Matthew 23:16
Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
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(16) Whosoever shall swear by the temple.—On the general teaching of the Pharisees as to oaths, see Notes on Matthew 5:33-37. It is not easy to trace the currents of thought that run through a corrupt casuistry, but probably the line of reasoning that led to this distinction was that the “gold of the Temple”—not the gold used in its structural ornamentation, but that which in coin or bullion was part of the Corban, or sacred treasure (Matthew 15:5)—had received a more special consecration than the fabric, and involved, therefore, a higher obligation, when used as a formula jurandi, than the Temple or the altar. Something of the same feeling is seen in the popular casuistry which makes the binding force of an oath depend on “kissing the Book;” or that of mediæval Christendom, which saw in the relics of a saint that which was more sacred than the Gospels. The principle involved in our Lord’s teaching goes further than its immediate application, and sweeps away the arbitrary distinction of different degrees of sanctity in the several parts of the same structure. Here the line of reasoning is, as in Matthew 5:33-37, that the Temple includes the altar, that the altar includes the gift, that the heaven includes the Throne, and that thus every oath-formula runs up, explicitly or implicitly, into the great thought of God.

Matthew 23:16-22. Wo unto you, ye blind guides — Before he had styled them hypocrites, from their personal character; now he gives them another title respecting their false doctrine and influence upon others. Both these appellations are severely put together in Matthew 23:23-25 : and this severity rises to the height in Matthew 23:33. Here we have the fourth reason of the woes denounced. Which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing — It constitutes no obligation to tell the truth or to perform one’s oath. But whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple — That is, by the treasure kept there, he is a debtor — Gr. οφειλει, he oweth, that is, is obliged to perform his oath. “It seems,” says Dr. Doddridge, “the Pharisees taught, that oaths by the creatures might be used on trifling occasions, and violated without any great guilt. But they excepted oaths by the corban,

(the gift,) and by sacrifices; in which it is plain that, without any regard to common sense or decency, they were influenced merely by a view to their own interest; and therefore represented these to the people as things of more eminent sanctity than even the temple or altar itself.” Whoso shall swear by the altar, sweareth by all things thereon — Not only by the altar, but by the holy fire and the sacrifices, and above all by that God to whom they belonged; inasmuch as every oath by a creature, if it has any meaning, is an implicit appeal to the Creator himself. Whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by him that dwelleth therein — Consequently, the oath is a solemn wishing that he, who dwells in the temple, may hinder him from ever worshipping there, if he be telling a falsehood or neglect his vow. He that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, &c. — And therefore his oath is a solemn wishing that God, who dwells in heaven, may exclude him out of that blessed place for ever, if he falsify his oath. For a further explanation of the subject of oaths, see the note on Matthew 5:33-37.

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.Whosoever shall swear ... - See the notes at Matthew 5:33-37.

The temple - See the notes at Matthew 21:12.

It is nothing - It amounts to nothing - it is not binding.

The gold of the temple - Either the golden vessels in the temple - the candlestick, etc.; or the gold with which the doors and other parts of the temple were covered; or the gold in the treasury. This, it seems, they considered far more sacred than any other part of the temple, but it is not known why.

He is a debtor - He is bound to keep his oath. He is guilty if he violates it.

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".

Woe unto you, you blind guides,.... Meaning the same persons, the Scribes and Pharisees, as before, though not named, who pretended to be "guides of the blind", Romans 2:19 but were them selves blind, and so very unfit to be guides of others; they were as they were born, ignorant of divine things, of God in Christ, of the true Messiah, of the true meaning of the Scriptures, of the spirituality of the law, and of the Gospel of Christ; and the way of salvation by him; and their minds were blinded by the God of this world, and with a greedy, and insatiable covetousness after the things of it, of which Christ here gives an instance:

which say, whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; meaning either that it was no sin to use such an oath, or it was not binding upon a man: he might choose whether he would abide by what he swore by the temple he would do; and thus they ignorantly, and wickedly encouraged vain swearing and perjury. It was usual with them to swear by the temple: take an instance or two.

"Says R. Jochanan (p), "by the temple", it is in our hands; but what shall I do?''

The gloss upon it is;

"it is an oath by the temple of God, that it is in our power to reveal the illegitimacy of the families of the land of Israel.''

"Says R. Zechariah ben Hakatzab (q), , "by this habitation" (meaning the temple), her hand was not removed from my hand from the time the Gentiles entered into Jerusalem, to the time they went out.''

Jarchi and Bartenora's note on it is, this is an oath. Again,

"says R. Simeon ben Gamaliel (r), , "by this habitation"; I will not rest this night until they (doves) are sold for pence apiece.''

The gloss on it is, "he swore by the sanctuary."

But whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is guilty; or is bound, or is a debtor, to make good his oath; he cannot be excused, but must be obliged to fulfil it; or if he does not, he is guilty of perjury. This is to be understood not of the gold that covered any part of the temple; nor of the golden vessels in it; but of the gold, or money, or gifts which were offered for the service of the temple: and the sense is, that whosoever swore by "Korban", and that this, or that should be as "Korban", he should not go back from it; he was obliged to give it. This showed the covetous disposition of these men, who made nothing of oaths that were swore by the temple; but those that were made by the "Korban", or the gifts of it, were binding, because their interest was in it; it was for their gain.

(p) T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 71. 1.((q) Misn. Cetubot, c. 2. sect. 9. Juchasin, fol. 56. 1.((r) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol 166. 1. Misn. Ceritot, c. 1. sect. 7. Vid. c. 6. sect. 3.

Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he {q} is a debtor!

(q) Is a debtor. In the Syrian language, sins are called Debts, and it is certain that Christ spoke in Syrian.

Matthew 23:16. A new point, and one so peculiarly heinous that a somewhat larger portion of the denunciatory address is devoted to it.

ἐν τῷ ναῷ] as in the Mischna we frequently meet with such expressions as: per habitaculum hoc, דמעון הוה. See Wetstein and Lightfoot.

ἐν τῷ χρυσῷ τοῦ ναοῦ] by the gold which belongs to the temple, the ornaments, the vessels, perhaps also the gold in the sacred treasury (to which latter Jerome, Maldonatus, refer). We nowhere meet with any example of such swearing, and the subject of Corban (Matthew 15:5) is foreign to our passage (Lightfoot), inasmuch as there is no question of vows in the present instance. For ἐν with ὀμνύειν, comp. on Matthew 5:34.

οὐδέν ἐστιν] it (the oath) is nothing, is of no consequence. It is not the person swearing who is the subject, but ὃς ἂν ὀμόσῃ, κ.τ.λ., form an absolute nominative, as in Matthew 7:24, Matthew 10:14, Matthew 13:12.

ὀφείλει] is indebted, bound to keep the oath.

Matthew 23:16-22. The third woe refers to the Jesuitry of the scribes in the matter of oaths; the point emphasised, however, is their stupidity in this part of their teaching (cf. Matthew 5:33 f.), where Christ’s teaching is directed against the use of oaths at all.

16. the gold of the temple] i. e. the offerings made to the Temple, called “Corban,” or “devoted;” the use of that word made an oath binding, see ch. Matthew 15:5.

Matthew 23:16. Ὁδηγοὶ τυφλοὶ, blind guides) Previously they were styled hypocrites, and that again and again; now the appellation is changed according to the subject in hand. The two appellations are combined in Matthew 23:23-24, and Matthew 23:25-26. The denunciation reaches its climax in Matthew 23:33.—οὐδέν ἐστιν, he is nothing)[1002] sc. ὠφείλων, owing, i.e. he owes nothing.—ἐν τῷ χρυσῷ, by the gold) with which the temple was adorned.

[1002] E. V. “It is nothing.”—(I. B.)

Verse 16. - Fourth woe - against evasive distinctions in oaths. Ye blind guides. They were by profession leaders and guides, and yet by their literalism and externalism they lost the true significance of the Scriptures which they taught, and the ritual of which they were the exponents. The Lord repeats the epithet "blind "(vers. 17, 19, 24). Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing. Our Lord seems to refer more especially to oaths connected with vows, of which he had already spoken (Matthew 15:5, 6). The arbitrary distinction between oaths was indeed an instance of moral blindness. An oath by the temple was not binding; it might be broken or evaded with impunity. By the gold of the temple - i.e. by the sacred treasure and ornaments therein - he is a debtor (ὀφείλει); he is bound by his oath. The casuistry employed by the Jews in this matter was well known, and had become proverbial among the heathen. F.M. quotes Martial, 11:94 -

"Ecce negas, jurasque mihi per templa Tonantis,
Non credo: jura, verpe, per Anchialum.'"
Anchialum is equivalent to am chai aloh, "as God liveth," the Jew (verpus, "circumcised") being bound by no oath but one that contained some letters of the Divine name or some attribute of God. Matthew 23:16
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