Matthew 23
Vincent's Word Studies
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
Moses' seat (καθέδρας)

Or chair, as Wyc., in allusion to the practice of teachers sitting.

All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
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.

And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
The uppermost rooms (πρωτοκλισίαν)

Rev., more correctly, the chief place, the foremost couch or uppermost place on the divan.

And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

My master In addressing Jesus, διδάσκαλος (teacher) answers to Rabbi. Compare John 1:39; Luke 2:46.

But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Father (πατέρα)

Aimed at those who combed the title Abba, or Father. Compare the title Papa - Pope.

Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
Masters (καθηγηταί)

Lit., leaders.

But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Hypocrites (ὑποκριταί)

From ὑποκρίνω, to separate gradually; so of separating the truth from a mass of falsehood, and thence to subject to inquiry, and, as a result of this, to expound or interpret what is elicited. Then, to reply to inquiry, and so to answer on the stage, to speak in dialogue, to act. From this the transition is easy to assuming, feigning, playing a part. The hypocrite is, therefore, etymologically, an actor.

Against (ἔμπροσθεν)

Very graphic. The preposition means before, or in the face of. They shut the door in men's faces.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
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.
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!
Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
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.

Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Ye Tithe (ἀποδεκατοῦτε)

ἀπί, from, δεκατόω, to take a tenth. Tithe is tenth; also in older English, tethe, as tethe hest, the tenth commandment. A tething was a district containing ten families.

Mint (ἡδύοσμον)

ἡδύς, sweet, ὀσμή, smell. A favorite plant in the East, with which the floors of dwellings and synagogues were sometimes strewn.

Anise - Cummin (ἄνηθον - κήμινον)

Rev. renders anise, dill in margin. Used as condiments. The tithe of these plants would be very small; but to exact it would indicate scrupulous conscientiousness. The Talmud tells of the ass of a certain Rabbi which had been so well trained as to refuse corn of which the tithes had not been taken.

Faith (πίστιν)

Rather faithfulness, as in Romans 3:3, Rev. Gal 5:22, Rev.

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
Strain at (διυλίξοντες)

διά, thoroughly or through, and ὑλίζω, to filter or strain. Strain at is an old misprint perpetuated. Hence the Rev. correctly, as Tynd., strain out. Insects were ceremonially unclean (Leviticus 11:20, Leviticus 11:23, Leviticus 11:41, Leviticus 11:42), so that the Jews strained their wine in order not to swallow any unclean animal. Moreover, there were certain insects which bred in wine. Aristotle uses the word gnat (κώνωπα) of a worm or larva found in the sediment of sour wine. "In a ride from Tangier to Tetuan I observed that a Moorish soldier who accompanied me, when he drank, always unfolded the end of his turban and placed it over the mouth of his bota, drinking through the muslin to strain out the gnats, whose larvae swarm in the water of that country" (cited by Trench, "On the Authorized Version").

Swallow (καταπίνοντες)

The rendering is feeble. It is drink down (κατά); gulp. Note that the camel was also unclean (Leviticus 11:4).

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
Platter (παροψίδος)

παρά, beside, ὄψον, meat. A side-dish, with the accompanying sense of something dainty; later, as here, the dish itself as distinguished from its contents.

Excess (ἀκρασίας)

ἀ, not, κράτος, power. Hence conduct which shows a want of power over one's self' incontinence or intemperance.

Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Whited sepulchres (τάφοις κεκονιαμένοις)

Not the rock-tombs, belonging mostly to the rich, but the graves covered with plastered structures. In general, cemeteries were outside of cities; but any dead body found in the field was to be buried on the spot where it had been discovered. A pilgrim to the Passover, for instance, might easily come upon such a grave in his journey, and contract uncleanness by the contact (Numbers 19:16). It was therefore ordered that all sepulchres should be whitewashed a month before Passover, in order to make them conspicuous, so that travellers might avoid ceremonial defilement. The fact that this general whitewashing was going on at the time when Jesus administered this rebuke to the Pharisees gave point to the comparison. The word νιαμένοις (whitened, from κόνις, dust) carries the idea of whitening with a powder, as powdered lime.

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
Tombs of the prophets

By this name are called four monuments at the base of the Mount of Olives, in the valley of Jehoshaphat; called at present the tombs of Zechariah, Absalom, Jehoshaphat, and St. James. Two of them are monoliths cut out of the solid rock; the others are merely excavations, with ornamental portals. "They appear," says Dr. Thomson, "to be quite extensive, consisting of winding or semicircular galleries, passing under the mountain more than a hundred feet from east to west, and terminating in a rotunda about eighty feet from the entrance. There is no authority for the name which they commonly bear." Possibly they were in sight of our Lord when he spoke, and were pointed to by him. The reference would be all the more telling, if, as has been conjectured, the Pharisees were engaged in constructing the tombs of Zechariah and Absalom at the time that the Lord addressed them, and that the chambered sepulchres of James and Jehoshaphat, lying between those two, were the sepulchres which they were garnishing at their entrances.

And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
Temple (ναοῦ)

Rev., rightly, sanctuary. See on Matthew 4:5. Zechariah was slain between the temple proper and the altar of burnt-offering, in the priests' court.

Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Hen (ὄρνις)

Generic: bird or fowl; but hen is used generically of the mother-bird of all species.

Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Vincent's Word Studies, by Marvin R. Vincent [1886].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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