Matthew 23:18
And, Whoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is guilty.
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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.The altar - The altar of burnt-offerings, in the court of the priests. See the notes at Matthew 21:12. It was made of brass, about 30 feet in length and breadth, and 15 feet in height, 2 Chronicles 4:1. On this altar were offered all the beasts and bloody oblations of the temple.

The gift that is upon it - The gift or offering made to God, so called because it was devoted or "given" to him. The gift upon this altar was always beasts and birds.

16. Woe unto you, ye blind guides—Striking expression this of the ruinous effects of erroneous teaching. Our Lord, here and in some following verses, condemns the subtle distinctions they made as to the sanctity of oaths—distinctions invented only to promote their own avaricious purposes.

which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing—He has incurred no debt.

but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple—meaning not the gold that adorned the temple itself, but the Corban, set apart for sacred uses (see on [1348]Mt 15:5).

he is a debtor!—that is, it is no longer his own, even though the necessities of the parent might require it. We know who the successors of these men are.

but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty—It should have been rendered, "he is a debtor," as in Mt 23:16.

See Poole on "Matthew 23:22". And whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing,.... These are again the words or savings of the scribes and Pharisees, and express their sentiments and practice: it was usual with them to swear by the altar; and this was reckoned either no sin at all, or such an oath was not accounted binding on a man; he might break, or keep it as he thought fit: of this kind of swearing, we have the following instances. One said to another (r),

"swear to me that thou wilt not discover me, and he swore to him; by what did he swear? says R. Jose bar Chanina, , "by the innermost altar".''

Again, it is said of Zedekiah (s),

"that he (Nebuchadnezzar) made him to swear; by what did he make him to swear? says R. Jose, by the covenant he made him to swear; Rabbi says "by the altar" he made him to swear.''

And elsewhere (t) it is said of him,

""and he also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who made him swear by God", 2 Chronicles 36:13. By what did he make him swear? says R. Jose bar Chanina, "by the horns of the innermost altar" he made him swear.''

But whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty: of perjury, if he does not make good his oath; he is bound to perform it, it is obligatory; whatever he swore should be a gift for the altar, he was indispensably obliged to bring it; for whatever he swore by "Korban", or the gift, could never be put to any other use.

(r) Echa Rabbati, fol. 54. 1.((s) Midrash Kohelet, fol. 78. 1.((t) Midrash Megillat Esther, fol. 89. 1.

And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
Matthew 23:18. Ἐν τῷ δώρῳ, by the gift) The error originated in the mistaken views entertained by the offerers with regard to their own righteousness. They esteemed their own gifts more highly than the Divine institution.—ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ, upon it) sc. the altar.Verse 18. - By the altar. The great altar of burnt offerings, according to the Mosaic ritual, was consecrated and dedicated with most remarkable solemnities, as the centre of sacrificial worship (see Exodus 29:36, etc.; Exodus 30:28,29; Numbers 7:10, etc.). The gift that is upon it. The victim, which, as being offered by themselves, was counted more worthy than the altar of God which sanctified the gift. This is, indeed, an instance of sight blinded by self-righteousness. He is guilty; ὀφείλει: he is a debtor, as ver. 16. Others see here the principle that the validity of oaths was differentiated by the nearness to the Person of God of the things by which they were taken. This, too, opened up large opportunities of evasion. He is guilty (ὀφείλει)

In the rendering of this word the A. V. seems to have been shaped by the earlier and now obsolete sense of guilt, which was probably a fine or payment. Compare Anglo-Saxon gyld, a recompense, and German geld, money. There is a hint of this sense in Shakspeare, Henry IV. (Second Part), Act iv., Sc. 4:

"England shall double gild his treble guilt,"

where the play upon the words hovers between the sense of bedeck and recompense. Wyc. renders oweth, and Tynd., he is debtor. Rev., he is a debtor.

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