Matthew 23
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures


CHAPTER 23–24:1

( Matthew 23:34–39, Scripture Lesion for St. Stephen’s Day.)

1Then spake Jesus to the multitude [multitudes, τοῖς ὄχλοις], and to his disciples,

A. The Reproof generally. MATTHEW 23:2–7. (The law, Matthew 23:3; the inconsistency and falsehood, Matthew 23:3: “but do not;” the traditional statutes, Matthew 23:4; the hypocritical sanctimoniousness and unholy ambition, Matthew 23:5–7.)

2Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit [sat down]1 in Moses’ seat [καθέδρα]: 3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe,2 that observe and do [do and observe];3 4but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For [But]4 they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne,5 and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers [with their finger, τῷ δακτύλῳ αὐτῶν]. 5But all their works they do for to be seen of [by] men: they make broad their phylacteries [protectives], and enlarge the borders [fringes, τὰ κράσπεδα] of their garments,6 6And love the uppermost rooms [first place, πρωτοκλισίαν] at feasts, and the chief seats 7[πρωτοκαθεδρίας] in the synagogues, And [the, τούς] greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 7

Its Application. MATTHEW 23:8–12

8But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master [Leader, καθηγητής; better: Teacher, διδάσκαλο],8 even Christ;9 and all ye are brethren. 9And call no man your [spiritual] father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which [who] is in heaven [the 10one in heaven, or, the heavenly, ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς]. Neither [Nor] be ye called masters [leaders, καθηγηταί] for one is your Master [Lender], even Christ [the Christ, Χριστός]. 11But he that is greatest among you [the greater of you, ὁ μείζων ὑμῶν] shall he your servant. 12And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

B. The Particular Reproof: the Seven Woes. MATTHEW 23:13–24:1. (Avarice and hypocrisy, Matthew 23:13; unbelief and fanaticism, Matthew 23:14; fanatical proselyting, Matthew 23:15; casuistry, Matthew 23:16–22; hypocritical legalism, yen. 23–26; spiritual deadness, Matthew 23:29–32; the judgment, Matthew 23:33–36; Jerusalem’s guilt and doom, Matthew 23:37–39; Christ’s exodus from the temple, Matthew 24:1.) .

13But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for [because, ὅτι, as in Matthew 23:29] ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither 14[nor] suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites I for [because] ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.10 15Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for [because] ye compass [go about] sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made [becomes so, γένηται], ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. 16Woe unto you, ye blind guide?, which [who] say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold 17of the temple, he is a debtor [ὀφείλει]! Ye fools and blind! for whether [which] is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth [shall swear] by the gift that is 19upon it, he is guilty [a debtor, ὀφείλει]. Ye fools and11 blind: for whether [which] is greater, the gift, or the altar, that sanctifieth the gift? 20Whoso therefore shall swear [He therefore that sweareth, ὁ οὐν ὀμόσας] by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21And whoso shall swear (lie that sweareth, ὁ ὀμόσας by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth [did dwell]12 therein. 22And he that shall swear [sweareth, ὁ ὀμόσας] by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. 23Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of [the] mint and anise [the dill] and [the] cummin,13 and have omitted the weightier matters [things, τὰ βαρύτερα] of the law, judgment, [and, καί] mercy, and faith:[14] 24[but]15 these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which [who] strain at [out]16 a [the] gnat, and swallow a [the] camel. 25Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for [because] ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion [rapacity, ἁρπαγμῆς] and 26excess.17 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within [the inside of, τὸ ἐντὸς τοῦ ] the cup and [the] platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for [because] ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within [which outwardly indeed appear beautiful, but within are] full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are fall of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31Wherefore ye be [are] witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which [that] killed the prophets. 32Fill ye up18 then the measure 33of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation [brood] of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation [judgment, κρίσεως] of hell? 34Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall [will] kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye [ye will] scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: 35That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias [Zachariah] son of Barachias 36[Barachiah], whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 37O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which [that] are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.19 39For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Matthew 24:1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.


THE GREAT DENUNCIATORY DISCOURSE AGAINST THE PHARISEES AND SCRIBES, ADDRESSED TO THE PEOPLE.—This crisis is analogous to that of Matthew 15:10, when Jesus turned away from the Galilean Pharisees, after an annihilating rebuke, and turned toward the people. The provincial example must have its wider consummation in the temple. But the permanent significance of the present crisis is this: Christ turns from the self-hardening hierarchy, and speaks immediately to the people. The unity of this discourse has been denied by Schleiermacher, Schulz, Schneckenburger, and others, on the ground of Luke having given some parts of it on a previous occasion in Matthew 11. Ewald thinks that the discourse was compounded out of a large variety of original elements. But de Wette and Meyer for good reasons are strenuous supporters of the original unity of the whole discourse. De Wette: “It is very appropriate that Jesus should now first utter Himself so fully and comprehensively against His enemies.” Meyer: “The whole composition has a character of such living force and unity, that it is hardly possible to deny its originality and genuineness.”20 Heubner: “It is not an invective, or utterance of scorn, as many have called it: for instance, Ammon (Life of Jesus, 3:229), who thinks that on that very account it never could have been thus delivered by Jesus.” The condemnation naturally included the Sadducees, so far as they were found among the scribes, and belonged to the dominant hierarchy. In themselves, and as a party, they were of no importance; nor were they ever recognised as leaders of the people.

[Dr. NAST: “Although the Sadducees were also included among the scribes, yet our Lord in His terrible condemnation singles out the Pharisees, who for the last one hundred and fifty years had enjoyed the highest respect of the people for their zeal and rig d observance of the law. During His whole ministry He had been making pharisaic formalism the constant object of reproof, while almost ignoring the unbelief of the Sadducees.”—It is certainly remarkable that the severest language which Christ ever used, was directed, not against the people, of whom He rather spoke with pity and compassion, nor against the Sadducees, with whom He came less in contact, but against the orthodox, priestly, sanctimonious, hypocritical Pharisees, the leaders of the hierarchy, and rulers of the people. Let ministers and dignitaries in the Church never forget this! Nevertheless the Pharisees with all their wickedness had more moral and religious earnestness and substance, than the Sadducees, and when once thoroughly converted, they made most serious and devoted Christians, as the example of St. Paul abundantly shows. No such convert ever proceeded from the indifferent, worldly, and rationalistic Sadducees.—M. BAUMGARTEN in his History of Jesus (as quoted by Dr. Nast in loc.) makes the following striking remark on this denunciatory discourse: “As Christ once commenced His Sermon on the Mount in Galilee with pronouncing eight beatitudes, so He closes His last public address with pronouncing eight woes on Mount Moriah, declaring thereby most distinctly that all manifestation of His divine love and meekness had been in vain, and must now give way to stern justice. Of that awful delusion which has done at all times so much harm in the Church—namely, that the office sanctifies the officer, at least before the people—there is here not the most distant trace [not even Matthew 23:2 and 3], but the very opposite. The office held by the scribes and Pharisees Jesus fully recognizes; but the sacredness of the office, instead of furnishing any apology for their corrupt morals, increases only their guilt, and He, therefore, exposes with the utmost severity the wickedness of their lives. Never did any prophet deliver such a discourse as this. We see here turned into wrath the holy love of Jesus, which is unwilling to break the bruised reed or to quench the smoking flax ( Matthew 12:19), which seeks and fosters what is lost, which casts out none, but attracts all that show themselves in the least degree susceptible.”—This fearful denunciation of the dignitaries and representatives of the Jewish theocracy, which must shake every sensitive reader to the very foundation of his moral nature, could only proceed from one who knew Himself free from sin and clothed with divine authority and power. Having exhausted, in the intensity of His love for sinners, high and low, rich and poor, every effort to bring them to repentance and a better mind, Jesus now speaks, at the close of His earthly ministry and in full view of the approaching crucifixion, with all the dignity and stern severity of a judge, yet without any passion or personal bitterness. This awful saverity is as much a proof of His divine mission and character as the sweet tenderness of His invitation to the sinner to come to Him for rest and peace.—P. S.]

Matthew 23:2. Sit in Moses’ seat.—The question arises, whether Moses’ sea! means his whole vocation and office, or only a part of it. De Wette: His seat as judge and lawgiver. But Moses as lawgiver, or organ of revelation, did not speak from his seat, but from Mount Sinai; and in this capacity he could be succeeded21 only by prophets, or conclusively by Christ Himself. The seat of Moses is described Exod. 18:13. Moses sat in the function of judge and administrator; and in this he might and did allow others to represent himself, who were to judge and rule according to the law of revelation. We have the more formal establishment of the office of elders in Num. 11:16. The rule of the scribes and Pharisees was the rule of the Sanhedrin. But between the prophetic rule of Christ, and the political rule of the Romans, there only remained to them the Old Testament ecclesiastical function of explaining the law and administering discipline. Εκάθισαν, they sat down and sit. “Among the Rabbins, the successor of a Rabbi was called the representative of his school, יוֹשֵׁב עַל־כִּסְאוֹ; Vitringa, Syn.” Meyer.

Matthew 23:3. All therefore.—The therefore, οῦ̓ν emphatic, as Meyer correctly urges. It alludes to the established order and office. All whatsoever.—Chrysostom and others say that the ceremonial system, and everything false and immoral, were to be excepted; since all this could not have been taught ὰπὸ τῆς Μωϋσέως καθεδρας. De Wette and Meyer: Jesus had in view only the contrast between their teaching and their life; and left the perversion of the office itself, as it existed in praxi, out of the question. But their doctrine was corrupt, not only in accidental practice, but in essential principle. We must limit the εἰπεῖν, which is used by Matthew throughout in its full significance, to the official utterance. Thus it means: Act according to their words in relation to the theocratic order of the Jewish church, but not in relation to the way of salvation. It was in harmony with the heavenly prudence of Jesus, and with the spirit of all His teaching, that He should express the fullest acknowledgment of the official authority of the Pharisees and scribes, even while He was preparing to unmask and spiritually to annihilate them. He did not on this account impose upon His hearers a permanent subjection to the rule of the scribes and Pharisees. They could, however, be free only in Him and through Him: they must through the law die to the law. He whom the law has slain and excommunicated, is alone free from its claims.22

Matthew 23:4. But they bind.See Luke 11:46. The binding together of individual things into a mass, has reference here rather to burdens of wood than to burdens of grain. Thus they compact their traditionary statutes into intolerable burdens. A fourfold rebuke: 1. they make religion a burden; 2. an intolerable burden; 3. they lay it upon the shoulder of others; 4. they leave it untouched themselves, i.e., they have no idea of fulfilling these precepts in spirit and in truth. [Alford refers the heavy burdens?, φ ορ τίβαρέα, not to human traditions, as most interpreters do, but to the severity of the law, which they do not observe (Rom. 2:21–23); answering to the βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου of Matthew 23:23. The irksomeness and unbearableness of these rites did not belong to the Law in itself as rightly explained, but were created by the rigor and ritualism of these men who followed the letter and lost the spirit Similarly Stier and Nast who refer for analogy to our modern moralists who preach duty, duty! and nothing else.—P. S.]

Matthew 23:5. But all their works.—Luke 11:43.—Their phylacteries, φυ λα κτήρια, remembrancers and preservatives.—Literal application of the figurative expressions of Exod. 13:9, 16; Deut. 6:8, 9; Matthew 11:18. Thence arose the “תְּכִּלִּין, containing passages of the law upon leaves of parchment—Exod. 13:1–16; Deut. 6:4–9; 11:13–22—which the Jews at the time of prayer bound, one on the left arm, one on the forehead, to show that the law should be in the heart and in the head. Buxtorf, Syn. Matthew 9 p. 170; and Rosenmüller, Morgenland, 5:82. The term phylactery was doubtless formed from the φυλάξασθε τὸν νόμον, Exod. 13:10. It is not right, therefore, with de Wette and Meyer, at once to explain them as preservatives or amulets, having magical power. At first, they were simply remembrancers of the law; the heathen notion, that they were personal means of defence against evil spirits, did not arise till afterward. It is probable that the perversion was not perfect at the time of our Lord; otherwise He would have done more than condemn their enlargement of these phylacteries, i.e., hypocrisy and boastfulness in matters of religion. It is probably a result of this rebuke, that at the present day the size of these phylacteries is limited.—The borders or fringes, κράσπεδα.— Matthew 9:20; comp. Num. 15:38. These zizith were fastened with blue ribands to the garments (see BÆHR: Symbolik des Mos. Cultus, vol. 1 p. 329.) Blue was the symbolical color of heaven, the color of God, of His covenant, and of faithfulness to that covenant The tassels themselves signified flowers, or birds; probably pomegranates, and therefore crimson, and not blue, as the ribands were. Thus they were remembrancers that fidelity to the covenant should flourish; or they were tokens that the flower of life was love, and that love must spring from faithfulness to the covenant.

Matthew 23:6. The chief seat, τὴν ππωτοκλισίαν.—“The first place at table; that is, according to Luke 14:8 (comp. also Joseph. Antiq. xv. 2, 4), the highest place on the divan, as among the Greeks. The Persians and Romans held the middle place to be the seat of honor. The word is not preserved, except among the Synoptists and the Fathers. Suid.: πρωτοκλισία ἡ πρώτη καθεδρα.” Meyer.

Matthew 23:7. Rabbi, Rabbi—The teacher was called by his title, not by his name. “My master, my master,”—the customary repetition of greeting on the part of the scholar among the Jews. רַבִּי was more honorable than רַב, i.e., much, great, amplissimus.23 Buxt. Lexic. Talm. “Matter (καθηγητής) is more than Rabbi. The Rabbi was the teacher in a synagogue. Master was the head of a whole section, a leader who might be followed by many Rabbis (נִגִיר ,נָשִׂיא, rector, princeps). The proud spirit of the Rabbis has crept into the Christian Church. The Reformers protested against it.” Heubner.

Matthew 23:8. But ye.

Matthew 23:8–12 contain a warning application to the disciples of what had been said. The emphasis is on ὐμεῖς and ὑμῶν, placed first. Properly: over you one it Matter.

Matthew 23:9. Father.—Father, ‎‎אָכ , the supreme title of a teacher.—On earth.—With allusion to the antithesis of the Father in heaven. The earth has, however, in the New Testament a symbolical meaning also in opposition to the sea, the fluctuating world of the nations (see Rev. 13:11, comp. Matthew 23:1; John 3:12, 31; Matt. 16:19), as being the cultured world, the civil and ecclesiastical order.

Matthew 23:10. Master, better: Leader, in the spiritual sense,—καθηγητής, not to be confounded with κατηχητής:. The third denomination has a special importance among the three: the first points mainly to the Jewish, the second to the Romish, hierarchy. No one should seek the distinction of being the founder of a church or sect.

[Albert Barnes, in his Notes, understands the prohibition of titles by our Saviour literally, and hence opposes (and personally always rejected) the title “Doctor of Divinity” the Christian equivalent of the Jewish Rabbi, as contrary to the command of Christ, to the simplicity of the gospel, and the equality of ministers, and as tending to engender pride and a sense of superiority. But to be consistent, the title Reverend, Mr. and Mrs., etc., should likewise be abolished, and the universal thou of the Quakers and Tunkers be introduced. And yet Paul called himself the (spiritual) father of the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 4:15, and Timothy his son in the faith, 1 Tim. 1:2, and Titus likewise, Tit. 1:4; Peter uses the same term of Mark (probably the evangelist), 1 Pet. 5:13. It is plain, therefore, that the Saviour prohibits not so much the titles themselves, as the spirit of pride and ambition which covets and abuses them, the haughty spirit which would domineer over inferiors, and also the servile spirit which would basely cringe to superiors. In the same way Christ does not forbid in Matthew 23:6 to occupy the first seats, for some one must be uppermost (as Matthew Henry remarks)—but to seek and love them. ALFORD: “To understand and follow such commands in the slavery of the letter, is to fall into the Pharisaism against which our Lord is uttering the caution.”—P. S.]

Matthew 23:9–12.—Comp. Matthew 18:1; 20:20; Luke 14:11; 18:14. Meyer: “These prohibitions of Jesus refer to the hierarchical spirit which practically attached to the titles named at that period. Titles of teachers cannot be dispensed with, any more than the class of teachers; but the hierarchy, as it was re-introduced in the Romish Church, is quite contrary to the spirit and will of Christ. Well observes Calvin on Matthew 23:11: “Hac clausula ostendit, se non sophistice litigasse de VOCIBUS, sed REM potius spectasse.”24 We must mark the distinction: Ye shall call no man father, and shall not be called by any, master, nor leader (πατὴρ, ῥοββ, διδάσκαλοςand . The worst corruption is the calling any man father; that is, to honor in any man an absolute spiritual authority. This religious homage is a contradiction to the absolute authority of the Father in heaven. Grotius; “Deus dogmatum auctor. Jer. 31:34; Isa. 54:13; John 6:45, ἔσονται πάντες διδακτοιΘ εχ οῦ; 1 Thess. 4:9, θεοδίδακ τι ι. Sed alio sensu patres recte vocantur, qui nos in Christo per Evangelium genuer int, 1 Cor. 4:15.”—The title of Rabbi referred to a constrained honor, which took away the brotherly equality of the faithful; or, in other words, the stamping of humanscholastic teaching with the dignity of law. That both these errors touched too closely the authority of Christ, is asserted in the third exhortation: They should not be called spiritual guides, founders, etc., because One only had that dignity, Christ. See 1 Cor. 1:12. It can scarcely be denied that the designation of an ecclesiastical community by the name of a man, is inconsistent with this express prohibition, although much depends upon the origin of the name and the spirit with which it is used. Names of reproach have frequently become names of honor in the history of the church. The expression, ὁδηγός, Matthew 23:16 and Matthew 15:14, Rom. 2:19, 20, is not quite so strong as καθηγητής.

[Alford, following a hint of Olshausen (Christus der einige Master), refers the three titles to the three persons of the Holy Trinity, viz., πατήρ, Matthew 23:9 to God the Father, διδάσκαλος, Matthew 23:8 (according to the true reading, instead of the καθηγητής of the text, rec., see my Crit. Note 8, p. 408) to the Holy Spirit (comp. John 14:26; Jer. 31:33, 34; Ezek. 36:26, 27), not named here, because his promise was only given in private to the disciples, and καθηγητής to Christ. “If this be so, we have God, in His Trinity, here declared to us as the only One, in all these relations, on whom they can rest or depend. They are all brethren, all substantially equal—none by office or precedence nearer to God than another; none standing between his brother and God.” Nast adopts this interpretation, which he thinks throws a flood of light upon the passage. But it is rather far-fetched, and the position of the Teacher (the Holy Spirit) between the Father and the Leader, instead of being mentioned last, is decidedly against it.—P. S.]

Matthew 23:13. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees.—There are seven woes according to general reckoning: the first, therefore, might seem superfluous; and this recommends, again, the omission of Matthew 23:13, which is also critically contested. But, if we compare this discourse with the seven beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, we observe that the eighth woe is a summary of the seven in a concrete form, just as is the case with the eighth and ninth beatitudes. There, the concrete unity of all the benedictions is the being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for Christ’s sake, as the prophets were persecuted in old time. But here, the eighth woe has the same force with respect to the Pharisees, who adorned the graves of the prophets, and yet showed that they themselves were no better than murderers of the prophets. This, therefore, leads to the supposition of a sustained antithesis between the benedictions and the woes:—

1. Poverty In spirit.

—Devouring widows’ houses, and for a pretence making long prayers (being spiritually rich).

2. The mourners.

—The kingdom of heaven shut against others, while they go not in themselves. Fanaticism as opposed to repentance.

3. The meek.

—Zeal of proselytism.

4. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness

—Casuistical morality, which after corrupts the doctrine of sin, and raises the human above the divine. Swearing by the gold of the temple, by the offering.

5. The merciful.

—Tithing mint and anise; and leaving out righteousness, mercy, and faith,

6. The pure in heart.

—Cleansing the outside of the platter, the inside being full of uncleanness and covetousness.

7. The children of peace (mossengers of life).

—Sepulchres, fill of hypo risy and lawlessness.

Summary of the Seven.

 Persecuted for righteousness sake as the prophets were persecuted

Murderers of the prophets

Persecuted for Christ’ sake

The ninth woe is wanting and this is very significant. Instead of it we hear the lamentation of Christ over Jerusalem. (see the Doctrinal Thought below.)

Matthew 23:14. Ye devour.—We put Matthew 23:14 before Matthew 23:13 (see the different readings). It is to be remarked that our Lord here establishes precisely the same connection between the worldly care and covetousness of the Pharisees, and their hypocritical formality, as in Matthew 6:1, 19; but in that passage the order is inverted, as the Lord there proceeds from the hypocrisy to its root—worldliness of mind and covetousness. The ὅτι gives the reason; because.Devour widows’ houses, i.e., to obtain them unrighteously. This was damnable in itself, but much more when it was done under the cloak of piety, or καἱ προφάσει. The καί “mechanically brought from Mark.” It marks an advancement in the guilt. The περισσότερ ον κριμα we refer, as a prolonged sentence, to the lengthened hypocritical prayers which went before. “At a very early date this avarice in securing legacies crept into the Christian Church; and therefore Justinian passed ordinances forbidding the clergy to inherit possessions.” Heubner.

Matthew 23:13. Ye shut up.—The kingdom of heaven, appearing with Christ, is represented as a palace, or, more precisely, a wedding-hall, with open doors. The hypocrites shut the kingdom of heaven before the people, ἔμπροσθεν.—For ye neither go in yourselves.—The shutting up is therefore twofold: 1. by their own guilt and wicked example; 2. by the actual keeping back of those who are entering, who not only would go in, but have their feet already on the threshold. So was it with Israel. The people were on the point of believing, when their hierarchical authorities drew them back into unbelief.

Ver.I5. Ye compass sea and land.—Fanatical proselytism. DANZ: De cura Hebræoram in conquirendis proselytis in Meuschenii N. T. ex .Talm. illust. p. 649. That the Pharisees undertook actual missionary journeys, cannot be inferred with certainty from Joseph. Antiq. xx. 2, 4 (not 3 and not 1); for this passage speaks of a Jewish merchant who made proselytes, and the remnant of the Ten Tribes were very abundant in Adiabene. But we may suppose that there were such missions, and, indeed, that a proselyting impulse generally drove the Jews through the world. The real Pharisee did not make proselytes from heathenism to Judaism merely, but also from Judaism to Pharisaism.—The child of hell.—One who is doomed to perish or at least in great danger.—Twofold more than yourselves.Διπλότερον, according to Valla, must be taken as an adjective, and not, as is customary, adverbially. But how was the proselyte worse than the Pharisee? Olshausen: Because the proselytes were without the spiritual substratum of the Mosaic economy, which was an advantage the Pharisees still possessed. That is, the latter were Jews and Pharisees, while the proselytes were only a caricature of Pharisaism. De Wette: Error and superstition are doubled by communication. Meyer: Experience proves that proselytes become worse and more extreme than their teachers. Thus the proselyte is a Pharisee of a higher degree. We might point to the Idumeans as examples, who converted John Hyrcanus (not till afterward a Sadducee) by force in their ξ ηρά—“ τὴν θὰλασσαν καὶ ξηράν—Or Petra. The house of Herod afforded a striking illustration of the character of such proselytes, in whom the dark elements of heathenism were blended with the dark elements of Judaism. The proselyte Poppœa probably urged Nero to the persecution of the Christians. But that the misleader is generally worse than the misled, is a fact which does not here come into view; it is a wicked conversion or perversion that is spoken of, and the intensification of Pharisaism with the course of time. De Wette rightly observes, that Jesus does not here mean the endeavor to convert the Gentiles to Judaism generally. Meanwhile Judaism as Judaism was not called to the work of heathen missions except in the way of mere preparation. The law can only make proselytes; the gospel alone can convert. See Heubner on Proselytes and Proselytizing, p. 346. Cardinal Dubois, under the regency in France, convertisseur en chef. Several Jewish proselytes of modern times.25

Matthew 23:16. Woe unto you, ye blind guides!Casuistry as the lax perversion of the fundamental laws of religion and morality. The mark common to both the examples given is this, that the divine institution, imposing holy obligation, is counted for nothing; and that, on the other hand, the human work which requires sanctification through the divine is placed in its stead. “The Pharisees distinguished oaths, in respect to their validity, according to external, superficial [or rather fundamentally wrong] notes, only in the interest of unscrupulousness.” De Wette.—By the temple.—The oath is very frequent, by this dwelling,המעון הזה. (Wetstein and Lightfoot).—By the gold of the temple.—By its golden adornments and vessels of gold; or by the temple-treasure. Jerome and Maldonatus are in favor of the latter. When we distinguish between the essential house of God, and the house of God as ceremonially adorned with gold, then Pharisaism swears only and always by the gold of the temple: it cannot swear by the temple itself. The outer manifestation is to it the reality itself: that is, for example, a church “with naked walls” is no church. “Meanwhile it is probable that the pharisaic and hierarchical covetousness preferred the oath by the treasure of the temple, as that by the sacrifice.” De Wette.—It is nothing.—It has no significance, and imposes no obligation (the Italian peccadiglio): the reservatio mentalis of Jesuitical morality.—He is a debtor.—Bound to observe the oath.

Matthew 23:17. For which is greater?—Superiority of the originally holy, the divine, to that which is derivatively holy, the human, which is made holy only by the divine. The same relation which the gold bears to the divine house, the human offering bears to the divine fire which makes the altar an altar.

Matthew 23:18. Whoso shall swear by the altar.—To any living view of the altar, the offering is one with the altar. Casuistry cuts asunder the living relations of religion, kills its life, denies its spirit and idolizes its body.

Matthew 23:21. And whoso shall swear by the temple.—We expect to hear, “he sweareth also by the gold of the temple.” But this is self-understood; and therefore Christ returns back to the Lord of the temple, who makes the temple what it is, and makes heaven, the great temple, what it is. The oath has its significance generally in this, and in this only, that it is a confirmation by God, a declaration uttered as before God.

Matthew 23:22. And he that shall swear by heaven.—Meyer: “The contrary of Matthew 23:22 is found in Schevuoth, f. 35, 2: Quia prœter Deum, cœli et terra creatorem, datur etiam ipsum cœlum et terra, indubium esse debet, quod is, qui per cœlum et terram jurat, non per eum juret, qui ilia creavit, sed per illas ipsas creaturas.

Matthew 23:23. For ye pay tithe.—The ordinances concerning tithes (Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21; Deut. 12:6; 14:22–28) placed the fruits of the field and of the trees under the obligation; but tradition applied the law to the smallest produce of the garden, to the mint, the dill, and the cummin (Babyl. Joma, f. 83, 2. Lightfoot, HOTTINGER: De decimis Judœor.)—The weightier things: βαρύτερα.—De Wette: Those things which were harder, difficiliora. Meyer: The more important, graviora. “It is very probable that Jesus referred to the analogy of the praœpta gravia (חמורים) et levia (קלים) among the Jewish teachers. (See Schöttgen, p. 183.)” But there is no need to distinguish things so closely connected: the important supposes the difficult. Pharisaism is led into legalism and ceremonialism by its aversion to the difficult requirements of internal spiritual religion.—Judgment, κρίσις, מִשְׁפָּט.—See Isa. 1:17. Thus, not righteousness itself, but fidelity in the discharge of duties according to the principles of righteousness. The mark of this care for right is, that it is one with mercy; and this mercy cannot be replaced by a hypocritical appearance, the almsgiving of the Pharisees (Matt. 6:1).—Faith, τὴνπισ τι ν.—Luther, “faith;” de Wette and Meyer, “fidelity,” as in Rom. 3:3; Gal. 5:22. The opposite is ἀπιστια. Scriptural language does not distinguish between the two ideas, as ours does. Faith and fidelity are one in the principle of trust. But here ethical, subjective faith, or fidelity, is meant. Christ marks the moral development of the law in three stages: 1. The faithfulness of the Mosaic position: rigid care of law and right (Elijah). 2. The prophetic position: mercy to sinners, and even to the heathen, as the internal principle of legality. 3. Messianic fidelity as the fulfilment of the whole law. True fidelity is identical with this fidelity. Heubner: “κρίσις, conscientiousness: πίστις, sincerity. “It presupposes a blunted moral feeling to show much concern about little faults, but to care nothing for great ones. (Luther, Works, 10: 1986, applies the same passage to the papal laws.)”

These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.—Reverse order. True and internal adherence to law places the great matter first, without being lax in the less.

Matthew 23:24. Blind guides, comp. Matthew 23:16.—The term implies that they not only acted as hypocrites, but also taught as hypocrites. Matthew 23:16 pronounces a separate woe against all casuistry. But here the words, and what follows them, explain the woe of Matthew 23:23 rather in its dogmatic side. The appellations, “Ye fools and blind,” Matthew 23:17 and 19, represent them as self-blinded and in voluntary delusion.

Strain out26a gnat.—Ye strain (the wine) in order to separate off the gnats. The liquare vinum had among the Greeks and Romans only a social significance; but to the Pharisees it was a religious act. It was supposed that the swallowing of the gnat would defile them; and therefore the Jews strained the wine, in order to avoid drinking an unclean animal. (Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. Wetstein, from Chollin, fol. 67, culices pusillos, quos percolant.) The actual custom is here a symbol of the highest Levitical scrupulosity; and the opposite, the swallowing of camels, which of course could only signify the most enormous impurities in the enjoyment of life and its earthly pleasures, was the symbol of unbounded and unreflectingly stupid eagerness in sin. The expression is of a proverbial type. The camel was in the law unclean, because it had no divided hoof, Lev. 11:4; and, moreover, this hypothetical swallowing of the camel would involve a thorough violation of the Noachic prohibition of eating blood and things strangled.

Matthew 23:25. The outside of the platter.—Figurative description of the legal appearance of gratification. Cup and platter: meat and drink, or the enjoyment of life in all its forms.—But within.—Here we have the internal and moral side of gratification.—They are full of extortion and excess.—“That of which they are full, wine and food, was the produce of robbery and incontinence (ἀκρασία, a later form of ἀκράτεια).” Meyer. See Isa. 28:7 sqq.

Matthew 23:26. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first.—The rebuking adjective blind points here also to the absurdity of their practice.—Cleanse the inside. Sanctify thy enjoyment by righteousness and temperance.—That the outside may be clean.—Fritzsche: May be able to be cleansed. Meyer, better: That the purity of the externals may follow. “External purity is not here declared useless (de Wette); but it is declared not to be true holiness, which implies the preceding purification of the inner man.” It is here presupposed that all their adorning of the outside must fail to make even that clean, so long as the inside is full of defilement: that is, Levitical purity without moral purity is itself defilement. (Bengel, in a gentler expression, non est mundities.)

Matthew 23:27. Whited sepulchres.—“The graves were every year, on the 15th Adar, whitened with a kind of chalk (κονία)—a practice derived by the Rabbins from Ezek. 39:15; not merely for the sake of appearance, but also that these places, the touch of which was defilement (Num. 19:16), might be more easily seen and avoided. (See the rabbinical passages in Lightfoot, Schöttgen, and Wetstein.) Thus they always had a pleasant outward appearance.” Meyer. But thus also they were adorned. Luke 11:44 is a similar thought, not, however, the same.

Full of dead men’s bones.—Dead bodies were unclean according to the law, and the touch of them defiled (Num. 5:2; 6:6): this was specially the case with the bones of the dead and the odor of decay from the grave. Impurity has a deadly effect. Spiritual death exerts a deadly influence (1 John 3:14, 15); and thus what follows, the murder of the prophets, is introduced.

Matthew 23:28. Hypocrisy is here the wicked disguise; and iniquity, ανμία, is not simply immorality, but consummate theocratical lawlessness.

Matthew 23:29. Ye build the tombs of the prophets.—Construction of sepulchral graves, stones, and monuments, with various designs and inscriptions on consecrated burial ground. The antithesis is delicate: And garnish the sepulchres of the righteous (canonized saints). The latter are acknowledged at once, and receive their monuments; the prophets, on the other hand, often lay long in unknown and even dishonored graves. Later generations then began to become enthusiastic about them, and make their common graves elaborate monuments. “The custom of building monuments to ancient and celebrated persons, has existed among all peoples and in all ages. Comp. Wetstein, Lightfoot, Jahn, Arch. 1:2.” De Wette. Consult Robinson’s Researches on the remarkable sepulchres around Jerusalem, and the so-called sepulchres of the prophets.

Matthew 23:30. And say.—First of all, by the fact of adorning their sepulchres.—If we had been in the days of our fathers. Not: if we were (Meyer), which here gives no sense.—Of our fathers.—Primarily, by natural lineage, but also in the sense of fellowship: Sons of the murderers, in a spiritual sense; which de Wette, without any reason, opposes.

Matthew 23:31. Ye be witnesses unto yourselves.—How this? De Wette: By virtue of the guilt transmitted to you. Meyer: “When ye thus speak of your fathers, ye give testimony against yourselves, that ye belong to the kin of the murderers of the prophets.” But the meaning is rather, the opposite of this: Since ye repute the fathers, in spite of their murderous spirit against the prophets, as being in the fullest sense of the word, in your traditions, your fathers; and explain the ancient blood-guiltiness, which has been transmitted to you, only as accidental evils into which they fell, or as the product of a barbarous age. Just as in these days the horrors of the inquisition are excused on account of the barbarism of the Middle Ages, although they had their essential root in the fanaticism of the principle of tradition. The continued acknowledgment of those old false principles, from which those murders sprang, establishes the community of guilt, and the propagation of the old guilt to consummate judgment. Heubner quotes: “Sit licet divus, dummodo non vivus.27

Matthew 23:32. Fill ye up then the measure.—Chrysostom says that this πλρώσατε was spoken prophetically; Grotius, permissively. De Wette and Meyer make it an ironical imperative. De Wette: “The πληρώσατε presupposes the ability and willingness in the mind of the Pharisees which merely needs encouragement.” (!) The difficult analogon of this difficult passage is the word of Jesus to Judas, John 13:27: “What thou intendest to do, do quickly.” The last means to scare the wicked from their gradually ripening iniquity is the challenge: Do what ye purpose at once! If this is irony, it is divine Irony, as in Ps. 21:4.28Fill ye up.—The ancient crime of the prophet-murdering spirit ran on continuously through the ages, (See Isa. 6; Matt. 13:14; Acts 28:26.) Its consummation was the murder of Christ.—Fill up then, even ye,καὶ ὑμεῖς. The emphasis, however, falls upon the πληρώσατε. Ye, who condemn the murderers of the prophets, will even fulfil the measure of their guilt.—The measure of guilt. The expression was, according to Wetstein, current among the Rabbins. With the full measure of guilt, judgment begins. The passage, Exod. 20:5, which de Wette quotes, describes the generic nature of guilt in the reduced sphere of a single house; and the guilt of a community, of a church, of an order, is to be distinguished as an enlarged measure of the more limited family guilt.

Matthew 23:33. Serpents.—Comp. Luke 3:7. Πῶς φύγητε. The Conj. delib. supposes the matter to be inwardly decided. The judgment of hell, ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης. The sentence which condemns to hell. The expression, judicium Gehennœ was used by the Rabbins (Wetstein).

Matthew 23:34. Wherefore I send, etc.—Fearful teleology of judgment. The messengers of salvation must hasten the process of doom for the hardened. Sin, which will not be remedied, must be drawn out into its full manifestation, that it may find its doom and destruction in the judgment.—Behold, I send unto you—This is difficult, inasmuch as Jesus seems to bring down into the present, as His own sending, the sending of the prophets who had appeared in earlier times. (I) Van Hengel: The quotation of an old prediction. (2) Olshausen refers to Luke 11:49, Jesus speaking here as the essential Wisdom. (3) De Wette: Jesus utters this with the feeling of His Messianic dignity; these prophets and wise men are His own messengers, the Apostles, etc. But here it is not merely the New Testament martyrdoms that are meant; the whole history of the persecutions of the prophets appears Ideologically, i.e., as judgment. Hence Jesus speaks out of the central consciousness of the theocratical wisdom, and in unison with the consciousness of the Father: comp. Matt. 11:19. As the last who was sent of God, He was the moving, actuating principle of all the divine missions: comp. John 1:26. But as the Old Testament times were not excluded, so the New Testament times are included.29 The futures are prophetic, as is the whole passage. Hence in the σταυρώσετε Jesus thought assuredly of Himself. Meyer refers to the crucifixion of Simeon, bishop of Jerusalem and Pella: Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 3:22.—The expression καὶ ἐξ αὐτῶν is very strong. They will be no better than brands for the fire of your fanaticism.

Matthew 23:35. That upon you may come.—The common expression for judgment, Eph. 5:6, as intimating its inevitableness, suddenness, power, and grandeur.—The righteous (innocent) blood, דָּם נָקִי; that is, the punishment for it, comp. Matthew 27:25, but such as the righteous blood has awakened. Innocent blood appears as the leader of avenging powers: comp. Gen. 4:10; Heb. 12:24; Rev. 6:10. Certainly the blood of Christ speaketh better things than the blood of Abel; but that blood has also its condemning character, and indeed in the shedding of that blood the judgment of the world was completed. The righteous blood is here emphatic: the consecrated, sanctified blood of the prophets. Bengel: “αῖ̓μα, ter hoc dicitur uno hoc versu magna vi.’Ε κχυνόμενον, in the present tense. The blood is a continuous stream, which still flows and will flow, being present especially in its spiritual influence. Rev. 6:10,

Zachariah, son of Barachiah.See 2 Chron. 24:20. Zachariah, the son of the high-priest Jehoiada, stoned in the court of the temple by command of the king. There are difficulties here:1. He was not the last of the martyrs of the Old Testament: the murder of Urijah, Jer. 26:23, was of a later date. But besides the order of the Hebrew canon, there was something pre-eminently wicked in the destruction of the former. Zachariah was the son of a high-priest of the greatest merit; he was murdered between the temple and the altar, and died crying, The Lord seeth, and will avenge it. And, moreover, his destruction was always vividly in the remembrance of the Jews. See Lightfoot on this passage, and Targum Thren. 2:20. 2. The father of Zachariah was Jehoiada, here called Barachiah. Different explanations: (a) Beza, Grotius, al.: his father had two names; (b) van Hengel, Ebrard: Barachias was the father, Jehoiada the grandfather; (c) Kuinoel supposes that the words, “son of Barachiah,” are a gloss, (d) de Wette, Bleeck, Meyer [and Al-ford] decide that an error in the name has crept in. “Probably Jesus Himself did not mention the name of the father (Luke 11:51), and it was added from an original tradition: the error being the result of confounding the person of Zachariah with the better known Zechariah the prophet, whose father was named Barachiah (Zech. 1:1). This tradition was followed by Matthew; but in the Gospel of the Hebrews the error was not found (according to Jerome, the name there was Jehoiada).” Meyer, (e) According to Hammond and Hug, the Zachariah meant was the son of Baruch, who was killed in the temple after the death of Christ (Joseph. Bell. Jud. 4, 6, 4). Hug thinks that Jesus spoke in the future, but that the Evangelist, after the event had taken place, put it in the preterite. But this is an untenable notion, even apart from the difference between Baruch and Barachiah. Ammon, who also refers the words to the Zachariah of Josephus, explained them as interpolation. (f) Chrysostom quoted an ancient opinion, according to which it was the last but one of the lesser prophets, Zechariah. (g) Origen, Basil, and others, thought it was Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist—following a mere legend; to which the objection holds good, that if Jesus had come down to such recent times, he would doubtless have mentioned John the Baptist Himself. The Lord moreover speaks not of the blood-guiltiness of the present generation, but of the guilt of former times, which came upon the present generation because they filled up the iniquities of their fathers. (Comp. art. in “Studien und Kritiken” for 1841, p. 20, and Pharmaci des, περὶ Ζαχαριου υἱοῦ Βαραχίου. Athens, 1838.) We prefer the solution sub (b). But if there was an error of name (see (d)), we might ascribe it, with Amnion and Eichhorn, to the translator of St. Matthew rather than the primitive evangelical tradition, as de Wette and Meyer do. It is very difficult to determine whether Matthew, in his familiarity with the genealogies, had a more correct account than that of the Book of Chronicles, or whether his translator made the change. It is in favor of the second supposition of Jehoiada being the grandfather, that he died at the age of 130, and that Zechariah, who is called his son, was laid hold on by the Spirit at a later time, and appeared as a prophet.30

Matthew 23:37. Jerusalem, Jerusalem (Luke 13:34, where it is placed earlier for pragmatic reasons).—Language of the more mighty emotion of compassion after the stern language of judgment. But with the change of feeling there is also a change of subject, and of the exhibition of the guilt. In the place of the Pharisees and scribes, it is Jerusalem; that is, the centre of the hierarchy, but also of the people, and this name combines the poor misled and the blind misleaders,—the present, also, and the past. In the place of the punishment of ancient blood-guiltiness spoken of before, Jerusalem’s own personal guilt is denounced now as justifying this condemnation.—Thou that killest.—The expressions ἀποκτείνουσα and λθοβλοῦσαare emphatic in two ways: first, through the participial form, and, secondly, through the present tense,—the habitual murderess of the prophets, the stoner of the messengers of God.—How often would I have gathered!—The Lord still speaks out of the theocratic and prophetical consciousness which embraces in one the Old and New Testaments; yet the “how often” presupposes a frequent operation of the Lord’s grace in Jerusalem, and visits which the Evangelist was acquainted with, but which did not fall within his plan. Comp. here the Gospel of John. —Thy children.—That is, thy inhabitants. But, in a wider sense, all Israelites were children of Jerusalem.—As a hen.—Allusion to the destruction which impended over Jerusalem, in a figure which signifies that He would have taken Jerusalem under the protection of His Messianic glory, if it had turned to Him in time. The figure of the hen was often used by the Rabbins concerning the Shechinah, as gathering the proselytes under the shadow of its wings.—But ye would not.—The one guilt of Jerusalem was unfolded in the guilt of her individual children. Jesus knew that with the obduracy of the authorities the obduracy of the city and its inhabitants was decided. Hence He used the preterite, not the present tense. Jerusalem’s children had made their choice. The crucifixion of Jesus and the fall of the city were decided. It is quite an independent question, how many of the individual inhabitants of Jerusalem were saved by apostolical preaching. Historical notices on the later deplorable condition of Jerusalem, see in Heubner’s Com. p. 349.31

Matthew 23:38. Behold, your house.—No longer “My Father’s house.” According to Grotius, Meyer etc., the city; according to de Wette and others, temple and city. But the only true interpretation is that of Theophylact, Calvin, Ewald, the temple. For the word marks the moment at which Jesus leaves the temple, and leaves it for a sign that it was abandoned by the Spirit of the theocracy. Indeed, the leaving of the temple intimated that not merely the city, but also the land, was forsaken of the Spirit; for the temple is referred to in its symbolical meaning. We retain the addition “desolate,i.e., a spiritual ruin. It was omitted in some copies, probably because it was thought that the word would open up some prospect of a restoration of the temple. But the prospect of the restoration of Israel involves only the spiritual rebuilding of Israel’s temple in the Spirit of Christ.

Matthew 23:39. For I say unto you.—Most solemn declaration.—Ye shall not see Me henceforth:—In My Messianic work and operation. From that, as among the Jews, He now entirely withdrew. See John 12:37 sq. After the resurrection, He showed Himself only to His own people.—Till ye shall say.—Neither at the destruction of Jerusalem (Wetstein), nor at the advent of Christ (Meyer), but in the future general conversion of Israel (Rom. 11; Zech. 12:10; Isa. 66:20, etc.).—Blessed be He that cometh, Ps. 118—See the notes on the entry into Jerusalem, Matt. 21: 9, 10. Jerusalem itself had not met the Redeemer with these words of greeting, but had asked, Who is this (21:10)? Thus it is an intimation of a future conversion. Not tragic and judicial, as Meyer explains it.

24: Matthew 23:1. And Jesus went out.—It is not merely a local and temporary departure from the temple that is meant. It is true that He had overcome all the assaults of His enemies in the temple; but still they had declined to give Him their faith, and at length had declined it by their absolute silence. And as the Lord of the temple, the temple had rejected Him, in the person of those who had legal authority in it. That was the fall of the temple; and it was then decided that it was no more now than a den of robbers, in which all—the Messiah, and the Spirit, and the hope of the Gentiles, and the blessing of Israel—was as it were murdered. He takes farewell of the temple; and from that time forward it became no better than a hall of desolation, a dreary and forsaken ruin. According to a Jewish legend in Joseph. Bell. Jud. 6:5, 3, the guardian angels of the temple deserted it at a much later period. “At the Pentecost, when the priests for the night went into the temple to perform the divine service, they heard a great and rushing sound, and then the cry, μεταβαίνωμεν ἐντεῦθεν.—Tacitus, Hist. 5:13: Expresses repente delubri fores et audita major humana vox. Excedere deos; simul ingens motus excedentium. In the fortieth year before the destruction of Jerusalem, the lamp in the temple was extinguished of itself, according to Jewish accounts (see Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. ad Matt. 26:3). The synagogue is still a place void of God, because it knows not Christ.” Heubner. Indeed, this departure of Christ was not absolutely the last; for, after the resurrection, He solicited His enemies there, in the person of His Apostles. For the last time He left it when Paul was condemned in it (Acts 21:33; 22:22), and James the son of Alphæus was slain (Joseph. Antig. xx. 9, 1).


1. See the preceding Exegetical Notes.

2. The seven benedictions of the Sermon on the Mount were summed up in an eighth: Blessed are all who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And this benediction has here its counterpart in a comprehensive woe, the eighth, upon the murderers of the prophets. But the ninth benediction, “Blessed are ye, if ye be scorned and persecuted for My sake,” has no counterpart among the woes, but the cry of distress over Jerusalem. True, that the Jews themselves afterward cried: “His blood be on us and on our children” ( Matthew 27:25); but Jesus Himself knew that His “blood would speak better things than the blood of Abel.” Hence the change of the ninth woe into the lament over Jerusalem.

3. The guilt of the scribes and Pharisees became now, to the Lord’s view, the guilt of Jerusalem, and then the guilt of the nation itself. For Jerusalem was the representative of the spirit of the Pharisees and of the national genius. But Jerusalem represents also32 the life and the honor, the fathers and the glory, the youth and the hope of the nation. Jerusalem represents the children of the nation, so often threatened by tempests of ruin, and now threatened by the saddest of all. Therefore the Lord mourns and laments over His own ruined Jerusalem. All the missions and messages of God which had been sent to Jerusalem, and which formed the ground of Israel’s judgment, to Him appeared now rather as so many efforts and impulses of God to save them. His own compassionate desire to save them had been active throughout all those ages of divine mission; but especially had it been active during the time of His own labors and ministry. His whole pilgrimage on earth was troubled by distress for Jerusalem, like the hen who sees the eagle threatening in the sky, and anxiously seeks to gather her chickens together under her wings. With such distress, Jesus saw the Roman eagles approach for judgment upon the children of Jerusalem, and sought with the strongest solicitations of love to save them. But in vain! They were like dead children to the voice of maternal love!

4. Stier, ii. 527: “Jehovah represented His dealing with His people, first, as that of an eagle, hovering over her young and bearing them on her wings (Deut. 32:11); but at last, as that of a hen which strives to extend her wings over her imperilled chickens.” Antithesis between the fidelity of ruling power, and the fidelity of suffering mercy.

5. Behold, your house.—Words which were sealed even by the vain attempt of Julian to build the temple again, as well as by its whole subsequent fate. Comp. RAUSCHESBUSCH (sen.): Leben Jesu, p. 327.

6. Till ye shall say, Blessed.—sepp, Life of Christ 3:31: The Jewish rulers failed in this greeting in the day of the Palm-entry, and the people owe it to Christ to this day. This word contains, however, a definite promise of the national restoration of Israel, as it is set forth in Rom. 11, and in many passages of the prophets. See ALFRED METER: der Jude, Frankfort 1856; where, however, there is too much intermin gling of Jewish Christian expectations.

7. Jesus, after departing from the temple, still remained quietly in the court of the women, and blessed the widow’s gift: thereby blessing true and simple piety, in the midst of debased and degraded ceremonialism. Comp. Mark 12:41; Luke 21:1; and the author’s Leben Jesu, ii. 3, p. 1249.


1. The Preface (vers.1–3) and the Discourse as a whole.—The preaching of the truth must, according to the repeated example of the Lord, turn from priests and teachers who persistently scorn it, to the common people.—The great condemnation pronounced by Jesus in the temple upon the Pharisees and the scribes.—The Lord vindicates and protects appointed ordinances, even while vehemently condemning those who administered them.—High esteem for the office never excludes free condemnation of the abuses of those who hold it.—Hypocrites condemn their own works by their own words.

2. The General Rebuke (vers.4–7).—Dead traditionalism : 1. Its hardness; 2. its falsehood; 3. its selfishness.—Despotism in holy apparel and in the domain of the conscience: 1. Doubly fearful; 2. doubly ruinous; 3. doubly impotent.—The Lord holds up to His disciples the image of spiritual ambition and pride for an everlasting warning.—The power of faith disposes of the pretensions of spiritual ambition: faith in the only Teacher: faith in God as the only Father; faith in Christ as the only Lord and Guide. (Thus the Apostle’s Creed, rightly understood, is threefold Protestant.)—Out of the humility of fidelity springs the courage of freedom.

3. Specific Rebuke: the seven woes (vers.13–37).—The seven benedictions and the seven woes.—The eighth woe as the summary of the seven: like the eighth benediction.—The ninth woe is changed into a lamentation over Jerusalem.—First woe: Spiritual avarice and greediness for securing legacies; petitioners changed into beggars.—The long prayers of the hypocrites, and the long sentence of judgment.—Second woe; Those who shut the kingdom of heaven to others, and exclude themselves. Third woe: Proselytism; soul-winners and soul-ruiners.33Fourth woe: The work of man up, the work of God down: the inward nothing, the outward everything.—The true oath always by the living and true God.—The blindest ignorance connected with a conceit of keenest insight into the laws of the kingdom of God.—Fifth woe: Legality in little things; lawlessness in great Straining out gnats; swallowing camels.—Sixth woe. The outside and the inside of the cup and the platter; or, the feast of the religious and moral hypocrite: 1. In the outward form, consecrated or adorned; 2. in the inner character, abominable and reprobate.—Seventh woe: The whited sepulchres: 1. Like pleasant abodes outwardly; 2. caves of bones, diffusing death, within.—Spiritual death, in the guise of spiritual bloom: 1. Captivating; 2. destructive.—The eighth woe: The murderers of the prophets.—How the garnishing the sepulchres of the prophets may be auspicious: 1.When it bears witness to a diseased hanging on to antiquity [false and morbid medievalism.—P. S.]; 2. when it robs the prophets of the present of their rights.—To persecute Christ in His saints is to persecute Christ Himself.—He who would free himself from the blood-guiltiness of olden times, must, free himself from the principles which created it then.—Ancient guilt finds its sure consummation in terrible judgment, however long delayed.—The sinner’s inherited guilt becomes his own only through his own personal guilt.—Jerusalem, Jerusalem!—How often.

4. The Departure from the Temple.—The temple desecrated by obduracy: 1. A house of men, forsaken of God; 2. a house of desolation, forsaken of the Spirit; 3. a house of misery and death, forsaken of Christ.—The golden sunset after the evening storm; or, the prospect of the restoration of Israel.—The departure of Christ from the temple of the Jews: 1. The close of a mournful past; 2. the sign of a miserable present; 3. the token of a sad futurity.—The last word of the Lord to His people, the announcement of His first royal advent to punish His people (in the destruction of Jerusalem).

Starke:—All hypocrites are severe toward others, but very indulgent toward themselves.—Canstein: A faithful teacher uses severity toward himself, but he rules those who are under him with gentleness.—By thy words wilt thou be condemned.—They would fain have men believe that there was a special sanctity in the habit of their order.—Canstein: Pharisaic folly; elegant Bibles and books of prayer, and no devotion in the heart.—One is our Master, Christ.—Quesnel: God’s word and truth is an inheritance common to all the brethren. He who would glory in being its lord, and keep his brethren from the use of it, is a robber of the Church’s inheritance.—The Church of Christ is a family, of which God alone is the Father.—[Quesnel on Matthew 23:1: Let us always look with respect on Christ and His authority, even in the most imperfect of His ministers. The truth loses nothing of its value by the bad lives of its ministers. The faith is not built upon the lives of pastors, but upon the visible authority of the Church (? rather upon Christ and His word).—P. S.]—Hedinger: Let no man vaunt himself of his position and office.—The gifts by which we are useful to others are from Christ, and they are the gifts of grace.—Humility is the true way to abiding dignity.—Hypocrites would convert others, while they are themselves unconverted; hence their converts generally go from worse to worse.—It is not God, but gold, not the altar, but what is on it, that they are concerned with.—Swearing by the name of the great God, is, Indeed, a matter of tremendous importance.—Sins reproduce one another; when one has wasted what he has robbed, he robs again that he may waste.—The unconverted man is like a sepulchre, in which man lies in his corruption.—Quesnel: Many are Christians in name and appearance; few in spirit and in truth.—Canstein: At last the whited mask drops off, and the hypocrite is naked and discovered.—Garnishing the graves of the old martyrs, and making new martyrs.—When men in their wickedness receive no more exhortation, but make a mock of God and His servants, the measure of wrath is very near being filled up.—Wherefore I send unto you. Rom. 2:4: The goodness and long forbearance of God.—God remembers all the blood-guiltiness of the history of mankind: woe to them who become partakers of the guilt!

Verily I say unto you. God’s threatenings are not in sport.—Jerusalem, Jerusalem: the fatherly heart of God is earnest in calling men to salvation.—The cause of ruin is the evil will of man.—Osiander: Contempt of God’s word is followed by the downfall of all rule, authority, and good institutions, Dan. 9:6, 11, 12.—Canstein: There is a time of grace; there is also a day of judgment.


Matthew 23:6. Notwithstanding these solemn prohibitions, how much of these sins have been found in all churches and sects, from the highest to the least!

Matthew 23:16 sq. These rules of the Pharisees about swearing were doubtless designed, first, to relax the strict obligation of certain oaths of common life; and then to enrich the temple-treasure, by attributing a greater sanctity and more rigid obligation to the gold which was ordained for the temple, and the sacrifices which were ordained for the altar, and which were partly the perquisite of the priests. Comp. Matthew 15:5; Mark 7:11.

Matthew 23:36. Every sinner who, in spite of the divine warnings, walks in the footsteps of his fathers, draws down upon his own head the punishment which was in their times mercifully deferred and suspended.

Lisco:—The condemnation of Jesus affects all who are contented with appearing that which they should be.—The woe is upon their deceiving of souls; their hypocritical covetousness; their hypocritical proselyting; their hypocritical trafficking with oaths; their hypocritical pedantry; their hypocritical righteousness; their hypocritical respect for the saints of God.

Heubner:—The dignity of the ministry is to be honored for its own sake.—The ordinances of men always a burden; the commandments of God and of Christ are always a gentle yoke.—Spiritual pride and ambition always one of the chief temptations and dangers of ministers.—Christ does not forbid the title, but the ambition for it. Application to the Romish Church, and the name Papa universalis. Pater.—Not ruling, but serving, makes greatness.—Great difference between zeal for conversion and ambition for conversion [or missionary spirit and selfish proselyting.—P. S.].—Hypocrisy in vows, reservatio mentalis.—Ask whether anything impure clings to your enjoyment: the tears and sighs of the poor.—It is a base reverence for the great of olden time, which will not seek to imitate them.—Every generation should be improved by the preceding; if not, it is made worse.—The great design of Jesus is to gather in poor, wandering, and scattered children of men into one family of God.—Desolate. Every Christian temple, in which Christ is not preached, is empty; so is every heart in which He does not live.


[1] Matthew 23:2.—[̓Ε κάθισαν (aorist), seated themselves; Coverdale: are sat down; Conant: have sat down (with the Implication of continuance); Ewald: liessen sich nieder; Luther, de Wette, Lunge: sitzen. The phrase does not necessarily convey blame for usurpation, but states a matter of fact, the act and its result: having seated themselves they sit, and we invested with official authority as teachers and judges.—P. S.]

[2] Matthew 23:3.—Τηρεῖν is omitted by B., D., L., Z., al., [Cod. Sinait.], Lachmann, Tischendorf, etc.

[3] Matthew 23:3.—Codd. D., L., D.: ποιήσατε καὶ τηρεῖτε, do and observe. The reverse order [τηρεῖτε και ποιεῖτε in the text. Rec. is explanatory.

[4] Matthew 23:4.—Δέ (is better supported than γάρ [which seems to be substituted as more suitable].

[5] Matthew 23:4.—Tischendorf omits δυσβάστακτα without sufficient cause. [Lachmann retains it, Alford omits it, so also Cod. Sinait.]

[6] Matthew 23:5.—Of their garments, τῶν ἱματίων αὐτῶν αὐτῶν, seems an explanatory addition to the text, but necessary in the translation. [They are wanting in the best authorities, including Coil. Sinait.]

[7] Matthew 23:7.—[Some of the best authorities, including (Cod. Sinait., and the critical editions of Lachmann and Tregelles read: ῥαββί (or ῥαββεί) only once; but Tischendorf and Alford retain the text, rec.—P. S.]

[8] Matthew 23:8.—[Dr. Lange, in his Version (Meister), retains with Meyer the text rec.: καθηγητής. But Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, and even Wordsworth, who generally adheres to the received text, react with the best ancient authorities: διδάσκαλος, teacher, and this is preferable also on account of Matthew 23:11, to avoid repetition.—P. S.]

[9] Matthew 23:8.—O ̔Ο Χριστός is an addition from Matthew 23:10, and omitted in the critical editions.

[10] Matthew 23:14—[ Matthew 23:14, from κριμα, is omitted in the oldest MSS., including Cod. Sinait., versions, and seems to be inserted from Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. See the critical summaries in Lachmann, Tischendorf Tregelles, and Alford. But Griesbach. Scholz, and Fritzsche, according to Codd. E., F., G., H., etc., assume a transposition of Matthew 23:13 and 14. So also Dr. Lange in hi3 German Version, who regards it as very improbable that Matthew should have omitted such an important feature.—P. S.]

[11] Matthew 23:19.—Μωροὶ is wanting in D., L., Z., [and In Cod. Sinait. which reads simply τυῖλοι], omitted by Tischendorf [and Alford], and enclosed in brackets by Lachmann. [The words may have been Inserted from Matthew 23:17, where they are genuine.—P. S.]

[12] Matthew 23:22.—Text. Rec. (retained by Lachmann on the authority of Cod. B.): κατοικοῦντι, but Tischendorf, with nearly all the uncial MSS., reads κατοικήσαντι. [So also Tregelles and Alford. The latter suggests that the aorist implies that God did not then dwe1 in the temple, nor had He done so since the Captivity. But in the cleansing of the temple Christ evidently treated it as the house of God, 21:13.—P. S.]

[13] Matthew 23:23.—The definite article before these petty items, as in the Greek (ὸ ἡδύοσμον καὶ ͂ὸ ἄνηθον καὶ τὸ κύμινον) and in the German Versions of Lange and others, should be retained, as it adds emphasis.—P. S.]

[14] Matthew 23:23.—[Lange translates τὴν κρισιν καὶ τὸν ἔλεοζ και τὴν πιστιν: die (mosaische) Rechtspflege und das (prophetische) Erbarmen und die (messianische) Glaubenstreue. See his Exeg. Notes.—P. S]

[15] Matthew 23:23.—After ταῦτα is to be inserted according to Codd. B., C, etc., and the critical editions.

[16] Matthew 23:24.—[The word at before strain was originally a printing error for out, which first appeared in King James’s revision in 1611, and was faithfully copied ever after. All the older English Versions, from Tyndale to the Bishops’ Bible (except the N. T. of Rheims, of 1562, which renders: strain a gnat, omitting out), correctly translate οὶ διυλιζοντες τὸν κώκωπα: strain out, etc. Alford, however, thinks that the phrase in the Authorized Version was no typographical blunder, as is generally supposed, but a deliberate alteration, meaning “strain (out the wine) at (the occurrence of) a gnat” But this is rather far-fetched, and Bishop Lowth is certainly right when he remarks: “The Impropriety of the preposition (at) has wnolly destroyed the meaning of the phrase.” The phrase refers to the use of a strainer, and is plain enough with out. The Jews carefully strained their wine and other beverages, from fear of violating Lev. 11:20, 23, 41, 42, as do now the Buddhists in Ceylon and Hindustan.—P. S.]

[17] Matthew 23:25.—For ἀκρασιας Griesbach and Scholz read ἀδικίας, unrighteousness. But B., D., L. speak for the former reading.

[18] Matthew 23:32.—Πληρώσατε, implete, is the correct reading. ̓Επληρώσατε H., al.) and πληρώσατε (B., al.) originated in the desire to soften the sense.

[19] Matthew 23:38.—Codd. B., L., al., and Lachmann omit ἔρημος, but it must be retained as essential.

[20][Comp. ALFORD: “There can, I think, he no doubt that this discourse was delivered, as our Evangelist here relates it. all at one time, and in these the. last days of our Lord’s ministry.…It bears many resemblances to the Sermon on the Mount, and may be regarded as the solemn close, as that was the opening, of the Lord’s public teaching.”—P. S ]

[21][The Edinb trsl. has here: relaœed, perhaps a printing error, for released, abgelöst.]

[22][ALFORD: “The οῦ̓ν here is very significant,—because they sit in Moses sent, and this clears the meaning, a d shows it to be, all things which they, as successor of Moses, out of his law, command you to observe, do; then being a distinction between their lawful teaching ns expounders of the law, and their frivolous traditions superadded thereto, and blamed below.”—P. S.]

[23][The title was used in three forms: Rab, master, doctor; Rabbi. my master; Rabboni, my great master.—P. S.]

[24][Comp. the remark of ALFORD on Matthew 23:11: “It may serve to show us how little the letter of the letter of a precept has to do with Its true observance, if we reflect that he who of all the Heads of sects has most notably violated this whole command, and caused others to do so, calls himself ‘serous servorum Dei’ ”—P. S.]

[25][Comp. here some excellent remarks quoted from an English periodical, the Homilist. in NAST’S Commentary, p. 520, on the great difference between the genuine missionary and the proselyting spirit, the godly zeal, and the sectarian zeal—P.S.]

[26][Not: at, which Is In all probability originally a typographical error for out. See the critical note above, No. 16, p. 408. Another striking example of the tenacity of a typographical blunder which found Its way Into many editions of the English Bible, is vinegar for vineyard in Matt 20:1. Hence the term: The Vinegar-Bible.—P. S.]

[27][Dr. CROSBY, Explanatory Notes or Scholia in, loc, in view of the parallel passage in Luke 11: 47, where the word for makes a connection between building the tombs and approving their fathers’ crimes, suggests the conjecture that there was a proverb among the Jews asserting complicity in crime, like “One kills him, and another digs his grave.” STIER and ALFORD: The burden of this hypocrisy is, that they, being one with their fathers, treading in their steps, but vainly disavowing their deeds, were, by the very act of building the sepalehres of the prophets, Joined with their fathers’ wickedness. See Luke 11:47, 48. Instead of the penitent confession: “We have Binned, we and our fathers,” this last and worst generation in vain protests against their participation In their fathers’ guilt, which they are meanwhile developing to the utmost and filling up Its measure.—The Pharisees called the murderers of the prophets rightly their fathers: they are even worse than their fathers, because they add hypocrisy to impiety,—P.S.]

[28][Ps. 20 contains no trace of irony, and there must be tome error here, probably for Ps. 2:4.—P. S.]

[29][The Edinb. trsl. has here again just the reverse: “the New Testament times were not Included.” Lange says: “So wenig die altleslamentliche Zeit ausgeschlossen ist, so WENIG die neutestamentliche.”—P. S.]

[30][Wordsworth in an elaborate note assigns a mystic reason for the use of the patronymic viz., it refers to Christ Himself as the true Zachariah=Remembrancer of God (from זִכַי reoordatus fuit, and "יָהּ, Jehovah), and the true Son of Barachiah, i.e., the Son of the Blessed (from בָּרַךְ benedixit, and יָהּ), who had been typified by all the martyrs of the Old Testament from Abel to Zachariah, the ton of Jehoiada. And ho sees in εὐλογηενος—κυρίου, Matthew 23:39, an allusion to the name Βαραχίας in Matthew 23:35. But be omits the circumstance that Zechariah the prophet was the son of Barachiah, Zech. 1:1.—P.S.]

[31][The words: οὐκ ἠθελήσατε, ye would not, are important for the doctrine of the freedom and responsibility of man which must not be sacrificed to, but combined with, the opposite, though by no means contradictory doctrine of the absolute sovereignty and eternal decrees of God. ALFORD in loc.: “The tears of our Lord over the perverseness of Jerusalem are witnesses of the freedom of man’s will to resist the grace of God.”—P. S.]

[32][The Edinb. Version rends: “Jerusalem was the sole representative;” mistaking the German allein (=aber, [illegible] before (not after) Jerusalem (Allein Jerusalem repräsentive auch), and thus destroying the necessary antitheeil to the preceding sentence.—P. S.]

[33][In German: Seelenwerber und Seelenwerber:—P.S.]

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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