Vipers Don't Beget Bambis

by Spiros Zodhiates

The Eight Woes Jesus Pronounced-Part 6

Dr. Zodhiates concludes 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).

Verse 33: The Lord Further Describes His Opponents:

"Ye serpents [ópheis, the plural of óphis {3789}, a snake; here He defines His enemies with the same nature that belongs to ho óphis from Gen. 3:1 through Rev. 20:2], ye generation [genneâmata {1081}, offspring, products] of vipers [échidna {2191}, a poisonous snake]."

Óphis, the genus encompassing both poisonous and nonpoisonous species, is selected to identify these persons with the one who "was more subtil [crafty] than any beast of the field" (Gen. 3:1). But échidna is selected because it is a species which poisons and kills men, further identifying with the one "who was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44; see ho óphis above). Genneâmata is picked to show that these murderers are true vipers from true vipers, "begotten, not made, of one being with [their fathers]." Vipers do not birth harmless snakes; they birth vipers. The offspring of a viper is a viper.

This is a terrible picture of natural depravity. The Pharisees were vipers by nature, and this nature determined their choices. They chose to bite, poison, and kill, because they were biters, poisoners, and killers by nature. The Lord frequently used the noun geneá (1074) to describe this sinful generation of His day (Matt. 12:39, 41, 42, 45, etc.

Given this nature, Jesus asks, "How will you escape the [the definite article points to the final judgment] judgment [kríseos, the genitive of krísis {2920}, judgment, separation] of Gehenna?"(a.t.).

This rhetorical question is intended to make them realize that there is no "how" apart from God's mercy! The writer of Hebrews asks his readers the same question: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3). Vipers cannot choose contrary to their nature. Even if they could choose to become something they are not-like sheep-the choice itself would not re-create them. This requires the Lord's power. He alone is the creator, and He alone is the re-creator.

"With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). When the Lord so re-creates, Saul the viper who was filling up the measure of his own fathers, persecuting and killing off the church, becomes Paul the sheep, naturally and, therefore, willingly. Praise the Lord for this!

The final eschatological punishment is mentioned here: "Gehenna": the Valley of Hinnom, the "valley of the shadow of death" (Ps. 23:4), the final place and state of "destruction from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:9).

"Wherefore, behold I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them (ek {1537}, out of, from within, or among; and autón, the genitive plural of autós {846}, he] ye shall kill and crucify; and of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar" (vv. 34, 35).

"Upon you" is equivalent to "upon this generation" of the next verse; however, since Cain and other murderers down the line are guilty of the blood they shed in their respective generations, it is a simple deduction to include them in "you" (here) and "this generation" (v. 36), generic classes encompassing the entire line of vipers (genneâmata échidna; v. 33) from Cain forward.

We say this because there are some who restrict "this generation" to the specific people contemporary with Christ. But even if we allow for imputed guilt, we cannot deny that Cain was the beginning of the genneâmata échidnai, and therefore is properly included in the classes "you" and "this generation." The latter expression, therefore, is equivalent to Paul's "present evil age [aioânos {165}]" (Gal. 1:4 a.t.), which has stood from the time of Cain.

Ek autoân should not be construed to mean that some of the prophets escaped. They were all persecuted, but not in the same manner. This is implied in Stephen's rhetorical question just before he was martyred:

"Which of the prophets have your fathers not persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before the coming of the Just One-of whom now you have been the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52).

Verse 36: the Lord Continues the Theme:

"Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come [eâxei, the future active indicative third person singular of heâko {2240}, to come, frequently in a hostile sense; Sept.: 2~Sam. 17:12; Rev. 3:3; note, the singular number of the verb expresses the thought, ‘the whole {pánta}, it shall come upon you'] upon this generation."

"All these things" will come upon the whole line of prophet persecutors and murderers, that is, God's judgment and wrath including, from the context, Gehenna (v. 33); but also the precursive destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. On the day of judgment, the whole judgment will descend on the whole "generation of vipers"-the line of prophet abusers starting with Cain.

From the coming Exegetical New Testament Commentary: Matthew