Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees


Posted by Thaddaeus

Matthew 23: 1-12


Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.  For they preach but they do not practice.  They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders,  but they will not lift a finger to move them.  All their works are performed to be seen.  They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.  They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’  As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’  You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.  Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.  Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ.  The greatest among you must be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”


Background:  On more than one occasion, Jesus refers to the scribes and Pharisees as “the hypocrites.”  The chair of Moses refers to the judgment seat where Moses sits in judgment of God’s people.  There might have been a literal chair.  Eventually, Moses appoints other able men in local communities to judge smaller matters.  This is the beginning of the succession of Levitical priests and a tiered judicial system throughout Israel.  At the time of Jesus, the High Priest has the seat of authority as the head of the Sanhedrin, or Supreme Court.  Lesser matters are handled in the local synagogues by the scribes and Pharisees.  They are both teachers and judges.  They make their phylacteries larger and their tassels longer, which supposedly shows greater devotion to the Word of God.  They publicly bind strictness in all 613 commandments, observances and rituals, but loosen themselves from the same lofty standards.


Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees:  October 31, marked the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church.  Ever since, views on Church authority, communion and ethical issues continue to divide Catholics and Protestants.  The curious connection between Halloween and Reformation Day is not by accident.  Luther sees it as confronting three false religious observances: Halloween (Oct 31), All Saints Day (Nov 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov 2), which he believes promotes false saintliness and fears of judgment and purgatory.  Protestants are taught that the idea of Purgatory is unbiblical; yet, we all know some Protestants who continue to pray for their departed loved ones. Why?  Perhaps because it presupposes God’s mercy for those whose state of their soul, at the hour of death, might not yet be prepared for the fullness of God in Christ.