Matthew 23:3

ESV so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
NIV So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
NASB Therefore, whatever they tell you, do and comply with it all, but do not do as they do; for they say things and do not do them.
CSB Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach.
NLT So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.
KJV All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
NKJV Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

What does Matthew 23:3 mean?

Matthew has been clear that Jesus is speaking to the crowds gathered in the temple who are listening to Him, as well as to His own disciples (Matthew 23:1–2). What He says in this verse seems surprising, given His overwhelming condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees throughout the rest of the chapter. These men occupy "Moses' seat," meaning they were responsible for teaching the people of Israel how to properly understand and apply the Scriptures. Jesus tells His audience to do "and observe" what they teach, but not to follow the example of their actions.

In other words, Jesus is careful not to invalidate the role given to these men by God. He also endorses the heart of their teaching from the Torah, the Jewish Scriptures, though He will reject their teaching about matters beyond the Scriptures. He is not giving His listeners permission to turn their backs on the teaching of God's Word. Nor is He invalidating all spiritual authorities. On the contrary, Jesus is condemning the religious leaders of His era for failing to meet their very reasonable obligations.

Though He accepts the idea of religious leaders and teachers, Jesus bluntly tells those listening to not follow the example of that generation of scribes and Pharisees. He will call them hypocrites repeatedly (Matthew 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). Here Jesus previews that idea, though not using that exact word: "They preach, but do not practice." This matches the Greek word hipokritēs, which literally means "an actor." These spiritual guides live in a game of "make believe," or "let's pretend." The people of Israel should not live as these men do.
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