The Pharisees Were De-Evangelists

by Spiros Zodhiates

Dr. Zodhiates continues a 6-part series on the eight "woes" which Jesus pronounced in Matthew 23:13-36 upon the scribes and Pharisees of His day. These had turned the worship of God into a legalistic religion of men-and their spiritual descendents are still among us. See also Mark (12:38-40) and Luke (20:47).

The third woe (v. 15) qualifies the first, explaining how the Pharisees "shut up the kingdom against men." Essentially they do it by proclaiming bad news. They not only reverse evangelize ("kakangelíze" would be a better verb, replacing the eu [good] in euaggelízo with kaká [bad]), they send missionaries, and they send them far and wide. We should not be surprised, then, by the numeric success of false religions and cults. Against our message of grace, they preach the letter of the Law, which Paul says "kills" (2 Cor. 3:6) the soul.

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass [periágete, the present tense of periágo {4013}, to encompass] sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the son [huiós {5207}, a mature son] of Gehenna than yourselves" (a.t.).

This is a dire warning against leading others astray with the wrong message. One astonishing feature of the Pharisee is his tireless zeal to produce a single convert. Spiros ZodhiatesMissionaries go out because they believe other cultures are heathen. And they are! However, if an unbeliever accepts the wrong message, the Lord makes it clear that "the last state of that man is worse than the first" (Matt. 12:45). The convert sinks to a lower level of depravity than that of the missionary. There is a degenerative aspect to hypocrisy; legalism begets a superior hypocrite.

On the other hand, Christian missionaries do locate people whose hearts have been prepared in advance by the Spirit of God to receive the gospel. In the book of Acts, they are hoí sebómenoi toân Theón, "they that reverence God" (Acts 13:43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7) or hoi phoboúmenoi toân Theón, "they that fear God" (Acts 10:2; 13:16, 26).

Pharisees were known for extensive proselytism, and the Lord's mention of "sea" may be a reference to their missionary work in Rome-which became proverbial. Luke records the presence at Pentecost of "Jews and proselytes" visiting from Rome (Acts 2:10, 11). There were also a number of Jewish proselytes at Antioch in Syria (6:5). Jewish proselytes in Palestine at the time of Christ included the centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10), a Roman officer, some Greeks (John 12:20), and possibly Pilate's wife (Matt. 27:19).

In our Lord's day, the schools of the Pharisees considered Gehenna to be the place where Gentiles and apostate Jews were punished (Matt. 5:29, 30; 10:28, cf. 23:15; James 3:6). The Greek word is a transliteration of the Hebrew ga-Hinnom (the Valley of Hinnom; [2 Kgs. 23:10; 2 Chr. 28:3; 33:6; Josh. 18:16; Jer. 7:31, 32; 19:2, 6], a valley where garbage was brought to be burned in perpetual fires. It is found twelve times in the New Testament, eleven of which are in the Synoptic Gospels, and in every instance the Lord is speaking.

"Son of Gehenna" is an interesting metaphor, implying that Gehenna (hell) is the theological father of those who convert to justification by works. James uses a similar metaphor when he says that the tongue is "being set on fire [phlogizoméne] by [the] Gehenna" (James 3:6 a.t.)-a terrible picture of the fueling source of evil words.

From Dr. Zodhiates' exegetical New Testament commentary on the book of Matthew