“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Luke 11:47-12:1)

Imprécations contre les pharisiens, James Tissot (France, 1886-1986)
Imprécations contre les pharisiens, James Tissot (France, 1886-1986)

Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, ὅτι οἰκοδομεῖτε τὰ μνημεῖα τῶν προφητῶν, οἱ δὲ πατέρες ὑμῶν ἀπέκτειναν αὐτούς.Ἄρα μάρτυρεῖτε καὶ συνευδοκεῖτε τοῖς ἔργοις τῶν πατέρων ὑμῶν· ὅτι αὐτοὶ μὲν ἀπέκτειναν αὐτούς, ὑμεῖς δὲ οἰκοδομεῖτε αὐτῶν τὰ μνημεῖα.Διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡ σοφία τοῦ θεοῦ εἶπεν, Ἀποστελῶ εἰς αὐτοὺς προφήτας καὶ ἀποστόλους, καὶ ἐξ αὐτῶν ἀποκτενοῦσιν καὶ ἐκδιώξουσιν· ἵνα ἐκζητηθῇ τὸ αἷμα πάντων τῶν προφητῶν τὸ ἐκχυνόμενον ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου ἀπὸ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης,ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος Ἄβελ ἕως τοῦ αἵματος Ζαχαρίου τοῦ ἀπολομένου μεταξὺ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου καὶ τοῦ οἴκου· ναί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐκζητηθήσεται ἀπὸ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης.Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν τοῖς νομικοῖς, ὅτι ᾔρατε τὴν κλεῖδα τῆς γνώσεως· αὐτοὶ οὐκ εἰσήλθετε, καὶ τοὺς εἰσερχομένους ἐκωλύσατε. Λέγοντος δὲ αὐτοῦ ταῦτα πρὸς αὐτούς, ἤρξαντο οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι δεινῶς ἐνέχειν, καὶ ἀποστοματίζειν αὐτὸν περὶ πλειόνων,ἐνεδρεύοντες αὐτόν, ζητοὺντες θηρεῦσαί τι ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ, ἵνα κατηγορήσωσιν αὐτοῦ. Ἐν οἷς ἐπισυναχθεισῶν τῶν μυριάδων τοῦ ὄχλου, ὥστε καταπατεῖν ἀλλήλους, ἤρξατο λέγειν πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ πρῶτον, Προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν Φαρισαίων, ἥτις ἐστὶν ὑπόκρισις.

Woe to you! for you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed.So you are witnesses and consent to the deeds of your fathers; for they killed them, and you build their tombs.

Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation,from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it shall be required of this generation.

Woe to you lawyers! for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.

As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things,lying in wait for him, to catch at something he might say. In the meantime, when so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, he began to say to his disciples first, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Luke 11:47-12:1, Revised Standard Version


11:42-52
You then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (Romans 2:21-22)

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The three verbs in these two verses, “teach” [διδάσκω], “preach”[κηρύσσω], and “say” [λέγω] are those that are most commonly used to describe the work of those who actively advocate and communicate to others the precepts of the Law and the knowledge of God. While addressing the Jew in general, the Apostle seems to have in mind particularly those who taught, preached, and said: the rabbis, the Pharisees, and the scribes. The basis for the “woes” (Greek οὐαί, an exclamation of anger, disapproval, and denunciation) in the Lord’s indictment (Matthew 23:13-16,23-29; Luke 11:37-52) is their failure to live in accordance with what they advocated. Among the prophets there are certainly numerous of this kind of condemnation (see Isaiah 5:11,20-22;30:1;33:1; Jeremiah 23:1; Ezekiel 13:3;34:2; Hosea 7:13, for example)

Archbishop Dmitri Royster, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans – A Pastoral Commentary


11:48 Ἄρα μάρτυρεῖτε καὶ συνευδοκεῖτε τοῖς ἔργοις τῶν πατέρων ὑμῶν· ὅτι αὐτοὶ μὲν ἀπέκτειναν αὐτούς, ὑμεῖς δὲ οἰκοδομεῖτε αὐτῶν τὰ μνημεῖα.

So you are witnesses and consent to the deeds of your fathers; for they killed them, and you build their tombs 

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When they determined to pay honor to the prophets who were put to death thereby accused their fathers of having done wrongfully.  now they who condemned their fathers for such cruel murders were about to incur the guilt of equal crimes, and to commit the same or rather more abominable offenses.  For they slew the Prince of Life, the Savior and Deliverer of all, together with other abominable murders.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Homily 85


11:51 … from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah [Zacharias], who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. 

Literally between the altar and the house [μεταξὺ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου καὶ τοῦ οἴκου].

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He was the father of St. John the Forerunner. Zacharias was the son of Barachias, from the lineage of Abia, of the sons of Aaron. Zacharias was a high priest who held the eighth degree of service in the Temple at Jerusalem. His wife Elizabeth was the daughter of Sophia and sister of St. Anna, who was the mother of the Holy Theotokos. During the reign of King Herod the child-slayer, Zacharias was serving one day at the Temple of Jerusalem according to his turn. An angel of God appeared to him in the sanctuary, and Zacharias had great fear. The angel said to him: Fear not, Zacharias (Luke 1:13), and announced that Elizabeth would bear a son, in answer to their prayers. But both Zacharias and Elizabeth were old. When Zacharias doubted the words of the heavenly herald, the angel said: I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God (Luke 1:19). Zacharias was struck dumb from that hour, and could not speak until his son was born and he had written on a tablet: His name is John (Luke 1:63). Then his speech returned, and he magnified God. Some time later, when the Lord Jesus had been born and Herod began to slaughter the children of Bethlehem, he sent men to find and kill the son of Zacharias-for Herod had heard all that had happened to Zacharias, and how John had been born. Upon seeing the soldiers coming, Elizabeth took John into her arms-he was a year and a half old at that time-fled from the house with him, and ran to a rocky and desolate place. When she saw the soldiers following her, she cried out to the mountain: “O mountain of God, receive a mother with her child!” and the rock opened and hid the mother and child. Then Herod, enraged that the child John had not been slain, ordered that Zacharias be slain before the altar. The blood of Zacharias was spilled on the marble and dried solid as stone, and remained as a witness to Herod’s evil deed. In the place where Elizabeth hid with John a cave opened, water flowed out of it, and a fruit-bearing palm grew, all by the power of God. Forty days after the death of Zacharias, the blessed Elizabeth died. The child John remained in the wilderness, fed by an angel and protected by God’s providence, until the day he appeared at the Jordan.

St. Nikolai Velimirović, The Prologue of Ohrid


11:52 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν τοῖς νομικοῖς, ὅτι ᾔρατε τὴν κλεῖδα τῆς γνώσεως

Woe to you lawyers! for you have taken away the key of knowledge …

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By the key of knowledge [τὴν κλεῖδα τῆς γνώσεως], we consider that the law itself is meant, and justification in Christ, by faith I mean in Him. For though the law was in shadow and type, yet those types shape out to us the truth, and those shadows depict to us in manifold ways the mystery of Christ.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Homily 86

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That is, because they had hidden the knowledge of our Lord’s manifestation which was in the prophesies. If our Lord is the door, as he has said [John 10:7,9], it is clear that the keys of knowledge belong to him. The scribes and pharisees did not want to enter through this door of life, in keeping with what he had said, See, the kingdom is in your heart [Luke 17:21]. [He was referring to] himself, for he was standing in their midst. Sin had cleverly disguised its instruments and stood on the bridge which was leading to the house of life, lest souls and spirits enter into the house of life. You have hidden the keys, he said.

St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on the Diatessaron of Tatian, XVIII(8)


12:1 Προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν Φαρισαίων, ἥτις ἐστὶν ὑπόκρισις.

Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy

st-theophan-the-recluse-2

The distinguishing feature of hypocrisy is to do everything for show. To do things in public is not yet hypocrisy, because a large portion of our necessary deeds must be done for people and consequently, amidst them and in their view. Although those who contrive to do everything secretly do better, this is not always possible. That is why one cannot immediately reproach those who act in the sight of others with having a desire for ostentation or show. They might have a sincere desire to do good, while a necessary accompaniment to deeds done outwardly is that they are seen by others. Hypocrisy begins the moment an intention appears, not do to good, but only to show oneself doing good. And this again is not always an offense, because there can be a momentary oat tack of evil thoughts, which are immediately noticed and chased away. But when one has it in mind to make a reputation for himself as a benefactor, this is already hypocrisy, which enters deeply into the heart. When the hidden goal of taking advantage of the benefits of such a reputation is added to this, then hypocrisy is in full force. Let everyone look at what the Lord requires when He commands to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. Do good according to the desire for the good of others unto the glory of God, according to the recognition that this is God’s will. But take no care about how people look at it – and you will avoid hypocrisy

St. Theophan the Recluse, Thoughts for Each Day of the Year

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