Category Archives: Chapter 23

Summary Matthew Chapter 23

This entire chapter was given over to the Woes to the Pharisees. One obvious point of departure is to ask why the Pharisees were chosen to be the recipients of so much vitriol. Perhaps more to the point is the question of whether this was more appropriate to Jesus’ day, or to the days of his followers, among whom would be the authors of the gospels and epistles that comprise the NT. The problem is, the only real evidence we seem to have is that of the NT itself, those aforementioned gospels and epistles. And the evidence found in them states that this dates to Jesus himself. After all, it was the Pharisees and Scribes who conspired to put Jesus to death. Can we trust this? Should we trust this?

In addressing this question, we need to go back to who the Pharisees were. They were not the Temple officials. Some Pharisees may have indeed been Temple officials, and Pharisees may have constituted the majority of Temple officials. But they were not Temple officials because they were Pharisees, but in addition to being Pharisees. They are generally credited with being the forerunners of Rabbinic Judaism. Now, naturally on the principle of like attracts like, it may have been a good career move to become a Pharisee if one wanted to be a Temple official, but that is still a different question. And then we must ask if we know how these Temple officials were selected? But, even before that, we have to ask if the term “Temple official” has any real meaning. Most pagan temples, at least the bigger ones, did have a sort of professional staff, consisting of attendants, caretakers, priests, and the like. And the Temple in Jerusalem was big. But these were Temple officials; the gospels imply they also had some sort of political role. That is certainly not true. As such, any influence they had in getting Jesus executed was purely persuasive. Which means, Temple “official” is not the proper way to think of them.

Our best evidence about the Pharisees comes from the testimony of Paul. He proudly claims to be a Pharisee; given that along with his self-proclaimed zeal in harassing the followers of Jesus, we might suppose that the Pharisees may have taken a prominent role among those who set upon the new sect. But that takes us out of the time of Jesus and into the days of his followers; that is, the invective against the Pharisees is anachronistic when put into the mouth of Jesus. Then the gospel accounts tend try t0 conflate the Pharisees and the High Priests of the Temple, implicating both groups into a single, common, conspiracy, one that throws the Herodians in for good measure. All of this strikes me as very unlikely given the political jealousies and squabbling that Josephus says were going on at the time. This sort of all-in animosity seems to be more the product of a later time and place, where the exact situation on the ground in Jesus’ day was poorly understood and largely forgotten.

A great example of this comes, I think, when Jesus says that the Pharisees sat in “the chair of Moses”. This expression is unique to Matthew; the only other uses of “kathedra/cathedra” are in relation to the chairs of the money changers, both in Matthew and then in Luke. It is very hard to know what Matthew meant by this, or if indeed he meant anything, or even if this sentence is not a later interpolation. It is extremely difficult to read this and not interpret it to mean something like a bishop in his “cathedra”, his seat, a century or more later. As such, it’s completely anachronistic, dating to a time even after Matthew wrote, and perhaps much later. Was this added deliberately? Likely not. This has the feel of a marginal gloss, some copyist noting that the Pharisees held the “chair of Moses” when the idea of a bishop having a chair had become common, whether or not this copyist made an intentional comparison to “the chair of Peter”. Suggesting a textual emendation like this is a bold move, especially for someone like me with no background in textual criticism. The earliest mss we have are the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the 4th Century. Since these are more or less complete mss of the NT, it’s probable that this sentence was included. My hard-copy Greek NT does not show any variant ms traditions that leave this out. As such, we have to ask if this is sufficient time for such a gloss to have crept in, at a time when a bishop having a ‘cathedra’ was well-established. It is, perhaps, but barely so IMO. Is it time for someone to add this deliberately? More likely, but it would have had to be a very early addition to reach all the ms traditions.

The term “episcopos” is scantily attested in the NT. It does not appear in any gospel. It appears once in Acts, in a context where it could mean “bishop”. It appears at the very end of 2 Timothy and Titus, but in passages that appear to be considered later additions; the only place I can find these cited is in Strong’s Words. None of my crib translations, neither of my hard-copy translations, and my hard-copy Greek edition do not contain the extension of the two passages that includes the word “bishop”. And as Strong cites the passage, it clearly means bishop. The word in Greek means overseer, and the once it occurs as a noun referring to a person–as opposed to the verbal form meaning oversight–it is translated as “overseer” in all the translations I’ve checked, including the KJV. The most interesting use of the word comes in Philippians, which is one of his letters that pretty much everyone accepts as genuinely Paul. Based on the grammatical structure (which is a bit of a mess), I wholeheartedly agree. In 1:1 he greets “…the bishops and deacons”. Here it is hard to render as “overseers”, since it comes in tandem with “deacons”, which Paul uses frequently. We could suggest that both terms are not meant to refer to an official position. The other possibility is that “bishops” was a later interpolation. Now, I realize that I have a pattern of ascribing a lot of things that make my positions difficult to defend to be “later interpolations”. But given the absolute near dearth of the term until Acts, the lone occurrence in Paul does stand out. I think it’s naive to believe that these traditions were handed down unadulterated and untouched by later transcribers and copyists. So it is very likely that there are layers–or maybe pockets–that were not accrued until a later time. I do not know when the practice of the bishop having a cathedra came into being, and where. It appears that Clement, in the late First Century, was considered a “bishop”, but did he have a cathedra? Offhand, I would tend to suspect that he didn’t, that this is something that came about later, but that’s just a suspicion; it does behoove us, however, to bear in mind constantly that the full apparatus of The Church did not spring into being, full-grown and clad in all its shining panoply. If the reference to a cathedra of Moses is not the reflection of a later time positing the anachronistic existence of a practice that did not exist, then how to explain it? What does “chair of Moses” mean? I simply cannot see any plausible explanation for this odd sentence. Perhaps someone with more imagination can.

If Matthew wrote this line, I would suggest that it’s a pretty good indication he wrote very late, at least in the 80s. If Matthew did not write this, what does that say about the integrity of the text?

Now that the discussion of the anachronisms of the Pharisees has been trod underfoot, the true theme of the chapter is the hyper-legalistic, letter-but-not-spirit-of-the-law attitude supposedly exemplified by the Pharisees. I do not feel that it is particularly useful to explore this attitude. It is the cliché that was (is) taught to Christians for centuries, to disparage the formulaic religion of the Pharisees vs. the sincere inward feeling of Christianity. Perhaps they were like this; perhaps they weren’t. Honestly, the description of the Pharisees could fit any number of Christian groups over any number of periods of times. It’s the smug satisfaction of the “haves” as they look down upon the “have-nots”. Unfortunately, the Pharisees hardly have a monopoly on the attitude described by Jesus here. However, here’s a thought: what if Jesus were not preaching a new idea, but that they Pharisees had turned against the “true” heart of Judaism with its heavy emphasis on social justice? What if what Jesus was not preaching a new way, but a return to the old way? What does that do to our understanding of Jesus? This is something that I need to consider. I believe that some Jewish scholars–like Boyarin, whom I’ve cited numerous times–have suggested exactly that.

Which leaves the other truly interesting point about this chapter, one that involves vocabulary. The words translated as “whitewashed” and “beautiful” in Verse 27 are the first example. “Whitewashed” occurs only in Matthew and Acts, which supposedly was written by Luke; “beautiful” only occurs in Matthew, twice in Acts, and once in Romans. It’s odd that two such odd words only show up in books written by Matthew and Luke; this is especially true since they both use the word for “beautiful” in sort of a non-standard way. The word actually means “seasonal”. The word, << ὡραῖοι >> is derived from “hora”, the standard word for “hour” in both Latin and Greek. So it is probably best translated as “timely”, and it often refers to fruit in season. Think back to the fig tree. Had it been in season, with fruit, it could properly be described as “beautiful” with this particular word. Matthew here uses it as a generic word for beautiful, and Luke does writing later. Why is this significant?

Remember, the orthodox position is that Luke did not read Matthew. Rather, the orthodox position is that they both got the stuff they share from Q. But when you see things like this, a word used wrong in the same way by two different authors, one writing after the other, the second including a lot of text that doesn’t occur elsewhere, you really have to start questioning the assumption that the second author did not read the first author. At least, it gets progressively harder to argue that the second author didn’t read the first author. As such, this hacks away at one of the major pillars of the argument for Q, that Luke did not read Matthew. Why? So much of comes to stylistic value judgements: if Luke had read Matthew, why did Luke “ruin” the “masterful” organization of the Q material found in the Sermon on the Mount? That, in a nutshell, is the keystone of the argument for Q.

And as it happens, we have another pairing of words here that, I believe, illustrates this point even more effectively. These words occur in Verse 25, but I saved them for last because they demonstrate the pro/anti-Q arguments in a very lucid fashion. The first word is << ἁρπαγῆς >>. This is not a terribly obscure word in Classical authors; in fact, it’s rather common, and is used several times in the early part of Book 1 of Herodotus. This use in Herodotus is especially germane because it refers to the seizure and carrying off of women by Asians of Greek women, and of Asian women by Greeks. Hence, the Latin translation as “rapina”, which is from the verb “rapeo”, which means “to seize (by force)”. It is, however, very rare in the NT; it occurs here, in the corresponding passage of Luke where it means exactly the same thing as it does here, and once in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where it has more of the sense of confiscation. Here, the KJV translates this as “extortion”, but in Luke 11:39 the KJV renders this as “ravening”; the translations are similar, but not exactly the same. In more modern translations, both come out as “greed”. In one sense the KJV is slightly more accurate, since it presents the word as an action, as in the Greek or Latin, where modern renderings present an abstract noun.

The point, though, is that Luke and Matthew use exactly the same word in exactly the same sense, and their use of the word is almost unique in the entire NT. Of course, if Jesus used the word, and Q reproduced it faithfully, then there is no problem. Both Matthew and Luke just used the word they found, in the way that they found it. But if Jesus did not pronounce these woes against the Pharisees because he’s cursing a group that was not a problem until a decade after he was dead, then this word could not have been in Q, which means, in turn, that Luke read Matthew and copied him in the choice of this word, even if this was not the way that Classical authors had used the word. As such, this is a significant bit of evidence.

The second word in this couplet is even more interesting. This is << ἀκρασίας >>. It occurs twice in the NT; here, and in 1 Cor 7:5, where it usually gets translated as “incontinence”, as in the sense of “loss of self-control”. Looking back, I see that I didn’t fret nearly as much as I should have over the translation. Instead, I simply accepted “incontinence” which is what my NT Greek dictionary gave as the meaning. It appears I didn’t even check Liddell & Scott. Lesson Learned. But in that context, it really did seem to fit. The root of the word is << κρασίας >>, which is the word for “mixture”. The << ἀ- >> prefix is a negation (a-theist), so the word literally means “unmixed”. The full word is very uncommon, but it’s most often used to describe wine that is unmixed with water; mixing wine with water was standard Greek custom. Herodotus tells us of a Spartan king who came to drink his wine “Skythian Fashion”, which was to drink it unmixed. This was not meant as a compliment. In any case, since the wine is not mixed with water, it is unmoderated. So the word can be stretched to mean “immoderate”, which is how Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians.  And so here, it gets translated as “excess” (KJV) or self-indulgence.

The bottom line, however, is that this is a highly unusual word, used in a non-standard, metaphorical way. Luke, OTOH, goes in a different direction, changing this really odd word to << πονηρίας >>, which is a very generic word, used all the time for “wickedness” in general. Now let’s assume that Q existed, and that Matthew and Luke both had copies, and that that Q included this story. Which of the readings was most likely to be the original? “Seizure and immoderation”? Or “seizure and wickedness?” Given that Q is supposed to be the more “primitive” version (blessed are the poor rather than the poor in spirit), the obvious answer is the second, with “wickedness” rather than the more unusual “immoderation”. By “unusual”, I mean in the sense of the Greek; “wickedness” is the word more likely used because it would be more likely to be understood. At least, that is how I would imagine the argument would work. Because let’s stop to remember that Jesus would have used neither of these words. He spoke Aramaic, with a smattering of Greek. So it would depend on what the original Aramaic would have said. Now, was Q written in Greek? Or Aramaic? A quick check tells me the consensus is that it was written in Greek, just as the rest of the NT. As such, assuming Q, we would be justified to infer that Luke’s reading was the original, especially since he is usually credited as having the more “primitive” version of things like the Beatitudes and the Pater Noster. As such, we would generally infer that his “wickedness” is the way we should take this.

But here’s the kicker. Depending on which reconstruction you read, this “Woes” section is not considered part of Q! How’s that for a surprise? Now there are passages that are called the “minor agreements” between Matthew and Luke, and this might be one of them. These are explained away in some manner as…whatever. Yes, there could have been another source that Matthew and Luke–but not Mark–used, but how many of these sources are we supposed to swallow? I think Q is one too many. If there is no other source, then how do we explain (or, how do they explain) the agreement on the first word, “seizure”, when two of the three uses of the word in the NT are found in the corresponding passages in Matthew and Luke? Actually, the explanation is very simple: Luke read Matthew. He didn’t copy Matthew verbatim, but he had a copy and he used it as a source.

Problem solved. Except for all those people who want to believe in Q.


Matthew Chapter 23:29-39

This will wrap up the chapter, and the “Woes” section. I don’t know how much commentary will be required, or will seem meet. However, sections I’d thought would be short turned out to be anything but.

29 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι οἰκοδομεῖτε τοὺς τάφους τῶν προφητῶν καὶ κοσμεῖτε τὰ μνημεῖα τῶν δικαίων,

30 καὶ λέγετε, Εἰ ἤμεθα ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν, οὐκ ἂν ἤμεθα αὐτῶν κοινωνοὶ ἐν τῷ αἵματι τῶν προφητῶν.

31 ὥστε μαρτυρεῖτε ἑαυτοῖς ὅτι υἱοί ἐστε τῶν φονευσάντων τοὺς προφήτας.

“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, (you) hypocrites, that build sepulchres of the prophets and decorate the memorials of the just, (30) and say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been associated (lit= “in common“)  in the blood of the prophets. (31) In this way you demonstrate yourselves that you are sone of the murderers of the prophets.

Here’s a place (one of many) that my lack of background in Judaic studies is a real detriment. It would be extremely useful to know when this accusation began to be used against Jewish religious authorities. Was this new with the followers of Jesus? My guess is that it wasn’t, that it had come into circulation in the last two centuries before the CE; after all, so much else that seemed new (or that I thought was new) with Jesus has turned out to be part of common Jewish thought in the last centuries BCE, one of these ideas being resurrection.

The other thing is that I’m a bit uncertain about the process of “whitewash”. That has been the standard translation since, like, forever. But I did not understand that this entailed (as near as I can tell) dissolving lime (the white, powdery substance used to make soil less acidic. This produces a white liquid that is used as paint. I mention this because the Greek term means, at root, to plaster with lime or stucco. OK, that part doesn’t matter so much; what’s interesting is that the MacLaren Exposition on the Bible (Thanks, informs me that the purpose of whitewashing the tombs was not cosmetic, but to make them really obvious, to make them stand out. In this way they could be avoided, since contact with the dead could lead to ritual contamination and impurity. Apparently Muslims do, or used to do the same thing.

29 Vae vobis, scribae et pharisaei hypocritae, qui aedificatis sepulcra prophetarum et ornatis monumenta iustorum

30 et dicitis: “Si fuissemus in diebus patrum nostrorum, non essemus socii eorum in sanguine prophetarum”!

31 Itaque testimonio estis vobis metipsis quia filii estis eorum, qui prophetas occiderunt.

32 καὶ ὑμεῖς πληρώσατε τὸ μέτρον τῶν πατέρων ὑμῶν.

33 ὄφεις γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, πῶς φύγητε ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης;

“And you fulfill the measure of your fathers. (33) Snakes born of vipers! How will you flee from the judgement of Gehenna? (i.e., How will you flee from the judgement sending you to Gehenna?)

“Snakes born of vipers” is a novel formulation of this execration. But before that, the Pharisees are compared to their forebears, and found not to be much of an improvement.

Stylistic considerations aside, the real gist of these verses is the condemnation to Gehenna. One thing to address right away is the use of Gehenna, rather than Hades as he did in 11:23 & 16:18. I used the occurrence of Hades instead of Gehenna as weight on the scale balancing the evidence that Matthew was a pagan. The use of Gehenna here doesn’t help that case, but if you look at the used of Hades in the NT, there is one incidence in 1 Corinthians, two in Matthew, four in Luke/Acts, and four in Revelation. So it’s a word used more frequently later than it was earlier, even if Hades did not supplant Gehenna. Or did it? If you look at the occurrences of the latter, of the twelve instances, all are in Mark and Matthew, with one in the letter of James and one in Luke. And the occurrence in Luke is his version of a passage in Matthew. IOW, Matthew was the pivot point after which Gehenna is dropped and Hades becomes the standard word for the underworld. Does that help or hurt the argument that Matthew was a pagan? It’s a close thing, but Matthew does expand its use, and that has to count for something. 

This should not distract us from the most interesting implication to be gleaned from this analysis of the Hades/Gehenna discussion. The most fascinating aspects of this are 1) That the topic of Hell is very, very limited; and 2) that it sort of flourishes in the first two gospels, only to die out until Revelation. (And one of the instances there is in Revelation 6:8, the description of the breaking of the fourth seal that looses the fourth horseman, Death, following whom is Hades.) Why would that be? What would cause this? A major obstacle to answering this question is to decide what was actually meant by Hades, or Gehenna. Of course, we know what it meant, which is why “hell-fire” shows up so commonly in the translations. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul talks about the “coming wrath”, a sentiment echoed by Mark and Matthew. Is this “wrath” the same as hell fire? Difficult to say. One’s impulse is that these are different concepts, but how much of that is due to a couple of thousand years of interpretation?

Taking a guess, I would say the most plausible explanation has to do with the prevalence of eschatology in the thought of the time. Paul believed the End Time was near; Mark holds on to some of this urgency, as does Matthew, but one senses that the feeling is not quite so insistent. Even in 1 Corinthians, Paul’s attitude has toned down a bit from 1 Thessalonians where he seems to have believed it was coming any day, or any hour. I’m not sure if this is legitimate, but the later letter of 1 Peter says that the secrets of salvation will be revealed at the end time. Assuming that, from a discussion of salvation, we can infer the concurrence of damnation, 1 Peter is saying that this will only be revealed at the End Time, and implies that the End Time is still some distance away. Therefore, the topic of Hell fire may have lost some of its immediacy. But then, when “John” wrote the Apocalypse, the urgency of the topic was once again forefront, so Hades is once again relevant. And note that it’s Hades, and not Gehenna, which more or less vanishes from the vocabulary of the NT. 

32 Et vos implete mensuram patrum vestrorum.

33 Serpentes, genimina viperarum, quomodo fugietis a iudicio gehennae?

34 διὰ τοῦτο ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω πρὸς ὑμᾶς προφήτας καὶ σοφοὺς καὶ γραμματεῖς: ἐξ αὐτῶν ἀποκτενεῖτε καὶ σταυρώσετε, καὶ ἐξ αὐτῶν μαστιγώσετε ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς ὑμῶν καὶ διώξετε ἀπὸ πόλεως εἰς πόλιν:

35 ὅπως ἔλθῃ ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς πᾶν αἷμα δίκαιον ἐκχυννόμενον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος Αβελ τοῦ δικαίου ἕως τοῦ αἵματος Ζαχαρίου υἱοῦ Βαραχίου, ὃν ἐφονεύσατε μεταξὺ τοῦ ναοῦ καὶ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου.

Because of this, behold, I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes; of them you have killed and crucified, and of them you have scourged in your synagogues and driven them from city to city. (35) In this way might come upon you all the just blood having been spilled out upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the justified until the blood of Zacharias son of Barach, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

This latter is a reference to 2 Chronicles 24.

Saying that the prophets were crucified is an obvious anachronism. Crucifixion was a Roman process, and I’m not aware of its use in the Near East prior to the Roman period. It’s tempting to seize upon this and say Aha! This passage was obviously written after Jesus was crucified, since it does not (indeed cannot) be said of ant prior prophets. However, to hoist myself upon my own petard here, it’s a single word–two, if we count the “and”–as such, this could easily have been interpolated later. Some Christian scribe copying this in the 2nd or 3rd Century could have added this in the margin and some copyist in the 5th or 6th Century could have mistakenly incorporated the words into the text. I made the same suggestion about the “Christ” in the first line of Mark. This happened. Copyists made notes in margins because it was often the only place (and certainly the most effective) place to make the note. I have mentioned this before, but recently an old fragment of Isaiah was discovered. Upon comparison to the standard text, it was found that several sentences that had been considered part of the original text were, in fact, an interpolation, the inclusion of a marginal gloss. If this can happen with a couple of sentences, running perhaps two dozen words, the inclusion of one or two here and there is eminently plausible.

The bit about “driving from city to city”, OTOH, sounds an awful lot like Acts. That is, it sounds like things that happened to (proto-)Christian groups, or preachers. It sounds like the beginning of 1 Thessalonians, in which Paul tells the Thessalonians how he was slandered in Philippi. Even more so the idea of being scourged in the synagogues. There is no indication of this during Jesus’ life, and really not much more evidence for it after Jesus’s death. It relies largely on the questionable historicity of the events in Acts. So this combination wasn’t necessarily an interpolation, but something written after the death of Jesus. Given this, the “and crucified” could actually be original to the text, but it doesn’t have to be. This passage is in Luke, so it presumably came from the so-called Q material. Against that I would ask how likely it is that someone, even Jesus, had a passage from 2 Chronicles ready at hand as he was preaching. Rather, this seems to be the sort of thing that a scholar, poring over the HS looking for before-the-fact predictions of Jesus would uncover. Matthew was such a scholar, whether he began life as a Jew or as a pagan. There is such a thing as seeing a pattern that’s not there, but there’s also willful blindness to seeing only what you want. At some point, it comes down to a binary choice about the things that “Jesus said”. Do they make more sense in the time that Jesus lived? Or after he died? To me, these two verses clearly fall into the latter category.

34 Ideo ecce ego mitto ad vos prophetas et sapientes et scribas; ex illis occidetis et crucifigetis et ex eis flagellabitis in synagogis vestris et persequemini de civitate in civitatem,

35 ut veniat super vos omnis sanguis iustus, qui effusus est super terram a sanguine Abel iusti usque ad sanguinem Zachariae filii Barachiae, quem occidistis inter templum et altare.

36 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἥξει ταῦτα πάντα ἐπὶ τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην.

“Amen I say to you, all this will come to this generation.  

This, I think, pretty much nails down that this came after Jesus. No sort of retribution was visited upon the generation alive when Jesus died; the divine wrath came one, or even two, generations later, and those hearing these words would have known that. So how do we account for “this generation”? That is the clear meaning of the Greek, and of the Latin below, and that is how pretty much all–based on a very cursory summary–of the English translations render this. We have perhaps three choices. The first is to take it that Jesus said these words and absolutely meant the generation alive when he spoke the words, and so he was flat-out wrong. Second, we can take it that Jesus said the words, but meant them more figuratively, meaning “some” generation, and so he effectively predicted the Destruction.

Finally, we can take it that the words were added later, when the “present generation” had indeed suffered the wrath of Rome. It is significant, I think, that Mark does not have these words, but Matthew does. This semi-ironic usage had not fully entered the tradition when Mark wrote, presumably fairly shortly after the Destruction, but they had by the time Matthew wrote, the better part of a generation later. The words came about at a time when the Destruction was some years past, but not so long that the “present generation” that had experienced the horrors had passed on, but was still very much alive and thriving. This, in turn, would imply that Matthew may very well have gotten these words from another source, one closer to the mid-70s, and did not come up with this formulation himself. 

36 Amen dico vobis: Venient haec omnia super generationem istam.

37 Ἰερουσαλὴμ Ἰερουσαλήμ, ἡ ἀποκτείνουσα τοὺς προφήτας καὶ λιθοβολοῦσα τοὺς ἀπεσταλμένους πρὸς αὐτήν, ποσάκις ἠθέλησα ἐπισυναγαγεῖντὰ τέκνα σου, ὃν τρόπον ὄρνις ἐπισυνάγει τὰ νοσσία αὐτῆς ὑπὸ τὰς πτέρυγας, καὶ οὐκ ἠθελήσατε.

38 ἰδοὺ ἀφίεται ὑμῖν ὁ οἶκος ὑμῶν ἔρημος.

39 λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν, οὐ μή με ἴδητε ἀπ’ ἄρτι ἕως ἂν εἴπητε, Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem the killer of prophets and the stone-caster to those having been sent to you, how many times have I wished to gather your children, which in the way the hen gathers together her brood under her wings, and you do not wish. (38) Look, your home is leaving you (in) solitude. (39) For I say to you, you do not see me from now until you answer, ‘Blessed is the one coming in the name of the lord’.”

That ends the “Woes” and the chapter. This is a lovely metaphor, the desire to gather Jerusalem like a hen with her chicks under her wings. And some of the Greek in here is fairly sophisticated. Here’s another problem with Q: was it written in Greek? Was the Greek as well polished as this? Or is this Matthew? If the latter, how can we be so sure that he did not think up some of this material?

By the way, Matthew’s proficiency in Greek is not a terribly good argument that Matthew began life as a pagan. By this time, a lot of the Jews living in other parts of the Eastern Empire spoke Greek as their native language. Many Jews read the HS in the LXX version, as opposed to the Hebrew version. So that Matthew was fairly erudite in Greek only means that he was educated. 

And at this point, I believe we’ve beaten this topic into the ground. Seems like there should be more to say, but cannot imagine what it might be. This has been a difficult section, largely because it’s essentially repetitive.

37 Ierusalem, Ierusalem, quae occidis prophetas et lapidas eos, qui ad te missi sunt, quotiens volui congregare filios tuos, quemadmodum gallina congregat pullos suos sub alas, et noluistis!

38 Ecce relinquitur vobis domus vestra deserta!

39 Dico enim vobis: Non me videbitis amodo, donec dicatis: “Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Dominil” ”.

Matthew Chapter 23:23-28

The chapter continues with the recitations of woes unto the Pharisees. I just stumbled on something interesting. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders. This is another version of Galatians 2, in which Paul is made to answer for his teaching that pagans did not have to undergo circumcision and follow other Jewish practices. When Paul faces this group, we are told that it was the party of the Pharisees that raised these objections. At the end of the passage, James (we are not told who it was; but from Galatians we know it was the brother of Jesus) summarizes, and comes up with a compromise solution that puts a happy ending on the situation. Of course, this should be dealt with when we reach Acts 15, but it’s interesting that we are told there was a party of the Pharisees within the community of the followers of Jesus. We have to wonder if it is this party that is being addressed.

But then, on second thought…this is perhaps a bit more complex than my initial impression. First, there is probably no reason to take anything in Acts as reliably historical, although we do get another version of the two meetings between Paul and James, which we can take as historical based on Acts’ corroboration of Paul’s story. So let’s assume that calling this the party of the Pharisees actually reflects the situation in Luke’s time–or closer to Luke’s time than the time of the actual meeting. Since it was James who had the objections in Paul’s account, is this lumping James in the party of the Pharisees–which, it must be emphasized, is not actually done in Acts–an attempt to discredit James? Or, by having him come up with the compromise, is this an attempt to rehabilitate James?

Questions, questions everywhere.

23 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν,γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι ἀποδεκατοῦτε τὸ ἡδύοσμον καὶ τὸ ἄνηθον καὶ τὸ κύμινον, καὶ ἀφήκατε τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου, τὴν κρίσιν καὶ τὸ ἔλεος καὶ τὴν πίστιν: ταῦτα [δὲ] ἔδει ποιῆσαι κἀκεῖνα μὴ ἀφιέναι.

24 ὁδηγοὶ τυφλοί, οἱ διϋλίζοντες τὸν κώνωπα τὴν δὲ κάμηλον καταπίνοντες.

“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, (you) hypocrites, that tithe the mint and the anise and the cumin, and stand away from the burden of the law, the judgement, and the mercy, and the faith. These things had to be done and you ought not to have stood away from them. (24) “Blind guides, those filtering (straining) the gnats while on the other hand swallowing a camel.

The word that translated as “tithe” is another word only found in the Bible. It’s not used by Classical authors because pagans did not tithe. However, in this case, the meaning is so obvious based on its composition that there is no reason to question it.

The whole sense of the passage is the excessive legalism of the Pharisees, the letter rather than the spirit of the law. It is very important to realise, as I never did, that Jesus is not advocating for some radical new mode of conduct. Instead, he is advocating the return to the roots of Judaic social justice, which was a very important aspect of Judaism. So Jesus’ message here is essentially conservative; he wants to return to the good old ways of the elders, to what the Romans called the mos maiorum, the mores of our ancestors. He is claiming that the Pharisees have gotten away from this idea of social justice, but he is not saying that the legalism of the Pharisees is in any way an integral part of Judaism. It’s not, and that is the problem Jesus wants to address. This helps dissipate, I think, some of the force of the position that Jesus was killed because he was a radical, who was threatening to overturn the Old Ways. No. He wanted to bring them back.

It could be argued, of course, that they only thing more threatening than overturning the old ways is actually restoring them. Judea was under Roman jurisdiction, and, as is always the case in such circumstances, a certain segment of the native population benefited from collaborating. This group could easily be threatened by the possible return to a more traditional set of values. And it’s entirely possible that the Pharisees were the group that most benefited from the Roman occupation, as the group most willing to work with the Romans. This would explain the particular vitriol directed at the Pharisees, as well as indicate that the animosity went both ways. But then, that’s more or less what the standard explanation for Jesus’ execution: the Pharisees felt threatened. The reason for bringing it up in this situation is that it’s said that Jesus was teaching something novel and new; perhaps that’s backwards.

The bit about the gnat and the camel needs no elucidation, I expect. It’s quite well known. 

23 Vae vobis, scribae et pharisaei hypocritae, quia decimatis mentam et anethum et cyminum et reliquistis, quae graviora sunt legis: iudicium et misericordiam et fidem! Haec oportuit facere et illa non omittere.

24 Duces caeci, excolantes culicem, camelum autem glutientes.

25 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι καθαρίζετε τὸ ἔξωθεν τοῦ ποτηρίου καὶ τῆς παροψίδος, ἔσωθεν δὲ γέμουσιν ἐξ ἁρπαγῆς καὶ ἀκρασίας.

“Woe to  you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites, that clean the outside of the drinking cup, and the platter, while the inside meanwhile (is) full of robbery and a bad mixture.   

These last two words are very interesting. The first, translated as robbery, occurs here, in the corresponding passage of Luke, and also in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It has the meanings of robbery and rape (hence, rendered as “rapina” in the Latin), but especially in the sense of plunder and booty, as from a captured city. The KJV offers it as “extortion”; the NASB as “robbery”, and the ESV and NIV as “greed”. Now, “rapina” comes from the verb for “to seize”; as such, the Latin has more of the sense of stealing than of rape as we mean the word. Extortion can be made to fit inside the idea of theft, although the correlation of theft and extortion is not the first that would come to mind; worse, though, are the more modern translations of “greed”. That is too generic.

Here is a question. Does the fact that Luke uses this very unusual word, but not the second, slightly more unusual (33% fewer occurrences) word increase or decrease the likelihood that Luke used Matthew? Or does it increase or decrease the likelihood that they both used Q? The point is, one of them, at least, changed one of the words. We can suggest that Luke followed Matthew on the first word, and chose a different second word, or that they both used the first and one of them–it’s impossible to know which–chose a different word for the second? And how is the equation affected by knowing that Luke’s second word is very common–pornes–a pretty generic word for “wickedness” which is how it gets translated by all four of the translations I cited earlier. It would be easy to think that Matthew chose to use the second word specifically because “pornes” is so generic.

Easy to say, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it’s accurate, or correct. The thing is, Matthew’s second word (last in the verse) is even more unusual, used here and in 1 Corinthians 7. There, the consensus is that it means “incontinent”, as in sexual, as in lacking self-control. The word is formed from the adjective “a-kratos”, a “kratos” meaning “strength”. Oddly, even though the “a-” prefix is a negation (a-theist, e.g.), here it seems to have the opposite sense. Where the word should mean “weak”, it actually means “strong”, but in a very specific sense. This word is most often used to mean “unmixed” or “pure”, but specifically in reference to wine. Greeks generally mixed their wine with water to dilute it; wine that was not mixed, but straight up, or neat, as scotch-drinkers say it. So it was at fully potency, rather than at some diluted strength. By extension, the word can mean, when referring to a person, “intemperate”, or even “violent”. 

Why the etymology lesson? The point of this is that Matthew uses the word in a sense that is highly idiosyncratic, to put it mildly. Is it possible that, reading the word in Matthew, Luke scratched his head, thought a moment, then used a much more appropriate word: wicked. Yes, it’s possible that Matthew wanted to spice up the generic found in Q by showing off his vocabulary skills, without quite realizing that he didn’t quite have it right. Each of us has to decide which of those scenarios seems most likely. Naturally, I lean (to the point of falling over) towards the first.

25 Vae vobis, scribae et pharisaei hypocritae, quia mundatis, quod de foris est calicis et paropsidis, intus autem pleni sunt rapina et immunditia!

26 Φαρισαῖε τυφλέ, καθάρισον πρῶτον τὸ ἐντὸς τοῦ ποτηρίου, ἵνα γένηται καὶ τὸ ἐκτὸς αὐτοῦ καθαρόν.

27 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι παρομοιάζετε τάφοις κεκονιαμένοις, οἵτινες ἔξωθεν μὲν φαίνονταιv ὡραῖοι ἔσωθεν δὲ γέμουσιν ὀστέων νεκρῶν καὶ πάσης ἀκαθαρσίας.

28 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ἔξωθεν μὲν φαίνεσθε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις δίκαιοι, ἔσωθεν δέ ἐστε μεστοὶ ὑποκρίσεως καὶ ἀνομίας.

“Blind Pharisees, clean first the interior of the vessel, in order that also the outside becomes clean. (27) Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites, that you are like tombs having been whitewashed, which on the outside appear seasonal/proper to be, but full of bones of the dead and all uncleanliness. (28) In this way also you, while on the outside you appear to men (to be) just, inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

To continue the theme of the previous comment, we get another couple of words that Matthew uses in his own peculiar fashion. The words rendered as “whitewashed” and “seasonal”. According to my NT dictionary, the latter word should be translated as beautiful, but that is not what the Classical Greek means. It means “seasonal/timely”, as a fruit in season. From there one can see how it could mutate into a generic sense of “beautiful”, but it’s not really the base meaning of the word. Interestingly, the only times Liddle & Scott assign it this meaning are in the Bible: in the LXII version of Genesis, here, and…once in Acts. Now that is interesting. Here we have an unusual word, or one used in an odd sense, reused in that same odd sense by the author of Acts, who is assumed to be Luke. It almost seems like, perhaps, Luke…maybe got the word from Matthew when he read Matthew? He didn’t repeat it here, but saved it and used it later. This proves nothing, of course, but it’s another weight on the side of Luke using Matthew rather than both of them using Q.

The Q people insist that we have to have a logical, consistent explanation for every time that Luke does not follow Matthew. Of course, this demand is impossible; it’s also a bit frivolous, but most damning is that it’s rather beside the point. If Luke were going to follow Matthew to the letter, then why bother writing another gospel? Here’s where we come back to the absolute need for Q, because it allows the illusion that we have a compendium of sayings that trace directly back to Jesus. That is not how one builds a sound historical argument.

26 Pharisaee caece, munda prius, quod intus est calicis, ut fiat et id, quod de foris eius est, mundum.

27 Vae vobis, scribae et pharisaei hypocritae, quia similes estis sepulcris dealbatis, quae a foris quidem parent speciosa, intus vero plena sunt ossibus mortuorum et omni spurcitia!

28 Sic et vos a foris quidem paretis hominibus iusti, intus autem pleni estis hypocrisi et iniquitate.

Matthew Chapter 23:13-22

Jesus is still proclaiming woe to the Pharisees. In all, this must date from a time when the Pharisees and the nascent church were in conflict. This is not in either Mark or Luke; given the latter, it cannot be ascribed to Q unless there is a bloody good reason why Luke chose to leave this out. So it belongs to Matthew alone. Traditionally, this would be ascribed to the M material: to the source that Matthew had but no one else did. Or perhaps Matthew invented the story to fit the time and circumstances of when he wrote it. And Luke left it out because it did not fit the time or the circumstances of when he wrote. [Note: I’m assuming that Luke read and used Matthew.]

13 Οὐαὶ δὲ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι κλείετε τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων: ὑμεῖς γὰρ οὐκ εἰσέρχεσθε, οὐδὲ τοὺς εἰσερχομένους ἀφίετε εἰσελθεῖν.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites, that lock the kingdom of the heavens in front of men, for you do not come in, nor do you allow the ones coming towards to enter. 

This is a curious accusation. That, being hypocrites, they won’t enter heaven–the kingdom of the heavens–but the part about closing it off to others? Almost by necessity this has to refer to the period after Jesus’ death, when the Pharisees had taken the initiative to harassing the nascent sect. That is about the only way we can make sense of “locking” the kingdom to others, is it not? The harassment is intended to prevent the ministers of the proto-church from being able to spread the word of Jesus, thereby “locking” others out from the place they would never enter.

13 Vae autem vobis, scribae et pharisaei hypocritae, quia clauditis regnum caelorum ante homines! Vos enim non intratis nec introeuntes sinitis intrare.

14 Οὐαὶ 15 ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι περιάγετε τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ τὴν ξηρὰν ποιῆσαι ἕνα προσήλυτον, καὶ ὅταν γένηται ποιεῖτε αὐτὸν υἱὸν γεέννης διπλότερον ὑμῶν.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites, because proceed around the sea and arid make (it) arid a <<proselyton>>, and whomsoever becomes you make him a son of Gehenna twice more than you.  

A whole bunch of technical stuff here. Either Verse 13 0r 14 is omitted in most texts–which one is omitted varies. However, in whatever textual tradition the KJV follows, the verse was included. So if you read the KJV, you will find an injunction against the Pharisees for devouring the houses of widows by sucking them dry for ostensibly religious motives, but for actions that are designed to do nothing but deprive others for the gain the Pharisees might make from the transaction. This sounds something like the “Totenfresserei” of Luther: those who feed on the dead by extorting money from their relatives to ease torment of the deceased from the torments of Purgatory. This is found in Luke 20:47, and apparently some manuscript traditions believed it should be in here as well. Other traditions disagree, and it seems that the consensus is now on their side, since it has been removed from most translations.

The second technical issue involves the translation of <<προσήλυτον>>, which transliterates to “proselyton”, which is obviously the root of “proselyte”. This word does not exist in Classical Greek; it has three other occurrences in the NT, and another in the LXX. In the LXX–Exodus–it’s been agreed that the word means “soujourner”, and I assume that this meaning was taken from the Latin translation of the text. In the Vulgate, the other three occurrences–all of them in Acts–are not translated; they are simply transliterated. As such, we can probably infer that the word had come to mean in Latin what it had in Greek.

The problem, we don’t know what it meant in either language. The definition was finally set in the late 2nd/Early 3rd Century when Tertullian explained that a proselyte was someone who had converted from another religion. But that’s a good century beyond Matthew. Can we be reasonably certain that Tertullian used it the same way Matthew did? Actually, to be honest, we cannot be reasonably certain at all. Can say that it would be reasonable to infer that Tertullian had maintained the meaning of the word? Probably. That is, there is at least a slightly better than even chance that Tertullian understood the word as Matthew had, so that we can be slightly more than half-way confident that it means “convert” here. After all, what else could it mean?

That’s the problem. I can think of three or four possible other meanings more or less from the top of my head. The context here is that we’re discussing the Pharisees preventing others from entering the kingdom; in this context, the word here could simply mean “believer”, but then why the special word? The decision that this came to mean something like our word “proselyte” is most likely based on the fact that the word is novel–pretty much a neologism–so we are likely describing a reasonably novel situation. But how novel? Many people in the pagan world became adherents of new religions, joined new sects, attached to different divinities than those, perhaps, to which their parents had belonged.

But in some ways saying this, or saying it in this way, is to misrepresent the situation. Pagan gods were very fluid; the word “syncretic” has been overused, but it describes a basic sense of enhancing similarities rather than emphasizing differences; thus Tacitus could say the chief god of the Germania was Mercury, because Wotan shared a number of traits with the Roman Mercury/Hermes. But there were also a number of cults–religions–that were truly new to Rome. These are the so-called “Eastern Mystery Religions”. They included Isis, Magna Mater, Cybele, and, eventually, Christianity. These fell outside the scope of the traditional mythologies and the mos maiorum, the customs/morals/ways of our ancestors. But outside of Christianity, joining one of these “new” religions did not mean revoking your previous affiliations. One could become an initiate into the cult of Isis and still maintain the worship of the traditional gods. Judaism, and later Christianity, did not allow this. That is perhaps the critical distinction between these two religions and all (at least most) of the other religions available. So perhaps this is why a new word was needed to describe one who was making the transition from paganism to Christianity. However, it is critical to remember that we do not necessarily know what the word actually meant. We have come to decide that we do, and agreed upon what it meant, but we do not have truly a large enough sample of the use of the word from the First Century to be certain.

I did do some amateur etymological work to see if I could perhaps make an educated guess as to what the word might have meant based on the components of the word. It seems to be a compound of the preposition “pros” which means “toward” (sort of), and “elytos”, or perhaps “lytos”. Unfortunately, I was not terribly successful in coming up with anything that might make sense. Let it be said that Greek contains a high number of irregular forms, so I could be completely missing the boat on “e/lytos”. Someone with more chops than I might be able to succeed where I failed.

(14) 15 Vae vobis, scribae et pharisaei hypocritae, quia circuitis mare et aridam, ut faciatis unum proselytum, et cum fuerit factus, facitis eum filium gehennae duplo quam vos!

16 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, ὁδηγοὶ τυφλοὶ οἱ λέγοντες, Ὃς ἂν ὀμόσῃ ἐν τῷ ναῷ, οὐδέν ἐστιν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ὀμόσῃ ἐν τῷ χρυσῷ τοῦ ναοῦ ὀφείλει.

17 μωροὶ καὶ τυφλοί, τίς γὰρ μείζων ἐστίν, ὁ χρυσὸς ἢ ὁ ναὸς ὁ ἁγιάσας τὸν χρυσόν;

18 καί, Ὃς ἂν ὀμόσῃ ἐν τῷ θυσιαστηρίῳ, οὐδέν ἐστιν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ὀμόσῃ ἐν τῷ δώρῳ τῷ ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ ὀφείλει.

“Woe to you, blind guides who say, ‘He who may have sworn in the Temple, it is nothing. But he who may have sworn on the oil of the Temple, he owes’. (17) Morons and blind men, which is better, the oil or the Temple that makes holy the oil? (18) And he who may have sworn on the altar,  it is nothing. But he who may have sworn on the gift upon it owes.

This is apparently meant to demonstrate the nit-picking lawyerly behaviour of the Pharisees, thereby holding it up for scorn and derision. Of course, this is the stuff and basis of Christian propaganda for the next two millennia: the legalistic Jews vs. the sincere Christians. Of course, it’s just that: propaganda. The more interesting thing is that Christians said much the same about the pagan religions. They had become formulaic, stale, and sterile; in the case of philosophy, appealing too much to the head and not the heart, and in the case of the standard pagan temple religions, that they had no emotional appeal at all. RL Fox, in Pagans and Christians, did an excellent job of debunking the latter half of the story. It turns out that, when we actually look at the evidence, the First and Second Centuries represented something of an overall religious revival throughout much of the Empire, with perhaps an extra dollop of enthusiasm in the East. This makes sense, given that the chronic state of civil war that had pervaded the final century BCE had been put to rest by the Augustan settlement towards the end of that last century, and the benefits of peace had permeated most of the empire in the succeeding two hundred years, until approximately the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180. This was the pax Romana, the Roman peace, when a single government controlled the territory between Britain and Arabia, from the Rhine to North Africa. The Mediterranean Sea had become, in a term beloved by historians, a Roman lake, every inch of its shoreline under the control of the Empire. During this period Christianity sort of went along for the ride, ever-expanding until it eventually became legalized, and then became the only legal religion of the Empire under Theodosius (no, that’s not a typo or a mistake).

That was a bit off-topic. It’s honestly difficult to assess how accurate Jesus’ critique of Judaism was. Or, probably more accurately, whether the critique put into Jesus’ mouth was accurate. This is likely another instance of something more reflective of the time of writing than the time of Jesus. The conflict with Judaism most likely did not arise until a decade or more after Jesus’ death, when the group of followers had grown sufficiently in size and in the degree of separation from the mother religion. This difference was most likely caused by the insistence that Jesus was the Messiah, which claim the Jews stoutly rejected. And since Jesus most likely never claimed to be the Messiah, almost by definition the hostility with “The Jews” only came after Jesus died. That argument, I realize, has a whiff of begging the question about it, but I believe it is sound.

16 Vae vobis, duces caeci, qui dicitis: “Quicumque iuraverit per templum, nihil est; quicumque autem iuraverit in auro templi, debet”.

17 Stulti et caeci! Quid enim maius est: aurum an templum, quod sanctificat aurum?

18 Et: “Quicumque iuraverit in altari, nihil est; quicumque autem iuraverit in dono, quod est super illud, debet”.

19 τυφλοί, τί γὰρ μεῖζον, τὸ δῶρον ἢ τὸ θυσιαστήριον τὸ ἁγιάζον τὸ δῶρον;

“Blind ones, for what is better: the gift or the altar the sanctifier (i.e., “that sanctifies) the gift? 

Per the text of Jesus’ speech in Verses 16-18, the Pharisees apparently said that the gift was more sacred than the altar.

19 Caeci! Quid enim maius est: donum an altare, quod sanctificat donum?

20 ὁ οὖν ὀμόσας ἐν τῷ θυσιαστηρίῳ ὀμνύει ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ:

21 καὶ ὁ ὀμόσας ἐν τῷ ναῷ ὀμνύει ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐν τῷ κατοικοῦντι αὐτόν:

22 καὶ ὁ ὀμόσας ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ὀμνύει ἐν τῷ θρόνῳ τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐν τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ.

“Therefore the one swearing on the altar he swears on that very thing and all those things above (= ‘upon’) it. (21) And the one swearing by the Temple, he swears upon that very thing, and on the one dwelling there. (22) And the one swearing by heaven, he swears upon the throne of God and by the seat of him above”.  

In Western Europe in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries, several heretical groups would not take oaths under any circumstances. This, in fact, became a method of detecting them. These groups had read this particular passage and concluded that real Christians had been enjoined never to take oaths. I am fairly sure that I have explained this elsewhere, most likely in Mark. However, I cannot find another passage that (at least seems to) prohibit oaths. Perhaps it was earlier in Matthew? 

The point, however, is that this is all rather obscure, or at least odd. It’s the sort of topic that doesn’t really fit in with the rest. Or, at best, it’s a bit of a Procrustean bed: stretched here, lopped off there and made to fit. Why do we care about the habits of the Pharisees when it came to taking oaths and swearing? Why does Jesus bring this up here?

That question has stumped me for more than a week. Time to post this and move on. 


20 Qui ergo iuraverit in altari, iurat in eo et in omnibus, quae super illud sunt;

21 et, qui iuraverit in templo, iurat in illo et in eo, qui inhabitat in ipso;

22 et, qui iuraverit in caelo, iurat in throno Dei et in eo, qui sedet super eum.

Matthew Chapter 23:1-12

The rubric for this chapter in one of my Bibles is “Seven Woes”. This is a series of Jesus describing the sorrow that will come to certain groups based their behaviour. In many cases, this behaviour was, until the time of Jesus, considered righteous and admirable. This section was not in Mark, so this is new territory for us. And it is in Luke, so this is properly Q material, assuming Q existed. And this is what Q is held to be: things Jesus said. This chapter continues the longest stretch of Jesus talking in the Gospel of Matthew, one that is significantly longer than the two-point-five chapters of the Sermon on the Mount.

1 Τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν τοῖς ὄχλοις καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ

2 λέγων, Ἐπὶ τῆς Μωϋσέως καθέδρας ἐκάθισαν οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι.

3 πάντα οὖν ὅσα ἐὰν εἴπωσιν ὑμῖν ποιήσατε καὶ τηρεῖτε, κατὰ δὲ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν μὴ ποιεῖτε: λέγουσιν γὰρ καὶ οὐ ποιοῦσιν.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, (2) saying, “Upon the seat of Moses sit the scribes and the Pharisees. (3) So all so much if they say to you do and watch over, but according to the their works do not do. For they say and do not do.  

First up for criticism are the scribes and the Pharisees. It’s interesting to note that Jesus says the Pharisees “sit on the chair of Moses”. The word for “chair” is “kathedra”, transliterated into Latin as “cathedra”, which is the root of  “cathedral”. A cathedral is the church of an episcopal see, because it was originally, and literally, the “chair” of the bishop. To see the use of the term chair here as reminiscent of, or alluding to, a bishop’s chair is wildly anachronistic. Such things were not implemented for a good century after these events. Now, this creates a connexion in my mind. You may want to put on your tin-foil hats for this one; it’s a great conspiracy theory. It is not entirely clear when members of the Christian community came to be designated as bishops, and when this term came to mean something like the specific office we think of today. It seems that the term was not in use when Clement wrote his letters in the late 1st Century. So there were no bishops yet when this was written. The thing is, the bishop existed well before he had a specific see, and well before he had a cathedra. Was this word inserted later, perhaps by the bishop of Rome, or a scribe working there? Remember, the “thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my assembly” passage is only found in Matthew. Just so, the word cathedra in this context is also found only in Matthew. Since Matthew was long considered the first gospel–hence its placement in the NT–did those in Rome doctor the text a little bit? But only Matthew, because it was considered the original? If you know anything about the subsequent history of the Church, this kind of massaging of the text was not uncommon, sometimes ending up in outright forgery as with the Donation of Constantine.

This is wildly speculative. But, stranger things have happened.

As for grammar, we’ve discussed the use of <<δὲ>> several times. In textbooks, the construction is <<μενδὲ>>, which is translated as “on the one hand…on the other”. But this formal construction is not used all that often, but the <<δὲ>> is used all the time. It’s generally used as a conjunction, and can be translated as “in contrast”, or even as “and” or “but”. Sometimes there’s no value to translating it at all because it just sticks itself into the English in an awkward sort of way. In the middle of Verse 3, however, it’s crucial, because it sets up the “but” which contrasts what the Pharisees say and what they do. On the one hand, this is a minor grammatical point. On the other, it shows that one has to pay attention even to particles when attempting to translate.

More, I do not understand how Jesus can say that the Pharisees sit in the chair of Moses. We discussed the cathedral implication and how wrong that is. And yet, that is the image of this part of Verse 2. I will fully grant that I am reading it this way because of the 2,000 years of conditioning that has led me to understand “cathedral” in a certain way. But what else does–can–“the chair of Moses” mean? Even if we take this as figurative–which we must, since there was no chair of Moses–that is what the passage implies. It resonates because we have the idea of a bishop sitting in a cathedral chair. How else does this make sense? And note, the word “kathedra” is only used two other times in the NT, and both times it is used for the chairs of the money-changers that Jesus overturns while cleansing the Temple. This particular expression is not in Luke. There is no passage in Luke corresponding to this. It’s strictly Matthew.

 The real issue is that the Pharisees did not occupy chairs. They were not authorities at all; they were a particular view of Judaism, perhaps a sect would be proper, but probably nothing so distinct as the division between Catholics and Baptists. Given Paul, perhaps they were the ones who did a lot of the ancillary functions around the Temple, as Paul was a Pharisee who was carrying out persecutions of the nascent church. So taking all this into consideration, perhaps my suggestion is not so wild after all?

Finally, we have to say something about Jesus’ message. There’s nothing unique about it, but he’s calling them hypocrites, who do not do what they tell others to do. This certainly can resonate; most of us are all-too aware of people like this. Even religious people.

1 Tunc Iesus locutus est ad turbas et ad discipulos suos

2 dicens: “ Super cathedram Moysis sederunt scribae et pharisaei.

3 Omnia ergo, quaecumque dixerint vobis, facite et servate; secundum opera vero eorum nolite facere: dicunt enim et non faciunt.

4 δεσμεύουσιν δὲ φορτία βαρέα [καὶ δυσβάστακτα] καὶ ἐπιτιθέασιν ἐπὶ τοὺς ὤμους τῶν ἀνθρώπων, αὐτοὶ δὲ τῷ δακτύλῳ αὐτῶν οὐ θέλουσιν κινῆσαι αὐτά.

“They bind heavy burdens [and intolerable ] and put (these) upon the shoulders of men, but they do not wish to move themselves even by a finger ( i.e., won’t lift a finger to help ). 

Not a whole lot to be said about this. It’s all pretty straightforward. The question, I suppose, is how do they do this? The complaint is that they sit in chairs and load burdens on people. By what authority? Ought we infer that the Pharisees were the class that populated the positions of authority? Perhaps most of the high priests came from the group of Pharisees. Actually, that might be a reasonable inference, and would explain why they are treated as they are. But then, the Sadducees come in for a certain amount of abuse, too, and these two groups had different views of religion. Were they working together? Or was it that the Pharisees took the lead in persecuting the new offshoot of Judaism, so they sort became remembered as the generic bad guys by later followers of Jesus? I would suspect it’s something like that. 

4 Alligant autem onera gravia et importabilia et imponunt in umeros hominum, ipsi autem digito suo nolunt ea movere.

5 πάντα δὲ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν ποιοῦσιν πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις: πλατύνουσιν γὰρ τὰ φυλακτήρια αὐτῶν καὶ μεγαλύνουσιν τὰ κράσπεδα,

6 φιλοῦσιν δὲ τὴν πρωτοκλισίαν ἐν τοῖς δείπνοις καὶ τὰς πρωτοκαθεδρίας ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς

7 καὶ τοὺς ἀσπασμοὺς ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς καὶ καλεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, Ῥαββί.

“But all their works they do towards to have been seen by men. (Everything do is for the purpose of being seen by others; i.e. for show) For they widen their safeguards and make large the tassels (of their garments). (6) They love the first couches in the dinners and the first chairs (“proto-kathedra” in the synagogues. (7) And the greetings in the marketplaces and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi’.  

The bit about widening their safeguards and making large their tassels requires a bit of interpretation. These are words that, used here, do not quite mean what their standard definition says in Liddell & Scott. However, L&S do describe how these words came to be understood in this context. The “safeguard” (which is based on the actual meaning of the word “phylacterion”) was, according to L&S, a a piece of parchment with a bit of the law written on it worn as a headband by people praying. OK. So the Pharisees widen these so they are conspicuous, so the can be seen, for show. As in showing off. And the tassels on the garments being enlarged is seemingly a bit of frippery done to be ostentatious. And note: the first chairs in the synagogues. Here, it’s a compound word, so it doesn’t show up on the lists of where “cathedra” is used. Now, one wonders, are these the chairs to which we referred in the passage above? Where I was seeing a dastardly plot by the bishop of Rome? They could be, and I could easily be wrong in my speculation. In fact, I would retract it outright if we had any sense that the Pharisees sat in their first chairs in the synagogue and connived to increase burdens on those poorer than them. I don’t know that they did, but then I don’t know that they didn’t. The other thing in my favor is that Jesus didn’t say they sat in their “chairs”. He said the sat in “the chair of Moses”. Greek has a separate word for “throne” (basically = “thronos”), so it’s not like there isn’t a different word that could have been used. 

So, overall, this is a dicey call, either way. All things considered, there is a better than even chance that I’m wrong in my speculation, and that this wasn’t inserted by–or at the behest of–the bishop of Rome.

Oh well. However, to be even close to 50/50 in wild speculation isn’t too shabby. 

As for the content, this is of a piece with the passage above, grinding the Pharisees into the dustbin of disrespect, consigning them to eternal vilification. They are showy, ostentatious, pompous, and insincere. And hypocrites. The question is, were they really that bad? Paul was proud of being a Pharisee, and he proclaimed this as something that made him special. So, perhaps there was a certain level of self-satisfaction, but what self-selected group does not feel that? It just seems a little hard to believe that all the Pharisees were like this to a man; sure, no doubt there were those who took it too far, but all of them? Which leads to (but it does not beg) the question, why do they come in for such nasty treatment? I’m reading Ehrman’s latest book, and he talks about how much of what it said in the gospels is more about the time it was written than the time being written about. Given Paul and his zeal for persecuting the new group, and given that Paul (Saul) was a Pharisee, perhaps they were the ones who led the harassment of the newly-minted version of Judaism. As such, it’s not hard to see why they came in for some especially negative press by the proto-Christian writers. And then, too, one wonders if there wasn’t a certain amount of piling on; they had been designated the bad guys, so there came to be a contest in who could portray them in as poor a light as possible.

5 Omnia vero opera sua faciunt, ut videantur ab hominibus: dilatant enim phylacteria sua et magnificant fimbrias,

6 amant autem primum recubitum in cenis et primas cathedras in synagogis

7 et salutationes in foro et vocari ab hominibus Rabbi.

8 ὑμεῖς δὲ μὴ κληθῆτε, Ῥαββί, εἷς γάρ ἐστιν ὑμῶν ὁ διδάσκαλος, πάντες δὲ ὑμεῖς ἀδελφοί ἐστε.

9 καὶ πατέρα μὴ καλέσητε ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, εἷς γάρ ἐστιν ὑμῶν ὁ πατὴρ ὁ οὐράνιος.

“But you are not called ‘Rabbi’, for (there is) one teacher of you, you all are brothers. (9) And you do not (s0) call the father upon the earth, for the father of you is (the) heavenly (father). 

The rendering of Verse 9 is a little rough; it’s accurate, but this is one of those times where it’s really hard to get the Greek and the English to line up. All of my crib translations add some words, so that it comes out as “call no one/no man your father upon the earth”. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but it’s just not in the Greek. Or the Latin, either for that matter. Now Greek and Latin both very often assume that the reader will understand certain things that are not stated explicitly, and this is likely one of them. The literal translation I’ve provided does get this point across. Well, sort of, anyway. So the adding of the extra couple of words is pretty much necessary for a smooth rendering in English, and I agree that the Greek can accommodate this extra couple of words. But I want to point out that this phrase is not in the Greek.

8 Vos autem nolite vocari Rabbi; unus enim est Magister vester, omnes autem vos fratres estis.

9 Et Patrem nolite vocare vobis super terram, unus enim est Pater vester, caelestis.

10 μηδὲ κληθῆτε καθηγηταί, ὅτι καθηγητὴς ὑμῶν ἐστιν εἷς ὁ Χριστός.

11 ὁ δὲ μείζων ὑμῶν ἔσται ὑμῶν διάκονος.

12 ὅστις δὲ ὑψώσει ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται,καὶ ὅστις ταπεινώσει ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.

(10) “And you are not called teachers, that the one teacher of you is the Christ. (11) But the greatest of you is to be the minister of you. (12) But he who will exalt himself will be humbled, and he who will humble himself will be exalted.”

You know, the next time I read about how masterfully Matthew arranged anything, I’m going to commit some kind of minor act to demonstrate my annoyance. This is shoe-horned in, put on a Procrustean bed, and it’s been made to fit whether it fits or not. There is a certain logic: the Pharisees are pompous asses; as such, the disciples are not to follow their example, but rather they are to go the other direction and eschew titles like “teacher” because it is unseemly to puff oneself up with such empty pride. Therefore, be humble, because he who…you know the rest. This is simply a fairly gratuitous attack on the Pharisees. Did they deserve it? Hard to say. The most likely explanation for this animosity likely traces to events that occurred after the death of Jesus. Most likely, this was the group most set against the innovations that were introduced by Jesus’ followers. As such, they likely did deserve some of the scorn they are given, but if that’s the reason behind this all, this sort of disparagement almost seems a bit childish. No? 

10 Nec vocemini Magistri, quia Magister vester unus est, Christus.

11 Qui maior est vestrum, erit minister vester.

12 Qui autem se exaltaverit, humiliabitur; et, qui se humiliaverit, exaltabitur.