a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

Jesus Denounces Scribes and Pharisees


Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ 17You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? 18And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ 19How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; 22and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, 30and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. 33You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? 34Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.

The Lament over Jerusalem

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”


Matthew 23:29. For you build the sepulchers of the prophets. An unfounded opinion is entertained by some, that the scribes are here reproved for superstition, in foolishly honoring the deceased prophets by splendid sepulchers, as the Papists now transfer the honor of God to departed saints, and even are so perverse as to adore their images. They had not yet arrived at such a pitch of blindness and madness, and therefore the design of Christ was different. The scribes endeavored to gain the favor of the ignorant multitude, and indeed of all the Jews, by this additional hypocrisy, that they cherished with reverence the memory of the prophets; for while in this manner they pretended to maintain their doctrine, any one would have supposed that they were faithful imitators of them, and very keen zealots for the worship of God. It was a proposal, therefore, which was likely to prove highly acceptable, to erect monuments for the prophets, because in this way religion might be said to be drawn out of darkness, that it might receive the honor which it deserved. And yet nothing was farther from their design than to restore doctrine, which might appear to have been extinguished by the death of the prophets. But though they were not only averse to the doctrine of the prophets, but most inveterate enemies to it, yet they honored them—when dead—with sepulchers, as if they had made common cause with them.

It is customary, indeed, with hypocrites thus to honor, after their death, good teachers and holy ministers of God, whom they cannot endure while they are alive. Nor does this arise merely from the common fault, which Horace thus describes: “We hate virtue while it is in safety, but when it has been removed from our eyes, we seek it with envy;” 107107     Virtutem incolumm odimus,
Sublatam ex oculis quærimus invidi

   Lib. III. Carm. XXIV.
but as the ashes of the dead no longer give annoyance by harsh and severe reproofs, they who are driven to madness by the living voices of those men are not unwilling, by adoring them, to make an empty display of religion. It is a hypocrisy which costs little to profess warm regard for those who are now silent. 108108     “Qui ne peuvent plus cier contre les vices;” — “who can no longer exclaim against vices.” Thus each of the prophets, in his own age, was contemptuously rejected, and wickedly tormented, by the Jews, and, in many instances, cruelly put to death; while posterity, though not a whit better than their fathers, pretended to venerate their memory, instead of embracing their doctrine; for they too were actuated by equal hostility towards their own teachers. 109109     “Car aussi ils ne traittoyent pas mieux ceux qui les enseignoient fidelement que leurs peres avoyent fait aux autres;” — “for they too acted no better towards those who taught them faithfully than their fathers had done to others.” As the world—not venturing altogether to despise God, or at least to rise openly against him—contrives this stratagem of adoring the shadow of God instead of God, so a similar game is played in reference to the prophets.

A proof of this—far too striking—may be seen in Popery. Not satisfied with paying just veneration to Apostles and Martyrs, they render to them divine worship, and think that they cannot go too far in the honors which they heap upon them; and yet, by their rage against believers, they show what sort of respect they would have manifested towards Apostles and Martyrs, if they had been still alive to discharge the same office which they anciently held. For why are they inflamed with such rage against us, but because we desire that doctrine to be received, and to be successful, which the Apostles and Martyrs sealed with their blood? While the holy servants of God valued that doctrine more highly than their own life, would their life have been spared by those who so outrageously persecute the doctrine? Let them adorn the images of the saints as they may think fit, by perfumes, candles, flowers, and every sort of gaudy ornament. If Peter were now alive, they would tear him in pieces; they would stone Paul; and if Christ himself were still in the world, they would burn him with a slow fire.

Our Lord, perceiving that the scribes and priests of his age were eager to obtain the applause of the people, on the ground of their being devout worshippers of the prophets, reproves them for deceit and mockery, because they not only reject, but even cruelly persecute, the prophets that are now present, 110110     “Et lesquels ils voyen devan leurs yeux tous les jours;” — “and whom they see before their eyes every day.” and whom God has sent to them. But it is a display of base hypocrisy, and shameful impudence, to desire to be thought religious on account of worshipping the dead, while they endeavor to murder the living.

VIEWNAME is study