Matthew 23: Jesus Condemns Hypocrites

New Testament: Student Study guide, (2003), 31–32

The word hypocrite comes from a Greek word that means “play actor.” A hypocrite is someone pretending to be something that he or she is not in order to receive recognition or gain. Hypocrisy is a result of pride. Humble followers of God seek to live according to His laws because they love God and other people—not because they will be recognized or honored for it. When it is pointed out that a humble follower of God is in the wrong, he or she immediately works toward doing what is right. The hypocrite seeks to cover sins and make excuses for them.Throughout your study of the book of Matthew you have read about the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day and how Jesus taught His believers to live the gospel without hypocrisy. Matthew 23 contains Jesus’ final testimony and condemnation against those who refused His teachings and testimonies of the true gospel and plan of eternal happiness.As you read, consider what you would think about this speech if you were a Pharisee and heard it in person. How might you have felt if you were a person in those days trying to decide whether to continue following the Pharisees or to follow Jesus?

Other Accounts of What You Read in Matthew 23

Matthew 23Mark 12:38–40; Luke 20:45–47

Understanding the Scriptures

Matthew 23

Bid you observe (v. 3)Invite you to obey 
Grievous to be borne (v. 4)Tasks difficult to achieve 
Exalt (v. 12)Lift up above others 
Abased (v. 12)Brought down 
Suffer (v. 13)Allow 
Devour widows’ houses (v. 14)Take away the homes of widows 
Pretence (v. 14)Outward show 
Compass (v. 15)Travel 
Proselyte (v. 15)Convert 
Twofold more (v. 15)Twice as much 
Sanctifieth (v. 17)Makes holy 
Mint, anise, cummin (v. 23)Spices 
Garnish (v. 29)Decorate 
Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers (v. 32)Finish the works begun by your ancestors 
Desolate (v. 38)Empty 
Henceforth (v. 39)Anymore 
man with phylactery and tassels

Matthew 23:5—What Are “Phylacteries,” and What Does It Mean to “Enlarge the Borders of Their Garments”?

Phylacteries are small boxes containing written verses from the scriptures, which some Jews wore on their arms or forehead. This tradition was based on counsel given to the prophet Moses in Deuteronomy 6:6–8. The reference to “borders” of their clothing was a tradition of putting tassels on the hem or corners of clothes in remembrance of God’s laws (see Numbers 15:38–40). Those who wanted to be seen as especially righteous “enlarged” the part of the clothing that had the tassels so they were very noticeable or they wore very noticeable phylacteries.

Matthew 23:24—“Strain at a Gnat, and Swallow a Camel”


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-matpc-05922

Both gnats and camels were forbidden as food under the law of Moses. In order to prevent swallowing a gnat by accident, some Pharisees would strain all liquids before drinking them. Jesus used the exaggeration of swallowing a camel to say that the Pharisees were very careful about some little things while bigger and more important things were ignored (such as mercy, faith, and the spirit of the law).

Studying the Scriptures

Do either activity A or B as you study Matthew 23.

Activity A iconMake a Comparison

Divide your notebook page in half. From what you read in Matthew 23:1–12, list on one side of the paper what the Pharisees thought made them great. On the other side, list what Jesus said made a person great.

Activity B iconStepping Stones of Woe

Woe is a word that refers to sorrow and suffering. Jesus said eight times in Matthew 23:13–16, 23–32 that woe would come to the scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites. Each time, he described why they would experience this woe.

  1. 1.

    Make two “paths” in your notebook, such as in the accompanying illustration. One path leads to sadness and damnation (see v. 33) and the other leads to happiness and glory. First, fill in the path of woe by describing in your own words the eight things Jesus said the scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites did. (The first is already written on the chart.) Then fill in the “Pathway to Happiness” by writing what a person who follows Christ would do instead.

  2. 2.

    Although Jesus chastised the Pharisees, He gave them many chances to listen to Him, and many witnesses were given to help them believe His gospel. Read Matthew 23:37 and explain what Jesus hoped He could do for those Jewish leaders.