Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Matthew 23:5

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

All their works they do for to be seen of men - In pointing out the corruptions of these men, our Lord gives us the distinguishing characteristics of all false teachers, whether Jewish or Christian.

  1. They live not according to the truths they preach. They say, and do not, Matthew 23:3.
  • They are severe to others, point out the narrowest road to heaven, and walk in the broad road themselves. They bind on burdens, etc., Matthew 23:4.
  • They affect to appear righteous, and are strict observers of certain rites, etc., while destitute of the power of godliness. They make broad their phylacteries, etc., Matthew 23:5.
  • They love worldly entertainments, go to feast wherever they are asked, and seek Church preferments. They love the chief places at feasts, and chief seats in the synagogues, Matthew 23:6.
  • They love and seek public respect and high titles, salutations in the market-place, (for they are seldom in their studies), and to be called of men rabbi - eminent teacher, though they have no title to it, either from the excellence or fruit of their teaching. When these marks are found in a man who professes to be a minister of Christ, charity itself will assert he is a thief and a robber - he has climbed over the wall of the sheepfold, or broken it down in order to get in.
  • Phylacteries - φυλακτηρια

    , from φυλασσω, to keep or preserve. These were small slips of parchment or vellum, on which certain portions of the law were written. The Jews tied these about their foreheads and arms, for three different purposes.

    1. To put them in mind of those precepts which they should constantly observe.
  • To procure them reverence and respect in the sight of the heathen. And
  • To act as amulets or charms to drive away evil spirits.
  • The first use of these phylacteries is evident from their name.

    The second use appears from what is said on the subject from the Gemara, Beracoth, chap. 1., quoted by Kypke. "Whence is it proved that phylacteries, (תפילין , tephilin ), are the strength of Israel? - Ans. From what is written, Deuteronomy 28:10. All the, people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name [of יהוה Jehovah ] - and they shall be afraid of thee.

    The third use of them appears from the Targum, on Song of Solomon 8:3; : His left hand is under my head, etc. "The congregation of Israel hath said, I am elect above all people, because I bind my phylacteries on my left hand, and on my head, and the scroll is fixed to the right side of my gate, the third part of which looks to my bed-chamber, that Daemons may not be permitted to Injure me."

    An original phylactery lies now before me. It is a piece of fine vellum, about eighteen inches long, and an inch and quarter broad. It is divided into four unequal compartments: in the first is written, in a very fair character, with many apices, after the mode of the German Jews, the first ten verses of Exod. 13; in the second compartment is written, from the eleventh to the sixteenth verse of the same chapter, inclusive in the third, from the fourth to the ninth verse, inclusive, of Deut. 6., beginning with, Hear, O Israel, etc.; in the fourth, from the thirteenth to the twenty-first verse, inclusive, of Deut. 11.

    These passages seem to be chosen in vindication of the use of the phylactery itself, as the reader will see on consulting them: Bind them for a Sign upon thy Hand - and for Frontlets between thy Eyes - write them upon the Posts of thy House, and upon thy Gates; all which commands the Jews took in the most literal sense.

    Even the phylactery became an important appendage to a Pharisee's character, insomuch that some of them wore them very broad, either that they might have the more written on them, or that, the characters being larger, they might be the more visible, and that they might hereby acquire greater esteem among the common people, as being more than ordinarily religious. For the same reason, they wore the fringes of their garments of an unusual length. Moses had commanded ( Numbers 15:38, Numbers 15:39;) the children of Israel to put fringes to the borders of their garments, that, when they looked upon even these distinct threads, they might remember, not only the law in general, but also the very minutiae, or smaller parts of all the precepts, rites, and ceremonies, belonging to it. As these hypocrites were destitute of all the life and power of religion within, they endeavored to supply its place by phylacteries and fringes without. See the note on Exodus 13:9.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    Their phylacteries - The word “phylactery” comes from a word signifying to keep, preserve, or guard. The name was given because phylacteries were worn as amulets or charms, and were supposed to defend or preserve those who wore them from evil. They were small slips of parchment or vellum, on which were written certain portions of the Old Testament. The practice of using phylacteries was founded on a literal interpretation of that passage where God commands the Hebrews to have the law as a sign on their foreheads, and as frontlets between their eyes, Exodus 13:16; compare Proverbs 3:1, Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 6:21. One kind of phylactery was called a “frontlet,” and was composed of four pieces of parchment, on the first of which was written Exodus 12:2-10; on the second, Exodus 13:11-21; on the third, Deuteronomy 6:4-9; and on the fourth, Deuteronomy 11:18-21. These pieces of parchment, thus inscribed, they enclosed in a piece of tough skin, making a square, on one side of which is placed the Hebrew letter shin (שׁ sh) and bound them round their foreheads with a thong or ribbon when they went to the synagogue. Some wore them evening and morning; others only at the morning prayer.

    As the token upon the hand was required, as well as the frontlets between the eyes Exodus 13:16, the Jews made two rolls of parchment, written in square letters, with an ink made on purpose, and with much care. They were rolled up to a point, and enclosed in a sort of case of black calf-skin. They were put upon a square bit of the same leather, whence hung a thong of the same, of about a finger in breadth, and about 2 feet long. These rolls were placed at the bending of the left arm, and after one end of the thong had been made into a little knot in the form of the Hebrew letter yod(י y), it was wound about the arm in a spiral line, which ended at the top of the middle finger. The Pharisees enlarged them, or made them wider than other people, either that they might make the letters larger or write more on them, to show, as they supposed, that they had special reverence for the law.

    Enlarge the borders of their garments - This refers to the loose threads which were attached to the borders of the outer garment as a fringe. This fringe was commanded in order to distinguish them from ether nations, and that they might remember to keep the commandments of God, Numbers 15:38-40; Deuteronomy 22:12. The Pharisees made them broader than other people wore them, to show that they had special respect for the law.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    The scribes and Pharisees explained the law of Moses, and enforced obedience to it. They are charged with hypocrisy in religion. We can only judge according to outward appearance; but God searches the heart. They made phylacteries. These were scrolls of paper or parchment, wherein were written four paragraphs of the law, to be worn on their foreheads and left arms, Ex 13:2-10; 13:11-16; De 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They made these phylacteries broad, that they might be thought more zealous for the law than others. God appointed the Jews to make fringes upon their garments, Nu 15:38, to remind them of their being a peculiar people; but the Pharisees made them larger than common, as if they were thereby more religious than others. Pride was the darling, reigning sin of the Pharisees, the sin that most easily beset them, and which our Lord Jesus takes all occasions to speak against. For him that is taught in the word to give respect to him that teaches, is commendable; but for him that teaches, to demand it, to be puffed up with it, is sinful. How much is all this against the spirit of Christianity! The consistent disciple of Christ is pained by being put into chief places. But who that looks around on the visible church, would think this was the spirit required? It is plain that some measure of this antichristian spirit prevails in every religious society, and in every one of our hearts.
    Ellen G. White
    Selected Messages Book 1, 387

    The remnant church is called to go through an experience similar to that of the Jews; and the True Witness, who walks up and down in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, has a solemn message to bear to His people. He says, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:4, 5). The love of God has been waning in the church, and as a result, the love of self has sprung up into new activity. With the loss of love for God there has come the loss of love for the brethren. The church may meet all the description that is given of the Ephesian church, and yet fail in vital godliness. Of them Jesus said, “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Revelation 2:2-4). 1SM 387.1

    A legal religion has been thought quite the correct religion for this time. But it is a mistake. The rebuke of Christ to the Pharisees is applicable to those who have lost from the heart their first love. A cold, legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion. When fastings and prayers are practiced in a self-justifying spirit, they are abominable to God. The solemn assembly for worship, the round of religious ceremonies, the external humiliation, the imposed sacrifice—all proclaim to the world the testimony that the doer of these things considers himself righteous. These things call attention to the observer of rigorous duties, saying, This man is entitled to heaven. But it is all a deception. Works will not buy for us an entrance into heaven. The one great Offering that has been made is ample for all who will believe. The love of Christ will animate the believer with new life. He who drinks from the water of the fountain of life, will be filled with the new wine of the kingdom. Faith in Christ will be the means whereby the right spirit and motive will actuate the believer, and all goodness and heavenly-mindedness will proceed from him who looks unto Jesus, the author and finisher of his faith. Look up to God, look not to men. God is your heavenly Father who is willing patiently to bear with your infirmities, and to forgive and heal them. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). By beholding Christ, you will become changed, until you will hate your former pride, your former vanity and self-esteem, your self-righteousness and unbelief. You will cast these sins aside as a worthless burden, and walk humbly, meekly, trustfully, before God. You will practice love, patience, gentleness, goodness, mercy, and every grace that dwells in the child of God, and will at last find a place among the sanctified and holy. 1SM 388.1

    Read in context »
    Ellen G. White
    The Desire of Ages, 610-4

    This chapter is based on Matthew 23; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 20:45-47; Luke 21:1-4.

    It was the last day of Christ's teaching in the temple. Of the vast throngs that were gathered at Jerusalem, the attention of all had been attracted to Him; the people had crowded the temple courts, watching the contest that had been in progress, and they eagerly caught every word that fell from His lips. Never before had such a scene been witnessed. There stood the young Galilean, bearing no earthly honor or royal badge. Surrounding Him were priests in their rich apparel, rulers with robes and badges significant of their exalted station, and scribes with scrolls in their hands, to which they made frequent reference. Jesus stood calmly before them, with the dignity of a king. As one invested with the authority of heaven, He looked unflinchingly upon His adversaries, who had rejected and despised His teachings, and who thirsted for His life. They had assailed Him in great numbers, but their schemes to ensnare and condemn Him had been in vain. Challenge after challenge He had met, presenting the pure, bright truth in contrast to the darkness and errors of the priests and Pharisees. He had set before these leaders their real condition, and the retribution sure to follow persistence in their evil deeds. The warning had been faithfully given. Yet another work remained for Christ to do. Another purpose was still to be accomplished. DA 610.1

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    Ellen G. White
    This Day With God, 356.2

    Christ gave His disciples a most important lesson in regard to who should be His disciples. “In the kingdom that I am about to set up,” He said, “strife for the supremacy shall have no place. All ye are brethren. All My servants there shall be equal. The only greatness recognized there will be the greatness of humility and devotion to the service of others. He that humbleth himself shall be exalted, and he that exalteth himself shall be abased. He who seeks to serve others by self-denial and self-sacrifice will be given the attributes of character that commend themselves to God, and develop wisdom, true patience, forbearance, kindness, compassion. This gives him the chiefest place in the kingdom of God.” TDG 356.2

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    Ellen G. White
    The Ministry of Healing, 32

    The Pharisees sought distinction by their scrupulous ceremonialism and the ostentation of their worship and their charities. They proved their zeal for religion by making it the theme of discussion. Disputes between opposing sects were loud and long, and it was not unusual to hear on the streets the voice of angry controversy from learned doctors of the law. MH 32.1

    In marked contrast to all this was the life of Jesus. In that life no noisy disputation, no ostentatious worship, no act to gain applause, was ever witnessed. Christ was hid in God, and God was revealed in the character of His Son. To this revelation Jesus desired the minds of the people to be directed. MH 32.2

    The Sun of Righteousness did not burst upon the world in splendor, to dazzle the senses with His glory. It is written of Christ, “His going forth is prepared as the morning.” Hosea 6:3. Quietly and gently the daylight breaks upon the earth, dispelling the darkness and waking the world to life. So did the Sun of Righteousness arise, “with healing in His wings.” Malachi 4:2. MH 32.3

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