Bible Review 13:2, April 1997

Understanding Matthew’s Vitriol

By Anthony J. Saldarini

Seven times in one chapter (23) of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus curses the “scribes and Pharisees” as hypocrites and blind guides. This occurs after numerous disputes with leaders of the Jewish community in Galilee and a series of confrontations with the authorities in Jerusalem. Finally, Matthew’s Jesus mounts a climactic attack on his opponents, castigating them in a vitriolic, though coherent and comprehensive, series of charges intended to undermine their program for the Jewish community and their legitimacy as leaders. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” is the refrain (Matthew 23:1–36). “You blind fools,” he calls them. “You serpents, you brood of vipers.”

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