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    CHAPTER 23


    For this long and terrible discourse we are indebted, with the exception of a few verses in Mark and Luke, to Matthew alone. But as it is only an extended repetition of denunciations uttered not long before at the table of a Pharisee, and recorded by Luke (Lu 11:37-54), we may take both together in the exposition.

    Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:1-36).

    The first twelve verses were addressed more immediately to the disciples, the rest to the scribes and Pharisees.

    1. Then spake Jesus to the multitude--to the multitudes, "and to his disciples."

    2. Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit--The Jewish teachers stood to read, but sat to expound the Scriptures, as will be seen by comparing Lu 4:16 with Lu 4:20.
    - in Moses' seat--that is, as interpreters of the law given by Moses.

    3. All therefore--that is, all which, as sitting in that seat and teaching out of that law.
    - they bid you observe, that observe and do--The word "therefore" is thus, it will be seen, of great importance, as limiting those injunctions which He would have them obey to what they fetched from the law itself. In requiring implicit obedience to such injunctions, He would have them to recognize the authority with which they taught over and above the obligations of the law itself--an important principle truly; but He who denounced the traditions of such teachers (Mt 15:3) cannot have meant here to throw His shield over these. It is remarked by WEBSTER and WILKINSON that the warning to beware of the scribes is given by Mark and Luke (Mr 12:38; Lu 20:46) without any qualification: the charge to respect and obey them being reported by Matthew alone, indicating for whom this Gospel was especially written, and the writer's desire to conciliate the Jews.

    4. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them--"touch them not" (Lu 11:46).
    - with one of their fingers--referring not so much to the irksomeness of the legal rites, though they were irksome enough (Ac 15:10), as to the heartless rigor with which they were enforced, and by men of shameless inconsistency.

    5. But all their works they do for to be seen of men--Whatever good they do, or zeal they show, has but one motive--human applause.
    - they make broad their phylacteries--strips of parchment with Scripture-texts on them, worn on the forehead, arm, and side, in time of prayer.
    - and enlarge the borders of their garments--fringes of their upper garments (Nu 15:37-40).

    6. And love the uppermost rooms at feasts--The word "room" is now obsolete in the sense here intended. It should be "the uppermost place," that is, the place of highest honor.
    - and the chief seats in the synagogues. See on Lu 14:7, 8.

    7. And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi--It is the spirit rather than the letter of this that must be pressed; though the violation of the letter, springing from spiritual pride, has done incalculable evil in the Church of Christ. The reiteration of the word "Rabbi" shows how it tickled the ear and fed the spiritual pride of those ecclesiastics.

    8. But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master--your Guide, your Teacher.

    9. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven, &c.--To construe these injunctions into a condemnation of every title by which Church rulers may be distinguished from the flock which they rule, is virtually to condemn that rule itself; and accordingly the same persons do both--but against the whole strain of the New Testament and sound Christian judgment. But when we have guarded ourselves against these extremes, let us see to it that we retain the full spirit of this warning against that itch for ecclesiastical superiority which has been the bane and the scandal of Christ's ministers in every age. (On the use of the word "Christ" here, see on Mt 1:1).

    11. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant--This plainly means, "shall show that he is so by becoming your servant"; as in Mt 20:27, compared with Mr 10:44.

    12. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased--See on Lu 18:14. What follows was addressed more immediately to the scribes and Pharisees.

    13. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men--Here they are charged with shutting heaven against men: in Lu 11:52 they are charged with what was worse, taking away the key--"the key of knowledge"--which means, not the key to open knowledge, but knowledge as the only key to open heaven. A right knowledge of God's revealed word is eternal life, as our Lord says (Joh 17:3; 5:39); but this they took away from the people, substituting for it their wretched traditions.

    14. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, &c.--Taking advantage of the helpless condition and confiding character of "widows," they contrived to obtain possession of their property, while by their "long prayers" they made them believe they were raised far above "filthy lucre." So much "the greater damnation" awaits them. What a lifelike description of the Romish clergy, the true successors of those scribes!

    15. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte--from heathenism. We have evidence of this in JOSEPHUS.
    - and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves--condemned, for the hypocrisy he would learn to practice, both by the religion he left and that he embraced.

    16. Woe unto you, ye blind guides--Striking expression this of the ruinous effects of erroneous teaching. Our Lord, here and in some following verses, condemns the subtle distinctions they made as to the sanctity of oaths--distinctions invented only to promote their own avaricious purposes.
    - which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing--He has incurred no debt.
    - but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple--meaning not the gold that adorned the temple itself, but the Corban, set apart for sacred uses (see on Mt 15:5).
    - he is a debtor!--that is, it is no longer his own, even though the necessities of the parent might require it. We know who the successors of these men are.
    - but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty--It should have been rendered, "he is a debtor," as in Mt 23:16.

    19. Ye fools, and blind! for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?--(See Ex 29:37).

    20-22. Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, &c.--See on Mt 5:33-37.

    23. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise--rather, "dill," as in Margin.
    - and cummin--In Luke (Lu 11:42) it is "and rue, and all manner of herbs." They grounded this practice on Le 27:30, which they interpreted rigidly. Our Lord purposely names the most trifling products of the earth as examples of what they punctiliously exacted the tenth of.
    - and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith--In Luke (Lu 11:42) it is "judgment, mercy, and the love of God"--the expression being probably varied by our Lord Himself on the two different occasions. In both His reference is to Mic 6:6-8, where the prophet makes all acceptable religion to consist of three elements--"doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God"; which third element presupposes and comprehends both the "faith" of Matthew and the "love" of Luke. See on Mr 12:29; Mr 12:32, 33. The same tendency to merge greater duties in less besets even the children of God; but it is the characteristic of hypocrites.
    - these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone--There is no need for one set of duties to jostle out another; but it is to be carefully noted that of the greater duties our Lord says, "Ye ought to have done" them, while of the lesser He merely says, "Ye ought not to leave them undone."

    24. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat--The proper rendering--as in the older English translations, and perhaps our own as it came from the translators' hands--evidently is, "strain out." It was the custom, says TRENCH, of the stricter Jews to strain their wine, vinegar, and other potables through linen or gauze, lest unawares they should drink down some little unclean insect therein and thus transgress (Le 11:20, 23, 41, 42) --just as the Buddhists do now in Ceylon and Hindustan--and to this custom of theirs our Lord here refers.
    - and swallow a camel--the largest animal the Jews knew, as the "gnat" was the smallest; both were by the law unclean.

    25. within they are full of extortion--In Luke (Lu 11:39) the same word is rendered "ravening," that is, "rapacity."

    26. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also--In Luke (Lu 11:40) it is, "Ye fools, did not He that made that which is without make that which is within also?"--"He to whom belongs the outer life, and of right demands its subjection to Himself, is the inner man less His?" A remarkable example this of our Lord's power of drawing the most striking illustrations of great truths from the most familiar objects and incidents in life. To these words, recorded by Luke, He adds the following, involving a principle of immense value: "But rather give alms of such things as ye have, and behold, all things are clean unto you" (Lu 11:41). As the greed of these hypocrites was one of the most prominent features of their character (Lu 16:14), our Lord bids them exemplify the opposite character, and then their outside, ruled by this, would be beautiful in the eye of God, and their meals would be eaten with clean hands, though much fouled with the business of this everyday world. (See Ec 9:7).

    27. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like whited sepulchres--or, whitewashed sepulchres. (Compare Ac 23:3). The process of whitewashing the sepulchres, as LIGHTFOOT says, was performed on a certain day every year, not for ceremonial cleansing, but, as the following words seem rather to imply, to beautify them.
    - which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness--What a powerful way of conveying the charge, that with all their fair show their hearts were full of corruption! (Compare Ps 5:9; Ro 3:13). But our Lord, stripping off the figure, next holds up their iniquity in naked colors.
    - Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets--that is, "ye be witnesses that ye have inherited, and voluntarily served yourselves heirs to, the truth-hating, prophet-killing, spirit of your fathers." Out of pretended respect and honor, they repaired and beautified the sepulchres of the prophets, and with whining hypocrisy said, "If we had been in their days, how differently should we have treated these prophets?" While all the time they were witnesses to themselves that they were the children of them that killed the prophets, convicting themselves daily of as exact a resemblance in spirit and character to the very classes over whose deeds they pretended to mourn, as child to parent. In Lu 11:44 our Lord gives another turn to this figure of a grave: "Ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them." As one might unconsciously walk over a grave concealed from view, and thus contract ceremonial defilement, so the plausible exterior of the Pharisees kept people from perceiving the pollution they contracted from coming in contact with such corrupt characters.

    33. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye GOTO NEXT CHAPTER - D. J-F-B INDEX & SEARCH

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