Matthew 23:5
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
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(5) To be seen of men.—As with a clear insight into the root-evil of Pharisaism, and of all kindred forms of the religious life, our Lord fixes, as before in Matthew 6:1-18, on the love of man’s applause as that which vitiated the highest ethical teaching and the most rigorous outward holiness. The fact, which we learn from John 12:42-43, that many “among the chief rulers” were in their hearts convinced of His claims, and yet were afraid to confess Him, gives a special emphasis to the rebuke. They may have been among those who listened to it with the consciousness that He spake of them.

Phylacteries.—The Greek word (phylacterion) from which the English is derived signifies “safe-guard or preservative,” and was probably applied under the idea that the phylacteries were charms or amulets against the evil eye or the power of evil spirits. This was the common meaning of the word in later Greek, and it is hardly likely to have risen among the Hellenistic Jews to the higher sense which has sometimes been ascribed to it, of being a means to keep men in mind of the obligations of the Law. Singularly enough, it is not used by the LXX. translators for the “frontlets” of Exodus 13:16, Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18 and the only place in the Old Testament where it is found is for the “cushions” of Ezekiel 13:18. The Hebrew word in common use from our Lord’s time onward has been tephillin, or Prayers. The things so named were worn by well-nigh all Jews as soon as they became Children of the Law, i.e., at thirteen. They consisted of a small box containing the four passages in which frontlets are mentioned (Exodus 13:2-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-22), written on four slips of vellum for the phylactery of the head, and on one for that of the arm. This is fastened by a loop to thin leather straps, which are twisted in the one case round the arm, with the box on the heart, in the other, round the head, with the box on the brow. They were worn commonly during the act of prayer (hence the Hebrew name), and by those who made a show of perpetual devotion and study of the Law, during the whole day. The Pharisees, in their ostentatious show of piety, made either the box or the straps wider than the common size, and wore them as they walked to and fro in the streets, or prayed standing (Matthew 6:5), that men might see and admire them.

The borders of their garments.—The word is the same as the “hem” of the garment (Matthew 9:20) worn by our Lord. The practice rested on Numbers 15:37-41, which enjoined a “ribband” or “thread” of blue (the colour symbolical of heaven) to be put into the fringe or tassels of the outer cloak or plaid. The other threads were white, and the number of threads 613, as coinciding with the number of precepts in the Law, as counted by the scribes. The fringes in question were worn, as we see, by our Lord (see Notes on Matthew 9:20; Matthew 14:36), and probably by the disciples. It was reserved for the Pharisees to make them so conspicuous as to attract men’s notice.

Matthew 23:5-7. All their works they do to be seen of men — They have the praise of men in view in all their actions. Hence they are constant and abundant in those duties of religion which come under the observation of men; but with respect to those that are of a more spiritual nature, and lie between God and their own souls, or should be performed in the retirements of their closets, they desire to be excused. As the mere form of godliness will procure them a name to live, which is all they aim at; they therefore trouble not themselves about the power of it, which is essential to being alive indeed. They make broad their phylacteries — The Jews understanding those words literally, It shall be as a token upon thy hand, and as frontlets between thine eyes, (Exodus 13:16;) And thou shalt bind these words for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes, (Deuteronomy 6:8,) used to wear little scrolls of paper or parchment bound on their wrists and foreheads, on which several texts of Scripture were written. These they supposed, as a kind of charm, would preserve them from danger. And hence they seemed to have been called phylacteries, or preservatives. See the notes on these passages. And enlarge the borders (or fringes) of their garments — Which God had enjoined them to wear, to remind them of doing all the commandments, Numbers 15:38. These, as well as their phylacteries, the Pharisees affected to wear broader and larger than other men. And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, &c. — In which guests of the first quality were used to sit; and the chief seats in the synagogues — “There showing their pride, where they ought to have taught others humility.” — Theophylact. And greetings, or salutations, in the markets — And other places of common concourse. And to be called of men, Rabbi, rabbi — A title of honour, which they were fond of having repeated at every sentence. “The word rabbi properly signifies great, and was prefixed to the names of those doctors who had rendered themselves remarkable by the extent of their learning, or who were the authors of new schemes in divinity; heads of sects, whose fame had gained them many followers. This title the Jewish doctors were particularly fond of, because it was a high compliment paid to their understanding, gave them vast authority with their disciples, and made them look big in the eyes of the world. It was the very next thing to infallible.”23:1-12 The scribes and Pharisees explained the law of Moses, and enforced obedience to it. They are charged with hypocrisy in religion. We can only judge according to outward appearance; but God searches the heart. They made phylacteries. These were scrolls of paper or parchment, wherein were written four paragraphs of the law, to be worn on their foreheads and left arms, Ex 13:2-10; 13:11-16; De 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They made these phylacteries broad, that they might be thought more zealous for the law than others. God appointed the Jews to make fringes upon their garments, Nu 15:38, to remind them of their being a peculiar people; but the Pharisees made them larger than common, as if they were thereby more religious than others. Pride was the darling, reigning sin of the Pharisees, the sin that most easily beset them, and which our Lord Jesus takes all occasions to speak against. For him that is taught in the word to give respect to him that teaches, is commendable; but for him that teaches, to demand it, to be puffed up with it, is sinful. How much is all this against the spirit of Christianity! The consistent disciple of Christ is pained by being put into chief places. But who that looks around on the visible church, would think this was the spirit required? It is plain that some measure of this antichristian spirit prevails in every religious society, and in every one of our hearts.Their phylacteries - The word "phylactery" comes from a word signifying to keep, preserve, or guard. The name was given because phylacteries were worn as amulets or charms, and were supposed to defend or preserve those who wore them from evil. They were small slips of parchment or vellum, on which were written certain portions of the Old Testament. The practice of using phylacteries was founded on a literal interpretation of that passage where God commands the Hebrews to have the law as a sign on their foreheads, and as frontlets between their eyes, Exodus 13:16; compare Proverbs 3:1, Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 6:21. One kind of phylactery was called a "frontlet," and was composed of four pieces of parchment, on the first of which was written Exodus 12:2-10; on the second, Exodus 13:11-21; on the third, Deuteronomy 6:4-9; and on the fourth, Deuteronomy 11:18-21. These pieces of parchment, thus inscribed, they enclosed in a piece of tough skin, making a square, on one side of which is placed the Hebrew letter shin (שׁ sh) and bound them round their foreheads with a thong or ribbon when they went to the synagogue. Some wore them evening and morning; others only at the morning prayer.

As the token upon the hand was required, as well as the frontlets between the eyes Exodus 13:16, the Jews made two rolls of parchment, written in square letters, with an ink made on purpose, and with much care. They were rolled up to a point, and enclosed in a sort of case of black calf-skin. They were put upon a square bit of the same leather, whence hung a thong of the same, of about a finger in breadth, and about 2 feet long. These rolls were placed at the bending of the left arm, and after one end of the thong had been made into a little knot in the form of the Hebrew letter yod (י y), it was wound about the arm in a spiral line, which ended at the top of the middle finger. The Pharisees enlarged them, or made them wider than other people, either that they might make the letters larger or write more on them, to show, as they supposed, that they had special reverence for the law.

Enlarge the borders of their garments - This refers to the loose threads which were attached to the borders of the outer garment as a fringe. This fringe was commanded in order to distinguish them from ether nations, and that they might remember to keep the commandments of God, Numbers 15:38-40; Deuteronomy 22:12. The Pharisees made them broader than other people wore them, to show that they had special respect for the law.

5. But all their works they do for to be seen of men—Whatever good they do, or zeal they show, has but one motive—human applause.

they make broad their phylacteries—strips of parchment with Scripture-texts on them, worn on the forehead, arm, and side, in time of prayer.

and enlarge the borders of their garments—fringes of their upper garments (Nu 15:37-40).

Our Saviour had, Matthew 23:4 blamed the Pharisees for not living up to what they taught, pressing the law of God on others, but not doing nor endeavouring to observe it themselves. Here he blames them for doing what good things they did for ostentation, to be seen of men; and abounding in their ritual performances of more minute concernment, in the mean time neglecting their moral duties.

All their works they do for to be seen of men; this is their main end, to be seen of men; for this he had reflected on them, Matthew 6:1-34.

They make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments. For the right understanding of this we must have recourse to Numbers 15:37-40, And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a riband of blue: and it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: that ye may remember, and do all my commandments. Deu 22:12, Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself. In obedience to this law, the Jews did generally wear such garments that had fringes and blue ribands annexed to them. The Jews at this day do it not, because, as they pretend, they have lost the true way of dying the blue colour, required in the law. The end why God commanded them is expressed, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and be restrained from their own inventions and imaginations in God’s service. They were also a note of distinction of the Jews from other people. Besides these, God commanding that they should bind his laws for a sign upon their hands, and as frontlets between their eyes, Deu 6:6-8, they made them parchments, in which the precepts of the law were written, which they bound to their foreheads and arms. These were called phylacteries, from fulattw, to keep, things wherein the law was kept. The Pharisees, for a boast how zealous keepers they were of the law of God, (than which they did nothing less), made these phylacteries and ribands broader, and their fringes much longer, than other men’s: this is that making broad their phylacteries, and enlarging the borders of their garments, which our Lord here reflects upon, done only for ostentation, and that they might be seen of men. But all their works they do for to be seen of men,.... All their prayers, alms deeds, and fastings, were all done in a public manner, that men might behold them, and they might have applause and glory from them: they sought neither the glory of God, nor the good of their fellow creatures, nor any spiritual advantage and pleasure to themselves, in their performances; they neither attended to moral duties, nor ceremonious rites, nor the traditions of their fathers, any further than they could be seen by men in them, and keep up their credit and esteem among them. Hence,

they make broad their phylacteries: these were four sections of the law, wrote on parchments, folded up in the skin of a clean beast, and tied to the head and hand. The four sections were these following, viz. the "first", was Exodus 13:2 the "second", was Exodus 13:11 the "third", was Deuteronomy 6:4 the "fourth", was Deuteronomy 11:13. Those that were for the head, were written and rolled up separately, and put in four distinct places, in one skin, which was fastened with strings to the crown of the head, towards the face, about the place where the hair ends, and where an infant's brain is tender; and they took care to place them in the middle, that so they might be between the eyes. Those that were for the hand, were written in four columns, on one parchment, which being rolled up, was fastened to the inside of the left arm, where it is fleshy, between the shoulder and the elbow, that so it might be over against the heart (u). These, they imagined, were commanded them by God, in Exodus 13:16 whereas the sense of these passages only is, that the goodness of God in delivering them out of Egypt, and the words of the law, should be continually before them, in their minds and memories, as if they had tokens on their hands, and frontlets between their eyes; but they understood them literally, and observed them in the above manner. These the Jews call "Tephillin", because they use them in time of prayer, and look upon them as useful, to put them in mind of that duty: they are here called "phylacteries", because they thought they kept them in the fear of God, preserved in them the memory of the law, and them from sin; yea, from evil spirits, and diseases of the body. They imagined there was a great deal of holiness in, and valued themselves much upon the use of them (w); and the Pharisees, because they would be thought to be more holy and religious, and more observant of the law than others, wore these things broader than the rest of the people;

and enlarge the borders of their garments. These were the fringes which they put upon the borders of their garments, and on them a ribbon of blue, to put them in mind of the commandments, to obey them, Numbers 15:38. The observance of this law is of so much consequence with the Jews, that they make all the commandments to depend on it (x); and say, that it is equal to them all, and that he that is guilty of the breach of it, is worthy of death (y): they ascribe the like virtue to these fringes, as to their phylacteries, and think themselves much the better for the wearing them; and the Pharisees, because they would appear with a greater air of sanctity and devotion than others, made their's larger. We (z) read of one Ben Tzitzith Hacceseth, a man of this complexion, who was so called, because his Tzitzith, or fringes, were drawn upon, a pillow; and there are some that say, that the pillow was bore between the great men of Rome: it was drawn after him, not upon the ground, but upon a cloth or tapestry, and the train supported by noblemen, as is pretended. This was one of those, that enlarged the Tzitzith, or fringes, beyond the ordinary size; hence Mark calls it, "long clothing."

(u) Targ. Jon. Jarchi, & Baal Hatturim in Exodus 13.16. & Deut. vi. 8. Maimon. Hilch. Tephillin, c. 1. sect. 1. & c. 2. sect. 2. & c. 3. sect. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. & c. 4. sect. 1, 2.((w) Maimon. ib. c. 4. sect. 25, 26. Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora, pr. affirm. 3. 23. Targ. in Cant. viii. 3.((x) Maimon. Hilch. Tzitzith, c. 3. sect. 12. (y) T. Bab. Nedarim, fol. 25, 1. Shebuot, fol. 29. 1. & Menachot, fol. 43. 2.((z) T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 56. 1.

{3} But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their {c} phylacteries, and enlarge {d} the borders of their garments,

(3) Hypocrites are ambitious.

(c) It was a thread or ribband of blue silk in the fringe of a corner, the beholding of which made them remember the laws and ordinances of God: and therefore it was called a phylactery, or as you would say, a container. See Nu 15:38 De 6:8, a commandment which the Jews abused afterwards, as those do today who hang the gospel of John around their necks, which was condemned many years ago in the Council of Antioch.

(d) Literally, Twisted tassels of thread which hung at the outermost hems of their garments.

Matthew 23:5-7. Comp. Luke 11:43 f.

φυλακτήρια, amulets, were the תְּפִּלִּיו, the strips of parchment with passages of Scripture, viz. Deuteronomy 11:13-22; Deuteronomy 6:4-10, Exodus 13:11-17; Exodus 13:1-11, written upon them. They were enclosed in small boxes, and, in accordance with Exodus 13:9; Exodus 13:16, Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18, worn during prayer, some on the forehead, some on the left arm next the heart. They were intended to remind the wearer that it was his duty to fulfil the law with head and heart, and, at the same time, to serve the purpose of protecting him from the influence of evil spirits. Joseph. Antt. iv. 8. 13; Lund, Jüd. Heiligith., ed. Wolf, p. 898 ff.; Keil, Arch. I. p. 342 f.

πλατύνουσι] they broaden their φυλακτήρια, i.e. they make them broader than those of others, in order that they may thereby become duly conspicuous. Corresponding to this is: μεγαλύνουσι, they enlarge. On the κράσπεδα, see on Matthew 9:20.

τὴν πρωτοκλισίαν] the foremost couch at table, i.e. according to Luke 14:8 ff. (Joseph. Antt. xv. 2. 4), the uppermost place on the divan, which the Greeks also regarded as the place of honour (Plut. Symp. p. 619 B). The Persians and Romans, on the other hand, looked upon the place in the middle as the most distinguished. The term is met with only in the synoptical Gospels and the Fathers. Suidas: πρωτοκλισία· ἡ πρώτη καθέδρα.

ῥαββὶ, ῥαββί] רַבִּי, רַבִּי (διδάσκαλε, John 1:39; with yod paragogic). The reduplication serves to show how profound the reverence is. Comp. Mark 14:15; Matthew 7:21 f. For the view that Rabbi (like our “Dr.”) was the title used in addressing learned teachers as early as the time of Jesus (especially since Hillel’s time), see Lightfoot, also Pressel in Herzog’s Encykl. XII. p. 471; Ewald, Gesch. Chr. p. 305.Matthew 23:5-7. The foregoing statement is of course to be taken cum grano. Teachers who absolutely disregarded their own laws would soon forfeit all respect. In point of fact they made a great show of zeal in doing. Jesus therefore goes on to tax them with acting from low motives.5. phylacteries] Greek φυλακτήρια = “defences,” and in late Greek “amulets” or “charms.” The Hebrew name, tephillin, which is still in use, signifies “prayers.” They were slips of parchment inscribed with four portions of the Law (Exodus 12:3-16; Deuteronomy 6:5-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21) enclosed in little cases or boxes made of calf-skin, and fastened by leather straps to the left arm and on the forehead, in accordance with a literal interpretation of Exodus 13:16 and Deuteronomy 6:8. To make the phylacteries, or rather the cases which contained them, broad and conspicuous was to assume a character of superior piety, for the phylacteries were symbols of devotion.

Jesus does not prohibit the practice of wearing phylacteries, but the ostentatious enlargement of them. It is thought by many that our Saviour Himself wore phylacteries.

enlarge the borders of their garments] Strictly, the fringe of the talith, or cloak: another instance of ostentation; the blue threads in the fringe, the colour of the sky—were a type of heavenly purity. Our Lord Himself wore the fringed talith (see ch. Matthew 9:20); the offence of the Pharisees consisted in enlarging the symbolical fringes.Matthew 23:5. Δὲ, but) sc. although they appear to do many good things.—φυλακτήρια, phylacteries) see Exodus 13:9; Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18.—κράσπεδα, fringes) see Numbers 15:38.Verse 5. - For to be seen of men. The second bad principle in their religion was ostentation and vanity. Acts done professedly in the honour of God were animated by self-seeking and ambition. They never penetrated beyond externalism. See this spirit reproved in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:1, 2, etc.). "They loved the glory of men more than the glory of God" (John 12:43). Christ then gives proofs of this spirit of ostentation in religion and in private life. Phylacteries; φυλακτήρια: literally, preservatives; equivalent to "amulets;" the translation of the Hebrew word tephillin, "prayer fillets." These were either strips of parchment or small cubes covered with leather, on or in which were written four sections of the Law, viz. Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21. They were worn fastened either to the forehead, or inside the left arm, so as to be near the heart. Their use arose from a literal and superstitious interpretation of Exodus 13:9; Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18. Their dimensions were defined by rabbinical rules, but the extra pious formalists of the day set these at naught, and increased the breadth of the strips or of the bands by which they were fastened, in order to draw attention to their religiousness and their strict attention to the least observances of the Law. These phylacteries are still in use among the Jews. Thus in a 'Class Book for Jewish Youth' we read, "Every boy, three months before he attains the age of thirteen, commences to make use of the tephillin, which must be worn at least during the time of the morning prayers. The ordinance of the tephillin is one of the signs of the covenant existing between the Almighty and ourselves, that we may continually bear in mind the miracles God wrought for our forefathers." Enlarge the borders of their garments; τὰ κράσπεδα τῶν ἱματίων αὐτῶν, the fringes of their outer garments. The best manuscripts have merely their fringes. So the Vulgate, magnificant fimbrias. These fringes or tassels (zizith, zizijoth) were fastened to the corners of the garments, in accordance with Numbers 15:38-41, and were composed of white and blue threads. They were intended to remind the wearers of the commandments of the Lord, and were regarded as peculiarly sacred (see Matthew 9:20). Christ condemns the ostentatious enlargement of these fringes as a badge of extraordinary piety and obedience. We quote again from the Jewish 'Class. Book:' "Every male of the Jewish nation must wear a garment [not usually an undergarment] made with four corners, having fringes fixed at each corner. These fringes are called tsetsis, or, memorial fringes. In the synagogue, during the morning prayers, a scarf with fringes attached to it is worn, which is called tollece, 'scarf or veil.' These memorial fringes typically point out the six hundred and thirteen precepts contained in the volume of the sacred Law. They are also intended to remind us of the goodness of the Almighty in having delivered our forefathers from the slavery in Egypt." To be seen (πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι)

See Matthew 6:1, where the same word occurs. The scribes and Pharisees deport themselves with a view to being contemplated as actors in a theatre; so that men may fix their gaze upon them admiringly.

Phylacteries - Borders of their garments (φυλακτήρια - κράσπεδα)

Phylacteries, called by the Rabbis tephillin, prayer-fillets, were worn on the left arm, toward the heart, and on the forehead. They were capsules containing on parchment these four passages of Scripture: Exodus 13:1-10; Exodus 13:11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21. That for the head was to consist of a box with four compartments, each containing a slip of parchment inscribed with one of the four passages. Each of these slips was to be tied up with well-washed hair from a calf's tail; lest, if tied with wool or thread, any fungoid growth should ever pollute them. The phylactery of the arm was to contain a single slip, with the same four passages written in four columns of seven lines each. The black leather straps by which they were fastened were wound seven times round the arm and three times round the hand. They were reverenced by the Rabbis as highly as the scriptures, and, like them, might be rescued from the flames on a Sabbath. They profanely imagined that God wore the tephillin.

The Greek word transcribed phylacteries in our versions is from φυλάσσω, to watch or guard. It means originally a guarded post, a fort; then, generally, a safeguard or preservative, and therefore an amulet. Sir J. Cheke renders guards. They were treated as such by the Rabbis. It is said, for instance, that the courtiers of a certain king, intending to kill a Rabbi, were deterred by seeing that the straps of his phylacteries shone like bands of fire. It was also said that they prevented all hostile demons from injuring any Israelite. See on Matthew 9:20, for borders.

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