Matthew 23:4 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Matthew 23:4, NIV: They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Matthew 23:4, ESV: They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

Matthew 23:4, KJV: For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

Matthew 23:4, NASB: And they tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as their finger.

Matthew 23:4, NLT: They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

Matthew 23:4, CSB: They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people's shoulders, but they themselves aren't willing to lift a finger to move them.

What does Matthew 23:4 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Jesus has stated bluntly that the scribes and Pharisees, Israel's primary religious leaders for everyday life, do not practice what they preach. He has told His disciples and the crowds to obey their teaching about the Scripture itself, since God has established the idea of spiritual authorities and teachers (Matthew 23:2–3). However, those same men live in contradiction to what they claim to believe. They say one thing yet do something else. They are pretending, which is the essential meaning of the Greek term hipokritēs (Matthew 23:13).

Here, that hypocrisy is being explained. Jesus is referring to the massive, complicated religious rules added to the law of Moses over time. These rules began with a good intent: to help people apply the law to everyday circumstances, and especially to help them avoid breaking it. Unfortunately, those traditional rules, created by mere human beings, had gradually been elevated until they were considered equal to the law itself.

The scribes and Pharisees insisted every follower of the law was expected to keep all these rules to be pleasing to God. Jesus notes these leaders won't make the slightest effort to ease that burden. This does not mean the scribes and Pharisees did not keep those same rules themselves. Rather, these teachers were not willing to lighten the burden of man-made and man-controlled rules. Not even a little bit. They were not trying to help the people live out God's Word in a way that reflected God's heart. They only made the lives of the people more and more difficult by making religion more and more legalistic and restrictive.