Michael J. Gorman, Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary

Gorman, Michael J. Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. xxiii+325 pp. Hb; $39.99.   Link to Eerdmans  

Gorman explains in his preface that the subtitle to his new Romans commentary, “a theological and pastoral commentary,” means he engages Romans as Christian Scripture. His goal is to consider the spiritual and practical application of Paul’s theology as presented in Romans in a contemporary Christian context. This does not imply Gorman ignores Paul’s message to the original audience because Paul is a pastoral theologian. In fact, he states several times in the book, “if John is the Gospel of Life, Romans is the epistle of life” (50).

Gorman, Romans commentaryThe book has two introductory chapters. First, Introducing Paul (3-20) draws heavily on Gorman’s Apostle of the Crucified Lord (second edition; Eerdmans, 2016, reviewed here). Gorman surveys various approaches to Paul (the New Perspective on Paul, narrative- intertextual approaches, anti-imperial, apocalyptic, etc.  Gorman identifies himself as a participationist, which is not at all surprising if anyone has read his earlier work on Paul. See, for example, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission (Eerdmans, 2016, reviewed here). Paul emphasizes the believer’s status as “in Christ (Romans 6:11; 8;1; 12:5) as opposed to “in Adam.” Faith transfers one from being “outside Christ” to being “inside Christ,” that is, inside his body, the ekklesia. The chapter includes a brief sketch of Paul’s life and a survey of Paul’s theology.

Second, Introducing Romans (21-56) covers the usual things expected in an introduction to Romans. For the most part, Gorman does not stray far from the consensus on issues of date and provenance. Regarding the circumstances which led to the writing of the letter, there are several issues on Paul’s mind, but the key is that the gentiles have developed an independent spirit, even a spiritual superiority complex. He suggests Romans could be considered an extended commentary on 2 Corinthians 5: 14- 21. He is clear: the gospel is not a set of propositions, but a dynamic, life-changing force in the world. It is “the power of God for salvation” (30). For Gorman, Romans is a letter about Spirit-enabled participation and transformation in Christ, and thus in the mission of God in the world.

Unlike many recent commentaries on Romans, Gorman does not interact much with other scholarship. As he explains, “this commentary comments on the text, not on other commentaries” (xviii). He intentionally treats the English text using the NRSV (although with comparison to other modern translations and occasionally his own).

Gorman divides Romans into several major units:

  • 1:1–17 Opening and Theme: The Gospel of God’s Son, Power, and Justice for the Salvation of All
  • 1:18–4:25 God’s Faithful, Merciful, and Just Response to Human Sin
  • 5:1–8:39 The Character of Justification by Faith: Righteousness and Reconciliation; Liberation and Life
  • 9:1–11:36 God’s Faithfulness and Mercy and the Future of Israel
  • 12:1–15:13 Faithful Living before the Faithful God: Cruciform Holiness and Hospitality
  • 15:14–33 Paul’s Mission and God’s Plan
  • 16:1–27 Closing

Each major section is further divided into “discourse units.” Gorman’s commentary is not exegetical nor word-for-word (it is not that kind of commentary). Certainly, he has done the exegesis and read the secondary literature, but that is all in the background. Instead, he discusses the theological and practical ramifications of the text. Gorman grounds his commentary in Paul’s concerns and draws out the implication for Christian spiritual growth in a contemporary context.

Let me offer one example based on his commentary on Romans 13:1-7. First, he entitles this unit “a nonrevolutionary but subversive community.” He briefly sketches the situation of the house churches in Rome. Opposition to the believers arose during synagogue disputes, resulting in Claudius’s expulsion of Jews from Rome. This was a political act designed to break up a potential political threat. Jewish messianic expectation was anti-oppressor and therefore anti-Roman, since Rome was the ultimate oppressor of God’s people. Although Romans 13 is often labeled conservative, even pro-Roman (especially compared to Revelation 13), Gorman points out that the gospel Paul proclaims is inherently anti-imperial: Jesus and Caesar cannot both rule the universe. This means “the gospel Paul proclaims cannot in any way a spouse blind nationalism, hyper patriotism, or an uncritical stance toward political authorities” (254). Although he does not name names at this point in the book, Gorman applies this to the use of Romans 13:1-7 by then attorney general Jeff Sessions and White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders in the context of separating children and parents at the border. “Rather than being a blanket call to obedience and allegiance, which is reserved for God alone, Romans 13:1-7—when read in context—actually supports Christian opposition to many laws and practices. The Christian is free from the tyranny of obedience to political figures and entities but obligated to love and to work for the common good, even when doing so is an act of disobedience” (257).

Gorman supplements the commentary with helpful charts. For example, in order to illustrate the close connection between justification and sanctification, Gorman compares Galatians 2:15-21 (justification) and Romans 6:1-7:6 (baptism). “Justification is like baptism, and vice versa. More precisely, justification and baptism are two sides of the one coin of entrance into Christ and his body through dying and rising with him… it is difficult to imagine a more appropriate image for thoroughgoing participation than the liquid metaphor of immersion” (167-68). He summarizes the people in Romans 16 in a chart. (Phoebe is a gentile woman who is almost certainly the letter bearer and quite probably its interpreter. Junia is a female, prominent apostle).

The first two chapters and each major unit of the commentary conclude with reflections and questions. These are divided into two categories: “spiritual, pastoral, and theological reflections, and “questions for those who read, teach, and preach.” None of these are softball questions! The questions should tease out additional implications from the text and take the reader to an application beyond Paul’s original context. A surprising example is the use of Romans 14-15 to discuss a Christian approach to eating. Gorman asks the reader to consider a justice dimension to food production and food consumption. Gorman sees both as having a spiritual dimension. For those teaching Romans in a classroom, these questions would make for excellent student papers. For those preaching Romans in a local church, these questions are hints for pastoral applications which will resonate with people as they grapple with the text of Romans.

Following these questions for reflection is “for further reading.” In the introductory chapters, these are divided into “highly accessible commentaries and books,” midlevel commentaries and books,” and “technical commentaries and books.” These bibliographies will be helpful for students who wish to work more deeply on the book of Romans.

Conclusion. Gorman’s commentary on Romans is a pleasure to read and will serve pastors and teachers well as they prepare to present Paul’s dense theology to their congregations. If you are planning to preach through the book of Romans, buy this commentary.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Jeannine K. Brown, Philippians (TNTC)

Brown, Jeannine K. Philippians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxiv+243 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series replaces the original 186-page volume by Ralph Martin, originally published in 1959. Jeannine K. Brown is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. She published a Matthew commentary in Baker’s Teach the Text series (2015) and the Two Horizons commentary on Matthew (with Kyle Roberts, Eerdmans 2018). She served as an editor for the second edition of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP Academic, 2013).

Brown Commenary PhilippiansThe fifty-seven-page introduction begins with a discussion of hermeneutical considerations. She describes her method as a close reading of the text, including historical reconstruction inattention to the literary facets of the letter. All of this leads to a better understanding of Paul’s theology, which is both pastoral and practical.

Brown reads the letter of Philippians in a particular situation, which is confirmed by using Paul’s other letters, the archeology of Philippi, and contemporary literature. This contemporary literature includes a “judicious use of the book of Acts” (3).

Under the heading, reading Paul with an implied author, she asks “how would the original readers of the letter have experienced Paul when they first heard the letter?“ They would not know the other letters of Paul (nor, I would add, did they have a Reformation worldview). When reading the “Paul of Philippians,” knowledge of the other Pauline letters easily influences the modern reader, leading to a skewed portrait. For example, reading Philippians in the light of Romans and Galatians, for example, leads to questions: “where did justification by faith go?” “Where is the law/grace conflict?” By focusing on what Paul communicates to his readers, these questions are less important.

Regarding historical matters, assuming Paul is the author alliance the letter with other Pauline literature; And the autobiographical section contributes to our overall portrait of the apostle Paul. With respect to the audience, Brown sketches a brief history of Philippi with an emphasis on the veneration of the imperial family in the first century. Although there was no legal requirement for this veneration, there were social and political pressures to participate. Paul has a positive relationship with the church, the letter has a warm tone, and the church was generous towards Paul. She also points out the prominence of women in the letter. How large was the church at Philippi? Maybe fifty people when Paul wrote, although Peter Oakes suggests one hundred. Following Oakes, she suggests the congregation is primarily Greek, not Roman, from a broad social spectrum.

Brown is swayed by convincing arguments for an Ephesian provenance, although Caesarea is possible. The distance from Rome is the major problem for the traditional view that Paul wrote Philippians during his house arrest in Rome AD 60-62. If Paul wrote the letter from Ephesus, it dates to mid-50s AD.

Regarding the purpose of the letter, she follows the traditional reconstruction: The Philippian church sent Epaphroditus to deliver a gift to Paul. He fell ill was late in returning. Paul therefore acknowledges the gift and explains Epaphroditus’s situation. There is no need to be concerned for Paul while he is in prison because the gospel is still advancing. He encourages the Philippian church towards unity (there is some hint of divisions in the letter). He also warns against threats from opponents, although it is unclear who these opponents are.

Since the letter is brief, it is difficult to determine the identity of the opponents in Philippians. It is possible that there are multiple opponents. Brown suggests they are likely unbelievers living in Philippi, pressuring believers who Christians refuse to take part in local cults. Philippians 3:2 may imply the opponents are Judaizers, although she suggests the problem is Judaizing ideas rather than real people (as in Galatians). Whoever they are, Paul calls them “enemies of the cross” (3:18-19).

The introduction also surveys literary issues. For many, Philippians is a friendship letter, although others suggest a family letter, but there is no consensus. Philippians has several embedded genres, such as Jewish poetry (the Christ hymn) and the virtue list (4:8). She discusses the integrity of the letter, stating that all objections to the unity of Philippians can be answered by considering the oral and aural characteristics of the letter. Like all of Paul’s letters, he intended this document to be read out loud (33). What strikes the modern reader as a cold thank you, this is a carefully worded thanks that would have left a powerful impression when heard by the original audience.

The introduction concludes with a survey of the theology of the letter. It is no surprise that Christology is the focus. Paul’s letters are always Christologically focused! Brown points out that Paul Christology in Philippians is autobiographical. He states that quote knowing Christ is his “highest desire (3:8). Regarding eschatology, Paul sees the arrival of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, as the fulcrum of history. In Philippians, Paul’s focuses on the present time of the Messiah, although he occasionally speaks of the day of Jesus. This is the still future arrival of the complete salvation for believers. This reflects the already/not yet nature of Paul’s eschatology.

Although not part of the introduction, Brown occasionally comments on potential imperial language in the letter. Paul uses citizenship language in 1:27 and 3:20 intentionally underline the political significance of the gospel. For Brown, Paul is advocating for “a wholehearted allegiance to Christ” (105). A dual allegiance to both the empire and Christ is impossible. For Paul, the lordship of Jesus is central to the gospel.

The body of the commentary is like other volumes in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. The commentary is based on English, although Greek occasionally appears in transliteration. All syntactical details are found in the footnotes. Readers do not need to know Greek in order to use this commentary. It’s a general outline, each unit begins by setting the context. In this commentary, that includes Paul’s rhetorical emphasis in the section. In the commentary proper, Brown proceeds verse by verse, and occasionally phrase by phrase. Although there is occasionally interaction with other contemporary commentaries, this is not a catalog of other views. The commentary is therefore enjoyable to read. Each unit ends with a brief reflection on the theology of this section. Here she draws conclusions and offers brief comment on a bridging the gap to contemporary church issues or living at the Christian life.

Conclusion. Jeannine K. Brown’s Commentary on Philippians is a worthy replacement successor to Ralph Martin’s now classic commentary. In recent years, commentaries have become extremely long. It is therefore refreshing to have a brief, readable commentary on this important Pauline letter.


Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Tithing and Purity Laws – Matthew 23:23-26

The next two of the seven woes in Matthew 23 concern two common religious practices, tithing and ritual purity. Although Jesus specifically has Jewish practice in mind, it is not difficult to apply this teaching to Christian practice.

Jesus Tithing

Tithing (23:23-24). The practice of tithing is common in the Old Testament (Lev 27:30-33; Deut 12:6-9; 14:22-29; 26:12-15). The general principle is that the first tenth of one’s produce should be set aside for the Lord. To not pay one’s tithe is like “robbing the Lord” (Malachi 3:6–12). There is some tension between the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy with respect to the issue of the tithe. Deuteronomy requires a tithe on all produce every year except for the Sabbath year. This tithe, however, could be enjoyed by the family which produced it by selling it and spending the money in Jerusalem during a feast. In this way they gave a tenth by contributing to the economy of Jerusalem (Deut 14:22-27). Every third and sixth year the tithe was to go to the poor and needy.

The Law specifies tithes on some produce, generally food. But there was no tithe required for wild herbs (although this is debated in the Mishnah, see m. Ma’as. 4:5). The general principle seems to be, if you planted it, you tithe on it. To be sure the proper tithe was paid, a Pharisees would take each item that they produced, even these tiny seeds and herbs, and divide out the tenth to give to the temple.

m,Ma’as. 4:5 4:5 One who husks barley removes the husks [from the kernels] one by one, and eats [without tithing]. But if he husked [a few kernels] and placed [them] in his hand, he is required [to tithe]. One who husks parched kernels of wheat sifts [the kernels] from hand to hand, and eats [without tithing]. But if he sifted [the kernels] and placed [them] inside his shirt, he is required [to tithe]. Coriander which [the farmer] sowed [in order to harvest its] seed [for future sowing]—its leaves are exempt [from the removal of tithes if they are eaten]. [If he] sowed it [in order to harvest its] leaves [for use as an herb]—[both] the seeds and the leaves are subject to the law of tithes. R. Eliezer says, “Dill is subject to the law of tithes [in regard to its] seeds, leaves and pods.” But Sages say, “Nothing is subject to the law of tithes [in regard to both its] seeds and leaves save cress and field rocket alone.”

The real problem is that the Pharisees make sure they tithe properly, but overlook justice, mercy, and faithfulness (maybe alluding to Micah 6:8?). For Jesus, it does not matter if you pay all the tithes you owe if you do not take care of the poor, the widows, orphans and immigrants. Doing justice, mercy, and faithfulness are weightier commandments. This might use the language of the Pharisees when they determined which commandment was more important when there was a conflict of duty.

The Pharisees are “straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel” Jesus makes a humorous analogy to point out the absurdity of the Pharisees’ practice of tithing.   This is usually explained as straining one’s soup to avoid eating a gnat. The κώνωψ word can refer to a mosquito, both are unclean food (Lev 11:41, m. Sabb. 20:2) but not even noticing an entire camel is floating in the same bowl! The Greek word διϋλίζω refers to straining wine, LXX Amos 6:6, but a bowl of soup works in a modern context since modern wine does not need to be strained.

Does the word gnat (κώνωψ) sound like camel (κάμηλος)? Not really, but in Aramaic gnat is qlm, camel is gml. Similar, enough to make this a playful, memorable phrase. The contrast is between a very tiny bug and a very large animal (cf., Matt 19:24, the camel through the eye of a needle). In the Sermon on the Mount, the hypocrite points out the speck in someone’s eye while missing the plank in their own (Matt 7:3-5).

What good is Pharisee purity about tithing if they neglect the things that God really desires (Micah 6:8)?

Purity Laws (23:25-26). Jesus dealt with the Pharisee’s purity traditions in Matthew 15:1-20. In that passage he also called the Pharisees hypocrites and declared only what comes out of a person makes them unclean. By the first century there was a complex system established for the cleaning of eating utensils, plates, bowls, etc. The Pharisee would not eat from plates that had not been properly cleaned, to do so would render them ceremonially unclean.

Ironically Jesus says the Pharisees are only cleaning the outside of the bowl and ignoring the inside. The outside looks clean, but the inside is still filthy, full of greed and self-indulgence. This is similar to the conclusion in Matthew 15:16-20, what comes out of a person defiles, not what goes in.

Commentaries usually object that the Pharisees were not known for their greed or self-indulgence. This is true of the Temple aristocracy who became rich and powerful by their service to the temple. Archaeology of priestly homes near the Temple Mount support this conclusion and there are similar condemnations of the Temple aristocracy in other early Jewish literature (the Dead Sea Scrolls especially). The Testament of Moses (also known as Ascension of Moses) has a similar condemnation, probably written by a Pharisee and directed at the Sadducees:

As. Mos. 7.6–10 But really they consume the goods of the (poor), saying their acts are according to justice, (while in fact they are simply) exterminators, deceitfully seeking to conceal themselves so that they will not be known as completely godless because of their criminal deeds (committed) all the day long, saying, ‘We shall have feasts, even luxurious winings and dinings. Indeed, we shall behave ourselves as princes.’ They, with hand and mind, will touch impure things, yet their mouths will speak enormous things, and they will even say, 10 ‘Do not touch me, lest you pollute me in the position I occupy.

In the Testament of Levi 14:5-8, the chief priests abuse their office for personal gain:

Testament of Levi 14:5-8 You plunder the Lord’s offerings; from his share you steal choice parts, contemptuously eating them with whores. 6 You teach the Lord’s commands out of greed for gain; married women you profane; you have intercourse with whores and adulteresses. You take gentile women for your wives and your sexual relations will become like Sodom and Gomorrah. 7 You will be inflated with pride over your priesthood, exalting yourselves not merely by human standards but contrary to the commands of God. 8 With contempt and laughter you will deride the sacred things.

Although it is easy for a modern, Christian reader to read this section of Matthew 23 and smugly condemn first century Jewish religious practice as legalistic and hypocritical, that is not what Jesus intended nor why Matthew included this in his Christian gospel. Christians are just as hypocritical with respect to giving money to a Christian ministry working in Africa (for example), then hating the immigrant or doing nothing to help the poor in their local community.

What are other examples of how Jesus’s words could be applied in a modern church context?

Seven Woes – Matthew 23:13-22

Beginning in Matthew 23:1, Jesus delivers a prophetic woe-speech in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets. Although the details of the speech focuses on the Pharisees and their traditions, these seven woes can be applied to any religious hypocrisy.

Angry Jesus Seven WoesBefore looking at the seven woes, where is Matthew 23:14? In the KJV, Matthew 23:14 reads “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” All modern translations omit the entire verse, it was probably added to Matthew 23 based on Mark 12:40 and Luke 11:47. In some manuscripts the line appears before verse 13, in others it appears after.

Shutting the Kingdom in People’s Faces (23:13). The first woe imagines the kingdom of heaven as a walled city that can be locked to prevent unauthorized entry. In Matthew 16:19 Jesus gives the “keys to the kingdom” to Peter, for example.

The Pharisees have shut the door to the kingdom for some people in two ways. First, they consider some people unworthy of the kingdom, the “the tax collectors and other sinners.” Second, they may be preventing people from hearing Jesus’s teaching, effectively “shutting the door” on people who want to enter the kingdom. Previously Jesus has described the outsiders entering the kingdom, or the Pharisees not entering or entering last. Matthew 8:10-12, many will come from the east and west to enter the kingdom before the Pharisees.

Corrupting Converts (23:15). There is very little evidence Jews did anything like evangelism in the first century. However, proselytes did exist. Nicolas of Antioch (Acts 6:5), there were “devout converts in Antioch (Acts 13:43), and Izates (in Josephus) are examples. It is possible this refers to God-fearing Gentiles, people like Cornelius who were attracted to the ethics and practices of Judaism but did not fully convert by submitting to circumcision.

If they do make a convert, the new convert is “twice the son of hell” that the Pharisee is. If the Pharisee is a hypocrite, the new convert is even more severe and strict than even the Pharisees. Often new converts are zealous

Swearing Oaths (23:16-22). Jesus calls the Pharisees blind guides and will be called blind three more times in the chapter. In Matthew 15:14 he called them blind guides in a discussion of hand washing. Romans 2:19 says some Jews considered themselves “guides for the blind,” although Paul also says they are hypocritical. Jesus taught on swearing oaths in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:33-37).  Although the Law permitted oaths, Jesus tells his disciples to not to swear oaths at all, but to “let your yes be yes.” For Jesus and his disciples, all oaths are binding: if you promise something, you must fulfill that promise.

As in the Sermon on the Mount, the problem was not swearing an oath, but finding ways to set the oath aside. Jesus gives two sets of conditions as examples. If one swears by the temple, the oath can be set aside, but swearing by the gold of the temple the oath is binding. It is not clear what “gold of the temple” refers to, possibly the “wealth of the temple.” If someone swears by the altar, the oath can be set aside, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, it is binding.

m.Nedarim 1:3 He who says, “Not— unconsecrated produce shall I not eat with you,” “Not-valid [food],” and, “Not pure,” “[Not] clean [for the altar],” or “Unclean,” or “Remnant,” or “Refuse”—is bound. [If he said, “May it be to me] like the lamb [of the daily whole offering],” “Like the [temple] sheds,” “Like the wood,” “Like the fire,” “Like the altar,” “Like the sanctuary,” “Like Jerusalem”— [if] he vowed by the name of one of any of the utensils used for the altar, even though he has not used the word qorban—lo, this one has vowed [in as binding a way as if he had vowed] by qorban. R. Judah says, “He who says, ‘Jerusalem,’ has said nothing.”

The Pharisees may have regarded an oath made in anything other than the name of the Lord or his attributes as not binding. If you swear a binding oath, it must be in the name of the Lord. If this is the case, then verse 20-21 points out the hypocrisy, if one swears by the temple, then are in fact swearing by God because God dwells in it; if one swears by heaven or the throne of God, one swears by God since he dwells there.

The first three of the seven woes may have shocked and offended the original audience. Modern readers are often surprised that Jesus harshly condemned hypocrites, usually because they tend to think of Jesus as teaching pure love as a non-confrontational preacher of kindness. But Jesus is not saying it is wrong to make converts or swear oaths. The problem is the hypocrite focuses so much on traditional practices they miss the grace God is extended to sinners, inviting them to wedding banquet as well.

What Does “Woe” Mean in Matthew 23?

Matthew 23 is a prophetic judgment speech condemning the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders for their hypocrisy. This is not the first time Jesus speaks against the Pharisees. In Matthew 15:1-9 he dismisses their traditions of handwashing and in Matthew 16 he warns his disciples about the “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Now Jesus uses the word “woe” to draw attention to specific aspects of their hypocrisy. What does the word “woe” mean?

Woe unto You Scribes and Pharisees

The word woe (οὐαί, הוֹי) is sometimes translated “alas” in English, giving it the idea of despair, or a sense of hopelessness. The word carries the connotation of mourning and is an onomatopoeia, a word that comes from a sound. Even today, people mourn in the Middle East with a whooping sound. Women at a funeral, for example, wail dramatically.

In this case, the word is drawn from the Old Testament Prophets. Both Isaiah 5:8-30 or Habakkuk 3 have a series of woe-statements pronouncing judgment. In Isaiah 6:5, the prophet sees the throne of God and says, “Woe is me!” because he has seen the holy God (and he expects to be destroyed as a result!)  Other prophets use the word to announce doom on some people who are under God’s judgment. A woe is therefore something like a curse. In Matthew 23, Jesus makes a prophetic announcement that the Pharisees and other religious leaders are under a curse because of their hypocritical practices.

Lists of woe sayings are common in Jewish literature. Deuteronomy 28:15–19 has a series of four woes on those who do not obey the word of the Lord. There are three in in 1 Enoch 100:7–9 and five in 1 Enoch 96:4-8; 99:11-16, seven in 1 Enoch 94:6-7. Like Matthew 23, there are seven woes in 2 Enoch 52:1-14; 9 and eight in 1 Enoch 98:9-99:2. Here are a few examples from 1 Enoch:

1 Enoch 98.9 Woe unto you, fools, for you shall perish through your folly! You do not listen to the wise, and you shall not receive good things.

1 Enoch 98.11 Woe unto you obstinate of heart, who do evil and devour blood! From where (will you find) good things that you may eat, drink, and be satisfied?

1 Enoch 98.13 Woe unto you who rejoice in the suffering of the righteous ones! For no grave shall be dug for you.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave a series of “blessed are” statements, these woes are the counterpart to those beatitudes. Luke has only four beatitudes, but they are mirrored by “four cursed are you” sayings in the next paragraph. Matthew begins Jesus’s public teaching with blessings and ends his public teaching with a series of curses. Maybe in a modern context, we want avoid the word woe, or worse, curse. If a beatitude is “happy are you when this is the case…” the woe-sayings are “unhappy are you when this is the case…”

Were all the Pharisees and religious leaders bad? Matthew 23 leaves the reader with that impression. He does not portray any of the religious leaders in a positive light. The Gospel of Luke more positive and in Acts the Pharisee Gamaliel defends the apostles. Later, Luke says there are many Pharisees who have accepted Jesus as Messiah (Acts 15:1-2), including rabbi Saul. In John, the pharisee Nicodemus talks with Jesus, defends him against accusations and helps bury Jesus. But Matthew is clear: the Pharisees are hypocrites who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah and they are to blame for judgment falling on Jerusalem (Matthew 24-25).

The Pharisees and scribes are made to be the representatives of all Jews. By condemning the Pharisees, Jesus is does not approve of Sadducees, the Essenes, or any other group. Other than Jesus’s followers, they are guilty of rejecting the Messiah.