Six or Seven Woes

Or; The Fallout of the Pharisees, From A-Z–Not Literally

Matthew 23: 13-36

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. [Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation.]* “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ “You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold? “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.’ “You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering? “Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. “And he who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. “And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ “Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. “Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. “Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”

The question from my last missive seems to be still in play; how can Jesus say to the people, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds?” We must remember that in the context of Matthew Jesus doesn’t say, follow the Pharisees, only, to listen to their words. In the context of the entire New Testament, Jesus says, “follow me.”

Before we dig any deeper or consider the context we have a very small problem; verse fourteen is not found in the earliest manuscripts. Perhaps you prefer the NIV or ESV and have noticed that this verse is not found in this context. I don’t want to argue and debate, therefore I will pontificate! It was not written by Matthew but added later. I believe that the reason it was added was because it is found in both Mark and Luke, whose accounts are at different times. But perhaps Matthew had a different aspiration to his audience and Jesus woed them more than once? 7 is the number of completeness and the Pharisees are certainly completely corrupt. But one of the sublime strings running through Matthew is earthly thinking. 6 is the number of the earth–could it be that Matthew recorded 6 woes to correspond with his sublime string? It’s interesting to inquire but unanswered. It’s possible but it is also conjecture. We can’t know and it doesn’t really matter. Whether Matthew wrote the words or not isn’t as important as knowing that Jesus did say them; they are Biblical, but added later by someone who thought they were helping even though they were not (there’s probably a woe there).

Since this woe wasn’t mentioned by Matthew, we won’t consider it at this time. Nevertheless, Jesus said it, don’t block it off from your mind. Nevertheless, we will see the sublime string of the 6 woes and consider their context.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Again I struggle. Jesus said to listen to the Pharisees and scribes but it is obvious that they lead men astray, according to the context. I have to remind myself of what Paul wrote in Romans 13, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.” Yet still I struggle.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” The metaphorical Master is using hyperbole; an intentional, immensely​ inflated, exaggeration. The Pharisees didn’t literally sail the sea and traverse the terrain to find one single convert and bring them to hell with them. Yet the point of Jesus is well received. The few followers of the Pharisees take the same form.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.” Jesus appears to be a little more literal in this woe. Though he probably is not using direct quotes from the Pharisees, I’m sure that it’s an excellent summation of their thoughts and teachings. Again, Jesus is clearly pointing out their earthly thinking. They believe that it’s the offering and not the altar, and the gold, not the temple that are important–it’s earthly thinking. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Mint is small and earthly, dill is small and earthly and cummin is small and earthly. However, I would argue that justice, mercy and faithfulness sum up the “Fruits of the Spirit” found in Galatians. Not only that, they sum up the Law of Moses as well. Loving God and one’s neighbor are summed up in justice, mercy and faithfulness. Blind guides is a metaphor as is straining out a gnat, which is very small, but swallowing a camel is large and quite impossible. But the use of hyperbole by Jesus is once again, well received, even with a little cross cultural contamination. The Pharisees take the tiny things and stretch them out but swallow hole, without enjoying, chewing or savoring the flavor of the large, weighty things–and consuming a camel can’t be kosher–cud chewer–but not kosher.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” This is one of my favorite metaphors from the Master. Not because it puts the Pharisees in there proper place, but me. I can certainly relate to this. I would try to appear good and clean on the outside but inside I was wicked. So now I walk around with filthy clothes and unkempt hair so that the outside matches the inside. While that is a little far fetched, I don’t have enough hair for it to be unkempt, I hope we can understand the metaphor made by the master. The Pharisees have the appearance of righteousness but they are far from it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Now there’s a good metaphor followed by an explanation. This is a similar statement to the previous woe but the explanation differs slightly. Also, the explanation helps us understand the metaphor. Dead man’s bones don’t correlate in my mind with hypocrisy and lawlessness. But we make the context connection when Jesus gives the analogy. The Pharisees are compared to a grave–their outward appearance can be compared to a beautiful tomb, but their lawlessness and hypocrisy can also be compared to the inside of the tomb, full of dead man’s bones. In the last woe they are compared with dinnerware, that is clean in the outside but inside they are full of robery and self-indulgence. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”

We mustn’t do any fancy footwork to the context, culturally contaminating the context​ to cause it to be contemporary. For instance, though the Master of Metaphor, Jesus says plainly, “Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.” Another instance of cross cultural contamination is found in my heading– “A to Z.” Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers say, “From Abel to Zechariah, this is the A-Z of the prophets.” Problem, while true and probably very close to the intended meaning, in Greek, Omega is the final letter of the alphabet, not Zeta. I believe that this is a blessing in English, because although it probably isn’t the exactly​ intended meaning, it’s probably closer than we can come, considering the context and cross-cultural contamination. That is, The A to Z of the prophets, most likely refers to the first all the way to the last. Problem; we cannot be absolutely positive of this. We will discuss why in a moment. However, we can know and understand that Matthew’s first-century audience saw his aspiration–they would have known that which we cannot know with absolute certainty. And we rejoice over this, we don’t lose our joy just because we have come across cross-cultural contamination. Not that the Bible has been corrupted but that 2000 years later, we may not know all that they knew, nor have we been exposed to that which they had been.

“I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

Problem, the Bible never says that Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, was murdered, much less between the temple and the altar. However, because the Bible doesn’t say it, doesn’t mean it’s not true. For instance, the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, as prophesied by Jesus in Matthew (and Revelation) but the Bible does not say anything about the temple after it was destroyed, but we know that it happened. That’s probably not the best example, considering the completion of the New Testament prior to 70 AD. Nevertheless, we understand that much of what happened in Biblical times is not recorded, simply for time’s sake. John concluded his Gospel by writing, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written.”

Another problem; Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, was killed between the temple and the altar. In 2 Chronnicles 24, we read, “Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, ‘Thus God has said, “Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.”‘ So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him, but he murdered his son.”

Again, because one Zechariah was murdered between the temple and the altar, by no means excludes another Zechariah from being killed between the temple and the altar, particularly when one considers the types and shadows found as a sublime string, woven throughout the text. Especially considering the context and the meaning of the name Zechariah; “The Lord remembers.”

Problem; did Jesus confuse Zechariah Ben Jehoiada with Zechariah, son of Berechiah, son of Iddo? Believe it or not, contemporary, secular scholars argue this point–Jesus was most likely confusing the two. Which is awesome, it means Matthew recorded every word verbatim! (Writing as sarcastically as one can write) Yes, Jesus is always confusing things, he meant to say, Jehoiada but slipped up, as he often does, and said Berechiah. Their schools should refund their money. It proves that the Spirit is required for understanding the Scriptures. Nevertheless, they could at least try the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics. I doubt that they considered the Context, applied the author’s Aspiration, jived with the Genre, explored with exegesis the Examples and certainly didn’t Divide rightly the word of truth. But we do.

Some early manuscripts don’t include, “the son of Berechiah,” but most do. The earliest manuscripts have been lost and what we have are often incomplete, copies of copies. And while we know that certain things have been added, even within this context, I find it very difficult to believe that one scribe slipped this in once and all the other manuscripts followed suit, for two reasons. One, they are God’s words and while some–very few–things get added or deleted, they are his words and he would have them well preserved. Second, if the scribe was stupid, we would find many more hypothetical errors–if corrupted, even more. Nevertheless, we have to understand that they were attempting to preserve the words and their integrity. Still, it is possible that, “the son of Berechiah,” was a clerical error, however unlikely.

Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers pontificate on this particular passage. Each will take a firm stand on one of the points that I have presented. If nothing else, I hope that I won’t be remembered as dogmatic. I don’t know the answer. I believe that the metaphorical Master was probably using wordplay, and that he intended for the Pharisees to consider both Zechariah A and Zechariah B–“God remembers,” based on the context and sublime string. We are not told how Zechariah B was killed, but it is not at all a stretch to think that he was killed in the same way as Zechariah A. And considering the oral teaching and traditions of the Pharisees, it’s easy for me to believe that they knew how Zechariah B was killed.

One thing that I will be dogmatic about–Jesus was not confused. I will certainly not be dogmatic if you want to think about the A-Z of the prophets, because that is essentially the point–they killed them all. Jesus uses their Old Testament tutor against them. He says that the blood of all the prophets is on their hands because they confess, by way of passing the proverbial buck upon their fathers, that they are in fact the son’s of murderers. Exodus 34, “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.'” By their own Law, the Pharisees confess their guilt. Nevertheless, Christ came to establish a New Covenant, one in which, “I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

Either way, they are guilty and soon they will see that of which Jesus spoke. “Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.” Stay tuned, it gets better, or worse, depending upon where your faith is placed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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