Matthew 23:17
You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes it sacred?
Pharisees and SadduceesMarcus Dods Matthew 23:2-33
Ostentatious ProfanityR. Hall.Matthew 23:16-22
SwearingJ.A. Macdonald Matthew 23:16-22
The AltarC. H. Spurgeon.Matthew 23:16-22
Thoughtless ProfanityE. H. Chopin, D. D.Matthew 23:16-22
Unreasonable OathsM. Pool.Matthew 23:16-22
From the doings of the scribes and Pharisees the Lord passes to their teaching; and he commences with their refinement in respect to oaths. There is no reference here to judicial swearing, or deposing upon oath before a magistrate in the interests of public justice. The whole argument goes to show that the swearing here referred to is the voluntary and gratuitous.


1. Simple assertion, is the sufficient bond of a true man.

(1) By volunteering more, a man reflects upon his own honour, he that will not trifle with his word has no need to swear.

(2) By requiring more, he reflects upon the character of his neighbour.

(3) An oath is no increased guarantee for truth. He that can trifle with his word will trifle with an oath.

2. More than affirmation is from an evil source.

(1) It comes from the spirit of falsehood. This is the spirit of the devil. He is the father of lies.

(2) The spirit of falsehood will make lies as black as possible by calling in sacred things to witness them.


1. The Pharisees invented evasive distinctions.

(1) "An oath for confirmation is the end of all strife," because it is an appeal to God as witness to the truth.

(2) But the Pharisees made it "nothing," i.e. the oath has no force, or may be violated with impunity, to swear by the temple, provided the gold of the temple was left out of the question. So they made it "nothing" to swear by the altar, provided the gift upon the altar was excepted. Thus their swearing tended to lying.

2. These distinctions were false in fact.

(1) They inverted the order of importance. They preferred the gifts to the altar, and the gold to the temple. They preferred their own righteousness to the righteousness of God, in holding their gifts to be of greater consequence than God's appointment.

(2) The altar which sanctifies the gift is greater than the gift; so for the same reason is the temple greater than the gold. Note: Gold that touches the altar is more than gold, for it is consecrated to the Divine service. Things are great in proportion to their sacredness. Therefore seek first the kingdom of God.

(3) The value of material things is determined by their uses. A fortune coming to a sot is but a death warrant to him.

3. They are demoralizing.

(1) The object of attaching superior sanctity to the gifts of the altar and gold of the temple treasury was to heighten the idea of meritoriousness in presenting them.

(2) The scribes and Pharisees also probably derived pecuniary advantage from those gifts.


1. It is a breach of the commandments.

(1) It offends against the first and second. An oath is an appeal to God; to make this appeal to a creature is to put that creature in his place (see Deuteronomy 6:13). To swear by anything lower than God is to set aside the Author of truth and faith in favour of a creature.

(2) It offends against the third. It vulgarizes the most sacred things. Too much familiarity with them brings them into contempt. This is an offence which God will not lightly pass over (see Exodus 20:7).

2. It is a violation of the gospel law.

(1) Our Lord is most emphatic in his inhibition of swearing (see Matthew 5:33-37).

(2) Swearing is now, therefore, no longer a thing sacred, but, on the contrary, most profane.


1. The guides are blind.

(1) It is bad when the leaders of the people cause them to err (see Isaiah 9:16; Isaiah 56:10). It is bad for the people. When the conscience, by casuistry, is made the ally of vice, the condition of the dupe is hopeless.

(2) If it is bad for the people, it is worse for the guides. Their blindness is worse than ignorance. It is the blindness of a wilful, perverting casuistry.

(3) However keen sighted a man may be about his temporal interests, he is blind indeed if he be unable to discern what concerns his eternal welfare.

2. But God is not deceived.

(1) He will be no party to the fictitious distinctions of men by which they would fain release themselves from the obligation of their oaths. He holds the swearer by the temple to swear by the God of the temple.

(2) "By him that dwetleth," perhaps dwelt, in allusion to the Shechinah, which was the chief glory of the temple once, but was then wanting in the second temple. Taken in the present, the temple with the Shechinah was the body of Christ (see John 2:21). This is the greatest and most durable of temples - the "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Note: Every Christian is a living temple; so common things are sanctified. to him (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:14; Titus 1:15).

(3) "By all things thereon." The substitution of this phrase here for the gold suggests a reference to the sacred fire, and to the ministration of the priests. Appurtenances pass with the principal (cf. Psalm 26:6; Psalm 43:4).

(4) All forms of oaths are by God reduced to the true intent of an oath. A man should never take advantage of his own fault. God will be his own witness, and will make the swearer answerable for his oaths. - J.A.M.

Whosoever shall swear by the Temple, it is nothing.
Are there any before me who are accustomed to use God's name as an expletive, and to bandy it as a byword? Who employ it in all kinds of conversation, and throw it about in every place? Perhaps in their hearts they consider this an accomplishment! think it manly and brave to swear! Let me say, then, that profaneness is a brutal vice. He who indulges in it is no gentleman. I care not what his stamp ,nay be in society. I care not what clothes be wears, or what culture he boasts. Despite all his refinement, the light and habitual taking of God's name betrays a coarse nature and a brutal will. Nay, he tacitly admits that it is ungentlemanly, for he restrains his oaths in the presence of ladies; and he who fears not to rush into the chancery of heaven and swear by the Majesty there, is decently observant in the drawing-room and the parlour.

(E. H. Chopin, D. D.)

If there are hypocrites in religion, there are also, strange as it may appear, hypocrites in impiety — men who make an ostentation of more irreligion than they possess. An ostentation of this nature, the most irrational in the records of human folly, seems to lie at the root of profane swearing.

(R. Hall.)

He that sweareth by any person, or thing, doth two things.

1. He attributeth to the thing, or person, by which he sweareth, a knowledge of the heart and the secret intention.

2. He calleth upon the person, or thing, by which he sweareth, to be his judge, or to take a revenge upon him, in case lie doth not believe in his heart what he affirmeth or denieth with his words to be true or false; otherwise an oath is no security at all. From whence appeareth that it is unreasonable for any to swear by any other than God, who alone can have a knowledge of the truth and security of the heart; and that he who sweareth by any creature committeth idolatry in his heart, and indeed blasphemeth playing Divine homage to a creature, and attributing to the creature what belongs only to the Creator.

(M. Pool.)

The one altar which sanctifieth the gift is the person and merit of our Lord Jesus Christ.


1. The altar typifies our Lord if we consider the use of it. To sanctify that which was put upon it, and to sustain it while the fire was consuming it. Our Lord lifts up our gifts towards heaven.

2. The place of the altar. You saw it the moment you entered the door of the tabernacle. The most prominent thought of the soul is Jesus as Mediator.

3. The form of the altar. It was foursquare; stability and endurance.

4. The materials of which the altar was made. Shittim wood, overlaid with brass; the former represents the incorruptible human character of Jesus: the latter the endurance of Christ.


1. Have you always taken care to keep to the one spiritual altar?

2. Are there not some among you who have been offering to God without an altar at all? You have not respect to the Mediator in your life, and prayers, and acts.

3. Whether we have not often forgotten to attach the importance to the altar which we should have done. We must plead the merit of Christ.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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