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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
with Lu 4:20.
3. All therefore--that is, all which, as sitting in that seat and
teaching out of that law.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.