Matthew 23:4

4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them

Matthew 23:4 Meaning and Commentary

Matthew 23:4

For they bind heavy burdens
Meaning not the rites and ceremonies of the law of Moses, circumcision, and other rituals, which obliged to the keeping of the whole law, which was a yoke men were not able to bear; but the traditions of the elders, which the Scribes and Pharisees were very tenacious of, and very severely enjoined the observance of, and are called their "heavy" things F15.

``It is a tradition of R. Ishmael, there are in the words of the law, that, which is bound or forbidden, and that which is loose or free; and there are in them light things, and there are in them heavy things; but the words of the Scribes, (Nh Nyrwmx Nlwk) , "all of them are heavy".''

And a little after,

``the words of the elders, (Myrwmx) , "are heavier" than the words of the prophets.''

Hence frequent mention is made of

``the light things of the school of Shammai, (yrmwxmw) , "and of the heavy things of the school of Hillell" F16''

two famous doctors, heads of two universities, in being in Christ's time: these are also called, (Nyvwrp twkm) , "the blows, or wounds of the Pharisees" F17; not as Bartenora explains them, the wounds they gave themselves, to show their humility; or which they received, by beating their heads against the wall, walking with their eyes shut, that they might not look upon women, under a pretence of great chastity; but, as Maimonides says, these are their additions and heavy things, which they add to the law. Now the binding of these heavy things, means the imposing them on men, obliging them to observe them very strictly, under great penalties, should they omit them. The allusion is, to those frequent sayings in use among them, such a thing is "bound", and such a thing is loosed; such a "Rabbi binds", and such an one looses; that is, forbids, or allows of such and such things; (See Gill on Matthew 16:19).

and grievous to be borne.
This clause is left out in the Syriac, Arabic, Persic, and Ethiopic versions; but is in all the Greek copies, and serves to illustrate and aggravate the burdensome rites and institutions of these people: and

lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves will not move them
with one of their fingers:
the sense is, not that they were so rigid and hardhearted, that they would not move a finger to remove these burdens from the shoulders of men, or ease them in the least degree, or dispense with their performance of them in the least measure, upon any consideration, though this also was true in many respects; but that they were so slothful and indolent themselves, that though they strictly enjoined the observance of their numerous and unwritten traditions on the people, yet in many cases, where they could without public notice, they neglected them themselves, or at least, made them lighter and easier to them, as in their fastings, &c. In the Misna F18, mention is made of "a crafty wicked man", along with a woman Pharisee, and the blows of the Pharisees before spoken of; and in the Gemara F19, is explained by R. Hona, of one,

``that makes things "light" for himself, and makes them "heavy" for others.''

Such crafty wicked men were Scribes and Pharisees; though R. Meir pretended that he made things "light" to others and "heavy" to himself F20.


F15 T. Hieros. Peracot, fol. 3. 2.
F16 T. Hieros. Sota, fol. 19. 2. Yom Tob. fol. 60. 2. & Berncot, fol. 3. 2.
F17 Misn. Sota, c. 3. sect. 4.
F18 Ubi supra. (Misn. Sota, c. 3. sect. 4.)
F19 T. Bab. Sota, fol. 21. 2.
F20 T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 3. 1.

Matthew 23:4 In-Context

2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat;
3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.
4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them
5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.
6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Other ancient authorities lack [hard to bear]
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