Matthew 23:15
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
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(15) To make one proselyte.—The zeal of the earlier Pharisees had showed itself in a propagandism which reminds us rather of the spread of the religion of Mahomet than of that of Christ. John Hyrcanus, the last of the Maccabean priest-rulers, had offered the Idumeans the alternative of death, exile, or circumcision (Jos. Ant. xiii. 9, § 3). When the government of Rome rendered such measures impossible, they resorted to all the arts of persuasion, and exulted when they succeeded in enrolling a heathen convert as a member of their party. But the proselytes thus made were too often a scandal and proverb of reproach. There was no real conversion, and those who were most active in the work of proselytising were, for the most part, blind leaders of the blind. The vices of the Jew were engrafted on the vices of the heathen. The ties of duty and natural affection were ruthlessly snapped asunder. The popular Jewish feeling about them was like that of the popular Christian feeling about a converted Jew. Proselytes were regarded as the leprosy of Israel, hindering the coming of the Messiah. It became a proverb that no one should trust a proselyte, even to the twenty-fourth generation. Our Lord was, in part at least, expressing the judgment of the better Jews when He taught that the proselyte thus made was “two-fold more the child of hell”—i.e., of Gehenna—than his masters.

23:13-33 The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the gospel of Christ, and therefore to the salvation of the souls of men. It is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to keep others from him. Yet it is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities. But dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the glory of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their godliness, by a thousand devices they made religion give way to their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in smaller matters of the law, but careless and loose in weightier matters. It is not the scrupling a little sin that Christ here reproves; if it be a sin, though but a gnat, it must be strained out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a camel, or, committing a greater sin. While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.Ye compass sea and land - You take every means, spare no pains, to gain proselytes.

Proselyte - One that comes over from a foreign nation, religion, or sect to us - a convert. Among the Jews there were two kinds of proselytes:

1. "Proselytes of righteousness," or those who wholly and fully embraced the Jewish religion, who were baptized, who were circumcised, and who conformed to all the rites of the Mosaic institutions.

2. "Proselytes of the gate," or those who approved of the Jewish religion, renounced the pagan superstitions, and conformed to some of the rites of the Jews, but were not circumcised or baptized.

Twofold more the child of hell - That is, twice as bad. To be a child of hell was a Hebrew phrase, signifying to be deserving of hell, to be awfully wicked. Compare the notes at Matthew 1:1. The Jewish writers themselves say that the proselytes were "scabs of Israel," and "hindered the coming of the Messiah" by their great wickedness. The Pharisees gained them either to swell their own numbers, or to make gain by extorting their money under various pretences; and when they had accomplished that, they took no pains to instruct them or to restrain them. They had renounced their superstition which had before somewhat restrained them, but the Pharisees had given them no religion in its place to restrain them, and they were consequently left to the full indulgence of their vices.

15. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte—from heathenism. We have evidence of this in Josephus.

and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves—condemned, for the hypocrisy he would learn to practice, both by the religion he left and that he embraced.

A third woe followeth, expressed in this verse, because they corrupted their proselytes, both as to doctrine and manners, so as they were twice more the children of the devil, and in danger of hell, than before. A proselyte was one who, coming from some pagan nation, relinquished idols, and worshipped one true and living God. Of these writers tell us there were two sorts; one that only professed to believe and worship one God, though he did not embrace the Jewish religion: such a one they suffered to live amongst them, and called him a proselyte of the gate. Others embraced the Jewish religion, and were admitted into their church, by circumcision, and baptism, and sacrifice (as their writers tell us): these they called proselytes of righteousness. Our Saviour saith the scribes and Pharisees compassed sea and land, that is, would take any pains, (it is a proverbial expression), to make one a proselyte; nor was this blameworthy in them, but that which followeth, that they made him twofold more the child of hell than before; corrupting him with their false doctrine, and setting him examples of an ill life. Their business was not to turn men from sin unto God, but merely to convert them to an opinion, if they had once got them into their church, so as they could make their markets of them; never regarding their souls more, nor to press upon them the reformation of their lives, that they might be saved. Thus priests and Jesuits at this day go to China, Japan, to proselyte men to the Roman faith; and use all imaginable arts to seduce persons born and bred under the profession of the protestant religion in protestant countries, and boast much of their converts; but he who looks upon the Scriptures, and considereth the lives of the most of their converts, will easily see they are but twice more the children of hell, being licensed, by their indulgences, pardons, absolutions, nay, by their very casuists, to live most prodigious impious lives, to say nothing of their damnable errors in matters of faith.

Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,.... The same character, and woe, are still continued, and a new reason added, confirming the justness of them, in order to awaken and convince them, or, however, to caution the people against them:

for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; that is, to the Jewish religion, and their particular sect. There were two sorts of proselytes among them; one was called , "a proselyte of the gate", one that might dwell in any of their towns, and cities, and who is thus described (a);

"Who is a proselyte of the gate? whosoever takes upon him, before three neighbours, that he will not commit idolatry. R. Meir and the wise men say, whosoever takes upon him the seven precepts which the sons of Noah took upon them: others say, these do not come into the general rule of a proselyte of the gate: who is then a proselyte of the gate? this is a proselyte, that eats what dies of itself, but takes upon him to fulfil all the commandments said in the law, except that which forbids the eating of things that die of themselves.''

But the usual account of such an one is, who agrees to the seven precepts commanded the children of Noah (b), which were these (c); the first forbad idolatry, the second blasphemy, the third murder, the fourth uncleanness, the fifth theft, the sixth required judgment, or punishment on malefactors, the seventh forbad eating the member of any creature alive. The other proselyte was called , "a proselyte of righteousness"; and he was one that submitted to circumcision (d), and the rest of the ceremonies of the law; and was in all respects as an Israelite himself; and of this sort is the text to be understood. The Ethiopic version reads the words, "baptize one proselyte, and when he is baptized"; referring to a custom among the Jews, who baptized; or dipped their proselytes in water, as well as circumcised them; about which there are great disputes in their writings; some alleging, that the dipping of them was necessary to the making them proselytes; others affirming, that it was not:

"a proselyte that is circumcised, and not dipped, dipped, and not circumcised, the whole follows after, or depends on circumcision, says R. Eliezer.''

R. Joshua says, even dipping delays it; (i.e. the want of it, hinders a man from being a proselyte;) but R. Joshua ben Levi says, it should go according to the tradition of Bar Kaphra; for the tradition of Bar Kaphra is,

"that he that is circumcised, and not dipped, lo! he is right; for there is no proselyte but what is dipped, because of the pollutions that happen to him (e).''

And elsewhere (f) this is debated in the following manner:

"a proselyte that is circumcised, and not dipped, R. Eliezer says, lo! this is a proselyte; for so we find concerning our fathers, that they were circumcised, but not dipped. One that is dipped, and not circumcised, R. Joshua says, lo! this is a proselyte; for so we find concerning our mothers, that they were dipped, but not circumcised. The wise men say, one that is dipped, and not circumcised, or circumcised, and not dipped, is no proselyte, until he is both circumcised and dipped.''

So the dispute ended, and it became a settled point, that one should never be reckoned a proselyte, unless he was both circumcised and dipped. And after this it became customary to receive proselytes by circumcision, dipping, and sacrifice; and the manner was this (g):

"a stranger that comes to be made a proselyte at this time, they say unto him, what dost thou see, that thou comest to be made a proselyte? dost thou not know that the Israelites at this time are miserable, banished, drove about, and plundered, and chastisements come upon them? If he says, I know this, but it does not satisfy me, they receive him immediately, and make known some of the light commands, and some of the heavy commands to him; and they acquaint him with the business gleanings, the forgotten sheaf, the corner of the field left standing, and the poor's tithe: they also inform him of the penalties of the commands, and say unto him, know thou, that before thou camest into this way, thou didst eat fat, and was not punished with cutting off; thou didst profane the sabbath, and was not punished with stoning? but now if thou eatest fat, thou wilt be punished with cutting off; and if thou profanest the sabbath, thou wilt be punished with stoning: and as they inform him of the penalties of the precepts, so they acquaint him with the giving of the rewards of them; saying to him, know thou that the world to come is not made but for the righteous; and the Israelites at this time cannot receive neither much good, nor much punishment? but they do not multiply words, nor critically inquire of him; if he receives these things, they immediately circumcise him; and if there remain in him obstructions, hindering circumcision, they circumcise him a second time; and when he is healed they immediately dip him; and two disciples of the wise men stand over him, and acquaint him with some of the light commands, and some of the heavy commands; then he dips, and comes up, and is as an Israelite in all respects: if a woman, the women set her in water up to her neck, and two disciples of the wise men stand by her without, and inform her of some of the light commands, and some of the heavy commands.''

And, as Maimonides (h) adds, who gives a larger account of this matter,

"she sits in the water, and after that dips herself before them; and they turn away their faces, and go out, so that they do not see her, when she comes out of the water.''

From all which it appears, that this affair was moved after our Lord's time; was not a settled point till a good while after; and is a custom that has obtained since the Jews were drove out of their own land; though they pretend to say it was an ancient practice of their fathers, of which they can give no sufficient proof; wherefore there could be no regard had to it in this text, and consequently the Ethiopic version of it is not a right one; nor can the dipping of proselytes by the Jews be what Christian baptism takes its rise from, or in any respect be modelled according to it, between which, in many things, there is a wide difference. Now the Jews were very diligent and industrious, which is meant by compassing of sea and land: they used all kinds of methods, ways and means, to gain such a point, and sometimes very wicked ones.


Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and {p} land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

(p) The dry part: now that part of the earth is called dry which the Lord has given to us to live upon.

Matthew 23:15. Instead of helping men into the Messiah’s kingdom, what contemptible efforts to secure proselytes to their own way of thinking! This representation of pharisaic zeal is doubtless hyperbolical, though it is, at the same time, based upon actual journeyings for the purpose of making converts (Joseph. Antt. xx. 2. 4). On Jewish proselytism generally, see Danz in Meuschen, N. T. ex Talm. ill. p. 649. Wetstein’s note on this passage.

ἕνα] a single.

καὶ ὅταν γένηται] sc. προσήλυτος.

υἱὸν γεέννης] one fit for Gehenna, condemned to be punished in it. Comp. on Matthew 8:12; John 17:12.

διπλότερον ὑμῶν] is commonly taken in an adverbial sense (Vulg.: duplo quam), a sense in which it is consequently to be understood in the corresponding passage of Justin (c. Tr. 122): νῦν δὲ διπλότερον υἱοὶ γεέννης, ὡς αὐτὸς εἶπε, γίνεσθε. Coming as it does after υἱόν, it is more natural to regard it, with Valla, as an adjective: who is doubly more so than you are. For the comparative itself, comp. App. Hist. praef. 10 : σκεύη διπλότερα τούτων. But it is still rendered doubtful whether διπλότερον is to be taken in an adverbial or adjective sense by a passage from Justin as above: οἱ δὲ προσήλυτοι οὐ μόνον οὐ πιστεύουσιν, ἀλλὰ διπλότερον ὑμῶν βλασφημοῦσι. This passage is likewise unfavourable to Kypke’s interpretation: fallaciorem, which adjective would be of a more specific character than the context would admit of. But in how far was Jesus justifiable in using the words διπλότερον ὑμῶν? According to Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Euthymius Zigabenus: in consequence of the evil example of him who made the convert, which was such that “ex malo ethnico fit pejor Judaeus” (Erasmus); according to de Wette: in consequence of the high estimate in which the teachers are held by their disciples, and because superstition and error usually appear with a twofold greater intensity in the taught than in the teachers; according to Olshausen: because the converted heathen had not the advantage of enjoying the spiritual aid to be found in Mosaism; according to Bleek: because it was common also to admit as converts those who were influenced by mere external considerations. According to the context (ποιεῖτε): on account of the manner in which the proselytes continued to be influenced and wrought upon by those who converted them, in consequence of which they were generally found to become more bigoted, more unloving, and more extreme than their instructors, and, of course, necessarily more corrupt.

Matthew 23:15. he second woe is the complement of the first: it represents the false guides, as, while utterly incompetent for the function, extremely eager to exercise it.—περιάγετε, ye move about, intransitive, the accusative following being governed by περὶ.—τ. ξηρὰν, the dry (land), sometimes ὑγρὰ is similarly used for the sea (examples in Elsner). Cf. ψυχρόν for cold water in Matthew 10:42. To compass sea and land is proverbial for doing anything with great zeal.—π. ἕνα προσήλυτον, to make a single proselyte. The zeal here ascribed to the Pharisees seems in one sense alien to their character as described in Luke 18:11. One would expect them rather to be pleased to be a select few superior to all others than to be animated with a burning desire to gain recruits whether from Jews or from Gentiles. For an elaborate discussion of the question as to the existence of the proselytising spirit among the Jews vide Danz’s treatise in Meuschen, Nov. Test. ex Tal. illustratum, p. 649. Vide also Wetstein, ad loc. Wünsche (Beiträge, p. 285) cites passages from the Talmud to prove that the Pharisees, far from being addicted to proselytising, were rather reserved in this respect. He concludes that Matthew 23:15 must refer not to making proselytes to Judaism from Gentiles, but to making additions to their sect from among Jews (Sectirerei). This, however, is against the meaning of προσήλυτος. Assuming the fact to have been as stated, the point to be noted is that the Pharisees and scribes aimed chiefly, not at bringing men into the Kingdom of God, but into their own coterie.—διπλότερον ὑ., twofold more, duplo quam, Vulgate. Kypke, while aware that the comparative of διπλοῦς (διπλότερος) does not occur in profane writers, thinks it is used here in the sense of deceitful, and renders, ye make him a son of gehenna, more fraudulent, more hypocritical than yourselves. Briefly the idea is: the more converted the more perverted, “je bekehrter desto verkehrter” (Holtz., H. C.).

15. compass] “go about,” “traverse.” The word is used of our Lord’s “circuits” in Galilee, ch. Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35.

proselyte] Literally, one who approaches, hence, “a worshipper,” (cp. Hebrews 10:1), “a convert.” The Pharisee, St Paul, carried with him into his new faith the same zeal, with a higher motive. He describes (2 Corinthians 11:26) “the perils by water, perils in the city, and perils in the wilderness,” which this eager “compassing of land and sea” brought to him.

Judaism has been classed among the non-missionary religions. This is true at the present day, and through most of its history. Indeed, Rabbinical sayings display jealousy of proselytes. On the other hand, John Hyrcanus imposed Judaism on Edom at the point of the sword (1Ma 5:65-66). The conversion is recorded of whole tribes in Arabia, and on the shores of the Caspian. Also, it appears from the Acts that the number of proselytes in Asia Minor and in Greece was considerable. And in later days Solomon Malco, a Portuguese Jew, was burnt to death under Charles V. on a charge of proselytizing. Probably the proselytism in the text is connected with the charge of rapacity; the Pharisees seeking to convert wealthy Gentiles, over whom they obtained influence.

child of hell] Rather, Song of Solomon of Gehenna.

twofold more the child of hell than yourselves] In accordance with a tendency in new converts to exaggerate the external points of the creed which they adopt, Gentile proselytes strained to the utmost the worst features of Pharisaism.

Matthew 23:15. Περιάγετε, κ.τ.λ., ye compass, etc.) A proverbial expression. Ye compass, or go about, as Rabbis; see Matthew 23:7.—ἕνα προσήλυτον, one proselyte) with great zeal, but little efficacy; so that you hardly obtain one.—υἱὸν Γεέννης, a child of hell) i.e. worthy of hell. Thus in Deuteronomy 25:2, בן הבות[999] is rendered by the LXX. ἌΞΙΟς ΠΛΗΓῶΝ, worthy of stripes.[1000]—διπλότερον, twofold more) on account of his greater hypocrisy,[1001] though he might have attained to a high rank among the people of God.

[999] Literally, “a son to be beaten.”—(I. B.)

[1000] E. V. “Worthy to be beaten.”—(I. B.)

[1001] Which he adopts from his teachers, independently of and exceeding his heathen corruptions, which he has not laid aside.—V. g.

Verse 15. - Third woe - against evil proselytizing. Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte. The word προσήλυτος is used in the Septuagint to signify "a stranger" or "sojourner" (Exodus 12:48, 49, etc.), and at this time was applied to a convert to Judaism (Acts 2:10; Acts 6:5), whether circumcised, "a proselyte of righteousness;" or uncircumcised, "a proselyte of the gate." To compass sea and land is a proverbial expression, denoting the employment of every means, the exercise of the utmost effort. One might have thought that, in its proud isolation and exclusiveness, Judaism would not have exposed itself to this reproach. But what says Josephus? In more than one passage of his histories he testifies to the zealous propagation of the Jewish religion, and in some cases the enforcement of circumcision on vanquished enemies (see 'Ant.,' 18:03. 5; 20:2. 4; 'Bell. Jud.,' 2:17. 10; 'Vita,' § 23). Tacitus ('Hist.,' 5:5) gives a most unfavourable account of the numerous converts which Hebrews made throughout the Roman provinces; and St. Augustine ('De Civit.,' 6:11) quotes Seneca saying, "Cum interim usque eo sceleratissimae gentis consuetudo convaluit, ut per omnes jam terras recepta sit, victi victoribus leges dederunt" (Edersheim). For similar testimony, we may refer to Horace, 'Sat.,' 1:4. 142, 143; and Juvenal, 'Sat.,' 6:541, etc. But it was not proselytizing in itself that the Lord censured. As possessing revelation and the only true religion in the world, the Jews might well have deemed it their business to enlighten the gross darkness of heathenism, and to endeavour to shed abroad the pure light which was confided to their care to tend and cherish. That they were not expressly commanded to do this, and that little blessing attended their efforts in this direction, was dependent upon the transitory and imperfect character of the old covenant, and the many evils which would be consequent upon association with alien peoples. In making converts, the Pharisees sought rather to secure outward conformity than inward piety, change of external religion than change of heart. There was no love of souls, no burning zeal for the honour of God, in their proselytism. They were prompted only by selfish and base motives - vain glory, party spirit, covetousness; and if they converted men to their own opinions, with their false tenets, gross externalism, and practical immorality, they had far better have left them in their irresponsible ignorance. When he is made; when he is become a proselyte. Twofold more the child of hell; a son of Gehenna; i.e. worthy of hell fire. So we have 2 Samuel 12:5, "a son of death;" John 17:12, "the son of perdition" (comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:3). The converts became doubly the children of hell because, seeing the iniquities of their teachers, they learned an evil lesson from them, "engrafted the vices of the Jews on the vices of the heathen," distrusted all goodness, discarded their old religion and disbelieved the new, making utter shipwreck of their moral life. "Ita natura comparati sumus," says an old commentator, "ut vitia potius quam virtutes imitemur, et in rebus malis a discipulis magistri facile superentur." Matthew 23:15
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