Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
Lament over Jerusalem
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Matthew 23 Commentary
by Hank Workman
The word hypocrisy in Greek was a term used for an actor on stage who played a specific role. Jesus took this word and turned it to mean a charlatan or pretender assuming a role.
The Pharisees’ traditions had become more important than God’s law. They had added and added their own sets of laws based upon their interpretation of the Law then placed applications. Besides this being a problem and almost unreachable goal for people – they themselves did not follow themselves. Obeying the Law was a requirement by God to honor Him but somehow along the years and all their own traditions they were following instead to make themselves look good. Consider the Greek meaning of hypocrite or hypocrisy – they were simply playing a role.
Over the years I used to direct many shows and was in various stage productions. I loved it. It took a lot of work however. When I was a lead in several shows the amount of memorization of not only lines but also knowing where I was to stand, react and so forth as for most actors was a challenge. In the build-up to the opening night, the work of learning my lines was always toward being ‘off book’ meaning we could not have the script in front of us any longer.
For an actor, this is where you can really become that character as you know the lines, you know what comes next and you can then develop your acting skills in the scene. You had to know your lines from every angle. For as you would maybe drop a line, meaning forget what you were to say, or the other actors in the scene did the same, you had to stay on course and figure out a way to bring the scene to completion. When this takes place during an actual production with live audience, it was imperative to know every scene.
Going back to the Greek term hypocrisy and how Jesus addressed them, not only was it a blatant insult to the Pharisees that they were merely actors, but also exposed they were just playing the part. They had gone off-book and many times went off-script. This is when an actor simply makes up what they are to say. This direct shot at the Pharisees was offensive and exposed them being posers for God.
Beginning at verse 13 Jesus goes into His woes to the Pharisees. These are incredibly strong statements. In contrast to the 8 Beatitudes, Jesus speaks harshly to them with 8 woes. These woes are not just personal they speak toward condemnation for their behavior.
Today it’s too easy to simply ‘play the part’ of a spiritual person. For many of us, we know the Scripture and what God asks of each. Somewhere along the lines we lose the genuine application and fail to live that transformed life.
Have we ourselves merely become actors, playing a role for a specific time or in certain scenarios?
Matthew 23 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
Jesus uses a lot of phrases of that time period to describe what the Pharisees were like. In this scathing rebuke, it’s important to understand what He was talking about so we can relate His words to the present day.
In verse 16, Jesus addresses the Pharisees’ art of lying. To swear by the temple, the altar, or heaven was not a binding oath, which meant you could effectively lie and deceive others. To swear by the gold of the temple, the gift of the altar, or by God was, in fact, binding. Jesus points out the absurdity of this law as God knows and sees all oaths. Earlier in His ministry, Jesus addressed this very issue.
34 “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of GodMatthew 5:34, 37 NASB
37 “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.
In verse 23, Jesus hammers the Pharisees for paying close attention to small details while neglecting huge foundational principles. The Pharisees would tithe 1/10 of their mint, anise, and cummin (small herbs) as commanded by Lev. 27 (tithe of the land). The picture we get here is of each Pharisee individually counting out each seed to make sure their tithe is correct. The issue is not that tithing is unimportant, but rather, that they are spending so much time and effort on counting herbs instead of displaying justice, mercy, and faith. The law was designed to bring forth these bigger ideals, not micromanage people’s lives with busy work!
In verse 24, Jesus addresses their adherence to straining out gnats from their beverages. A gnat was considered the smallest of the unclean animals as described in Lev. 11:23. The camel was the largest of the unclean.
Does this still go on today? Absolutely. Anyone can follow the rules most of the time. It’s hard to love people. Loving people is messy, difficult, and opens your heart to deep pain. Showing mercy and forgiveness requires spiritual power that only comes from seeing Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The Pharisees were not only hypocrites, but they were also selfish.
Jesus came and dove into the mess of humanity with the power of humility. He used His power to serve others and empowered them to be a part of His Kingdom.