Shell Without Content

by Spiros Zodhiates

The Eight Woes Jesus Pronounced-Part 4

The fifth woe condemns the external practice of Law without the internal qualities of justice, mercy, and grace:

"You tithe mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the Law: judgment, mercy, and faith. These you ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides which strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" (vv. 23, 24 a.t.).

While acknowledging that the scribes and Pharisees "ought to have" tithed these inexpensive spices as part of their general tithe, the Lord argues the futility of such external obedience at the expense of judgment, mercy, and faith.

In the Old Testament, the tithe was imposed on animals from herds and flocks (Lev. 27:32f.) as well as grain, vegetables, and fruits (Lev. 27:30-32). Mint, anise, and cummin are not mentioned in the Torah, so this is an instance of the extent to which the Pharisaic tradition extended beyond the original Mosaic Law. The Lord commends this tradition-"ye ought to have"-since it was a logical deduction from the general tithe.

"The heavier things" of the Law include the judgment, the mercy, and the faith-definite articles precede each noun. The Lord, therefore, has in mind specific judgment, mercy, and faith-no doubt the final judgment of God, the mercy of God extended in the sacrifice of Christ (Eph. 2:4, 5; 1~Pet. 1:3; Titus 3:5; Jude 1:21), and faith in this atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:25; Gal. 2:16). These were all typified in the Law: judgment (Deut. 28 and 30), mercy (Ex. 34:6; Deut. 4:31), and faith in God's sacrifice (Ex. 4:5-9; 19:9; Lev. 17:11; Deut. 32:20).

"Strain" refers to the ancient custom of filtering wine. The "gnat" was selected to exemplify the meticulous application of the tithe to small things such as spices (mint, anise, and cummin), even though Jesus conceded the correctness of the practice. The hyperbole, "swallow a camel," on the other end of the extreme, corresponds to the carelessness of ignoring the weightier matters of the Law. The camel was selected not just because of its size but because it was an unclean animal. (Though "chewing the cud," camels do not "divide the hoof"; Lev. 11:4.) Obviously a Jew who attempted to swallow a gargantuan unclean animal was not paying much attention to what he was doing. Justice, mercy, and faith apparently had-not little, but-no part in Pharisaic doctrine, ethics, and spiritual life.

Do-It-Yourself Cleansing?

The sixth woe (vv. 25, 26) is pronounced upon hypocrisy in general:

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter [paropsís {3953}, a side dish consisting of delicacies like condiments or sauces], but within they are full of extortion [arpageâs {724}, robbery, seizure] and excess [akrasías {192}, intemperance, lack of restraint]. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse [kathárison, the aorist imperative of katharízo {2511}, to make clean] first that which is within the cup and platter, that [hína {2443}, in order that] the outside of them may be [génetai, the aorist middle deponent subjunctive of gínomai {1096}, to become] clean also."

What a contrast! A good analogy would be a bathed robber or profligate. These pictures are intended to show us the full contradiction between the outer and inner man by nature. Law cleans up the outside like a coat of paint on rotted wood. Sooner or later the extortion and intemperance rise to the surface. The Pharisee can fool men only so long …the Lord…never!

The Lord explains that cleaning the outside has no impact on the inside, since God has decreed an inside-out change only. The hína clause-"in order that the outside may be clean also"-implies that veneers, like paint, are not cleaning agents. Only the regenerated heart produces a lasting clean "outside" (the permanent effect is given in the aorist tense of gínomai).

Is the Lord commanding the Pharisee to regenerate himself (the aorist tense of katharízo means "cleanse yourself once-for-all," cf. "the washing [loutroú {3067}] of regeneration" in Titus 3:5)? Regeneration is God's act alone; accordingly, those born "of God" are born "not of the will of the flesh" (John 1:13). The Lord does command the will of the flesh to do the impossible such as, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). His purpose, however, is to make man realize that in himself he cannot obey; he needs the power of the Spirit of God. Thus, Paul notes, "the Law is our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24).

When the Pharisee tries to cleanse himself once-for-all (kathárison) and fails, he may concede his impotence against the power of sin and put his faith in God's righteousness: "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3).

From the coming Exegetical New Testament Commentary: Matthew