Committed to teaching and obeying the word of God

Beware the Scribes

Beware of the scribes

  • The scribes were lawyers.
  • Their primary concern was the Old Testament Law.

What Jesus says about scripture (Matthew 15:17-19)

  • All of scripture will be fulfilled (or accomplished).
  • Jesus is the fulfillment of scripture (I have come to fulfill them).
  • Scripture must be fully believed and obeyed (must not be relaxed).
  • We must teach scripture.

What Jesus says about the scribes (Matthew 15:20ff)

  • Their righteousness is inadequate to enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Their teaching is wrong (“You have heard that is was said . . . but I say to you . . .” six times in Matthew 5).

Long robes

  • The Old Testament instructed them to wear tassels as reminders of God’s commands (Numbers 15:38-39).
  • The scribes turned them into elaborate, expensive robes.
  • They used the robes to exalt themselves not to direct focus to God and his commandments.

Greetings in the marketplaces

  • The scribes desired to be honored.
  • They wanted to be called Rabbi and Father and to be addressed with great respect.

The best seats in the synagogues / places of honor at feasts

  • There were seats on an elevated platform in the synagogues that they coveted.
  • There were Rabbinic writings that set down elaborate directions for how the honored seats at a feast should be assigned.

Devoured widows’ houses

  • We are not told the nature of this offence.
  • It may include deliberate, dishonest attempts to enrich themselves at the widows’ expense.
  • But the rest of this list of condemnations are perversions of otherwise  appropriate behaviors.
  • It seems more likely that this refers to some neglect or abuse that resulted from their pride.

Long prayers

  • The purpose of the scribes’ prayers was not worship, thanksgiving, confession, or humble supplication.
  • Their prayers were offered solely for the sake of appearance.

Greater condemnation

  • The scribes are focused on their own honor.
  • They pervert the things of God in order to exalt themselves.
  • In doing so, they try to rob God of his glory.
  • That is the ultimate offence against God.

The Widow’s Offering

  • A common interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is commending sacrificial giving.
  • Sacrificial giving is a virtue, but that may not be Jesus point here:
    • It doesn’t fit the context, placed between two passages of warning and condemnation.
    • It would suggest that the only acceptable gift is on that leaves you destitute.
    • Jesus didn’t actually praise her gift — he merely states that she has given more.


  • Rich (plousios) means those who have enough — not necessarily the extremely wealthy.
  • They were giving money that they could afford to give.
  • There is no requirement to give more that (or even as much as) you can afford, and Jesus does not comment negatively on their affordable gifts.

Poor widow

  • Poor (penichrōs) describes someone who is needy but not destitute (ptochōs).
  • That Jesus just mentioned a widow two verses earlier is significant.
  • The scribes, Jesus said, were responsible for bringing widows to ruin.
  • Something in their teaching, example, or action was causing harm to the widows.

Two small copper coins

  • This is a very small amount, nearly the smallest gift possible.
  • It was all she had to live on — a gift she could not afford.

This poor widow

  • In verse 3, Jesus uses the word ptochōs (destitute).
  • She came in merely penichrōs (needy) but she left ptochōs (destitute).

Gifts into the offering box

  • Like most things, the scribes had perverted the offering box into a vehicle for their own self-aggrandizing.
  • Gifts given to the treasury were often announced.
  • They taught that they earned God’s favor for giving gifts and then claimed honor for going so.

More than all of them

  • We don’t know the widow’s motives.
  • It’s not hard to imagine that she followed the teaching and example of the scribes, hoping to gain favor with God and change her situation.

Do not be like the scribes

  • Do not be like the scribes to your children.
  • Do not be like the scribes to other believers.
  • Do not be like the scribes to the lost.

Do not be influenced by the scribes

  • Do not follow celebrity Christians unquestioned.
  • Carefully check all teachers against the Bible.