13 ¶But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
“The very people who should have accepted it are the ones who have scorned it and rejected it and caused all the others to reject it as well. How many times does he repeat here ‘woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites’? In verse 15: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.’ Verse 23: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.’ Then again in verses 27 and 29. So that’s the refrain. The scribes are those who study the scripture. He is talking to the people, and he says, ‘They sit on Moses’ seat, and you hearken to what they say.’ Because they preach the gospel, they are the very people that should be most ready to welcome the Messiah. The scribes (we mentioned the Soferim before) are those who study the scripture and who teach it. And the Pharisees are the Parishi, ‘those who are set apart.’ Parasha means ‘to set apart.’
“They regard themselves as especially pure. The scribes and the Pharisees are the ones who should lead. They should be the ones expecting the Messiah and the first to welcome him. They were the only ones who didn’t. They would have absolutely nothing to do with him, and they turned the people away from him…So every time after this he refers to them as hypocrites. Hypocrite is simply the Greek word for actor, a person who is playing a role which is not his real role, who is pretending to be somebody he isn’t. Every time he refers to them on those grounds. They play a good role; they talk good talk, but they are hypocritical about it. They do all these things simply for appearance.” (Hugh Nibley, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, edited by Robert Smith and Robert Smythe, 2)
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
They make long prayers while taking advantage of the innocent such as the widows. Elder Francis M. Lyman had this to say about length of prayers:
‘It is not necessary to offer very long and tedious prayers, either at opening or closing. It is not only not pleasing to the Lord for us to use excess of words, but also it is not pleasing to the Latter-day Saints. Two minutes will open any kind of meeting, and a half minute will close it.’
15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
They convert men and make them hypocrites also.
‘John Hyrcanus, the last of the Maccabean priest-rulers, had offered the Idumeans the alternative of death, exile, or circumcision (Jos. Ant. xiii. 9, § 3). When the government of Rome rendered such measures impossible, they resorted to all the arts of persuasion, and exulted when they succeeded in enrolling a heathen convert as a member of their party. But the proselytes thus made were too often a scandal and proverb of reproach. There was no real conversion, and those who were most active in the work of proselytising were, for the most part, blind leaders of the blind. The vices of the Jew were engrafted on the vices of the heathen. The ties of duty and natural affection were ruthlessly snapped asunder. The popular Jewish feeling about them was like that of the popular Christian feeling about a converted Jew. Proselytes were regarded as the leprosy of Israel, hindering the coming of the Messiah. It became a proverb that no one should trust a proselyte, even to the twenty-fourth generation.’ (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
They made contract law overcomplicated by their oaths.
“[In the Sermon on the Mount] Jesus said, I don’t want you to swear any oaths, except by saying yes or no. Some people have said, well then Jesus is opposed to all oaths of any kind. We know that can’t be the case, because if you go to Matt. 23 you will see Jesus’ practical teaching about oath making. What he objected to there was not the making of oaths. People were swearing by the temple, etc. He said, fine, but just remember that when you swear these oaths you are swearing not by the temple or by the altar or by the temple gold. Don’t get into a big argument about which you are swearing by. You are swearing by the spirit that dwells in that temple.” (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon–Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988-1990, 140.)
23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
Their thinking was completely hypocritical focusing on the minutia while ignoring the weighty.
“We are so wound up in programs and statistics and trends, in properties, lands, and mammon, and in achieving goals that will highlight the excellence of our work, that we have omitted the weightier matters of the law.’ And as Jesus would have said: ‘These [weightier things] ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.’ (Matt. 23:23.)
“We are not saved by Church programs as such, by Church organizations alone, or even by the Church itself. It is the gospel that saves. The gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation’ (Rom. 1:16).” (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 237.)
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
They were condemned for their washings ignoring their inner impurity. Hypocrites pay too much attention to outward things.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
They made an outward show but were filthy within.
‘We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through with this church and the world in this dispensation, which is the last dispensation, which shall usher in the coming of the Lord. The gospel was restored to prepare a people ready to receive Him. The power of Satan will increase; we see it in evidence on every hand. There will be inroads within the Church. There will be, as President [N. Eldon] Tanner has said, ‘Hypocrites, those professing, but secretly are full of dead men’s bones’ (see Matthew 23:27). We will see those who profess membership but secretly are plotting and trying to lead people not to follow the leadership that the Lord has set up to preside in this church.
“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith’ ‘(D&C 21:4-5).” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams, 526.)
29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
They honour the past prophets but kill the present day prophets.
‘Ye serpents – This name is given to them on account of their pretending to be pious, and very much devoted to God, but being secretly evil, At the heart, with all their pretensions, they were filled with evil designs, as the serpent was’ (Barnes Notes on the Bible)
“You folk in the Church and out of the Church heard a prophet of God bear testimony that this was the only true and living Church upon the earth. Did you listen, or do you also build sepulchres for the dead prophets and tombs for those who have passed away long ago and disregard the living ones? I bear witness to you that the Prophet of God who bore testimony to you on Friday morning (George Albert Smith) is the recognized head of God’s kingdom here upon this earth, and you would do well to listen and to accept it in your hearts.” (Spencer W Kimball, Conference Report, October 1949, Third Day-Morning Meeting 123 – 124.)