Tuesday 28 August 2018

The Pharisees: A look at the woes Matthew 23

The article shall be taking a look at the woes that Jesus calls upon the Pharisees and comment on them. Let us look. Matthew 23:1-12 shall not be looked at here extensively right now but will be quoted. Matthew 23:29-36 Lord Willing I need to look into those before making comments.

"23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi[b] by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.[c] 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

This sets the stage for what Jesus will say next as he tells his disciples to listen to the Pharisees, evening obeying them despite their actions speaking to the contrary.

"13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.[d] 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell[e] as yourselves."

A serious charge. The Pharisees themselves had a form of godliness but denied it's power, even (without realising) that they were shutting people off from the true God despite their introduction to them, even making them just as bad if not worse as they, legalistic and dead with no true relationship with YHWH cultivated.

"16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it."

You may remember from Matthew 5 what Jesus said about vows.
"33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.[g]"

Jesus isn't prohibiting vows period, if he did, Paul would stand condemned for his Nazarite vows. What Jesus condemned was a lack of truthfulness. When he said "Let your yes be yes and your no be no", he was in effect saying to quote the words of David Pawson "Always mean what you say." Jesus is emphasising truthness period rather than using a vow to validate your words (which includes saying "Honestly" as well). The Pharisees claimed that certain vows were not binding depending on circumstances (only true if it's a father nulling the vow of his daughter when he hears of it on the same day as found in Numbers 30:5.) Jesus is saying regarding the vows "It's inconsequential what you swear by and regardless of it's location, every vow you make God expects you to be bound to it".

Every vow made in the sight of God is to be sacred, kept to the letter. See my article on vows and oaths for more information: http://answering-judaism.blogspot.com/2015/04/vows-thoughts-and-reflections.html

"23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!"

Putting aside whether or not Gentiles are to tithe (Spoilers, they don't: http://answering-judaism.blogspot.com/2014/10/are-christians-required-to-tithe.html), Jesus himself wasn't against the practice of tithing, if anything that was commendable that the Pharisees were diligent in that. This wasn't the problem, neglecting the more important pressing matters was the problem, namely not dispensing proper justice to the wicked, not granting mercy to the lowest people or even faithfulness, whether it be God, their spouse or the people. Yes of course their tithing was important but it was inconsequential when the needs of the many are neglected. It is easy to focus on the small details in our lives (What movies can we watch? What drinks can we drink? What clothes can we wear etc.) to the point where the large concerns are neglected (public school education, covetousess, abominations of the political far left and far right etc.). A proper balance is needed.

"25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean."

"27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."

These two go hand in hand as they address the same issue, namely being unclean on the inside. Again, like tithing, commendable to keep oneself clean on the outside, but what good is that if you are unclean, full of evil and wickedness of all kinds. Jesus had earlier in Matthew 15 condemned the Pharisees for binding the people to the traditions of man as God given commands (Traditions that were either harmless or contradictory to God's word).

"Matthew 15:10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[d] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

The emphasis that the Pharisees placed both in Matthew 15 and in Matthew 23 was on the outward  and external aspects of righteousness, neglecting the sanctification of the inward man, thoughts of purity was well as righteous actions and words. The whole man had to be involved with the worship of YHWH, complete inward submission to his word which was be reflected outwardly. Start and inward change first was the principle, then the outside of yourself will follow. Like the previous section, priority is the key. Keith Thompson (though he doesn't mention the Pharisees explicitly) made an interesting comment in his documentary on Paul that "it is a human tendency to want to appear moral good in religious settings". see position 13:46-15:18 for the context. His comment highlights a very important point, Paul recognised his need for grace to strive for holiness despite his exhortations, revealing a very different attitude to what the Pharisees had in comparison.

Are these inditements are an unfair assessment of the Pharisees? No, The New Testament does recognise that there were Pharisees who did have a love for God and earnestly sought to please him. Indeed, the first followers who were Jews did have Pharisees among them, as they played a part in the Acts 15 council in Jerusalem.

I have responded to an article on 1000 Verses pertaining to the Pharisees so there is more information on that: http://answering-judaism.blogspot.com/2014/01/comments-on-pharisees.html

It is easy to get carried away with the idea that ALL the Pharisees were condemned whereas a matter of fact, there were some who repented, possibly Nicodemus and certainly Joseph of Arimathea.

Hope this article has been a blessing, thanks for reading.

Answering Judaism.

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