Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:16-19

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

—————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed the first of the seven woes that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees for their ungodly, false teaching which prevented people from entering the kingdom of heaven.

In today’s passage, Jesus takes them to task for their — not Scripture’s — tradition on oaths. It was called the Corban, which means ‘given to God’ and involved a gift or sacrifice on the altar of the temple.

Jesus criticised the Corban (Mark 7:9-13), which I discussed in 2010. Here are the verses (emphases mine):

9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

This is the explanation of how the Corban worked:

Jesus points out to them that they distorted the commandment of honouring one’s father and one’s mother. According to the Pharisees, if a child did not wish to obey that commandment, he had a get-out clause (verses 9-10). The child could swear by the gold of the temple and the gift upon the altar — the Corban — that he washed his hands of his parents (verse 11).  Should his parents ask anything of him, all he had to do is say that he made his oath (verses 12 and 13). 

Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for this practice. In the first woe (Matthew 23:13-15), he called them ‘hypocrites’. Here he calls them ‘blind guides’ (verse 16) and ‘fools (verse 17).

‘Blind guides’ is easily understood in the literal sense but Jesus primarily meant it as being spiritually blind, leading faithful Jews to perdition. In Matthew 15:10-20, He talked about what defiles a person:

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

The Pharisees were offended. Jesus told His disciples:

14 Let them alone; they are blind guides.[a] And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

The spiritual condition of good people following spiritually blind leaders is bad. However, even worse is the condition of such leaders who deliberately deny, scorn or block out the truth from their followers. Their punishment and condemnation will be much the greater.

Jesus pronounced woe on these blind guides for honouring an oath made by the gold of the temple but dismissing one made by the temple (verse 16).

He called them fools because valuing an oath made by gold over one made by the temple made no sense (verse 17). An oath made by gold was only worth anything because it was made in the temple (verses 18, 19).

What they were doing was wrong on three counts. Matthew Henry explains.

First, Corban was not following God’s law. It was:

the work of men’s hands …

An oath is an appeal to God, to his omniscience and justice and to make this appeal to any creature is to put that creature in the place of God. See Deuteronomy 6:13.

Secondly, they placed a higher obligation on oaths made by gifts and sacrifices to enrich themselves than on an oath by the temple, which brought them no material gain. That said, neither should have been made in the first place:

Here was a double wickedness First, That there were some oaths which they dispensed with, and made light of, and reckoned a man was not bound by to assert the truth, or perform a promise. They ought not to have sworn by the temple or the altar but, when they had so sworn, they were taken in the words of their mouth. That doctrine cannot be of the God of truth which gives countenance to the breach of faith in any case whatsoever. Oaths are edge-tools and are not to be jested with. Secondly, That they preferred the gold before the temple, and the gift before the altar, to encourage people to bring gifts to the altar, and gold to the treasures of the temple, which they hoped to be gainers by

Thirdly, they lured many faithful people into their deceitful tradition:

Those who had made gold their hope, and whose eyes were blinded by gifts in secret, were great friends to the Corban …

Looking at Jesus’s statement and question about this, we see that He is telling them that without the oaths being made in the temple — God’s house — the gold or gift has no meaning. Therefore, how can an oath made by gold be more important than one made in the temple? It is the location — the altar in the temple — that renders the gold holy:

19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

Henry tells us:

The temple and altar were dedicated to God fixedly, the gold and gift but secondarily.

Henry gives a practical Christian application of this lesson, warning us not to place our good works above or on a par with justification by faith:

Christ is our altar (Hebrews 13:10), our temple (John 2:21) for it is he that sanctifies all our gifts, and puts an acceptableness in them, 1 Peter 2:5. Those that put their own works into the place of Christ’s righteousness in justification are guilty of the Pharisees’ absurdity, who preferred the gift before the altar.

Where making promises and taking oaths are concerned, John MacArthur cautions us to take them seriously:

Keep your promise. Keep your word. God hates lying. So many Old Testament texts in the Psalms particularly. Let me just call your attention to several just as a point of contact. In Psalm 50, verse 14, “Offer unto God thanksgiving and pay thy vows unto the Most High.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Promise to God, keep your promise. Psalm 56:12, “Thy vows are upon me oh God, I will render praises unto thee. I’m bound by my promises to you oh God. I won’t break my word.” Psalm 61, verse 8 and these are just samples, “So will I sing praise to thy name forever, that I may daily perform my vows.” Psalm 66:13, “I will go into the house with burnt offerings. I will pay thee my vows.” Psalm 76:11, “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” And it goes on like that a lot of places in the Old Testament. Keep your word to God. Keep your word to men.

Next week’s entry will Jesus’s final words on this woe.

Next time: Matthew 23:20-22

Advertisements