What does Matthew 23:18 mean?
ESV: And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’
NIV: You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.'
NASB: And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the offering that is on it is obligated.’
CSB: Also, 'Whoever takes an oath by the altar, it means nothing; but whoever takes an oath by the gift that is on it is bound by his oath.'
NLT: And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding.
KJV: And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
NKJV: And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.
Verse Commentary:
Jesus is revealing the selfish motives and foolishness of the scribes and Pharisees in creating categories of oaths. He has already said that they distinguish between swearing by the temple and swearing by the gold that is in the temple. According to these religious leaders, making a vow on the gold creates a binding agreement, but doing so on the temple alone means nothing (Matthew 23:16–17).

The scribes and Pharisees have made a similar rule about swearing by the altar versus by the sacrifice given on the altar. As they would have it, swearing by the gift is binding, but swearing by the altar itself means nothing. This complicated system seems to have grown from a restriction on swearing on or by God Himself. Religious Jews at this time likely did not even say the name for God. Instead, they began to swear by things related to God when making oaths.

While adding extra "certification" to a promise is bad enough (Matthew 5:33–37), the suggestion that swearing by one thing as binding and another as non-binding reveals the Pharisees' lack of understanding about the nature of God and what it means to swear an oath. In this way, they are "blind guides" and "blind fools." They are leading those they teach away from what is wise and true (Matthew 23:13–15).
Verse Context:
Matthew 23:13–36 contains seven layers of condemnation, from Jesus, towards the religious leaders of His era. Each of these is introduced with the word "woe," which is an exclamation like "oh!" or "alas!" Pronouncing God's judgment on these men, He repeatedly describes them as "blind" and "hypocrites." Convincing others of their views only adds victims to hell. They follow the letters of manmade law to the tiniest detail but miss the real meaning of Scripture: God's heart for justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Their outer appearance of righteousness hides inner lives full of greed, self-indulgence, hypocrisy, and lawlessness. Those in Jesus' generation will pay for many of the righteous people unjustly killed in the past.
Chapter Summary:
After thoroughly dismantling scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees in debate, Jesus even more thoroughly condemns these religious leaders for their religious hypocrisy. They do all their religious acts and works to be seen and approved of by other people. Jesus pronounces God's judgment on the scribes and Pharisees in a series of seven "woe to you" statements. He repeatedly calls them "blind" and "hypocrites." He concludes with a lament for Jerusalem and her children who rejected His protection. God's judgment is coming.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 23 concludes Matthew's multi-chapter account of all of Jesus' interactions in the temple during the last week before His arrest and crucifixion. After silencing the religious leaders with parables and brilliant responses (Matthew 21—22), He pronounces God's judgment on the scribes and Pharisees in a series of seven "woe to you" statements. Jesus mourns for the judgment that will come on Jerusalem for her rejection of God. This leads Jesus to leave the temple, sadly remarking on its impending destruction (Matthew 24:1–2). As the disciples ask about this, Jesus begins an extended teaching on the end times in chapter 24.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
Accessed 5/26/2024 10:48:54 AM
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