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Eight Woes Proclaimed on Scribes and Pharisees (1)

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Studying the bible is always good. For years, I have been studying the bible and I found it wonderful



It is not common for Jesus to talk about woe because he is a man of peace but he indubitably cannot avoid saying these because of the behaviors of the religious leaders of his days for by their deeds they were shutting the door of the kingdom against the people desirous to enter.

He reproved them, those religious leaders who during his days are scribes, pharisees and history has it that another group called Essenes emerged during Jesus days. Through this he equally warned his disciples, telling them of the need to guard, guide themselves and ensure that they do not be like them, but should be like him, pointing people to heaven and God, his father through him.

This they can do by ensuring that their actions and fruits synchronize with what they are saying or teaching. When people see this, they shall call them after him, and his father in heaven, the children of God.

The chapter 23 of the book of Matthew is certainly chapter of woes for eight woes are stated there in and the account of this could only be found in this book.

In elucidating this article, I shall briefly talk on the scribes and pharisees for they are the focus of the message here in, which is the woes pronounced; the woe; why such woes were pronounced on them; table showing a quick glance of the woes and the conclusion.

Scribes and Pharisees in Brief

They are those who maintain the continuity of the Jewish religion which is based on 10 commandments given by Prophet Moses, Pentateuch and the Law (which can be called the word of God which is the greatest possession in the world).

When forgot God and his word they were overcome by their enemies and carried away captive to other lands. Then their laws had no significance again. But in the land of captivity Ezra purported in his heart to serve the Lord with all his heart and when the gates of Jerusalem were being rebuilt, he and Nehemiah openly read the law unto them.

The hearing of this message stimulates the love of God in their hearts again, thus the study of the law was committed unto some men called men of great synagogue also known as scribes.

They return to Jerusalem in 450 BC and law was committed unto them for studies and interpretation.

Centuries after, (175-163 BC) before Maccabean war an enemy arose called Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria who wants to stamp out the Jewish religion and substitute it with Greek, religion, custom and practices, this was called Hellenizing spirit because the book of covenant was destroyed and he commanded that the people on which the book be found be put to death. (I Macc. 1: 56-57)

This progresses until it becomes a political party and the selected ones backed out. Those who opted out are called the Pharisees.

Shall we see some words about the two classes: Scribes and Pharisees. I have excluded the Essenes (called essēnoi in Greek are sect among Jews during the days of Jesus numbering about 4,000 and devoted themselves to ascetic life, formed colonies, living in Engedi, lived a simple life and anyone who wants to be a member would give up all he possessed) in this article.



Those who belong to this class in the Old Testament days could broadly be divided into three.

1. Writer: They are writers who are employed as amanuenses to write dictation and draw up legal documents (Jer. 36: 4, 18, 32; 32:12). In Chaldean era they care called representations of god-Nabȗ; whole in Egypt they are called Toth. Emperor Diocletian (AD 301) sets their wages as in between 25 and 20 denarii.

2. Secretary: They are employed as secretaries for governments or other clerks, some group of Levites during the days of King Josiah were employed as scribes for the business of repairing the temple (2 Ki. 12:10; Ezr 4:8; 2 Chr 34:13)

3. Copying the Laws and Scriptures: Ezra was the chief among those who fall into this category. (Jer. 8:8; Ezr 7:6, 10). He was a prototype for others.

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However, in the New Testament they fall unto three classes which are

(i) Grammateis: The word means “secretaries”, “scribes”, experts in the law. Most of them belong to pharisees. (Mat. 5:20; 12:38; 15:1; 23:2, 13-29; Mar 2:16; 7:1, 5; Act 23:9)

(ii) Nomikoi: This word means lawyers (Luk 7:30; 10:25; 11:45; 14:3) They are very intelligent and deeply thinking people.

(iii) Nomodidaskaloi: This word means teachers of the law (Luk 5:17) an example of this is Gamaliel (Act 5:34)

Their (Scribes) Functions

Some of their functions among the people of the land are stated beneath.

1. Studying and Interpreting the law: They study the law and interpret them, both civil and religious laws are studied by them. After these studies they would talk about how those laws could be applied to daily living. What they arrived at eventually became oral laws and traditions for the people which Jesus talked about.

2. Studying the Scriptures: They study the scriptures with respect to history and doctrinal issues.

3. Teach Law: Each of the qualified scribe has disciples or students assigned to him that he teaches.

It worth mentioning that this group receives boost after the exile because of the need to copy, study and expound the scriptures to become the basis for the national life.

Their numbers increased during the Maccabean period (I Macc 7:12). During Jesus days they have got great influence among the people. Many of them are among the Sanhedrin (Mat. 16:21; 26:3) and some believed in Christ’s teachings (Mat. 8:19) and there are some who believed in resurrection as Paul did, thus they took his side during his defense (Act 23:9).


Pharisees (Făr’ǐ-sēz (Perīshā))

In Greek word it is “Φαρισαῖος”, Romanized form is Pharisaios (pronounced as far-is-ah'-yos) which derives its origin from the Hebrew word “פּרשׁ”, the Romanized form of which is pârâsh (pronounced as paw-rash') which means to separate.

Pharisees are “the separated ones”. They dedicate their entire lives to careful and meticulous observance of every rule and regulation which the scribes had worked out.

It is one of the three Jewish parties; others are Sadducees and Essenes. They are “straitest” group among them. (Act 26:5).

Characteristics of Pharisees

(i) Dedication: They are dedicated legalists who observe all laws that is related to religion

(ii) Earnest: They are desperately earnest about their beliefs.

Their (Pharisees) Beliefs

Some of their beliefs include among others the following

1. Fore-ordination: They believe in fore ordination. But this fore ordination is said to be in consistent with the will of man.

2. Angels and Spirits: They believe in the existence of angels and spirits; the immortality of soul and resurrection of body.

3. Reward at Other World: They believe that future life exists where people are rewarded or punished as they had lived their lives on earth.

4. Resurrection: Their believe on resurrection is that the souls of the wicked are detained forever while the soul of righteous rises and lives again.

Types of Pharisees

Talmud in his documentation about them talks about their types and they are seven different types.

(a) Shoulder Pharisee: Those who belong to this class do all they do to be seen (noticed) by people.

(b) Procrastinatory Pharisee: Those of this group always have excuses why something should be delayed or postponed till some other times.

(c) Injured Pharisee: They are also called bruised or bleeding pharisee. Explanation given for this is that because they do not want to be polluted, they would shut their eyes not see women while walking on the street and thence hit their head (face) against the walls which would be bruised and bleeding.

(d) Hump-Backed Pharisee: They also called pestle and mortar or tumbling pharisee. These people walk with such humility that they hardly lift their feet off the floor thus bumping their feet on stones and tripped over. They are called hump-backed pharisee because they would be bent, like the woman Jesus healed whom the bible said was totally bent by infirmity. (Luk 13:11)

(e) Reckoning Pharisee: This class is also known as compound pharisee. They balance between God and themselves. God is indebted to them. Their religion is based on profit and loss.

(f) Timid Pharisee: Those who fall into this purview dread divine punishment; therefore, they clean outside of the cup and platter to appear good. Their religion is based on judgment and life is based on terror-stricken evasion of such judgements.

(g) God Fearing Pharisee: They are those who love God and obey his laws however difficult the laws are.


As we have seen the characteristics of the two sects: Scribes and the Pharisees here, in the next article I shall be talking on why Jesus had to be moved to anger such as to rebuke them and tell them that woe betides them for their ways of administering things among the people of Israel.


- Barclays Daily Study Bible (New Testament)

- The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible


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