Polemic against the Pharisees in Matthew 23

Jesus and the Pharisees - An Interdisciplinary Reappraisal - Pontifical Biblical Institute

Polemic against the Pharisees in Matthew 23


Adela Yarbro Collins
2019-05-07 - 15.45






This paper presents an argument against the view that the Gospel of Matthew is an example of Christian Judaism and in favor of the view that the people who receives the kingdom of God (21:43) is a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles. The rhetoric of the Gospel addresses both those who are strict observers of the Torah and those who interpret it in an ethical way. The evangelist has an interest in debates about the law and is familiar with sectarian modes of debate. Some of the woe sayings of Matthew 23 are prophetic, like those of the Bible and the Jewish apocalypse known as 1 Enoch. Others are examples of sectarian polemic. The first two woes are prophetic (23:13-15). The third is an example of sectarian polemic concerning prohibitive vows (23:16-22). The fourth and fifth woe sayings begin as if they were arguments over the law but shift to make an ethical point (23:23-26). The sixth woe saying is purely denunciatory, using the image of whitewashed tombs as an illustration of hypocrisy (23:27-28). The last woe is a prophetic announcement of judgment (23:29-36). The paper concludes by noting that the scribes and Pharisees are identified with the Jewish leaders of the evangelist's time and that Christian audiences over the centuries have identified them with Jews of their own times. The result has been prejudice and worse. Matthew is blameworthy for not practicing what he teaches. His harsh polemic is not compatible with the prohibition of calling another "fool" and with the command to love one's enemies, as well as one's neighbors.



The conference is organized by the Pontifical Biblical Institute in collaboration with the Pontifical Gregorian University, especially its Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies


Pontifical Biblical Institute
Pontifical Gregorian University - Cardinal Bea Centre.


Generous support has been provided by AJC – American Jewish Committee, CEI – Conferenza Episcopale Italiana, Gregorian University Foundation and Verbum


American Jewish Committee
Conferenza Episcopale Italiana
Gregorian Universty Foundation