The serpents (Mt 23:33-23:33)

“You snakes!

You brood of vipers!

How can you

Escape

Being sentenced

To Gehenna?”

 

ὄφεις, γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, πῶς φύγητε ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης;

 

This attack on the Pharisees and Scribes is somewhat similar to the attack that John the Baptist had against the Pharisees and Sadducees earlier in Matthew, chapter 3:7.  When they came to be baptized by John, he was critical of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  He told them that they were like a group of vipers or poisonous snakes (Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν), who would kill young people.  Here there is no mention of the Sadducees.  But the Pharisees and Scribes are called snakes (ὄφεις) and a brood of vipers or a group of poisonous snakes (γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν).  Jesus wanted to know how they could escape (πῶς φύγητε) being sentenced to Gehenna or hell (ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης).  The Greek word for hell “γέενναν” or the English Gehenna was based on the Hebrew word Gehinnom that was the name of the valley south of Jerusalem where burning child sacrifices would take place.

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The Pharisees ask for a sign from heaven (Mt 16:1-16:1)

“The Pharisees

And the Sadducees came.

They wanted

To test Jesus.

They asked him

To show them

A sign from heaven.”

 

Καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ Σαδδουκαῖοι πειράζοντες ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν σημεῖον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἐπιδεῖξαι αὐτοῖς.

 

The asking for signs can be found in Mark, chapter 8:11, and Luke, chapter 11:16, and earlier in Matthew, chapter 12:38, plus here, but there are slight differences.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees came to Jesus (Καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ Σαδδουκαῖοι).  They wanted to test or tempt him (πειράζοντες).  They asked him to show them a sign from heaven or a heavenly validation of his work (ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν σημεῖον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἐπιδεῖξαι αὐτοῖς).  Instead of the Scribes and Pharisees wanting a sign, as earlier in this work, here it is the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  There had been no mention of the Sadducees since the story about John the Baptist in chapter 3:7, while the Pharisees were present all over the place.  The Pharisees were a political party, a social movement, and a religious school of thought that followed the Law of Moses, but with a number of oral traditions.  They had they own expert explanations of Jewish law that sometimes appeared to be hypocritical or arrogant, with the letter of the law above its spirit, with a form of Judaism that extended beyond the Temple.  The Sadducees, on the other hand, were generally aristocratic priestly officials, tied to the Temple and ritual purifications.  They were less concerned about oral traditions, so that they might have been political religious rivals to the Pharisees.  Rarely did they agree on anything, since there may have been only about 6.000 in each group.  However, here both these groups wanted to see a sign from Jesus.  John the Baptist had been critical of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees earlier in Matthew, chapter 3:7.

Against the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt 3:7-3:7)

“But when John saw

Many of the Pharisees,

And many of the Sadducees,

Coming for baptism,

He said to them.

‘You brood of vipers!

Who warned you

To flee

From the wrath to come?’”

 

Ἰδὼν δὲ πολλοὺς τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς

 

Matthew is the only one who had this warning against the many Pharisees (δὲ πολλοὺς τῶν Φαρισαίων) and the many Sadducees (καὶ Σαδδουκαίων) who were coming to be baptized by John (ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα εἶπεν αὐτοῖς). Unlike Mark, Matthew described John as critical of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees followed the Law of Moses, but with a number of oral traditions. This, they might be considered proto-Rabbis. The Sadducees were priestly, tied to the Temple and ritual purifications. They were less concerned about oral traditions. There may have been about 6.000 in each group. John the Baptist, as presented by Matthew, was against both groups, so that he may have favored the ascetic Essenes, who were another small group of Jews. John told them that they were like a group of vipers (Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν,) who would kill young people. They should be warned to flee from the wrath to come (τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς). This might be allusion to the prophet Amos, chapter 5:18-20. Amos saw the day of Yahweh as an angry day of judgment.