Matthew 23:3 MEANING

Matthew 23:3
(3) All therefore whatsoever . . .--Followed, as the words are, by repeated protests against special and grave errors in the teaching of the Pharisees, it is obvious that they must be received with an implied limitation. So far as they really sit in Moses' seat, and set forth his teaching--as, e.g., the scribe had done whose answer has been just recorded--they were to be followed with all obedience. That which was wanting was the life, without which even the highest maxims of morality became but the common-places of rhetorical declamation. It was one thing to "draw fine pictures of virtue," and another to bring thought and word and deed into conformity with them.

Verse 3. - All therefore. It is because of their official authority as appointed teachers and expositors of the Law that Christ gives the following injunction. That observe and do. Many manuscripts and versions invert the order of the verbs, reading, do and observe. The received text seems most logical. Observe; τηρεῖτε, present imperative, continue to observe as a rule of conduct. Do; ποιήσατε, aorist, do immediately, whenever the occasion arises. All that they taught or commanded out of the Law, or in due accordance therewith, was to be observed and obeyed. The statement is made in general terms, but was conditional and restricted by other considerations. It was only their official injunctions, derived immediately from Scripture, not their glosses, evasions, and interpretations, that were to be regarded with respect. The Lord had already taken occasion to warn against these errors (see Matthew 16:6, 11, 12, etc.). As inheritors of the authority of Moses, and speaking ex cathedra, they were so far worthy of respect. This principle laid down, Christ proceeds to denounce their evil practices. After their works. You must distinguish between their preaching and their practice; the latter is to be shunned with all care. The scribes are never accused of corrupting the sacred text, which, indeed, was scrupulously guarded, and kept pure and unaltered. It was their treatment of the doctrines thereof that was censured. Our Lord shows their evil example in two particulars - their principle was "words, not deeds" (ver. 4), and ostentation in religion (vers. 5-7). They say, and do not. They enunciated the Law, they enjoined obedience to it in the minutest particulars, and yet they themselves continually, in the most important points (ver. 23), infringed, neglected, evaded it. St. Paul, himself a strict Pharisee, denounces in stern language such inconsistent professors (Romans 2:21-23).

23:1-12 The scribes and Pharisees explained the law of Moses, and enforced obedience to it. They are charged with hypocrisy in religion. We can only judge according to outward appearance; but God searches the heart. They made phylacteries. These were scrolls of paper or parchment, wherein were written four paragraphs of the law, to be worn on their foreheads and left arms, Ex 13:2-10; 13:11-16; De 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They made these phylacteries broad, that they might be thought more zealous for the law than others. God appointed the Jews to make fringes upon their garments, Nu 15:38, to remind them of their being a peculiar people; but the Pharisees made them larger than common, as if they were thereby more religious than others. Pride was the darling, reigning sin of the Pharisees, the sin that most easily beset them, and which our Lord Jesus takes all occasions to speak against. For him that is taught in the word to give respect to him that teaches, is commendable; but for him that teaches, to demand it, to be puffed up with it, is sinful. How much is all this against the spirit of Christianity! The consistent disciple of Christ is pained by being put into chief places. But who that looks around on the visible church, would think this was the spirit required? It is plain that some measure of this antichristian spirit prevails in every religious society, and in every one of our hearts.All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe,.... This must be restrained to things that were agreeable to the chair of Moses, in which they sat, to the law of Moses, which they read and explained, to other parts of Scripture and truth in general; for otherwise many of their glosses and traditions were repugnant to the law, and ought not to be observed, as appears from Matthew 5:1. The word "observe", in this clause, is omitted by the Vulgate Latin, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, and in Munster's Hebrew Gospel; and Beza says, it is wanting in one ancient copy, but is in others; and is retained in the Syriac and Persic versions

that observe and do; hearken to what they say, give diligent heed unto it, take notice of it, and act according to it:

but do not ye after their works; let their doctrine be the rule of your lives, so far as it agrees with the law of Moses; but let not their actions be drawn into an example by you; conform to their instructions, but do not imitate their practices:

for they say, and do not; they talk of good works, but do none; they bid others do them, but do not practise them themselves; they very strictly and severely enjoin them on others, but are very careless themselves to observe them; and of this the Jews are so conscious, that they suggest the same doctrine (n).

"The daughter of Ahar (a wicked man) came before Rabbi; she said to him, Rabbi, supply me with the necessaries of life: he replied to her, daughter, who art thou? she answered him, the daughter of Ahar: he said to her, is there any of his seed in the world? for lo! it is written, Job 18:19. "He shall neither have son, nor nephew, among his people, nor any remaining, in his dwellings": she replied to him, , "remember his law, or doctrine, but do not remember his works."--Says R. Jochanan, what is that which is written, Malachi 2:7. "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts." If the doctor is like to an angel, or messenger of the Lord of hosts, they should seek the law at his mouth; and if not, they should not seek the law at his mouth. Says Resh Lekish, R. Meir found and explained that Scripture, Proverbs 22:17. "Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart to my knowledge": to their knowledge it is not said, but to my knowledge. R. Chanina says, hence, Psalm 45:10. "Hearken, O daughter! and consider, incline thine ear, forget thine own people, and thy father's house": on which the gloss is, forget their works, and do not learn them: he that knows how to take care not to learn their works, may learn the law from their mouths.''

--And a little after,

"the disciples of the wise men are like to a nut; as a nut, though it is defiled with mire and filth, yet that which is within it is not to be rejected; so a scholar, or a disciple of a wise man, though he act wickedly, his law, or doctrine, is not to be despised.''

Good doctrine is not the worse for being taught by bad men; nor are good works to be slighted and neglected, because they are not done by all that teach them; but it must be owned that examples are very useful and forcible, and practice greatly recommends doctrine; and it is to be wished, that they both always went together.

(n) T. Bab. Chagiga, fol. 15. 2.

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