Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992.
“Matthew 23” pp. 568-592.
The entirety of Matthew 23 is a denunciation of the Pharisees, a more sustained one than is contained anywhere else in the Gospels (Morris 1992, 569). Morris makes it clear that not each Pharisee was subject to those criticisms. Jesus’ address to the crowds and the disciples suggests he is warning them against negative patterns he sees in the Pharisees (Morris 1992, 571). The teachers of the Law were heirs of the role of Moses. Jesus affirms the need to hear them (Morris 1992, 572). However, when they depart from what Moses said, they are to be ignored (Morris 1992, 573). Morris notes that the burdens the Pharisees placed on people were more difficult for people in trades than for the more scholarly (Morris 1992, 574). The attitude shown toward holiness was also problematic. Morris notes the recurring mentions of the Pharisees’ desire to be perceived as godly rather than a desire to please God regardless of others’ perceptions (Morris 1992, 574). Jesus’ rejection of titles in verses 8 ff is controversial. Morris notes that socially prominent people, not necessarily rabbis, would be called “rabbi” and receive honorifics. The Christian is to look at Jesus while still acknowledging that some people are more gifted teachers than others (Morris 1992, 576). The conclusion of the teaching is in verses 11-12 where humility will care for all other struggles (Morris 1992, 578).
In verse 12 Jesus begins denouncing “the scribes and Pharisees” in a specific and repeated formula. Morris considers that some of this group must have been present (Morris 1992, 578). The charges are very forceful condemnations, including preventing people from entering God’s kingdom (Morris 1992, 579). Verses 16 and following point to the type of quibbling over minute details to decide whether an agreement is binding or not (Morris 1992, 580). In verse 23 Jesus points to the care of the Pharisees in tithing but their failings in showing justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Morris 1992, 583). Again, this is related to the overall tendency to focus on minor details but fail to observe the big picture of God’s will. In verse 25 the Pharisees are outwardly pure but inwardly full of corruption, kept secret (Morris 1992, 584). In verse 28 the charge of lawlessness is added to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. This seems an odd charge against them. “But their concentration on the externals to the neglect of demands like justice and mercy and faithfulness meant that in the last resort they followed their own inclinations, not the law of God” (Morris 1992, 585). In the final “woe” the Pharisees show honor to the prophets but do the same works the prophets condemned (Morris 1992, 586).
Beginning in verse 35 the tone changes slightly as Jesus predicts that true messengers of God’s kingdom will always face rejection at the hands of the Pharisees and those like them (Morris 1992, 588). Jesus’ grief for Jerusalem as he weeps over it shows his care for the city where God’s will has been made known (Morris 1992, 590). The people of Jerusalem had rejected Jesus, the Messiah. Here Matthew has him making that clear as he addresses the city as a whole for the last time (Morris 1992, 592).