Matthew 23:23 MEANING

Matthew 23:23
(23) Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin.--The language of Deuteronomy 12:17 seems to recognise only corn, wine, and oil, among the produce of the earth, as subject to the law of tithes. The Pharisee, in his minute scrupulosity (based, it may be, on the more general language of Leviticus 27:30), made a point of gathering the tenth sprig of every garden herb, and presenting it to the priest. So far as this was done at the bidding of an imperfectly illumined conscience our Lord does not blame it. It was not, like the teaching as to oaths and the Corban, a direct perversion of the Law. What He did censure was the substitution of the lower for the higher. With the three examples of the "infinitely little" He contrasts the three ethical obligations that were infinitely great, "judgment, mercy, and faith." The word translated "mint" means literally the "sweet-smelling," the "fragrant."

Verses 23, 24. - Fifth woe - against scrupulosity in trifles and neglect of weighty duties (Luke 11:42). Ye pay tithe of (ἀποδεκατοῦτε, ye tithe) mint and anise and cummin. Practically, the law of tithe was enforced only in the case of the produce mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:23 - corn, wine, and oil - but the Pharisees, in their overstrained scrupulosity, applied the law of Leviticus 27:30 ("all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's") to the smallest pot herbs, even to their leaves and stalks. "Mint" (ἡδύοσμον). Of this well known plant several species grow in Palestine; it was one of the ingredients of the sauce of bitter herbs eaten at the Paschal feast (Exodus 12:8), and was hung up in the synagogue for its fragrance. "Anise" (ἄνηθον) is known to us as "dill," and is much used in medicine and for seasoning. "Cummin" (κύμινον) (Isaiah 28:25, 27), an umbelliferous plant, with seeds something like caraways, and used, like them, as a condiment and medicine. Have emitted the weightier matters of the Law. The Pharisees were very far from treating important duties with the same scrupulosity which they observed in little matters. Christ particularizes these weighty duties: Judgment, (and) mercy, and faith. Three are named, in contrast to the three petty observances mentioned above. Christ seems to refer to the words of Micah 6:8, "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (see also Hosea 12:6; Zechariah 7:9, 10). Worthless are all outward observances when the moral precepts are neglected. "Judgment" (τὴν κρίσιν) means acting equitably to one's neighbour, hurting nobody by word or deed; as in Jeremiah 5:1 a man is sought "that exerciseth justice.'" Such impartiality is specially enjoined in the Law (Deuteronomy 16:19, etc.). "Mercy," loving kindness in conduct, often taught in the Pentateuch, as in the case of the widow, the stranger, and the debtor, and very different from the feeling of those who "devour widows' houses." "Faith" may mean fidelity to promises: "He that sweareth unto his neighbour and disappointeth him not, though it were to his own hindrance" (Psalm 15:4); but it is more probably taken as that belief in God without which it is not possible to please him, and which should underlie and influence all moral action (Hebrews 11:6). These (ταῦτα)... the other (ἐκεῖνα). "These last" are judgment, mercy, and faith; these it was your duty to have done. "The other" refers to the tithing mentioned above. Christ does not censure this attention to minutiae. He would teach conformity to regulations made by competent authority, or conscientiously felt to be binding, even though not distinctly enjoined in Scripture (see vers. 2, 3); his blame is reserved for that expenditure of zeal on trifles which stood in the place of, or left no strength for, higher duties. It was a very elastic conscience which tithed a pot herb and neglected judgment. Strain at a gnat; διαλίζοντες τὸν κώνωπα. "At" is supposed to be a misprint for "out." Thus Revised Version, and early English versions, which strain out the gnat; Vulgate, excolantes culicem. Alford thinks the present reading was an intentional alteration, meaning "strain (out the wine) at (the occurrence of) a gnat" - which seems more ingenious than probable. If "at" be retained, it must be taken as expressive of the fastidiousness which had to make a strong effort to overcome its distaste at this little insect. The wine, before drinking, was carefully strained through linen (see Amos 6:6, "strained wine," Septuagint) to avoid the accidental violation of Leviticus 11:20, 23, etc.; Leviticus 17:10-14, by swallowing an unclean insect. The practice, which was in some sense a religious act, is found among the Buddhists in Hindostan and Ceylon, either to avoid pollution or to obviate the danger of taking life, which their code forbids. A (the) camel. The gnat and the camel, which were alike unclean, stand at the extremities of the scale of comparative size. Our Lord uses a proverbial expression to denote the inconsistency which would avoid the smallest ceremonial defilement, but would take no account of the gravest moral pollution.

23:13-33 The scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the gospel of Christ, and therefore to the salvation of the souls of men. It is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to keep others from him. Yet it is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities. But dissembled piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the glory of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their godliness, by a thousand devices they made religion give way to their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in smaller matters of the law, but careless and loose in weightier matters. It is not the scrupling a little sin that Christ here reproves; if it be a sin, though but a gnat, it must be strained out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a camel, or, committing a greater sin. While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,.... Christ returns to the former epithets he had very rightly given to these men, and very pertinently repeats them here; and which are confirmed by the instances of their conduct and practice here alleged, which abundantly show their hypocrisy and deceit; since they were very strict in observing some outward things, which gave them credit with the people, and especially the priests and Levites, some little trifling ceremonies and traditions of their elders, whilst they neglected internal religion, and those things which were of the greatest moment and importance:

for ye take tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin; which ought not commanded by the law, they were obliged to by the traditions of the elders. Mint is an herb well known, and has its name in the Greek from its sweet smell; on account of which the Jews used to spread it on the floors of their synagogues (y). This was one of the herbs that was subject to the law of the seventh year (z), and is mentioned with those which were to be tithed (a). The Ethiopic version, instead of mint reads "hyssop"; and which also was an herb that was obliged to be tithed (b). "Anise" is a seed also well known, and which the Jews call and of which they often observe, that it is subject to tithing, both seed, herb, flowers, or stalks (c): instead of this Munster's Hebrew Gospel has "rue"; and which, in the Misna (d), is mentioned along with mint, as it is by Luke 11:42 and said to be one of the things the Pharisees gave tithe of; though in their oral law it is reckoned among the things that are free from tithe (e): and therefore this must be a sort of work of supererogation to give tithe of that, which they were not obliged to. "Cummin" is a sort of anise; its seed is much like fennel seed, and which pigeons are very fond of: mention is made of it in Isaiah 28:25 and is reckoned with figs, dates, carobes, or Egyptian figs, and rice, which were obliged to be tithed (f), and was what was also bound to the offering of the first fruits to the priest (g). Christ mentions these particular herbs and seeds, as a specimen of what they paid tithes of. In Luke, it is added, "and all manner of herbs": for, according to the traditions of the elders, they were in general subject to tithes: and it is a common saying or maxim of the Jews, that the tithing of corn is from the law, but "the tithing of herbs is from the Rabbins" (h): it is a constitution of their's, and not of Moses:

and have omitted the weightier matters of the law. The distinction of the commandments of the law into lighter and heavier, or weightier, to which Christ here refers, is frequent with the Jews. When one comes to be made a proselyte, they acquaint him with some of , "the light commands", and some of , "the heavy", or "weighty commands" (i). So again, they paraphrase the words in Isaiah 33:18 "where is the scribe?" he that numbers all the letters in the law. "Where is the receiver?" who weighs the "light" things, , and "heavy", or "weighty things in the law" (k). Again (l),

"in the words of the law there are some things "light", and some things "heavy", or "weighty":''

but those weighty things they omitted, and regarded those that were light; yea, that had no foundation in the law at all: and no wonder, since, in the place last cited, they say (m), that

"the words of the Scribes are all of them "weighty" and that the sayings of the elders are more "weighty" than the words of the prophets.''

The things our Lord refers to, and instances in, are as follow;

judgment, mercy, and faith. "Judgment" may mean the administration of justice in courts of judicature; the putting in execution good judgments, righteous laws and statutes; protecting and relieving the injured and oppressed, and doing that which is right and equitable between man and man: but, on the contrary, these men devoured widows' houses, and oppressed the poor and fatherless. "Mercy" includes all acts of compassion to the distressed, relieving the necessitous, distributing to their wants, and showing all kindness and beneficence to the poor and needy; which the scribes and Pharisees very little practised, being a set of cruel, hard hearted, and covetous persons. "Faith" may not only design faithfulness in a man's keeping his word and promise, and fidelity to a trust reposed in him; but also faith in God, as the God of providence, and as the God of grace and mercy; believing in his word and promises, and worshipping him, which the law requires; and the rather this seems to be intended, because Luke, instead of "faith", puts "the love of God", which faith includes, and works by, and is the end of the commandment, arising from faith unfeigned: so that Christ instances in the weightier matters of both tables of the law, which these men neglected, and the latter, as well as the former; not believing the revelation of the Gospel, nor the Messiah, who was promised, and prophesied of by God, in the writings of the Old Testament:

these ought ye to have done: more especially, and in the first place, as being of the greatest use and importance:

and not to leave the other undone; meaning either the lighter matters, and lesser commands of the law; or even their tithes of herbs: if they thought themselves obliged to them, Christ would not dispute the matter with them; if they thought fit to observe them, they might, so long as they did not interfere with, and take them off from things of greater moment. But alas! these men preferred the rituals of the ceremonial law, and the traditions of the elders, above the duties of the moral law; and reckoned that the latter were nothing, if the former were wanting; for they (n) Say, that

"the words of the Scribes, are more lovely than the words of the law.''

And also (o), that

"he that profanes the holy things, and despises the solemn feasts, and makes void the covenant of Abraham our father (circumcision), and behaves impudently towards the law (ceremonial), although the law and good works are in his hands, he has no part in the world to come.''

The Persic version renders the words thus; "these ought ye to do, and not them"; as if it was our Lord's sense, that they ought to observe the weightier matters of the moral law, and not regard their tithing of herbs, and other traditions of, their fathers.


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