves far away from the movement evoked by John.

Observe that the article is not repeated before σαδδουκ., because they are conceived as forming, along with the Pharisees, one unworthy category. “Nempe repetitur articulus, ubi distinctio logica aut emphatica ita postulat,” Dissen, ad Dem. de cor. p. 574.

ἐπί] not contra (Olearius), which would be quite opposed to the context, but telic, in order to be baptized; comp. Luke 23:48. Why should the Pharisees and Sadducees not also have come to baptism, since they shared with the people the hope of the Messiah, and must have felt also on their part the extraordinary impression made by the appearance of John, and the excitement awakened by it, and, in keeping with their moral conceit, would easily enough have compounded with the confession of sins? It is, however, already probable à priori, and certain, by means of Luke 7:30, that they, at least so far as the majority were concerned, did not allow themselves to be baptized, although they had come with this intention, but were repelled in terror by the preaching of repentance and punishment, Matthew 3:8 ff.

There exists, therefore, no variation between this and Luke 7:30; the Pharisees and Sadducees are no addition by Matthew (Ewald, Holtzmann), and neither is Matthew to be blamed for committing a historical mistake, occasioned by John 1:24 (Schneckenburger, Bleek), nor is Luke to be charged with want of originality in this section (de Wette). But the former relates with more minuteness than Luke (Matthew 3:7 : τοῖςὄχλοις) in separating the persons in question from the mass along with whom they came.

γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν] cunning, malignant men! Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23:33; Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 59:5; Psalms 58:5; Wetstein on the passage. Comp. Dem. 799. 4 : πικρὸν καὶ ἔχιν τὴν φύσιν ἄνδρωπον.

τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς] is to be understood of the divine wrath which is revealed at the Messianic judgment (Romans 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). The common belief of the Jews referred this to the heathen (Bertholdt, Christol. pp. 203 ff., 223 ff.). John, however, to the godless generally, who would not repent. The wrath of God, however, established as a unity in the holy nature of the divine love as its inseparable correlate, is not the punishment itself, but the holy emotion of absolute displeasure with him who opposes His gracious will, and from this the punishment proceeds as a necessary manifestation of righteousness. The revelation of the divine wrath is not limited to the last judgment (Romans 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; Luke 21:23), but in it attains its consummation. Comp. Romans 1:18 and Ephesians 2:3, and so on, especially Ritschl, de ira Dei,(382) 1859; Bartholomaei in the Jahrb. f. deutsche Theol. 1861, II. p. 256 ff.; Weber, vom Zorne Gottes, 1862.

φυγεῖν ἀπό] is, like בָּרַה מִן (Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 24:18), constructio praegnans: to flee away from, Matthew 23:33; Mark 16:8; John 10:11; Hom. Od. xii. 120: φυγέειν κάρτιστον ἀπʼ αὐτῆς, Xen. Mem. ii. 6. 31; Plat. Phaed. p. 62 D. The infinitive aorist designates the activity as momentary, setting forth the point of time when the wrath breaks forth, in which the flight also is realized. Meaning of the question: Nobody can have instructed you, that you should escape. Comp. Matthew 23:33 : πῶς φύγητε.

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Meyer, Heinrich. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 1832.

Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament

Matthew 3:7. πολλοὺς, κ. τ. λ., many, etc.) of whom some adhered to their purpose of receiving the baptism of John; some, deterred by his just denunciations, appear to have gone back. By far the greater number did not come at all.—See ch. Matthew 21:25, and Luke 7:30.— τῶν φαρισαίων καὶ σαδδουκαίων, of the Pharisees and Sadducees) Differing sects.— αὐτοῖς, to them) i.e., to the Pharisees especially, but also to the people, before baptizing them.—See Matthew 3:11, and Luke 3:7. It frequently occurs, that words are mentioned after the act which they accompany or precede.—See 2 Samuel 1:16; 2 Samuel 1:15.— γεννήματα, broods) Various families.— ἐχιδνῶν, of vipers) This is said in opposition to their boasting of their descent from Abraham.— τίς, κ. τ. λ., who? etc.) As though he had said, “You appear to be showing the way to others, but who showed it to you?” He implies that wrath was in store for them; that there was, close at hand, a means of escaping it, but that the Pharisees and Sadducees were strangers to it.— ὑπέδειξεν, hath showed) The compound verb has the same meaning as the simple δείκνυμι. He approves of their coming, but with an important condition.— φυγεῖν, to flee) sc. by baptism.— ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς, from the wrath to come) which they will incur, rejecting the kingdom of Heaven by their impenitence. That same wrath is afterwards spoken of, in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, as τῆς ἐρχομένης, which is coming. At the same time, the error of the Sadducees in denying the resurrection is refuted. That wrath was to come upon them at the destruction of Jerusalem and the last Judgment.

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Bengel, Johann Albrecht. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament. 1897.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

We shall often meet with the mention of these Pharisees and Sadducees; we will therefore inquire here a little more largely concerning them. There were three more eminent religious sects among the Jews. The Essenes, of whom we read nothing in Holy writ: their main doctrine was fate, they ascribed all things to it. The two others are here mentioned, and often in other parts of the New Testament we read of the Pharisees and Sadducees: the latter were most acceptable to the great men amongst the Jews; the former were more popular, and acceptable to the people. The Sadducees were directly opposite to the Essenes; they ascribed nothing to fate, but maintained the liberty and power of man’s will in the most extravagant height: they denied the immortality of the soul, the resurrection, angels, &c., all which the Pharisees owned: this we may learn from Acts 23:8 where Paul wrought his own escape by setting these two factions on quarrelling about these points. In short, these were no better than atheists, for what must they be less that deny spirits and the resurrection? The Pharisees, as to their doctrine, were much more sober; they owned spirits and the resurrection; and though they held much of the freedom of, and a power in, man’s will, yet they also ascribed much to the providence and grace of God. They were the interpreters of the law, and, as Mr. Calvin thinks, had their name from thence, not from their dividing and separating themselves from others, as some think. They spent much of their time in fasting and prayer; but,

1. They held a righteousness by the works of the law to be our righteousness for which we are accepted of God.

2. They made a very jejune interpretation of the law, as may appear from our Saviour’s correcting it, Matthew 5:17-48.

3. They held many unwritten traditions of equal force with the law of God.

4. They were very hypocrites in their practice, neglecting the weighty things of the law, making long prayers for a pretence for their wickedness, and doing all they did but to be seen of men.

Some of these Sadducees and Pharisees came to John’s baptism, and no wonder, for, Mark 6:20: Herod observed him, heard him, did many things, and heard him gladly; but, Luke 7:30, it is said the Pharisees were not baptized of him. It is like they came out of curiosity.

He said unto them, O generation of vipers; the very language which Christ used to them, Matthew 12:34 23:33. The viper, to which he compares them, is the worst and most dangerous of serpents. We need give no account of the Baptist’s treating them so roughly, because our Saviour justifieth the term by applying it to them. Corrupt teachers are the worst of men, and of all orders of sinners, fewest of them repent and have their hearts changed.

Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? What comes in your mind, who think there is no resurrection, no hell, or who think you are so righteous that you need fear none, to do any thing that might testify you are afraid of wrath to come?

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

фарисеев и саддукеев См. пояснение к Ин. 3:1. Фарисеи были маленькой (около 6 тыс.), законнической иудейской сектой, известной за свое строгое следование букве закона. Их название означает «отделенные». Встречи Иисуса с фарисеями носили характер противостояния. Он обличал их лицемерие (15:7, 8; 22:18; 23:13, 23, 25, 29; Лк. 12:1) и подмену ими Писания «заповедями человеческими» (15:3-9). Саддукеи были известны тем, что отрицали все сверхъестественное. Они отрицали воскресение мертвых (22:23) и существование ангелов (Деян.23:8). В отличие от фарисеев, они отвергали человеческие традиции и презирали законничество. Лишь Пятикнижие они считали заслуживающим доверия. Саддукеи стремились к богатству и, принадлежа к высшему духовенству, во времена Ирода управляли храмом (см. пояснение к 2:4), хотя их было меньше, чем фарисеев. Фарисеи и саддукеи имели мало общего. Фарисеи были приверженцами обрядности, саддукеи были рационалистами. Фарисеи были законниками, саддукеи были либералами. Фарисеи были сепаратистами (т.е. стремились к обособлению и отделению), а саддукеи шли на компромисс с властью и стремились к политическому сотрудничеству с ней. Но несмотря на все свои расхождения, они объединились, чтобы противостоять Христу (22:15,16, 23, 34, 35). Иоанн Креститель публично называет их «порождениями ехидниными».

будущего гнева См. пояснение к Лк. 3:7. Проповедь Иоанна вторит известной ветхозаветной теме великого гнева в день Господень (например, Иез.7:19; Соф.1:18; см. во Введении к книге пророка Иоиля: Исторические и теологические темы). Скорее всего, эта проповедь была направлена на обличение фарисеев, которые считали, что Божий гнев будет излит только на неевреев.

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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture.

Justin Edwards' Family Bible New Testament

Pharisees; a sect among the Jews who were very strict in their outward forms of religion, but were inwardly corrupt, proud, and hypocritical.

Sadducees; they denied a resurrection and the existence of angels and spirits, and generally were sceptical, and loose in their habits.

Vipers; men who were malignant and bitter in their opposition to the character and will of Christ.

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Edwards, Justin. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Family Bible New Testament". American Tract Society. 1851.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

7.Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees — Many, but not all. They were the heads of the Church and State, and it was hard for them to come down into the vale of humiliation.

The PHARISEES derived their name from a Hebrew word signifying to separate. It indicated a profession of standing apart from a wicked world. When they arose is not clearly known. Their number at Herod’s death, according to Josephus, was six thousand. They claimed to be the orthodox party, and believed in the strictest letter of the law and all the traditions of the rabbies. They maintained their power by display of external sanctity, and so became hypocritical and ambitious; they exercised great influence over the popular mind; they finally only served to shed an air of sanctity over the wickedness of the day, and thus became the authors of a full security for crime. When John came many of them presented themselves for baptism. A few may have been truly penitent, but the larger number, perhaps expecting that they would be the hierarchy in the new Messianic realm, were insincere. When there came a Saviour from sin instead of a saviour from Rome and a conqueror, their hearts were wholly hostile unto him. They adhered to their sins; they took a stand of opposition to him; they involved themselves in rankling hate, sophistical gainsaying, plots and conspiracies, until they consummated their whole career by false accusation and judicial murder.

The SADDUCEES were worldly unbelievers, who admitted, indeed, the Pentateuch as the temporal though divine constitution of the state, and Moses as a founder; but denied immortality, spirits, angels, or resurrection. Their name is derived by some from their supposed founder, Sadoc, who flourished in the time of Alexander the Great; but others maintain that the word is but a form of the Hebrew word for “the just ones.” Their ideal theory of righteousness was very high; for a maxim, derived from Sadoc himself, as is claimed, runs thus: “Be not as those slaves that serve their master on this condition only, namely, that they may receive a reward.” But a maxim of such a nature could serve as little else than a moral pretension, which could be repeated with a lofty air of virtue, but would leave the heart and life to practical selfishness and sin. Herein the Sadducees resembled the Grecian Stoics, and the sect derived, no doubt, much of its character from Grecian philosophy. They were generally aristocrats in government, philosophical in profession, and ambitious of rule. Many of the Jewish statesmen were of this sect.

There was a third sect, called ESSENES, who lived in monastic seclusion, (very much like the Shakers of the present day,) renouncing meats, wine, marriage, and all secular life, and giving themselves up to visionary piety, and worshipping angels. Many of these, doubtless, became Christians, and brought in those heresies to the Church. Indeed, they were perhaps the original authors of the monkish and conventual system subsequently developed in popery.

Generation of vipers — Not only m the history of the fall, but through the Bible generally the serpent is the emblem of a wicked race. John really holds these classes of men as the head and front of Jewish wickedness. They were responsible, in a great degree, for the depraved character of the times. John evidently knows their radical insincerity; they are, in spite of their coming for baptism, serpents, and of the very essential race of serpents.


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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

It is not clear whether the Pharisees and Sadducees actually came to be baptised, or whether they had in fact come in order to decide whether John should be authenticated. It may well be that this indicates an official investigative body from the Sanhedrin. It was the responsibility of the Sanhedrin to see to the vetting of such religious figures. Note that they are seen as a combined unit by the one definite article applying to both. The only thing that could have united these bitter opponents was official duty. They had to work together in the Sanhedrin against a common ‘foe’ whether they liked it or not. On the other hand the suggestion that they are depicted as possibly heeding God’s warning might suggest that some at least were indeed coming genuinely. Then the common article would indicate that even such great enemies were being united by the ministry of John. So we may see John as just being hopeful, and even possibly a little sarcastic. On the other hand it could be that some among them did come forward for baptism, and yet possibly with such arrogance and with such a desire not to be contaminated by the common people that John was moved to his open criticism.

John would have got on no better with them than Jesus did, and they themselves admitted that most of them had not listened to John (Matthew 21:25). The Pharisees laid great stress on ritual washings, on tithing, on fasting, and on good works. As well as believing in the Scriptures they held to the ‘secret’ teaching of the Elders, ‘the traditions of the elders’, the words of the Scribes which they claimed had been passed down, and which Jesus pointed out often distorted what the Scriptures said. John may well have feared that they would see his baptism as just another ritual washing. The Sadducees restricted themselves to the Scriptures, with a major emphasis on the Law. But to them the ritual of the Temple was all important. They above all wanted to maintain the status quo. John’s straight talking and ‘revolutionary ideas’ must have made them shudder. Both were therefore natural opponents of both John and Jesus.

“You offspring of vipers.” The psalmists likened men to vipers because of the venom of their mouths (Psalms 58:4; Psalms 140:3) and because of their deafness in the face of entreaty (Psalms 58:4). Thus John may be warning them not to be like their fathers had been, venomous and deaf. However, behind the picture is the idea of the snakes who fled from the cornfields when they were reaped or when the stubble was burned. Note also the beautiful picture in Jeremiah 46:22 of the snakes slipping away before the axes of their enemies (compare Matthew 3:10). So what he is saying to them is that it is useless for them to be like snakes who merely flee from the flames or from the axes, but are deaf to entreaty. They must rather undergo a real change of heart and mind. They must recognise that the wrath to come is not so easily avoided. The idea of ‘wrath’ is of God’s innate antipathy towards sin, which must inevitably result in judgment for those who refuse to repent.

Luke has these words addressed to all. In a sense, of course, they were. But Matthew may well have learned from those who were there that John had been looking especially at the party of Pharisees and Sadducees when he spoke.

We should note here that Jesus takes up John’s description of the Scribes and Pharisees as ‘the offspring of vipers’ in Matthew 12:34; Matthew 23:33. There is a tendency with some to see John as the fierce preacher, and Jesus as the prophet of love. However, there can be no question but that Jesus’ preaching could be equally as fierce as that of John, and that John is being slightly misrepresented simply because it is the eschatological aspect of his teaching that is mainly presented in the Gospels, so that he is rarely seen as a moral preacher in his own right. But if we look at Luke 3:10-14 we see that this is partly redressed. And Jesus in fact learned much from him, for He made good use of John’s images.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

Matthew 3:7. But when he sawcoming to his baptism. Not ‘against his baptism,’ though he opposed them. They came to be baptized (‘for baptism’ is the sense of a briefer reading), but John saw they were not fit subjects. Luke represents John as speaking thus ‘to the multitudes.’ The coming of these leading people probably attracted a crowd to whom the language was equally applicable; or the Pharisees and Sadducees themselves formed ‘the multitudes,’ more closely defined by Matthew in accordance with the character of his Gospel.

The Pharisees and Sadducees. Two opposing parties, here classed together in the same unworthy category. They afterwards stood together against Christ. According to Josephus, both parties originated about the same time, B.C. 154-144. The Pharisees were the upholders of strict orthodox Judaism, including the traditions of the elders. The name probably means, Separatists, but implies, not a separation from the rest of the people, although this occurred to some extent, out their desire to separate the Jews from other nations. They represented one great form of religious error, that of outward legalism and traditionalism, hence of superstition, of self-righteousness, of hypocrisy, of lifeless orthodoxy,—a pernicious tendency that has continued. While our Lord lived on earth, they were his bitterest opponents.

The Sadducees (so named from their supposed founder, Zadok), represent the opposite tendency of skepticism, rationalism, and unbelief. They rejected tradition, and probably even the later books of the Old Testament, denied the immortality of the soul, the existence of angels, etc., and conformed greatly to heathen customs. Out of Christ the majority of men belong to one or the other of these schools.

A third school existed, the Essenes. They are not mentioned in the Gospels, probably because they stood aloof. Their daily lustrations would lead them to attach little importance to the baptism of John. They may be called the Jewish mystics, and represent a tendency less universal than the other two schools. They stood no nearer to Christianity than the Pharisees and Sadducees, for they adopted both Jewish purifications, and Alexandrian philosophy. Among the Greeks and Romans the Stoics correspond to the Pharisees, the Epicureans to the Sadducees, the Platonists to the mystical and ascetic Essenes.

The two leading schools seem at first to have recognized John as a prophet, but his words soon aroused dislike. This grew into enmity when he announced Jesus as the Messiah, so that afterwards they tacitly denied his authority (comp. Luke vii 30; Matthew 21:25-27). The new teacher lost popularity when he rebuked sin and pointed to Christ.

Brood of vipers. The phrase characterizes them as both deceitful and malicious. John probably alludes to the expression, ‘seed of the serpent’(Genesis 3:15); in spite of their descent from Abraham, he thus classes them among those over whom the seed of the woman should obtain the victory. This explanation takes away the apparent harshness, is in keeping with what follows, and appropriately applied by one who heralded the coming of Christ, to those who caused His death (thus bruising his heel).

Who warned you? Intimated to you, gave you a hint of. John expresses surprise that such as they could take the hint.

To flee, i.e., to attempt to escape, as they were professing to do, or were actually doing. If the first be the sense, then John doubted their sincerity; if the latter, he would insist on thorough work.

The wrath to come, or, the coming, impending wrath of God, here identified with punishment itself. Foretold by Malachi (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:5), in connection with the forerunner of the Messiah. Hence troublous times were anticipated. The fear of these times rather than of the future judgment moved the Pharisees and Sadducees, while John himself foretold the fate of the Jewish nation as part of the ‘impending wrath.’

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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Matthew 3:7. , etc.: among those who visited the Jordan were some, not a few, many indeed ( ) of the PHARISEES and SADDUCEES. The first mention of classes of whom the Gospels have much to say, the former being the legal precisians, virtuosi in religion, the latter the men of affairs and of the world, largely belonging to the sacerdotal class (consult Wellhausen, Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer). Their presence at the scene of John’s ministry is credible. Drawn doubtless by mixed motives, as persons of their type generally are, moral simplicity not being in their line; partly curious, partly fascinated, partly come to spy; in an ambiguous state of mind, neither decidedly in sympathy nor pronouncedly hostile. In any case they cannot remain indifferent to a movement so deep and widespread. So here they are; coming to ( ) John’s baptism, not to be baptised, nor coming against, as some (Olearius, e.g.) have thought, as if to put the movement down, but coming to witness the strange, novel phenomenon, and form their impressions. John did not make them welcome. His spirit was troubled by their presence. Simple, sensitive, moral natures instinctively shrink from the presence of insincerity, duplicity and craftiness.— : how did they come under his observation? By their position in the crowd or on the outskirts of it, and by their aspect? How did he identify them as Pharisees and Sadducees? How did the hermit of the desert know there were such people? It was John’s business to know all the moral characteristics of his time. These were the matters in which he took supreme interest, and he doubtless had means of informing himself, and took pains to do so. It may be assumed that he knew well about the Essenes living in his neighbourhood, by the shores of the Dead Sea, somewhat after his own fashion, and about the other two classes, whose haunts were the great centres of population. There might be Essenes too in the crowd, though not singled out, the history otherwise having no occasion to mention them.— : sudden, irrepressible outburst of intense moral aversion. Why vipers? The ancient and mediæval interpreters (Chrysos., Aug., Theophy., Euthy.) had recourse in explanation to the fable of the young viper eating its mother’s womb. The term ought rather to be connected with the following words about fleeing from the coming wrath. The serpents of all sorts lurking in the fields flee when the stubble is set on fire in harvest in preparation for the winter sowing. The Baptist likens the Pharisees and Sadducees to these serpents fleeing for their lives (Furrer in Zeitschrift für Missionskunde und Religionswissenschaft, 1890). Professor G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, p. 495, suggests the fires among the dry scrub, in the higher stretches of the Jordan valley, chasing before them the scorpions and vipers, as the basis of the metaphor. There is grim humour as well as wrath in the similitude. The emphasis is not on vipers but on fleeing. But the felicity of the comparison lies in the fact that the epithet suits very well. It implies that the Pharisees and Sadducees are fleeing. They have caught slightly the infection of repentance; yet John does not believe in its depth or permanence.— : there is surprise in the question. Can it be possible that even you have learned to fear the approaching crisis? Most unlikely scholars.— : pregnant for “flee and escape from” (De Wette). The aorist points to possibility, going with verbs of hoping and promising in this sense (Winer, § xliv. 7 c.). The implied thought is that it is not possible = who encouraged you to expect deliverance? The aorist further signifies a momentary act: now or never.— . , the day of wrath impending, preluding the advent of the Kingdom. The idea of wrath was prominent in John’s mind: the coming of the Kingdom an awful affair; Messiah’s work largely a work of judgment. But he rose above ordinary Jewish ideas in this: they conceived of the judgment as concerning the heathen peoples; he thought of it as concerning the godless in Israel



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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Matthew 3:7. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees, &c. — These are not names of office, but of sects, or sorts of persons of different opinions in matters of religion. There were three religious sects among the Jews, — the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Of the latter, indeed, we read nothing in the Holy Scriptures. We shall only, therefore, observe concerning them, that their way of life was very singular. They did not marry, but adopted the children of others, whom they brought up in the institutions of their sect. They despised riches, and had all things in common, and never changed their clothes till they were entirely worn out. When initiated they were strictly bound not to communicate the mysteries of their sect to others; and if any of their members were found guilty of any enormous crime they were expelled. As to their doctrine, they allowed a future state, but denied the resurrection of the body. The reason why we find no mention of them in the New Testament may be their recluse and retired way of life, no less than their great simplicity and honesty, in consequence of which they lay open to no censure or reproof. — The Pharisees were a very ancient sect. They are said to have made their first appearance about 150 years before Christ. It is certain from the account given by Josephus, Ant., lib. 12., cap. 10., sect. 5, 6, that in the time of John Hyrcanus, the high priest, about 108 years before Christ, the sect was not only formed, but made a considerable figure; and that it had advanced to a high degree of popularity and power about thirty years after that period. They took their name from the Hebrew word פרס, pharas, which signifies to separate, because they seemed to separate themselves from all others by their peculiar manner of living. They pretended to have greater knowledge of the rites of the Jewish worship and of the customs of their country than other people, and were very strict in the observance of them, as also of all the traditions of the elders. They fasted often, made long prayers, rigorously kept the sabbath, and put on an appearance of great sanctity, with much display of zeal for Moses and the law. On all these accounts they were in high esteem among the people: and some of them, we have reason to hope, had a measure of true piety; but it is evident from several of the discourses of our Lord, recorded by the evangelists, that they were in general devoid of that humility, and sincere love of God, which are essential to true religion. Though they acknowledged the existence of angels, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and a future state of rewards and punishments, yet they were involved in many great and destructive errors, both in principle and practice. They held the unwritten traditions of the elders to be of equal authority with the written word, pretending that both were delivered to Moses from mount Sinai. From their rigorous observance of these traditions they considered themselves as more holy than other men, and held their own righteousness to be sufficient for their justification before God; having no proper conception of the spirituality, extent, and obligation of the divine law. Accordingly they neglected the weightier matters of it, justice, mercy, and the love of God, and rendered its holy precepts of none effect through their traditions, while they were scrupulously exact in little and trivial things, such as washing cups, &c., Mark 4., and tithing mint, anise, and cummin.

The Sadducees also were a sect of great antiquity, having existed, as well as the Pharisees, according to Josephus, from the time of the Maccabees. They had their name from their founder, Sadoc. Antigonus of Socho, president of the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, and teacher of the law in the divinity school in that city, having often in his lectures asserted to his scholars that they ought not to serve God in a servile manner, with respect to reward, but only out of filial love and fear; two of his scholars, Sadoc and Baithus, inferred from thence that there were no rewards or punishments after this life; and therefore, separating from the school of their master, they taught that there was no resurrection nor future state. Many embracing this opinion gave rise to the sect of the Sadducees, who were a kind of Epicureans, but differing from them in this, that, though they denied a future state, yet they allowed that the world was created by the power of God, and governed by his providence, whereas the followers of Epicurus denied both. The Sadducees, says Luke, (Acts 23:8,) say, there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit. Add to this, that they not only rejected all unwritten traditions, but all the books of the Old Testament, excepting those of Moses. They were not very numerous, but being the wealthiest of the three sects, the rich and great gave in to their opinions; whereas the people were firm in the interest of the Pharisees, and so attached to their notions, that, if a Pharisee should happen to throw out reflections, either upon the high priest or king, he was sure to be believed; for every thing that concerned divine worship was regulated by the Pharisees. So that when the Sadducees took upon them any public employment they were obliged, though never so much against their own interest, to obey the injunction of the Pharisees, which had they presumed to refuse, the consequences would have been dangerous, and would have set the people in an uproar. O generation of vipers — A wicked offspring of wicked parents, crafty, malignant, mischievous creatures. In like manner the crafty Herod is styled a fox, and persons of insidious, ravenous, profane, or sensual dispositions, are named respectively by Him who saw their hearts, serpents, dogs, wolves, and swine; terms which are not the random language of passion, but a judicious designation of the persons meant by them. For it was fitting such men should be marked out, either for a caution to others, or a warning to themselves. Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? — To put on this form of humility and repentance? What hath moved you to it? How came you to think yourselves in any danger of divine and future wrath, or to use any means to escape it? since you Pharisees think yourselves secure from it, on account of the sanctity of your lives, and you Sadducees imagine there is no such wrath, and that all that is spoken of it is a mere fable and delusion?

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Pharisees and Sadducees. These are the names of two sects at that time among the Jews. There are different conjectures about the name of the Sadducees. This at least we find by the Gospels, and by the Acts of the Apostles, that they were a profane sort of men, that made a jest of the resurrection, and of the existence of spirits, and of the immortality of souls. To these the Pharisees were declared adversaries, as being a more religious sect, who pretended to be exact observers of the law, and also of a great many traditions, which they had, or pretended to have, from their forefathers. St. Epiphanius (hær. 16, p. 34,) derives their name from the Hebrew word Pharas, signifying separated, divided, or distinguished from others by a more holy way of living. So the proud Pharisee (Luke xviii.) said of himself, I am not like the rest of men, &c. --- Brood of vipers. St. John the Baptist, and also our Saviour himself, (Matthew xxii. 33,) made use of this sharp reprehension to such as come to them full of hypocrisy. --- the wrath to come: meaning punishments for the wicked after death. Or as some expound it, the destruction that was shortly to fall on the city of Jerusalem, on the temple, and the whole nation of the Jews. (Witham)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

Pharisees and Sadducees. See App-120.

saw. App-133.

come = coming.

baptism. See App-115.

generation = brood or offspring.

vipers = serpents. Not ordinary snakes, but venomous vipers.

who . . . ? Figure of speech Erotesis (App-6), for emphasis.

warned, &c. = forewarned; or who hath suggested or given you the hint?

from = away from. Greek. apo. App-104.

the Wrath to come. The reference is to Ma Matthew 1:4, Matthew 1:1. The coming of Messiah was always connected with judgment; which would have come to pass had the nation repented at the preaching of "them that heard Him" (Hebrews 2:3. Compare Matthew 22:4). The "times of refreshing", and "the restoration of all things" of Acts 3:19-26, would have followed. Hence 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:9. See notes there; and compare Matthew 10:23; Matthew 16:28; Matthew 24:34. Luke 21:22, Luke 21:23. Acts 28:25, Acts 28:28.

to come = about to come.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism (on these sects, and what they represented, see Remark 2 at the close of this Section),

He said unto them [astonished at such a spectacle] O generation of vipers, [ Genneemata (Greek #1081) echidnoon (Greek #2191)] - 'Viper-brood;' expressing the deadly influence of both sects alike upon the community. Mutually and entirely antagonistic as were their religious principles and spirit, the stern prophet charges both alike with being the poisoners of the nation's religious principles. In Matthew 12:34, and Matthew 23:33, this strong language of the Baptist is applied anew by the faithful and true Witness to the Pharisees specifically-the only party that had zeal enough actively to diffuse this poison.

Who hath warned you, [ hupedeixen (G5263), 'given you the hint,' as the idea is] to flee from the wrath to come? - `What could have brought you here?' John more than suspected it was not so much their own spiritual anxieties as the popularity of his movement that had drawn them there. What an expression is this, "The wrath to come!" [ hee (Greek #3588) mellousa (Greek #3195) orgee (Greek #3709).] God's "wrath," in Scripture, is His righteous displeasure against sin, and consequently against all in whose skirts sin is found, arising out of the essential and eternal opposition of His nature to all moral evil. This is called "the coming wrath," not as being wholly future-see remark on the verb [ melloo (Greek #3195)], on Matthew 2:13 - for as a merited sentence it lies on the sinner already, and its effects, both inward and outward, are to some extent experienced even now-but because the impenitent sinner will not, until "the judgment of the great day," be concluded under it, will not have sentence publicly and irrevocably passed upon him, will not have it discharged upon him and experience its effects without mixture and without hope. In this view of it, it is a wrath wholly to come-as is implied in the noticeably different form of the expression employed by the apostle in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 [ hee (Greek #3588) orgee (Greek #3709) hee (Greek #3588) erchomenee (Greek #2064)]. Not that even true penitents came to John's baptism with all these views of "the wrath to come." But what he says is, that this was the real import of the step itself, and so much is implied in the use of the aorist [ fugein (Greek #5343)]. In this view of it, how striking is the word he employs to express that step-fleeing from it-as of one who, beholding a tide of fiery wrath rolling rapidly toward him, sees in instant flight his only escape!

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

The Bible Study New Testament

7. Pharisees and Sadducees. The two main religious sects. The PHARISEES began about the time of the Maccabees after the return from captivity. They were a “renewal group,” “Jewish Puritans,” but they had degenerated into formalists who ignored the “inner life.” They were meticulous in ritual, orthodox, but full of spiritual pride. The SADDUCEES, SO named for Sadduc, their founder, were aristocratic traditionalists. Mostly political, and not religious at all, they did not believe in “angel, spirit, or the resurrection from the dead.” The High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas, were Sadducees. You snakes. They were poisonous like snakes, polluted by their sin, hating one another and hateful to God. Who told you? Wrath had been predicted (Malachi 3:2; Malachi 4:5). John’s question doubts their sincerity.




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Ice, Rhoderick D. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "The Bible Study New Testament". College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(7) Pharisees and Sadducees.—It is desirable to give, once for all, a sufficient account of these two sects to explain their relation to each other and to the teaching of our Lord. (1.) THE PHARISEES. Singularly enough, the name appears for the first time in the Gospel history. Josephus, who tells us most about them, being presumably later, if not than the Gospels in their present form, yet, at all events, than the materials from which they are derived. We cannot say, therefore, when the name came first into use. They are first mentioned by the Jewish historian as opposing the government of the priest-ruler of the Asmonæan house, John Hyrcanus (Ant. xiii. 5). The meaning of the name is clear enough. The Pharisees were the “separated” ones, and the meaning may help us to trace the history. The attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes (as related in the two Books of Maccabees) to blot out the distinctness of Jewish life by introducing Greek worship and Greek customs, was met with an heroic resistance by priests and people. The “mingling” or “not mingling” with the heathen in marriage or in social life became a test of religious character (2 Maccabees 14:3; 2 Maccabees 14:38). The faithful became known as Assideans, i.e., Chasidim or saints (1 Maccabees 2:42; 1 Maccabees 7:13; 1 Maccabees 7:17; 2 Maccabees 14:6), and looked to Judas Maccabeus as their leader. Later on, as the holding aloof from the heathen became more and more characteristic of them, they took the name of Pharisees, and under John Hyrcanus became a powerful and organised body; forming a kind of guild or fraternity as well as a party, uniting some features of the Puritan with some of the Society of the Jesuits. Like most sects and parties, they had their bright and their dark sides. They maintained the ethical side of the Law as against the sacrificial. They insisted on alms, and fasting, and prayer, as the three great elements of the religious life; on the Sabbath, as its great safe-guard. They did much to promote education and synagogue-building. In gathering the traditions of older Rabbis, they held themselves to be “setting a fence round the Law” to maintain its sacredness. They were eager in the mission-work of Judaism, and “compassed sea and land to make one proselyte” (Matthew 23:15). They maintained or revived the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and of the rewards and punishments that were to follow. On the other side, their “separation” developed almost into the exclusiveness of a caste. Their casuistry inverted the right relation of moral and ceremonial duties. They despised the mass of their own countrymen as the “brute people of the earth.” Within the sect there were two schools, represented at this time by the followers of Shammai and of Hillel, the former more after the pattern of the Puritan, rigid in its Sabbatarianism, hard and bitter in its spirit; the latter more after the type of the Jesuit, with wider culture, gentler temper, an easier casuistry, moral precepts of a wider kind. Of both schools it must be remembered that they were emphatically lay-religionists, unconnected with the priesthood, and often in opposition to it. (2.) THE SADDUCEES. Etymologically, the name, though connected with the Hebrew word for “righteous,” must be derived from the proper name “Zadok,” found in the Old Testament as belonging to the high priest in the time of Solomon. A tradition, of uncertain authority and date, states that the founder of the sect was a certain Zadok, the disciple of Antigonus, who, in his turn, had sat at the feet of Simon the Just. Antigonus taught, it was said, that “men should not be servants who do their Master’s will for a reward,” and the scholar developed the doctrine into a denial of the resurrection, which formed the reward. Whether this is a true account or not, the features of the Sadducees in the New Testament stand out with sufficient clearness. They are for the most part of the higher priestly order, as contrasted with the lay-scribes of the Pharisees. They admit the authority of the written Law, not of traditions. They deny the existence of angels and spirits, as well as the resurrection and the immortality of the soul. They made up for the absence of the fears of the future, by greater rigour in punishments on earth. They courted the favour of their Roman rulers, and to some extent even of the Herods. It is not easy to enter into the motives which led either of the sects to come to the baptism of John. It may be that they were carried away for a time by the enthusiasm of the people, or sought to guide the movement by controlling it, or to enlist the new teacher on this side or that. Anyhow, there was no repentance, and no confession, and so the Baptist met them with a stern reproof.

O generation of vipers.—Better, brood, or offspring, of vipers. Our Lord takes up the same term, and applies it to them at the close of his ministry (Matthew 23:33).

Who hath warned.—Better, who taught you? Who had shown them the way without repentance by which they sought to escape? He had given them no such guidance, and they must have gained that notion from some other teacher.

The wrath to come.—This is spoken of as something definite and known, the thought resting probably on the pictures of the great day of the Lord in Malachi 3, 4.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
the Pharisees
5:20; 12:24; 15:12; 16:6,11,12; 22:15,23,34; 23:13-28; Mark 7:3-5; 8:15; 12:13,18; Luke 7:30; 11:39-44; 16:14; 18:11; John 1:24; John 7:45-49; 9:40; Acts 4:1,2; 5:17; 15:5; 23:6-9; 26:5
O generation
12:34; 23:33; Genesis 3:15; Psalms 58:3-6; Isaiah 57:3,4; 59:5; Luke 3:7-9; John 8:44; 1 John 3:10; Revelation 12:9,10
Jeremiah 6:10; 51:6; Ezekiel 3:18-21; 33:3-7; Acts 20:31; Romans 1:18; Hebrews 11:7
Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:9,10; Hebrews 6:18; Revelation 6:16,17
Reciprocal: Genesis 19:17 - Escape;  Leviticus 11:42 - goeth upon the belly;  Deuteronomy 32:5 - a perverse;  2 Kings 6:10 - warned him;  Job 20:16 - the viper's;  Job 36:18 - Because;  Psalm 12:7 - this;  Psalm 19:11 - Moreover;  Psalm 58:4 - serpent;  Proverbs 27:12 - GeneralProverbs 28:4 - but;  Proverbs 30:11 - a generation;  Ecclesiastes 12:11 - as goads;  Isaiah 1:4 - a seed;  Isaiah 58:1 - spare;  Jeremiah 7:29 - generation;  Jeremiah 36:3 - hear;  Ezekiel 3:17 - hear;  Ezekiel 16:3 - Thy birth;  Ezekiel 20:3 - Are;  Micah 3:8 - to declare;  Zechariah 11:3 - for their;  Malachi 3:2 - who may abide;  Luke 1:17 - power;  Luke 9:41 - perverse;  Luke 11:29 - This is;  John 8:38 - and ye;  Acts 2:40 - untoward;  Acts 13:10 - O full;  Acts 28:3 - came;  Galatians 2:15 - Jews;  Colossians 1:28 - warning;  1 Thessalonians 2:16 - for

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

. The Pharisees and Saducees. were two leading sects of the Jews In the tlme of Christ. They had some radical differences which wtll be described. in another place. There were some principles. however, which they both had In common and one of them was hypocrisy. and both made great claims of excellence which they did not possess. This, too, will be described elsewhere. Generation of vipers is a figure of speech meaning a class of vile and poisonous characters, They came to the baptismal services of John for the outward appearance it made. In his preaching John exhorted the people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. in order to escape the wrath of God. He had not specified any classes, so the response of these sects was an outward admission of their being sinners thougb their attitude was one of self-righteousness.

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Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 3:7.And when he saw many of the Pharisees. It is here related by Matthew and Luke, that John did not merely preach repentance in a general manner, but that he also applied his discourse to individuals. And the manner of teaching will, in point of fact, be very unprofitable, if instructors do not judiciously inquire what the season demands, and what belongs to individuals. Nothing can be more unequal, in this respect, than a constant equality. (261) For this reason John, we are told, addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees with greater severity: because he saw that their hypocrisy, and swelling pride, rendered them liable to be more severely censured than the common people. To comprehend more fully his design, we must understand, that none are more stupid than hypocrites, who deceive themselves and others by the outward mask of holiness. While God thunders, on all sides, against the whole world, they construct a refuge for themselves in their own deceitful fancy; for they are convinced that they have nothing to do with the judgment of God. Does any one suppose, that John acted improperly, in treating them with so much harshness at the first interview? I reply: They were not unknown to him, (262) and the knowledge he had of them was derived, not from acquaintance or experience, but, on the contrary, from a secret revelation of the Spirit. It was therefore necessary that he should not spare them, lest they might return home more inflated with pride. Is it again objected, that they ought not to have been terrified by such severity of reproof, because they made a profession, in baptism, that they would afterwards be different persons from what they had formerly been? The reply is still easy. Those whose habits of uttering falsehood to God, and of deceiving themselves, lead them to hold out hypocrisy and pretension, instead of the reality, ought to be urged, with greater sharpness than other men, to true repentance. There is an astonishing pertinacity, as I have said, in hypocrites; and, until they have been flayed by violence, they obstinately keep their skin.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 3:7". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.