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Eight Woes Proclaimed on Scribes and Pharisees (2)

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Having seen their characteristics in the first article, I shall want us to see why Jesus pronounced woes on them in this second article.

Why the Woes

Talmud while summarizing this classification of pharisee says, you can see the ratio of those who really love God among them to those who are simply religionists, those who are doing the service but not as the Lord desires. The ratio is 1: 6. They outnumbered those who love God, thus, the Lord cannot but frown at them and rebuke them when talking about them in the bible.

Woe in Greek word is “οὐαί”, Romanized form is ouai, (phonetic spelling is oo-ah'ee) which is exclamation for grief, alas.

1. Shutting up Kingdom of Heaven

The matter of the Kingdom of heaven is paramount in Jesus heart because it was for that reason that he came to the earth. he thence started with that, saying that they are those who shut up the Kingdom of heaven against the people who are desirous of entering. Incidentally, they thought they are entering but he makes it clear unto them that they by their deeds are likewise not entering the place and those who want to enter they prevent from entering.

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.(Mat 23:13)


2. Devourers

Devourer in Greek word is “κατεσθίω”, Romanized form is katesthiō (phonetic spelling is kat-es-thee'-o) which means to eat down.

They devour widows, fatherless and those without might. It is observed that they also add to people’s burdens instead of alleviating them. As a way of pleasing God, they pray for long hours.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. (Mat 23:14)

The word pretense used by Jesus here is “πρόφασις” in Greek which when Romanized becomes prophasis (pronounced as prof'-as-is) which means outward showing. They show that they are pious to people that is why they pray for long hours to show the people that what they are doing is right, as they are devouring them.

Many so called people of God today are devourers, they devour and milk dry the members of their denomination under the pretext that they are praying for them on the mountain, that they are doing vigil for them, they see their problems yet they add unto their burdens keep asking from them to build their empire and they would say it is those who give that would receive back, they need to give to God through them so that they would receive back from God.

Jesus says, God sees their ways and would judge them with greater judgment because he has not asked them to devour widows and fatherless but to help them.

3. Proselytise

Proselyte in Greek is “προσήλυτος”, Romanized form is prosēlutos (pronounced as pros-ah'-loo-tos) which means an arriver from another (foreign) religion, a convert to Judaism. They are usually

These people do all they can to make people their followers and disciples (proselyte them). Take as instance, it takes two years before they can become an “Essene” member. When those people become their members, they are more terrible than them in their actions and obedience to the rules and regulations that have been set down.

Consider the case of Saul who later became Paul, we read of how he ceaselessly persecuted the followers of Christ before he was saved. He though learnt under Gamaliel according to what he said, but he was stronger in persecuting the church than Gamaliel.

Reading what Jesus said about them that they make those proselytes twice terrible than they are would be clearer to us.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. (Mat 23:15)

This is because what those people have experienced before being admitted into their midst would be so much such that they cannot toy with anything neither anyone and would be sterner and more dangerous than those who trained them.

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Is this not what is happening in some parts of the world today. When some people have received terrible trainings, they become more terrible than their teachers and trainers. Consider the case of those terrorists. Despite all that the law enforcement agencies all over the globe are doing to put an end to their nefarious activities they continued to grow. This is because of the training they have passed through, those severe trainings make their hearts hardened like rock such that it can hardly be changed except by special grace of Jesus as he changed Saul on the way to Damascus it is such great influence that could change their hearts.

4. Covetous

Their covetousness is revealed in their choice of swearing. What they approved the Israelis to swear with show the depth of their hearts.

Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! (Mat 23:16)

People can swear by the temple, but they should not swear by the gold in the temple neither by the gifts in the temple. This is because their hearts are on those things, they covet those things while applying little of their minds to the temple itself. Thus, Jesus told them that the temple is bigger than the gifts, they need to consider God higher in their hearts. He said woe be on them because their hearts if full of covetousness.


5. Omission

Another reason why woe betides them is because of what they omit.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Mat 23:23)

They omit the weightier matters of the law but embracing the minutest details of the law, because of what they stand to gain from those things. Because of what they want to possess, they ask people to pay the tithe of the minutest things in the land, but what they should do, showing mercy, judgment and telling people to have faith in Yahweh, they renege in doing. Jesus says, God frowns at this and because of that they are people under woe.

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. (Mat 23:24)

They have become blind people because of what they omit, they will tell people that some things are not good most especially when those things are little, but when they see bigger things they would not talk along the line.

What am I saying? What I am saying about this place is that in the law of Israelites, gnat and camel are both unclean. Thus, they would strain people, censor them when they bring small things to the temple, wanting to know the rudiments and how they have come about such things, but when someone comes with a bigger thing that is unclean they would look the other way and accept it, swallow it as Jesus says.

Stain in Greek is “διῦλίζω”, Romanized form is diulizō (pronounced as dee-oo-lid'-zo) which means to filter out something.

Gnat is said to be an insect and it is unclean, thus to swallow it, it would be filtered out to remove the impurities there, but the camel that is unclean they would not filter, they would accept raw and swallow like that.

This is common now in many places and worryingly among the brethren. When the sin is big or when it involves some prominent figures, televangelists, rich people in faith, preachers and pastors would not talk about them, but when someone who is a baby in faith commits sin, they would nail the ass of the person to the wall.


6. Make Outside (External) Clean

Because they want to appear to the people that they are doing the will of Yahweh, they concentrate on the outside of the cups alone, they wash outside and make outside of cup and platter clean, but hardly touch the inside.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.(Mat 23:25)

Jesus herein directs his word to what is inside of them as they lead people. For he says, what comes out of the mouth of man originates out of his heart.

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: (Mat 15:18-19)

What proceed out of their hearts are terrible things, but they would wash their outside, dressed piously, religiously to appear holy unto the people whereas what is inside of them is terrible. Thus, Prophet Jeremiah says, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeer 17:9)

They would be thinking of evil against their neighbors, yet they would be leading them prayers and sacrifices in the temple, don’t you see that, that is terrible. They wash outside but their inside cannot be revealed to people.

7. Sanctimoniousness

Their external appearance to people is good. They are self-righteously living.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. (Mat 23:27)

The illustration of Jesus here is said to be view in this wise for understanding. During the ancient times, tombs were always on the way to the worship centers (temples). Those temples should not be touched for doing so would make the people unclean. But the path along those places are narrow, thus before the worship day at the temple, they would paint those tombs white to avoid being polluted while walking along the path to the temple.

Though, they painted the temple white, but those temples still had in it the bones of the dead people that have been buried inside.

Jesus thence is saying though they make the tombs attractive outside, attractive to views, but they are also polluted inside.

He asks them to stop living a fake life, a life of self-righteousness. This is applied to us; we should live a life that is worthy of the Gospel always. We shouldn’t focus the outside alone, but we should focus our inner man, allowing Jesus to purge our inner man clean of debris.


8. Memorial of Prophets (or Remembrance Days)

They valued memorial days, they won’t for any reason forget those days, they by this built tomb for their prophets, whereas they are those who through their actions killed those prophets. Is this not true for us today. We also value remembrance days of some men of God, but when they were alive, we hardly listen to them, we do not obey them.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,

And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. (Mat 23:29-31)

We celebrate Jesus birthday today, but how many of us are doing the will of Jesus Christ? How many of us have been broken down by the word of Christ?

Table of The Woe at a Glance

Matthew 23:13-29

WoeBibleReasonWhoTheir ActionComment/References


Mat. 23:13



Shut Kingdom of Heaven



Mat. 23: 14




Greater Damnation (Luk 12:33; 18:10ff)


Mat. 23: 15



Making Proselytes



Mat. 23: 16

Blind Guides



Explanation from Mat. 23: 17-22


Mat. 23:23



Omit Weightier Matters

Explanation (Mat. 23:24)


Mat. 23: 25



Cleaning Outside

Explanation (Mat. 23:26)


Mat. 23:27



Deception/ Sanctimonious

Explanation (Mat. 23:28)


Jesus shows the scribes and pharisees and by extension everyone of us of the need to examine ourselves, repent of our ways and return to the Living God in all we do. We do not have to play eye services, we do not have to be sanctimonious alone without being holy inside, he wants us to be holy without and within. Our failure to repent, means we are also closing the doors of heaven against the people who are looking at us and thence, woe is on us like it is on the religious leaders of his day.


- Barclays Daily Study Bible (New Testament)

- The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible

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