From the Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871).
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
Matthew Chapter 23
Mt 23:1-39. Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees—Lamentation over Jerusalem, and Farewell to the Temple. ( = Mr 12:38-40; Lu 20:45-47).
For this long and terrible discourse we are indebted, with the exception of a few verses in Mark and Luke, to Matthew alone. But as it is only an extended repetition of denunciations uttered not long before at the table of a Pharisee, and recorded by Luke (Lu 11:37-54), we may take both together in the exposition.
Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:1-36).
The first twelve verses were addressed more immediately to the disciples, the rest to the scribes and Pharisees.
1. Then spake Jesus to the multitude—to the multitudes, "and to his disciples."
2. Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit—The Jewish teachers stood to read, but sat to expound the Scriptures, as will be seen by comparing Lu 4:16 with Lu 4:20.
in Moses' seat—that is, as interpreters of the law given by Moses.
3. All therefore—that is, all which, as sitting in that seat and teaching out of that law.
they bid you observe, that observe and do—The word "therefore" is thus, it will be seen, of great importance, as limiting those injunctions which He would have them obey to what they fetched from the law itself. In requiring implicit obedience to such injunctions, He would have them to recognize the authority with which they taught over and above the obligations of the law itself—an important principle truly; but He who denounced the traditions of such teachers (Mt 15:3) cannot have meant here to throw His shield over these. It is remarked by Webster and Wilkinson that the warning to beware of the scribes is given by Mark and Luke (Mr 12:38; Lu 20:46) without any qualification: the charge to respect and obey them being reported by Matthew alone, indicating for whom this Gospel was especially written, and the writer's desire to conciliate the Jews.
4. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them—"touch them not" (Lu 11:46).
with one of their fingers—referring not so much to the irksomeness of the legal rites, though they were irksome enough (Ac 15:10), as to the heartless rigor with which they were enforced, and by men of shameless inconsistency.
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).
6. And love the uppermost rooms at feasts—The word "room" is now obsolete in the sense here intended. It should be "the uppermost place," that is, the place of highest honor.
and the chief seats in the synagogues. See on Lu 14:7, 8.
7. And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi—It is the spirit rather than the letter of this that must be pressed; though the violation of the letter, springing from spiritual pride, has done incalculable evil in the Church of Christ. The reiteration of the word "Rabbi" shows how it tickled the ear and fed the spiritual pride of those ecclesiastics.
8. But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your Master—your Guide, your Teacher.
9. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven, &c.—To construe these injunctions into a condemnation of every title by which Church rulers may be distinguished from the flock which they rule, is virtually to condemn that rule itself; and accordingly the same persons do both—but against the whole strain of the New Testament and sound Christian judgment. But when we have guarded ourselves against these extremes, let us see to it that we retain the full spirit of this warning against that itch for ecclesiastical superiority which has been the bane and the scandal of Christ's ministers in every age. (On the use of the word "Christ" here, see on Mt 1:1).
11. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant—This plainly means, "shall show that he is so by becoming your servant"; as in Mt 20:27, compared with Mr 10:44.
12. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased—See on Lu 18:14. What follows was addressed more immediately to the scribes and Pharisees.
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