11. Old is out; new is in, 21:1-23:39

x] Jesus warns against false teachers


Matthew has just recorded a Q&A session between Jesus and the religious authorities and he now records a sermon delivered to a mixed congregation of disciples and onlookers. The sermon is delivered in the context of Jesus' teaching ministry in the temple during the week before his arrest and crucifixion. The first part of the sermon is a polemic against the Scribes (a sub-group of Pharisees) and the Pharisees, v1-7, and the second part is an exhortation to the disciples, v8-12. Jesus encourages his disciples not to follow the example of the Pharisees. They burden the children of God with religious duties, they flaunt their religion, and are always looking for praise in the present. The implied message is simple enough: don't become a Christian pharisee.


The self-righteous stand condemned; only the humble, those broken before God, will be exalted in the age to come.


i] Context: See 21:1-11. Jesus' teaching ministry in Jerusalem, prior to his crucifixion, continues as a prelude to the judgment of old Israel, and ultimately the end of human history, a theme which is encapsulated in the 5th Discourse, The Day of Judgment, 24:1-25:45. The present passage serves as Jesus' critique of old Israel, particularly pharisaism / nomism (the business of acquiring the promised blessings of the covenant by attention to the law - gnat / insect law, religiosity); it falls into three main parts:

A sermon on pharisaism, with a warning to the disciples not to follow suit, v1-12;

The seven woes against old Israel / the Pharisees and scribes / the teachers of the law, v13-33;

A declaration of judgment upon old Israel, v34-39.


ii] Structure: Jesus warns against false teachers:

Setting, v1;

A polemic against the Scribes and the Pharisees, v2-7;

"observe whatever they tell you,

but not the works they do ....", v2-3;

"they tie up heavy burdens, .... but ...

are not willing to move them ...", v4;

"they do their deeds to be seen by others ...., v5-7;

A word of exhortation to the disciples, v8-12.

"you are not to be called rabbi ...", v8;

"call no man your father ....", v9;

"neither be called instructors ...", v10;

"the greatest among you shall be your servant", v11;

"whoever exalts himself will be humbled,

and whoever humbles himself will be exalted", v12.


iii] Interpretation:

Schweizer's title for chapter 23 provides a clear perspective for the interpretation of this passage - Jesus Condemns Jewish and Christian Pharisaism. Jesus actually expresses appreciation toward the Pharisees for their dedication to teaching the law, although there may be some irony in this endorsement. Yet, at the same time, he is highly critical of them: critical of their inconsistency, ie., they are blind to the fact that they do not keep the law themselves (this inconsistency is filled out in v13-36), v3a; their uncaring eagerness to place the burden of the law on others, v4; and their pride, "their concern for appearances and reputation", France, v5-7. Such brings upon them judgment and so, in chapter 23, Jesus functions as the eschatological judge pronouncing judgment upon Israel's religious leaders, while at the same time warning the new Israel that Christian pharisaism faces the same fate. The promised blessings of the covenant are ours by grace through faith, not religiosity and attention to the law. "All who exalt themselves will be humbled."


iv] Synoptics:

It is generally felt that Matthew himself has designed this discourse / sermon by drawing together a number of key sayings of Jesus - "upon three verses in Mark, Matthew built a lengthy monologue", D&A. Most of the sermon is unique to Matthew, although some of the independent sayings of Jesus used to construct the sermon find parallels in both Mark and Luke: v4 see 11:46; v6-7 see 11:43, Mk.12:38b-39; v11 see 20:26, Mk.10:43-44; v12 see 18:4, Lk.14:11.

This is one of those occasions when we could argue that Mark has used Matthew, but it is generally held that Matthew has used Mark, M and Q, although mutual oral independence is always possible. Obviously, Matthew is interested in this subject material and therefore develops it in full. France suggests that this is because there was "an inappropriate concern for status and respect in the church of Matthew's own day." Yet, it is more likely that Matthew is concerned about the Law / grace issue facing the church. In the face of the coming day of the Lord, Israel and its religious institutions stand doomed due to their reliance on Law rather than grace. Let the new Israel learn the lesson, the promised blessings of the covenant are neither gained nor maintained by obedience to the Law, but by grace through faith - "whoever humbles himself will be exalted."


v] Exposition: A simple verse-by-verse exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 23:1

Jesus gives warning regarding the practice of the Scribes and Pharisees, v1-12: i] Jesus, presumably in the temple courts, addresses his words to both the unbelieving crowd as well as his disciples, v1.

tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb introducing a temporal clause which serves to indicate a step in the narrative..

elalhsen (lalew) aor. "said" - [jesus] spoke. "And in his teaching", Mk. Jesus speaks to the crowds and to his disciples, // Lk.

toiV ocloiV (oV) dat. "to the crowds" - to the crowds [and to the disciples of him]. Dative of indirect object / interest.


ii] In addressing the Pharisees, the sermon commends them for their ability to interpret the law of Moses, but is critical of their failure to recognize that their deeds do not align with their words and that when it comes to righteousness / sanctification, the law is not an end in itself, v2-7.

a) Saying / point #1, v2-3. The teaching of the law by the Scribes is right and proper (although it can be argued that this is an ironic statement, "do what they say, ho-hum"). They do indeed proclaim a righteousness of the law which all should submit to. The problem is that they themselves don't keep the law they proclaim. What they do is rework the law to make it keepable. The members of the Qumran community called the Pharisees "the expounders of smooth things"

legwn (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant after a verb of saying, a Semitic construction; "spoke ..... and said."

kai "[the teachers of the law] and [the Pharisees]" - [the scribes] and [the pharisees]. Carson suggests that the two groups overlap so here possible epexegetic; "The teachers of the law, most of whom were Pharisees."

ekaqisan (kaqizw) aor. ind. "sit" - sat. A present tense would be expected since a durative aspect is being expressed; they are still sitting at this time. The aorist "sat" is probably a Semitism rather than Matthew looking back to a time when the Pharisees were in power. "The experts of the law and the Pharisees .... have inherited the authority of Moses", Barclay, ie., have the responsibility of teaching the law of Moses to God's people. Olmstead notes BDF and their comment that the aorist can be used of verbs whose effect can still be felt.

epi + gen. "in" - spacial; "upon".

thV ... kaqedraV (a) gen. "[Moses'] seat" - the seat [of moses]. Here of Moses' seat, the stone seat in a synagogue where the teacher sits to teach.


oun "so" - therefore. Inferential, drawing a logical conclusion.

o{sa ean + subj. "-" - [everything] whatever [they may say]. Introducing an indefinite relative clause which is conditional; "[all things therefore] whatever, as the case may be, [they may tell you] then [you must do]" = "do not behave as they do", Berkeley.

panta adj. "everything" - all things. The adjective here serves as a substantive, the direct object of the verbs "to do" and "to keep." Some commentators suggest that a disciple would need to qualify the teachings of the Pharisees, eg., their stress on minute details (insect law - the meticulous rabbinical interpretations of the Mosaic law) at the expense of the moral law (camel law - justice and mercy). Yet, Jesus makes no qualification and this because the Pharisees do teach the law of Moses, even though with a bias toward insect law. Their tendency toward reductionism (shaping the law so that it can be done) cannot cover the reality of the law, and in any case, the old Adam sees to it that we even break insect law, thus fulfilling the function of the law, namely, to expose sin. On the other hand, Jeremias argues that Jesus is using irony at this point, such that the last person anyone should listen to is a Pharisee. This is a popular point of view, even publicly stated at the time by members of the Qumran community. If Jesus' instruction here is to be taken seriously then he again shows that he has not come to abolish the law. Yet, the difficulty is that he has, up to this point, been totally dismissive of the Pharisees and their teaching, cf., 15:1-14, 16:12. Even in this chapter Jesus' criticism of the Pharisees is strident, cf., v16-22. Luz argues that it is "impossible to assume that Matthew actually called his church to obey all the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. He is above all interested in the second part of the logion: Jesus' hearers are not to do the deeds of the scribes and the Pharisees, for they themselves do not do what they say."

eipwsin (legw) aor. subj. act. "they tell" - say [to you, do and keep]. "Do what the Pharisees say."

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrastive point.

kata + acc. "-" - according to [the works of them, do not do]. Here possibly expressing reference / respect, "but with respect to their works", but more likely expressing a standard, "in accordance with"; "You must, however, not model your conduct on their actions", Cassirer.

gar "for" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why a believer should not do what they do.

ou poihsate (poiew) "they do not practice [what they preach]" - they say and [do not do]. This is possibly a reference to their hypocrisy, although it may be simply a factual statement. Having reduced the Mosaic law to insect level, they are still unable to keep it. So, having defined, for example, what constitutes work on the Sabbath, they still break their own application of the Mosaic law. They failed to recognize the real problem, namely sin.


b) Saying / point #2: The sermon now identifies the major flaw in the Pharisees teaching, namely law without grace, v4. The law indeed provides guidance for a life of faith, but its primary function is to lead a person into the arms of their merciful God, so enabling them to find righteousness in him through faith. By teaching law as an end in itself the Pharisees tie up their students with a spirit-crushing burden. Their heretical pietism (sanctification by obedience) is easily inherited, and to this end Jesus gives due warning to his disciples, v8ff.

desmeuousin (desmeuw) pres. "they tie up" - [but/and] tie up, bind. The imagery is not totally clear, but rather than tie up and so restrict, the sense is probably burden. Note Jesus' reflection on his own requirements, "my burden is light", 11:30. The Pharisees were experts at teaching the details of the law. Sometimes, with great effort, it was even possible to keep at least their insect law / the traditions of the elders / the halakah of the Pharisees.

fortia (ov) "loads" - [heavy and hard to bear] loads, burdens. Accusative direct object of the verb "to bind." The exposition of the law by the Pharisees was a massive burden, a joyless dirge of legal details affecting every aspect of life.

epi + acc. "[put them] on" - [and place them] upon. Spacial. Redundant, given the epi prefix verb "to place upon", but accepted form.

twn anqrwpwn (oV) gen. "other people's [shoulders]" - [the shoulders] of men. The genitive is adjectival, possessive.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point.

tw/ daktulw/ (oV) dat. "a finger" - [they are not willing] with the finger [of them]. The dative is instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.

kinhsai (kinew) aor. inf. "to move" - to remove, move [them]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of "not willing", but it can also be classified as introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they are not willing to do. Used in the sense of lift the load - "not even with their little finger did they lift the load." Probably not "try to lift the load", but more likely "were they able to lift the load", ie., it is not a matter of evil intent, but of ability. Although the halakah of the Pharisees were designed to make the Mosaic law doable, few could claim to do it. For those who broke the law the Pharisees had no answer. They did not understand that God's law was not doable, that the best it could do was give direction in life. They had forgotten the Abrahamic formula for participation in the covenant community, namely faith, and had adopted a nomist / pietist approach to covenant membership. They were God's people by an act of divine grace, but for them, maintaining and progressing that standing was all about law-obedience. To this burden Jesus was able to say "take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart", 11:29.


c) Saying / point #3: The critique of the Pharisees concludes with a saying which exposes the sin of pride so evident in their life, v5-7. For Mark's record of this saying see 12:38-40. Some commentators think that Matthew's critique at this point is "a wholesale and unjust accusation", Luz. Yet, they obviously were "time-servers and applause-seekers", Carson, cf. 6:1-18. They wore large phylacteries (a box worn on the arm or forehead with four texts inside, Ex.13:9.) and they wore long tassels hanging from the corners of their outer garment, cf., Num.15:37-41.With their corruption exposed, they become for us an example not to follow.

proV to qeaqhnai (qeaomai) aor. pas. inf. "for [men / people] to see" - [but/and all the works of them they do] to be seen, carefully look at. The preposition proV with the articular infinitive introduces a final clause expressing purpose; "in order to be seen." Jesus now comments on the personal life of the Pharisees and notes that they are men-pleases. Their behavior is designed to gain the approval of others.

toiV anqrwpoiV (oV) dat. "men / people" - by men. The dative is instrumental, expressing means.

gar "-" - for [they enlarge the phylacteries of them]. Introducing a causal clause explaining why it can be said of the Pharisees that they are applause-seekers - "because".

ta fulakthria (ov) "phylacteries" - [they enlarge] the phylacteries [of them]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to enlarge." This consists of a small leather pouch tied to the arm or forehead and containing four Old Testament texts. The New Testament word for the "frontlet", as it was known, has pagan associations. Properly translated, the word is "amulet", illustrating the negative connotations ascribed to this charm by Jesus and the early church. The Pharisees wore large versions to display their righteousness.

ta kraspeda (ov) "tassels" - [and make large] the tassels. Accusative direct object of the verb "to make large." The platted fringe used on the four corners of the outer garment worn by all Jews, Num.15:38f. The Pharisees went for the large version.


filousin (filew) pres. "they love" - The Pharisees love the fringe benefits associated with their high status.

prwtoklisian (a) "the place of honor" - This is the seat to the right of the host at a formal dinner.

en + dat. "at [banquets]" - in [the banquets]. Local, expressing space, as NIV.

prwtokaqedriaV (a) "the most important seats" - [and] the seats, places of honor [in the synagogues]. These seats were on a raised dais facing the congregation.


touV aspasmouV (oV) "they love to be greeted with respect" - [and] the greeting, salutation [in the market places]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to love", v6. In later years the status of the Rabbi reached such an exalted height that a disciple would have to walk behind their Rabbi and never greet him unless first greeted.

kaleisqai (kalew) pres. pas. inf. "to have [men] call them" - [and] to be called. The infinitive forms an object clause / dependent statement of perception, desire, expressing what they love.

uJpo + gen. "[men] / by others" - by [the men]. Here expressing agency; "by men."

RJabbi "Rabbi" - master, teacher. Originally with the sense of "great", but later "master, teacher".


iii] The sermon now addresses Jesus' disciples, warning them against pride, particularly the danger of giving themselves titles, v8-12. a) Sayings / points on status, v8-10. Speaking directly to his disciples, Jesus denounces any applause-seeking gained through a position of authority or power. The self-exaltation and power of the "rabbi" (teacher) is denounced. Disciples must relate in brotherly love and rely on the one Teacher (better than "Master"), namely Jesus. As for the honoring of dead teachers with the title "father", giving them the same title as the "Father" in heaven, it is quite inappropriate. In v10 Jesus repeats the point made in v8, but this time he identifies the "Teacher" with himself.

de "but" - but/and. Here often treated as an adversative, "but", although it primarily indicates a step in the narrative - the sermon now focuses on the disciples.

uJmeiV pro. "you" - Emphatic use of the pronoun. Although Jesus is addressing the crowd, these words particularly apply to his disciples.

mh klhqhte (kalew) aor. subj. pas. "are not to be called" - Subjunctive of prohibition. Disciples are to promote brotherly love rather than a hierarchy of authority. A literal sense where believers are restricted from passing on their knowledge is obviously not intended, given that the apostle lists "teacher" as a gifted ministry in the church. The issue concerns a hierarchy which confines others to an inferior place.

rJabbi "Rabbi" - Complement of the nominative subject "you" standing in a double nominative construction.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why a disciple is not to be called Rabbi.

uJmwn gen. pro. "you [have one]" - [one is the teacher] of you. The genitive is verbal, objective; "you have one who teaches you."

oJ didaskaloV (oV) "master / teacher" - Predicate nominative. The word "teacher" is intended, and of course the teacher being referred to is Jesus; "there is one who is your teacher", Barclay.

umeiV pro. "you [are all]" - [all] of you [are] - A partitive / wholative genitive would be expected.

adelfoi (oV) "brothers" - Predicate nominative. Used to make the point that "brothers are equal, and they cannot be arranged in a hierarchy", Morris.


mh kaleshte (kalew) aor. subj. "do not call anyone" - [and father of you] do not call. A subjunctive of prohibition.

epi "on [earth]" - upon, on [the earth]. Spacial, as NIV.

patera (hr eroV) "father" - Accusative complement of the assumed direct object "anyone". In Aramaic, abba, "father", was used of the patriarchs and was sometimes used to refer to distinguished teachers, although there is no evidence that the practice was known in Jesus' time. Possibly the term was used of great teachers now deceased. It does seem that the issue is again one of hierarchy - the improper use of a honorific title. Matthew / Jesus "is concerned over a tendency of Christian teachers and other leaders to assert authority and to insist of being treated with deference by rank and file members", Beare. Gundry suggests that this title applies to authorities outside the church ("Rabbi" for teachers inside the church), particularly Jewish teachers. It is unclear whether this case can be made.

uJmwn gen. pro. "-" - [for one is heavenly father] of you. At first sight it would seem that the possessive genitive pronoun is linked to "Father", ie., "your Father", although it may be absolute, "do not call any of you Father on earth."

gar "for" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why a believer should not call anyone "father"; "because ...".

uJmwn pro. "you [have one Father]" - The pronoun is emphatic by position and use; "for you there is only one Father", Moule.

oJ pathr oJ ouranoiV "[one] Father and he is in heaven" - the Father the one heavenly. This construction, the articular noun, "Father", modified by the articular adjective, "heavenly", is best translated "heavenly father", and stands in apposition to ei|V, "one". It is a common construction in Matthew, cf. 5:48, 6:14, 26, 32, 15:13, 18:35. Variant en toiV ouranoiV," in the heavens." "For you there is only one [Father], your heavenly Father."


mhde klhqhte (kalew) aor. pas. subj. "nor are you to be called" - neither you [a teacher] be called. A subjunctive of prohibition.

kaqhghtai (hV ou) "teacher / instructors" - tutor, teacher. Nominative complement of the imbedded subject "you". Hapax legomenon, once only use in the NT. This is the only use of this word in the New Testament and is probably used as a synonym to maintain the rhythm of the verse. The same issue is present in this instruction, namely that a disciple should pursue the path of humility rather than lording it over others because of an acquired position in the church. The command can well apply today since it is very easy for a minister / pastor / priest to use their position to impose their will on a congregation.

oJti "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why a believer should not be called "instructor"; "because".

uJmwn gen. pro. "you" - [there is one, the christ,] of you. The genitive can be viewed as possessive, ie., he is your teacher, or verbal, objective, ie., he is the one who teaches you.

oJ CristoV "the Christ / the Messiah" - Standing in apposition to ei|V, "one"; "there is one, the Christ."


b) The sermon's teaching is summed up with a saying on service, cf. 20:26, Mark 10:43-44. The saying draws on the Old Testament; "The Lord opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble", Prov.3:34, cf. 1Pet.5:5.

oJ .... meizwn comp. adj. "the greatest" - [but/and] the greater. A comparative adjective is being used for the superlative.

uJmwn gen. pro. "among you" - of you. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

estai (eimi) fut. "will be" - will be. The future tense here is being used as an imperative - volitive, to express a command. "Your top ranking man must be your servant", Barclay.

uJmwn gen. pro. "your [servant]" - [servant] of you. As in v10.


c) The sermon concludes with a judgment saying, cf. 18:4, Luke 14:11, 18:14. The saying "the first will be last and the last will be first" makes the same point. The context implies that Matthew is using the saying here to attack excessive self importance within the brotherhood. Yet, the primary meaning of the saying relates to deferring to God, rather than claiming status before him. Such properly reflects the sayings' eschatological edge and its suitability as a concluding punch-line for the sermon as a whole. Humility is not servility or humbug, but rather a recognition of the amazing grace that "saved a wretch like me." An awareness of grace makes for graciousness in the teacher.

de "for" - but/and. Transitional, again serving to indicate a step in the dialogue / the next (here final / concluding) point in the sermon.

o{stiV + fut. "whoever / those who" - whosoever. This construction is virtually the same as o{stiV an + subj. serving to introduce an indefinite relative clause which in this verse is conditional; "whoever, as the case may be, lifts himself up, then he will be humbled / humiliated." It can, of course, be expressed as a simple conditional clause; "if you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored", CEV.

uJywsei (uJyow) fut. "exalts / exalt" - will exalt, lift up, raise to a height. A person's standing before God is a gift of grace and not something earned. The humble person recognizes this fact. Jesus is the perfect example of such a person. Often the exalting is seen in terms of exalting ourselves over others, but it is exalting ourselves before God that is the issue, ie., claiming standing before him in our own right. The nomist theology of the Pharisees exposed them to this way of thinking and inevitably led to their humiliation before God, ie., "exaltation of oneself in the present will mean a humbling in the eschaton", Hagner.

eJauton "himself / themselves" - Reflexive pronoun.

tapeinwqhsetai (tapeinow) fut. pas. "will be humbled" - As with uJywqhsetai, "will be exalted", the future tense refers to an eschatological action, while the use of a passive voice intends an action at the hand of God, ie., a divine / theological passive.

tapeinwsei (tapeinow) fut. "humbles" - [and whoever] will make low, humbles [himself will be lifted up]. Humility is not humbug or deference in dealing with others, but is primarily a dependence on the mercy of God for salvation, rather than a dependence on our own self-righteousness.


Matthew Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]