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Word Pictures in the New Testament
(Matthew: Chapter 23)

23:2 {Sit on Moses' seat} (\epi tēs Mōuseōs kathedras
. The gnomic or timeless aorist tense, \ekathisan\,
not the aorist "for" the perfect. The "seat of Moses" is a brief
form for the chair of the professor whose function it is to
interpret Moses. "The heirs of Moses' authority by an unbroken
tradition can deliver _ex cathedra_ pronouncements on his
teaching" (McNeile).

23:3 {For they say and do not} (\legousin kai ou poiousin\). "As
teachers they have their place, but beware of following their
example" (Bruce). So Jesus said: "Do not ye after their works "
(\mē poieite\). Do not practice their practices. They are only
preachers. Jesus does not here disapprove any of their teachings
as he does elsewhere. The point made here is that they are only
teachers (or preachers) and do not practice what they teach as
God sees it.

23:4 {With their finger} (\tōi daktulōi autōn\). A picturesque
proverb. They are taskmasters, not burden-bearers, not
sympathetic helpers.

23:5 {To be seen of men} (\pros to theathēnai tois anthrōpois\).
See 6:1 where this same idiom occurs. Ostentation regulates the
conduct of the rabbis. {Phylacteries} (\phulaktēria\). An
adjective from \phulaktēr, phulassō\ (to guard). So a fortified
place, station for garrison, then a safeguard, protecting charm
or amulet. The rabbis wore \tephillin\ or prayer-fillets, small
leather cases with four strips of parchment on which were written
the words of Ex 13:1-10,11-16; De 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They took
literally the words about "a sign unto thy hand," "a memorial
between thine eyes," and "frontlets." "That for the head was to
consist of a box with four compartments, each containing a slip
of parchment inscribed with one of the four passages. Each of
these strips was to be tied up with a well-washed hair from a
calf's tail; lest, if tied with wool or thread, any fungoid
growth should ever pollute them. The phylactery of the arm was to
contain a single slip, with the same four passages written in
four columns of seven lines each. The black leather straps by
which they were fastened were wound seven times round the arm and
three times round the hand. They were reverenced by the rabbis as
highly as the scriptures, and, like them, might be rescued from
the flames on a sabbath. They profanely imagined that God wore
the _tephillin_" (Vincent). It is small wonder that Jesus
ridiculed such minute concern for pretentious externalism and
literalism. These _tephillin_ "are still worn at the present day
on the forehead and left arm by Jews at the daily Morning Prayer"
(McNeile) . "The size of the phylacteries indexed the measure of
zeal, and the wearing of large ones was apt to take the place of
obedience" (Bruce). Hence they made them "broad." The
superstitious would wear them as mere charms to ward off evil.
{Enlarge the borders} (\megalunousin ta kraspeda\). In 9:20 we
see that Jesus, like the Jews generally, wore a tassel or tuft,
hem or border, a fringe on the outer garment according to Nu
15:38. Here again the Jewish rabbi had minute rules about the
number of the fringes and the knots (see on ¯9:20). They made a
virtue of the size of the fringes also. "Such things were useful
as reminders; they were fatal when they were regarded as charms"

23:6 {The chief place at feasts} (\tēn prōtoklisian en tois
. Literally, the first reclining place on the divan at
the meal. The Persians, Greeks, Romans, Jews differed in their
customs, but all cared for the post of honour at formal functions
as is true of us today. Hostesses often solve the point by
putting the name of each guest at the table. At the last passover
meal the apostles had an ugly snarl over this very point of
precedence (Lu 22:24; Joh 13:2-11), just two days after this
exposure of the Pharisees in the presence of the apostles. {The
chief seats in the synagogues}
(\tas prōtokathedrias en tais
. "An insatiable hunger for prominence" (Bruce).
These chief seats (Zuchermandel) were on the platform looking to
the audience and with the back to the chest in which were kept
the rolls of scripture. The Essenes had a different arrangement.
People today pay high prices for front seats at the theatre, but
at church prefer the rear seats out of a curious mock-humility.
In the time of Jesus the hypocrites boldly sat up in front. Now,
if they come to church at all, they take the rear seats.

23:7 {Salutations} (\aspasmous\). The ordinary courtiers were
coveted because in public. They had an itch for notice. There are
occasionally today ministers who resent it if they are not called
upon to take part in the services at church. They feel that their
ministerial dignity has not been recognized.

23:8 {But be not ye called Rabbi} (\humeis de mē klēthēte
. An apparent aside to the disciples. Note the emphatic
position of \humeis\. Some even regard verses 8-10 as a later
addition and not part of this address to the Pharisees, but the
apostles were present. Euthymius Zigabenus says: "Do not seek to
be called (ingressive aorist subjunctive), if others call you
this it will not be your fault." This is not far from the
Master's meaning. Rabbi means "my great one," "my Master,"
apparently a comparatively new title in Christ's time.

23:9 {Call no man your father} (\patera mē kalesēte h–mōn\).
Jesus meant the full sense of this noble word for our heavenly
Father. "Abba was not commonly a mode of address to a living
person, but a title of honour for Rabbis and great men of the
past" (McNeile). In Gethsemane Jesus said: "Abba, Father" (Mr
. Certainly the ascription of "Father" to pope and priest
seems out of harmony with what Jesus here says. He should not be
understood to be condemning the title to one's real earthly
father. Jesus often leaves the exceptions to be supplied.

23:10 {Masters} (\kathēgētai\). This word occurs here only in the
N.T. It is found in the papyri for teacher (Latin, _doctor_). It
is the modern Greek word for professor. "While \didaskalos\
represents \Rab\, \kathēgētes\ stands for the more honourable
\Rabban, -bōn\" (McNeile). Dalman (_Words of Jesus_, p. 340)
suggests that the same Aramaic word may be translated by either
\didaskalos\ or \kathēgētes\. {The Christ} (\ho Christos\). The
use of these words here by Jesus like "Jesus Christ" in his
Prayer (Joh 17:3) is held by some to show that they were added
by the evangelist to what Jesus actually said, since the Master
would not have so described himself. But he commended Peter for
calling him "the Christ the Son of the living God" (Mt
. We must not empty the consciousness of Jesus too much.

23:12 {Exalt himself} (\hupsōsei heauton\). Somewhat like 18:4;
20:26. Given by Luke in other contexts (14:11; 18:14).
Characteristic of Christ.

23:13 {Hypocrites} (\hupokritai\). This terrible word of Jesus
appears first from him in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6:2,5,16;
, then in 15:7 and 22:18. Here it appears "with terrific
iteration" (Bruce) save in the third of the seven woes
(23:13,15,23,25,27,29). The verb in the active (\hupokrinō\)
meant to separate slowly or slightly subject to gradual inquiry.
Then the middle was to make answer, to take up a part on the
stage, to act a part. It was an easy step to mean to feign, to
pretend, to wear a masque, to act the hypocrite, to play a part.
This hardest word from the lips of Jesus falls on those who were
the religious leaders of the Jews (Scribes and Pharisees), who
had justified this thunderbolt of wrath by their conduct toward
Jesus and their treatment of things high and holy. The _Textus
Receptus has eight woes, adding verse 14 which the Revised
Version places in the margin (called verse 13 by Westcott and
Hort and rejected on the authority of Aleph B D as a manifest
gloss from Mr 12:40 and Lu 20:47)
. The MSS. that insert it
put it either before 13 or after 13. Plummer cites these seven
woes as another example of Matthew's fondness for the number
seven, more fancy than fact for Matthew's Gospel is not the
Apocalypse of John. These are all illustrations of Pharisaic
saying and not doing (Allen). {Ye shut the kingdom of heaven}
(\kleiete tēn basileian tōn ouranōn\). In Lu 11:52 the lawyers
are accused of keeping the door to the house of knowledge locked
and with flinging away the keys so as to keep themselves and the
people in ignorance. These custodians of the kingdom by their
teaching obscured the way to life. It is a tragedy to think how
preachers and teachers of the kingdom of God may block the door
for those who try to enter in (\tous eiserchomenous\, conative
present middle participle)
. {Against} (\emprosthen\). Literally,
before. These door-keepers of the kingdom slam it shut in men's
faces and they themselves are on the outside where they will
remain. They hide the key to keep others from going in.

23:15 {Twofold more a son of hell than yourselves} (\huion
geennēs diploteron h–mōn\)
. It is a convert to Pharisaism rather
than Judaism that is meant by "one proselyte" (\hena
, from \proserchomai\, newcomers, aliens. There were
two kinds of proselytes: of the gate (not actual Jews, but
God-fearers and well-wishers of Judaism, like Cornelius)
, of
righteousness who received circumcision and became actual Jews.
But a very small per cent of the latter became Pharisees. There
was a Hellenistic Jewish literature (Philo, Sibylline Oracles,
designed to attract Gentiles to Judaism. But the Pharisaic
missionary zeal (compass, \periagēte\, go around) was a
comparative failure. And success was even worse, Jesus says with
pitiless plainness. The "son of Gehenna" means one fitted for and
so destined for Gehenna. "The more converted the more perverted"
(H.J. Holtzmann). The Pharisees claimed to be in a special sense
sons of the kingdom (Mt 8:12). They were more partisan than
pious. \Diplous\ (twofold, double) is common in the papyri. The
comparative here used, as if from \diplos\, appears also in
Appian. Note the ablative of comparison h–mōn. It was a withering

23:16 {Ye blind guides} (\hodēgoi tuphloi\). Note omission of
"Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites" with this third woe. In
15:14 Jesus had already called the Pharisees "blind guides"
(leaders). They split hairs about oaths, as Jesus had explained
in 5:33-37, between the temple and the gold of the temple. {He
is a debtor}
(\opheilei\). He owes his oath, is bound by his
oath. A.V., {is guilty}, is old English, obsolete sense of guilt
as fine or payment.

23:17 {Ye fools} (\mōroi\). In 5:22 Jesus had warned against
calling a man \mōros\ in a rage, but here he so terms the blind
Pharisees for their stupidity, description of the class. "It
shows that not the word but the spirit in which it is uttered is
what matters" (McNeile).

23:23 {Ye tithe} (\apodekatoute\). The tithe had to be paid upon
"all the increase of thy seed" (De 14:22; Le 27:30). The
English word tithe is tenth. These small aromatic herbs, mint
(\to hēduosmon\, sweet-smelling), anise or dill (\anēthon\),
cummin (\kuminon\, with aromatic seeds), show the Pharisaic
scrupulous conscientiousness, all marketable commodities. "The
Talmud tells of the ass of a certain Rabbi which had been so well
trained as to refuse corn of which the tithes had not been taken"
(Vincent). {These ye ought} (\tauta edei\). Jesus does not
condemn tithing. What he does condemn is doing it to the neglect
of the {weightier matters} (\ta barutera\). The Pharisees were
externalists; cf. Lu 11:39-44.

23:24 {Strain out the gnat} (\diulizontes ton kōnōpa\). By
filtering through (\dia\), not the "straining at" in swallowing
so crudely suggested by the misprint in the A.V. {Swallow the
(\tēn de kamēlon katapinontes\). Gulping or drinking down
the camel. An oriental hyperbole like that in 19:24. See also
5:29,30; 17:20; 21:21. Both insects and camels were
ceremonially unclean (Le 11:4,20,23,42). "He that kills a flea
on the Sabbath is as guilty as if he killed a camel" (Jer.
_Shabb._ 107)

23:25 {From extortion and excess} (\ex harpagēs kai akrasias\). A
much more serious accusation. These punctilious observers of the
external ceremonies did not hesitate at robbery (\harpages\) and
graft (\akrasias\), lack of control. A modern picture of
wickedness in high places both civil and ecclesiastical where the
moral elements in life are ruthlessly trodden under foot. Of
course, the idea is for both the outside \ektos\ and the inside
(\entos\) of the cup and the platter (fine side dish). But the
inside is the more important. Note the change to singular in
verse 26 as if Jesus in a friendlier tone pleads with a
Pharisee to mend his ways.

23:27 {Whited sepulchre} (\taphois kekoniamenois\). The perfect
passive participle is from \koniaō\ and that from \konia\, dust
or lime. Whitened with powdered lime dust, the sepulchres of the
poor in the fields or the roadside. Not the rock-hewn tombs of
the well-to-do. These were whitewashed a month before the
passover that travellers might see them and so avoid being
defiled by touching them (Nu 19:16). In Ac 23:3 Paul called
the high priest a whited wall. When Jesus spoke the sepulchres
had been freshly whitewashed. We today speak of whitewashing
moral evil.

23:29 {The tombs of the prophets} (\tous taphous tōn prophētōn\).
Cf. Lu 11:48-52. They were bearing witness against themselves
(\heautois\, verse 31) to "the murder-taint in your blood"
(Allen). "These men who professed to be so distressed at the
murdering of the Prophets, were themselves compassing the death
of Him who was far greater than any Prophet" (Plummer). There are
four monuments called Tombs of the Prophets (Zechariah, Absalom,
Jehoshaphat, St. James)
at the base of the Mount of Olives. Some
of these may have been going up at the very time that Jesus
spoke. In this seventh and last woe Jesus addresses the Jewish
nation and not merely the Pharisees.

23:32 {Fill ye up} (\plērōsate\). The keenest irony in this
command has been softened in some MSS. to the future indicative
(\plērōsete\). "Fill up the measure of your fathers; crown their
misdeeds by killing the prophet God has sent to you. Do at last
what has long been in your hearts. The hour is come" (Bruce).

23:33 {Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers} (\opheis gennēmata
. These blistering words come as a climax and remind
one of the Baptist (3:17) and of the time when the Pharisees
accused Jesus of being in league with Beelzebub (12:34). They
cut to the bone like whip-cords. {How shall ye escape} (\pōs
. Deliberate subjunctive. There is a curse in the Talmud
somewhat like this: "Woe to the house of Annas! Woe to their
serpent-like hissings."

23:35 {Zachariah son of Barachiah} (\Zachariou huiou Barachiou\).
Broadus gives well the various alternatives in understanding and
explaining the presence of "son of Barachiah" here which is not
in Lu 11:51. The usual explanation is that the reference is to
Zachariah the son of Jehoiada the priest who was slain in the
court of the temple (2Ch 24:20ff.). How the words, "son of
Barachiah," got into Matthew we do not know. A half-dozen
possibilities can be suggested. In the case of Abel a reckoning
for the shedding of his blood was foretold (Ge 4:10) and the
same thing was true of the slaying of Zachariah (2Ch 24:22).

23:37 {How often would I have gathered} (\posakis ēthelēsa
. More exactly, how often did I long to gather to
myself (double compound infinitive). The same verb (\episunagei\)
is used of the hen with the compound preposition \hupokatō\.
Everyone has seen the hen quickly get together the chicks under
her wings in the time of danger. These words naturally suggest
previous visits to Jerusalem made plain by John's Gospel.

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Word Pictures in the New Testament
(Matthew: Chapter 23)