We have been discussing the seven woes Jesus spoke to the Pharisees. The third is for trivializing religion. Jesus called people who handle truth in this useless and corrupting way "blind guides," meaning that they cannot see spiritual issues clearly and therefore not only lead others wrongly but fall into a pit themselves (Matthew 15:14). Are we to suppose that there is nothing of this in today's religious circles? I suggest that this happens whenever teachers make delicate distinctions about things the Bible teaches, arguing, "This may be sin, but this closely-related type of misconduct is not” or “Jesus may be saying this, but again he may be saying something quite different,” and fail to take the Bible’s statements at face value and insist not only that truth is truth but that it is always truth and is binding on everyone.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had pronounced multiple blessings on the godly. Here, in the later half of Matthew 23 he pronounces seven "woes” on the wicked. This follows an established Old Testament pattern, seen for example in Isaiah 5:8-23, where there are six woes, and in Habakkuk 2:6-20, where there are five. There is something similar in Revelation 19:9-20. A woe is a lament, cry or judgment concerning the final end for evil people.

Matthew Henry, the author of that magnificent six volume Commentary on the Whole Bible, says about some hypocritical preachers: "When in the pulpit, [they] preach...so well that it is a pity they should ever come out; but, when out of the pulpit, [they] live...so ill that it is a pity they should ever come in"1 This is what Jesus seems to be saying at the start of this chapter, though his words grow more negative as his exposure of the Pharisees proceeds. These men taught the Scriptures, and in that they were right. Their teachings, when accurate, ought to be obeyed. But their practices belied their teaching, and they must not be imitated.

If anyone ever finds himself thinking that in matters of religion all views are relative and any sincere faith and practice will do, that person needs to read Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees religion preserved in Matthew 23. People have compared religion to a mountain with heaven on top and with many roads that lead up to it. Or they have thought like Edward Gibbon, the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, who said that in the days of the empire the various modes of worship which "prevailed were considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrates as equally useful."1 They have imagined that religion is a private and not a truly important matter.

Matthew's account of this incident ends by saying, "from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions" (v. 22). They were silenced.

But although the Pharisees of Jesus’ day would not accept his teaching and eventually achieved his execution on the charge of blasphemy, there was another Pharisee who eventually came to accept what they would not accept and who expressed it in classic language. He was the Apostle Paul, who wrote at the beginning of his letter to the Romans about a gospel "... promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (vv. 2-4).