Thou therefore - Dr. Taylor has paraphrased this and the three following verses thus: "What signify your pretensions to knowledge, and the office of teaching others, if you have no regard to your own doctrine? What are you the better for preaching against theft, if you are a thief yourself? Or for declaring adultery unlawful, if you live in the practice of it? Or for representing idolatry abominable, if you are guilty of sacrilege? What honors or singular favors do you deserve, if, while you glory in the law and your religious privileges, you dishonor God, and discredit his religion, by transgressing his law, and living in open contradiction to your profession? And this is more than supposition; notorious instances might be produced of the forementioned crimes, whereby the Jews of the present age have brought a reproach upon religion among the Gentiles; as well as those Jews of former times, of whom the Prophet Ezekiel speaks, Ezekiel 36:23; : And I will sanctify my great name, which was Profaned among the Heathen, which ye have Profaned in the midst of them."
That the Jewish priesthood was exceedingly corrupt in the time of the apostle, and that they were so long before, is fully evident from the sacred writings and from Josephus. The high-priesthood was a matter of commerce, and was bought and sold like other commodities. Of this Josephus gives many instances. The rapine of Eli's sons descended to several generations. Dr. Whitby well observes that of all these things mentioned by the apostle the Jewish doctors were notoriously guilty; and of most of them they were accused by our Lord.
As to idolatry, they were perfectly saved from it ever since the Babylonish captivity but to this succeeded sacrilege, as is most evident in the profanation of the temple, by their commerce transacted even within its courts; and their teaching the people that even their aged parents might be left to starve, provided the children made a present to the temple of that which should have gone for their support. According to Josephus, Bell. Jud. l. vi. c. 26, They were guilty of theft, treachery, adultery, sacrilege, rapine, and murder. And he adds, that new ways of wickedness were invented by them; and that of all their abominations the temple was the receptacle. In his Antiquities of the Jews, lib. xx. c. 8, he says: The servants of the high priests took away, by violence, the tithes of the priests, so that many of them perished for want of food. Even their own writers acknowledge that there were great irregularities and abominations among the rabbins.
So Bereshith rabba, sect. 55, fol. 54:
"Rabbi Abun proposed a parable concerning a master who taught his disciples not to pervert justice, and yet did it himself; not to show respect of persons, and yet did it himself; not to receive bribes, and yet received them himself; not to take usury, and yet took it himself. The disciple replied: - Rabbi, thou teachest me not to take usury, and yet thou takest it thyself! Can that be lawful to thee which is forbidden to me?"
Thou therefore - He who is a teacher of others may be expected to be learned himself. They ought to be found to be possessed of superior knowledge; and by this question the apostle impliedly reproves them for their ignorance. The form of a question is chosen because it conveys the truth with greater force. He puts the question as if it were undeniable that they were grossly ignorant; compare Matthew 23:3, “They say, and do not,” etc.
That preachest - This word means to proclaim in any manner, whether in the synagogue, or in any place of public teaching.
Dost thou steal? - It cannot be proved, perhaps, that the Jews were extensively guilty of this crime. It is introduced partly, no doubt, to make the inconsistency of their conduct mere apparent. We expect a man to set an example of what he means by his public instruction.