In the Fulness of Time/Part 134
|By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2010|
|In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus’ emphasis was that His people should not perjure themselves by profaning the Name of the Lord, thus breaking the third Commandment, taking the Name of the Lord in vain. The Pharisees thought that by taking oaths in the name of other things they could avoid this, but since such oaths were not binding, they were not lying by not keeping their vows. Here in Matthew 23:16-22, Christ makes it clear that no matter how they take oaths, God’s Name is involved.|
- 1 Guiding taking of oaths while magnifying oaths over Truth. Matthew 23:16-22
- 2 Omitting weightier things but majoring in minor things. Matthew 23:23-24
- 3 Making the outside clean and leaving the inside corrupt. Matthew 23:25-26
- 4 Appearing righteous outwardly, but full of iniquity inwardly. Matthew 23:27-28
Guiding taking of oaths while magnifying oaths over Truth. Matthew 23:16-22
- Mt.23:16-22 “Woe unto you, ye blind guides, who 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 which is greater, the gold, or the temple which 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 bound. Ye fools and blind; for which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whosoever, therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things on it. And whosoever sweareth by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth in it. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him who sitteth on it.”
This passage does not contradict what Christ said in 5:33-37; it actually illustrates His principles. His emphasis in 5:33-37 was that they should not perjure themselves by profaning the Name of the Lord, thus breaking the third Commandment, taking the Name of the Lord in vain. The Pharisees thought that by taking oaths in the name of other things they could avoid this, but since such oaths were not binding, they were not lying by not keeping their vows. Here in 23:16-22, Christ makes it clear that no matter how they take oaths, God’s Name is involved, whether it is the altar, the temple or heaven itself. Christ did not abolish oaths in 5:33-37; what He did was to denounce perjury and declared that no oaths should be taken which could be more than the simple truth of yes or no. To think otherwise is foolish blindness and originates with the evil one (5:37).
Omitting weightier things but majoring in minor things. Matthew 23:23-24
- Mt. 23:23-24 “We 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: justice, mercy and faith; these ye ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, who strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!”
Tithing was an essential part of the Mosaic Law from its beginning. Jews were commanded to tithe, but it was limited to the major areas of produce, grain from the fields, wine from the fruits, oil from the olive trees, and firstlings from their herds of cattle and flocks of sheep (Deut. 12:17; 14:23). There were also required feasts and sacrifices; and provision was made for them to help the Levites, the sojourners, the fatherless and the widows (Deut. 14:29). However, the LORD did not command them to tithe household spices such as mint, anise and cumin; this was purely a Pharisaic tradition added to the Law.
At the same time as the scribes and Pharisees were observing the minute and rather un-called-for regulations, they were neglecting the “weightier,” that is, the most important things such as “justice, mercy and faith.” “Justice” is from krisin, “good justice” ministered toward those who had sinned as well as toward those who had been sinned against (Prov. 31:8-9). “Mercy” is from eleos, incorporating two thoughts; that there is someone with a need, and there is someone who can meet that need, and they can get together! “Faith” is from pistis and can refer either to faith in God, or may also be used in a passive sense regarding one’s personal trustworthiness in his daily life. These three are simple yet profound principles in dealing with others; treat them justly, help the needy and do it all in a trustworthy manner. It is not unlike Micah 6:8: “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Jesus was careful not to contradict the Law, so He added, “these things [the more important things] ought to be done, and not to leave the other [the lesser things] undone.” The tithes required by the Law should be done, but it was going to unnecessary extremes to require what the Law never included, so Jesus did not necessarily include the mint, anise and cummin when He spoke of the lesser things.
To enforce His position about the absurdity of the traditions of the Pharisees, Jesus added: “Ye blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” A better translation of the participle diludidzontes is “straining out” from the verb diluidzo: “to rid wine of a gnat by filtering.” According to Leviticus 11:4, the camel was the largest unclean animal and the gnat was the smallest unclean “creeping thing” (11:42). A similar rabbinical tradition stated that “He that kills a flea on the Sabbath is as guilty as if he killed a camel.” Christ applied this to the meticulous tithing of the Pharisees as contrasted with their complete omission of the important things. Blind guides, indeed!
Making the outside clean and leaving the inside corrupt. Matthew 23:25-26
- Mt. 23:25-26 “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. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.”
As previously noted, the Oral Law, supposedly given to Moses on Mt. Sinai along with the written Law, and passed down through the generations by word of mouth, was eventually put into writing and was known as the Mishnah. Ironically, the Mishnah was expanded to such written lengths that, on the subject of purifications alone, it contains 126 chapters! Even when this is narrowed down to purification of vessels, as Edersheim has noted: “The first tractate in this ‘Order of Purifications’ treats of the purification of vessels (Kelim), and contains no fewer than thirty chapters” (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. 1, p. 537, footnote 1).
When Jesus, therefore, said that the Pharisees: “make clean the outside of the cup and platter,” He was referring to the whole process of purification of entire vessels, as contrasted with what was put into them (the inside). Obviously, both the outside and inside of vessels were purified ceremonially, but what was put in, namely the costly wine and elaborate food, was procured by extortion and unfair financial gain and indulged in to excess. Unless they cleaned up their lives and rid themselves of unfair financial gain, such as was expressed in 23:13, “devouring widows’ houses,” it would not result in making the outside clean. No ceremonial ritual could change the corruption of their hypocritical hearts.
Appearing righteous outwardly, but full of iniquity inwardly. Matthew 23:27-28
- Mt. 23:27-28 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
Many of the commentaries compare these “whited sepulchers” to the graves which were whitewashed right before Passover, so that any Jews who came for Passover week would not accidentally defile himself and thus become unclean for the whole week (Numbers 19:16: “And whoever toucheth… a grave, shall be unclean seven days”) and be unable to participate in any of the festive events. But all of this is negative and does not explain why Jesus called these “whited sepulchers” beautiful. McNeile gives a better explanation: “If the words refer not to whitewashing but to the ornamental plastering of the walls of sepulchers, oraioi [beautiful] can then refer to their clean, white appearance in the sunshine…. And this gives point to the juxtaposition of v. 29 ‘build the tombs… and adorn the sepulchers’” (McNeile, Alan. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1980, p. 337).
The simile in Luke 11:44, therefore, cannot easily be compared to this passage, because there the Pharisees themselves are like unmarked graves, which men walk over and are not aware of them and are defiled. What Jesus really emphasized in Matthew 23:27-28 was the contrast between beautiful outward appearance and iniquitous hearts. The Pharisees who were so strict in obeying the Law (nomos) outwardly, were full of iniquity (anomia, or “lawlessness”) inside their hearts.
In the previous “Woe” the inside of the cup or platter were full of things gained by extortion, and indulged in to excess, showing their immortality. Here, the sepulchers are full of “dead men’s bones,” which signifies the absence of life! What an example of the general principle: “The LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (2 Sam. 16:7). And, “in the fulness of time,” “God shall judge the secrets of men!” (Rom. 2:16).