Theme: Knowing the Times 
This week we see the dangers of legalism and modernism still among us.
Matthew 16:8-11
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? “Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? “How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”


We concluded yesterday’s lesson with a look at the various ways commentators have interpreted the nature of the Pharisees’ wrong teaching. What are we to make of these diverse interpretations? We need to take Luke’s explanation seriously. He is an inspired gospel writer, after all. But we also need to think of the context of the passage in Matthew, as D.A. Carson does. The only thing I would add to Carson’s analysis is that there is more to the context of these verses than chapter 16. There is also chapter 15 in which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their adherence to the traditions of men rather than the actual Word of God. They had been adding human legalisms to God’s revelation, which is why they were unable to accept the Lord when he came. He came with a gospel of pure grace, but they thought they had to earn their salvation by such legalistic behavior as keeping the Sabbath and a kosher diet. Jesus said of them,
“This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
(Matthew 15:8-9; Isaiah 29:13)
What about the Sadducees, since they are mentioned too? Well, if the error of the Pharisees was to add to the biblical revelation, the error of the Sadducees was to take away from it. They dismissed the miracles. Even worse, they dismissed the Bible’s basically other-worldly outlook. They did not believe in a resurrection of believers. So all they really had to live for was success and prosperity here and now. In either case, whether by a legalism that added to the gospel or a modernism that subtracted from it, these men were disposed to reject and eventually do away with Jesus. It is why they had come to test him by asking for a sign.
These two errors are always present in the church as well as in religion generally, which means that they are a constant danger. They are something always to be warned against.
One error is to try to live by law rather than by grace. It is the error of people who take their relationship to God seriously but who do not understand the depths of their own depravity and therefore imagine somehow that they can add to Christ’s work by their own good works or keep themselves in a state of grace by their good deeds. Paul encountered this error among the Galatians and warned them against “beginning with the Spirit” but then “trying to attain your goal by human effort” (Gal. 3:4). Paul argued that living by grace and trying to live by works are two incompatible systems and that only grace is the gospel. Salvation is by grace alone.
The other error is just as insidious. The Pharisees were intensely religious and erred by adding human understandings of what religion should be to the Gospel. The Sadducees were not religious, but they erred by rejecting anything that was too otherworldly or too demanding, as Jesus’ teaching was. This error is more common in our day than legalism. We do have legalists, both in the church and out of it. But most people in our day imbibe a modern approach to everything and live as if this world and what it has to offer are all that ever really matter.
Jesus warns against both views, and he is warning you now as well as the disciples when He says, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” You can miss the gospel of God’s grace in Christ as much by legalistic as by modernistic unbelief. The only gospel that will do you any good is the gospel of justification by grace alone because of Christ alone which is received by faith alone, because there is no other.


Review D. A. Carson’s interpretation from yesterday’s study. What does Dr. Boice add to Carson’s view?


What was the error of the Sadducees?


Evaluate the teaching you receive, whether in church, on television or the radio, or in print. Does the teacher try to add to biblical revelation? Does the message try to take away from it?


The only gospel that will do you any good is the gospel of justification by grace alone.

Study Questions
Tagged under
More Resources from James Montgomery Boice

Subscribe to the Think & Act Biblically Devotional

Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals

About the Alliance

The Alliance is a coalition of believers who hold to the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformed faith and proclaim biblical doctrine in order to foster a Reformed awakening in today’s Church.

Canadian Donors

Canadian Committee of The Bible Study Hour
PO Box 24087, RPO Josephine
North Bay, ON, P1B 0C7