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Jesus’ Warning against the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-12)

March 14, 2016

Exposition of Matthew 23:1-12

Introduction: Overall Context

Although multitudes followed Jesus Christ with awe, wonderment, and curiosity, during His earthly ministry, one specific group of men followed Him with relentless persistence. They were sent by their father to cling to his teachings. Concerning their righteousness, no one among men could ascribe to a higher attainment on their own (Matthew 5:20).

They did not need an appeal to follow Jesus because they were prophesied as ones who would not abandon their consistent three-year pursuit. They were witnesses to His words that were distinct from their own. No one was closer in proximity to Christ, and their witness to his miracles and signs, except for His immediate disciples. In His presence, they pronounced themselves to be gatekeepers of all pious devotion and traced their lineage through Moses to Abraham. Jesus spoke directly to them, and used them as examples to the multitudes and His intimate disciples. The tenderness that Jesus Christ spoke to the flock, and to the lost among the house of Israel, was not granted to the Pharisees and Sadducees. His forerunner, John the Baptist, and Christ Himself, introduced them to the multitudes as ‘brood of vipers’ (Matthew 3:7, 12:34) and descendants of Abraham, only according to the flesh (Matthew 3:9).

Jesus pronounced that upon their hands all the righteous blood of the prophets would be placed. To them He ascribed son ship to Satan (John 8:44-45), and pronounced anathemas of the worst kind. Messiah proposed to the multitudes that the Pharisees’ self-deception, false teaching, and murderous hatred gave evidence to their status as objects of wrath and non-citizens of the heavenly kingdom. Not only were they seething with anger toward Jesus Christ, but they also labeled Him and the blessed Holy Spirit ‘instruments of Satan’. They proudly accepted payment from the betrayer Judas, sharing common interest and common lineage with him to their forefather, the old serpent.

The following passage was written during the culmination of their enmity and the height of their covetous influence. Ancient historian, Josephus, wrote that the Pharisees proposed themselves to be divinely inspired by God.[1] They also held tremendous power over the multitudes and were archrivals to the Sadducees[2], whom they joined as common foes against Jesus Christ and His disciples. Among them also were the Scribes, who were responsible for safeguarding and interpreting the theological implications of the Law. Jesus’ warning in this passage culminates with the anathemas he pronounced directly to the Pharisees.

Warning Against the Pharisees and Sadducees

1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;

The setting is in the temple courtyard. The same crowd from the previous verses and successive verses (Matthew 24) are with the Lord. Among them are Jesus disciples’, to whom he places the emphasis of his discourse in vv. 8-10.[3] This verse followed Jesus’ confounding argument that the Son of David is “Lord” over David. Explicit in Jesus’ revelation was the reality that Messiah would come as conqueror over His enemies. To this point in the Gospel canonical context, Jesus made it unmistakably clear that the Pharisees and scribes were archenemies and severed from the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 8:12; Luke 20:8; John 8:42-47). Their interests were completely antithetical to the purposes of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. At the outset of John the Baptist’s ministry, the Pharisees failed to exercise preparatory repentance and faith in the coming Messiah as the means for entry into the coming Kingdom. Jesus’ warning to the crowds and His disciples demonstrated the eternal chasm between Pharisaism and His Teachings. Jesus warned that the Pharisees and Scribes ‘seated themselves in the chair of Moses’.
Seat of Moses
There are at least four interpretations of ‘Seat of Moses’ proposed by scholars and commentators:

(1) The “Seat of Moses” was an actual piece of synagogue furniture upon

which authorized interpreters of the Torah sat.

(2) The expression is a metaphor

referring to the fact that the Pharisees had assumed the role of being

the Law’s interpreters.
(3) The “Seat of Moses” was a specially designed chair

(used as a stand) upon which the Torah scroll was placed when not in use

during the synagogue service.

(4) The expression refers to the social position

of the Pharisees as those who control access to the Torah.[4]

The question is, essentially, was the Seat of Moses figurative or literal? An argument in favor of a literal seat is bolstered by archeology. Archeological findings have unearthed 1st century synagogues with a stone-hewed seat that was positioned in the front of the Synagogue.[5] Although there are not many Synagogues that have been discovered with the literal chair, enough have been uncovered, throughout Israel, lending credibility to their existence during the ministry of Christ.[6]

It is unlikely, hermeneutically, that Jesus, after expounding upon reality in the preceding verses (i.e. literal Son of David-ref Matthew 22:41-46) and succeeding verses (literal Pharisaic authority, literal curses-ref. Matthew 23:13-36) would revert to a figurative example. The parabolic judgments throughout the Gospel of Matthew typically followed a consistent pattern. Namely,‘ (1) Parable-concealment (2) befuddlement (3) disclosure to intimate disciples (4) antagonism from opponents.’[7] In this passage, Jesus did not announce that He was speaking in hyperbolic or parabolic language, as was His custom, nor did He explicitly identify the Seat of Moses. Instead, Jesus immediately began to explain the consequence of sitting in the seat of Moses. Another plausible argument is that it was customary for Rabbis in Israel, during this period, to sit in front of their followers while teaching.[8] Given their propensity for over-literal showmanship and flare for feigned piety (Matthew 23:5), it is not unreasonable to conclude that the religious leaders occupied a literal, prominent chair in the synagogue (Matthew 23:6). This would have symbolized their “authority” over the multitudes, as they visibly advertised themselves as the gatekeepers of the Mosaic Law.

Obedience to the Pharisees

3 Therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

The conjunction ‘therefore’ signifies a connection to the previous verse concerning the counterfeit authority of the Pharisees. Although the authority they wielded was feigned and ungodly, it was a real authority nonetheless, in the sense that they did hold influence over the multitudes. The issue was that they did not possess divine authority that led their people to a greater knowledge of God and fellowship with Him. The question one may ask is, “If the scribes and Pharisees are as diabolical as portrayed by Jesus and others, why exhort the multitudes to do what they command?”

Jesus previously clashed with scribal/Pharisee teaching and openly argued against their entire approach to keeping the law.[9] Notably, the successive verses after Matthew 23:12, which includes verses 13-36, commenced the cursing of the Pharisees and the inescapable partition between Pharisaism and the Lord’s teaching. In what sense, then, did Jesus implore the multitudes and disciples to do what they were told by the religious leaders? One commentator suggests:

‘When Jesus refers to the Pharisees positively in 23:2-3a, he indicates that in principle Pharisaism’s quest for righteousness is worthy and admirable. We can, therefore, with the best recent scholarship affirm Pharisaism as something to be held in high esteem. The problem that Jesus focuses on is not Pharisaism but those Pharisees whose practice contradicted their professed quest for righteousness.[10]

Matthew 5:20 read, “”For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus already established that Pharisaic righteousness was not the benchmark for true righteousness; rather it was the standard for judgment. The commentator’s premise must be rejected as erroneous, because it does not consider the gospel and historical context, or the eternal enmity between Jesus and the religious leaders. The religious system was not only false, but also according to Jesus Christ, the pursuit of the system was evidence that those who desired the system were dead in their sins. Jesus did not extol the virtue of the Pharisees in this verse, instead He extolled the virtue of the Mosaic Law, to which the Pharisees sometimes alluded.

Authority of the Pharisees

Did the Pharisees possess actual authority, and to what degree did they exercise authority over the people? The near context rightly suggests that the Pharisees possessed influence over the people of Israel. Josephus not only elaborated on the practical and theological enmity between the Sadducees and Pharisees,[11] he offered contrast between the Sadducees and Pharisees. He wrote that their traditions of men held sway with the people.[12] Also He explained, “ . . . while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitudes on their side.”[13]

Theologian Noel Rabinowitz argued that Jesus was appealing to the authority of the Pharisees, because they were faithful in their Torah exposition, whereas their interpretation was specious. He explained:

“The synagogue was a focal point of Jewish life. It is therefore inconceivable that a           person could hear the Torah read without being influenced by its exposition as well. In addition, there is (at times) a fine line between what constitutes “reading” and what constitutes“interpreting” the text of Scripture.”[14]

But this does not insinuate faithful, authoritative exposition of the Torah, namely because we recall Jesus as a twelve year old boy confounding the religious establishment in the synagogue. There was a sharp distinction between 2nd temple Judaism, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. This would also indicate a distinction between the true Old Testament and 2nd temple Judaism. Additionally, the multitudes within the Mosaic Covenant Jewish society of 1st century Israel, often exclaimed that the words of Jesus were a novelty to them. We must conclude that the Pharisees were not faithful expositors, but usurpers.

The Pharisees believed their influence and authority to be derived from Moses, and ultimately God. They believed that they were the ultimate free men and sons of Abraham (John 8:33). As consummate deceived hypocrites, the Pharisees considered themselves completely autonomous from the Roman Empire (John 8:33). Their delusion was not only because they were under the governance of Rome, but also because they swore common allegiance, expressed in distinct ways, to the Adversary. They were slaves to sin, and freed from the righteousness of God in Christ (Romans 6:20). In common with the Roman Empire, neither the Jews nor Romans believed that they ruled by mere human chance. While the Romans attributed their conquest to the gods, the Pharisees ascribed their rule to their god. The difference between them is the Pharisees and scribes were more deceived than the Romans, because they thought they were faithful to the God of Israel.

The Pharisees established themselves as the practical ruling authority over Israel, by occupation of the synagogue and immunity from Roman intrusion (John 12:42). Their weapons of choice were fear, intimidation, and subtle immunity from the mighty Roman government. Although there were competing interests between them and the other sects, the Pharisees and the governing Sanhedrin demonstrated their presupposition that they were ruling over a theocracy. Moreover, encroachment by the Romans threatened their rule. The only remedy, as perceived by the Pharisees and scribes, would have been a geo-political Messiah who would overthrow their oppressors once and for all, and install them as sons of the kingdom. Jesus ministered among them, to this point, for three years, and presented Himself as Savior of sinners, not a political revolutionary.

The Pharisees did tell the people things that were virtuous and, sometimes, in accordance with the moral expectation of Mosaic Law[15] (John 8:1-11). However, the Mosaic Law and the traditions of men (Mark 7:13) became a means for salvation and the maintenance of it. Yet, they could not demonstrate moral perfection, nor could the Mosaic Law inherently lead sinners to Christ (Romans 7:7-25). Inasmuch as the Pharisees told the crowds to obey the Law, they were to be obeyed. However, they were not intimately acquainted with the Giver of the Law and His Son, who fulfilled the Law. For this reason, Jesus told the crowds and His disciples to utterly reject the Pharisees.[16] Consequently, the crowds and multitudes were to render the same allegiance to the Pharisees that they rendered to Caesar (Matthew 22:21).

Pertaining to verses 2-4, it may be that Jesus was rebuking the theological foundations of the Pharisees, yet, just as his position on Rome, commending the disciples to render unto Caesar (i.e. rulers). Especially since the Pharisees later pledged allegiance to Caesar during the trial of our Lord. Also, Matthew’s Gospel is specifically announcing the Kingdom and the coming of the King. The issue remains that the Pharisees believed themselves to be gatekeepers of the kingdom, whereas Jesus pronounced Himself the exclusive gatekeeper and Door (John 10).

Just as the crowds and disciples were expected to obey the governing authorities of the Roman Empire (Exodus 22:28; Acts 23:5; Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13), so too were they to obey the Pharisees, as long as they were not being explicitly led against God. However, the antagonism and opposition of the Pharisees demonstrated a foundational flaw and wicked presupposition rooted in their system. They were completely disqualified from the theological, derived and divine authority and were to be rejected because even when they expounded true statements, they nullified any possible connection to Mosaic authority with their behavior.[17] Commentator William Hendriksen aptly wrote:

“Though the Pharisees were guilty of burying the law of God with their actions, refusing to see the fulfillment of the Law, Jesus Christ, they did make true statements concerning, for example, divine decree and providence, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, the existence of angels etc., even their views on the canon were more orthodox than others. Where they {faithfully} interpreted Moses, their instructions were to be obeyed. However, where they misinterpreted him with their deeds, they were to be wholly rejected as authorities concerning the law.”[18] –(Brackets added)

Also, considering the gospel of John (John 10:34), it would seem to indicate that Jesus was referring to those who believed that they possessed authority for Yahweh, according to Moses, and yet their authority was only to be respected as those of all regimes that God raises up and deposes at His Sovereign discretion (Daniel 2:21; Psalm 75:7).

In essence, the Pharisees were to be considered mere men whose governance was temporal and fading, and damnable[19] (Psalm 82:6-7; John 10:34), compared with the Eternal Son and His unshakeable, everlasting kingdom (Hebrews 12:18-29). Jesus, therefore, concerned the crowds with only the temporal necessity of obedience to what they heard from their leaders, yet He demonstrated that the teaching and practice of the Pharisees ultimately led to Hell. The people owed the Pharisees and scribes temporal obedience as to all regimes in the sovereign scope of God’s plans for human governance. Adversely, to Jesus, they owed eternal allegiance,[20] as He is the fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant, and redemptive history.

Heavy Burdens and Showmanship

4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.

Jesus declared “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Further, when He mentioned “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). His invitation was in direct contrast to the rabbinical teachings of the day. [21]

The Pharisees believed in the oral tradition, which taught, “From whoever accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah do they remove the yoke of the state and the yoke of hard labor. And upon whoever removes from himself the yoke of the Torah do they lay the yoke of the state and the yoke of hard labor.[22] In other words, the Pharisees and scribes believed that whoever removed the yoke of Torah subjected themselves to the yoke of hard labor and the yoke of Gentile state rule and oppression. Imagine, then, their horror when Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus’ words would have been perceived as a call to depart from Torah (Matthew 5:17), and an invitation to idolatry, since the Pharisees and scribes believed he was a blasphemer (Luke 5:21; John 10:30-33). However Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for concentrating on the minutia, while neglecting the weightier matters of the Law (Matthew 23:23). The Pharisees also failed to extend mercy with the understanding that they were sinners in need of salvation (John 8:7).

The danger in their oppressive leadership was that they were constantly burdening the people.[23] The Law excited within them a murderous bloodlust and exploitative indifference toward the multitudes who looked to them for religious guidance. The Pharisees were responsible for laying the burdens upon the multitudes, and were callously unwilling to remove the burden, even slightly (v. 4). Contrast the Pharisee placing heavy burdens, unwilling to lift them, and Christ telling the disciples that when His finger came upon the oppressed, the Kingdom of God was upon them (Luke 11:20).

The Pharisees added over 600 extra-biblical commands, according to their own tradition. Jesus rebuked them for invalidating God’s Word as a result (Mark 7:13). Typically, when there is an increase in conforming men to one another, or an increase in indifference, as well as noticeable detachment between teachers and flock, there will exist unbearable burdens for sheep to carry. Jesus’ presence among the religious leaders was a contrast of humble service and genuine self-sacrificial love for the flock. Jesus placed himself against the consumerism and destructive oppression of the Pharisees. They were unconcerned with the burdens of their constituents, and deceived to think they upheld the honor of God.

5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.

While the Pharisees ignored the masses of people who looked up to them, they were tirelessly concerned with pleasing one another. Their false religious system was propelled by the enslavement of men-pleasers. They lengthened their garments, and wore prayer shawls as an outward demonstration of their religiosity.[24] Everything that they accomplished was solely for human applause and self-glory. Jesus told them in John’s gospel that they did not seek the glory from God the Father, however they sought glory from one another. This was a stinging indictment since God’s glory is seen in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Their religious practices were designed to win the approval of other people rather than God.[25]

The religious practices of the Pharisees and their showmanship were rooted in an over-literal translation and misinterpretation of the Old Testament, specifically Deuteronomy 6:8; 11:18.[26] Like their father, Satan, they epitomized vainglory, self-worship, and diabolical greed (Luke 16:14; John 5:14). Instead of pointing to Yahweh and His Messiah, they led people away from Him and to themselves. They pronounced that Christ was a blasphemer (Matthew 12:31-32), and accused His disciples of violating Mosaic Law (Matthew 15:2-3). The Pharisees exploited the multitudes and chained them to their consciences of false religion through manipulation and intimidation (John 9:22; 12:42).

Although the Pharisees sought to win the approval of men, like their father, they had no use for the people, except to exploit them, lead them to destruction, and discard them when their schemes came to fruition. Jesus called them “blind guides” who were leaders of the blind (Matthew 15:21). The chief seats (v. 6) could have been seats of recognition that signaled feigned consecration of the elite, and most pious among the Jews. However, Jesus offered previous rebuttals to their concept of righteousness, as the multitudes were to surpass it, not imitate it (Matthew 5:20).
The Affection of the Pharisees

The Pharisees reveled in the hero worship of the multitudes. Their lust for power and prestige was set against the humility of Christ. The multitudes followed Jesus, however He did not use trickery, intimidation or manipulative means to draw them. Whereby the Pharisees offered servitude to sin and destruction,[27] Jesus promised freedom from the slavery of sin and religious deception. The Pharisees were jealously incensed because Jesus Christ encroached on what they ‘loved’, ‘the place of honor’. He not only countered their lust for prestige, He cursed them for pursuing it because it led them and others away from the exaltation due Him alone (v. 12).

8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.

The instability, deception, and self-love due to embracing false teaching were evident in the Pharisees. Like the modern era, whereby men and women bestow glory upon themselves in the academic, political, and theological arena, the Pharisees’ only use for men was to receive their praises.

A product of their fleshly display was to bestow upon themselves honorific titles and, through their commanding presence, garner ‘respectful greetings’ in the Marketplace. The Pharisees not only forfeited their deferred reward, but they also regarded themselves as masters. In Jesus’ time, “Rabbi” was a respectful greeting that literally meant “my master”.[28] Jesus was not simply rebuking the use of honorific titles. Instead He rebuked the use of such titles that led people to the fear and worship of men. It is similar today with the cults, personality cultists in modern evangelicalism, the papacy, and all other false religions. Wolves, while devouring the sheep, are prone to first receive their worship prior to ushering their people to final judgment. The greeting was not particularly respectful because the Pharisees did not possess respectable qualities. Adversely, the respectful greeting, bestowed on the Pharisees, was received from deceived minds that possessed no other alternative. The multitudes ‘respected’ the Pharisees for the purpose of self-preservation, not adoration. Their ‘respect’ was therefore superficial.

Jesus’ warning against calling men ‘Teachers’ was an injunction against elevating men above oneself and above God. This does not contradict the gift of teachers to the church (Eph. 4:11). However, teacher[29], as used by the disciples in its ancient historic sense, would have meant that the teachers possessed greater authority than their followers.[30] This teacher would have lead the way intellectually and spiritually, as pronounced by the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees of whom false teachers and personality cultists find their natural ancestry. Jesus was not diminishing the spiritual and intellectual value of eternal truth. He was instead commanding that such values must be rooted in Him (Colossians 2:2-3). Jesus commanded his disciples to refrain from such idolatrous endearment to any man, especially false teachers, and reserve their worship for the One and only Teacher, Himself, the Father and the blessed Holy Spirit.[31]

Jesus’ arguments against the terms Leader, Teacher, Rabbi, and Father, must not be taken in the general sense. It would be absurd not to call one’s earthly parent ‘father’. Neither is it inherently sinful to identify leaders and teachers.[32] Instead, taken in their context, Jesus compared their use not with honorific intention , but with divine intention. He did not compare good leaders with bad leaders, good teachers with bad teachers, or good fathers with bad fathers. Instead, Jesus compared such men to the perfect Leader, Father, and Teacher. If the disciples were going to display affection toward their leaders, those men must first belong to God. If those leaders belonged to God, then they would defer the glory that they received to Him alone.

Exaltation of the Humble; Debasement of the Proud

11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

The final verse consisted of Jesus’ summarized warnings to his disciples and the multitudes. Jesus did not promise a reversal of earthly treatment. He already warned that the disciples would be mistreated and maligned in this world for following Him (John 15:18-25). He also predicted that the religious establishment would crucify Him and kill some of His followers (Mark 10:33). Verse 12 must be understood as it relates to the end times. Jesus promised that His immediate disciples would rule over the tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), contrasted with the group of Pharisees, presently ‘ruling’ over Israel, who were to inherit the curses of eternal punishment.[33] The Pharisees exalted themselves and were going to experience the humility of judgment. Jesus instructed His disciples to humble themselves in light of their sufferings and He would exalt them. This promise extends to the disciples and all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The words of our Lord serve as a reminder and encouragement. The religious climate of our own generation is not much different than the 1st century. Those who wield power in government receive acclaim and prestige among men for their moral relativism. Entertainers are exalted beyond proclaimers of God’s truth. Even those in the theological realm boast of their credentials and accolades, receiving glory from one another, maligning those who do not measure to their bar of earthly accomplishment. Humbling oneself, especially when it is not temporally beneficial, is the true test of biblical discipleship. Jesus not only preached the antithesis of His Kingdom and the fading kingdoms of men, He lived as though the antithesis were eternally true.


The passage is a certain culmination that ends the ministry of Christ as Redeemer to the House of Israel. They will not see Him again until they say, “Blessed be the Name of the Lord,” when He sits on the Davidic Throne. The mercy, replete with warnings to come and partake of salvation, is absent. Marching onward toward the crucifixion, Jesus gave the Pharisees over to their greatest affections. While they were promised allotment in hell, the disciples were promised the Holy Spirit and the blessedness of eternal life. The warnings in this passage are not merely warnings about Christian conduct, but merciful cautions in light of eternity. The greatest blessing is to be commended by God, not men. In light of this reality, the entire Christian walk is rooted in humility before God and deference to His glory in all things.

-Doron Gladden


Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. The New American Commentary Vol. 22, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

France, R T. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary On the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1973.

Josephus, Flavius. Complete Works. trans. by William Whiston. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1960.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1992.

Neusner, Jacob. The Mishnah: A New Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
Pettigrew, Larry. “The New Covenant” The Master’s Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 251-70.

Rabbinowitz, Noel “Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and does He endorse their Halakhah?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46, no. 3 (September 2003): 423-47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 15, 2015)

Turner, David L. Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary On the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

*All Bible verses are quoted from the New American Standard Bible.

[1] Flavius Josephus, Complete Works. Trans. by William Whiston (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1960), 358.
[2] Ibid., 377.
[3] R T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT. 13 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 858.

[4] Noel S. Rabbinowitz, “Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and does He endorse their Halakhah?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46, no. 3 (September 2003): 423-47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 15, 2015), 424.
[5] Ibid., 424-25.
[6] Ibid.
[7] This was not in every parabolic instance, although it is the pattern of parables preceding Matthew 23:1-12. The parables that succeeded this passage typically ended in Jesus’ clear proclamation of Jesus. Unmistakable, however, was Jesus frequent introductory announcement that He was about to proclaim a parable.
[8] France, Matthew, 859.
[9] Ibid., 860.

[10] Donald Hagner, Matthew 14-28, WBC (Nashville: Thomas Nelson., 2011), 654.

[11] Josephus, Complete Works, 281.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Rabinowitz, Matthew 2:3-4, 428.

[15] France, Matthew, 857.

[16] The Pharisees, as a whole, were severed from grace for attempting to pursue righteousness from the law, like their Judaizer successors. In a Mosaic covenant society, they were binding themselves to the letter of the Law, forsaking the righteousness of God in Christ. (Gal. 5:4). The curses in Matthew 23:13-39 lend credibility to the argument that the majority of the Pharisees, even perhaps those who warmly received Christ as a good teacher, were accursed for their wholesale, habitual rejection of His person (trial of Jesus). The only exceptions are those who repented unto salvation in Christ at Calvary, Pentecost, and thereafter in the present age.
[17] France, Matthew, 860.

[18] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, NTC (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), 821.
[19] It must be considered that not every single Pharisee was hostile to Jesus (Luke 7:36; 13:31; Matt. 22:35, although the majority were, in fact, hostile toward Him (Hendriksen, Gospel of Matthew, 821).
[20] Commentator Leon Morris concludes that it was a firm grip on orthodoxy as a means to itself that became an end to itself as a burden among the people (Pillar NT, Matthew, 571). However, I believe this trivializes the sanctifying means of orthodoxy when practiced in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not orthodoxy that caused the Pharisees to be rebuked by Christ. If it had been orthodoxy, they would have been sons of Abraham joyously embracing the Messiah. Instead they uttered true-isms, while injecting the ‘leaven’ of falsehood and lowering the standard of God’s holiness with their false doctrine.
[21] France, Matthew, 857.
[22] Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 679.

[23] This example is more nuanced in the Greek. It occurs a present participle active, which designates constant and continuous action. Specifically, the tense would seem congruent with the progressive present (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar, 518). The Pharisees were constantly and continuously instructing the people and continuously binding them to heavy burdens (Ibid., 518). Specifically, this example would be in the customary present as it is a habitual action “tying up burdens” that takes place against the people (Ibid., 521). Iterative Present (repeated action) is possible, but unlikely because ‘δεσμευουσιν’ occurs in the indicative mood instead of the imperative mood (Ibid., 520).

[24] David L. Turner, Matthew, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 547.
[25] France, 861.
[26] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, NAC, vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 341.

[27] There are 3 present verbs in the grammatical structure of verse 5 that signifies continual, and constant action. Namely, the Pharisees were unrelenting and tireless in espousing their destructive teachings and methodology. (See footnote #5 for explanation of the present tense)

[28] Bloomberg, 541.

[29] Gk. διδασκολοs.
[30] France, Matthew, 864.
[31] Ibid.
[32] The clause, ‘Εις γαρ εστιν υμων ο διδασκαλος’ lends further insight into the use of teacher. Simple lexical analysis of διδασκαλος is inadequate given the explanatory nature of this clause. Spefically, διδασκαλος and the other terms of comparison, must be understood as Predicate Nominatives (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar, p. 47) since they further define the subject of the clause εις. This further explains that Jesus was not commanding complete prohibition of the term, but rebuking the use of the term as divine endearment, while also reminding the disciples and multitudes to consider the preeminent role of the Spirit as supreme teacher. John the Apostle makes the same case in his epistle (1 John 2:27). In both contexts, ‘teacher’ was wrongly applied to false teachers, who were the recipients of divine affection from their followers. ‘How’ the term was used, and to whom it was ascribed, is Jesus’ argument.

[33] This must be understood in keeping with Matthew’s focus on ‘kingdom’. Jesus promised that through the church’s advance, the kingdom of God would constitute the ingathering of believing Jews and Gentiles through apostolic ministry. The disciples would be blessed and honored by all who trace their salvation to Christ through the faithful proclamation of their message. Most of all, they would be exalted by God, not above Him, but to their rightful place as joint-heirs with Him. All who follow Christ partake of the same reality.

  1. Hello,
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