seated themselves in the seat of Moses: Or “appointed themselves to Moses’ place,” by presumptuously claiming his authority as interpreters of divine law.
heavy loads: Evidently referring to rules and oral traditions that were burdensome for people to keep.
budge them with their finger: This expression may refer to the unwillingness of the religious leaders to lift even one small regulation to make things easier for those on whom they imposed heavy loads.
the scripture-containing cases that they wear as safeguards: Or “their phylacteries.” These small leather cases containing four portions of the Law (Ex 13:1-10, 11-16; De 6:4-9; 11:13-21) were worn by Jewish men on their forehead and left arm. This practice had its origin in a literal interpretation of God’s direction to the Israelites at Ex 13:9, 16; De 6:8; 11:18. Jesus criticized the religious leaders because they enlarged their scripture-containing cases in order to impress others and because they wrongly considered them to be charms, or amulets, that would protect them.
lengthen the fringes: At Nu 15:38-40, the Israelites were commanded to make fringes on their garments, but for show, the scribes and Pharisees make theirs longer than anyone else does.
front seats: Or “best seats.” Evidently, the presiding officers of the synagogue and distinguished guests sat near the Scripture rolls, in full view of the congregation. These seats of honor were likely reserved for such prominent individuals.
marketplaces: Or “places of assembly.” The Greek word a·go·raʹ is here used to refer to an open area that served as a center for buying and selling and as a place of public assembly in cities and towns of the ancient Near East and the Greek and Roman world.
Rabbi: Literally meaning “my great one,” from the Hebrew word rav, meaning “great.” In common usage, “Rabbi” meant “Teacher” (Joh 1:38), but it came to be used as an honorary title. Some learned men, scribes and teachers of the Law, demanded to be addressed by this title.
father: Jesus here prohibits the use of the term “father” as a formalistic or religious title of honor applied to men.
leaders: The Greek word is a synonym for “Teacher,” found in verse 8, and here it conveys the idea of those who provide guidance and instruction, spiritual leaders. It was likely used as a religious title.
Leader: Since no imperfect human can be the spiritual Leader of true Christians, Jesus is the only one rightly bearing this title.—See preceding study note on leaders in this verse.
the Christ: Here the title “Christ,” meaning “Anointed One,” is preceded by the definite article in Greek. This is a way of indicating that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the one who had been anointed in a special sense.—See study notes on Mt 1:1 and 2:4.
minister: Or “servant.”—See study note on Mt 20:26.
Woe to you: This is the first in a series of seven woes pronounced on the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, in which Jesus identifies them as hypocrites and blind guides.
hypocrites: See study note on Mt 6:2.
shut up: Or “shut the door to,” that is, prevent people from entering.
A few manuscripts add the words: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense offer long prayers; on this account you will receive judgment more abundantly.” However, the earliest and most important manuscripts do not include this verse. Similar words, though, can be found at Mr 12:40 and Lu 20:47 as part of the inspired text.—See App. A3.
proselyte: Or “convert.” The Greek word pro·seʹly·tos denotes a Gentile who has converted to Judaism, which included circumcision for male proselytes.
a subject for Gehenna: Lit., “a son of Gehenna,” that is, someone who is deserving of eternal destruction.—See Glossary, “Gehenna.”
Fools and blind ones!: Or “You blind fools!” In Biblical usage, the term “fool” generally refers to an individual who spurns reason and follows a morally insensible course that is out of harmony with God’s righteous standards.
tenth of the mint and the dill and the cumin: Under the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were to pay the tithe, or a tenth, of their crops. (Le 27:30; De 14:22) Although the Law did not explicitly command that they give a tenth of herbs like mint, dill, and cumin, Jesus did not contradict the tradition. Rather, he reproved the scribes and Pharisees for focusing on minor details of the Law while failing to promote its underlying principles, such as justice and mercy and faithfulness.
who strain out the gnat but gulp down the camel: The gnat and the camel were among the smallest and the largest unclean creatures known to the Israelites. (Le 11:4, 21-24) Jesus uses hyperbole, combined with a degree of irony, in saying that the religious leaders filter their beverages so as not to be ceremonially defiled by a gnat, while they completely disregard the weightier matters of the Law, an action comparable to swallowing a camel.
whitewashed graves: It was a custom in Israel to whitewash graves as a warning so that those passing by would not accidentally become ceremonially defiled through contact with a burial place. (Nu 19:16) The Jewish Mishnah (Shekalim 1:1) says that this whitewashing was done annually, one month prior to the Passover. Jesus used this expression as a metaphor for hypocrisy.
lawlessness: See study note on Mt 24:12.
tombs: Or “memorial tombs.”—See Glossary, “Memorial tomb.”
fill up the measure of your forefathers: Or “finish off the works that your forefathers started.” The literal meaning of this idiomatic expression is “to fill up a measure that someone else has started to fill.” Jesus is not commanding the Jewish leaders to finish what their ancestors started. Rather, he is using irony in foretelling that they would kill him, as their ancestors killed God’s prophets of former times.
Serpents, offspring of vipers: Satan, “the original serpent” (Re 12:9), is in a spiritual sense the progenitor of opposers to true worship. Jesus, therefore, justly classified these religious leaders as “serpents, offspring of vipers.” (Joh 8:44; 1Jo 3:12) They caused deadly spiritual harm to those who were influenced by their wickedness. John the Baptist also used the expression “offspring of vipers.”—Mt 3:7.
public instructors: Or “learned persons.” The Greek word gram·ma·teusʹ is rendered “scribe” when referring to Jewish teachers of the Law, but Jesus is here speaking about his disciples who are to be sent out to teach others.
synagogues: See Glossary, “Synagogue.”
from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah: Jesus’ statement embraced all the murdered witnesses of Jehovah mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, from Abel, listed in the first book (Ge 4:8), to Zechariah, mentioned at 2Ch 24:20, Chronicles being the last book in the traditional Jewish canon. So when Jesus said from “Abel to . . . Zechariah,” he was saying “from the very first case to the last.”
son of Barachiah: According to 2Ch 24:20, this Zechariah was “the son of Jehoiada the priest.” It has been suggested that Jehoiada may have had two names, as is the case with others in the Bible (compare Mt 9:9 with Mr 2:14), or that Barachiah was Zechariah’s grandfather or an earlier ancestor.
whom you murdered: While these Jewish religious leaders did not actually kill Zechariah, Jesus held them accountable because they had the same murderous disposition as their ancestors.—Re 18:24.
between the sanctuary and the altar: According to 2Ch 24:21, Zechariah was murdered “in the courtyard of Jehovah’s house.” The altar of burnt offering was in the inner courtyard, outside of and in front of the entrance to the sanctuary. (See App. B8.) This would correspond with the location Jesus mentioned for the incident.
Truly: See study note on Mt 5:18.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem: According to Lu 13:34, Jesus made a very similar statement when he was in Perea some time earlier. Here, however, Jesus makes this statement on Nisan 11 during the last week of his earthly ministry.—See App. A7.
Look!: See study note on Mt 1:20.
house: That is, the temple.
is abandoned to you: Some ancient manuscripts add the word “desolate.”