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B.W. Johnson Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

From The People's New Testament, B.W. Johnson, 1891.

Matthew Chapter XXIII.

The Last Appeal to Israel.


The Scribes and Pharisees in Moses' Seat. The Burdens They Imposed. Their Eagerness for the Praise of Men. Religious Titles. Religious Masters. The Hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. Straining Out the Gnat and Swallowing the Camel. Whited Sepulchres. Building the Tombs of the Murdered Prophets. The Lamentation Over Jerusalem.

1. Jesus spake to the multitudes and to his disciples. This discourse, delivered in the courts of the temple on the Tuesday before the Lord was crucified, has never been surpassed in indignant rebuke, withering denunciation, and tearful sorrow over the coming fate of sinner who would not be saved. It contains Christ's last words to the Jewish nation. The contest had been growing fiercer, the opposition of his enemies was more bitter, their plots against his life were working, their utter perverseness was fully manifested, the time for tender appeal has passed by, and the Lord turns upon the "whited sepulchers," the "generation of vipers," the hypocritical pretenders, in a philippic that we believe has never been equaled. But even in the midst of it, like a rift of blue sky in the fearful storm-cloud, his love and pity shine forth with wonderful beauty in the pathetic exclamation of verse 37. Only a part of the discourse is found in Mark 12:38-40; some similar sayings occur in Luke 11:39-52, and a reference to its occurs in Luke 20:45-47.

2. The scribes and the Pharisees. Associated because almost all the scribes were of the sect of Pharisees. The scribes, the Jewish scholars, the theologians and lawyers, would naturally be of the religious sect. Sit in the Moses' seat. Are the expounders of the law of Moses.

3. Whatsoever they bid you, that observe and do. While in Moses' seat, presenting the law of Moses. He has elsewhere taught that the traditions they added were to be rejected (Matt. chap. 15). Do not after their works. Do not follow their examples. The law of Moses was still in force, for the Christian dispensation was not ushered in until Christ died, and hence was still to be obeyed, but the wicked example of its teachers was to be rejected.

4. They bind heavy burdens. By the traditions they had added to the laws. The law itself was a heavy yoke (Acts 15:10), but the traditions so strenuously insisted on added to this yoke. See notes on Matt. 15:1-6. [124]

5. To be seen of men. Instead of touching the burdens with their little finger, by an effort to keep the law in its spirit, their whole object was to appear holy before men. Make broad their phylacteries. A band was drawn over the forehead, or around the arm, and to this was attached a small calfskin box, in which were placed passages of Scripture. For this they quoted Exod. 13:16. The passages worn so ostentatiously were Exod. 12:2-10; 13:11-21; Deut. 6:4-9; 11:18-21. To make them "broad" was to enlarge the case containing the Scripture, so as to make it more conspicuous. Enlarge the borders. The fringes worn as enjoined in Num. 15:38, to remind them "of doing all the commandments." To enlarge these would make them more conspicuous.

6. Love the uppermost rooms at feasts. Rather, "seats." The highest seats at a feast were the places of honor. Chief seats in the synagogues. The places where the elders sat with their faces to the congregation. They loved the pre-eminence.

7. And salutations in the markets. Being greeted by titles of honor in the public resorts. To be called Rabbi. A term which meant the same as Doctor of Divinity now. There were three degrees, Rab, Rabbi, and Rabboni. The last is the greatest, and means, literally, "My great teacher."

8. Be ye not called Rabbi. This prohibits all similar religious titles now. It certainly forbids such as the corresponding title of D.D. For one is your teacher. Christ is the common teacher of all, and all others are disciples on the same level. The spirit of this command forbids all ecclesiastical titles of honor.

9, 10. Call no man father. Another honorary title. The scribes delighted to be called Abba, father. So the priests of the Roman Catholic Church. So do all who welcome such honorary titles as Rev., Right Rev., Lord Bishop, etc. These are all forbidden. No apostle was ever so called. Master. Also an honorary title. All such are to be avoided in the church.

11. He that is greatest. Instead of seeking chief seats at feasts or in the synagogues, and titles that will exalt him above others, let him seek to become the servant of all. Compare Matt. 20:26.

12. Whosoever shall exalt himself, etc. A universal rule in the kingdom of God. Humility is an essential element of progress in it.

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