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Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees. 1a Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, 2* saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. 3Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. 4b They tie up heavy burdens* [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. 5* c All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. 6* d They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, 7greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ 8* As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. 10Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. 11e The greatest among you must be your servant. 12f Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
15* “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.
16* h “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ 17Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? 18And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ 19You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20i One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; 21one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; 22one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.
23j “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes* of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. [But] these you should have done, without neglecting the others. 24* k Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!
25* l “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.
27* “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. 28m Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.
29* “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,* you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, 30n and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ 31o Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; 32now fill up what your ancestors measured out! 33p You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna? 34* q Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35so that there may come upon you all the righteous blood shed upon earth, from the righteous blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36Amen, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
The Lament over Jerusalem.* 37r “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!s 38t Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. 39u I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
* [23:1–39] The final section of the narrative part of the fifth book of the gospel is a denunciation by Jesus of the scribes and the Pharisees (see note on Mt 3:7). It depends in part on Mark and Q (cf. Mk 12:38–39; Lk 11:37–52; 13:34–35), but in the main it is peculiar to Matthew. (For the reasons against considering this extensive body of sayings-material either as one of the structural discourses of this gospel or as part of the one that follows in Mt 24–25, see note on Mt 19:1–23:39.) While the tradition of a deep opposition between Jesus and the Pharisees is well founded, this speech reflects an opposition that goes beyond that of Jesus’ ministry and must be seen as expressing the bitter conflict between Pharisaic Judaism and the church of Matthew at the time when the gospel was composed. The complaint often made that the speech ignores the positive qualities of Pharisaism and of its better representatives is true, but the complaint overlooks the circumstances that gave rise to the invective. Nor is the speech purely anti-Pharisaic. The evangelist discerns in his church many of the same faults that he finds in its opponents and warns his fellow Christians to look to their own conduct and attitudes.
* [23:2–3] Have taken their seat…Moses: it is uncertain whether this is simply a metaphor for Mosaic teaching authority or refers to an actual chair on which the teacher sat. It has been proved that there was a seat so designated in synagogues of a later period than that of this gospel. Do and observe…they tell you: since the Matthean Jesus abrogates Mosaic law (Mt 5:31–42), warns his disciples against the teaching of the Pharisees (Mt 14:1–12), and, in this speech, denounces the Pharisees as blind guides in respect to their teaching on oaths (Mt 23:16–22), this commandment to observe all things whatsoever they (the scribes and Pharisees) tell you cannot be taken as the evangelist’s understanding of the proper standard of conduct for his church. The saying may reflect a period when the Matthean community was largely Jewish Christian and was still seeking to avoid a complete break with the synagogue. Matthew has incorporated this traditional material into the speech in accordance with his view of the course of salvation history, in which he portrays the time of Jesus’ ministry as marked by the fidelity to the law, although with significant pointers to the new situation that would exist after his death and resurrection (see note on Mt 5:17–20). The crowds and the disciples (Mt 23:1) are exhorted not to follow the example of the Jewish leaders, whose deeds do not conform to their teaching (Mt 23:3).
* [23:5] To the charge of preaching but not practicing (Mt 23:3), Jesus adds that of acting in order to earn praise. The disciples have already been warned against this same fault (see note on Mt 6:1–18). Phylacteries: the Mosaic law required that during prayer small boxes containing parchments on which verses of scripture were written be worn on the left forearm and the forehead (see Ex 13:9, 16; Dt 6:8; 11:18). Tassels: see note on Mt 9:20. The widening of phylacteries and the lengthening of tassels were for the purpose of making these evidences of piety more noticeable.
* [23:8–12] These verses, warning against the use of various titles, are addressed to the disciples alone. While only the title ‘Rabbi’ has been said to be used in addressing the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:7), the implication is that Father and ‘Master’ also were. The prohibition of these titles to the disciples suggests that their use was present in Matthew’s church. The Matthean Jesus forbids not only the titles but the spirit of superiority and pride that is shown by their acceptance. Whoever exalts…will be exalted: cf. Lk 14:11.
* [23:13–36] This series of seven “woes,” directed against the scribes and Pharisees and addressed to them, is the heart of the speech. The phrase woe to occurs often in the prophetic and apocalyptic literature, expressing horror of a sin and punishment for those who commit it. Hypocrites: see note on Mt 6:2. The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees consists in the difference between their speech and action Mt 23:3 and in demonstrations of piety that have no other purpose than to enhance their reputation as religious persons (Mt 23:5).
* [23:13] You lock the kingdom of heaven: cf. Mt 16:19 where Jesus tells Peter that he will give him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The purpose of the authority expressed by that metaphor is to give entrance into the kingdom (the kingdom is closed only to those who reject the authority); here the charge is made that the authority of the scribes and Pharisees is exercised in such a way as to be an obstacle to entrance. Cf. Lk 11:52 where the accusation against the “scholars of the law” (Matthew’s scribes) is that they “have taken away the key of knowledge.”
* [23:14] Some manuscripts add a verse here or after Mt 23:12 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. Because of this, you will receive a very severe condemnation.” Cf. Mk 12:40; Lk 20:47. This “woe” is almost identical with Mk 12:40 and seems to be an interpolation derived from that text.
* [23:15] In the first century A.D. until the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (A.D. 66–70), many Pharisees conducted a vigorous missionary campaign among Gentiles. Convert: literally, “proselyte,” a Gentile who accepted Judaism fully by submitting to circumcision and all other requirements of Mosaic law. Child of Gehenna: worthy of everlasting punishment; for Gehenna, see note on Mt 5:22. Twice as much as yourselves: possibly this refers simply to the zeal of the convert, surpassing that of the one who converted him.
* [23:16–22] An attack on the casuistry that declared some oaths binding (one is obligated) and others not (it means nothing) and held the binding oath to be the one made by something of lesser value (the gold; the gift on the altar). Such teaching, which inverts the order of values, reveals the teachers to be blind guides; cf. Mt 15:14. Since the Matthean Jesus forbids all oaths to his disciples (Mt 5:33–37), this woe does not set up a standard for Christian moral conduct, but ridicules the Pharisees on their own terms.
* [23:23] The Mosaic law ordered tithing of the produce of the land (Lv 27:30; Dt 14:22–23), and the scribal tradition is said here to have extended this law to even the smallest herbs. The practice is criticized not in itself but because it shows the Pharisees’ preoccupation with matters of less importance while they neglect the weightier things of the law.
* [23:24] Cf. Lv 11:41–45 that forbids the eating of any “swarming creature.” The Pharisees’ scrupulosity about minor matters and neglect of greater ones (Mt 23:23) is further brought out by this contrast between straining liquids that might contain a tiny “swarming creature” and yet swallowing the camel. The latter was one of the unclean animals forbidden by the law (Lv 11:4), but it is hardly possible that the scribes and Pharisees are being denounced as guilty of so gross a violation of the food laws. To swallow the camel is only a hyperbolic way of speaking of their neglect of what is important.
* [23:25–26] The ritual washing of utensils for dining (cf. Mk 7:4) is turned into a metaphor illustrating a concern for appearances while inner purity is ignored. The scribes and Pharisees are compared to cups carefully washed on the outside but filthy within. Self-indulgence: the Greek word here translated means lack of self-control, whether in drinking or in sexual conduct.
* [23:27–28] The sixth woe, like the preceding one, deals with concern for externals and neglect of what is inside. Since contact with dead bodies, even when one was unaware of it, caused ritual impurity (Nm 19:11–22), tombs were whitewashed so that no one would contract such impurity inadvertently.
* [23:29–32] In spite of honoring the slain dead by building their tombs and adorning their memorials, and claiming that they would not have joined in their ancestors’ crimes if they had lived in their days, the scribes and Pharisees are true children of their ancestors and are defiantly ordered by Jesus to fill up what those ancestors measured out. This order reflects the Jewish notion that there was an allotted measure of suffering that had to be completed before God’s final judgment would take place.
* [23:34–36] There are important differences between the Matthean and the Lucan form of this Q material; cf. Lk 11:49–51. In Luke the one who sends the emissaries is the “wisdom of God.” If, as many scholars think, that is the original wording of Q, Matthew, by making Jesus the sender, has presented him as the personified divine wisdom. In Luke, wisdom’s emissaries are the Old Testament “prophets” and the Christian “apostles.” Matthew’s prophets and wise men and scribes are probably Christian disciples alone; cf. Mt 10:41 and see note on Mt 13:52. You will kill: see Mt 24:9. Scourge in your synagogues…town to town: see Mt 10:17, 23 and the note on Mt 10:17. All the righteous blood shed upon the earth: the slaying of the disciples is in continuity with all the shedding of righteous blood beginning with that of Abel. The persecution of Jesus’ disciples by this generation involves the persecutors in the guilt of their murderous ancestors. The blood of Zechariah: see note on Lk 11:51. By identifying him as the son of Barachiah Matthew understands him to be Zechariah the Old Testament minor prophet; see Zec 1:1.
* [23:37–39] Cf. Lk 13:34–35. The denunciation of Pharisaic Judaism ends with this lament over Jerusalem, which has repeatedly rejected and murdered those whom God has sent to her. How many times: this may refer to various visits of Jesus to the city, an aspect of his ministry found in John but otherwise not in the synoptics. As a hen…under her wings: for imagery similar to this, see Ps 17:8; 91:4. Your house…desolate: probably an allusion to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. You will not see me…in the name of the Lord: Israel will not see Jesus again until he comes in glory for the final judgment. The acclamation has been interpreted in contrasting ways, as an indication that Israel will at last accept Jesus at that time, and as its troubled recognition of him as its dreaded judge who will pronounce its condemnation; in support of the latter view see Mt 24:30.
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