Scribes and Pharisees - Hypocrites

Matthew - Chapter 23 - part 2 - vs. 23 & 24

23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. (King James Bible)


They were the teachers of the law. They were the defenders of the faith. Jesus called them hypocrites. Two-faced individuals who had an outward appearance that was different than their inward reality. Others looking on the scribe or Pharisee would see them come to the temple and pay a tithe of the herbs that came into their possession or was grown in their garden. Jesus did not fault them for paying a tithe of the herbs from their gardens.

If you looked on an individual who paid a tithe into the temple treasury (or church plate) of even the smallest blessings that came his way you would walk away thinking that the person is certainly devout. After all, that is the face, that is the action, we see. Jesus looks not on the outward appearance but on the inward man.

The outward face of the scribes and Pharisees was a reflection of (superficial) piety.

Those who look on the outward appearance and not the inward man can be fooled as to the nature of the person they are seeing. There is another face that is within and is a reflection of the heart. It is here that Jesus takes issue with those scribes and Pharisees.

The inward face of the scribes and Pharisees was a reflection of (intrinsic) pettiness.


The law of God is a creation of the mind of God. The law is spiritual but it was designed for earthly application. The law is good when its application reflects the heart of God.

It is a teaching tool:
To know good and recognize evil.
To judge between what is right and what is wrong
to walk in the path of righteousness (clean) and to avoid the pitfalls of evil (unclean).

When the law is understood it is evidenced by: righteous judgments, acts of mercy and abiding faith. There needs to be an understanding of the heart of God for this to occur.

What went wrong

The scribes and Pharisees were filled with a head knowledge. In their devotion they extended the law into every aspect of life. Their perceived holiness came from adherence to the smallest details of this ever widening knowledge. It filled their lives and became the purpose of their being. They reflected their expansion of the law of God and left off the search for the heart of God. In the process their lives no longer reflected the way, the love, the life, of God's heart.

The error was simple. They extended what they knew outward from themselves but failed to deepen their understanding of God's heart. It is like a man who can describe in detail the trees and plants of the land but does not know the nature of the ground he stands upon. He knows the lay of the land but does not understand the way of the land. He sees the results but does not understand the why.

This is the reason why Jesus said that they were blind guides leading the blind. They knew the surface of the law but not that which supported the law, God's heart... God's love. Because of this lack of understanding they went astray. If the law was a bowl of soup they could pick out the smallest thing that didn't belong and yet the biggest themes would be swallowed whole. Jesus did say that they would strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. So it was easy to catch the little errors yet miss the lies that were introduced as basic extensions to the law. Sadly you can say that upon swallowing a camel it then became a part of the body of law. It was in the applying of this new (false) understanding of the law that led to the mistakes in thinking that Jesus refers to in Matthew 23.

The Result
they tithed: mint, anise, cummin
they neglected: judgment, mercy, faith
they lost: the way, the love, the life

It was good for them to do the smallest things that are part of the law... It would have been better for them to also do the major things that are the basics of the law... It would be best for them to walk with the author of the law, God.

Author: Joseph Raymond
16 February 2004

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Note: There are almost always exceptions to the general rule. I do not believe that Jesus meant that all scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites. In the general sense, most were hypocrites in the fashion described above. The saddest part is that I believe the hypocrisy in most cases was unintentional.

Webite administrator: Joseph A Raymond
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada