§ 80. Speech against the scribes and Pharisees

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 80.

Speech against the scribes and Pharisees.

Matth. 23, 1-39.

1. The seat of Moses. 

Matth. 23, 2-4.

It is a good thing that in the beginning of a long speech against the scribes and Pharisees, the audience is reminded that they should not let the wickedness of the person and their actions keep them from following their teachings: The scribes and Pharisees sit on the seat of Moses,” v. 2, 3. “All things therefore which they say unto you, that ye ought to observe, observe and do. But do not do according to their works, for they say it, but do it not. “But then, in the same discourse, the doctrines of the Pharisees and of the scribes should also be mentioned, such as, for example, the doctrine of the oath in vv. 16-22, which prove that the people must also be warned against the doctrine of these people. Still less, however, should we have passed over from their characterization as preachers of the Law of Moses to their description as inventors of an intolerable tradition, as if we were still speaking of the same significance of the scribes. “For,” it says immediately v. 4, “they bind heavy and unbearable burdens, but with their finger they will not stir them” – “and not with a finger will ye touch them”, so writes the man from whom Matthew borrowed this saying, Luke, whose saying Matthew associated with that other saying which in his time was probably already regarded as a saying about the hypocrisy of the teachers of the law, Luke, who first elaborated the woe-cries against the Pharisees, which Matthew even began with: Woe to you Pharisees, although the persons addressed are not present and rather only the people were to be instructed about their nature. Luke can have the Lord say: woe to you because the Pharisees are sitting with him at the table. But at table, now that Jesus was invited as a guest by one of the Pharisees? Should we really spoil the joy of Luke’s account, of this stormy interlude from the life of Jesus, by a lengthy argument? So be it, but on condition that I never again need to mention the name of a theologian in the course of this work.


2. A stormy intermezzo.

Luke 11, 37.-12, 1.

While Jesus was still speaking to those who had demanded a sign from him, a Pharisee invited him to breakfast. He immediately accepted the invitation, entered the house, reclined at the table, and immediately, when the Pharisee showed his surprise that he did not wash before the meal, he spoke out against the Pharisees with the words: “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” (Luke 11:39). After the Pharisees were further rebuked, a new incident follows: a law teacher takes the opportunity to remark that the preacher of punishment also insults his class, and now with the introduction “Woe also to you, experts in the law!” the thunder against the law teachers begins, first that they burden the people with unbearable loads but refuse to lift a finger to help them (Luke 11:46).

Schleiermacher feels a true joy in his heart that it was just a breakfast to which Jesus had accepted the invitation this time, for, he said, at a proper evening meal “he would hardly have neglected to wash, that would have been a deliberate breach of custom” *). But is not this violation considered and presented by the evangelist as a deliberate one, when Jesus contrasts inner and outer purity and declares himself against the Pharisaic concern for appearance?

*) a. a. O. p. I79 -181.


According to Schleiermacher, the Pharisees demonstrated their hypocrisy by inviting Jesus, and it is against this hypocrisy and their hostile attitude that the speech in Luke 12:1-12 is directed, which begins with the warning against the yeast of the Pharisees. “The intensity of that dispute caused that great crowd (Luke 12:1 ‘Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another’), which, it seems, freed Jesus from the intrusiveness of the Pharisees for this time.” Jesus spoke so loudly and terribly that tens of thousands gathered together!

But Schleiermacher further assumes that Jesus’ speech against the Pharisees took place “after breakfast, when they were already outside and could again be observed by the people. The Pharisee did not come forward with his reproach about the omitted washing until after breakfast,” and yet it says in v. 38, 39, “when the Pharisee saw it, he was amazed,” and Jesus immediately starts against the hypocrites. Schleiermacher ponders over this and bases his argument on the fact that the end of the meal was not mentioned. And yet it was only not mentioned because it was not worth mentioning after such a great battle against the Pharisees had been described, because a proper tact prevented the evangelist from mentioning it, in short because this setting of a breakfast for such a great battle proved in the end much too petty. How would it look if at the end of those prophecies it were reported: and then the breakfast was over. The note about the hostile attitude of the Pharisees (Luk 11, 53. 54) does not want to say what Schleiermacher hears from it, that the Pharisees already wanted to go over to violence, from which Jesus was only protected this time by the fact that the people were summoned by the noise of the quarrel in tens of thousands and fortunately arrived very quickly; indeed Luke does not even want to speak of violence, but he only says: from now on they tried to catch him by putting dangerous questions before him.


No! No! replies Paulus, when we are surprised that Jesus, while still at the table, so severely accuses the people of whom he was invited to breakfast and whose invitation he had immediately accepted, that he even speaks of the bloodguilt that should be smelled on them. No! No! says Paulus, Jesus was right to speak so, since he indeed “noticed murderous fury, dogged (!) rage in those present” *).

*) Handb. II, 115.

Indeed! Jesus at breakfast! Cries of woe over the blood-guilt of the people with whom he is breakfasting! So great a noise that crowds of tens of thousands hurry up! Everything is right, if the letter is right!

But Luke has only cast the story of Mark about the dispute about purity into a new form, because he wanted to enrich it with new elements. That he reworks this narrative is evident from the fact that Jesus first speaks of a contrast between “from without and from within” and then (b. 46), at the new point of evidence, immediately of the burden of the Pharisaic tradition.


3. The seeking of precedence.

Matth. 23, 6 -12.

Now, if Matthew, in v. 6, wanted to borrow from the speech as delivered to him by Mark the reproach that the Pharisees have the first place in the synagogue and let themselves be saluted, if he wanted to take occasion from this to work out a sermon on humility – for it is his work when he writes: they like to be called masters, but you do not let yourselves be called masters, for One is your Master, Christ etc. – Finally, when he, in order to strongly recommend the duty of humility to his readers, copies the saying about self-abasement *) from Luke (C. 14, 11), he should at least not have thought that with this sermon he was still following the same path that he had taken immediately before when he accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy (v. 5).

*) The elements for his statement provided Luke with several quotes from the Old Testament, for example Ezekiel 21:26.: εταπείνωσας the high and elevated the humble. Ps. 113, 6. 7. said Jehovah ταπεινά έφορών… and raised up from the land of the poor. Ps. 138, 6. Judith 9, 11. That Luke knew how to appreciate the book of Judith, we see from his praise of Mary: for we hear how the priest Osias greets Judith after her heroism (Judith 13, 18): ευλογητη συ θυγάτηρ τω θεώ τω υψίστω παρα πασας τας γυναικας τας επι της γης.

Isa. 5, 21 : ουαι οι σθνετοι εν εαυτοις: compare Luke 10, 21.

Isa. 26, 5: ὃς ταπεινώσας κατήγαγες τοὺς ἐνοικοῦντας ἐν ὑψηλοῖς· πόλεις ὀχυρὰς καταβαλεῖς καὶ κατάξεις ἕως ἐδάφους: compare the saying about Capernaum Luke 10, 15.

Sirach 3, 18. Οσω μεγας ει τοσοθτω ταπεινου σεαυτον: compare Luke 14, 7 – 11.

Luke took the elements of his Sermon on the Mount from the O. T. Comp. the original text Isa. 65, 5: “who seize you and cast you out for my name’s sake” and Luk. 6, 22. Ps 109, 28: καταρασονται αυτοι και ου ευλαγσεις: compare Luke 6, 28. Also the sayings Proverbs 25, 21 and Luke 6, 27. Ps. 103, 8: οικτιρμων και ελεημων ο κυριος: compare Luke 6, 36.

The basis of the parable of the house, Luke 6, 48. 49, is found in Luke 13, 11. 14. Proverbs 12, 7.

Matth. has also done his part. Isa. 61, 2: παρακαλέσαι πάντας τους πενθούντας – Matth. 5, 4. Ps. 37, 11: οι δε πραείς κληρονομήσουσι την γήν = Matth. 5, 5. Sirach 7, 14: μη δευτε-ρώσης λόγoν εν προσευχή σου and Sprache 10, 19 – Matth. 6, 7. The saying of the look and heart Matth. 6, 20. 21 is contained in Sirach 29, 11. Ps. 62, 10, after Luke 12, 33 the keywords from Isa. 51, 8.

To add some more ! Ps. 55, 22 : επίρριψον επί κύριον την μέριμνάν σου και αυτός σε διαθρέψει == Luke 12, 22. Jes. 41, 14: μη φοβού Ιακώβ ολιγοστός Ισραήλ, εγώ εβοήθησά σοι λέγει ο θεός σου, και λυτρούμενος σε Ισραήλ == Luke 12, 32. lingu. 19, 17: έλεγξον τον πλησίον σου πριν η απειλήσαι και δός τόπον νόμω υψίστου == Luke 12, 58. Isa. 49, 12 : ηξουσιν από βορρρά == Luke 13, 29. Sirach 7, 10: μη ολιγοψυχήσης εν τη προσευχή σου == Luke 18, 1. Isa. 8, 12. 13: τον δέ φόβον αυτού του μη φοβηθήτε …. κύριον, αυτών αγίασατε και αυτός εσται σου φόβος nachgebilber in Luke 12, 4. 5. 

The σκάνδαλα Matth. 13, 41 find borrowed from Zephaniah 1, 3 (Urtext).

Concerning Mark compare e.g. Ch. 3, 27 with Isa. 49, 24. 25 : μὴ λήψεταί τις παρὰ γίγαντος σκῦλα; ….. ἐάν τις αἰχμαλωτεύσῃ γίγαντα, λήψεται σκύλα· λαμβάνων δὲ παρὰ ἰσχύοντος σωθήσεται.  Ezek. 3, 27 : ὁ ἀκούων ἀκουέτω == Mark 3, 9. Proverbs 28, 24. Mark 7, 11. Ps. 49, 7. 8 == Mark 8, 37.

Compare also (Mark 4, 36 – 41) the story of the calming of the storm with Ps. 197, 24 – 31 and Jon. 1, 5. 6. 12.


4. The prophecies.

Matth. 23, 13 – 33.

Luke’s speech against the teachers of the law closes with the woe: you have taken the key of knowledge; you yourselves do not enter, and those who want to enter you refuse (Luk 11, 52). Matthew, who still has in mind the key to the kingdom of heaven from before, has made the following woe out of it: you shut up (v. 13) the kingdom of heaven from men, you do not enter and you do not even let in those who want to enter.

This is followed by woe to the hypocrites who eat widows’ houses and pray a lot for the sake of appearances (v. 14), formed after Jesus’ original speech in Mark.

The woe over proselytising and the sophistical distinction of oaths (vv. 15-22) belongs to Matthew alone.

Luke’s “woe” over the hypocritical tithing “mint, rue, and every kind of garden herb” (Luke 11:42) – Matthew says: “mint, dill, and cumin” – is further enriched by the last synoptic with the accusation that these “blind guides” strain out gnats but swallow camels (verse 23-24). But Luke would hardly have imagined that later scholars would take his deliberate exaggeration seriously and swear that the Pharisees had also paid tithes from the coin and the rue.


Luke (C. 11, 39 – 41) has explained the contrast between the inside and the outside in this way: the Pharisees keep the outside of their dishes pure, while they themselves are full of robbery and wickedness in their inside; but they should consider that he who made the outside also made the inside, and they should only give what is inside as all things, so that everything would be pure for them. Matthew, though it is in itself very simple, found it too difficult and involved: he now makes the cups and bowls the only object of consideration (v. 25. 26): the Pharisees are accused that their cups and bowls are kept clean by them on the outside, but on the inside they are full of robbery and “uncleanness”, but they should rather keep the inside of them clean – but how? is not said – then the inside of them would also be clean.

The comparison of the hypocrites with tombs, on the outside of which one cannot see what they contain, and the remark that the experts in the law, by building tombs for the prophets who killed their fathers, confess to the deeds of their fathers (Luke 11:44, 47-48), both sayings that Luke keeps far apart, Matthew not only elaborates further, but also, as was to be expected of him, brings them into direct contact because of the mere word “tombs” – he even says “graves” twice (verse 27-32).


5.The blood of Zacharias.

“Therefore”, it now says, after the Pharisees and scribes have been exposed as prophet murderers, in both further – but no! while in Luke (C. 11, 49-51) it says: “Therefore Wisdom also said, I will send unto them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill, and some they will persecute; that there may be reclaimed from this generation all the blood shed from the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel even unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple; yea! I tell you, it will be reclaimed from this generation”, Matthew has Jesus say (v. 34-36): “Therefore, behold, I send you”, i.e. Matthew has now given the theologians cause to ponder whether Jesus is speaking here in His own name, namely in the name of His authority, or whether He is only speaking like the old prophets in the name of Jehovah, etc. – thus I see Jesus as a prophet.
I send you prophets, wise men and scribes” – a new reason to wonder to what extent Jesus’ apostles can be called scribes! – Matthew goes on to say: “and you will kill and crucify some of him, and scourge some of them in your synagogues, and persecute them from one city to another”, i.e. without engaging in musings: Matthew has described more clearly than Luke the sufferings which, according to the experiences of Christ and the apostle Paul, await every teacher of the kingdom of heaven – but finally he names Zacharias more closely as the son of Barachias – but whether he hit the right note here or thinking of the Old Testament martyr Zechariah and only confusing his father Jehoiada with the father of the prophet Zechariah, can be of no consequence to us; In Luke, the Zechariah who is murdered between the altar and the temple is the same Zechariah who was killed in the temple by the Jewish Zealots shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and who was a son of Baruch. If the beginning of the world is reckoned from the blood of Abel, if the blood of all prophets is to be smelt, then the final date must also be the most extreme – Luke reckons up to Zechariah of the Jewish war and thus commits the same oversight that happened to him in the Acts of the Apostles, where he lets Gamaliel speak of Theudas as of a known person.


Some theologians have been so bold as to acknowledge the truth and thus claim that Jesus prophesied the murder of that Zechariah – but they have forgotten to teach us how the people, the disciples or the Pharisees could understand this prophecy when Jesus speaks of the blood of this man as if it had already been shed.


To explain the words (Luke 11, 49): The prophecy of God said: I will send to him prophets and apostles, and they will kill some of him and persecute others”, we do not need to assume that Luke is citing an apocrypha which has been lost to us – rather, he only has in mind the speeches of Jehovah which deal with the mission of the prophets and the suffering among the unbelieving people, and furthermore, he remembers a saying in which the equipping of the prophets is attributed to wisdom *).

*) Jer. 44, 4: απέστειλα προς υμάς τους προφήτας … ουκ ήκουσάν μου. Wisdom of Solomon 7, 27 : προφήτας κατασκευάζει.



The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)