Matthew 23:1-12

Matthew 23:1-12
Proper 26A


Then JesusI said to the crowds and to his disciples,II 2 “The scribesIII and the PhariseesIV

Notes on verses 1-2a

I “Jesus” = Iesous. From Hebrew Yehoshua (Joshua, the Lord is salvation); {from YHVH (proper name of the God of Israel; the self-existent and eternal one); {from havah (to become) or from hayah (to come to pass, become, be)} + yasha (to deliver, defend, help, preserve, rescue; properly, to be open, wide or free, which implies being safe. So, in a causative sense, this is to free someone). This is Jesus or Joshua in Greek – the Lord saves or the Lord is salvation.
II “disciples” = mathetes. From matheteuo (to make a disciple of); from manthano (to learn key facts, gain knowledge from experience; generally implies reflection as part of the learning process); from math– (thinking things through). This is a disciple, learner, or student. It is where we get “mathematics” from.
III “scribes” = grammateus. From gramma (what is drawn or written so a letter of the alphabet, correspondence, literature, learning); from grapho (to write). This is a writer, scribe, or secretary. Within Judaism, it was someone learned in the Law, a teacher. Also used in the Bible of the town-clerk of Ephesus. See Sirach 38:24-39:11 for a lengthier, positive passage about who scribes were and what they meant in society.
IV “Pharisees” = Pharisaios. From Aramaic peras (to divide, separate) and from Hebrew parash (to make distinct, separate, scatter). This is a Pharisee, a member of a Jewish sect active in the 1st century. Their name meant separate in the sense of wanting to live a life separated from sin. Whereas the Sadducees were part of the priestly line and inherited their religious position and responsibilities, Pharisees were regular people who studied the scriptures and offered guidance to regular folk. Sadducees were often wealthier and willing to sacrifice their identity to rub elbows with Roman society. Pharisees were often more concerned with what it meant to follow God without compromising what made them different as followers of God. Sadducees primarily believed in that which was written down (the first five books of the Bible) and Pharisees believed in the Bible and the traditions of the elders. Pharisees had a very wide range of interpretations and diversity of opinion. Their standard mode of religious engagement was lively debate with one another. To argue religion with another teacher was to recognize that they had something of value to offer.

sitV on Moses’VI seat;VII 

Notes on verse 2b

V “sit” = kathizo. Related to “seat” in v2. See note VII below. From kathezomai (to sit down, be seated); {from kata (down, against, according to, among) + hezomai (to sit); {from aphedron (a seat, a base)}}. This is to sit, set, appoint, stay, rest.
VI “Moses’” = Mouses. From Hebrew Mosheh (Moses); from mashah (to pull out in a literal or figurative sense, to draw out) OR from Egyptian mes or mesu (child, son i.e. child of…). This is Moses – the one drawn out from the water, which is to say, rescued. If derived from the Egyptian, his name would share a root with Rameses and Thutmose.
VII “seat” = kathedra. 3x in NT. From kata (down, against, according to, among) + the same as hedraios (sitting, well-seated, immovable; figuratively, steadfast, firm, morally fixed); {from hedra (seat)}. This a seat or bench in a literal or figurative sense. This is the root of “cathedral.”

therefore, do whatever they teach you and followVIII it; but do not do as they do,IX for they do not practice what they teach.X 

Notes on verse 3

VIII “follow” = tereo. From teros (a guard or a watch that guards keep); perhaps related to theoreo (gazing, beholding, experiencing, discerning; looking at something to analyze it and concentrate on what it means; the root of the word “theatre” in that people concentrate on the action of the play to understand its meaning); from theaomai (to behold, look upon, see, contemplate, visit); from thaomai (to gaze at a spectacle; to look at or contemplate as a spectator; to interpret something in efforts to grasp its significance); from theoros (a spectator or envoy). This is to guard, observe, keep, maintain, or preserve. It can also be used figuratively for spiritual watchfulness. It is guarding something from being lost or harmed – keeping an eye on it. Contrast the Greek phulasso, which is to guard something so that it doesn’t escape. Also contrast koustodia, which generally denotes a fortress or military presence. This word can mean fulfilling commands, keeping in custody, or maintaining. It can also figuratively mean to remain unmarried.
IX “do” = ergon. From ergo (to work, accomplish, do). This is work, task, deed, labor, effort.
X Literally “therefore all things, as many as they tell you, keep and observe. But according to their works do not do for they speak and do not act.”

They tie upXI heavyXII burdens,XIII hard to bear,XIV 

Notes on verse 4a

XI “tie up” = desmeuo. 3x in NT. From desmos (a bond, chain, infirmity, impediment, ligament); from deo (to tie, bind, fasten, impel, compel; to declare something against the law or prohibited) OR from desmeo (bind, confine, tie); from desmeuo (see above). This is to put in chains, bind together, chain a prisoner, tie a load.
XII “heavy” = barus. 6x in NT. Perhaps from the same as baros (weight, burden in a literal or figurative sense; authority); from the same as basis (foot, step, pace) {from baino (to walk to go). This is heavy, burdensome, oppressive, serious. It is weighty in a literal or figurative sense.
XIII “burdens” = phortion. 6x in NT. From phortos (load, cargo); from phero (to bear, bring, lead, make known publicly; to carry in a literal or figurative sense). This is burden, cargo, ship freight. It is an individual’s burden. It can also be the invoice of freight.
XIV “hard to bear” = dusbastaktos. Perhaps related to “heavy” in v4. 2x in NT. From dus (un- or mis-; with difficulty) + bastaktos (borne); {from bastazo (to lift in a literal of figurative sense; to take up, carry, bear, or remove; figuratively, to declare, endure, or sustain); probably from basis (see note XII above)}. This is oppressive, grievous, doubly heavy. It describes something that is difficult or burdensome to carry.

and layXV them on the shouldersXVI of others;XVII but they themselves are unwillingXVIII to lift a finger to moveXIX them. 

Notes on verse 4b

XV “lay” = epitithemi. From epi (on, upon, what is fitting) + tithemi (to put, place, set, fix, establish in a literal or figurative sense; properly, this is placing something in a passive or horizontal position). This is to lay on or place on, whether in a friendly or aggressive way.
XVI “shoulders” = omos. Perhaps related to “burdens” in v4. 2x in NT. Perhaps from phero (see note XIII above). This is the shoulder as a place where one carries a heavy load.
XVII “others” = anthropos. Probably from aner (man, male, husband) + ops (eye, face). This is human, humankind. Used for all genders.
XVIII “are unwilling” = ou + thelo. Literally “not willing.” Thelo is to wish, desire, will, or intend. It is to choose or prefer in a literal or figurative sense. It can also mean inclined toward or take delight in. It can have a sense of being ready to act on the impulse in question.
XIX “move” = kineo. 8x in NT. This is to move, excite, or provoke. It is to stir in a literal or figurative sense. This is where the word “kinetic” comes from.

They do all their deedsXX to be seenXXI by others; for they make their phylacteriesXXII broadXXIII and their fringesXXIV long.XXV 

Notes on verse 5

XX “deeds” = ergon. Same as “do” in v3. See note IX above.
XXI “seen” = theaomai. Related to “follow” in v3. See note VIII above.
XXII “phylacteries” = phulakterion. 1x in NT. From the same as phulasso (to guard something so that it doesn’t escape – to watch over it vigilantly; being on guard in a literal or figurative sense); {related to phulaks (military guard, sentry, watcher)} + –terion (suffix of a place). This is phylactery, amulet, or a fortification. A phylactery is small cases that have scripture verses inside (Ex 13:1-10, 11-16; Dt 6:4-9, 13-21) bound to the forehead, arm, and wrist.
XXIII “make…broad” = platuno. 3x in NT. From platus (wide, spread flat, broad); perhaps from plasso (to form, mold; to create like a potter shapes clay). This is to enlarge, open wide. It can be widen in a figurative sense – to open one’s heart wide.
XXIV “fringes” = kraspedon. 5x in NT. This is a border – a fringe, edge, or tassel.
XXV “long” = megaluno. 8x in NT. From megas (big in a literal or figurative sense – great, large, exceeding, abundant, high, mighty, perfect, strong, etc). This is the same word used in Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1:46 “my soul magnifies the Lord.” This is to make great, increase, extoll, magnify. It is increase in a literal or figurative sense.

They loveXXVI to have the place of honorXXVII at banquetsXXVIII and the best seatsXXIX in the synagogues,XXX 

Notes on verse 6

XXVI “love” = phileo. From philos (dear, beloved, a friend, an associate; friendship with personal affection, a trusted confidante; love from personal experience with another person). This is friendship love and fondness with personal attachment.
XXVII “place of honor” = protoklisia. 5x in NT. From protos (what is first, which could be the most important, the first in order, the main one, the chief); {from pro (before, first, in front of, earlier)} + klisia (a place where one reclines; a dining couch or a group of people eating together); {from klino (to slant, rest, recline, approach an end, wear; to bend in a literal or figurative sense – to lay down, a day ending, causing an opposing army to flee)}. This is literally reclining first. It can refer to the chief place or the place with the most honor – highest, preeminent.
XXVIII “banquets” = deipnon. 16x in NT. From the same as dapane (cost or expense); from dapto (to devour). This is a dinner or a feast – a meal in the afternoon or, more commonly, the evening.
XXIX “best seats” = protokathedria. Related to “seat” and “sit” in v2 & “place of honor” in v6. 4x in NT – all in parallels of Jesus denouncing scribes and Pharisees. From protos (see note XXVII above) + kathedra (see note VII above). This is sitting first, perhaps in the front row as a chief or most honorable place to sit.
XXX “synagogues” = sunagoge. From sun (with, together with, closely associated) + ago (to lead, bring, carry, guide, go, drive). Literally, this is a bringing together, a place of assembly. The term can be used for the people or for the place where they assemble. It is also sometimes used of Christian churches in the New Testament. So, this is synagogue, assembly, congregation, or church. This is where the word “synagogue” comes from.

and to be greetedXXXI with respect in the marketplaces,XXXII and to have peopleXXXIII callXXXIV them rabbi.XXXV 

Notes on verse 7

XXXI “greeted” = aspasmos. 10x in NT. From aspazomai (to welcome, salute, or greet. It can also be to embrace or acclaim); {perhaps from a (with, together with) + a form of spao (to draw, draw out, pull)}. This is a greeting whether face to face or in a letter.
XXXII “marketplaces” = agora. 11x in NT. From ageiro (to gather). This is assembly, forum, marketplace, town square, thoroughfare. This is where “agoraphobia” comes from.
XXXIII “people” = anthropos. Same as “others” in v4. See note XVII above.
XXXIV “call” = kaleo. Related to keleuo (to command, order, direct); from kelomai (to urge on). This is to call by name, invite, to name, bid, summon, call aloud.
XXXV “rabbi” = rhabbi. 15x in NT– 8x in the Gospel of John. From Hebrew rab (chief); from rabab (to be many, increase, multiply). This is a title of respect for a teacher-scholar. Literally, it means great one or honorable sir. It can also be understood as my master or my teacher.

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have oneXXXVI teacher,XXXVII and you are all students.XXXVIII And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven.XXXIX 

Notes on verses 8-9

XXXVI “for you have one” = heis + gar + eimi + su. Literally “for one is your.”  
XXXVII “teacher” = didaskalos. From didasko (to teach, direct, instruct, or impart knowledge; in the New Testament, almost always used for teaching scripture); from dao (to learn). This is teacher or master.
XXXVIII “students” = adelphos. From a (with, community, fellowship) + delphus (womb). This is a brother in a literal or figurative sense. It is also used of another member of the Church.
XXXIX “in heaven” = ouranios. 9x in NT. From ouranos (air, sky, the atmosphere, heaven; the sky that is visible; the spiritual heaven where God dwells; implies happiness, power, and eternity); {perhaps from oros (mountain, hill)}. This is heavenly or celestial. It can mean in, belonging to, or coming from heaven or the sky.

10 Nor are you to be called instructors,XL for you have one instructor, the Messiah.XLI 11 The greatestXLII among you will be your servant.XLIII 12 All who exaltXLIV themselves will be humbled,XLV and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Notes on verses 10-12

XL “instructors” = kathegetes. Related to “synagogues” in v6. 2x in NT. From kata (down, against, according to, throughout) + hegeomai (to think, suppose, have an opinion; to lead the way, what comes in front or first, initial thought, high esteem or authority; one who commands in an official capacity); {from ago (see note XXX above)}. This is a leader, teacher, or guide. It is a master-teacher as in Plato. This same word is presently used in Greek to mean professor.
XLI Literally, “since your instructor is one, the Christ.” “Christ” = christos. From chrio (consecrate by anointing with oil; often done for prophets, priests, or kings). Literally, the anointed one, Christ. The Greek word for Messiah.
XLII “greatest” = megas. Related to “long” in v5. See note XXV above.
XLIII “servant” = diakonos. Perhaps from dia (through, across to the other side, thoroughly) + konis (dust) OR from dioko (to chase after, put to flight; by implication, to persecute or to purse like a hunter after its prey; this can be earnestly pursue or zealously persecute) {related to dio (put to flight)}. This is a servant, minister, waiter, or attendant. It is used for a person who performs a service, including religious service. This is the root of the word “deacon.”
XLIV “exalt” = hupsoo. From hupsos (height, high position, heaven, dignity, eminence; elevation, altitude; to be exalted); from hupsi (on high, aloft); from huper (over, above, beyond). This is to elevate in a literal or figurative sense. So it could be to raise up or set something in a high place or to exalt or make something great.
XLV “be humbled” = tapeinoo. 14x in NT. From tapeinos (low in position, depressed, low in circumstance; fig humiliated, low in spirit). This is bringing someone or something low. Figuratively to humble or humiliate – to depress or abase.

Image credit: “Past Glories” by Thomas Thomopoulos, 1910.

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