by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Part IX

Verses 27-28: It will be bad for you teachers of the law and you Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You are like mausoleums that are painted white. Outside they look fine, but inside they are full of dead people’s bones and all kinds of filth. It is the same with you. People look at you and think you are godly. But on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and evil.

In the Syriac and Arabic versions of Matthew, it reads, “you look like tombs covered with lime.” It is known that the Jews marked their graves with white lime so that they might be easily spotted. This was to assist priests, Nazarites, and travelers in avoiding them so they would not be polluted by inadvertent touching. As Moses taught: “Whoever touches one that is slain with a sword in the open fields or a dead body or a human bone or a grave, will be unclean seven days.”1 We see this explained in the Jewish Mishnah, “…graves are marked with lime which is dissolved and poured on to forewarn a priest, or Nazarite, not to defile themselves by trespassing there.”2

Also, Rabbi Moses Maimonides offers his insight, “Whenever a person discovers a grave, a corpse, or a portion of a corpse that would impart impurity, he should mark it, so that it will not create an obstacle for others. During Chol HaMoed,3 agents of the court go out to mark the graves. An identification mark is not made over a body part that is the size of an olive, because ultimately, its size will be reduced in the earth. With what is the identification made? With lime. It should be mixed and poured over the place of the impurity. The identification mark should not be placed on the exact perimeters of the impurity, but instead, should extend somewhat on either side so as not to ruin pure articles. The identification mark should not be extended much beyond the place of the impurity so as not to spoil Eretz Yisrael.4 An identification mark is not made on places that are definitely known to be used for burial, for their identity is universally known, only on the places that are doubtful, e.g., a field in which a grave is hidden by low-hanging branches of trees, or rocks jutting out from a wall.5

There is no doubt, the scribes and Pharisees knew what Jesus was talking about how many of the tombs were whitewashed during these events. At first sight, they hoped they would be thought of for what they pretended to be, pure and holy, righteous and pristine. But in fact, they were as rotten and filthy inside as a sepulcher full of dead men’s rotting corpses, and all the uncleanness; worms, and rottenness which arise from the putrefied carcasses, and are very nauseous and defiling. But there is a subliminal note here in what Jesus says. Just as people are made physically unclean by touching such whitewashed tombs, so people are made spiritually unclean by their contact with these whitewashed Pharisees.

Several early church scholars found a lot of things to say to their listeners and readers based on what Jesus was saying here to Jews who tried to look clean but did not have a clean look. For instance, one early church scholar says: How men can be compared with a cup and a plate is made clear when Christ adds, ‘for you are full of robbery and iniquity within.’ The Jews washed themselves, their clothing and their utensils as often as they entered the temple or offered sacrifices on solemnities, but they never washed themselves from sin. God neither praised cleanliness of the body nor condemned bodily filth. Nevertheless imagine for the moment that God hates filth of the body, of vessels and other such things. If He were to hate the defilement of things like this, which necessarily get soiled during their ordinary use, how much more would He abhor the defilement of the human conscience, which it is possible for us to keep clean continually? It is not the vessels that need washing with water but the conscience that needs washing with prayer. No one notices if the bowl has been cleaned on the inside, but only if it is dirty on the outside does it get washed. A man … can never touch a drop of water and yet be perfectly clean before God if he has not been defiled by interior sin. If he were to commit a sin, however, he would be black with filth before God, even though he washes himself in the open sea and in every river of the world.”6

Then early church scholar Origen adds this commentary: “As the scribes and Pharisees were previously called ‘full of robbery and self-indulgence,’7 likewise here they are said to be ‘full of hypocrisy and iniquity’ and are compared with ‘the bones of the dead and all uncleanness.’ Hypocrisy, because it is a counterfeit of the good, possesses nothing vital of the good it simulates, but is only its dead bones, so to speak.… If we listen with wisdom to what the present passage wants to tell us, we will understand that every simulated righteousness is a dead righteousness, hence no righteousness at all. Just as a dead man can still have the appearance of a man, even though he is in fact no longer a man, so also a dead chastity is no chastity. For any virtue is dead when it is not practiced for God but feigned on account of men. He who feigns righteousness can give the appearance of being righteous even though what he has is not righteousness at all but only a figment of righteousness, much like impersonators who can take on the appearance of another individual without thereby actually becoming the other person. The same is true concerning chastity. Because of this, men who do such things are appropriately compared with ‘whitewashed tombs which look beautiful from the outside,’ for they give every external appearance of righteousness, even though they are full of ‘the bones of the dead’ within.”8

Then, around 370 AD, early church preacher Chrysostom has this to say to his congregation: “You have been counted worthy to become temples of God. But you have instead suddenly become more like graves, having the same sort of smell. This is dreadful. It is extreme wretchedness that one in whom Christ dwells and in whom the Holy Spirit has worked such great works should turn out to be a sepulcher, a place for death. What wretchedness is this? What mourning and lamentation does this call for! The members of the body of Christ have become a tomb of uncleanness? Remember your sonship and how you were born. Consider what things by which you have been counted worthy. Recall what sort of garment you received in baptism. You were intended to be a temple without fault, beautiful, not adorned with gold or pearls but with the spirit that is more precious than these. You are hardly ready to appear in the city above if you remain a tomb below. For if here, this is forbidden, much more there. Even here you are an object of scorn. You carry around a dead soul. You are shunned. Be honest. If anyone were to go carrying around a dead body, wouldn’t everyone else rush for cover! Wouldn’t they all flee? But this is what you are like. You go about carrying a corpse far more grievous than this. It is a soul deadened by sins, a soul paralyzed.”9

The remarkable thing about the words of Jesus is that although they were spoken over 2,000 years ago to a generation no longer with us, they are just as powerful, meaningful, and relevant to those today who call themselves children of God as they were back then. Such individuals claim, that the old man of sin within is dead and they are now alive in Christ Jesus. Yet, they continue to carry around the corpse of their old nature because they cannot bring themselves to bury it and move on.

1 Numbers 19:16

2 Mishnah, op. cit., First Division: Zeraim, Tractate Maaser Sheni, Ch. 5:1

3 The middle days of the festivals of Passover and Tabernacles, on which necessary work is permitted

4 Meaning: Land of Israel

5 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Sefer Taharah, Tractate Tum’at Met, Ch. 8, Halacha 9

6 Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 44

7 See verse 25

8 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 24

9 Chrysostom: Gospel of Matthew, Homily 733

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Linda Estanislao says:

    Thank you Bro Bob. What an excellent devotion for me this morning . God bless you and Sis Aurora.


  2. drbob76 says:

    To God be the glory, Linda. All the reading, studying, and writing is worth everything when I see how God’s Word blesses people’s hearts. May God bless you for your hunger and thirst after His Word.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s